Tuesday 14 February 2012

SF Beer Week: Monday

One of the reasons for wanting to start blogging now is that it’s San Francisco Beer Week. I had some flying miles to use up and I managed to convince my girlfriend of the benefits of a Californian holiday in the worst of the British winter, so we’ve flown out here just as it’s starting to get into full swing.

I find Californian\West Coast US beer culture exciting – their beers tend towards big, imposing flavours, from massively hopped IPAs that you can smell from across the room to huge, sticky barley wines with a big kick. It’s such a contrast from the more conservative beers that dominate in the UK (and that’s not to put them down en masse – I’m sure I’ll address this more fully in a future post). Being here for the biggest week in the year for ‘malted beverages’ is a real thrill .

San Francisco Beer Week is a big deal. Run by the SF Brewers’ Guild, the city’s bars will hold more than 400 beer-centric events over the ten days. Unfortunately for us, we’ve missed the first three days, so our curtain-raiser was the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey night at City Beer Store.

Our friend Mel had told us not to miss this, so despite our body clocks still telling us it was 4am, we made our way down to Folsom St – and we were really glad we did. Port and Lost Abbey are based on the same site in San Marcos, with the latter specializing in Belgian-style sours and strong ales. My only experience with their beers has been through bottles of Port’s fantastic Old Viscosity, a rich, malty, syrupy imperial stout, bought for eye-watering prices from the Euston Tap.

Here’s the selection we had to choose from… it wasn’t easy!

On Mel’s recommendation, I went straight for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Serpent Stout, and wasn’t disappointed. The creamy vanilla scent of the barrel hung over the glass like a thick fog, and you could smell it from about a foot away.  The roasty, malty character that you would expect had mellowed away into a smooth, rounded mocha flavour on the palate. I tasted it alongside the fresh 2012 version, which has a big roasty finish, and it was interesting to taste the difference that the bourbon barrels gave the aged version.

G went for their barley wine, Deliverance – a style that is all but dormant in the UK now, associated with tramps and park benches.  What it delivered was slightly darker than I was expecting – almost stout-like – with a sort of toffee apple/Christmas pudding flavour. It was very boozy though, and it was hard not to think about the tramp on the park bench as the alcohol burned a bit in the back of the throat!

Finally, my favourite of the night, Cuvee de Tomme – an 11% sour. In all honesty, I haven’t drunk many sour beers – I think for many British drinkers who started on either mass-produced lagers or fairly bland cask bitters, sour beers can be a bit intimidating. However, while Cuvee de Tomme has that unmistakable farm smell and sour-apple initial flavour, it has an almost raisin-like quality to round it out. I’d love to try this again.

(from l-r - Lost Abbey Serpent Stout 2012, Lost Abbey Serpent Stout (Bourbon Barrel Aged), Lost Abbey Deliverance, Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme)

As for the City Beer Store itself, with its no-nonsense layout, racks of bottles for takeaway and fridges of interesting brews to drink in, it’s the sort of place any beer geek would love to have nearby. I’m looking forward to going back there a few more times before we have to head back to London.

 (The City Beer Store's packed bar and loaded fridges)

A great start to beer week – our main problem is going to be picking where to go and what to drink next…


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