As Beer Week in San Francisco approaches, 65 Northern California brewers from startups to pioneers prepare to converge under one roof on February 8, 2013. The nine-day gathering will trigger lots of tasting, talking, and blogging about Northern California's rapidly evolving beer movement. Home brewing and microbreweries have experienced exponential growth over the past decade, pushing boundaries to new levels.
A Burgeoning Local Beer MovementCalling it a "renaissance," the San Francisco Brewers Guild underscores the degree to which the public is refining its palates around beer. Bay Area beer geeks say we're seeing big changes coming out of small breweries, a good number of which are concentrated around San Francisco and surrounding counties. All around the Bay Area, dozens of tastings, flights, meals, and events will take place February 8 through February 17 to connect the public with beers and their makers.
Boom in Craft Beers
Kristian Cosentino, general manager of the Press Club in downtown San Francisco, maintains a carefully curated and changing menu featuring two dozen rare beers imported from several states, Canada, the U.K., Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and Germany. The menu is ever-changing, because these beers are often difficult to get and so rare that when they're gone, they're gone. According to Cosentino, the catchwords are small batch craft beers and farm-to-table production. And the buzz words in the current big movement are wild yeast, old-world style, sour beers and blends, and barrel-aged beers.
Heretic Brewing Company
Cosentino calls a few local examples "incredible." Look for Contra Costa-based craft brewery Heretic's brand, Gramarye, described as a session pale ale with a dose of rye malt. Another, Worry, is Heretic's golden blond Belgian-style ale aged in Grgich Hill Estate Chardonnay barrels, accounting for the light alcohol sweetness and fruity overtones with a dry finish. Locals can see how it's done in Pittsburg, where tours are given (for ages 21 and up) on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. Reservations are recommended, and tastings are included.
Almanac Beer Company
Founded in 2010, a huge shoutout goes to Almanac Beer Company, with a farm-to-bottle approach sourcing locally grown ingredients for their seasonal brew. Available exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area, these brews have included hand-picked berries from Sebastopol, fresh ginger root from Morgan Hill, pesticide-free winter oranges from Kingsburg, and organic San Joaquin Valley plums. Even more surprising is the contribution made by city-dwelling bees. Atop Nob Hill's Fairmont Hotel, a floral and herb rooftop garden has four honeybee hives tended by Marshall Farms of Napa Valley. The resulting food-friendly special ale, Honey Saison, is served exclusively to diners at the hotel's Laurel Court.
Russian River Brewing Company
From startup to 60 employees in just 10 years is part of the Sonoma-based Russian River Brewing Company's success story. Taste these brands at the Brew Pub in downtown Santa Rosa for the widest selection of RRBC beers anywhere. The sourness of these brands is described as high. Aged in Pinot Noir barrels, Supplication is a brown ale aged for 12 months with sour cherries, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus added to each barrel. Consecration is a sour dark ale that's very full-bodied after being aged in local Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with black currants. Temptation is a highly sour blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, producing hints of oak.
What's a Cicerone?
There are signs that the infrastructure around beer appreciation and education is changing. Cicerones, like sommeliers, have their own certification program to assess and indicate the level of knowledge gained. It's a rigorous course of study requiring years of both theory and practical knowledge of encyclopedic depth. The highest level of certification, Master Cicerone, has only been earned by six individuals, two of whom are based in the Bay Area. It's further indication that the national beer movement replacing mass production with artisanal excellence is centered around the Bay Area.
Masterminds Cannot Wait
The masterminds of beer are excited. If you can't wait until Beer Week begins, check out the Press Club's "48 Hours of Sours" pre-launch on February 6-7, 2013. Acclaimed Brussels Cantillon sour beer is being flown in for tasting flights, and when it's all gone, the Mikkeller "Yeast Series" from Denmark will be showcased. Brian Stillwater from Stillwater Artisanal Ales flies in next to share on February 12-13, 2013. How lucky are we?
- Food & Cooking