SF Beer Week in Review

SF Beer Week 2014 ended for me Saturday night. SF Water And Health Food Week begins presently. All told, I managed to carve my own little festival out of the huge number of events, and had a damn good bit of fun while doing it. SF Beer Week is always a good reminder that I am extremely privileged to live amidst one of the most creative and vital craft beer cultures in the world. It makes the fact that it costs an arm and a leg to live here more palatable, at least for ten days. With renewed sobriety at the end of a bout of functional alcoholism comes some reflection, so here’s a few personal thoughts I’ve had from the week:

Beer Talks: Almanac’s beer tends to fall outside of my price point, so I don’t get to enjoy it very often and find the ‘Farm-to-Bottle’ and ‘Beer is Agriculture’ branding to be a Portlandia skit in the process of writing itself. These critiques notwithstanding, Jesse Friedman co-founded a successful business based on high-quality beer, and he did us all a big solid this year with Beer Talks, and he deserves our absolute respect and thanks for putting together what I think was one of the best events of the week. Alternately informative and entertaining, the speaker lineup was perfectly curated to appeal to anyone and everyone who cares about beer. Whether it was the detailed yet accessible discussion of barrel aging by FiftyFifty’s Todd Ashman, the hilarous and incredibly pertinent observations of HenHouse’s Collin McDonnell on the craft beer industry (if SFBW 2014 has a tagline, it’s ‘alcohol is fucking magical’), or hearing Mark Carpenter talk about Anchor in the 1970′s the audience was engaged, things were learned, and we’re all better for it. Also, there was beer (one for each speaker) and a nice assortment of snacks. In relative terms I sense it’s logistically easy to add another tap takeover, food pairing or another sour event to SFBW’s event roster. Indeed, Beer Week now contains hundreds of these. It takes a much greater amount of care to put together an event of this caliber where SFBW becomes gathering of an interested community instead of another line for Pliny. Thanks Jesse, and more next year please.

East Bay Brew Fest: If Beer Talks was an example of the best of Beer Week, this year’s East Bay Brew Fest just didn’t quite measure up in my view. I remember in 2012 the Fest had 13 breweries; despite the growing number of East Bay brewers since then this one only had nine (or was it eight?) and the space looked and felt empty. Look, I understand that it’s a long week and not everyone has enough staff or beer to be multiple places at once, and yes, sometimes a day off from events is necessary just for the sake of preserving mental health. But if there’s going to be an event to celebrate the unique take on brewing that sets the East Bay apart from the City or elsewhere, then my pony request is that the breweries that make up this group are invited/wrangled into the event, pour their beer (and maybe something other than just the flagships to help make the night special) and take advantage of this extra chance to interact with the people who buy their beer but can’t get to (or afford) the opening gala. A bit of extra effort here would be nice, folks. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, back in SF: It wasn’t widely publicized and was not a SFBW event, but Magnolia held a sneak peek party at their Dogpatch restaurant location on Saturday, which will in a few weeks’ time be up and running. They’ve been brewing out of this early 20th century warehouse/industrial location for a time now, which obviously has added to their overall capacity. The party was fun: beer was poured, conversations ensued and what has been a years-long saga of delays looks to be nearing an end. I’ve always been a fan of Dave, Ben and Magnolia beer in general, and I’m happy to see this project finally nearing its close. Triple Voodoo’s new taproom is two blocks away on 20th, so a short stumble connects them both and puts the neighborhood firmly on the beer map.

I think from my perch, the bottom line is that SFBW is at its best during events that bring out a sense of community and interaction between beer fans and the people who make their beer. There will always be shitshow-y lines and crowded bar events, and while it seems there are more of these every year, I look forward to an expansion of thoughtfully planned opportunities like Beer Talks where we can get to know one another better as well.  Hope you all enjoyed the week as much as I did. I’m sure I’m leaving some other thoughts out, but for now it’s time for another glass of water.


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