Tuesday, February 19, 2013

San Francisco Beer Week 2013: The rest of it

SF Beer Week 2013, Day 4-8
(click above for a full gallery of pictures)

SFBW knows how to do it right when it comes to the weather and Beer Weeks. February is beginning to come out of the wet, winter season and temperature, while perhaps still a bit chilly for locals, is a pleasant change of pace for a visiting beer guy like me from the northeast where the night time temps are still dipping into the teens and twenties.

The first few days of the week continued high temperatures in the high 50s/low 60s which makes for great walking weather around the City. By the end of the week, the mercury was touching 70.

While I logged over 30 miles of walking and running in 48 hours during the weekend (and eleven beer events/stops), there was no way, particularly with more limits on my available beer time, that I would keep up that type of activity through the week. So the typically reliable BART and Muni trains and an occasional taxi got me around town just fine.

After hitting the ground in the Bay Area last Friday at a fast and furious pace with the Opening Celebration and numerous other San Francisco Beer Week events, my week and pace looked a lot different once the work week began. Of course, that wouldn't deter my off-hours attempts at getting around town to experience as much of the SFBW frivolity as possible.

I've attempted to take the rest of my week in San Francisco and summarize it for you below the best that something as special as SFBW can be summarized.

New Discoveries
I've found and long maintained that Beer Weeks of the Philly, SF, New York, etc. magnitude present the perfect opportunity to make new discoveries. It can be plenty easy to simply hang with your friends at the most popular spots and events. But, finding something new and undiscovered can sometimes add to and make for the most memorable Beer Week.

With my participation in the five Philly Beer Weeks and three of the five San Francisco Beer Weeks, I think I practiced what I preached better than ever in the past. Cases in point:

      — Slider Bar does pretty much what their name implies: serve up a variety of sliders along with a bar full of liquid libations. They'd been advertising a daily event with sliders specially-paired with beers from Auburn Alehouse. I've had some beers from the Auburn, Calif. brewery before (particularly the awesome PU240 Imperial IPA) and been duly impressed. Here, at Slider Bar, customers must have been well-informed given that by only day four of SFBW, all but two of the kegs that were allocated for the full week were already drained. Nonetheless, I only needed one and the one was Fool's Gold Ale and a 3-Alarm Slider. Friendly bartender with a decent knowledge of beer as well. Perfect post-work beginning to a night of beer events.

      — Conveniently across the street from Slider Bar is Starbelly, which I've heard of in the past, particularly with the work that Almanac Brewery has done with them. It was a barrel-aged event with Damien Fagan, Jesse Friedman, and their Almanac crew as well as the Upright Brewing Company from Portland, Oregon. A plate of brussels sprouts (is there any menu these once-downtrodden vegetables are not on?) went nicely with the Fatali Four and Billy The Mountain from Upright. The open kitchen, communal seating, and the comfortable restaurant made for a pleasant beer event. Pleasant conversation with some locals, including a small area hop farmer, added to the experience.

      — Working in the East Bay one day, I took the opportunity (thinking I was waiting out Bay Bridge rush hour traffic; silly, in fact) to stop in Lafayette at Pizza Antica for its daily event called Crafts and Cotechino. Knowing the target demographic of the area, it shouldn't have surprised me that a 375mL bottle of Russian River Sanctification cost $20. They were also presenting Damnation, Blind Pig, and Pliny The Elder along with a special pork sausage plate. Decent job with the pairing, nice place, solid-looking regular menu.

      — The home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park, has had a year-round bar called Public House open for a few years. I've had a couple of close calls with the place in the past, but it was the Ballast Point event that finally drew me out to the bar that obviously focuses on good beer all year long. In fact, it should come as no surprise that given its location to "beer country" of northern California, the ballpark's concession stands have always been stocked with great beer to accompany your garlic fries. Hard to believe I wrote about it all the way back in 2006. The Ballast Point event gave me the chance to try the not-so-Foreign-Export-Stout, called Indra Kunindra, a try. Mouthful of interesting spices from cumin to cayenne to coconut make for an interesting, yet curiously drinkable, beer.

      — After checking out the Russian River extravaganza (22 taps? 23? I lost count) at Toronado, I joined some of the key folks from RR, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Toronado up the road at Maven for some beers and light bites. Nice and relaxing. Not necessarily a beer bar, but a couple glasses of Allagash White and Ommegang Hennepin were consumed without complaint. There was also enough wine floating around the table to annoy any hard-core beer geek that thinks only beer should be the only beverage consumed by "beer people".

      — Let's get your chiding and snickering out of the way first: I'd never been to Zeigeist. How did I finally find myself there during this trip? Well, it was on my short list (though, really, it's always been), but the cincher was hearing Sierra Nevada's Terence Sullivan and Terrell Lowe tell me while meeting up with them at City Beer Store that it would be the proper way to end my SFBW visit. They were not wrong. Beer By BART's Steve Shapiro and Gail Williams joined the party and along with the Hops Harmony and French Saison from the Chico, Calif. brewery, it truly was an appropriate and fine sendoff party for me. Meeting and chatting a while with Fal Allen (Anderson Valley Brewing Company) was the icing.

      — This could almost fit in the Mission category below, but I suppose the neighborhood is more like Dolores Park. I couldn't help but notice an event called Rodenbach On Nitro at Cerveceria Mateveza. After leaving Zeitgeist (not an easy thing to do, mind you), Mateveza was like a closet compared to the spacious Zeitgeist. While I'm not a super-huge Rodenbach fan, I was curious to see what the nitrogen pour would do the texture and, more importantly, the flavor. Verdict? There was a somewhat typical nitro-creamy head to the beer, but the gas did not permeate the beer all that much, leaving the style and taste profile virtually the same as you might expect on CO2. Oh, and walking to/from Mateveza, I discovered that Bi-Rite Creamery is as crazy-popular as I've been told. The line of over thirty people after 11 p.m. was testimony.

The Mission neighborhood
I continue to get to know the Mission neighborhood more with each visit to the City. And, the overwhelmingly colorful visual and aromatic palette of the Mission (usually, all good, but can't promise you won't see a few eye-opening shocking displays to the contrary along the way) never disappoints. A few of these are returns to old favorites and a few are new discoveries.

      — Tartine has nothing to do with beer. After all, it's a bakery in the Mission. But as a morning treat, the Croque Monsieur or any of the numerous delectable-looking pastries would be a highly recommended way to go along with a well-made cup of coffee to help return some morning-after balance to your life. I've been told, though, that for coffee, next time I need to check out Four Barrel.

      — At La Tacqueria, the most interesting beer you might find is Negra Modelo. But it's really about the food. The excellent, bursting burritos, tacos, and chips/salsa/guacamole provide an excellent base for a night of SFBW drinking. Try the pork taco and the beef tongue taco; they did not disappoint at all.

      — Pi Bar is a year-round friend of Russian River and again put on its RR Night which included two kegs of the famed Pliny The Younger. I figured heading in more than three hours after the opening and tapping of PtY, I would be able to cruise relatively quickly to the bar and get my Erudition and Mortification. That all sounds well and good plan until the owner, Jen Garris, waves a tap handle and proclaims "we're tapping another Pliny The Younger!!!!" And, with that, madness again ensued. Still amazes me after all these years the continued pursuit of this beer, even in northern California, is as crazed as ever. Pi Bar's a cool place and makes some decent pizza; I've just never been there on a slow night to see what business-as-usual is like.

      — When Southpaw BBQ was closed for a private Stone beer dinner event, I turned to walk in the other direction where I happened upon The Sycamore and its southern California event featuring Ballast Point, Alesmith, Green Flash, Cismontane, and Coronado. Nice place, small, and friendly. And, the Hamilton's 6th Anniversary from Green Flash was out-of-this-world good like a southern California IPA would be expected.

      — Amnesia was a completely accidental discovery as I was walking up Valencia and talking on the phone. The word "beer" on a chalkboard somehow caught my eye. I stopped, looked up, hung up, and went in for one beer. More than two hours later, I decided that I'd finally had enough of the typically Shmaltzy event (not the usual "sideshow event" that they do) featuring their beers, a Vaudeville-like variety show of hilarity and went along my way. But, that wasn't before enjoying the company of the friendly staff and fellow customers as well as Shmaltz beers and the SFBW collaboration beer.

Sour beers
It's probably not a stretch to say that sour beers have been fully embraced by northern California beer drinkers. If the five or more sour beer events from first weekend were not enough, a few more during the week attempted to give everyone their mouth-puckering fix.

Cask-conditioned beers
I talked with a longtime bartender at Thirsty Bear about how I attended the inaugural Cask and Queso event that they held back in 2009 (I wrote about it here). If fifty people attended, that would probably be a generous estimate on my part. He said that this year's event sold out at approximately 180 attendees, proof that northern California beer drinkers, while initially a bit behind the curve in this regard, have fully embraced the beauty of well-made cask-conditioned beers. While at Thirsty Bear, I had the pleasure of a run-in with yet another very good beer from Pacific Laboratories Brewery, a guest tap handle on the firkin of Squid Ink, an India Black Ale.

You'll see food call-outs mentioned in other categories here, but one that didn't seem to fit a category was my return visit to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Located across from 21st Amendment near the AT&T Ballpark, the small restaurant gives a great chance to sit outside, have a creatively assembled grilled cheese sandwich — I highly recommend the Foghorn Leghorn (with Point Reyes blue cheese), and drink from a few well-selected taps — one of which is almost always a Firestone Walker brand.

Regrettable Trade-offs?
As is the case with any Beer Week, it's impossible to get to everything, or even everything on the slimmed-down list that you probably put a lot of time into organizing. Too many things come up along the way that can take you off track. But, that's the beauty of Beer Weeks, no? Not always knowing who you might run into, what beers you might have, or which direction you may go off in to without plans. Plans that are too detailed can often result in missed opportunities. We soldier on and try to make the best decisions possible. But, that won't stop us from regretting what we might have missed along the way. Here are some personal examples.

      — The annual Double IPA fest at The Bistro in the East Bay's town of Hayward is a wonderful celebration of Double IPAs and Triple IPAs, something California brewers and beer drinkers are all too familiar with. I've been to this event three times in the past, though it doesn't stop me from being disappointed at skipping this year's, opting instead for a day-long trek around the City which was great in its own right.

      — I could've done a solid brunch, Sour Sunday at Triple Rock, and numerous other events on the first Sunday, but I did the SFBW Run in Los Gatos and wouldn't have traded that for anything.

      — Speakeasy just opened a fun new tasting room and "speakeasy". Or, I should say, I've been told it's fun. Getting there from downtown without a car is a bit more of an endeavor than I had time for. Would've loved to be reporting back to you with my early impressions of the new digs, but it will have to wait for next time.

      — Speaking of next time, it's been eight or nine years since my last visit to Anchor. I feel like I should put it high on my list for my next trip. Especially now that word is out of their planned expansion in the City.

      — This was the one rare trip to San Francisco where I broke a golden rule and did not go to Magnolia Pub on Haight Street. The two events that I would have loved to attended was the Oysters event and the Cask event.

      — And, down the road closer to the Golden Gate Park is Alembic whose dinner with Jester King I called about, but ultimately skipped, and likely will regret this decision for quite some time. This Austin, Texas brewery is making waves with its Farmhouse Ales.

      — I ran into the men from Almanac three times during SFBW. This was second only to Sierra Nevada and my run-ins with the good folks from Chico. There should have been a fourth if I had stayed true to my original intention of going to their Brewer and Butcher event where a whole pig butchering demo was taking place. I feel like I missed something pretty special. I'm sure pictures will surface somewhere online and I'll link to them here when they do.

      — The decision to attend the first weekend instead of the second meant that I wouldn't be attending the Celebrator anniversary party. I was last there in 2006 (and wrote about it here) when it was last held at the overly-spacious Oakland Convention Center. It returned there this year for the first time since then and I would have loved to attend again at this 25th anniversary of the publication.

Other random observations of people, places,  and new developments
      — Everyone was hustling during the imperial 10-day week of SF Beer Week. No one did I see more than the Sierra Nevada crew of Terrell Lowe, Katie Sullivan, Mark Gatti, Brian Kracht, Steve Grossman, Terence Sullivan, and Tai Brandon. I probably missed a name or two or ten. These guys had their act together and blanketed SF Beer Week as well as anyone. Plus, they sent me home with the very brand new Sierra/Dogfish "IPA glass", so how couldn't I say something nice about them. Don't get the wrong idea, sure it would take more than that :)

      — While it's difficult to name a favorite event, while some of you have talked me into naming a favorite beer (see below), it might not take much to convince me that my totally unplanned, almost three hour, stop at Amnesia during its Shmaltz event. Neil Diamond cover guy with Lenny's R.I.P.A. on tap? That's good enough for starters.

      — Pliny The Younger. The buzz continues without interruption or recession.

      — What I experienced at The Press Club in the price per glass of Tilquin Gueuze seems to represent the price "creep/abuse" that many fear (and have already seen) in the coming years of continued explosive growth within the "craft" segment.

      — The city has a more than average level of social ills to contend with and the area in which Mikkeller chose to located its future cafe seems quite suspect to say the least.

      — But, on the topic of incredible and exciting development, is there any neighborhood going through more transformational development than the Dogpatch community? Afterall, what was it before the UCSF Cancer Research center came in and businesses and residential began to follow. Now, Magnolia is building a brand new production brewery right in the heart of it (at 3rd and 22nd) and news just yesterday was broken that Anchor would be building a huge new production brewery just across the bridge from the home ballpark to the SF Giants at the top of the Dogpatch neighborhood (or more technically, Mission Bay).

Favorite Beer of the Week
I'd been asked numerous times during the week about the best beer I'd had during the week. I realized I was never really keeping score along the way. But, now in retrospect, let me think about this for a few minutes.

In a week of very strong competition across the board, coming to the top of the list (in alphabetical order) are
      — 21st Amendment Bitter American- not a new beer discovery, but still one of the best low-alcohol beers out there. Having it fresh at the pub adds to the experience.
      — Anchor Zymaster Flying Cloud Stout- one of my most accidental, yet memorable stops, was for this one beer at The Homestead in the Mission. Smooth and rich and wonderful, wonder if I might find any of this Back East?
      — Ballast Point Indra Kunindra- described as a Foreign Export Stout, the mouthful of spices ranging from curry to cayenne to coconut to kaffir lime to cumin may leave you thinking "it's anything but", though it goes down easily, cleans up remarkably well, and leaves you wanting more.
      — Bear Republic Tartare- deliciously tart was perfectly refreshing at Rose & Crown in Palo Alto along my trip back to the City from Los Gatos.
      — Drake's Denogginizer- been so long since I've had this beer, I forgot how much I really like this double IPA. Jasper's in the Tenderloin neighborhood helped remind me.
      — Fifty Fifty Totality- this rich imperial stout made for a perfect nightcap at Monk's Kettle one night.
      — Golden Road Brewery- it's a Los Angeles-based brewery, but I list the excellent Get Up Offa That Brown Ale here because of owner Meg Gill's previous role in coordinating SFBW.
      — Green Flash Hamilton's 6th Anniversary- a superb IPA brewed in honor of a superb pub in San Diego. Helped me discover The Sycamore bar in The Mission.
      — Magnolia Cole Porter- had this at the food truck event. Have had this beer probably at least a dozen times in the past and it still holds up as an excellent low-alcohol porter from one of the City's finest.
      — Mikkeller Yeast Series- okay, technically not one beer — or are they? They certainly start as one beer and then the work of different yeast strains result in six very good and different beers.
      — SFBW Collaboration Green Death- at 7.5% ABV, you can't quite drink it all night long, but it's definitely a tasty beer that was the product of local San Francisco Brewers Guild members.
      — Shmaltz Lenny's Bittersweeet IPA- I've had this great beer too many times in the past to think that this was a new discovery. But having it during the raucous Shmaltz event at Amnesia made it one of the most memorable times.
      — Sierra Nevada Barrel-aged Ovila Dubbel- numerous beers from SN that I never had before could have made this list as a result of my numerous meet ups with these guys along the way. This was probably the most interesting and complex of any that I encountered during SFBW.

But, without further ado, since I've been asked to name names, it became clear during the week that no beer was going to be more memorable than the Strike Blonde. Here are some guys (or three friends, two guys/one woman) that are focusing exclusively on session/low-alcohol beers. I was impressed by the 4.5% ABV Blonde on tap during the night-time Opening Celebration, again during the post-SFBW Beer Run during the afternoon in Los Gatos, and once more from the bottle in my hotel room prior to heading out one evening. I'll be looking forward to finding more from these San Jose-based guys during future visits to northern California.

Cheers San Francisco Beer Week! Once again, you've outdone yourselves and put on a fabulous show.

If you didn't catch the link above, be sure to head over to the photo gallery and check out the pictures of the people, places, and beers of SF Beer Week 2013.

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