Monday, February 21, 2011

Reflections on SF Beer Week

I attended 19 beer events over the course of seven days. That's 19 events all within a five mile radius of my house.

I skipped the last three days of SF Beer Week because I was so sick I could have infected all the thousands of you that kept on going right through the 20th. With 19 events, I think it's safe to estimate that I consumed roughly 97,000 beers within 168 hours time. This estimation is rough, of course, but I assume yours are similar.

Joking aside, let's talk for a moment about how lucky we all are to have a week like this to participate in. I've never been a part of a beer week in another city. I hear Denver is great, I hear Philly is great. Everyone I know that's been to Oregon during beer month tells me how much I'd love it. I'm sure I'll make it out to all those cities eventually, but for the moment, I'm happy to revel in what we've got right here.

I'd like to get a little personal and nostalgic for a moment. I moved to San Francisco on September 1st, 2008. I had no money, literally living off of a loan that in the pre-credit crisis era was able to be maxed out on things like rent and burritos that could be stretched to last three days. (Say what you will about Taqueria Cancun; when you've got a broken collar bone and you're living at 18th & Mission, you can make one last for breakfast, lunch and dinner and maybe even breakfast the next day.) I knew one person. He only knew me. The social situation was, let's say, sparse.

I made it a little worse for myself by insisting on being a freelancer. Being a freelancer performs two opposite tasks simultaneously: You meet a ton of people, and you become friends with absolutely none of them. I've racked up more professional contacts in this city than I could start to list, but friends took a little bit longer to find.

Before San Francisco, I made legitimate stabs at building a life in Kansas City, New York City and Cincinnati, three cities with excellent access to craft beer. I've lived with accessible Bell's, Brooklyn, Boulevard - if you can get it between Colorado and Maine, I've probably lived somewhere I could pick it up. When I moved to the west coast, I wasn't excited about moving to some crazy beer mecca. Cincinnati's beer scene was exploding just as I was about to leave with incredible bars and people that cared so much about showcasing their more-than-a-century-old brewing philosophy. Moving to San Francisco made me a little heartbroken, to be honest, for all the beer I'd be losing in my day to day life.

You don't have to go back to 2008 and slap me; I don't need it. You could gently tell me how much I was about to learn and how much my life was about to change, though.

Moving to a completely new area of the country prepped with a really solid knowledge base from somewhere else just turns you into a kid in a candy store. I wandered into Shotwell's, nee Inner Mission Beer Parlor, about two months into moving west. Within a few months I had tried everything on the menu. It wasn't enough. Corner stores, brewpubs, nerdy beer blogs - give it to me.

Somewhere along the line, I got "into" the beer world. I don't know how it happens. You make some friends on Twitter. You start to recognize people because you're always at the same events. You share information, you retweet. You write about beer every once in awhile. Someone sees you talking to people about beer often enough and they decide you know your stuff; soon enough you're being introduced to distributors and brewers. Somewhere along the line, nothing is enough. Never satisfied, never done learning.

It has been an absolute pleasure to party with all of you for the past week. Is it really nerdy that most of my real life friends directly or indirectly met me through the Internet? I don't care. My word, what a party this week was. I have learned to stop blushing when someone introduces me as "At JRizzo". I shared beers - in some cases, quite literally - with so many of you. I wasn't alone anywhere. I'm no longer faceless in this city, and I have beer to thank.

I get so much joy out of telling people stories about our beer scene. A non-beer-drinking friend (I've got them, yes) came by to see me at 21A on Imperial Jack night and wanted to know what the big event was. I told her the whole thing - the first brewing of Imperial Jack, who Richard is, why ESB is so special, what this beer is about, how it came to be entered into the World Beer Cup. Stories I've heard over sharing pints with the people who make the beer as well as the people who love it. Stories that make this city's beer scene more than good beer, more than creative beer, more than just a list of places to grab a pint. I take so much pride in knowing all of those things. I sat at the Beer and Nosh dinner at The Summit and someone opened a door for me to spend three minutes describing the science and use of Brettanomyces, and they cared. They listened. We learned together.

People are always asking how I know this person or that person, how I know what beer is where, how I know where the cool events are. Just saying "Twitter" sounds so silly, doesn't it? I'll figure out how exactly it works sometime, but for now, it's certainly not hurting anything.

Nineteen events. I'm still sorting through all of the photos, and god knows I'll never be able to list all the beer. If I tried less than 100 different beers this week, I'd be shocked. They were all real. Someone made every single one of them. They aren't competing; they're friends. Beer community, you're a card.

Thank you to everyone for the laughter, for the hugs, for the sips of your beer, for the glasses of water, for the immediate @ responses when one of you posted about a fascinating beer that made me rush across town to try it. Singling out my favorite event is impossible, but Breweries of Tomorrow, The Summit, MK/Heart Cask Night, Lost Coast at South End, Local at Shotwell's, Breckle's at Anchor, and Russian River at Pi all hold pretty dear places in my heart.

Over the next couple of weeks I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of great recaps roll in. I'm looking forward to your thoughts, to weeks worth of discussion, and to a whole year to anticipate doing this ride all over again. Cheers, y'all.

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