But Can You Gala At Home? SFBW Gone Virtual All Over California

Tomorrow, Friday, a strange pandemic Beer Week begins. And while there is no glorious Opening Gala as in years past, the Bay Area Brewers Guild has joined with the state’s craft brewing organization, the CCBA, and other local guilds in putting together a California Craft Beer Week Kick-Off evening. It’s quite a program!

The Brewing Network will live stream a sequence of toasts and discussions. It’s free, and you don’t even have to register.

The line-up begins with a variation on the ceremonial toast that beer writer Jay Brooks, one of the founders of SF Beer Week, has offered every year since the beginning of the annual festival in 2009. He’ll be in Sonoma County, with Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing, to launch the celebration.

At the very first SF Beer Week in 2009, the founders gather for a toast. L-R: Tom Dalldorf, Dave McLean, Chef Bruce Paton, Fritz Maytag, Shaun O’Sullivan and Jay Brooks.

Then the show will go to two influential brands in the history (and current craft business world) of California beer and brewing business innovation. Insights and stories from Stone Brewing of San Diego County and Firestone Walker from the central coast will be told by two colorful and outspoken brewery founders, Greg Koch and David Walker.

After that, it’s IPA Resurgence time, with Tim Sciascia, co-owner and hop magician at Cellarmaker Brewing Co. in SF, Kelsey McNair, from North Park Beer Co. of San Diego, and IPA innovator Chuck Silva, who is now brewing to his own specifications at Silva Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.

Jay Brooks leading the crowd in the 2010 SFBW toast at the Gala by @beer47

The program follows up with a Cheese Pairing talk, with a Whole Foods expert cheese buyer; both founders of the influential Crowns & Hops (brewery in planning and social movement), Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter; Sayre Piotrkowski of Santa Rosa’s HenHouse Brewing Co.; and Andy Crocker, from Original Pattern Brewing Co. in Oakland. There’s a link to get cheese in advance — or you can BYO cheese and beer and listen along while discovering your own taste pairings.

Next it’s back to brewing with a spotlight on innovation from creative brewers Kim Sturdavant of Pacifica Brewery in Pacifica; Alexandra Nowell from Three Weavers Brewing Co. in the LA Area (forgive me, I’m a Northern Californian. Technically it’s Inglewood); and Jonas Nemura of Orange County’s Radiant Brewing Co.

And then they’ll finish with a community segment where writer Jay Brooks joins two of his co-founders of SF Beer Week, Shaun O’Sullivan of the Bay Area’s 21st Amendment Brewery and Dave McLean, now of Admiral Maltings, Alameda’s craft maltster, making artisan beer ingredients from California-grown grain.

Jay Brooks giving the toast at SF Beer Week Opening Celebration
Another Gala toast from @beer47 in the early days community archives for SFBW at Flickr

You can simply drop in at https://cacraftbeerweek.com/kickoff Friday evening, no ticket needed. So grab your own craft beers (and cheeses?) to toast and enjoy.

If this strange beer week becomes a model for future fests, offering both stay-at-home and on-site activities, I’d love to see those events with beer to be shipped or delivered noted prominently in the menu. But right now, seeing people far from me describe their new beers and say that their patio is open is a shot of beer community optimism. It’s fun to poke around.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on an industry that offers places for community socializing and depends on community support. The beer week focus is on California, in part because the state level is where license regulations have changed during the pandemic. Assorted issues such as differing standards for outdoor service at wineries and breweries during mandated health restrictions have weighed on small businesses that are barely holding on.

There’s a benefit beer package up for purchase specifically to support advocacy for craft breweries: https://cacraftbeerweek.com/offerings/ccba-celebration-of-craft

Memories of making memories

What the community of people who appreciate craft brewers and taproom gatherings can share with breweries Friday evening is hope for future gatherings. Something worth raising a beer week toast to!

And, perhaps, if you’re following what the market demands, the eternal hope for a newer, ever better IPA. Cheers!

-Gail Ann Williams

(Quick disclosure – in recent years I have worked for SF Beer Week. And in the early years, the two of us collaborated on some events. So I’m partial to the concept of SFBW. This year, we’re independently sitting home with a computer and a shipment of fresh beers, thinking of all the friends we’re missing.)

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