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. )


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.

2013 Festival Season Kicks Off Sat. Jan. 26

So it’s been more than three weeks into the new year and there hasn’t been a festival yet. Well, nothing’s wrong that can’t be fixed.

The Brewing Network’s fourth Winter Brews Festival is a great way to start your 2013 beery explorations. Now held in Concord’s Todos Santos Park, this is a very accessible and friendly fest. There is plenty of room to roam in the park as you sample beers from 30+ breweries, most from Northern California.BN Winterfest, 2011 Berkeley edition

If you’ve been following the craft beer scene even a little, you know that there are new breweries opening all the time. It’s likely that here you will find beers from breweries that you haven’t gotten to know yet as well as many old favorites.

There is no need to drive as the park is located less than half a mile from the main Concord BART station, next to E.J. Phair’s pub. Here are the easy walking directions:


We hope to see many of you there on Saturday. For more info and tickets:


Looking forward to SF Beer Week and more winter beer goodness

The San Francisco Bay Area beer landscape looks particularly lovely in January. There are several treats leading up to the best time of the year,  the Greater Bay Area’s February treasure, SF Beer Week, starting on February 10th.  Time to mark up your calendar, arrange some time off work, and plan carefully for the second weekend when the westbound deck of the Bay Bridge will be closed for ongoing repairs, but BART (and the other local bridges) will be open in both directions.  If you have never taken BART, why not prep for Beer Week? You may want to get a multi-transit system Clipper card that you can use on buses and ferries too, and then do a trial pub-run before hand.  

door with sf beer week sticker
Leave some time for reading through the growing list of activities, scouting out the best beer week events and getting reservations for those that require them. All ready?  Then check out these events in the run-up to SF Beer Week.

Next weekend, on Saturday, January 28, starting at noon, the Brewing Network’s enthusiastic army of homebrewers will seek out Todos Santos square in Concord for their third Winter Brews Festival event, with a solid lineup of craft breweries and a repeat of their unusual and impressive homebrew sampling program where you get a chance to taste top amateur brews.  (For walking directions from Concord BART station, use our description of how to get from BART to the original E.J. Phair brewpub, which is on the plaza. It’s a easy, flat walk from the station.) Winter Brews Festival tickets are on sale in advance, so you can plan ahead.

Then on the first, Magnolia and 21st Amendment brewpubs in SF start their traditional month of making and serving special strong brews, from Barleywines and other fine styles of strong ales, to their own inventive winter “Imperial” versions of usually more modest beers. (It doesn’t even snow around here, but we don’t seem to mind those strong, warming brews.)

Last year’s SF Beer Week kickoff festival was at the Yerba Buena center. This year the opening event moves to a larger venue (though not as short a walk from BART). In this photo, beer bloggers Peter Estaniel and David Jensen enjoyed the opening of SF Beer Week 2011, almost a year ago.

pints of Bay Area beers

P.S.: To our out-of-town beer community friends and readers: you don’t have to just have to dream about all the great Northern California beers poured during SF Beer Week 2012. There’s still time to book that trip.


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.


To the Winter Brews Festival

It’s happening today in Berkeley, a short walk from the Main Downtown Berkeley BART Station:
The Brewing Network’s making a second stab at making an iconic winter beer festival that serves as a preamble to the taste-bud madness of Strong Beer Month and SF Beer Week in February. Last year’s event showed great promise, and this year should establish the BN Winter Brews Festival as a genuine annual don’t-miss event.

All you need to know is walk down away from the hills, no matter where you exit BART. Center Street or Allston Way will take you there.

See you there!

COMING SOON: Watch for SF Beer Week events, including our own third annual collaboration presenting “Beer Judging 101” – an advanced tasting class. Sign up early!

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.

San Francisco Beer Week – get out here!

We’ve been having a lovely time going to multiple events. People seem to be very happy!

Gail (writing this) has been working days, and dropping around to events only in the evening, while Steve (who shot the little video below) has had daytimes to enjoy special San Francisco Beer Week events, as well as evenings. He’s been spending his time asking why…

And you? Do tell!

There are still more events: http://sfbeerweek.org/

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.

Things to do while counting down towards SF Beer Week

The beer holiday season is upon us!

There was a time when beer festivals were a fixture of the summer months, and a locus of mass-quantities guzzling.  Gatherings that come off like that do still exist, but in recent years several cool divergent trends have emerged:  Stronger, more esoteric, more adventurous and odder craft beers on the one hand, and culinary acceptance with a move to gastropubs and elite beer/food pairings on the other.  Not only does SF Beer Week, the glorious second week of February, offer multiple opportunities to begin or to continue enjoying these trends, but there are several excellent opportunities coming up before that time, while we count the hours.

First, on the indoor and sophisticated end of the spectrum, our favorite local beer educator and Certified Cicerone, Nicole Erny, has announced a guided Belgian beer dinner at the Lafayette Park Hotel on January 29th.  From their announcement:

The Duck Club Restaurant at the Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa invites you to celebrate some of the finest beers of Belgium at a special beer dinner on Friday, January 29th, 2010.  (For reservations call 925-283-7108).

The evening will be hosted by Nicole Erny from the Trappist Belgian & Specialty Beer Bar in Oakland, CA. Nicole is a certified “Cicerone” of beers, similar to a sommelier for wine, with expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers, and she will guide us through this menu and the world of Belgian beers. Executive Chef Chuck Courtney has created a unique menu to pair with an exceptional selection of Belgian beers to demonstrate why this small country has its tremendous beer tradition.

But is it BARTable? Almost… if you arrived in time for a 1.4 mile walk from Lafayette Station, and then returned to the station via taxi, you could probably make this transit option work. We’ll reluctantly sit this one out (as non-meat-eaters) but heartily recommend this Friday evening to the Belgian beer experienced and curious alike. Nicole has a way with describing key flavor characteristics in ways that make beer tasting twice as fun, and she knows the stories behind these legendary old world beers, too.

Next on the list is a new winter festival, the BN Winter Brews Festival, just in case you think SF Beer Week is not soon enough. (BN? Ever seen those stunning hop grenade tee shirts? Those guys.) The intrepid gang of homebrewing podcasters from The Brewing Network is producing an exciting event on the Saturday of the same weekend, January 30, at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland. They promise “winter warmers and unique innovations …and barrels from breweries such as Russian River, Firestone Walker, the 21st Amendment, Speakeasy, Linden St., Moonlight Brewing, Magnolia, and many more.”

This festival includes food and music, from 1pm to 8pm at Linden St. Brewery, 95 Linden Street in Oakland. Sounds wonderful! We like the walk from West Oakland BART to Linden Street by day, but in the evening, calling a cab to get back to BART is recommended. There is a rumor that there will be a shuttle bus operating at least for part of the festival. The area is somewhat desolate at night, though by day the industrial cityscape around Linden Street Brewery is pretty cool. Priced at a modest $25 considering the special beers promised, this should be a worthwhile afternoon.

Linden Street Brewery has been open for less than a year, and has already produced some delicious beers featured at terrific East Bay restaurants and pubs. Linden Street beers explore the West Coast brewing tradition of “common lager” revived by Anchor Steam beer, with hoppy and roasty twists. Founding brewmaster Adam Lamoreaux has hosted homebrewers during the national conference last summer, a cicerone exam study class taught by Nicole Erny, and other special events benefiting the community. So it all ties together, with a big beer holiday bow.

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.