Got to spend a week in the Bay Area this February for San Francisco’s annual beer week celebration. Started in 2009 (a couple of years after Philly’s grew out of the old “Book and Cook” events), SF Beer week features the members of the SF brewers guild and many of the beer bars and gastropubs that the Bay Area has spawned over the years.
Spending as much time as I have in the area, and enjoying the epic craft beer and brewers there – I couldn’t wait to see what beer week would be like, and expected a unique beer experience. It was a lot of fun, and I had many amazing beers, met lots of cool people (and old friends) – but was it like Philly Beer Week? No – to be honest it just wasn’t that important to the city by the bay.
In Philly we aren’t necessarily more beer enlightened, and we probably don’t have as many great breweries as the Bay Area – but we are definitely more passionate about it as a city – and get more people involved. Did the mayor of SF kick off the opening tap? No, in fact, I couldn’t even find a mention of SF beer week in the SF Chronicle. Ironically, during that week the SF daily paper actually had a pull out special section on wine. Blasphemy!
The local weekly free papers (think “City Paper”) had a short mention here and there. The website listed events, but not by sponsor or the event location (other than region). In Philly we are much more into the promotions, speakers, celebrating the culture. And with Yards, Victory, Flying Fish and all the new breweries popping up in the area, we can hold our own on quality and variety.
What SF does have is a serious subculture of beer-geeks who are fascinated by the newest, coolest things and the science and ingredients of beer. Events were often focused on the brewing process, how different yeasts effected different beer flavors, and the growing wave of sours and barrel aged brews.
People lined up around the block for hours to get into the “Monks Kettle” for the “Firestone Walker’s Wild Ride” Sour Beer event, and the “City Beer Store” was packed for Tomme Arthur’s Lost Abbey sour beer tasting. Also at the City Beer Store was a special White Labs Yeast beer tasting where a batch of Saison was brewed with 8 different yeasts for delighted beer geeks to compare.
SF also has the history – it’s considered to be where craft brewing began – so with the majority of craft beer’s “elder statesmen” available to the true devotees – there were some absolute “craft beer culture love fest” events to revel in.
I particularly enjoyed the vertical tasting at Sierra Nevada’s “Torpedo Room” in Berkeley. It featured long time head brewer Steve Dresler sharing the last 5 years of Big Foot barley wine releases – and telling his story. (Must shout out to Upper Darby’s own Santino LaGamba who does a great job managing the place.)
And of course the beers they brew in the area are amazing – from as far north as Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing to as far south as Buellton’s Firestone Walker Barrelworks (well, Stone was all over the place – but they are from San Diego of course). I was fortunate enough to attend the “Beer Hall” blind tasting of three local breweries (the aforementioned Firestone Walker, Speakeasy and Hanger 24) offered by style with live voting on the video screens.
A constant source of entertainment was the Mikkeller Bar – with events and an incredible array of Mikkeller’s own fine collaboration brews, and unique hard to find (in the East anyway) beers on tap like those from Prairie, Crooked Stave and Fifty Fifty. Stalwart SF beer bars like Tornado and Zeitgeist had their tap takeovers of course. In 6 days I went to 14 events and had some 75 beers – so many were memorable.
SF beer week was great for the serious beer enthusiast – who wanted to indulge in the unusual, participate in the experimental and hear from the “silverbacks” of the industry. I would highly recommend it – but don’t expect to find the city embracing all that is beer like in Philly. Don’t expect people to be talking about it everywhere and having a choice of 5 or more beer dinners each night. The Bay Area is justly the icon of craft beer, but when it comes to widespread beer passion, you can’t beat Philly.
Then there’s the weather…Is it June yet?