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.


Post your links for the Session #126

Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

What’s the deal with these beers?  We’re going to find out together.

Welcome back to post your link to your content for the August 4th installment of The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday! 


Here’s the announcement post, for reference.  

On August 4, after you post your blog, add the URL pointing to your brand new post. Put it in a comment below on this page or on the announcement page.  I’ll check both.  Or, to get some buzz going, tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession or alert me directly @beerbybart on Twitter.

Monday I’ll do a round-up of all of the submissions and make links back to your work.  So, post today for impact, or wrap it up over the weekend.  

Cheers to August’s Beer Blogging Friday, aka The Session!

-Gail Ann Williams

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.

A Juicy Session: Announcing #126

Announcing The Session #126

Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

Ready for the next installment of The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday?  On August 4th, 2017, the topic will be a still-emerging – though no longer new – unofficial beer style. This kind of beer has gotten so much buzz (and some mocking) in the last decade and a half that it’s surprising it has not come up on The Session yet.  New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers, they are being made everywhere now and people are definitely buying them. 

So fire up your keyboard – let’s hear about your own encounters with these strange IPAs.


Any approach is welcome. Choose an idea or find your own:  

  • The encounter:  Do you remember your first NEIPA – if so, what was that like?  Details, please.  And how has your perception of the style changed over time? 
  • Or the name game: What style name do you prefer to describe the trend … why choose that one, and why are the other names unworthy or short-sighted? Does “IPA” still apply in a way that’s helpful to drinkers?
  • Or the crusade:  Testify!  Exactly why do you love or hate these beers?  How you could explain your stance to somebody who disagrees with you.  Could you/ how would you convert them to your point of view?
  • Or setting standards and defining flaws: What makes a classic example of the style?   What makes an IPA simply an unfiltered dry-hopped American IPA without much clarity instead of part of this style?  What about the sweeter “milkshake” IPAs – part of this style definition or something else?   What flaws make for weak examples of the style? Or maybe, where should the numbers be for this style – abv, ibu, color and clarity, etc.? What tasting instructions would you give to judges of these beers?
  • Or take another angle, tell another tale!  Have you been writing about these beers for several years now and watched them evolve?  Know something cool about the making of these beers, the people behind them, their spread to the UK and Europe?

Choose any angle and make it yours – they’re just ideas to get us thinking, not a questionnaire.  And if you have zero interest in such a beer, just say why in the fullest detail. Have fun with it!    

A few resources

The Brewers Association and the related Homebrewers Association both started out skeptical. This discussion (including comments) shows a step towards recognition: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/news/new-england-ipa-haze-craze/  Check out the April Fools style announcement complete with gravy boat snark from 2016: https://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/ne-ipa-recognized-official-beer-style

How to Participate in August’s The Session

On August 4, after you post to your blog, come on back here to add the URL pointing to your brand new post. Put it in your comment below on this page, or to get a little more buzz going, tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession or alert us directly @beerbybart on Twitter.  

I then follow up soon thereafter with a full round-up of all of the submissions with links back to your work and we all soak in the breadth of opinion and information of the beer blogging community.  Cheers to August’s Beer Blogging Friday, aka The Session!


-Gail Ann Williams

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.

Aged beer: whatever am I saving this for?

This month The Session, a grand monthly beer writing conspiracy, is a challenge from Sir Ron, blogger at The Ferm. He challenges beer bloggers who have a growing cellar of strong beers waiting for a special event to “break free and open up something special, whether with a friend, family, or even all on their lonesome.”

How’d he know we have a little problem with hoarding Special Beers?

Since there are two of us who work on BeerByBART, and we had the inclination earlier this week to open something good, we had no reason to hesitate.  Why wait for a special moment?  Isn’t life good enough to celebrate as special?  We’re both here, yay, and we’re lucky to both love beer. Let’s make that reason enough, and pull up something amazing.  (But not one of the sour beers!  Too special.)   Sheesh.  No, no, not that 22 ounce barleywine!  Gotta work tomorrow.

They get better until they don't

With all those strong beers staring back at us on a week night, it was reassuring to find a prize that was in an 11 ounce bottle. As soon as we opened it and got a whiff of the bread-pudding aromas within, however, it seemed far too small a container.

The beer we opened was a 2007 Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra.  It was an 11 ounce bottle we hand-carried back from a family visit back east that year.  It came back wrapped in dirty clothes in checked luggage and went into our San Francisco basement/garage, which averages just below 60 degrees F with relatively little variation in annual temperature. Not the cellar temperature of the mid 50s all the time, but strong beer seems to be fine at this temperature range.  We do not save anything below 8.0% alcohol by volume unless it is a sour beer, with a whole other biochemistry going on to make it keep on going.

This little bottle lists the alcohol at 18% by volume.  No, that’s no typo.

So as expected it aged gloriously.  We sipped slowly.  “Less raisin than I remember,” I say.

“Oh, I get a ton of raisins,” says Steve.

Hmm. I will investigate further.

Quiet sipping.  Ok, not by a fire, in front of TV, but I can’t remember what was on, and that’s the modern day equivalent of a romantic flickering fireplace.

“Bread pudding. Sherry or port or something like that in the sauce.  A dry chocolate note, like powered hot chocolate, too.  Yeah, I think there are raisins in the bread pudding.”

Altogether delightful, and much better than I remembered.

Medium carbonation. Dark brown, and not clear.  And…  yummy.  A yummy strong ale.

At some point we agreed that if someone served this to us and said it was an unknown port or sherry-like fortified wine, we’d be amazed but would accept that at face value.  It was a remarkable beverage that had come into its own in the bottle.

So cheers to seizing the day! No real reason, just a happy raison. Thanks to the bloggers who carry on the tradition of The Session.


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.

Post hoc ergo… this beer tastes odd

This month’s version of The Session – a beer blogging tradition of note – is dedicated to the idea of “framing” an experience by expectation and context. The experience is beer, of course.

One of the pleasures of trying exciting new beers in the company of a close companion is sharing sips in bars, restaurants and festivals. Who can resist nearly twice as many interesting beers to try and to talk about? Now and then we find that there is only one beer on the list that we both crave, but usually we make the most of one of the classic “beer geek couple” benefits by discussing our choices, sharing and comparing.

What a way to learn about flavors, preferences, differences in perception… and the importance of flight-sequence! The first beer frames the second. After this, therefore somehow influenced by this. That seems to be how tastebuds like to work, not quite like the famous logical fallacy, but strangely similar, letting sequence change perception on a sensory level. This is framing like that experienced by contrast in tempo or other characteristic in music or perhaps as in a novel, with foreshadowing to color the unfolding action.

The first thing beer tasters are likely to discover is that a favorite beer can taste bland if preceded by a similar but sweeter, more bitter, more roasty, more yeast-flavored or higher alcohol beer. That’s easy to notice when the flavor of the known beer is strongly committed to memory, and the contents of your glass are no secret. It’s harder in a blind tasting situation, or where the known beer is not a recent favorite. When you get to a second beer in a tasting flight that’s one you have never had before, there is no way to know exactly how the prior beer is changing your perception of the current one.

The usual suggestions for coping with this are:

1. Milder, lighter (in flavor but not always in color) beers should be tasted first.
2. Before you go to the next beer, have a few sips of good water.
3. Before you go to the next beer, have a bite or more of bland food like bread. Salty breads, crackers, chips or pretzels are not quite as good because they change your perception of sweetness, but they may be better than nothing for resetting your palate.
4. Before you go to the next beer, use a trick from experienced Beer Judges and smell your own clean shirt sleeve, resetting your ability to get the aroma of the next beer. This can look a little odd, but it works like a charm. Best if you use unscented laundry detergent, of course.
5. Just take a few minutes to rest your senses before tasting a different beer. Easier when you are not sharing sips, perhaps.

A few more strategies that we have come across accidentally may be interesting to play with.

If you share beers, try to have more than one sip before swapping back. Sometimes “just a taste” gives a bad impression, but swapping back after several sips can make your original glass seem like the odd one. That’s not ideal either, but at least it’s instructive.

After a while you’ll start to get an instinct for what beers not to order together. Recently Steve and I went into Toronado and saw Bony Fingers and Publication on the list, and wanted those two. I had a little trepidation looking at the two beers, since I was not sure which one should go first. Both are complex and unusual treats.

Bony Fingers from Moonlight Brewing, one of the very special small breweries in our area, is a Halloween seasonal that has some of the delicious dark French-roast coffee-like malt character of Moonlight’s Death and Taxes, their popular innovative robust dark lager, with added spooky hop complexity. Publication, from Russian River Brewing Company, is a delicate Brettanomyces-fermented beer, dry but with creamy impressions of malt sweetness, not sour or funky, but with layers of earthy aged leather character from that unusual yeast, with a hop presence, but nothing like that of Bony Fingers. Flavors from a whole other universe! Which one to taste first? Turns out it didn’t matter! For us, those two seemed to each set up the other one by a fortuitous contrast that worked better than a clean slate. Like picture frames for sensory painting.

Last winter after trying some barleywines, (the big boozy malty sweet granddaddy of beers from the British and American brewing tradition), we ordered two sour beers at a bar in the LA area, and the milder one was blown away by the more intensely sour beer. We knew the milder sour beer we had ordered — La Folie — was one we’d liked before, so we sat waiting to get the busy bartender’s attention for some water. No luck, but there was the rest of that sweet, malty barleywine still sitting in the glass from our prior sampling. Sure enough, that barleywine reset our tastebuds so we could experience the milder of the sour beers and enjoy it. Again, beers were preparing our palates for other beers though contrast. Sometimes an unusual sequence is not odd, but inspiring.

One of our favorite local festivals offers great chances for fortuitous contrasts. The Bistro, easy walking from the Hayward BART station, has slated their much-anticipated Barrel Aged Festival for November 14, 2009. They promise 70 beers, some of which you will never see anywhere else, along with live music and BBQ from 11am to 7pm. For us, this annual festival is one of the joys of living in the Bay Area. Savoring so many contrasts of beer in bourbon barrels, in wine barrels with tart sourness, in clean vanilla flavored oak barrels and more is a rare treat.

That moment of discovering contrasting beers that pair to frame one another perfectly is even more fun than beer and cheese pairing.

Bistro wet hop festival

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.

The Session: Will Travel For Beer (Roundup #29)

00-thesession150This time around The Session was all about charting uncharted territory.

We gave a very general call, asking for either travel stories, practical tips, or dream beer vacations… plus a beer description if it fits in anyplace, and we got a lot of delicious variety. Beer reviews were sprinkled thoughout. Quite a few bloggers did a little of each option, but here’s a rough attempt at classifying the tasty posts that emerged:

Tales of beer expeditions. What really happened on the road:

Rob writes about a Montana brewery visit – but his post is more on the craft of blogging and on reviewing a place based on only one visit, a pretty important insight.

Ray talks about going to the source for the brewpub-only offerings from Dogfish Head in Delaware.

Beer Odyssey Brian gives an example from Sun Valley, Idaho, of when travel plans go awry

The gun-totin’ New Mexico history is the star in this brew pub visit story by Derrick.

Beer Sagas gives general travel tips, specifics on Prague as a destination, and a lovely bit of international beer vocabulary – a Czech tradition, the dzban. Something like the American “growler” for take-home beer.

Touring the Texas Hill Country with its German beer heritage gives plenty for Don the Beer Brotha to work with.

Jay Brooks gives a quick overview of a life with a lot of beer travel, and singles out one special destination, in Scotland.

Peter of Better Beer Blog recaps a trip to San Diego, California he and Sam took last year.

Hey, wait a minute: We wrote about San Diego travels too, along with fleeting remembrances of the beers of the English countryside and Bavaria years before.

Ted remembers his hurricane evacuation beercation that ends with sumptuous notes on a bottle of Lost Abbey’s Judgement Day. Yes, San Diego again.

The Beer Nut posted, appropriately, from a pub in a foreign country, with tales of a mouthwatering tale of a trip to Copenhagen complete with notes on “Brewers United Belgian Stout” a Mikkeller-Xbeeriment collaboration.

Tips on how (and a little bit of where and why) to go:

Stan Hieronymus, founder of The Session (Beer Blogging Fridays), lists five specific great beer destinations you may not have thought about, and also encourages you to travel happily by seeking out national parks and always braking for good pie.

Jimmy of Hop Wild lays out some solid tips on preparation and beer hunting strategy.

Mario tells about a trip to Mt. Shasta and the seeking out of a small town brewpub as an act of familiarity and comfort.

Andreea gives practical, useful tips on making your beer trip to Belgium glorious.

Alan gives tips on the practicalities and challenges, including getting your beers over the US/Canada border.

Jon from the Brew Site suggests San Diego (imagine that!) and Portland as destinations and lists breweries to support his claim

Matt, the GISBrewmaster, adds some tips and endorses Portland as a worthy destination.

Stephen includes travel tips, a description of entering an establishment in Belgium, and then throws in an evocative beer enjoyed in a Toronto pub.

Knut Albert gives useful tips for European beer holidays from a Norwegian point of view.

Dreaming of the perfect beercation:

Steph Weber was the only blogger to write in this mode, with a carefully planned trip to North Carolina with both beer and childhood-memory destinations, and she closes with a beach sunset photo, the classic vacation keepsake.


This was a lot of fun. The most mentioned destinations are San Diego, Belgium and Portland. The most mentioned tip was to do your homework – get going on that research ahead of time. (Of course, some advocated the pleasures of serendipity or leaving time to take suggestions on the fly from locals.)

The Session is a “blog carnival” group writing event originated by Stan Hieronymus. For an index of the Sessions see Jay Brooks’ handy guide. You can contact him to volunteer to anchor a future month. On twitter look for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.

Next up will be “Beer Desserts” for the first Friday of August, hosted by David Jensen at Beer47.com . Sweet!

Will Travel for Beer

One of the great attributes of craft beer is that it continues to be primarily a local phenomenon. Travel for beer – or even just travel with hunting beer as a major component – is a pastime that won’t quit.

Our earlier travel adventures that were not primarily for beer, but with good beer quite available and appreciated, included England and Bavaria, both in the 1980s. We didn’t know enough about what we were enjoying to make any notes or seek out anything that didn’t just fall in our laps, but we knew enough to try a variety of offerings and pay attention. It was all part of our gradual beer education, in the context of some walking-centric vacations.

Fragments we remember: While walking on the Coast-to-Coast trail through Northern England, coming off a ridge in the Lake District into some tiny village to the cozy B&B we had booked by phone the day before, we got out of our muddy boots and went over to the town’s only pub for the evening meal and a pint of the invariably delicious local bitter. What the hell was it? Who knows. All we knew was that after the next day’s walk that brew was no longer available and we had another offering in another village. All part of the sense of place.

Another year, we enjoyed a similar experience sight-seeing in several ancient walled towns, while going by rental car from Frankfurt to Munich. Each night we’d have delicious fresh lagers with our meals wherever we were staying, only to learn that the same beers were not available again the next evening in a new town. We quickly learned to revel in the expectation of sampling new and interesting beer each evening, served by publicans who were proud to offer them as their own.

It was on this trip to Germany that we enjoyed our first Monastic beer. Our research told us that a short train ride from Munich would leave us with a nice afternoon’s walk from the the train station to Andechs Monastery and Brewery. After a longer-than-anticipated, hot afternoon walk on country roads we arrived at the Holy Mountain less than one hour before last call. On a summer afternoon, the beer was a minor miracle, to be remembered vividly for years. In fact, Steve would not wait years. He arranged for his train connections 2 weeks later from Prague to leave him with a four-hour layover in Munich which he eagerly used to re-ascend Andechs Mountain and enjoy a more leisurely drinking session. He met a German high school teacher there who was grading papers whilst enjoying some “holy lagers.” The teacher treated Steve to several rounds and bought him a six-pack to take as a house gift for the next stop on his journey.

Almost nine years ago we became acutely aware of the West Coast American IPA revolution, thanks to festivals hosted by The Bistro, one of the East Bay establishments that inspired the creation of our Beer By BART transit guide. The Bistro does an IPA festival in August and Double IPA in February. That year the two of us scouted hoppy beers and compared them intently, trying to cover the major Northern California producers we knew, and some unknowns, too. We took a regional approach, confident that the beers from our area are excellent. They are.

Then the report came back from the judges. The three competition winners that year were all from San Diego county. Huh, what? We scrambled to taste the offerings from some brewery improbably called Pizza Port. This then-new San Diego style was a dry citrus slap in the face — and an elixir of pleasure. Who knew back then? We were fast learners, and immediately started planning a long weekend on the southern border.

San Diego in January
Magic Hour Frolic: San Diego in January

When the time came we checked into a hotel on Pacific Beach — unintentionally but fortuitously setting up only a few blocks from a little tavern called The Liars Club. It turned out that The Liars Club was THE local pub for San Diego craft beer. We made many a return visit in subsequent years. They moved from PB out to the small town of Alpine in 2008 and unfortunately closed earlier this year. We still miss it.

We reveled in the joy of discovering Alesmith, Ballast Point and each of the Pizza Ports one at a time, getting leads from people in each brewery or bar about where to go next. Our first time in San Diego for beer was like no other expedition.

San Diego County is difficult to tour because the good beer places are so spread out, and a designated driver (or a group that can hire a driver and split costs) may be the only good solution. In recent years the two of us have stayed in a different hotel each night to be walking distance from the final round at that night’s brewpub or beer bar. Winter is our favorite time for this excursion, when slightly warmer temperatures than San Francisco means more to us. Jeans and a hoodie on the beach, a January treat.

Brewery tour, at Stone, San Diego county.
Brewery tour, at Stone, San Diego county.

We also brought back great treasures. San Diego beers were a rarity in the Bay Area so we always had unique offerings to bring to dinners and sessions with friends. It was easier to do this, pre-9/11, since carry-on luggage could include bottles of liquid. Now, even though many of those fine breweries distribute at least some of their beers around the state, the trip is still worth it. There are always special releases to try and fellow beer fanatics to meet. The hop shortage helped encourage breweries like Stone, Green Flash and Lost Abbey to experiment more with sour beers just as we are learning to love them courtesy of Russian River, Marin, Drakes, Valley, Moonlight, Schooners and such in our region. A little bit of this new microbial magic makes it to the best bottle shops north of their county, but often a special batch is only poured locally, or at a festival. Something hoppy, puckering or richly malty will warrant wrapping and packing. Bubble wrap never sleeps.

On the San Diego county beer trail
Remote outpost on the San Diego county beer trail

The Session #29 compilation page is now ready, to find more travel posts. Thanks, and happy trails!

Gail & Steve