While Double IPA and Barleywine Festivals get all the press and crowds, it’s the smaller events that are the backbone of SF Beer Week. These events mostly happen during the week, away from the adulation of the big crowds. Last year, during the inaugural SF Beer Week, we sat on the sidelines for the midweek events. Not so, this year; we wanted to get more of a Beer Week experience.
After two days of rest from opening weekend, on Wednesday, Merideth and I ventured up to the South Bay for a Beer and Cheese pairing event at Firehouse Grill and Brewery. Organized by Peter Estaniel, the cheese was provided by the Milk Pail Market in Mountain View. Most important, the beer was provided by our friend, Steve Donohue, Head Brewer at Firehouse. A couple of Steve’s beers were poured as well as a selection of brews chosen by him. These were heavy on the Belgians and Belgian-styles but included American classics Bear Republic’s Racer and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. In total there were 25 cheeses and a dozen beers to sample.
Since we weren’t doing our own event this year, we wanted to help others out when we could. When Peter put out the call for helpers, we gladly volunteered. Our shift was the first half of the event and our job was to pour the aforementioned Racer 5 and Bigfoot. We also had a pitcher of Steve’s tribute beer to Bill Brand, an Imperial Red. The three cheeses on our table were blues.
People started coming in a little before 7pm and we were quickly pouring beer and fielding questions about cheese. Luckily, the beer and cheese pairing wasn’t structured. The idea wasn’t to be told what beer and cheese to pair together. Rather people were encouraged to wander around and discover for themselves which beer and cheeses paired well together. Merideth and I thought this was a great idea because it fit in well with our ‘find your own beer adventure’ beer travel beliefs. I coined it “build your own beer and cheese experience.”
In a very relaxed setting, groups of people wandered between cheese and beer stations sampling the offerings. As the crowd flow permitted, Merideth and I took turns visiting the other stations and sampling. We were even able to mingle and chat with friends.
Turns out the best beer and cheese pairing for me was right in front of my eyes. The fresh, hoppy 2010 Bigfoot paired very well with the English Blue Stilton. Pairing aside, my favorite cheese was a Horseradish Havarti from Wisconsin. I love horseradish! When is a brewer going incorporate it in a beer? Merideth, when asked what she liked best, wisely commented, ” I liked the cheese…”
And despite the presence of some of my all time favorite beers like Rodenbach, Racer 5 and Orval, the beer of the evening for me was Steve’s Bill Brand Imperial Red. Sentimentality aside, it was a beautiful 10% ABV hop monster.
After our shift, we chatted with friends and tried a few more cheeses and beers. Remembering our ‘it’s a marathon’ mantra, we decided to pack it in and head home. SF Beer Week’s closing weekend was rapidly approaching and we needed our beauty rest.