SF Beer Week Brings Cheer to Bay Area
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By Eric M. Pietras
February may be the shortest month of the year, but what it lacks in days it makes up for in craft beer. SF Beer Week returns on Saturday, with hundreds of events, ranging from brewery tap takeovers to beer-food pairings, beer judging lessons and specialized beer festivals-within-festivals.
There is literally something for everyone, both in The City and beyond. Whether you attend one event or decide to call in sick until February 18, this year’s festivities should be epic. I’ve listed some of this year's highlights. Cheers, and see you at Beer Week!
It's Alive! Sipping Session with White Labs (Saturday, February 9): Brewing beer isn't just fun, it's literally a cell culture experiment every time.
And much like Kilgore Trout's talking Sacchromyces cells in Breakfast of Champions, what the yeasts put into beer as they ferment sugars is as important to its character as the malt and hops.
To illustrate this point, White Labs (no relation to Walter), one of the world’s leading brewer’s yeast repositories, has brewed the same Hefeweizen four times, each with a different strain of yeast. The difference will be bigger than you think! These beers, plus White Labs specialist Kara Taylor, will be at City Beer Store between 3-5 p.m. Anyone with a background in microbiology or yeast genetics will love this event.
Sour Sunday (Sunday, February 10): This is one Beer Week event I never miss. A trip to Berkeley will net you a snifter, a handful of tickets and access to an array of Belgian beers fermented with critters other than Saccharomyces, ranging in flavor from tart and wine-like in character to downright funky.
It may be a favorite event of beer nerds, but everybody will find something to enjoy. Head over to the Triple Rock or Jupiter brewpubs early to access the rare stuff. It's also worth noting that the Noc Noc in the Lower Haight is hosting a similar event City-side.
21st Amendment Strong Beer School (Tuesday, February 12): While most people refer to it as "February," the shortest month of the year is better known as "Strong Beer Month" in San Francisco.
The City’s own 21st Amendment brewery will be providing a seven-beer lesson in what it means to be imperial strength and beyond. Imperial-strength beer fans will enjoy not only the beer, but the accompanying food pairings as well. Class begins at 7 p.m. Don’t be tardy.
Festival of Firkins (Thursday, February 14): Starting at 11 a.m., Magnolia in the Upper Haight will be putting out at least a dozen cask-conditioned ales, including a few of their own, for everyone’s enjoyment.
Cask-conditioned (or "real") ales are unpasteurized and unfiltered beers that undergo fermentation in the same container from which they are served, with no added carbonation aside from what the yeast provides. They are dispensed either by hand pump or gravity.
Why is this great? First, the beer is alive. Second, the gentler carbonation and warmer temperature of the beer give a much better sense of its true flavor.
East Bay Brew Fest (Thursday, February 14): Imagine enjoying beer from Drake’s, Triple Rock, Black Diamond, Ale Industries, Bison and other East Bay notables all in one room for three hours.
Is this heaven? No, it's Berkeley. But still, what's not to like about this fest-within-a-fest that celebrates one of the most innovative centers of brewcraft in the United States?
Pyramid Brewery and Alehouse once again hosts this great event in its spacious and refreshingly unpretentious confines, where the doors open at 6 p.m., and proceeds benefit the Northern California Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Social Kitchen Beer Breakfast (Friday, February 15): Beer is also for breakfast, and Social Kitchen will be featuring a great food lineup to fortify you for a new day of Beer Fest-ing.
Best of all, breakfast can be paired with brewmaster Kim Sturdevant’s lineup of excellent beers, including some undoubtedly tasty strong brews. Social Kitchen will be opening at 10 a.m., and breakfast will be served until 1 p.m.
Tour de Bière 2013 East Bay Bike Crawl (Saturday, February 16): If you missed the East Bay Brew Fest and are athletically inclined, then it will be worth your while to wake up early, hop on BART with your velociped, and disembark at the San Leandro stop.
The tour leaves Drake’s Barrel House around 9:30 a.m., and will be making visits to the best East Bay breweries within pedaling distance until about 6 p.m. All proceeds are donated to the East Bay Bike Coalition. Bike safe, wear a helmet, and enjoy the beer.
Eric M. Pietras is a postdoc who studies hematopoietic stem cell biology and beer, but not at the same time.