SF Beer Week has grown dramatically in the few short years since it launched in 2009. I’ve been attending since the beginning (except a couple years when I was out of the country on a press trip) and the growth each year is noticeable. With over 600 events around the Bay Area over one week, it’s overwhelming for anyone, even if you just stayed in your SF neighborhood or outlying region.
The first night Opening Gala (held this year on February 6) is a massive event of hundreds of draft pours from NorCal brewers, including the constant presence of a snaking line for Pliny the Elder & the Younger from Russian River Brewing. Here are my top tastes and surprises from hundreds of beers (and, no, I could not possibly taste the half of them, even spitting but I made a good dent).
1. HenHouse Brewing Company’s Lacto Saison
HenHouse Brewing in Petaluma is turning out plenty of notable beers. The standout at the Gala was their Lacto Saison, an oat and earth-laden beer that is also redolent of apples, intriguing with a subtle funk and sour finish.
2. The Rare Barrel & Cellarmaker’s What Hop Pun?
A collaboration from two local beer greats, SF’s Cellarmaker and Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel (all sour beers), What Hop Pun? was a standout, poured alongside The Rare Barrel’s lovely Ensorcelled, a dark sour beer aged in oak with raspberries.
What Hop Pun?, however, was my favorite: bright with pineapple, citrus and acidity, whispers of herbs (lemongrass) and white pepper, it’s a dry-hopped (but only subtly hoppy) golden sour beer aged in barrels with Citra hops.
3. Bear Republic’s Montepulciano Kolsch
Bear Republic in Ukiah is always playing with unusual experiments (wish I could have tried their Charbay Brandy Barrel Aged GRIZZ beer but it wasn’t poured till late in the evening). Montepulciano Kolsch is a fun one. Though Montepulciano grapes (from one of the most magical villages and famed wine areas in Tuscany) are indigenous to Italy, Bear Republic sources these grapes and barrels from the Orsi Family in Dry Creek (Sonoma County), adding nuanced, tart-yet-full plum jam notes to a light, crisp Kolsch ale.
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Yes, I’m a whisk(e)y girl, so that could explain my love for the Wild Turkey Barl series from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. While their Bourbon Barrel Stout aged in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels is popular, it was the special offering of their Rye Barl Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout aged Wild Turkey’s rye barrels that I liked best. It is a spiced, earthy, chocolate-y treat.
5. Bison, High Water, Pine Street & Uncommon Brewer’s The Whiskey Thief
High Water Brewing, Pine Street Brewery, Uncommon Brewers and Bison Brewing‘s The Whiskey Thief was a special collaboration for Beer Week, brewed with beechwood and peat-smoked malts, then dry-hopped with heather. Again, as a whiskey lover, I was delighted with this bracing beer (9.2% ABV), redolent of toffee, toasted nuts, caramel, floral fruit, rounded out with a lush smokiness.
The Bruery Tasting at Fat Angel
The best thing to ever happen to Placentia (an OC town where I worked at a music store when I was 19), The Bruery is also one of the best craft brewers in the country, turning out complex beers reminiscent of the best from Belgium and the US.
Fat Angel, one of the best and coziest/romantic beer and wine bars in SF, hosts an annual tasting of many of their rarities and experiments during Beer Week each year. This year, it was a whopping 21 beers, including a number of rarities and surprises, over 3 hours in two seatings on February 14th. Next year, it would be even better to have one of the brewers from The Bruery there for a talk.
Fat Angel poured rare anniversary ales, many on draft: the second, third and sixth anniversary ales are rich and heavy (a whopping 14-17% ABV), while their oaked Old Richland barleywine (10% ABV) is unexpectedly hoppy, piney and crisp.
I love Befuddlement (10.6% ABV), a Hoarders Society exclusive blend of The Bruery’s Sour in the Rye and bourbon barrel aged old ale, Sucre. Brewed with boysenberries, the result is caramelized, spicy, sour funk and supple juiciness. Golden Orchard (9.1% ABV) is a lovely Belgian-style golden ale with dry, fruity notes of Gala apples and an unexpected depth.
Another standout: the robust, spiced fall notes of savory, dark Ignis Fatuus (8.3% ABV), subtly pureed with pumpkins. Vibrant Rueuze (5.9% ABV) is a Belgian-style lambic with sour, funky, apricots and even olive notes. One of the many treats of the night was a glass of the now retired Pinotlambicus, dry and tart with a hint of smoke, fermented with Santa Barbara Pinot Noir grapes in a year old blonde sour ale, then aged 10 months.