Did you wake up today wondering when your first beer was going to be today? A whole bunch of people probably did, but not because of any problem they have. It's because today is the start of the annual San Francisco Beer Week.
For those in tune with the craft beer scene this comes as no surprise as they've been eagerly awaiting the week long festival's return since last February (It's actually nine days, but who is counting?). For those that haven't heard of it, or have just in passing, it's a celebration of commercial breweries in the greater San Francisco Bay Area whose capacity isn't large enough to fill a pool the size of Lake Tahoe!!
But take heart. You don't have to be in San Francisco itself to enjoy the festivities, as brewers from Santa Cruz to Healdsburg, San Francisco to Pittsburg (and beyond!) will be having special festivities during this week. The official web page has a full schedule posted, along with an iPhone app for download (Sadly there is no Android app for 2013).
San Francisco Beer Week officially started only a few years ago (2009? Their website actually doesn't say) and has quickly grown to national fame, being mentioned in non-brew media outlets, such as the Huffington Post.
Generally speaking, most brewers are pouring beers of thick and syrupy goodness, like barleywine, imperials, porters, and unique tasting sours. Beers that take a long time to brew and then lovingly aged for quite some time. Sometime even aged in oak and/or whisky barrels to give it that rich mellow flavor that you just don't find in a beer that's bottled as soon as it's finished fermenting.
However, it's not just about the beer. Many places have special beer dinners that promote what foods to pair with which type of beer. On the other end of the spectrum are things as simple as beer and and chocolate, or beer and cheese, pairings.
Beer Week starts off with tonight's kick-off festival. Seventy-Eight brewers will be pouring their finest at the special celebration, which also includes food and music. Unfortunately tickets are now sold out, according to their webpage.
Some of the East Bay highlights include will be Triple Rock's last Keyser Soze release and Sour Sunday, as well as the Bay Area's first ever Wine-Barrel-aged Beer Tastival, hosted by Oakland's Beer Revolution. By aging in used wine barrels, the beer gains a unique rounded flavor that isn't present in straight beer.
If you still haven't made plan's for Valentine's Day, you might consider taking your significant other to The Trappist, where Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the founder of Denmark's world famous Mikkeller Brewing Co, will be in town for a very rare appearance. Seating is extremely limited so they have asked that you RSVP, if possible.
Please remember these are beers to savor and enjoy, and not to slam to get drunk on. If you do the latter, you'll endanger yourself, others, and the next morning will remember why you should remember the former!! (most of these special beers will be pushing to 10% alc. level, and some are even up above 14%, which is what you'd find in a heavy Cabernet or Zinfandel).
Albany's newest entry to the East Bay beer scene, the Albany Taproom and Grazzy Burgers, had been planning to open in time for SF Beer Week. However, final inspection approval did not happen until recently. When they open in early March, they will have over 20 rotating taps of craft brew, along with a huge selection of bottled beers in their To Go section.
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Picking up when Beer Week ends, and worth mentioning even by itself, is the annual Toronado Pub Barleywine Festival (Feb. 16-18), in the Haight/Ashbury area of San Francisco. This is now the 20th rendition of the event.
On any day, the Toronado is an epic experience with dozens and dozens of taps, and a beer cellar of bottled beers to choose from. They were probably the best Belgian-style beer bar outside of Brussels for the longest of time. On a normal day it's crowded and noisy. However, during the Barleywine and Belgian beer festivals that's taken to a whole different level.
They have so many offerings, and the noise is so deafening, that you literally have to yell at the bar tender the beer's number, as opposed to the name. Trust me, it works better than trying to say some unpronounceable Dutch or Belgian name. They probably rotate through over 100 different barleywines over the festival, so you'll be guaranteed of having something you've never had before.
Be forewarned parking is lousy at best, especially after normal weekday work hours, and all weekend long. Better than driving, consider taking Muni to get there and don't worry about parking, or if you should've had that last glass of Angel's Share.
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Links to look over when planning your Beer Week itinerary:
San Francisco Beer Week (official site)
San Francisco Taxi Tips
511.ORG Go Green transit page
San Francisco Muni
Bay Area Rapid Transit
Golden Gate Transit trip planner
Valley Transit Authority (San Jose area)
County Connection (central and eastern Contra Costa County)