San Francisco Beer Week pours its way into the hearts of locals

Craft beer flowed heavily as approximately 2,500 people gathered for the sold-out 2015 San Francisco Beer Week opening night gala at Fort Mason Center Friday Feb. 6.

Participating bars, breweries, restaurants and vendors from Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa offered nearly 800 single-day and ongoing Bay Area events and specials occurring Feb. 7-Feb. 15.

SF Beer Week originated in 2009 after the cofounders of the San Francisco Brewers Guild returned from Philly Beer Week, the largest beer festival in the U.S., and were inspired to refashion that atmosphere in the Bay Area.

“(The cofounders) said, ‘Hey, we can do something just as good, if not better,'” said SF Brewers Guild Executive Director Brian Stechschulte.

The guild, which sponsors and provides logistics for SF Beer Week, incubated the event as the years progressed, so that it matured in both breadth and quality.

“It’s just grown more popular, alongside craft beer,” Stechschulte said. “And we’ve just seen this tremendous grassroots groundswell of interest and participation.”

Although it is impossible to estimate the total number of attendees that will imbibe during the course of the SF Beer Week, over 12,500 user accounts have been created on sfbeerweek.org.

For those expecting a huge bar crawl, heavily slashed prices or student discounts, Stechschulte noted they might be disappointed.

Beer lovers sitting at the Social Kitchen & Brewery bar on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Photo by Zhenya Sokolova

Beer lovers sitting at the Social Kitchen & Brewery bar on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015.

“We do everything we can to discourage excessive drinking,” he said, additionally referencing the ample amount of ride-sharing and public transportation services available in the Bay Area.

Stechschulte also stressed SF Beer Week’s commitment to quality over quantity in both events and patrons.

Building on that idea of substance, 79 events this year have an educational component, some of which require attendees to ask questions of the instructors. Open to novices and beer geeks alike, there are a number of opportunities to brush up on basic knowledge, brewing and food pairing.

Zac Cloud, 21, a home brewer and communications major at SF State, tried to attend Sonoma-based Russian River Brewery’s much-anticipated annual release of Pliny the Younger on Feb. 8, but was greeted with a 9-hour wait and a line wrapped around two blocks. In 2014, the wait in line was up to 12 hours in the freezing cold rain.

Changing course, his party found a welcoming atmosphere at Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Healdsburg where the brewery is hosting a week-long 19th anniversary celebration to coincide with Beer Week festivities.

Noting that Beer Week brings together a wide range of people, Cloud said, “It offers a chance for (novice) people to learn about the brewing process.”

In the East Bay, Pyramid Breweries’ Berkeley Alehouse hosted “Dodge Balls, Drink Beers,” a last-person-standing charity dodgeball competition, Feb. 7. The $10 entry fee, waived with an approved food donation, benefitted Project Open Hand, a San Francisco-based non-profit that provides home delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to seniors and the critically ill.

“(SF Beer Week) is an opportunity for people to come and experience craft beer without being intimidated,” said Pyramid’s Berkeley Alehouse community manager Danielle Blumen. “It’s also a perfect way to get involved with the community.”

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