Saturday, 18 February 2012

SF Beer Week: Friday

The shadow of Saturday hangs over the last weekday of our San Francisco Beer Week adventure. There are some big beer events, like the Barley Wine Festival, so Friday was our chance to do some sightseeing, dabble in some fringe events, check our San Fran’s other beer outlets and prepare for tomorrow.

After a bit of classic tourist-ing down by Fisherman’s Wharf, I insisted that we take a detour via Whole Foods. The ‘virtuous’ grocery vendor is much, much bigger in the US than in England (they only have a handful of stores in England), and their stores here stock an incredible array of craft beer.

Walking into a Whole Foods in California is like entering a dream for a London-based beer drinker. Six-packs from the likes of Stone and Lagunitas are available for under $8, a bomber of Port Brewing’s sublime Old Viscosity is $6.99 (I think the Euston Tap relieved us of the equivalent of $20 last time we had one there), and one-of-a-kind limited-edition brews sit alongside core releases at regular prices.

I picked up the seasonal special Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout for $4.99, and the staff were just putting out the boxed, limited release Firestone Walker Sucaba (which we enjoyed on tap earlier in the week). The latter will come back to London with me to be aged, while the former was cracked and enjoyed back at the hotel – a light brown porter-style pour, which was surprising, but with a big, big coffee flavour and aroma, and a well-hidden alcohol warmth worthy of the name ‘stout’.

We stopped in at the City Beer Store after that to see what was on – Stillwater’s Folklore was on in two versions, original and Red Wine Barrel-Aged, so we tried them both. They were both deep and dark brews, the original a little smoky, roasty and darkly bitter – quite good, but unremarkable compared to some of the things we’ve drunk this week. The BA version was immediately more interesting, with a dark cacao and vine fruit aroma. I was expecting something akin to Mikkeller’s Black Hole (Red Wine Barrel Edition), where the red wine cuts through the finish, but the Folklore was immediately vinous, with an acidic cherry twang like a liquid Black Forest Gateau. It was a little too much for me, but it was very interesting. We also tried High Water’s No Boundary IPA - big hop aroma, but then the Belgian yeast scythes through the malt to make it a little too dry for be able to carry the big bittering hops.
(left - Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Folklore; right - Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Folklore (Red Wine Barrel)

For the evening’s drinking, Mel took us over to San Francisco’s newest brewpub, belonging to the Southern Pacific Brewing Company. They only held their grand opening about three weeks ago, but clearly word was out, as the huge warehouse space was full of Friday night drinkers. It’s probably the biggest bar we’ve drunk in all week., and certainly the biggest crowd we’ve drunk with to date. Seven of Southern Pacific’s brews were on tap, from the standards like an IPA and a Porter through to a Wit aged in a Chardonnay Barrel. Their guest drafts also included a beer I’ve been waiting all week to try, the SF Strong Ale, brewed by the SF Brewers’ Guild specially for Beer Week. You can read a blog about its creation – including the official use of one of Anchor’s in-house yeast strains in a third-party beer for the first time, which is quite a big deal apparently.

We tried most of the SPBC beers between us, and as a result my recollections of each are hazier than they probably should be. I’d been incredibly disciplined about keeping notes up until now, but I’ve let myself down a bit here! I started with the Extra IPA, which was paler and thinner than I was expecting, and lacking the big hop whack that I wanted from something billed as an ‘Extra IPA’. I tried some of Mel’s Black Lager, which was much better – the darker malt character worked perfectly with the subtle hops and a touch of underlying sweetness. G went with the Chardonnay Barrel Wit, which was my personal favourite – off-white in colour, it had the taste of a milk pudding rich with bay and nutmeg. A little bite of acidity but the soft spices dominated the flavour right through until the wine kicked in for a dry finish.

(left to right - SF Strong Ale, Southern Pacific Chardonnay-Barrel Wit, and not sure what the right hand glass is!)

Finally, the SF Strong Ale, which lived up to its name (and is partially responsible for me writing this the following morning) – a big toffee apple of a beer, with a pine forest aroma, a rich and enduring caramel malt body, a touch of fruit esters, enough hops to balance the malt. The alcohol is dangerously well-hidden in there – well, that’s my excuse, anyway. The sparseness of notes is probably a good indicator that we had a great time at Southern Pacific, and if we were staying for longer, I’d definitely head back there for more.

We’re off to the Toronado Barley Wine Festival today, albeit with slightly sorer heads than we should have. This calls for an epic brunch…


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