San Francisco is a bit like a Portland on speed. The craft beer scene there, while still nowhere near as advanced or pervasive as Portland's, is on a fast track. It moves at such a breakneck pace that you can barely keep up with the latest beer bar and special beer tapping, and it is never crazier than during SF Beer Week. The 2012 edition of this most epic of beer weeks has essentially just been blessed by the entire state of California. The state legislature passed a resolution yesterday making February "California Craft Beer Month", giving the Golden State what Oregon has been holding over everyone else for years.
The astounding number of events during SF Beer Week (over 300 this year) further bolsters my point that these guys are like Portland on crack. In 2011 Oregon Craft Beer Month had 200 or so events over the entirety of July, about a hundred short of what SF did in just 10 days. However, bigger is not necessarily better, and just because they have so many more events does not make the event superior.
But, for my money, SF Beer Week does trump OCBM ,and that is coming from a native Portlander. Yes, the amount of events is overwhelming, and it's frustrating to not be able to attend everything, but SF Beer Week does leave you walking away wanting more.
This year I traveled to the city by the bay again with Captain Neil, manager of Belmont Station, and first time attendee Holly Emery-Walen, manager of Belmont Station's Bier Cafe. Having celebrated my birthday in Portland the night before, Neil and I got on the road for the long drive. It would be an understatement to say that I was in a rough state that morning.
We made what was perhaps an ill-advised stop along the way at Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. in Weed, CA. I have had their beers many times and found them only so-so, but I was happy to try them at the source and was surprised and excited to see they had a Kriek on tap. Outside of their regular lineup of beers, they also had a oak-aged Vanilla Cream Ale that Neil ordered up to my horror. The Kriek was pretty awful; it had a strange bitterness and a cherry extract flavor with zero tartness, not even from the cherries themselves. They even claimed this beer to be a Lambic, but it was nothing of the sort. I couldn't finish half of my glass of the Kriek, and the Vanilla Cream may have been even worse, yet I suppose it set out to do exactly what it did, and that's just taste like super vanilla cream soda.
After reaching San Francisco and checking into the flat I had rented, I felt well enough to attempt some more beers, even after the 11 hour drive. The place we were staying--a beautiful 3 bedroom house--was just 2 blocks off of upper Haight Street, right by one of my favorite SF bars--The Alembic, a sister bar to owner Dave Mclean's more established Magnolia Pub, which is just a bit further down the street.
While Magnolia Bistro & Brewery is decidedly a brewpub, The Alembic has more of an emphasis on incredibly well-crafted cocktails and craft spirits, along with an outstanding taplist. The Alembic should also be credited with helping to start the beer cocktail movement with drinks like their Vice Grip. This place was making these types of drinks long before they were hot. Because of its nearby location and full liquor license, The Alembic became an almost daily stop for our final nightcap. Sometimes, after a full day of drinking beer, a cocktail like our favorite, the 'Southern Comfort' made with gin, lime juice, sugar, and housemade celery juice, really hit the spot.
Our first full day in San Francisco may have been the most productive, though much of it was spent in Berkeley for Triple Rock's Sour Sunday Festival, which took place at both their brewpub and spinoff bar The Jupiter just down the street. It was the first time I had been to either establishment, and they both were impressive.
We were set up pouring beers in the best possible place on the beautiful outdoor courtyard of the Jupiter, which is complete with fountains, vines, and trellises, as well as lots of killer sour and wild beers from both European breweries and stateside breweries, like the newer Oakland Brewing Co. and the impressive Pretty Things brewery.
Later that evening we checked out a couple of newish beer bars in the Mission area of SF, Pi Bar and The Sycamore. The Sycamore was a tiny place that looked like a dive bar, but was all about craft beer and gaming. The walls were decorated with fantasy art, like a werewolf howling at the moon, and board and card games were everywhere. It was a special Beer Social event featuring Heretic Brewing, a new brewery that has had a fair bit of hype thanks to its founder Jamil Zainasheff. a well-respected beer educator and award-winning homebrewer. The beers did not disappoint. Between the three of us we had Evil Cousin (a classic but excellent take on a west coast Imperial IPA), which was very pungent and intense; Evil Twin (a hoppy NW Red ale); and Taffelbully (a Belgian-style table biere), a beer that proved the brewery is not all over the top unbalanced beers.
From there we headed to the Pi Bar, a really nice space that's a bit out of the way. They feature great housemade pizzas and a constantly rotating tap lineup, and it's one of the more chill places to hang out in a crazy busy neighborhood of bars. We were there for new Bay Area brewery night, though I cannot say we were too impressed by any beers we had.
|Photo by Mike Chino|
When I say the brewery is massive, I mean it in the size of the warehouse space, which looks like it could be an aircraft hanger. There are actually a few decent sized trees growing inside of the space. These guys take to heart the reclaimed material movement by using metals and wood from the old building and from the railroad that used to run through the neighborhood, which is where the brewery picks up its name.
|photo from Mission Mission|