Category: Events

Oktober’s Best

Oktoberfest is over. First on the list of things most people don’t know about Oktoberfest (what the lids on steins are for, what a Märzen is) is the fact that it ends on the first weekend in October. Time to start training for next year.

Märzens, the official beer of the festival, brewed in March and aged cool until the fall, are still for sale, though. Here are the best of the Fest.

SF Beer Week: Shots

Life was like a Portlandia episode inside Elixir on Friday. The conversation moved from coffee (Stumptown vs. Sightglass) to coffee (Aeropress vs. French press vs. my personal technique, pour-over into a Mason jar and aged on the kitchen counter all afternoon). We talked about coffee shops and coffee blogs, and then, for a change of pace, pickles. Elixir was serving pickle-backs, which the group two bar stools down ordered by the half-dozen. Novelty demands overindulgence.

But we were there for the shot-and-a-beer combos. They were pouring it from bottles, but the bartender told me they buy Buffalo Trace bourbon “by the barrel.” It’s one of my favorite bourbons—rich and buttery—and they were pairing it with an interesting beer, Magnolia’s Cole Porter, aged in those very same barrels. They also had an English-style house IPA, Snake Oil, paired with a candy apple-y cognac and Sierra Nevada pale paired with mezcal. The mezcal was the star: smokey and bittersweet, like barbecued peaches, or charred coconut. The Sierra—a great beer on its own—kind of dumbed it down. The Cole Porter, too, wasn’t as good as the bourbon, and the pairing suffered for it. In fact, the beer seemed to have lost some of its roasted edge after the two months it spent in that barrel. So I waited until the bartender wasn’t looking and dumped the rest of my shot into the pint glass to try and even things out.

Alembic did the mixing for us. Their menu was illegible and this led to some confusion over what was actually in each drink, and what they were called. The two standouts were the Harlot of Babylon and the Golden Lamp Stand, maybe. The first, we think, had Moonlight’s Death and Taxes, creme de cacao, and Tabasco and tasted like Mexican hot chocolate. The second had Magnolia’s kolsch, ginger, and bitters, and tasted like grown-up orange juice. We munched on duck hearts and our waitress told us she eats them every day, with hot cocoa, like some Aztec Marie Antoinette. Would that be a heart-back? Or just heart burn.

SF Beer Week: Pig Hunt

A woman working at his hotel swooned over having a bona fide brewer stay in one of her rooms, but no one at Pi Bar recognized Anderson Valley‘s Fal Allen last night, or if they did they played it cool. We had to eat our pizza standing up.

We had already tried their session beer, Wee Geech, at the opening gala, and loved it, and we had some more last night to chase the harder stuff: strong but smooth Imperial Boont; a puckering sour stout; and the truly awesome Drunkin Horn, a barreled barleywine with notes of sour cherries. We were drinking out of tulip glasses, sure, but there’s something unpretentious about Anderson Valley beer that made us think about chilling cans in a trout stream, or getting Zen on a dirt bike. Drinks were drunk, the pizza vanished, and pretty soon we were talking about pig hunting. That’s what happens in Anderson Valley. Or, as they say, “that’s how we do it in the Boont.”

And so we found ourselves, craving pig, at Rosamunde. They were hosting Green Flash, but all out of what we wanted (a nut brown we’ve never tried). We got the usual: stout, IPA, and a wild boar with the works.

(Stay tuned for a dispatch from our last trip up to the Valley, including: redwoods, burritos, dogs in human coffins, and lots of beer.)

SF Beer Week: Hammered

Pi Bar opens at 3:14 every day. That’s dedication to the name. By the time I arrived at four, People were already in the weeds. The beer app on a new friend’s iPhone was telling him to “take it easy.” These drinkers had started from the bottom of the Deschutes tap list instead of the top. Beer before liquor—fine, but no old saying sings the dangers of imperial stouts before hefeweizens.

We love Deschutes, especially their Black Butte porter. This version, XXI, was partially aged in Stranahan’s whiskey barrels and topped off with Theo’s cocoa nibs. They gave the beer some sharp, roasted flavors and a little bit of oily sweetness. That, mixed with the woody vanilla of the barrels, made the whole thing taste kind of like balsamic vinegar. That’s a lot to say about one beer. The others were not as remarkable, but no one noticed.

Heart is a stuck-up wine bar down the street. They were tapping a half dozen firkins (old-school kegs that dispense beer via gravity, not CO2) and I came in, mid-tap, to a spray of foam and a soaked bartender. He posed with his heavy-looking, firkin-tapping wooden mallet for some cell-phone pictures, taken by the only employee of 6 or 7 there wearing an apron. Apron guy and his camera had avoided the spray.

I tried the Black and Blue, a dark beer from Linden Street brewed with Blue Bottle coffee. We like Blue Bottle, but it’s too expensive. It’s also usually acidic, but in this beer it tasted charred and very old. It was not good. Most people there were drinking the Ballast Point Sculpin, an IPA that one guy told me smelled like apricots. Instead of ordering another, I went back to Pi Bar. Apricot guy did too.

SF Beer Week: Long Lines, Little Glasses

We like brunch and puns and beer, so beerunch sounded perfect. The line was long but the beerjitos (yes) were bubbly and the plates had little slots cut into them to hold a wine glass like a sidecar while you schmoozed. Our friend Jim brews Mateveza and he hosted the party. He also wrote poetic descriptions of the beer-and-food pairings on offer. These were often more satisfying than the food. We filled our glass-plate hybrids with fennel-cured salmon on mini bagels and Russian River‘s sour, currant-infused Consecration; mushroom and gruyere popovers and Moonlight‘s Toast; chocolaty bread pudding and Deschutes‘s bourbon-barrel aged Abyss. We read about “harrowing collisions of flavors.” We schmoozed. Bear Republic‘s IPA, Racer X, with a watery endive salad, made the best pairing, even though the salad was weak. Like a perfect pun, the whole was greater than its parts.

That night, sobered and cold from a change in the weather, we trekked west to the Social Kitchen to taste beer from local nano-brewers. That is, homebrewers who’ve almost outgrown their homes. We encountered the biggest line yet, and had to warm up down the street with a whiskey and (spilled) Guinness while we waited it out. Finally inside, a packed crowd and rich glasses of stout from Elizabeth Street and Local Brewing helped. An open door to the breezy upstairs balcony did not. From our perch above the fray, we were amazed we didn’t recognize anyone from previous beer week events. Especially since the fashion on display (top hats, cargo shorts-and-calf-warmers, nano-suspenders) is pretty iconic. I guess nano-brewing attracts a certain crowd. Sunday night in the Richmond, too.

SF Beer Week: Cage Match

Rogue served their flagship beer, Dead Guy, flanked by a taste of the beer aged in whiskey barrels and a shot of the homemade whiskey itself. Dead Guy is one of our favorites, but new contexts change even old loves. Usually too strong for a three-pint night, this time Dead Guy tasted lively and bright compared to its richer, mellowed brother and to the whiskey that, despite smelling like apples and pears, finished like a squirt of Mrs. Butterworth’s.

Later, at a tasting held in a sort of corral in the back of a liquor store, Port Brewing‘s barrel-aged imperial stout Santa’s Little Helper could for once be considered light. The Jug Shop poured it between heavyweights like FiftyFifty Brewing‘s Eclipse (oily and rich when aged in Evan Williams bourbon barrels; high and sharp when aged in Heaven Hill rye barrels) and J.W. Lees‘s Calvados-barrel-aged Harvest Ale, which tasted musty and sweet, like candy dirt. After these, faced with Santa, some drinkers sipped skeptically: “Are you tasting the wood? I’m not really tasting the wood.”

Somehow, we scored the biggest tasting glasses in the corral. After an hour or two, we needed a palate cleanser. The liquor store was predictably stocked: Funyuns, Fritos, Ruffles. We opted for more beer. Hitachino’s beers tend to be bracing and acidic, and we thought that sounded good. Amsterdam Cafe was out of Hitachino’s spiced beer and out of their shochu-barrel-aged beer, but we had had enough wood at that point. We chose the “classic,” which was well-named, and a ginger beer. Earlier in the night, it would’ve been too intense, but by then it was just the thing to settle our stomachs before we decamped for Hog & Rocks, ham, and après-beer cocktails.