Saturday, February 25, 2012

SF Beer Week 2012 Recap

I did the terribly over-emotional recap here last year, and I stand by it. I could write the same thing again, with a little more familiarity and a few more friends, but the idea is the same. Every year, I get to live through ten days that remind me how lucky I am to be a part of what I believe is the strongest craft beer community in the country, and I am so grateful for that opportunity.

I won't be writing any big features on the events I attended, namely because I didn't take any photos this year. Last year I tried to jump around as much as possible and thought about how I would "cover" something; this year, I decided to live in the moment and let the week guide me wherever made sense. I'm so glad I did. There are all sorts of brilliant beer bloggers out there that covered them much better than I would have anyway, and hopefully by now you've gotten an opportunity to relive some of those events through their recaps.

I would like to discuss a couple of my highlights, however, and the comments section is there if you'd like to discuss yours as well.

SF Beer Week Opening Celebration, or what I will always refer to as either The Gala or Beer Prom - Many of you will remember that I was mildly vocal regarding my disappointment at last year's opening event. The more vulgar among you might recall that I was sort of a dick about it. I could not be happier with the improvements that were made this year.

The location was great, and while some people might disagree, I'm glad the VIP tickets are done with. For a massive event such as this, it just seems unfair to put a luxury tax on the "special" beers, which is what happened last year. People who wanted first crack could line up early, and they did. I arrived around 5:40 and was pretty far back in line, but I was through the doors by 6:10 at the latest and the hall was nowhere near filling up. There were over 60 breweries in attendance and I only made it to a handful. If I did have to wait in a line, it was less than ten minutes, and it's worth noting that only happened to me a couple of times for a couple of very special beers that I knew would have long lines. Aside from the lack of bathrooms (which is a significant problem and does need to be dealt with for next year), I think this year was a spectacular hit. I hope it's at this location again next year.

My other criticism would be a lack of seating. It seems silly at a three hour beer festival, sure, but by the end, every ounce of sitting-friendly space was taken up by people who just needed to get off their feet for a second. A few chairs or benches spread out around the place would have been a nice addition (if nothing else, certain areas seemed to be a little traffic-clogged toward the end of the night).

Congratulations to the organizers of this year's event - you clearly listened to the community after last year and all that thoughtfulness really came out in the party. Everyone I was with had an incredible time and we're still talking about it two weeks later.

Sour Sunday - the unofficial name we've all given to Triple Rock and Jupiter's sour events. My word, what a great day. We started at Triple Rock and we were a few minutes late to the party. The line was long, but only took us 25 minutes or so. It was one-in, one-out by that point, but I think that's a good decision. It was crowded inside without being terribly unmanageable. All of the American sours were pushed onto the patio upstairs, which led to some interesting traffic jams. The patio is beautiful and is my favorite thing about Triple Rock, but since many of us were really there to try the hard-to-find American beers, we mostly camped out and got terribly cozy. $20 for entry snagged you four full pours, and everyone I spoke to was offering a small tasting before you committed to using one of your precious tickets.

After we left Triple Rock, we headed to Jupiter for the end of their event. There was ample space on the back patio, so we cozied up and filled our bellies with pizza. (The more ambitious among us continued on to the Mission Rosamunde for the rest of the evening. That pizza was necessary.) The lovely Kelsey of Drake's poured me a barrel-aged version of Drakonic, which would lead to me snapping it up everywhere I could find it for the rest of the week. I am a creature of delicious habit.

And perhaps the best thing about Sour Sunday, for those of you who know the two of us personally, is that Eric took the greatest photo of myself and Jeff ever. I'll be framing it.

Photo credit to Beer and Pork

Butchers and Beers - Please do yourself a favor and check out Brian's excellent photos and writeup over at Bay Area Craft Beer. This is the sort of event that I would love to see more of in San Francisco. Yes, there was unlimited beer, yes, there was unlimited (and exquisite) food. But the star of the show here really was the education we all received. I'm not used to spending my Monday night sharing a room with 50 food nerds who are actually in it to learn something. We watched and asked questions as Ryan Farr expertly butchered half of a 300 pound pig - beers in hand, of course.

If you ever have the opportunity to see a Ryan Farr breakdown, make it a priority. He's funny and conversational, all while educating you on the process and showing a clear amount of respect for the job he's privileged to perform every day. All questions were answered without disrupting the process. And, of course, the food is just ridiculous. I've certainly eaten my share of crispy pig fat for the year. (Not that it's going to stop me.) The beer was fantastic, the crowd was lively. I wish there had been a little more seating - I showed up right as the event was scheduled to start and all the tables were claimed already, and none of the guests saw fit to rotate off of their tables as the night progressed. I'm sure I'd be the same way, but it did make eating a little difficult. Luckily the pork was tender enough that a knife was never, ever called for!

I sincerely hope events like this are part of a larger trend in our beer culture. Everyone walked away full, happy, and having learned a little something new.

Sau and Brau - Two days after my dinner of unlimited beer and pork, I went to a dinner of unlimited beer and pork. I am nothing if not consistent. The good folks at Drake's certainly know how to throw a party! I realized far too late that the first of the three hours was a happy hour, offering unlimited pours of Drake's regular beers. The lovely Kelsey offered me an extra drink ticket to make up for what was ultimately my own misunderstanding, a much appreciated gesture.

Is there anything to say about Drake's barrel-aged beers that hasn't been said? These are folks who are just doing everything right. The Drakonic brewed with Tcho and Blue Bottle was fantastic. The Brett beer (whose name escapes me at the moment) was fantastic. I can go on and on and sing the praises of every single thing I tried. Seating was more than adequate, the food was great, and the atmosphere was terribly friendly and fun. My dining companion and I made fast friends with the strangers at our table and we had a lovely evening. I hadn't originally planned to attend since San Leandro is a little difficult for the car-less among us to reach, but I'm so pleased that I had the opportunity.

SF Homebrewer's Guild at Pi Bar - For years, many of us have been saying "man, there really needs to be a homebrew club in San Francisco". A few have loosely tried to get plans together that fell through one way or the other. But finally, Chris Cohen sucked it up on behalf of all of us and put a ton of work into actually making it happen. There will be many more events of this type, and when they come up, you should jump on them immediately. The ludicrously low price of $15 gets you in the door and allows you to sample all the homebrew you could ask for, as well as pizza and salad to soak up all the booze in your belly. (In my case it was soaking up the morning's hangover. Day Ten was a rough one for some of us.)

At any homebrew event, there's going to be some bad with the good. We're experimenting and there's no one to set the rules; they can't all be winners. That being said, I am absolutely stunned at the variety and skill displayed by homebrewers in this city. The keg of Flanders Red in the corner (which is partially brewed by my friend Eric, but there is no bias in that statement) was stunning. Gail of Beer By Bart brought a couple of the most fun sours I've tasted in ages. Powell Avenue Brew knocked it out of the park with the selections they brought (and I will absolutely be stealing the "use butternut squash" idea when I brew a pumpkin beer later this year). Chris' hibiscus rye saison made me want to go home and brew a clone immediately. I almost didn't mention those highlights, because it seems like a damn shame to not mention all the things I really enjoyed. I was just overwhelmed by the generosity and excitement of our homebrew community - people didn't bring "what they had", they brought what they were proud of. As a homebrewer myself, I could not have left feeling more inspired.

Watching the evolution of SF Beer Week over the years has just been fascinating. Some events are seriously getting out of control - the crowds are bigger than ever and in a tiny little city with tiny little bars, it's going to be interesting to see how we can move forward. The compulsion to make things bigger and better is certainly admirable, but we're working with a finite amount of space sometimes. I cannot believe the amount of work that people put in - paid and unpaid - to bring all of this together. This ten day party doesn't organize itself!

So thanks, folks - the events I've listed above are just a drop in the bucket of what I attended, not to mention the literally hundreds of events that were out there. Now that I've had a week to live off that continuously compounded hangover, I'm already anticipating next year. Cheers!