Welcome to the Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest

(In response to a call for writing about the perfect festival. More about that below.)00-thesession150

Welcome to the Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest! You walk into a pleasant park on a perfect sunny day for the spring beer festival you’ve been waiting for, and it goes something like this. First, you are delighted to see a genuinely diverse crowd with a rainbow of happy faces and bouquet of ages. People are lined up to try beers but you notice that the longest lines are only about six deep.

There is plenty of interest in all the brewers, so nobody is twiddling their thumbs looking desperate behind the jocky box. Which my spelling program tried to correct to cocky box. By the way, it goes without saying. Plenty of women. Whoa, are there more women than men? And women brewers and female beer industry folks are happily pouring a rainbow of beer flavors. Queues move at a moderate pace, but nobody seems impatient. Everybody seems to be relaxed and engaged in conversation.

Looking around, you feel like you are in a dream. It’s easy to see which brewer is at which table. Because of clear signage, you can see what is pouring before you get up to the front of the modest line. Fumbling with a phone is not necessary or even all that fun in this environment. So maybe there’s no cell reception at all! (You haven’t even checked – you can post a few selfies later. You are ridiculously in the Now.)

There are attractive drinking water stations everywhere, and dump buckets without shame. While the brewery reps can spritz your glass with a spray bottle of water as they pour, or let you rinse with a glass of clean water from a convenient pitcher while you take a drink, there are also rinse stations you can use yourself. They’re cleverly designed to avoid spreading viruses and the like. Oh, and the water is delicious. There’s also free iced tea with lemon and sugar optional. Some other non-alcoholic drinks seem to be for sale over yonder.

Food. First, one simple free item and plenty of it. Near each cluster of brewers is a table laden with baskets of bread, freshly sliced as it comes to the table. Beautiful, varied bread. Dark and light, crusty and soft, with a basket or two of crackers and breadsticks for crunch. Cheesy breads, raisin breads. Bread that could be called artisan if we were going to go there. Bread that needs no topping. All naked, simple and free. What, is this a wine event? The bread is included with the beer? If you forgot breakfast or want to reset your palate, you’re golden. If you are drinking a little too much too fast, here’s mercy for your system. My god, is this a dream? Oh, wait, it’s my dream. And one reasonable kind of free food is in it.

Want more food choices? OK, that can cost extra. Cheese can be purchased. Food trucks are fine. There’s variety so that veggies and foodies and people on a bit of a budget can survive. And anybody who thinks bread is adding carb insult to caloric injury can buy a salad. Options are good.

beerfest drawing
Dream of the ideal festival. In a park setting, how about?

There are things to do and see and hear, too. You can talk by the beer booths or venture to a stage. Stages, maybe. For varied music and perhaps some kind of spoken word. Beer-related panels can be interesting. So there they are. You can sit at tables by the stage and a server will come by pouring tastes of something easy-going from a pitcher. Oh, designated drivers get lemonade served. And they can get back massages. They are having a great time dancing in a strangely graceful and coordinated cluster near the stage. I think they all wish this festival was more frequent, but the annual timing is part of what makes it feel memorable and ephemeral.

There is a signature style at Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest. Hey, it’s my dream, so the style is mixed fermentation (American sour, lambic or mixed fermentation saisons, how about?). However, brewers have been invited to offer one beer in the invited style and, if they wish, a different beer for the second tap. So after that funky beer there’s a malty or hoppy beer for contrast. For beer-on-beer pairing purposes.

There are scores of toilets. Armies of portable toilets march over the landscape, accompanied by hand washing stations that don’t run out of water. No, wait. Wait. There are plenty of indoor toilets in attractive clean buildings. Hmm. Buildings that would disrupt the park-like environs. Well, whatever they are in this dream there are many of them and trash is being collected during the fest. Soap and toilet paper are kept stocked. Waits are short for both men and women. Seriously, how difficult is this?

While we’re at it, this festival involves some time travel. There isn’t a whiff of desperation or greed in the air, and nobody cares about global beer giants because the big corps just don’t get it. This is an alternate history of dare-we-call-it-craft beer where it’s still the darling an intense subculture, but an open and diverse one…

Dammit, that woke me right out of the dream. I didn’t even get to how nobody is behaving extremely badly or drinking vomitous quantities.

So, the Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest is not something I’d try to create. But it does make me wonder what I want in a festival.

I do seem to have unreasonable demands. When I travel, I want a locals-only event. At home, I like to see some visitors in the line up! Most of the time, anyway.

[Disclosure – I can’t stop thinking about the SF Beer Week Opening Gala, an imperfect but beloved festival I look forward to every year though it is Northern California/Greater Bay Area local. So I guess that local and travel equation isn’t true for me. I’m working as part-time publicist for SF Beer Week, meaning I’m hoping others will write about all the related events. So getting into the pros and cons of a massive distributed regional fest like Beer Week or looking at any of the fests it includes would feel a little awkward right now.] But yes, I can think of local-only gatherings of the beer community that are meaningful, rewarding and not to be missed. So I seem to like beer events like I like beer styles. Meaning that a variety of approaches means adventure means I’m in.

While alternate history beer science fiction could be a cool festival genre, let’s look at the attainable parts of Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest.

Easy aspects include:

  • Many toilets, cleaned and resupplied during the festival. Oh, and empty the garbage cans, too. (Beer. It’s really a janitor thing all the way!)
  • Honor the dump bucket. Brewers can help by suggesting a taste and dump so that nobody is chugging a beer they don’t love to try the other one fast. Or even chugging a good beer when they know there are too many good beers to try.  Ok, that’s going to make me make a shirt that says I AM NOT A DUMP BUCKET. Dump proudly and kindly!
  • Water, water everywhere. Yummy water. Hydrate!
  • I like getting my glass rinsed. There are sanitation issues with cold-water rinsers used with dirty glasses (as opposed to sanitized washed glasses in a bar with a rinser) but that can be sorted out. We need rinsing, and it should be safe. Festivals such as Zythos, in Belgium, offer hot water washing before rinsing, for example, though it’s hard to imagine brewery peeps doing that on a Sunday afternoon. Innovation, please.
  • Sunday afternoon! In California, a law prevents distributors from delivering on Sundays and the beer delivery biz likes it that way, which I get. But this leftover blue-law prohibitionism is maddening. Alcohol and religion should both be optional choices for responsible adults. America is awash in stupid leftover “blue law” restrictions that solve no problems.
  • How do you get all the brewers to see plenty of interested beer drinkers line up? There is the option of the curated, elite fest. They are fun! But the joy of an inclusive beer community vibe is part of the Memorable Ephemeral Dream Fest allure. And newcomers are interesting! Some are good out of the gate and others evolve magnificently over time. What if there was a giveaway of some kind based on stamping a passport when you try the ingenue breweries’ wares, amplifying interest in unknown breweries as a kind of treasure hunt? We know there’s flawed beer in the marketplace, so another service a festival could offer would be to have skilled blind tasters screen beers the morning of a fest. “Sir, that keg is a butter bomb so we’ll pull it aside. Let’s sample your backup.” (That’s a crazy thing. It could be useful if done well. but who’d want to put up with it?) Perhaps there’s no foolproof fix to varied beer quality and open call festivals.
  • Let’s make things fun and good for designated drivers in places without public transportation. Then their tickets don’t have to be so cheap that it concerns producers if there are too many of them, right? Give value to DDs.
  • I have gone to wine festivals (well, years ago) where there were mountains of glorious free bread near the water. Why not? If I do have to buy food, please have mercy on those of us who don’t eat meat. Omnivores like the vegetarian options, too, if they are good food.
  • Having music adds to costs, but it gives us another festival element to enjoy and makes a longer time frame more comfortable.
  • I asked my husband, Steve, what he wishes for and he suggested better signage particularly where there will indeed be big lines for some brewers. Who is this line for and what are they pouring? Oh, and can you come up with an insignia that means this stand will have timed releases so that is obvious, too? After that, we can all spread rumors in the queue, but some baseline info really helps.
  • Keep brewers happy. That’s another article entirely, but in the near-dream world you offer a brewer’s vacation retreat behind the scenes, buy their beer rather than finding a non-profit partner and getting a donation (unless you the producing entity are a non-profit, natch) and get the load-in time, ice and supplies, break time coverage and such worked out with brewer consultation.

Now we get into the hard stuff. There are charity festivals that cost a lot and raise nearly nothing for the charity. This is a hard one to think about. I have written about festivals, and often don’t ask about that, or I ask that day and get a vague guess about the gross and not the costs. Maybe this should matter.

For-profit festivals that make nothing or lose serious money are less concerning to the patrons. But it’s hard to see people of modest means put together a festival and take a drubbing that extends to their personal savings. And that does happen.

I’m paying how much and there’s no [fill in the blank]? Grumble, grumble. Maybe transparency about costs would be useful. What percent of that big ticket price goes to the venue, the insurance and the portapotties? A staff worked on this for how many months? The costs are a mystery to all.

Nobody behaved badly in my fantasy. People happily paced their consumption. Designated drivers weren’t sneaking in flasks. Beer drinkers weren’t guzzling until they fell over. Those are not easy problems to address in the real world. Two strategies help, but neither is as pleasant for the responsible partygoer. In general, festivals that cost a lot or have you purchase tokens after you use up your initial allotment seem to offer fewer issues.  Fewer wretchedly drunk participants at last call, to be specific. But high prices and the need for token purchases are annoying to practically everyone. This, too, is why I am not producing fests. Some seem to want to plop down a a fist full of twenties on a beer fest and then still feel they only get value by passing out on the floor. Or they miscalculate and the effect is the same. What can we do about that?

And then there’s beerfest fatigue – outside of the people doing it for a living, where it’s understandable. If you are a crusty, grouchy burnout at any age, STFU. Festivals are no longer mandatory. You can go to a taproom and let beer fest people be happy elsewhere without you. If you are still eagerly exploring beer, go forth and enjoy. But if you are not jaded, but you no longer feel the community connection to people attending and people pouring that keeps a lot of us going back, perhaps there are things to be done. Talking to people really helps! Have a mission, like learning about new breweries first or finding out whether people made their own pretzel necklaces, even.

I hate those necklace things though I know that’s trivial and unfair. (Oh, god, maybe I’m a bit jaded, too?) But the artisan bread baskets provide a solution to this scourge… there is hope, I swear.


This is part of The Session – which you can learn about at Brian Yaeger’s blog.


Faction is brewing up a strong community

Faction hosts the Ales for ALS Beerfest for 2015

Beer drinkers rejoiced over the selection of one-off brews made with an exclusive hop blend when Faction Brewing Co. presented the second invitational Ales for ALS Beerfest.  The fest was part of a broader charity initiative that provided the coveted hops to breweries that pledged $1 per pint from sales of the resulting beers to research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. On a warm, breezy August Saturday in Alameda, Calif., the event lived up to its promise as a destination festival. The Ales for ALS Beerfest attracted more than 1,500 beer lovers who swarmed the brewery to enjoy live music, food trucks, a raffle and outstanding brews.

Ales for ALS is an annual project founded by hop growers Mike and Cheryl Smith, third-generation hop farmers in Yakima, WA. The couple knows the face of the debilitating failure of nerves and muscles brought by ALS all too well.

“My dad died of ALS, my 54 year-old brother has ALS now, as well as a cousin and an uncle,” explained Cheryl.  “Six out of eight kids in my father’s generation died of ALS.”

“When my brother was diagnosed, we just began thinking we had to get busy raising money to find some kind of treatment or cure.”

Get busy is just what they did. Their Loftus Ranches are best known for developing varieties such as Simcoe®, Citra®, Mosaic® and Equinox. To raise funds, Loftus partnered with Hopunion hop supply company to offer a proprietary blend of experimental and hard-to-get hops to participating breweries, to support the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a major research organization working on a cure.

Initially the Smiths selected the breweries, but now brewers come to them. Mike Smith said, “it’s really touching, because every volunteer brewery has a family member, friend or colleague who has ALS.”

Last year Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River Brewing Co.) selected the hops with Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) and John Mallett (Bell’s Brewery).

This year Mallett returned. Ken Grossman brought his son, Brian Grossman. Cilurzo nominated Rob Kent (Bear Republic Brewing Co.) and Julian Shrago (Beachwood BBQ Brewing) in his place. Although Equinox and Mosaic® have names now, these recent graduates of the breeding program were included this year. Five as yet unnamed, experimental hops also made the mix. (291, 260, 344, 438 and 522, for those keeping score at home.)

Kent poured Bear Republic’s Red Racer IPA for ALS at the fest. He said it was an honor to choose the hops. “The selection process involved the ‘rub,’ which is squeezing and rubbing hops between your hands to heat up the lupulin to release its aromatics,”  Kent explained. “At this point there was debate about which hops make the cut. There were many good varieties to choose from. They ranged from fruity to earthy.”  

Most breweries brought one-off IPAs and hoppy beers, but there were stylistic surprises, such as a dry-hopped sour from The Rare Barrel, and a Brettanomyces-fermented interpretation from Cellarmaker Brewing Co.

Night-shift brewer Molly O’Brien got to formulate her first professional recipe, a saison, for this year’s version at Drake’s Brewing Co. “When I logged on to the ALS site, everyone was kind of doing pale ales and IPAs. And I love IPAs, but I wanted to do something different,” she said.  

View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams
View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams

Faction’s founders and festival hosts Rodger Davis and Claudia Pamparana poured their elegant imperial pale ale interpretation of Ales for ALS.  “The ALS beer was the very first beer we brewed at Faction and released in September of 2013,” said Pamparana. By the time the second Ales for ALS hops blend shipped, Davis and Pamparana had volunteered Faction as the festival site.

According to the Smiths, last year, 68 breweries got hops, and donations more than doubled from the prior year to $325,000. This year, after the accounting is done, 89 breweries in 25 states expect to combine donations with proceeds from the festival to again more than double last year’s contribution. Faction’s donation totaled $44,000.

Davis, too, has personal connections to ALS.  He’s made friends with Corey Reich, a Piedmont High School tennis coach who was diagnosed several years ago and has beaten the odds so far. Davis invited Reich to the event at his brewery, where Reich enjoyed the festival in his wheelchair.

While there’s still no way to halt this usually fatal disease, as the ALS Therapy Development Institute website reminds us, “ALS is not an incurable disease. It is an underfunded one.”

How to visit Faction

Donate to Ales for ALS

(This story was originally written for Celebrator Beer News, which comes out every other month on paper, by Gail and Steve in collaboration. Mike Condie submitted cool photos as well. Publishing works in mysterious ways, however. So, here it is electronically at Beer By BART instead. )

Our Beer Week Event: Beer From The Other Side

This year, we are going back to our Beer By BART roots with an event that is about trying local beers, hanging out with interesting beer drinkers and planning local beer travel: Beer From The Other Side.

In San Francisco. For San Franciscans and SF visitors. Lovely pours from that other side of the Bay, that area you probably don’t get to all that often. Since we live in SF, we understand. We know it can sometimes be hard to venture out of the City. There’s delicious beer made right here in town, and fine beer shipped in, after all. But in our neighboring counties, we have an amazing chance for local beer tourism. We think that after you taste some of these beers, and learn a bit about the people who make them, you’ll be Bay-hopping to get out there and visit these places in the future.

Join us on Monday, February 9, from 5pm onward at The Beer Hall, #1 Polk St. at Market, SF. We’ll be there personally until about 9:00pm or so, and the beers will be poured until they’re gone.

We’ll be enjoying beers from The Rare Barrel, Faction, Triple Rock, Linden Street, Drake’s and WOODS Bar and Brewery. We asked these fine breweries to send us beers that will represent! (Two of the beers that will be on tap, Shadows Of Their Eyes from Rare Barrel and Puddy Porter from Faction, won Bronze Medals in the 2014 World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festivals respectively. They are two of the seldom-seen in SF beers that will be poured.)

The venue is the convivial Beer Hall, just off Market Street at the foot of Polk. That’s a couple of blocks from Civic Center BART, and close to the Van Ness MUNI stop, so cars are not required.

In past years, we’ve enjoyed co-creating beer week adventures from assisting with a BJCP tasting and judging class and convening a community toast to women in beer, to collaborating on special beers. (We made “My Funky Valentine” dark sour with Bison, and last year we got to create “Carob Calloway,” a dark carob ale at Cerveceria de Mataveza.)

This year, Drew Hall was gracious enough to allow us to collaborate in getting an array of select East Bay beers lined up for you at his bar, thereby giving us a transit-friendly place where we can hang out and see some of our friends who are in town. (The rest of the week we’ll be running around crazy, so please drop by to say hi if you can.)

Just sipping along at The Beer Hall
Last SFBW, at The Beer Hall
Last SFBW, at The Beer Hall

Tell your SF pals who seldom get outta town that we are here for them. Monday evening is all about kickstarting their beer adventure selves. Maybe you, too.

Or just hang out and sip beers you may never taste again. It’s Beer Week! What’s not to be excited about?


Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Medal winner recap and field trip options

As the annual Great American Beer Festival fades in the memories of most attendees and competition entrants, a few happy brewery crews, owners and patrons continue to bask in the glow of a 2014 win brought home from this increasingly competitive arena. For anybody in the BART train footprint of the central Bay Area, the closest places to see new medals on display are the Rare Barrel (a bus ride or a long walk from one of the BART stations in Berkeley), and two delightful bay ferry destinations from SF, Faction Brewing Co. in Alameda, or Marin Brewing Co. across the roadway from the ferry stop at Larkspur Landing.

The Rare Barrel accepts gold for Cosmic Dust, an American style Sour beer
The Rare Barrel accepts gold for Cosmic Dust, an American style Sour beer
All gone before the end of the Saturday Afternoon session.
All gone before the end of the Saturday Afternoon session.

2014 was the first time at GABF for the upstart sour beer makers at The Rare Barrel. The combination of a Gold medal in the American-style Sours category and an outpouring of social media buzz made a lot of people happy — and left some thirsty. While The Rare Barrel brought more beer to Denver than the festival suggested, they still ran out before the last session.

Faction Brewing Company takes a Bronze for Puddy Porter, a Baltic-Style Porter
Faction Brewing Company takes a Bronze for Puddy Porter, a Baltic-Style Porter

Rodger Davis took his first medal for a beer made at his year-old Faction Brewing, after previous honors when he brewed at Triple Rock in Berkeley. The quiet island of Alameda is now on the beer seeker’s map, and can be reached by bus from Oakland or by Ferry from the Embarcadero in San Francisco for a gorgeous, working-port industry-scape excursion under the Bay Bridge.

Marin Brewing Co.'s Arne Johnson bringing in another GABF gold for San Quentin Breakout Stout
Marin Brewing Co.’s Arne Johnson bringing in a GABF Bronze for San Quentin Breakout Stout

San Quentin Breakout? This fine example of a stout has been honed over time by Brewmaster Arne Johnson. Before the medal ceremony, people dropping by Marin’s booth tended to go for the Three Flowers IPA, but as soon as the word was out, Breakout began to flow, too. Like Faction, Marin is a terrific ferry destination from the SF Ferry Building, with views of Alcatraz and of the still-active and disturbingly decrepit San Quentin prison while underway.

A field trip no longer: Sierra Nevada beer is brewed in Chico, hours north in the valley. (Or in their new facility in NC, but they are still entering GABF as a California brewery.)

Sierra Nevada Brewing has an outpost in Berkeley.  A medal for Narwhal R.I.S.
Sierra Nevada Brewing has an outpost in Berkeley. They won a Bronze for Narwhal R.I.S.
However, the Sierra Nevada taproom in Berkeley is a longish walk or a short bus ride from BART. No telling what will be on tap, but in general you can find things that are otherwise only poured in Chico. Their intense Russian Imperial Stout, Narwhal, brought members of their crew up to the stage for a moment of celebration and satisfaction.

After the four breweries just mentioned, the field trip from the central Bay Area BART communities gets a little more complicated.

You may see more winning beers or other fine products from this year’s champs poured at local beer bars, but there’s nothing like a visit to the source. Here are a few more places you could drive to on a day trip, or perhaps an overnight excursion.

Bear Republic Brewing Co., making beer in Healdsburg and Cloverdale, both up in Sonoma County, took home two honors. BRBC was honored with a bronze for their Bohemian Pilsner, Double-Aught, and took Gold for the best Pro-Am collaboration with a local homebrewer. We were lucky enough to be introduced to Kelly and his smooth 80 shilling scottish ale at a GABF preview party in Healdsburg a few weeks back, and to see him accept the medal on stage this last weekend.

Homebrewer Michael Kelly  introduces the beer he made with Bear Republic.
Homebrewer Michael Kelly (R) is introduced in Healdsburg along with the beer he made with Bear Republic.
Bear Republic Crew with Pro-Am homebrewing champ Michael Kelly.
Bear Republic Crew basking in Gold medal glory with Pro-Am homebrewing champ Michael Kelly.

Nearby in Santa Rosa, Russian River Brewing Company also took two. Like Bear Republic, RR medalled with a Pilsner, in this case getting a Silver for STS Pils, in the German Pilsner tradition. In addition, the classic Pliny the Elder picked up another award, racking up a Bronze medal in the huge Imperial IPA category. (If you are not up for the drive, the Toronado in SF is usually a good bet for having Pliny on.)

Natalie and VInnie Cilurzo return to the stage, garnering two medals
Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo return to the stage, garnering two medals

Further north on the coast, and not a day trip by any stretch of the imagination, is Redwood Curtain Brewing Co., on the outskirts of Eureka. The medal was a silver, received for a German-Style Altbier. Happily, if you go up the coast for a weekend, there is plenty to see, do and taste.

Far up north, Redwood Curtain basks in a silver glow.
Far up north, Redwood Curtain basks in a Silver glow.

Closer to the BART footprint, but not easy to visit without driving, is Campbell Brewing Co., which took home a Silver for their Mastiff Barleywine. Headquartered in Campbell, California (South Bay, near San Jose), the brewery can be reached with a modest drive, or by Caltrain plus local light rail if you are on the peninsula.

Off the BART tracks in the other direction, but not hard to get to by car, is Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, in Antioch, out in the Sacramento Delta to the north of Mount Diablo. Brewmaster Craig Cauwels’ Marauder took Bronze in the Scotch ale category.

Brewmaster Craig Cauwels takes a medal for Marauder, a Scotch ale brewed at Schooner's Grille & Brewery
Brewmaster Craig Cauwels takes a Bronze medal for Schooner’s Grille & Brewery

What about driving down the coast to the Santa Cruz area for a day or an overnight? A Bronze medal was handed out to the creator of Good Faith, a beer entered in the Old Ale/Strong Ale category by Discretion Brewing, a brewpub in the town of Soquel.

Discretion Brewing scores one to take home to Soquel.
Discretion Brewing scores one to take home to Soquel.

Want to go to the mountains? Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co., on the north side of the lake near Truckee, took a Silver in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. They seldom pour their sours at the lakeside brewpub, but there are other nice brews and killer lake views to enjoy nearby. Auburn Alehouse is your award-winning stop and delicious meal on the way up Hwy 80 to get to North Lake Tahoe. This year Auburn won Bronze with Gold Country Pilsner, one of their flagships. On your way back, stop at New Helvetia Brewing Co. in Sacramento and find out what their gold medal historical beer, Thurston, was all about.

Auburn Alehouse honored for Gold Country Pilsener.
Auburn Alehouse honored for Gold Country Pilsener.

If you were to go further south, down to the Central Coast of California, you could congratulate Firestone Walker for the Gold medal Pivo German-style pilsener, stopping in at their restaurant in Paso Robles. This beer, happily, is available regularly in the Bay Area, but there’s no point in ceding this brewery to Southern California. It’s worth claiming as in our regional orbit, or perhaps even sharing them with the southlands, and worth a weekend road trip to find out why.

Brewmaster Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker lets his grandfather wear the medal around the hall..
Brewmaster Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker lets his grandfather wear the medal around the hall..

What’s missing from this list for Northern California? Only a double medal winner with no fixed abode, not attending the festival to pick up the award. High Water Brewing took a Gold for the s’morsy Campfire Stout as a Specialty Beer, and a Bronze for Aphotic Imperial Porter in the “Other Strong Beer” category. These beers can be found now and then in specialty beer shops around the area. High Water is moving from gypsy brewing towards sharing facilities at EJ Phair under an alternating proprietorship, but has no tap room at this time.

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Embedded in Beer Week: our collaboration brew due

This evening we’ll get to try the finished beer Steve and I made with Cerveceria de Mateveza, the tiny commercial brewery with the long brewery name.

We’re calling the beer Carob Calloway, an inspired suggestion by one of the talented beertender-brewers at Cerveceria. That’s right. Carob. You may think that will translate to chocolate, but in this case I think other flavors will be as interesting.

The beer was inspired by my home brewing experiment with a lovely ingredient I discovered in the first days of my home brewing hobby, when I imagined that I’d have plenty of time to try making every possible style. I would go into ethnic groceries, walk around, and ask myself, “will it ferment?” Meanwhile, I quickly got interested in making sour beers, and I just let all the other styles be. So I had shelf full of unused jars that I felt belonged in a dark beer. I made a dark mild and split it into five one-gallon batches. Among the additions I checked out was Carob Molasses from Lebanon. Yep, Lebanon. Curiously enough, there is a similar product from Chile that is used in some South American cooking, but this was the one I found, and it’s wonderful in a beer.

To me it seems more figgy and dark-fruit than chocolate. Yum! Several brands are available — I chose the one that smelled best and had less iron, perhaps from the water used in preparing it.

We learned that this “molasses” is more like pomegranate molasses than it is like the classic byproduct of sugar refinement. It’s called “dibs” in Arabic, and is often mixed with tahini to make something slightly akin to a peanut butter and jelly spread. But more exotic, and slightly earthy in its sweetness.

I also read that it may be that such syrups reduced from carob pods or dates in water were called “honey” in early translations from bible texts. See if visions of the “land of milk and honey” comes to mind when you sip this special release beer from our friends, the brewing adventurers at Cerveceria de Mateveza.

It’s a big beer, a tasty brown ale designed to showcase this special ingredient. Stop by tonight for a sample of this beer and a slate of other adventurous and delicious 20-gallon batch brews. We’ll be there from 5 to 7, and the festivities will continue until at least 9, so put this onto the early side of your SF Beer Week Thursday rounds.

The nano brewpub is right on the J Church line at the corner of Dolores Park, an easy walk from BART at 16th and Mission, and can easily be combined with visits to destinations on the Haight Street corridor, too.

Meanwhile, SF Beer Week continues with many great memorable events ahead. How lucky we are to be here! -Gail

We make a Carob Molasses ale with Cerveceria de Mateveza

Here’s the video of our brew day adventure for SF Beer Week:

Please join us on Thursday for the SF Beer Week premier of Carob Calloway, an ale brewed with the luscious dark fruity flavors of Lebanese Carob Molasses. We’ll be there from five to seven, and the cosy Mission District pub will be open until nine for delicious empañadas, our beer, and other treats.
An easy walk from 16th Street Station!
– Gail and Steve

Here comes Winter Brews Festival 2014 already

It’s that time of the year again, only different.  The nights are long and dark, but starting to shorten visibly. It’s not cold outside, thanks to the freaky ridge of high pressure over the Pacific, and a deepening drought that could spell trouble for local people and beer, but currently the outdoor conditions are delightful in the Bay Area.

Happily, we have a tradition that fits beautifully with this freaky weather.   The Brewing Network, an on-line beer radio website, will be hosting its fifth annual Winter Brews Festival on January 25th at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord.

The festival is distinguished by being the first one after a much needed break in the beer event cycle after the holidays.  It tides us all over until SF Beer Week.

picture from last yearIn addition, since The Brewing Network is at its heart a homebrewers’ podcast network and a virtual brewing club, there has always been good-to-excellent homebrew poured along with the latest professional creations.  The quasi-legality of this excellent arrangement has caused a bit of stress until this year, but now we can all relax.  The California ABC has ruled that “501C3” official charity events can now pour donated homemade wine or beer with no pushback from the state enforcers. (NOTE: Since this was written, some curious unintended side effects of the new law have become evident. Revision is needed. To help protect all-homebrew festivals and competitions, get involved.)

This fest exemplifies the enduring relationships the Brewing Network, with its often highly technical and highly rowdy style, has forged with respected pro brewers.  Societe Brewery (San Diego) joined the pouring list after one of their beers, The Harlot, was selected as the beer of the year on the Sunday podcast.  A casual on-air remark that “The Harlot” would be an interesting name for a new brewery resulted in a mock cease-and-desist letter from the young brewery, along with a promise to attend the Fest and bring that beer.  (Arriving in a homemade “The Harlot Brewery” tee shirt would probably neither get you free entrance nor your own hilarious friendly trademark infringement cease-and-desist letter, sadly.)

In terms of listing all the pro brewers who will be pouring, there’s nothing better but to point to the frequently updated list on their signup page.  Advance tickets are advised.

Walking to Todos Santos Square from BART is simple once you get across the very large parking lot.  Detailed directions for figuring out how to get to the park are in the listing for the adjacent EJ Phair pub.   

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Bistro Barrel Fest Blends Varieties and Flavors

November 11, 2013

Vic and Cynthia
Bistro Owners Vic and Cynthia Kralj

On Saturday we attended one of our favorite festivals in the Bay Area, The Bistro’s West Coast Barrel Aged Festival. Bistro proprietors Vic and Cynthia Kralj brought in 67 beers of many different styles that had one thing in common — they had spent some maturation time in a wood barrel. In general, the beers born of wine barrel aging tended to be sour ales inspired by the Belgian tradition, while a variety of clean strong ales had come through spirits barrels with rich results.

The beauty of this festival is in the incredible contrast between the beers. The panoply of intense flavors allows one to taste each beer without undue influence of the preceding beer. Sour beer reset the palate after a strong sweeter brew. Next, an oak-aged barleywine soothed the tang of a sour. The 41 participating breweries sent a wide range of flavorful concoctions. Bear Republic, for instance, brought five beers ranging from its wonderfully tart Tartare to a version of Big Bear Imperial Stout aged with prickly pear.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, from Denver, sent a Burgundy Sour Ale. Sierra Nevada sent special barrel-aged versions of three of its readily available beers, Narwhal (imperial stout), Ovila Dubbel and Brett T-ShirtAudition, which is Ruthless Rye IPA dosed with whole cone Comet and East Kent Golding hops.
Several years ago, the Kraljs decided to dispense with the professional judging of this festival, believing it was difficult if not unfair to judge such divergent and emerging styles against each other for one award. However, festival-goers are still encouraged to vote for People’s Choice. For the second year in a row, tiny Sante Adairius Rustic Ales from Capitola won the award. Its West Ashley, a saison transformed by time in French Pinot Noir barrels with apricots and house souring organisms, was the only bottled beer served at the festival. Sierra Nevada’s bourbon barrel aged Narwhal finished second.
This fest is not for the weak livered. Only ten of the beers had an ABV under seven percent. 22 clocked in withGeneral Crowd double-digits. Despite the crowds, most of the beers in attendance left many wonderful flavors on the table — or in the kegs, if you will.
Fear not. The Bistro will put each of the remaining partial kegs back on tap in the coming weeks. It is most definitely worth a visit — or a return visit — to Hayward in November.

P.S.: Sierra Nevada opens their new taproom in Berkeley — the Torpedo Room — within about a week. Many of their small batch experimental brews will be coming to town. Sante Adairius is not an easy destination except by car, but a weekend getaway to Santa Cruz was already a pleasant idea before this great nanobrewery opened, so put it on your list. The tasting room is open Thursday-Sunday. Check: rusticales.com for exact times and location.

City Beer Store’s “magnificent” birthday IPA and other mid-May delights

The little shop that changed beer tasting and bottle-buying forever, City Beer Store, south of Market and not far from Civic Center BART, turns seven tomorrow, May 18th. In keeping with a tradition that founders Beth and Craig Wathen have carefully cultivated, they will release a special beer to celebrate.  This year’s craft beer field trip saw the two of them venturing to the little town of Alpine, California, out in the low desert mountains east of San Diego to create an IPA with the esteemed Alpine Beer Company.

Beginning at noon, City Beer’s Magnificent Seven, a 7.7% American IPA brewed from seven kinds of malt and infused with seven different additions of hops, will join the pantheon of Beth and Craig co-created bottle treasures.  However, unlike some of the past creations that have been collected and hoarded by beer fanciers, an IPA is not made for long cellaring, so get it fresh if you can.  
city beer store
We’re still figuring out when we can swing by there to say cheers and have a glass on draft, but we may see you there.

This is yet another big weekend in San Francisco Bay Area craft beer, as we approach summer. Spring has become a time of year where nearly every week brings a run-don’t-walk craft beer event.  The sold-out Lagunitas Beer Circus, on Sunday, May 19th, will draw a crowd of beer revelers to Petaluma, and serve as a reminder for other folks to act quickly when beer event announcements come around.

Next weekend, on Saturday, May 25th, the 1st Annual NorCal Session Fest will be hosted at Drake’s in San Leandro.  The new festival will bring together dozens of great examples of California craft Session Beers — tasty brews under 5% ABV by definition of this festival, with many promised to be under 4.5%ABV. The festival will benefit the East Bay Bike Coalition, but if you don’t want to bike, you can use the BART and free shuttle bus or BART and short cab ride tactic, or even get a little walk in.  It’s easy to get there, and at the time of writing this, tickets are still available.

A few days ago we visited one of our younger local breweries, Freewheel in Redwood City, and got to appreciate the smooth and subtle flavors of their session strength English inspired beers.  Like some of the real ales being poured in the UK these days, Freewheel ales are traditional in method and strength but not necessarily in hop varieties. Some of the cask-conditioned selections showed off this lovely experimental inclination. Freewheel has partnered with two interesting English craft breweries and is brewing several of their recipes in an ongoing transatlantic partnership. It appears that you could get to Freewheel by CalTrain, by walking about a mile and a half from the Atherton station to Florence and Marsh Road, but we have not scouted that on foot yet.  So many fine beer excursions, so little time!

Freewheel will be pouring at the Session Fest at Drakes on the 25th, along with an impressive line-up that includes newcomers like Berryessa and Mavericks,  pioneers such as Sierra Nevada and Anderson Valley, and dozens more, all showing off their latest session creations in their current line-ups.

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Sour Sunday, as #sfbeerweek continues!

San Francisco Beer Week continues all around the Bay Area today. The two of us (Steve and Gail) are going to Sour Sunday in Berkeley, at Triple Rock and Jupiter, both near the downtown Berkeley BART station. (Find them by station or alphabetically on the main Beer By BART directory on our home page)

My Funky Valentine fruit and wheat slurry
The making of My Funky Valentine: Brett meets organic stone fruits in a food-grade bucket

We’ll be pouring My Funky Valentine, the very small batch dark sour stonefruit collaboration beer Gail did with Bison Brewing at this event. Come on by the Bison table at 1:00 pm for the release. Think Baltic Porter base, and then organic dried sour cherries, organic dried red plums, organic dried nectarine… and whole wheat pasta. If you are at this crowded but always worthwhile event, drop by to ask Gail why the spaghetti made this sour beer sing.

Here’s more of the the story of this unique sour beer, and how “The Hostage” became “My Funky Valentine.”

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.