How is SF Beer Week 10 years old? Also, how is SF Beer Week only 10 years old? Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of living past 40, but that “seems like just yesterday”/”can’t remember life before it” cognitive dissonance applies to more and more subjects.
I’ve been somewhat blowing off beer week for the last couple years, but this year, life conspired to bring me back:
- It occurred to me that this would be my first SF Beer Week working in…SF. Hmm.
- I went to a beer festival outside SF and had a really good time
- My boss scored me a free ticket to the opening gala
- A Trumer rep walked up to me in the beer aisle at work and gave me 2 tickets to the Celebrator anniversary party
So, all of a sudden, through a combination of free shit and actually feeling up to it, I guess I’m doing beer week.
Though Celebrator doesn’t close it out anymore, the opening gala is still the opening gala. Last year, I poured for work but didn’t drink. Year before was 2016 and even though it was only February I was already deep in 2016 “fuck everything” mode and not attending many events. In 2015 — what innocent prehistory was that? — apparently I had a good time. Ok, let’s do this. I worked my shift, grabbed a couple slices of pizza and some $3 hippie orange soda claiming to be an energy drink, and walked out of the Whole Foods on Market right onto the type of old school F train you always hope will come when you’re showing an out of town visitor San Francisco.
My Instagram feed, by this time, was almost exclusively populated by beer industry people posting photos of the increasingly-iconic SFBW lighted sign.
Outside the train, the sun was setting and I was having a peak tourist experience even though I’ve lived in the Bay for 9 years.
First pleasant surprise? This party has figured out how to move people quickly through the line and into the building. (Remember the year the fire marshall came?) I was inside pretty quickly and ready to run the gauntlet.
The East Bay section of the festival was close to the entrance, so for me, the gauntlet was not so much “drink MF drink” as “Jen Muehlbauer, this is your life.” I feel like within 15 minutes I saw everyone I’d ever worked with, bartended for, or had a drink with. But that’s impossible because for the rest of beer week I kept hearing “you were at the gala? I didn’t see you!” This thing has gotten big, folks.
(And expensive. $90 this year? My theory is that it has to keep getting pricier for paying customers because a growing beer industry means more and more people getting in for free. And I’m sure these enormous San Francisco venues are more expensive than my West Contra Costa County-based brain can conceptualize.)
Festivals like this have always been about crazy stunt beers, but what does that mean in an environment that’s already full of beers that artfully imitate the entire grocery store? I’ve long said I appreciate the brewing talent involved in these magic tricks but I don’t actually need my beer to taste like creme brulee or s’mores. Still, in the spirit of unlimited sampling, I did try some gimmick beers and even enjoyed a few. Sierra Nevada Otra Vez with blue agave and lime was basically a session margarita…bring me a pitcher of this and an enchilada, please. And Danville Brewing’s oatmeal raisin cookie beer — I fondly remember brewer Matt Sager’s homebrew version from before he went pro — is still way better than it should be. And my Richmond neighbors Benoit Casper and Catahoula collaborated on a tasty coffee stout, heavy on the coffee.
That being said, I’m still a curmudgeon who tires quickly of beers that taste like the cocktail menu at TGI Fridays. In an existential moment, I stared deeply into a glass of opaque fruit “IPA” from a very popular local brewery, and asked myself, “Should I embrace this?” I took another sip and answered: Nah.
Believe it or not, I saw glimmers of hope for beer-flavored beer. I tasted three bocks. Three! Is German beer coming back? Please tell me German beer is coming back. I also noticed more English beers than I expected. Alameda Island must have changed brewers or something, because their Admiral’s Best Bitter is better than anything I ever recall trying from that outfit. (Tasting note: “I’d drink a warm pint of this!”) And Henhouse wowed me not with anything I had to wait in line for, but at the end of the night, with a non-flashy but perfectly executed hoppy blonde.
I gotta say, this event might truly have something for everyone, if even my grouchy ass walks away happy. And since dump buckets were plentiful, I was happy the next morning, too!
Oh yeah, just pretend I took some pictures of beers to add relevance to this rambling nonsense. Cheers.