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/// SF BEER WEEK 2012
 
Ten Days That Shook The Bay
San Francisco Beer Week Returns for a Fourth Year
 
 
The circus came to town — and they threw a beer dinner! The ringleader was Homebrew Chef Sean Z. Paxton. He served up nine courses punctuated by circus acts and paired with special beers from Ninkasi, Shmaltz and Speakeasy breweries. All this was part of San Francisco Beer Week.

In total, SFBW served up more than 300 events over the course of 10 days, with beer festivities reaching the farthest corners of the Bay Area. There were brewers to meet, special beers to drink, sumptuous food to eat and classes to take.

And the fun wasn’t limited to the inside of pubs, breweries and restaurants. There were activities such as the five-mile “beer run” through Golden Gate Park, starting and ending at Social Kitchen & Brewery; the East Bay bicycle tour, visiting five breweries; and the competition to earn a day working as a brewer at Pyramid in Berkeley, where participants summoned up their elementary school skills to avoid flying rubber balls in the Dodgeball Smashdown.

The first San Francisco Beer Week was inspired by the inaugural Philly Beer Week in 2008. The organizing committee realized that February in the Bay Area already included the famed Toronado Barleywine Festival, the Double IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward and the Celebrator’s own anniversary beer festival. San Francisco’s Magnolia and 21st Amendment breweries had declared February “Strong Beer Month.” Hidden in all that annual craft beer activity was a long week just waiting to be recognized and filled with beer enjoyment, education and adventure.

Hidden in all that annual craft beer activity was a long week just waiting to be recognized and filled with beer enjoyment, education and adventure.
The San Francisco Brewers Guild now produces SFBW. According to Guild member Ron Silberstein, “Nothing represents [our] mission better than San Francisco Beer Week.” The affable founder of Thirsty Bear Brewing Company defined that mission as “education and celebration of artisanal craft beer.”

Four years in, many events are coming into their own. The Opening Gala this year was, to most observers and participants we spoke with, the best one yet. More than 60 Northern California craft breweries fit in comfortably at the Concourse Exhibition Center along with food vendors and live bands. Anchor Brewing showed up with a unique historical re-creation of an all-malt 1876 California lager. Attendees sought out popular treats, such as the 2012 version of Pliny the Younger from Russian River.

New hoppy releases from Drake’s brew crew and from Rodger Davis (who has since departed Triple Rock to work on his own brewery project) gave a preview of the awards they would take the next day at The Bistro’s Double IPA Festival in the new triple IPA category. Brewers from the recently opened Elevation 66, Heretic, Pacific Brewing Labs, Southern Pacific and Strike poured first tastes of their beers for many fellow brewers and an appreciative public.

Each year, SFBW affords an opportunity for the Bay Area’s craft breweries to showcase the best they have to offer to locals and visitors from around the world. It also gives locals a chance to try new beers from afar. Throughout Beer Week, we ran into people who had traveled a considerable distance to join in the celebration. At City Beer Store, where special selections from Oregon’s Cascade Brewing were being poured, we ran into Johan Wallén and Mattias Wallén, who came over with a group of 10 from Sweden specifically for SFBW. Was it worth the trip? Johan simply said, “Some of the best beers in the world are here.”

At the Rogue pub for Sheana Davis’s cheese-pairing event, we met Dan Syracuse from Buffalo. He arrived from New York with a group of 12 decked out in custom “West Coast Hop Trip” T-shirts.

Brian Ewing, owner of 12 Percent Imports, travels to beer weeks all around the country. While accompanying Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales to a meet-the-brewer event, Ewing told us, “I’m blown away by how well attended everything is … There is much more enthusiasm at San Francisco Beer Week than almost anywhere.” Strumke added, “You’re killing it!”

Some pubs temporarily turned their taps over to a single brewery from near or far. Pi Bar in San Francisco’s Mission district hosted a different brewery every day. Beer Revolution in Oakland hosted multiple meet-the-brewer events simultaneously with its 47 craft taps. Veteran brewers Arne Johnson from Marin Brewing and Dave McLean from Magnolia dug into their cellars to bring out rare beers they had been aging for a special occasion. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing held a special brew day for women, and Chef Eric Tucker at Millennium Restaurant once again served up a bountiful organic vegetarian meal paired with organic beers.

Several new restaurants joined in with Beer Week dinners. Among them was Bar Tartine, which offered an evening of soulful New Orleans–style cuisine and beer. Convened by Sayre Piotrkowski, the event featured beers from Craftsman, Dying Vines, Linden Street and Moonlight breweries, paired with two distinct menus by guest chef Sarah Kirnon. Wayfare Tavern, owned by TV celebrity chef Tyler Florence, jumped in with a dinner featuring select beers from San Diego’s Lost Abbey.

Some pubs temporarily turned their taps over to a single brewery from near or far.
Emerging as one of the most prolific food and beer pairing brewers around, Jesse Friedman, with his Almanac Beer, partnered with four restaurants, a doughnut shop, a cheese shop, a chocolate maker and an ice cream store to show food and beer enthusiasts that they can have their beer and eat it too.

One gathering that has evolved into a Beer Week tradition is affectionately known as Sour Sunday. Sour and barrel-aged beers of all kinds, including some off-beat surprises such as an Italian artisan gruit and a traditional French cider aged in Calvados barrels, were poured by importers, brewers and other congenial beer community personalities at Triple Rock and Jupiter brewpubs, a few blocks apart in Berkeley.

In what was one of the most intriguing and unique Beer Week events, New Belgium Brewing came to town with a hands-on blending symposium for sour-beer enthusiasts. La Trappe Cafe in North Beach hosted two sold-out sessions. Lauren and Eric Salazar, the ughmaster blending and barrel aging duo responsible for La Folie and other barrel-aged beers, brought in half a dozen colleagues and some special casks of unreleased beer. Attendees learned how to create their own blended sour beer to take home.

The Salazars presented a slide show about working among the giant wooden aging tanks known as foeders. They went into detail about how their barrel room program evolved, and their presentation was punctuated with laughter and astute audience questions. Lauren told the rapt crowd how friendly bacteria change the beer over months or years at an unpredictable pace. Tasting on a regular rotation is the only way to decide which percentage of each batch is ready to blend into the next release. “We listen to them—to the barrels,” Lauren said.

After a break for steamed mussels, other specialties of the house and refills from among a wide array of New Belgium beers, everybody got to work. Armed with measuring cups and sample pours of each version of the base beer pulled from new, young, middle and “oude” barrels, along with a finished example of La Folie, each guest tasted and mixed beers. Soon people handed in their desired blending ratios. Each recipe was then expertly blended into a take-home growler of custom sour beer. The entire seminar, along with meal, beers and the filled growler, was priced below cost, at a mere $40.

By the time the Celebrator’s 24th anniversary bash arrived on the second Sunday, nearly everybody had something to remember and an event or two they wished they had attended. There was nothing to be done but relax and wait for an encore in 2013.
The Heart of Beer Week

A curious coincidence in the timing of San Francisco Beer Week is that Valentine’s Day always falls somewhere within the 10 days. Is there anything romantic about beer? Very few breweries bother to make a Valentine’s seasonal, but Russian River Brewing is an exception. Like all of Russian River’s Belgian-inspired beers, this beer’s name ends in “tion,” and the brewery brought kegs of this special beer to several events.

Russian River brewer and founder Vinnie Cilurzo explained: “Tomme Arthur [The Lost Abbey] called me five or six years ago in January with a suggestion for a beer called ‘Rejection’ for Valentine’s Day.” The very next day, Cilurzo brewed the beer, using a Belgian yeast and ingredients he had on hand, including some dark malt, in order to have it ready in time. That’s how Rejection became a beer as black as the heart of whoever has jilted you. The beer is available only in February and only on draft. One thing Cilurzo discovered by holding on to a few kegs was that Rejection ages beautifully. “We’d like to bottle it at some point so that customers can enjoy aging it at home,” he said. But that’s still just a twinkle in the brewer’s eye.

A few themed SFBW events were held around the Bay Area on the 14th of February, such as an Oyster Extravaganza at Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, a Valentine’s Beer vs. Wine tasting at Wine Affairs in San Jose, and an impressive lineup of beer and chocolate events.

Other venues mocked the sentimental holiday. The Public House at the Giants ballpark brought out some rare kegs for a “Bitter, Sour, Single” event. In Berkeley, Jupiter’s “Anti–Valentine’s Day Cask Beer and Blues Night” was a natural in the eyes of owner John Martin. “Normally, people go out to a really nice restaurant. Jupiter is just a beer bar! Why not go anti–Valentine’s Day?”

Mary Carten and Ron Gehrke met five years ago (before SFBW was officially launched) at the annual Celebrator party. They married four years later. This year they went to just one Beer Week event, the Ballast Point barrel-aged tapping at City Beer Store. As Mary explained, “In previous years, we’ve been beered-out by Beer Week.” The date was more important to them than Valentine’s Day, since it was the actual anniversary of the day they met. “Beer can be a romantic beverage when you have a lot of it,” quipped Ron.


SF Beer Week 2012 kicks off with a gala


The crowd at the opening gala


Vinnie discusses Russian River beers at the gala


Wide-eyed brewer Brian Hunt poured Moonlight beers


Music played all night from the main stage


SFBW producer Rich Higgins poured for Social Kitchen


Ashly Routson with her "little guy"


The welcoming banner at The Bistro fest in Hayward


Vic and Cynthia Kralj congratulate Triple IPA winner Brian Thorson from Drake's


The DIPA judges working from deep in the cellar at The Bistro


An amazing network of hoses carried the hoppyness at the DIPA fest at The Bistro


Part of the huge crowd seeking total hoppyness at the DIPA fest at The Bistro


Firehouse brewer Steve with April Anderson


The crowd lines up for the Sour Fest at Triple Rock


Beers with balance at the Sour Fest


Sour geek Pete Slosberg finds a treasure


Beer Revolution owner Fraggle ponders a choice


Don't look like no "sour face" to us


Ashly Routson made beer cocktails at the Un-birthday


Andy Ferman poured St. George Spirits beer cocktails
 

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