The kick off event for SF Beer Week was the Opening Gala on Friday, February 11, 2011 and for those who made it in the doors, it was a great event. The event included over 35 brewers, many special release beers, and even a few new breweries.
Just like last year, the Opening Gala was an excellent event, in a beautiful venue, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, with several excellent breweries from all over California (but mostly northern California) pouring superb beer. Excellent food was also available for sale on the patio from 4505 Meats [home] and Tacolicious [home]. It was also great to see so many new breweries such at Almanac [home], Cherry Voodoo [home], Knee Deep [home], and High Water [home].
The beer that stood out most in my mind for the entire evening was Alamanac’s Summer 2010. It is a Belgian-style golden ale aged in oak zinfandel wine barrels with 250 pounds of locally sourced berries, mostly consisting of blackberries but also includes ollaieberries, boysenberries, and marionberries. It is fruity but not sugary sweet smelling. It has just a little sourness with citrus notes and oak. It has an earthy herbal quality to it as well. The flavors from the wine barrels came out nicely. The richness and berry aromas and flavors remind me of a nice brunch meal.
Another beer that I enjoyed was the collaboration between Knee Deep Brewing, Devil’s Canyon, and The Beer Wench. It is called Ryedenity Crisis, a black rye saison. This was a tasty and unique beer that was earthy, sweet, and chocolatey with some notes of fresh roasted peanuts topped off with Belgain saison flavors and aromas.
Finally, High Water Brewing has a beer called Hop Riot IPA. It is an IPA made with two new varieties of hops: Centra and Apollo. It is floral with a bouquet of citrus like Meyer lemons pomelo. The drier flavors and aromas are reminscent of a mimosa. It also has a fresh grassy flavor while being bitter, crisp, and dry. The bitterness comes off with a nice spicy quality.
There were many other great beers, such as the Social Kitchen & Brewery’s White Thai Affair, Thirsty Bear’s Bearly Legal Barleywine, the SF Brewer’s Guild barrel-aged Imperial California Common ale, and many many more.
Although the SF Beerk Week Opening Gala was a great event last year, there were some changes this year that made it an even better event (and inadvertently a little worse). This year, a VIP pass was sold that allowed entry at 3:30pm, 90 minutes before the general session. I arrived a little bit late to find a line wrapped around the building. I was a bit shocked that it was moving so slow and expected to be in line for an hour. However, after about 5 minutes the line started moving quickly and we were in the doors very quickly. To whomever figured out how to make the line move faster, thank you. I think the large crowd for the VIP session just shows how popular craft beer is becoming but it also has a lot to do with the deeply discounted VIP tickets that were sold on BloomSpot.com.
During my shorter-than-expected wait in the long line, I noticed another change from the previous year. They had opened the back patio to the event area where you could find the food vendors and a few brewers pouring beer. Given that it was a beautiful, warm, sunny, San Francisco Winter day, it was an excellent touch. We probably hung out in the back for a good hour before coming back into the event hall.
Another addition this year was a panel of famous brewers from the area. It was an awesome idea but by the time the panel came on, the center was so full of people that it was difficult to hear and pay attention to what was being said. I was more focused on trying new beer.
This event, however, was not without issues. First, by the end of the night, there was not enough water. The largest debacle, however, was the misunderstanding between the Gala organizers, the venue, and the fire marshall. In short, tickets were sold with the total capacity of the venue but in the middle of the event the venue, YBCA, and the fire marshall were worried that people were not spreading themselves out enough in the space provided and cut off letting any more people in. As a result, the Gala organizers hands were tied and had to refund numerous tickets. Bottle Chasers has a good write up with some recommendations on how to make the SF Beer Week Opening Gala even better next year.