On March 13th, on the very day that judging was to start for the National Homebrew Competition (NHC), the American Homebrewers Association cancelled the competition due to the novel coronavirus.
Thus, local homebrew club, the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE), which was coordinating the SF Region judging, found itself sitting on hundreds of bottles of beer entered into the competition. What was DOZE to do with them all? Well, they decided to judge all the entries anyway, making this the only region in the country where the entries were actually judged (in most others the beer was reportedly made into hand sanitizer or simply dumped).
Over the course of several months, and working in small physically-distanced groups and over Zoom, the small corps of DOZE’s certified beer judges -with help from judges from The Mad Zymurgists and Bay Area Mashers (BAM) homebrew clubs- worked its way through more than 600 entries in 35 categories covering ales and lagers, meads and ciders.
To cap it all off, they put together an awards presentation and livestreamed it over Facebook!
After sampling some lovely offerings from breweries around the area, I finished out my SF Beer Week experience by making the pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa from some of the celebrated Pliny the Younger.
First brewed in 2005, Pliny the Younger triple IPA has been released for two weeks only each year, in the month of February. People come for it from around the country, and further afield, and lines often snake around the block.
This year two developments conspired to make me decide to bite the bullet and make the trip for the first time: one, the opening last year of the larger production brewery and pub in Windsor, has reduced waiting times overall (even though they could still be ridiculously long!); and, secondly, that for the first time ever, Russian River had decided to bottle Pliny the Younger and each patron was entitled to purchase up to two bottles per visit.
The prospect of having one to take home, to extend the experience, and -more importantly- one to send to my daughter and son-in-law, beer lovers both, tipped the scales. So, off I went, to downtown Santa Rosa on Sunday evening of Presidents Day weekend.
The line was, to my relief, not too long. I got in line at 5:25 pm, and an hour and a half later, I was close enough to reach out and touch Russian River’s building. It took another hour and half to get in the door, though. More than I had hopped for, but three hours is generally regarded as a tolerable wait, indeed as a relatively short one–and besides, after a while one has put in enough minutes that one feels committed to seeing it through!
I had my first taste of Pliny the Younger last year, at an event at The Hop Grenade in Concord (CA), but to have it, fresh from the tap, where it was born, was something else.
Pliny the Younger is not just a triple IPA. It is thefirst triple IPA. Pliny the Younger is the standard by which the style was defined. Despite the insane amounts of malt that must go into it, it finishes dry, and is so drinkable. It is easily, the most drinkable triple IPA I’ve had.
Among a growing field of impressive triple IPAs -Heretic’s Evil 3, Danville Brewing’s Tres Diablos, Epidemic’s Cataclysm, to name just a few local regional examples- Pliny the Younger continues to stand out.
So, was standing in that line worth it? Yes, definitely. It was.
Would I do it again? I thought not, but yesterday, when I popped open my remaining bottle, my resolve on that kind of quavered …
Last Friday I got to attend the SF Beer Week Opening Gala again, courtesy of the SF Bay Area Brewers Guild. Once again, it was a blast; a true showcase of the greater Bay Area’s best brews and breweries, and a testament to why the Bay Area is a leader in the US craft beer scene.
Of course, every participating brewery strives to bring their biggest and best, often SF Beer Week -specific releases. One such is the excellent Tres Diablos triple IPA, from Danville Brewing Company, brewed by my friend Matt Sager.
Another awesome big beer was Cataclysm triple IPA by the good folk at Concord’s Epidemic Ales. The bitterness is balanced by a pleasant sweetness, and a surprising note of strawberry!
Another brewery I was pleased to run into was Ocean View Brew Works from Albany. I met them last year, when they were about to celebrate their first anniversary. Well, on Sunday they celebrated number two with a big party at the brewery. I’m happy to hear that things are going well for them.
As last year, I made an effort to get to know breweries I had not heard of before, and I was not disappointed. I had some lovely beers and met some awesome, passionate, dedicated brewers.
I’m sure that many have heard of East Brother Brewing, Barrel Brothers Brewing, and even of Asian Brothers Brewing. Well, now there is the other brother: Other Brewer Beer Co.! Other Brother is a 15-bbl brewery located in Seaside. They’ve been open just 3 months. They brought All That the Grain Promises (and More…), a tasty 6.8% abv red ale. As they told me, “Hoppy is in our blood!”
Another pleasant encounter was the 1-year old Kelly Brewing Co. from Morgan Hill. They are still relatively small, at 7bbl kettles, but they are putting out some nice beers. I quite liked their Kelly Light, an almost lager-like golden ale that would come really nicely on a warm day.
Since I left Santa Cruz in the mid-1990s, the then incipient craft beer scene has exploded, particularly in recent years. One of the newest additions, I discovered, is to be Woodhouse Blending & Brewing , on River St in downtown. Woodhouse is 10bbl brewery run by Mike Rodriguez, formerly of Lost Abbey Brewing in San Diego. Mike said their tap house is scheduled to open in March and that he is planning on starting a barrel program in the near future.
Not too far away, in Scotts Valley, is Steel Bonnet Brewing Co. They produce, they said, “about half and half” English and American styles. They brought along the tasty, and cleverly-named, Kiss Me, Hardy, a 7.7% English IPA made with malts from Alameda’s Admiral Maltings and, of course, British hops. They told me that though they are currently a 7bbl-capacity brewery, they will soon be expanding to 30bbl.
And, a special treat was hanging out and talking with the guys from Cloverdale’s upcoming Wolf House Brewing. They’ve been brewing quite a a bit, but are in the midst of putting in the hard work of getting their pub into shape for an opening in the next couple of months. Hopefully by the end of March, or April.
When the pub opens, Dwayne Moran, will run the kitchen. Kevin Lovett, who has been in the industry for years, including a stint at the Mendocino Brewing Company, is running the brewhouse and turning out some tasty beer, as evidenced by their Gala offerings.
And, of course, this year there was the added treat of seeing the original Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. brewhouse cobbled together by founders Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 Grosman bought it back from Mad River, moved it back to Chico, and had it reassembled on a truck bed. Having read Grosman’s book on the history of Sierra Nevada, Beyond the Pale (Wiley, 2013), seeing it was particularly cool.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending an SF Beer Week media preview event in Berkeley. Present were Sierra Nevada, Fogbelt , Henhouse, East Brother, Third Street Aleworks, Almanac, Drake’s, Seismic, Original Pattern, The Rare Barrel, Cleophus Quealy, Trumer, Ghost Town.
There’s some exciting stuff brewing for Beer Week -figuratively and literally!
Santa Rosa’s Henhouse Brewing will, of course, be debuting this year’s edition of Big Chicken DIPA. In addition, one of their newest and more interesting additions is Juiced!, a gose with passion fruit. What makes Juiced! unique, though, is that it is made with that genetically-modified ale yeast that produces lactic acid, which you might have heard about. It was quite good, albeit a bit less salty and more sour than your typical gose.
Ghost Town Brewing debuted Geister Holz, the first beer to be fermented in their brand-new set of foeders. At the SF Beer Week Opening Gala, also look for their pouring of two barrel-aged versions of their Old Trepanner barley wine.
Seismic Brewing is planning to release a barrel-aged version of their Grounds for Termination coffee oatmeal stout. Look for that one at the Gala as well.
Almanac brought samples of two beers that they plan to release during Beer Week: Barrel-Aged Hypernova Volume II, and Bourbon Barrel Pêche. The Pêche is particularly nice. Look for those to be released at the brewery on Feb. 8th (though maybe also at the Gala?)
In addition, there will be the five one time-only collaborative beers brewed with malts from the Bay Area’s own Admiral Maltings, by each of the Bay Area’s beer regions. Those will be officially released at the Gala, but there was some of the East Bay’s offering, Rice Stratasphere IPA to be sampled at the preview.
Created by Original Pattern, Ghost Town and Shadow Puppet, and brewed at Drake’s, Rice Stratasphere was brewed with Admiral pilsner malt, rice, and Strata, Citra and Denali hops. It was rather tasty; light, clean, crisp, and with a dry mouthfeel thanks to the rice.
A special treat at the Opening Gala this year, I was informed by the Sierra Nevada rep, will be the appearance of the original brewhouse put together by Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 it was bought back from Mad River, moved back to Chico, and reassembled on a truck bed. Now it will make the trip to San Franciso to be displayed at the Gala on Feb. 7th.
The following is a press release from the organizers of San Francisco Beer Week, the biggest event series on the northern California beer calendar:
SF Beer Week Celebrates the Creativity of Craft Beer, Feb. 7-16
SAN FRANCISCO – SF Beer Week is back. The SF Beer Week Opening Gala on Friday, February 7, will launch ten days of community, collaboration and independence. This annual craft beer extravaganza at the historic Pier 35 on San Francisco’s waterfront, shines a light on the region’s exceptional brewing creativity.
Over 120 independent Northern California breweries will tap more than 300 select beers for tasting. Attendees may also sample five limited-release beers designed and brewed collaboratively by members of the five chapters of the Bay Area Brewers Guild.
Representing the North Bay, East Bay, South Bay, Monterey Coastal region and San Francisco proper, these collab beers will pour side by side in a friendly showdown. (Tickets for the SFBW Opening Gala are on sale now at sfbeerweek.eventbrite.com).
The rest of SF Beer Week follows through Feb. 16 at venues stretching north into the Napa-Sonoma beer country, south beyond Monterey Bay and east into Livermore Valley.
All ten days of festivities are aggregated at sfbeerweek.org, where craft fans select from events that express the latest and most compelling examples of beer creativity.
Find a brewery pouring experimental beers you may never taste again – or that may be a harbinger of the next big trend in the craft beer world. A flight of extreme special effects beers designed to amaze taste buds and eyeballs alike will be on tap at the Barebottle Brew Co. Experimental Beer Night. Mon., Feb. 10, SF.
Look for smaller festivals among the many happenings. Almanac Beer Co. is hosting an artisan Valentines night market at their Alameda brewery. The Almanac & Friends Night Market brings locally crafted beers, foods and gifts together with a cosy town square vibe. Fri., Feb 14, Alameda.
Dine marvelously with beer, the most food-friendly family of beverages. This time of year, chefs get the green light to design dishes to elevate classic beer styles and new creations alike. Look for multi-course dinners as well as specific culinary pairings such as the Uptown Funk Beer and Cheese Pairing at Drake’s Dealership. Tues., Feb. 11, Oakland.
Along with the opportunities to take beer seriously, you’ll find plenty of events that are just plain entertaining. Share a beer and laugh, sing, stretch your brain or perhaps exercise your eye-hand coordination at Pinball and Pints. Support the Pacific Pinball Museum as you sip from 20 select beers and play unlimited pinball on over 100 vintage machines. Sun., Feb. 9, Alameda.
Raise a toast for a cause! You’ll find plenty of fundraisers listed. The generosity of the Bay Area brewing community relies on enjoyment of beers they donate, so bring some friends to fundraiser events for a win-win night out. One cherished tradition is SF Beer Week edition of the California Academy of Sciences NightLife, an evening out for adults supporting the science museum, aquarium and planetarium in Golden Gate Park. Sip beers, explore fermentation science and beyond. Thurs., Feb 13, SF.
SF Beer Week is produced by the Bay Area Brewers Guild, a non-profit trade association whose mission is to promote local, independent craft beer and breweries throughout the greater Bay Area. Stay on top of the region’s craft beer scene year-round at DrinkBayBeer.com.