It’s been a whole couple weeks plus now since San Francisco Beer Week ended and my hangover is finally subsiding so I though it was appropriate to get a wrap-up post in. Beers were had, crazy last minute trips were made, and I had a hell of a time overall. I’ll just say that I’m already anxiously looking forward to next year.
Friday couldn’t come fast enough after a stellar Tuesday at Toronado for Russian River -tion night. After a quiet dinner at my girlfriend Kayla’s place in Saratoga, we headed up to Rose and Crown in Palo Alto for Drake’s night. Rose and Crown is a quirky English pub in downtown Palo Alto that also happens to be a pretty respectable beer bar and brewpub of sorts, with the owner brewing his own beers under contract with Firehouse Grill and Brewery and serving them at the Pub under the Palo Alto Brewing Co. label. Rose and Crown did a series of brewer’s nights for SF Beer Week, with Drakes night being the last one of the week. Brewer Morgan Phillips was on hand, and brought a wide assortment of beers including: IPA, 1500 Pale Ale, Brett Soul Glow Sour Ale, Quasar Imperial IPA, Denoggenizer, Hopocalypse Double IPA, Red Ale, and Dark Days Barrel Aged Imperial Stout.
Kayla and I got to try four beers between the two of us, and they were all tasty and very interesting. Brett Soul Glow was a strong sour ale that tasted like it was aged in wine barrels with wild yeast and some lactic acid bacteria; lots of tart vinous and oaky notes with a pleasant brown sugar malt base. Quasar and Denogginizer were both double IPAs, though pretty different beers. Quasar brought lots of soft fruity notes and modest bitterness, while Denoggenizer had both a stronger piney hop aroma and bitterness, and a rich caramel malt base to balance. Denoggenizer was an absolute blast of fresh hop aroma, and was probably my favorite beer if the night, just ahead of the very interesting Dark Days.
Drake’s makes a respectable imperial stout, though it isn’t one of my first choices in the style. Six years ago, they put some of it in a used merlot wine barrel and added brettanomyces, a wild yeast, to it. Six years later, we have Dark Days. Dry dark chocolate notes meet deep, musty woody character and tart wine flavors. The finish was pleasantly sour with a very dark chocolate roastiness. Crazy beer overall, and a very cool one to try. Unfortunately, we missed Morgan from Drake’s for questioning, but Rose and Crown put on a pretty nice event, even if it was overrun with Stanford kids drinking Fransizkaner.
Saturday brought a relatively ambitious schedule, as in “trying to do something other than just the Toronado Barley Wine Festival,” which could be a tall order depending on how much you enjoy barley wine. Kayla was game enough to jet around the city all day with me, and we made our first stop at City Beer Store, who were having a small tasting of beers from The Bruery, as well as a few leftovers from the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. event the previous day. There weren’t too many people at the tasting, which was surprising considering they were pouring their new Flanders red-style ale, Oude Tart, which was previously only available at the brewery for a limited time. Besides The Bruery beers, there were several highlights on tap including Valley Brewing Company’s Bill Brandbic, a “ca-lambic” style beer. “Ca-lambic” is Valley Brewing’s name for their spontaneously fermented sour beer that is roughly in the style of a Belgian Lambic. This one was a blend of spontaneously fermented Luna Blanca blended with other barrel-aged sour beers and pomegranate juice. Sour, but not overly so, and with just a touch of fruit character remaining; very enjoyable stuff, which is to be expected from a Valley Brewing sour beer. A fitting tribute to beer writer Bill Brand, who tragically passed away last year.
After splitting a bottle of Midnight Sun’s 3767 (a wine-barrel-aged double IPA with wild yeast added) with a couple friends we ran into, we decided to get a couple more Midnight Sun bottles to take home and head on over to Toronado. 3767 was a fantastically unique beer, and I’m very excited that City Beer is now going to be carrying a good amount of the Midnight Sun lineup, which has previously been unavailable in California.
Toronado hosts the Barley Wine Festival every year during what is now SF Beer Week. Somehow they manage to pack in an absurd amount of beer lovers and serve them 48(!) different barley wines on tap, while keeping some semblance of order. The festival started at 11AM and was already roaring by the time we arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon. Unknown to me previous to SF Beer Week, Toronado has a side room that they open for special events that nearly doubles their capacity. I can’t even imagine what things would have been like without the extra space. It was amazing to walk past the folding tables in the extra room and see literally hundreds of little glasses full of barley wine lining their tops. We were luckily able to find some friends who had scored a table earlier and dug in for some sampling. The highlights of the event for me were Great from Alpine, and Big Woody from Glacier Brewhouse. Sadly, the beer that I wanted to try the most, Lost Abbey’s Angel’s Share Grand Cru was already out by the time we arrived. Toronado is often an intense scene, and the Barley Wine Festival was no exception. Thankfully, we met some cool people and had a great time, even if we didn’t hang around all that long. In the professional judging, the results were:
First Place: Big Woody from Glacier Brewhouse
Second Place: Abacus Blend from Firestone Walker
Third Place: Old Gnarleywine 2008 from Lagunitas Brewing
Honorable Mention: ODB from Oskar Blues Brewing
The other beers that reached the final round were AleSmith’s Old Numbskull, Alpine Brewing’s Great, Anchor’s Old Foghorn, and Big Sky’s Old Blue Hair.
Our next and final stop of SF Beer Week was 21st Amendment Brewery for a little sampling of their Strong Beer Month, which is a month-long event that they put on in tandem with Magnolia Pub and Brewery. Each brewery puts on eight different strong beers (8%abv+) and keeps them on all month. When you have your first beer, you get a card with all sixteen on it. By getting all the beers punched, you get a commemorative Strong Beer Month stemmed glass. I wouldn’t recommend attempting them all in one day, or weekend for that matter. Remember Hop Crisis!, which I was lamenting missing out on at the DIPA festival at Bistro the previous weekend? Well, I got to try it and it is one amazing double (they actually call it a triple) IPA. Definitely worth the trip across town, and one of the only IPAs that I would put up with the offerings from Russian River. Just an absurdly good hop flavor and aroma while being perfectly balanced and drinkable, keeping it nicely lean and just dry enough.
SF Beer Week was overall hands down the greatest collection of beer events that I have ever seen put together in one short span of time. Looking back on it now only makes me anxious for next year. If all goes well, hopefully I’ll be involved from the other side of the tap handle.