Tuesday, February 14, 2012

REPORTING FROM THE FRONT @ SF BEER WEEK ‘12

Last year I surprised even myself and made the scene at San Francisco’s annual beer-related hullabaloo, and found out later that I was one of the lucky ones to have a great experience at the Opening Night event (“the gala”), since I greedily paid a few extra coins to get an early admission ticket. The rest of the people – the rabble, the hoi polloi – had to wait in ungodly lines to even enter the door, and some missed half the event and many of the best beers before they even got in. This year the folks planning this thing out knew better. They held it at a giant hall called the Concourse Exhibition Center, where I’ve been to mobile industry trade shows and Belle & Sebastian concerts in the past. They kept ticket prices high to, you know, keep out the riff-raff. (Kidding folks – I paid dearly for the privilege of this thing & now I’m on ramen and tater tots the rest of the week).

Just about every beer-drinking yahoo and his brother in attendance will tell you the thing was a smashing success. No fistfights, public defecation, vomiting, copulation on top of garbage cans, nor broken glass of any kind. I didn’t have to keep my elbows tucked into my sides, and I tasted all manner of amazing beers from across the greater SF Bay Area, from Humboldt County to Santa Cruz. The organizers deserve huge kudos for doing this right. They divided up sections of the exhibition center into North Bay/South Bay/East Bay/San Francisco so you could taste by region, if you were so inclined. As it so happened, I was so inclined. I also had a banh mi sandwich as good as any I’ve ever had, including from back in my days as a parachute gunner fighting "Charlie" back in Danang. ‘Nam, man. Let’s not talk about ‘Nam.

Most reports I’ve seen on last Friday’s event have centered on the civility, the camaraderie and the fun they had drinking untold quantities of great beer. I’ll raise them one, and even let you know what beers to look out for and maybe even avoid. Yep, Beer Samizdat took some notes. We always do. That’s why we have no friends. My goal was the hit as many of the new brewers whose wares I hadn’t tried yet as I could. My other goal was to not get drunk, and I mostly succeeded. As the night unfolded and began to take on epic proportions, I strayed from both plans and began trying new beers from old favorites, as well as certain beers I’d had before but am likely to never try again.

Here’s what I tasted, broken into helpful categories for ya:

THE OUTSTANDING

Sierra Nevada – “Brown Saison” (wood-aged, red wine-dosed brown ale that was to die for)
Bear Republic – “Ryevalry”
Devils Canyon Brewing – “Biere Brut” (effervescent blonde champagne-like ale – wow)

THE VERY GOOD

Speakeasy Brewing – “Massacre”
Dying Vines – “Hop Candi”
Devils Canyon Brewing – “Sour Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale”
San Francisco Brewer’s Guild “2012 St. Strong Ale” (collaboration beer between SF brewers, made just for the occasion)
Sonoma Springs – “Uncle Jack’s Kolsch”
Firehouse Brewing/Highwater Brewing – “St Belgique” (collaboration)
Moonlight Brewing – “Pale Ale” (another simple winner from a brewery who never lets me or anyone else down)
Almanac Brewing – “Summer 2010 Blackberry” (last kegs!!)
Southern Pacific Brewing – “Extra IPA”  (Brand new SF brewer)
PacBrew Labs – “Nautilus Saison”  (another brand-new SF brewer; formerly known as Hibiscus Saison; lead brewer Bryan Hermanson is pictured above pouring this concoction)  

THE MIDDLING

Lagunitas – “Fusion”  (made just for Beer Week as well; surprisingly off-balance and only moderately drinkable)

THE POOR

San Francisco Brewer’s Guild – “California Common 2011” (one of my favorite beers last year; after aging a year it’s one of my least in 2012. See folks – aging doesn’t always bring dividends. Drink it now!)
Magnolia – “Kalifornia Kolsch”

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