It’s both good and bad that readers of this beer blog weren’t following my regular blog. I know about 10 people who have been reading my main blog since 1999 and maybe 50 or so that have stopped in since 2002. While my blog has had different domain names over the years, to be writing consistently for 15 years is astonishing. I’m not the best typist but the first few regular posts I made as a middle schooler were pretty crappy. Back to my point, my main blog readers know of my love affair with San Francisco. I dreamed of living there for about 5 years and then moved and it wasn’t all I thought it would be. I still get tingles when I land at SFO but the romance is long gone. One thing that keeps me going back to SF besides work is my fandom for San Francisco giants baseball followed by the growing beer scene.
When I lived in San Francisco in a tiny apartment in the tenderloin, I drank mostly cocktails. I thought Bourbon tasted terrible, and IPAs were too hoppy. I drank a mix of Smithwicks, Guinness and Speakeasy ales or whatever Toronado or 21st Amendment had on tap. By default, I drank Gin & Tonic. The beer scene really wasn’t flourishing in the bay area. In fact, I think Vermont has far more beer culture than San Francisco does per capita. SF is a cocktails and wine city. Beer is what broke hipsters drink.
I’ve visited SF 4 times since December with 3 more trips planned this spring. my United 1K status is within reach and I’ve been able to visit a ton of new breweries and bars. Beer is still a hipster thing as it was when I lived there in 2008. The foodies drink wine. There’s a shift but I still think New England has the most beer-centric culture in America….wait I take that back. The south drinks a lot of beer but mostly macros where craft beer dominates New England. There’s a few things I’ve learned in my trips out west:
Sour Beer is cool?
When in the Hell did this happen? The most self-defeating feeling is knowing that by starting to drink Lambic in 2011, I was in no way some sort of trend-setter. In fact, sour beer is hip, cool and trendy. You can lump me in with all of the other hipsters who switched from Starbucks to Blue Bottle at the same time. Every time a new wild ale exclusive brewery pops up, my out of touch feeling as that they’re not going to last a year. How can you brew wild ales in a small market and not allow online sales and survive? Crooked Stave I thought survived off their cellar reserve society…same with Nightshift but then you go into Rare Barrel out of Berkeley and holy crap, it’s packed with people. Is this just a trend? This many people like wild ales? My brain almost exploded when I was at Mikkeller and 2 guys were talking about Cantillon. I asked them if they were on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate and they looked confused and said, “what’s that?” Like, there are people out there drinking Lambic that aren’t beer enthusiasts? I get there are Lambic drinkers in Belgium but I thought Lambic in USA was only popular among the geekiest beer drinkers. It’s not. It’s popular among the hippest bike messengers in their skinny jeans.
Craft Beer can Thrive in the Bay Area
Anyone that has spent considerable time in Nor-Cal knows the huge mindset toward supporting local businesses and the only time you don’t support local is if the product is hip. An example of that would be PBR beer and iPhones. These aren’t manufactured in the bay area but they’re incredibly popular. The craft beer scene is so well suited to Nor-Cal. Unfortunately, only Anchor Steam and maybe Russian River have the sort of production to be in bars. Most of the craft breweries are only serving their brewery patrons with a bottle release here and there and some kegs going out. Drake’s has a lot of production and you see them in some stores but really, the scene itself is restricted. If you go to a bar, they’ll have California beer on tap but rarely will they have beers from the quality breweries putting things out…Examples would be Drake’s, RareBarrel, Cellar Maker, Sante Adairius, Russian River, Moonlight. All great new breweries doing really awesome stuff but they can barely keep up with their brewpub drinkers. This leads me to another realization.
There is a ton of room for new breweries in this area
if you look at the cool places like Toronado, Mikkeller Bar, Good Karma and 2-3 other places, there is a ton of beer in the bay area, all high quality but there’s still a ton of So-Cal or out of state beers on tap where there is a clear desire from locals to seek out their neighborhood beer. San Francisco being home to 1 million people and there being under 5 craft breweries seems crazy. If there was a city that was in need of huge beer disruption, SF is it. Mikkeller bar tends to highlight their own beers with very little local beer. Their prices are pretty high due to this but I think a Mikkeller-esque bar that only served Nor-Cal beer would be hugely successful.
Special Releases & One-Offs are not a thing yet
This is amazing to me. Yeah, Beatification and ‘younger are big deals but events at Sante Adairius, Drake’s and to a degree, Firestone Walker aren’t blowing up like they are up here in Vermont. I know New England is a lot of states and people in one area compared to the bay area but somehow 400 people can make it to Hill Farmstead or Lawson’s but then Sante Adairius doesn’t. Maybe that’s changing or I just have been lucky but I feel like being able to go grab Hopocalypse at most beer stores in SF and walk into Drake’s and order what I want or have Beatification on tap at RR 2 months after it was released, that’s just awesome. There are a lot of factors involved like production size but I am interested in seeing how the next year evolves for beer in the bay.
California Love is alive and well
There’s one thing about California that I’ve really enjoyed. New England is difficult for a non-local. If you didn’t grow up in the area you live, outsiders aren’t that welcome. Vermont has some good people but it takes time for them to open up to you. I have no connection with this place so I befriend other non-locals. The locals themselves are insulated. California has always been an open-arms situation because most of the people out there are also not from California. In the past few months, I’ve been invited to bottle shares, small tastings and had total strangers offer to grab special releases for me and hold them or tip me off on where to find a certain beer on tap. I know the beer community is generous but this is ridiculous. The in-tune beer drinkers of Nor-Cal are an incredible bunch. I can walk into a San Jose bar with 1-2 bottles for Vermont beer and suddenly we’re having a bottle share of amazing beers.
I’m looking forward to this year in California. It’s been great so far. I may go less than previously expected but i’ll be there at least once a month which is great.