Making Merry During SF Beer Week

We couldn’t make this year’s SF Beer Week.
we had Renee Brincks on the scene.

Don Barkley of Napa Smith kicks off SF Beer Week

When San Francisco Beer Week debuted in 2009, I’d just moved to the city. The first event I attended that first year, along with Beer Geeks Chris and Merideth, was at City Beer Store. Following a Pliny the Younger tapping, we sampled New Albion Ale that Don Barkley had brewed according to its original recipe. The former New Albion employee and current Napa Smith brewer was one of the first people I spotted when I arrived at this year’s beer week opener. He also was one of many in attendance who expressed pride in how this annual festival has grown.

Ready for the opening pours

The opening celebration, one of more than 300 events on the 2012 SF Beer Week schedule, had an impressive beer menu and smart organization. In the Concourse Exhibition Center, the event felt less crowded than in past years – even with big attendance numbers. Plus, with breweries grouped by region, it was easy to find whatever one wanted.

Taste-testing Sierra Nevada's new canned beers

I especially enjoyed Drake’s Black Label Hopocalypse, Hops on Rye from Firehouse, Bear Republic’s Ryevalry and Moonlight’s Misspent Youth. I also sampled some Pliny the Younger (thankfully, I got in before that line snaked past the adjacent three tables), and I aced a Sierra Nevada blind tasting by correctly identifying bottled and canned versions of its pale ale.

Sunday, it was off to City Beer for back-to-back tastings by some out-of-town breweries that I always enjoy. Midnight Sun headlined the afternoon – the kölsch was a nice way to ease into things after lunch – and the Cascade taps turned on at 6 p.m. I was happy to see Figaro on the menu, and also tried the fruity Winter Gose. Even with City Beer’s expanded space, there was a solid crowd by early evening.

Drake's pairings at Mission Cheese

Because SF Beer Week includes so many free events, my budget and I avoided most ticketed happenings – except for one. Drake’s is one of my favorites around here, and I reserved a spot at their Monday night Mission Cheese pairing weeks in advance. The event sold out, not surprisingly, and a lively group packed the place soon after the doors opened. Five beers made the menu: Drake’s Amber, the 1500 pale ale, Hopocalypse, Moscow’s Burning Smoked Imperial Stout and this year’s Dire Straits Barleywine.

It’s tough to pick one pairing that I enjoyed the most, because each was terrific and totally different. But, two that really stood out were the 1500 paired with Pawlet, a washed-rind cow’s milk from Vermont, and Hopocalypse with an organic cow’s milk blend from Weirauch Creamery in nearby Petaluma. Cheers to the Drake’s team for being excellent hosts, as well. One brewery employee looked amused after an enthusiastic guest asked, “Can I visit your factory?” “Well, it’s called a brewery,” he told her. “You can visit our brewery…I think factories make toys or something.”

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, which is a holiday I’ve never enjoyed. In fact, I told my sweetheart that I’d ditch him if he brought me flowers and candy. Happily, he took that to heart, and we headed to Public House for burgers, bitters and sours. Magnolia’s Billy Sunday Bitter, my go-to during Giants games, was on the list, as were the tart Cuvee de Bubba and a super sour Berliner Weisse from Bear Republic. After dinner, we hit up the Lagunitas night at McTeagues, where founder Tony Magee was on stage with his guitar.

On Wednesday night, it was back to City Beer for a Stillwater Artisanal Ales session. I first met brewer Brian Strumke at a local beer event a few years back, and it’s always fun to catch up. He had just returned from meeting with brewers in Europe, and he was preparing to celebrate his second anniversary in the business. Stillwater’s bourbon barrel-aged Folklore, which is flavorful without being too boozy, and its red wine barrel-aged counterpart topped my list of bests. That whole City Beer evening was a highlight for me, in fact, thanks to good beer and great friends at one of my favorite places in San Francisco. As a bonus, Nosh This was selling sweets in the back. Bacon salted caramels and beer for dinner? Yep.

Due to weekend plans, my beer week wrapped up on Friday with pre-happy hour pints at Toronado. Yes, I had another glass of Pliny the Younger – I’m pretty sure everyone in the bar that day had at least one, actually – and I followed that up with Russian River Temptation and a De La Seven from Upright. People were three-deep at the bar by the time the workday ended, and that’s when we took off.

All told, it was another great San Francisco Beer Week. The celebration gets better every year, partly because of all those creative events that breweries put together, and partly because of this region’s continued interest in craft brewing. At every event, I ran into friends I’ve made at other festivals and local beer bars – it’s an impressive community of engaged and enthusiastic individuals. Happily, SF Beer Week gives everyone a chance to step out from behind the brew kettle, bottling line, Twitter account and Untappd app to enjoy a pint together.

Thanks to the SF Beer Week organizers for
providing my media pass to the opening event.