Conspiracy Under the Tarps: We Dig into the Origins of Barrelworks

The Best of the U.S. Meets the Best of Belgium
Firestone Walker’s David Walker (L) and Matt Brynildson (center)  share a lambic with Cantillon Brewer, Jean Van Roy (R)

It started with a chance encounter at Cantillon in May 2011.  Steve Shapiro (one of the two of us responsible for Beer By BART) visited the famed Brussels lambic brewery.  And he was delighted to run into Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson and a tall companion with a British accent.  Steve remembers that Jean Van Roy was astonished that he and Matt knew each other. That encounter was, however, Steve’s first introduction to Firestone Walker Brewing’s co-founder, David Walker. Steve remembers Matt whispering about Walker sipping one of the complex, acidic Cantillon beers. “Look, he’s smiling!”

Steve snapped a photo (above) as the three brewing legends enjoyed another lambic creation together.

Not long afterward, we ran into David Walker at San Francisco’s City Beer Store.  Curiously, he implied that he was the one interested in starting a sour program but facing resistance. It caught our attention. A few very nice sour “wood aged” beers from the brewery had already showed up here and there. What was going on?

David Walker, Jeffers Richardson, Jim Crooks
David Walker, Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks at the Firestone Walker Invitational beer fest, after the launch of Barrelworks

But eventually all was moot. We were delighted when we heard of plans for a sour fermentation facility called Barrelworks in Buellton, an hour and a half south of the main Firestone Walker location in Paso Robles, way down on the Central Coast.

We got to know Jim Crooks and Jeffers Richardson, the two who anchor the program, each with his own complicated and engrossing back story at Firestone Walker.  Still, the more we heard about their own stories and about Barrelworks, the more puzzled we were.  Had it really been a forbidden project when Walker sipped at Cantillon? The website hinted of drama, but was that just marketing hype? What was true?

So last summer we decided to track this down and take whatever time the story required.  The idea was that we would get the versions of the origin tale from various protagonists and show how differently they saw things.  We were delighted when Beer Advocate Magazine took our project on, and we dug in.

Curiously, each thing we looked into was deeper and more complex than the last. The secrets behind Barrelworks went all the way back to the unusual origins of Firestone Walker itself.  Matt Brynildson, Jim Crooks, Jeffers Richardson, Adam Firestone and David Walker all gave generously of their time and did deep dives into all kinds of tales that we reluctantly left aside as we sharpened our focus and fought to stay within the word count.  Our respect, friendship and appreciation for the people at Firestone Walker grew over the course of our investigation.

The story’s up now on the Beer Advocate website, and we hope you enjoy all of it.

“The problem was that it was getting harder and harder for Crooks to keep the burgeoning project secret. “It was like, this is Jim’s deal, and it was like, don’t tell Adam,” Firestone sighs, recalling his brewers’ increasingly ridiculous attempts to keep him in the dark. “‘Guys, I can see the barrels! They’re dribbling all over the floor. They smell like hell!’”

Alas, some of the weirdly wonderful or disputed details ended up on the cutting room floor as we trimmed the story down to article length. Thanks to Tom Griffin, who told about bringing the first second-hand bourbon barrels out to California, thus getting Matt Brynildson into the incredibly delicious Anniversary beer tradition that recently resulted in another must-not-miss example.  We hope to tell those tales another time.  Mike Hoffman told us how he lost the SLO production brewery, with many details that were eye-opening and fascinating but would have taken us far outside the original focus of the story.  Thanks to Ryan Sweeney from LA’s Surly Goat and related beer bars who told us about arriving at the Paso Robles pub one day and having a draft beer from that sour program that did not exist. There it was, on tap! We dropped another thread of the story that had to do with the unforeseen demand for 805, the popular mainstream blonde ale.   The rise of the Barrelworks program was mentioned as a soul-saving counterbalance to the monotony of producing so much 805. We kept scrapping quotes packed with astonishing insights in order to get the bones of the story in.

And we are excited for the next chapters and new beers coming from Firestone Walker. We’ll be bugging them about the progress of the Belgian sour project mentioned in the beginning of the article, and following their beers.

Jim-and-Foudres
Jim Crooks and one of his talented wooden foudres in the wood cellar at Barrelworks

So please check out our Feral Ones story in BeerAdvocate magazine.  And, as our editor Ben Keene reminds us, if you subscribe to BeerAdvocate, not only do you support beer journalism, but next time we write something there you will see it all gloriously laid out in a real glossy magazine you can touch, (perhaps with something akin to this issue’s historic Area 51 brewing images from Jeffers), a month before it ever goes up online.

– Gail and Steve

[photos by Steve Shapiro and/or Gail Ann Williams]



Explore beer destinations by Bay Area Rapid Transit

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.

Mikkeller Bar Opens in San Francisco

The long-anticipated Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco is finally opening for business…sort of.

Beginning this evening, July 12th, and continuing until their official — and very grand — opening on August 9th, the bar will be open limited hours, 5:00pm-2:00am with a less than full (albeit still impressive) beer menu and kitchen service. The highly anticipated Sour Room is still under construction, and will not open until August.

For those who are not currently lined up on the sidewalk on Mason Street, the new Mikkeller Bar results from a partnership between Chuck Stilphen (The Trappist, ØL Beercafe and Trappist Provisions in the East Bay) and Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (Mikkeller Beer). Bjergsø is widely known as a “gypsy brewer.” He has designed and marketed hundreds of beers, all of which were made for him at breweries around the world that are owned by others. He operates two bars back home in Copenhagen.

Mikkeller Bar SF - gray bldg
Last night’s soft preview

At 34 Mason, half a block north of Market Street near Powell BART station, (yes, it’s now listed on Beer By BART!) the brand new bar stands out as the newest and sleekest facade on a gritty block.  An elegant angular hop logo etched into the glass door and a window into the working kitchen leave no doubt that you have found the place.   The ground floor bar and casual restaurant features a sleek three-sided blonde wooden bar, seating approximately 30. Tables are arrayed throughout, seating another 75-80 beer seekers.

The 1907 building has rough interior brick walls, sleek wood and old-style light fixtures, giving it a warm feeling. The bottom floor will serve as a special events room and as the “sour” room.  The goal is to provide the best sour beers from around the world, starting in August. Mikkeller Bar will feature 40 drafts and 2 casks poured from a system dubbed the “Flux Capacitor” that allows beers to be served at three different temperatures, depending on their style. The tap system is designed to allow the carbon dioxide/nitrogen ratio of each tap to be individually adjusted assuring each beer pours perfectly.

Chuck and Mikkel plot the Mikkeller bar, last November
Chuck and Mikkel plot the Mikkeller bar, last November

The restaurant will specialize in smoked meats, sausages, charcuterie platters, and small plates such as Korean-style wings. Chef Michael O’Brian will preside over the kitchen. Most recently he led the food program at one of Washington, DC’s most respected beer bars, ChurchKey.

Most of the taps are already live, though the casks were not yet flowing last night when we got a super soft sneak preview. Expect to find a lot of Mikkeller beers, including four regulars featured at his Copenhagen Pubs —  a brown, a Pilsner, a wit and a sour beer — all re-named for the Tenderloin, the famous or infamous San Francisco neighborhood in which the new bar resides.

Last night the list was rich in imports, many from Belgium, and of course Mikkeller’s own, from all over. Others were sourced from all around the U.S., with a couple from Bay Area breweries rounding out the list.

Yes, you can go there right now.   Or you can wait for the grand opening weekend.

  • August 9, Grand Opening at 12 noon.  Expect awesome beers.
  • August 10, Beer Brunch at 11am, Spontan Art Show in the Tivoli Sour Room
  • August 11, Seven course beer dinner with Danish guest Chef Jakob Mielcke 

It appears that reservations will be taken on the bar’s web page, soon.  Keep an eye on http://www.mikkellerbar.com/events.html

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.

Anchor to build second plant — yet stay with the home team

By now you have read the news.  Anchor Brewing Company is opening a large, high capacity second location, but not in North Carolina or Chicago.  San Francisco’s oldest brewery and largest employer in the manufacturing sector is expanding at Pier 48, part of the land owned by the San Francisco Giants.   Beer and Baseball now go together in an only-in-San-Francisco way, close to the ball park on McCovey Cove.  A large production facility, attention to the historic pier architecture,  illustrations that look like a beer garden restaurant , and the promise of a museum all appear to be part of the plans.

What is the secret energy source for the folks at Anchor Brewing?   They managed to appear at events all over the nine or so Bay Area counties for SF Beer Week pouring their growing portfolio of special releases after an exciting beer launch (the return of the historic California Lager) days before, they hosted the champion home brew clubs of the state at their lovely old brewery in Potrero Hill on the second weekend of SFBW,  and then on the traditional rest day of Monday-after-beer-week, (also known as President’s Day), they give an exclusive to the home town paper and announce a collaboration with the home town baseball team, the current world champion SF Giants.

Here’s the story by Andrew Ross at the Chronicle’s SF Gate.

Anchor's copper kettles

Anchor has already worked with the SF Giants on the “Anchor Plaza” project, with their craft beers pouring in the outdoor food court area behind the scoreboard in the ballpark.   The two organizations both respect history and their own pioneers and heroes.  If, as we hope is implied, the proposed museum is a beer museum, the new facility should become a top beer pilgrim destination.  Anchor already has a terrific West Coast beer history collection and relationships with the most serious long term beer history geeks of California.  Hopefully, the beloved tours of their old brewery will also continue after the new place is built.

With the announcement of the upcoming Mikkeller craft beer pub in downtown San Francisco, SF starts to rank as one of the great beer travel destinations of the US, if not the world.    I have a feeling we’ll all stop lamenting the overlooked goodness of Northern California as a beer mecca within a few years.

We’re pure boosters on this one.  Construction starts next year.  Go, Giants!  Go, Anchor! Go, SF!

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.

Hoppy beers fresh from the bine

One of the best opportunities to understand fresh “wet” hops, put into a beer without being dried and baled first, is the Wet Hop Festival, this Saturday.  The low key annual festival at the Bistro in Hayward, California, is happily near a BART station.  Bistro wet hop festival list and glassses Over the years this has been one of our favorite events. It’s easy to get to the Bistro, and the chance to taste small pours of a variety of wet hopped beers all in a row is a rare harvest season treat.  The Bistro provides detailed sheets describing all the brews.

This year Steve and I are especially thrilled to attend,  since our beer — ok, ok — a Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beer that we helped create — will be poured for the first time there!

Back in August we  participated in Sierra Nevada Beer Camp number 86! The group of campers, none of whom we had met before, emailed some in advance about the amusing significance of “eighty-sixed” as bar lingo.  The anticipation was palpable.

Terrence Sullivan from Sierra Nevada had told us that there was a good possibility that we could pick some hops from the brewery estate to use in the batch we created.   We imagined a light, low gravity, very hoppy ale featuring the fresh hops from the field. When we arrived and learned that fresh Citra cones, from an arromatic, relatively new and very popular variety of hop plants, were available to pick, we were delighted.

Estate hops growing at SierraYou might think that simply having the facilities and talent to create custom one-time small batch beers with guests is an achievement for Sierra.

However, that is missing one of the most fascinating parts of the puzzle: Beer Camp relies on creative consensus.   So when we met our fellow campers and found out that two of them were determined to make a massive Russian Imperial Stout, we had no idea what the group would do.  I kept saying “hoppy session ale” and “fresh Citra hops we can help harvest” but there was no moving our Imperial Russian fan.

Finally the R&D and experimental brewer Scott Jennings, who currently brews for the Beer Camp groups proposed a compromise.   “How about an Imperial IPA that’s 8.6%, brewed with Simcoe, Amarillo and Chinook hops in the kettle to reach 86 IBU, and then you pick some fresh Citra hops for use in the hop back and in dry-hopping?”

There was a stunned appreciation.

a bunch of hops at SierraWe will be tasting that beer, named “Eighty-sixed,” for the first time Saturday. There will be more fresh hopped beers to compare it with.  We’ll be there at the Bistro early, since there is a certain baseball game of interest in the evening, and also because we just can’t wait!

More about the visit to Beer Camp in a later post.  Right now all we can think about is finally tasting “Eighty-Sixed.”  Before it’s, you know, gone.

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.

BART transit tips for the bridgeless end of SF Beer Week

SF Beer Week has been too great and too busy for us to recount so far, although we can say  that Thursday’s master blending seminar with Eric and Lauren Salazar of New Belgium featuring special casks of the component parts of La Folie was thoughtful, inspiring and delicious.

Mike Azzalini and the whole team at La Trappe in North Beach went all out to make the sour blending seminar a memorable event, and sent each participant home with his or her own custom self- blended growler. The session was a rare insight into a remarkable craft.

What’s next?

There are plenty of good events to come, up to and including the final festival that is the Celebrator Party.  [Here’s how to walk to and from Trumer and North Berkeley BART. They will run a free shuttle bus to and from BART, and the event is over at 8:00 PM Sunday, so regular stops and schedules apply.]

The final weekend adds a new challenge:  This weekend you can leave San Francisco by the Bay Bridge but due to construction you can’t enter — or get back  — that way.  Drivers will have an option of going way around by the various other bridges, but ditching the car and taking BART remains a good option.

A limited number of BART stations will remain open for special all-night trains. The normally-scheduled final trains will leave their terminals between midnight and one and make all stops.

In the City, the late night stations are Embarcadero, Powell and 24th Street.  You will find late night buses on the MUNI system can get you to an open BART station, or you may be able to grab a cab.  The 511 system is good for finding connecting buses, as is Nextbus.

The special late trains will only run hourly, so it will be useful to get a precise bead on when they get to your after-hours station. You can get that by downloading one of many mobile BART apps, (choose a real-time app from lists here) or point your mobile browser to m.bart.gov, or by looking at the full  BART or 511.org websites to plan a late trip.

No smartphone…no problem. You can phone 5-1-1 and use the interactive voice menus.

Have fun!

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.

SF Beer Week 2012 – Getting there!

Here we go!     [LATER UPDATE: For info on the final weekend of SFBeerWeek, when the westbound direction on the Bay Bridge is Closed, see this later blog post:  https://beerbybart.com/2012/02/17/beer-by-bart-bay-bridge-closureweekend/ for details]

To get to the Opening Event by BART… just in case you are checking this site for that tidbit:

  • Go to CIVIC CENTER BART Station.
  • When you exit the paid area, continue underground down towards the 8th and Market exit.
  • When you emerge onto Market, turn around, and then come back around the corner to your right.
  • You’ll see a bus stop right there on 8th street beside the Chase Bank building.
  • You want the MUNI number 19 bus, and you will take it to Brannan street for $2 cash or Clipper card.

The bus returns to BART up 7th street later, or share a cab for light night convenience.

Resources:   mobile BART apps, (choose a real-time app from lists here) or point your mobile browser to m.bart.gov, or look at the full  BART or 511.org websites to plan any beer week trip in the extended urban area. You can also phone 5-1-1 and use their interactive voice menus to get transit info.

Enjoy!

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.

Hop farming and the aromatic side of beer

The hop harvest is underway in Oregon.  While visitors to a hop farm were delighting in the aroma, the hop farmers said they hardly smelled a thing. (Wait for the high alpha acid varieties in the later harvest, they said. Some visitors find those hops almost painfully pungent.)  Wish our video of the visit shared the smells!

Last weekend we (“we” being not just the editorial plural, but Beer By BART’s Gail and Steve) went to Oregon for a Beer Bloggers Conference. One highlight was a trip to a hop farm, not far from Portland in the nearby Willamette valley.  We got to see Tettnang hops, a delicate “noble” variety originally from Germany, as they were mechanically picked and dried.  Our video shows part of the special tour of Goschie Farms given by one of the neighboring hop farmers before an outdoor dinner at the hop farm.

Hops attract more than just beer geeks. If you were an aphid, where else would you want to live?  So pesticides are used for professional hop cultivation in most areas.   Growing certified organic hops can be labor-intensive and expensive. The yield per acre ends to be lower. The hops will cost more.

Organic beers had been given an exemption for hops in the Organic labeling law, along with a few other food ingredients. Brewers are allowed to use non-organic hops without noting that fact.  If beers use 100% organic hops, that can be a voluntary addition to the label. This is about to change, at the end of 2012.  Beer brewed after December 2012 will have to have hops that are certified organic in their production in order to be called certified organic beer  The total amount of organic hops produced in the next harvest, a year from now, will be very important to organic brewers.   For example, local organic brewers such as Bison and Thirsty Bear will compete for these hops with larger players.  If we buy organic beers, we will support more acres being farmed without heavy petrochemicals, but until then a fascinating competition will play out.

What about Goschie farms?  As this interview says, they are certified Salmon Safe for their agricultural runoff practices, a worthy endeavor. They have produced some organic hops, but the transition is gradual, and natural conditions are part of the process.  For example, this uncharacteristically cool year on the West Coast did not bring the hot temperatures that help control aphids naturally.

Along with the organic beer movement, another industry pressure on hop farmers comes with changes in the AB-Inbev hop buying patterns.  The giant brewing company will now use more hop oils and extracts and  is no longer buying some hops, including the Willamette hop variety,  grown for them under contract and providing stability to the farms for decades.  Healthy hop plants can last for about 30 years, so ripping them out and planting another variety is not just a significant cost, but inherently wasteful and disruptive to the land.  However, shifts in demand are part of the reality of modern brewing and farming.

The Beer Bloggers Conference itself was a good recreational and educational weekend, produced by a group which has also done wine bloggers events. This was their third beer bloggers conference, and it felt slightly smaller than a critical mass for a conference, but members of the burgeoning Oregon beer community certainly made up for that. (Notably, the second one had been in England, and was quite popular. If anybody is interested, this is the group that plans to do it again!)

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.

Tools tips and tricks: a SF Beer Week survival guide

So, by now have you cleared the decks for SF Beer Week 2011?

Here are some survival tips, plus a little video valentine to this beer week from last year’s.

1. Have a backup plan. If you get to point A without a reservation to find a line around the block, know what’s easy to get to and just as awesome or at least another flavor of awesome.

2. If you are not packing a mobile device, grab your addresses, routes and logistics ahead of time. Field tested directions to many fine sites can be found on here on Beer By BART, on the right side of the main page, with details that will assure you how easy it is to get to places like Hayward (for the Double IPA Festival), and dozens of other venues.

For even more information, check out:
http://www.bart.gov/schedules/ Detailed route info and BART schedules
http://www.511.org/ Transit info from various agencies all around the Bay.
http://www.nextbus.com/ Get live arrival time info for assorted buses

3. Enhance your mobility. Figure out how to use any new apps before you need them. There’s an official SF Beer Week schedule iphone app here: http://www.sfbeerweek.org/app
Some other transportation apps and tools you might like:
http://www.511.org/apps.asp
http://m.511.org
http://www.bart.gov/schedules/ Listed again, because sure, you can get BART schedules here, but you can also find a bunch of cool BART schedule and live arrival apps.

Or keep it simple. Remember that you can phone 511 and use a voice menu at any time to figure out how to get from point A to point B.
You can even use texting for getting up to the minute bus arrival info with a less-than-smart phone if you look ahead at http://www.nextbus.com/ Try it.

4. Shoot!
"Happy Beer Week" toast from the event at Speakeasy DSC_0342sm THe Homebrew Chef @ Collaboration- A Beer Dinner with Firestone Walker & De Proef Welcome to Valentine's Day @ Trumer With the Celebrator
Take pictures, videos, notes. Your best Beer Week photos and short video clips are welcome in the Flickr group pool at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sfbeerweek/ and by putting them there you offer them to the http://www.sfbeerweek.org webmaster for use on the beer week site. YouTube videos are also welcomed. It’s our beer community history, let’s get it out there for everybody.

5. Tell your friends – beer fans and otherwise – what’s going on. Tweet a little, all about #sfbeerweek – or become a Bay Area Beer Blogger – #babb – and write a longer article about your experiences.

6. Water! Especially when you are drinking stronger beers. You know this, so all you have to do is to remind yourself. Matching big beers one for one with glasses of delicious Hetch Hetchy mountain water out of the tap can help shift your experience of a marathon from an ordeal into an epic adventure.

That takes care of survival. Now for love. What do you like about SF Beer Week? A year ago we asked some of the fine people who created and enjoyed SF Beer Week 2010.

Here’s an encore performance:

Cheers!

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

Hop Harvests, Brews on the Bay and other craft Beer delights

Hop harvest at the Abbey de St Humulus
Beer and the end of summer, what a pairing! It’s the heart of hop harvest time, and it’s a grand traditional beer celebration month in the Northern Hemisphere, from Munich to North Beach.

Tomorrow we’ll be at Brews on the Bay, the San Francisco Brewers Guild’s seventh annual local brew festival aboard the Jeremiah O’Brien, moored at Pier 45 in the City. This September tradition is a benefit for the historic WWII Liberty Ship. Today, Saturday, is sold out on-line though there may be some tix at the “door.” If you are thinking about tomorrow afternoon, grab those tickets: http://sfbrewersguild.com/ To get there, you can take BART to the Embarcadero Station, then take the historic “F” line (two dollar fare) street car along the odd-numbered piers towards Pier 45. (It’s probably simplest to catch it in front of the Ferry Building, with the old clock tower you will see when you get out of BART. You could also take the time for a two mile walk, much of it along the Embarcadero sidewalk. Here’s the direct route that Google maps suggests, though you may prefer to walk directly to the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street and do the whole promenade along the Embarcadero.

Next weekend we will be rooting for our local brewers in the competition at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, and we expect to see many Bay Area friends there. Meanwhile, the legendary and also sold-out Northern California Homebrewer’s Festival unaccountably takes place at the same time this year. These two festivals are outside the SF regional transit footprint, but worth your attention. If you’re not planning to be at one of these landmark events this year, you might want to keep them on the radar as excellent choices for meeting craft beer community folks and trying exceptional beers in September of 2011.

Last weekend we were happy to be able to participate in the picking of the hops at Brian Hunt’s Moonlight Brewing, one of North America’s craft beer treasures that we are lucky to have in our local area. Hops are usually dried before use, but in recent years brewers have come to treasure the batches they can make once a year when the hops are still moist and fresh from the hop bine. Fresh hopped beer will be available locally from many brewers in small batches. Taste some great examples at the annual Wet Hop Festival at the Bistro, in Hayward on Saturday, October 2nd this year. http://www.the-bistro.com/events.htm (Yes, the Bistro is an easy walking distance from BART.)

There are more photos of the hop picking moonlight madness. pickingEnjoy this slide show of the harvest.hops to go to Toronado

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