I have two main criteria for selecting which of the hundreds of Beer Week events to attend:
- Hit a place I haven’t visited yet, preferably BART-able, and
- Avoid the crowds, so I can relax and enjoy my experience without feeling too rushed.
The first goal isn’t that difficult here in the Bay Area, although that says as much about how little I get out as it does for how many new beer spots there are.
But the second, that’s a bit more tricky.
I generally avoid ticketed events unless it’s something I reeeeeeeeally can’t miss. Aside from the crowds, they can easily turn into drunkfests in an unlimited-pour situation. Plus, I tend to stay a little too long as the cheapskate in me wants to get as much bang (a.k.a. beers) for the buck as possible, thereby contributing to the drunkfest-ness.
Not to mention irritating my wife considerably when she finally picks me up.
Since I work full-time and am too freakin’ old to do anything “fun” on school nights, day-long, pay-as-you-go weekend events are usually my jam. More often than not, early- to mid-afternoon vibes are pretty chill at most beer joints.
Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, as I found out during Beer Weekend #1.
These are Just Two of My Favorite Things…
Happily, two Bay Area trends have recently overlapped — the proliferation of brewery satellite taprooms and the expansion of regional eatery Gott’s Roadside (very possibly the best restaurant on the planet). Gott’s not long ago opened a Napa location at the Oxbow Public Market, which not long after became home to one of Fieldwork Brewing’s taprooms.
(BTW, I’ve already waxed poetic about what my Last Meal request would be — Gott’s Ahi Burger and a flight of pretty much anything Fieldwork makes. I would also sublet a section of Oxbow’s air ducts if I could. But I digress…)
Another Gott’s/taproom overlap has occurred in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, my first stop.
After securing the above-mentioned provisions at Gott’s, it was just a few steps to Fort Point Brewing’s recently opened kiosk, already in expansion mode into a recently vacated space next door.
Good thing, too. While I expected a line at Gott’s because, well, they were open, Fort Point sported a pretty healthy wait, as well. After about 10 minutes or so, I procured my first of their special Beer Week brews (Clarion, a Vienna lager) and managed to carve out a small corner of a communal table.
After an exquisite lunch (duh), it was back in line for another Beer Week release, a version of their popular Park enhanced with Mosaic hops called, well, Mosaic Park (clever, eh?).
(FYI, Fort Point has since announced that Mosaic Park will be one of three new single-hop Park releases, the others being Citra Park and Galaxy Park. Yes, please!)
From San Francisco across the Bay to … San Diego?
After that great kick-off to SFBW18, it was a quick BART ride back across the bay to my next stop in downtown Oakland.
For BARTability, my next event couldn’t have been easier. Exit the 19th St. station at Telegraph, hang a right, walk half a block, and boom, you’re at Diving Dog Brewhouse.
Diving Dog is a brew-your-own establishment with the added bonus of one mean taproom. This day they featured a total San Diego tap takeover, including several beers not normally distributed in NorCal.
Apparently, a lot of Bay Area folks were excited about this, as I had to wade through a several-people-deep sea to get to the bar. Once finally situated, I found out what made this a next-level event.
All beers could be tasted in flights, perfect for sampling. The tap list was also thoughtfully divided into Hoppy, Dark, and Light & Sour beers, making constructing flights a snap.
I did make one exception with AleSmith. I’d had their Speedway Stout before, but not the Hawaiian version, made with coconut, vanilla, and Ka’u coffee. Chewy, coconutty, coffee-y deliciousness. Yowza!
All the beers were great, but I was surprised at my reaction to Bagby’s Dum Dum IPA. This was old-school West Coast hoppy — piney, sappy, sticky, spicy. A few years ago this might have been Best of Show for me, but I found it to be a bit jarring. It hit me just how attuned my palate has gotten to the tropical hops dominating the scene these days, and I haven’t yet decided how I feel about that.
Oakland Can’t Fail
My schedule for Beer Weekend #2 was much less ambitious, but again BART-able, again an all-day beer release, again places I’d never visited in downtown Oakland. And again, I started with a meal at a restaurant just steps away.
I’d been wanting to hit Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe for many years, and for many reasons — mainly because the owner is Green Day’s bass player, I’m a giant Green Day fan, and both the bass player and lead singer went to my high school right after I did.
Aside from all that, I’d also heard the food was great.
(Bonuses — the menu’s a kick if you’re a music fan, and it’s right next door to the Fox Theater, making it a “no-duh” grub destination pre- or post-show.)
Anyway, after a tasty breakfast of Rude N Reckless, (Eggs Benedict served over hash browns — great for a hangover), it was one-block walk down Telegraph to Woods Beer Company.
Woods has taken the Fieldwork approach of opening several satellite locations, although while Fieldwork’s empire extends from Monterey to Sacramento, Woods’ footprint is a more compact San Francisco (four locations) to Oakland (one, and the only one with a brewery).
Woods Bar & Brewery features two distinct spaces — an open-air patio in front, and a dark, enclosed bar area in back. I found a seat there and dove into the new releases — beer/wine hybrids called Divine Origins, blended with grapes, fermented spontaneously, and barrel-aged.
Two were on offer — one a base wit beer blended with Fiano, a white grape. The other a Flanders-style base blended with Merlot. Served in wine glasses, both were fantastic, but my preference was the Fiano. It was dry and refreshing, sort of like a tart, apply Hefeweizen. The Merlot reminded me of a lot of sparkling red wines I’ve had, juicy and fruity but a touch sweet.
Tripping (and falling) through the Woods
As for my other samples, I found many challenging, but in the best way. Woods doesn’t mind pushing the envelope and playing with styles and unusual ingredients.
Before trying the Islay IPA, a DIPA aged in Laphroaig Whisky barrels, the bartender warned me, “You like peat, right?”
“Sure,” I said, not even exactly sure what that was but figuring it would be somewhat woody and smoky.
Yikes. Kinda ashy and muddy and musty. Apparently like slurping a peat bog (I had to look that up).
But I say these things kindly. I have no palate for Whisky at all, so while this was a bit much for me (and from what I’ve read, Laphroaig is pretty polarizing, anyway), I realize I was out of my element and could still tell it was a well-made beer.
That stayed with me while tasting through Woods’ brews. While some of them might not have been my cup of, um, beer, they made me think and gave me a new perspective on what beer could be.
And really, you can’t ask more from a tasting experience than that. If you’re up for a little adventure, check ‘em out.
Until Beer Week 2019, then…