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San Mateo Rocks! First Bay Area Brew Festival
By Mike Pitsker with Lisa Pitsker

Saturdays in summer are for mowing the lawn, watching baseball and, most important, drinking craft beer. So, when my friend, Farmhouse Brewing sales maven Jeff Moses, told me he was coordinating a new beer festival on the Bay Area Peninsula in San Mateo, I knew that for at least one June Saturday I would be off mowing duty for the day.

We arrived early, as usual. One of the primary sponsors, San Francisco rock radio station 107.7, “The Bone,” had a stage set up for the local bands performing throughout the day. Breweries and distributors were setting up around the periphery of the meadow. Jeff shot from place to place, setting up, guiding vendors, unloading cases and kegs. A few county fair–style food trailers prepared their barbecues and grills while the band began a sound check. We dropped some Celebrator issues on our table and strolled the grounds. My first beer had to be Jeff’s Farmhouse Oasthouse IPA. It was a great start to the day.

A fairly sizable line formed outside the gates as the last prep work wound down and volunteers manned booths and began strapping wristbands on the throng. We greeted folks from our booth, joined at start-up by old beer buddy and fellow Celebrator writer Jay Brooks, and handed out the latest issue of the mag.

Nude Beer boasts topless models on the bottle labels, tastefully covered with a peel-off logo. That booth had a line all day.

Once the initial crowd thinned at the gate, Jeff was worried. A first-time festival is a nerve-wracking juggling act for a coordinator, keeping costs within reason and praying for enough customers to at least break even, and the strain showed on Jeff’s face. The day began a little chilly and overcast — great beer-drinking weather for the Bay Area, but a killer for an outdoor festival — and we were all wondering if the masses would show. An early afternoon burn-off solved the problem, and a sizable crowd made its appearance before too long.

Music blasted from 20-foot-high speakers, a line formed for the NASCAR simulator truck, mustard dripped from hot dogs to chins, and the beer flowed. There were between 40 and 50 breweries represented, many by their distributors, and I’ve rarely seen so many Belgian imports on one field. Local beers ran the gamut from Drake’s hoppy IPA from San Leandro to Speakeasy Prohibition Pale Ale from San Francisco. The local brewery, Devil’s Canyon of Belmont, served an IPA and an amber ale. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Head Brewer Chad Brill offered his line of local organic beers.

I spent some of the afternoon assisting J. J. Phair, owner of E. J. Phair Brewing of Concord. He had his custom-made, umbrella-covered, molded-plastic beer box tapped with his delicious IPA and wheat ale.

Jeremy Cowan, owner of He’Brew of San Francisco and New York, held court at the next table, pouring rare samples of his 10th anniversary Genesis 10:10. The beer is brewed with a ton of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice for a tart, slightly sweet flavor that barely masks the 10% abv. “The Bible verse refers to Noah planting a vineyard after the flood and getting plowed,” said Jeremy.

Some newcomers included Pizza Orgasmica, a local pizza and beer joint that brews its own at the Devil’s Canyon facility, and Nude Beer, a bottled product boasting topless models on the labels tastefully covered with a peel-off logo. That booth had a line all day long.

Lisa sipped cider and manned the Celebrator table as the music played and the day wound down. The fest site emptied in an orderly fashion at closing while brewers broke down and vendors cleaned up. Jeff, no longer nervous, finally had time for a brew and a tired smile.

See you next year, Jeff, and hold a place for us at the Monterey Brew Fest on September 9.

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry professional.


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