Squigs here, back home in snowy NYC after a long rainy weekend in the City by the Bay. The weather may be bringing the gloom, but San Francisco Beer Week made the world sunshiny for this beer dweeb. Friday night, I kicked off the visit with the SFBW Opening Gala which brought together 80-something breweries from around the Bay Area. Such an onslaught of beer goodness from craft beer pioneers and the new kids on the block and all in-between. A couple of my favorites were Beatification from Russian River and a smoky porter with redwood branches from Moonlight called Camping with Witches. The sold out event was rather well-run and really clued me into just how vast this craft community is and how serious they are about their beer. I thoroughly enjoyed the event, then met up with my people at the amazing Mikkeller Bar which was a couple blocks from our hotel.
I should tell you that I've been on a bit of a hunt for the much heralded triple IPA, Russian River's Pliny the Younger... for the past four years. One year, I was driving up the coast on a rather tight schedule and had to pass by Santa Rosa... one day before the Younger release. Another year I bought a crazy amount of raffle tickets to win a pour at the esteemed Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, California. The money went to cancer research charities so I was happy about that, but alas I didn't win. And I watched many a patron drink theirs as I sat next to them at the bar. In addition to spending time with good friends and experiencing this great city, I'd be lying if I said that the chance to finally get some of this beer wasn't an incentive. The hunt was on, but my first chance was a bust. The keg of Younger at the Opening Gala kicked just before the full line (and my place in it) got into the venue. (Cue sad trombone "wah wah".)
SATURDAY: I wish I could build up more suspense on this beer-hunting adventure, but I've got to admit that Saturday morning brought me my victory. There were accounts of folks who waited 10-12 hours in the rain in Santa Rosa for their chance. But my pals and I attended the 14th annual Double IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward, and our first pour of the day was the elusive Pliny the Younger (which then kicked 30 minutes later). The angels sang at the end of the rainbow. It was time to taste what I heard was a really great batch. (Sip.) Was it great? Definitely. Am I happy I made the effort and tasted it? Most certainly. So great! Have I had other beers that I have enjoyed just as much? Absolutely. Is Younger over-coveted and over-crazed? Yes. Chasing those white rhinos of craft beer is a lot of fun, but every time I achieve one, I'm reminded that there are amazing beers practically made in my back yard. Drinking a Younger actually made me think ahead to drinking a Peekskill Higher Standard or Newburgh Hop Drop or Barrier Daddy Warbucks. Enjoy chasing those white rhinos (or pink elephants), y'all, but cherish your local goodness. Those local to the Bay Area have the benefit of being in a pioneering and ever-innovating and passionate beer community, and this is the reason for celebration this week. There was more to come.
The Double IPA Fest featured almost 70 double IPAs and almost 30 triple IPAs. Seriously. I tasted maybe 15 due to the size of the pours. I didn't even taste the winners of the professional judging (Kinetic Afterburner DIPA, Iron Springs Compulsory TIPA) but I did sample the two that won People's Choice (Kern River Citra DIPA and from one of my favorite hangouts from my Southern Cal days, Pizza Port Carlsbad Thruster TIPA) and they were indeed fantastic.
Then for the rest of the day my peeps chased David Walker of Firestone Walker around town. Just picture Walker's Wild Ride jeep followed closely by three beer nerds in a cab. We sampled PNC and Sour Opal at Toronado and Parabola at The Royal Exchange. And Squigs said it was good.
SUNDAY: After carb loading for another day of sampling tasty brews, it was off to City Beer (bar and bottle shop) to taste a range of beers from Beachwood Brewing in Long Beach with head brewer Julian Shrago. During my years in Southern California, I was happy to watch Gabe Gordon's organization grow from the small storefront beer and BBQ place in Seal Beach to adding their newer facility in downtown Long Beach to their big presence in the national craft scene. Their lineup on this day was fantastic, and since I was still in a bit of a hop bomb mood from the previous day, I had to revisit their Hops of Fury TIPA. It was great chatting with Julian (and Stillwater's Brian Strumke who dropped in as well) and local craft aficionados. And the tapping of a keg of AleSmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout, was not unwelcome in the least.
Then we were off to Oakland and a sampling of SF Beer Week project Two Hop Varietals. Hog's Apothecary was one of the venues featuring this endeavor that required nine (or ten) breweries to pick two hops to brew a beer specifically for the occasion. I particularly enjoyed the offerings from Faction, Alpine, and Kern River. We finished off the day with a return to the amazing Toronado where we found Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme. Nice capper.
MONDAY: While I eased off the beery activity to see some sights, I did manage an Irish coffee at The Buena Vista and one last stop at Mikkeller Bar. As I wandered the city, I mused on a great weekend. I did a lot. I missed a lot too, but I had a great time with friends celebrating this region's amazing craft beer. Success!
Y'all, San Francisco and environs have seriously got it going on. A community with roots about as deep as modern craft beer can get. Get there if you can (and if you're quick enough, you still have a few more days of great events this year). There are great beer destinations all over this country. So many wonderful things to taste that come from so many wonderful communities. So many stories. Enjoy them all. And then go home and support your local folk. Cheers, all!