SFBW Sponsored Many Regional Collaborations
Somehow, after nine years, SF Beer Week still manages to feel like a genuine regional holiday, a community matter, despite obvious marketing motivations involved. It all clicked again this year as beer fans made their way from around the region and beyond.
Down by the waterfront, the Opening Gala kicked off the 10th annual SFBW as about 4,000 beer seekers sampled from among 123 independent craft breweries of the greater SF Bay and Monterey Bay Areas. A snaking queue for Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Younger again provided the longest wait, with fans discussing this year’s hop blend as they braved the line a second time.
Journalist Jay Brooks offered the annual community toast he first intoned back in 2009. He was flanked by his fellow co-conspirators from the first SFBW – Celebrator editor-publisher Tom Dalldorf; Dave Keene, owner of the Toronado bar; 21st Amendment Brewing Co. co-founder Shaun O’Sullivan and Magnolia Brewing Co. founder Dave McLean; Vic and Cynthia Kralj of The Bistro, home of the long-running Double and Triple IPA festival; and Beer Chef Bruce Paton. Old friends clinked new glasses then scattered in search of rewarding refills.
A Guild Spreads its Wings
Starting in year two, the founders of SFBW placed their baby in the hands of the nonprofit SF Brewers Guild, which continued to encourage brewers and venues from the region to host events, though Guild membership was strictly city-based.
Each year, before Beer Week, Guild members met at an SF brewery to make an official SF Beer Week collaboration beer (or perhaps two), proclaiming civic solidarity.
This year’s Gala marked the first step in the SF Guild’s current multi-year expansion into a regional organization for independent brewers. To celebrate this future unity, collaboration brew days blossomed in Santa Rosa, Livermore, San Jose and Soquel. San Francisco brewers pulled together an all-city brew at Speakeasy, tallying five collaborations for five geographic chapters of the expanded Guild. In addition, to fulfill a “ten collabs for ten years” vision, brewers within the city limits whipped up five more inventive beer projects.
In Soquel, near Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, local brewers plotted a 7% ABV Salted Caramel Stout, communicating via the SF Brewers Guild on-line forum. According to Dustin Vereker of Discretion Brewing, the host brewery steered the brainstorm to styles they knew they could execute well, and presented a first draft recipe to tweak. Uncommon Brewers of Santa Cruz hand-made a batch of caramel candy for brewday. Adding Monterey Bay sea salt, the assembled brewers dubbed their beer, “A Bay of Our Own.”
“For me, the best part of a collaboration brew is when the boots hit the ground. Getting a bunch of brewers together in one place to participate and share knowledge and stories is truly special and bound to be a good time,” said Discretion Brewmaster Michael Demers.
The East Bay contingent collaborated at Shadow Puppet Brewing, a year-old brewery in Livermore. According to founder Brian Blackburn, most communication happened online, but brewers congregated on blend-day to sample combinations of coffee beans for the smoky creation.
In Santa Rosa, at Henhouse Brewing, Collin McDonnell hosted North Bay brewers for the mash-in of a cascade-hop-driven West Coast IPA called “Instant Classic,” then plot their future chapter of the Guild.
Three SF breweries in the Dogpatch neighborhood – Harmonic Brewing, Triple Voodoo Brewery and Magnolia Brewing – seized on possibility of enhancing the dank, marijuana-like aromas of certain hop varieties with different blends of terpenes, natural flavor compounds now available to give aromatic diversity to recently legalized cannabis products. Deviating from a typical collab, each produced a (non-psychoactive) variation at their respective breweries. “It was interesting to see consumers’ reactions when trying them, in that some people enjoyed the balance, while others wanted more weed flavor,” said John Verna of Harmonic.
Some brewers designed additional unofficial collaborations to debut at the Gala and during the long week that followed. Celebrator Beer News initiated two collaborations. Drakes Brewing Co., when offered the verbal prompt to make a beer called “-30-” (the last-century end-of-story mark typed into newspaper articles), came up with a smooth Triple IPA. Responding to editorial requests, brewer John Gillooly executed the burly beer with a mixture of old and new hops, including Idaho 7.
Meanwhile, Marin Brewing Co.’s Arne Johnson responded to the Celebrator’s prompt for a Russian Imperial Stout with flaked oats to be called “Flake News,” by brewing up a rich silky specimen and devising label copy that playfully urged to “consider Putin some away for aging.”
Beer Week Debutants
The first year brewers, as always, were thrilled to meet the public and fellow brewers at the Gala. Matt Sager, Head Brewer at the East Bay’s award-winning Danville Brewing surveyed the Gala participants around him. “This is great,” he exclaimed. “Everyone’s here — you’re amongst the people you respect in the industry.”
“I’ve been coming to this event for years as a beer geek,” said Fran Fitzharris, co-owner with her husband, Sean, of the four-year-old Brewery Twenty Five, in rural San Benito County. Pouring at her first Gala, Fitzharris continued, “I always wanted to be part of a guild. I wanted to be part of a beer family, to participate in a group.”
Following the Gala, the Double IPA Fest at the Bistro continued stronger than ever, handing out coveted awards on a sunny day.
Some personal highlights included watching homebrewers show up at Woods Beer Co. in Oakland to have their buckets and carboys filled with fresh wort for their own beer-making endeavors before stopping in at the Good Hop in Oakland where Melissa Myers, former brewer, now beer bar maven, poured the collabs she made with brewers and a cider maker this year. Almanac Beer Co. reprised its inspirational Beer Talks event, this time at the new Alameda brewery location, while next-door Admiral Maltings provided new craft ingredients for dozens of special beers poured throughout the region. A rambunctious pub crawl around Bernal Heights with Marin Brewing Co. and Monkey Paw Brewing Co.’s brewmasters, a mellow evening socializing at ThirstyBear Organic Brewing Co.’s Cask and Queso cheese extravaganza, astonishing hopped ice cream at Barebottle Brewing, hanging out with Societe Brewing Co. at City Beer Store, cavorting at the Celebrator Anniversary party on the second Saturday, and dropping by the 21st Amendment Brewer’s Tea with live music on the final Sunday were a few highlights that convinced us that this holiday week continues to shine brightly. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Gail worked part time on SFBW this year.)
Cravings for a Beer Dinner
The Rare Barrel Sour Beer Co. in Berkeley presented its first pairing dinner in a newly-launched kitchen. The meal, created by chef Charis Whal, was themed around the singular oak barrel known as pH1. Co-founder Alex Wallash played host to two 16-person diner seatings in a cozy dining room created by stacking walls of barrels and strings of lights within the larger taproom space.
As Wallash noted, good storytelling would have put the featured beer at the end of the evening, but flavors placed the starring beer with the first course, a delicate steelhead crudo. The delicate tart saison came out of pH1, the barrel that first launched New Belgian Brewing’s sour program, then was given to Russian River Brewing where it birthed Beatification, (inspiring the name of The Rare Barrel), then was gifted back to New Belgium, then presented to TRB, and was recently passed along as a surprise for Peter Bouckaert, former Brewmaster of New Belgium, now at his own operation, Purpose Brewing Co. When the TRB team emptied pH1 for the last time, the beer inside was set aside for this dinner. La Folie and Beatification also accompanied delectable courses. At the end, each thoroughly satiated diner received a limited-edition pH1 bottle to go.
It Never Gets Old
According to Guild executive director Joanne Marino, this year’s Gala was approximately the same size as last year’s, but within a less cramped venue.
However, through the rest of the week over 800 events were lined up, about 100 fewer events than last year. When asked why, Marino attributed the shift to a more thorough vetting of events to assure they conform to the guild’s long-standing guidelines. “The SF Brewers Guild represents small and independent craft brewers,” she explained. “When events are submitted we take a look at whether independent brewers are the focus of the event.”
With last summer’s sale of Anchor Brewing Co. to Japan’s Sapporo Brewery, one of the key SF organizations removed itself from the independent category, though various Anchor events took place on the side all week long.
As for the future, Marino is eager to see how the Guild’s expansion influences SFBW. “As the change into a regional guild plays out, that’s going to have a very positive effect on Beer Week,” she opined. She looks forward to watching the different areas embrace the week proactively. “I think that’s going to be exciting and invigorating for SF Beer Week.”
Philadelphia writer Brian Kolesar, visiting for the fourth time, reflected, “What I saw in 2018, after a five year absence, was SF Beer Week still staying rather true to its original model. There still is a noticeable feeling of community, partnership and support for the local.”