Did I Just Have Fun at Barleywine?

Saturday dawned quite foggy in the City, somewhat apropos for how we were feeling. While Merideth and I were doing much better than the previous Saturday, late night beers at Tommy’s Joynt with the Alaska crew always leaves us a bit ‘weary.’ We needed to buck up as we had another busy day planned. A 3 1/2 mile walk to Magnolia for their Pre-Barleywine Breakfast was just what we needed.

The line at Toronado at 10am

The walk from our hotel to Magnolia conveniently brought us by Toronado. While we weren’t planning on attending one of SF Beer Week’s marquis events, the Barleywine Festival, we wanted to go by to get some footage.

Arriving at Toronado a little before 10am, we found our friends J.J., Scott, Gail and Steve near the front of the line. After chatting with them and a couple of other friends, taking a few pictures and shooting some video, the ‘normal’ people continued on to Magnolia.

A wait list quickly developed at Magnolia

The Pre Barleywine Breakfast was a great addition to this year’s SF Beer Week schedule. Magnolia’s convenient proximity to Toronado made it an excellent location for building the beer and food base before tackling the Barleywines. Or in our case, a great place to have breakfast and beers before heading back down to Toronado to giggle at all the drunks.

It was good to be an early bird at Magnolia. Merideth and I arrived around 10:15 and easily found a seat a bar. At the time, there were also plenty of tables available. But around half past, the steady stream of people started to walk through the door and a wait list quickly developed.

Crispy Pork Belly, Fried Egg over Black Eyed Peas… wow!

If you have made the walk between Toronado and Magnolia, you might have noticed a sign in the window of one of the building along Haight St. A picture of a little pig, the sign says “Please Don’t Eat Babe for Breakfast…” As Merideth and I walked by, we laughed heartily and said to each other that we were totally eating Babe for breakfast. We thought ourselves so funny, we stopped and filmed a little bit for the SF Beer Week One Pint at a Time episode.

Merideth had pancakes with a side of bacon while I went for the Crispy Pork Belly with a Fried Egg over Black Eyed Peas. Talk about building a strong food base for the day. It was an amazing meal.

Let it Rauch did just that

The main event for me at Magnolia was Strong Beer Month. This would be my one and only chance to try Magnolia’s big beer offerings. Not a huge fan of the high ABV brews, Merideth would stick with their regular beers like the Saison.

First up was Let it Rauch, a 8.8% ABV smoked beer. The ‘right’ level of smoke is subjective, but for me, it had the right amount of smoke. The only disappointment was that I finished it before my pork belly arrived. I thought they would have been a perfect pairing. Let it Rauch was on of my favorite beers of the 2010 SF Beer Week.

Promised Land Imperial IPA

The Rauchbier was followed by Promised Land Imperial IPA, a 10.4% ABV hopbomb.  I look forward to drinking this beer each year when Strong Beer Month rolls around. I had a slight scare, however, when we arrived and an “X” covered Promised Land on the board. Dave McLean happened to be behind the bar helping out. I didn’t real whine but explained to Dave my disappointment; how I look forward to it every year… today was my only chance. It was a Beer Week miracle as Promised Land was put back on. Not redolent of a marijuana harvest as in previous years, it still was a wonderful brew. Thanks Dave!

Still feeling strong, I was able to try Four Winds Quadrupel and Smokestack Lightning Imperial Stout before we had to head back down to Toronado. Between beer two and four, I remembered how much I like Magnolia. As we left, I promised myself that I wouldn’t forget again.

Toronado during the Barleywine festival

We needed to get over to Oakland for a Women in Beer event at Beer Revolution so the plan was to quickly make the loop through Toronado to shoot more photos and video footage. Entering a very crowded Toronado, we eventually made our way through the front bar to the back room. Halfway through the room, we saw our friends and stopped for a chat.

Which Barleywine should I try?

Offered a chance to sit, something we have never done at the Barleywine fest, we ended up staying over an hour. With almost all of the 48 Barleywines laid out in front of us, it was natural to grab a few to try. Barkley’s Sour Horn from Anderson Valley was the most interesting. As the name implies, it was a slightly sour Barleywine, something that I never imagined Anderson Valley creating. I also tried two of the three winners; the repeat winner from Glacier Brewhouse, Big Woody,  and Firestone Walker’s Abacus blend.

Hey! I am having fun at Barleywine!

In previous years, we looked at the Barleywine fest as a challenge to be overcome; a feat of strength. But this year, we were actually having something approaching what I would characterize as ‘fun.’ Unfortunately, Merideth and I needed to move on to the Women in Beer event. She was the ‘special surprise guest’.

Based on our experience this year, here is my guide for the 2011 Toronado Barleywine Festival:

  • Have or make friends with people near the front of the line. They need to be able to get a table
  • These friends should have water and snacks
  • Enjoy breakfast and a few beers at Magnolia while the above-mentioned friends acquire the Barleywines
  • Return to Toronado when above-mentioned friends have a nice buzz on. Join them when they ask
  • Enjoy the Barleywine, snacks and water
Scott likes his Barleywine