Last year, we attended events on all but two days of SF Beer Week. For a variety of reasons, Merideth and I didn’t have it in us to repeat 2010′s hectic schedule in 2011. We planned on only doing one weekend this year, the first. One weekend morphed into one day as we couldn’t find a pup sitter for Porter and Stout.
The main event of the day would be the Bistro’s 11th Annual Double IPA Festival, followed by some beer tramping around the City. The weather forecast, sunny and temperatures in the high 60s, was a cause for some concern. We are some of those crazy beer geeks who like to enjoy themselves at beer festivals. Really nice weather could translate into very crowded conditions at DIPA with long beer lines.
We had one ace up our sleeve, however. Having spent a quiet Friday night at home watching a movie, we would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning. Our plan was to get to the Bistro early while most other beer geeks were still sleeping off their SF Beer Week opening night celebrations.
Leaving our car in Fremont, we rode BART to Hayward. We met our friend Renee at the BART station a few minutes past 11am and made the short walk to the Bistro under brilliantly blue skies. Walking past the penned in side street that houses the festival, I saw a short admission line and a few people milling about with beers. Our threesome passed through the pub, exited the side entrance and joined the quick moving line.
Fifty dollars lighter in my pocket, I was now armed with my taster glass and 10 paper tokens. I already knew what my first beer was going to be but consulted my beer list to find out what number it was. Seeing that it was #48, Renee and I bee-lined to the far tent to get Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. I knew I would have more opportunities during the day to drink this hop-tacular, once-a-year brew, but figured it would be more enjoyable while I was still fresh.
Just like last year, there was much anticipation for that very first sip. Would the Younger still be the elyxir of the Hop gods? The short answer was yes. I should also add “WOW” to my review.
While, Renee and I got our Plinys, Merideth went into the pub to get herself a beer. Not the hophead, Merideth pretended to be at a Wheat beer festival. Drake’s Hefeweizen was Merideth’s beer of choice (To her credit, Merideth did try most, if not all, of the beers that I drank). Merideth’s pint-sized beers seemed to be the envy of many a person. Was it the person’s natural inclination to be jealous of someone with something larger or were they really wanting to be drinking pints of 10% ABV beers?
After the Younger, I focused on DIPAs that I had never tried before. Hopbombs from High Water Brewing, Kern River, Knee Deep, Sutter Buttes were not only the first DIPAs from these breweries but the first ever beers I tried from them. Drake’s Hop Salad and Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 were also firsts for me.
On my beer list, I rated the beers with a complex scoring system that I devised. If liked a beer, I drew a smiley face. If I didn’t care for the beer, I drew a frown. Brews not in either of those categories got a straight line drawn next to their listing. I ended trying 15 of the 58 DIPAs available. My favorite brew not named Pliny the Younger was Drake’s Hop Salad. Other beers receiving smiley faces were Triple Rock’s IIMAXX Imperial IPA and Bear Republic’s Cafe Racer 15.
In the official judging, Firestone Walker Double Jack came out on top followed by Moylan’s Hopsickle and Drake’s Hopocalypse. I didn’t have any of those three on the day. The “People’s Choice” award went to Kern River Citra DIPA, a beer that got a frown on my list. It was one of my last beers so maybe my palate was worn out by that point.
The weather was glorious! Eventually joined by our friends Philippe and Chris (Devlin to you Seattle folks), our now group of five spent the early afternoon chatting with friends, enjoying the sun and drinking some great beer. It did get crowded early in the afternoon but I never felt I was in the mosh pit of a punk show. And more importantly, the beer lines moved very quickly.
Our group ran out of tickets around the time I was hoping to head over to the City. So we finished up our last beers, Green Flash Palate Wrecker in my case, and headed back to the BART station.
The almost 40 minute BART ride to San Francisco was a nice break from not only the beer but the bright sun which left a few of us with a pinkish hue. Getting off at Civic Center, we followed a very familiar path down 9th to Folsom Street and City Beer Store. Looking forward to sitting and relaxing with a beer, I was pleased to see that City Beer wasn’t crazy busy. They were doing brisk business but there was no Beer Week event. So it was still manageable. We grabbed one of the high tables.
Despite still being a bit hopped up after trying 15 DIPAs, I remained on the hop-side and ordered a Gold Digger IPA from Auburn Alehouse. Merideth had a Saison De Lente from the Bruery.
It had been several months since our last visit to City Beer. Between helping customers, Craig and Beth took some time to chat with us. It was nice to catch up with them. Hopefully, they will survive Beer Week, then the Craft Brewers Conference and make it to their 5th anniversary celebrations.
Still not having enough hops, I pulled out of the cold case a bottle of Firehouse Hops on Rye, a rye IPA. Getting four glasses from Beth, I shared with the table one my favorite recent releases.
In the fading late afternoon sun, we departed City Beer for our next destination, the Lower Haight and Toronado. With the presence of Pliny the Younger on Toronado’s beer list, I fully expected the tiny bar to be packed and the staff extra surly. Toronado was busy, but we have seen it much worse. We quickly purchased beers without incident (It probably helped that we didn’t try to buy a t-shirt for a friend). Still not satisfied with my hop intake, I ordered my favorite IPA on cask, Moonlight Bombay by Boat. Merideth ordered Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin. We even managed to procure a table in the small back room.
My last beer at Toronado (and as it would turn out, the day) I finally ordered a brew that wasn’t a hopbomb. Firestone Walker’s Sticky Monkey, a 12% ABV English Barley Wine, came in a little six ounce pour. Taking a small sip, vanilla notes and barrel flavors dominated this beer. I correctly guessed that Sticky Monkey had to be part of Firestone Walker 14. It’s 29% of the beer. Finding it a bit harsh, I shared the small pour with the rest of the group.
Getting visions of pork belly and Strong Beers in my head, our quintet walked up Haight Street towards Magnolia Pub and Brewery for Strong Beer Month. SF Beer Week is not always glamor and fun. Sometimes there is disappointment. The past three years whether it was SF Beer Week or Beerapalooza, Merideth and I made this walk for Magnolia’s strong beers. I was especially excited this year because I heard there was a Strong Beer flight… and cheese! I must have looked very disappointed as I walked in and was confronted by hordes of fellow Beer Weekers. The ten person queue at the bar to get a beer discouraged us from trying to wait this one out. We had done our hard work for day at DIPA and Torondao. We turned around and left.
Our beer opportunities for the day might have ended, but we still had one more stop before Merideth and I hopped back on BART to Fremont. Humphry Slocombe, located at 24th and Harrison, was the big hit of the 2010 SF Beer Week with their beer ice cream. They returned in 2011 with more beer flavors and still the best Beer Week deal, four scoops for $5.
The four flavors during our visit were Giant Smors (Social Kitchen and Brewery), Cappuccino Stout (Lagunitas), Payback Cocoa Porter (Speakeasy) and Sour Stave (Thirsty Bear). Having got a taste for sour beer ice creams when I had the Kriek sorbet in Brussels, I found the Sour Stave the most interesting. But I truly love coffee ice cream so the Cappuccino Stout had to be my favorite. Merideth weighed in with the Giant Smors as her favorite.
Stuffed with ice cream, our day at SF Beer Week was over. We parted ways with Renee, Chris and Philippe to let them carry on with the Beer Week madness. Merideth and I walked the six blocks up to the 24th Street BART station. SF Beer Week was short for us this year, but we still enjoyed taking part in celebrating America’s Original Craft Beer City. Happy SFBW everyone!