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Friday, February 6, 2015

"The City's Brewing Scene Is Poised to Explode": Talking Beer Week with SF Brewers Guild's Brian Stechschulte

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge This year's SFBW promises to be even bigger than last year's. - BETH LABERGE
  • Beth Laberge
  • This year's SFBW promises to be even bigger than last year's.

We woke up before our alarm and jumped out of bed this morning with excitement, because today marks the beginning of SF Beer Week, a 10-day drinking extravaganza that offers some of the best beer in the country, if not the world.

With more than 700 events scheduled for this year, its seventh, the festival can be a little daunting for even the hardest core beer nerd. Along with making our SF Beer Week decision chart and strategy guide, we chatted with San Francisco Brewers Guild's Brian Stechschulte, the man behind the scheduling, sponsors, social media, brewery-studded opening gala, and more, to find out exactly how we should think about the biggest week (and then some) in the brewing community.

Let's start at the beginning. What's the point of Beer Week?
The point of Beer Week for us is just to raise beer's attention — to make opportunities to learn about how it's made, how it tastes, how it can be enjoyed with food. It's about elevating the notoriety and awareness of craft beer and local beer, though we have beer from around the country and around the world.

It's good during February as a way to fill in the hole in business during what's generally a pretty down time. For breweries, bars, craft [beer]-centric restaurants, it can be their biggest month of the year.

There are just so many things going on. How do you recommend someone narrow down the options?
I would encourage them to do a variety of types of events. There are breweries that they've heard of, maybe a common one like Sierra Nevada, and maybe they've been drinking their pale ale but there's an event with a bunch more of their beers on tap. Those might be seasonal or rare, and they also might have something more exclusive. [Tap takeovers] give drinkers a chance to experience the wide swath of what breweries offer.

Beer dinners are also good for people new to Beer Week — enjoying beer and learning about how beer is just as good as wine when it comes to drinking with a variety of foods. And there are some educational events out there that are maybe as good for a beer geek as someone who's just learning how beer is made.

How has Beer Week evolved over the years? Can you pick out any trends?
It's definitely grown by 20 to 30 percent each year. 2013 had like 500 [events]; last year had 612. I think it started out somewhere between 50 and 75 back in 2009. Other than the number of events increasing, I think it's hard to say how it's evolved. The last two years you've seen sour beers, barrel-aged beers, and one-off collaborations that are made only for Beer Week. Session beers [lower-alcohol beers] are happening in the Beer Week community. It's totally opposite from these high-alcohol, barrel-aged beers. There are a lot more beer trivia events. Beer trivia must be something that people really enjoy doing, I think I've doubled or tripled the number of them.

I wouldn't say it's anything like a bellwether, but if you look at the schedule, you can almost distill where craft beer is at. Some of the venues are getting a lot more savvy about what they're emphasizing: trendier, bigger, rare beers from exclusive breweries, not big in size but big in reputation.

Last year I noticed the debut of a lot of new breweries. Does the San Francisco beer scene continue to grow?
This will be the first SF Beer Week for only a few breweries, but there are about 13 to 14 breweries that are slated to open between now and 15 months from now. Which is crazy. We have 20 members [in the SF Brewers Guild], but there are only 13 or 14 in the city. We're basically looking at an 80 to 90 percent increase of breweries in the city. They might not end up all opening, but the city's brewing scene is poised to explode. Most will be pretty small operations, tasting rooms, and small breweries in neighborhoods.

In terms of bars and restaurants in San Francisco that are interested in craft beer, I've heard of more that are trying to open. Then you see Abbott's Cellar [the beer-focused restaurant on Valencia] closing. But I do think this is probably the most exciting and anticipatory moment. There's so much going on and so much potential. I'm sure there are three or four [breweries opening] that I'm not even aware of.

Any words of advice for the SFBW newbie?
The most common motto over the years has been, It's a marathon, not a sprint. Take it easy, be safe, remember to sample and try things but not overdo it. There is so much out there. Just keep it simple.

I personally don't do more than two events a night. If you're just constantly running around and trying to go after certain things, the bars are packed, it can be stressful. Just concentrate on a few things you really want to do rather than trying to be everywhere at once, because that takes the fun out of it.

If you strategize you can get in[to popular events] early, but you have to be willing to do that kind of stuff. At places that are really popular in the city, like City Beer Store or Toronado, they're just going to be busy. You're just going to have to deal with it and be patient.

Anything you're really excited about?
We made a collaboration beer with San Francisco brewers. It's called Swept by Fire. It's in honor of all the breweries that were destroyed in the 1906 fire. We made it at Fort Point [brewery] a few weeks ago. It's a hoppy smoked pale ale, made with smoked beachwood malt and almond wood that Magnolia's Smokestack gave us and Fort Point charred onsite. There are ton of hops in it, the hoppy aroma and flavor verging on tropical — a seared pineapple thing going on. We always release the collaboration brew at the gala for the first time, and it'll be available at select SF Brewers Guild events.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.

Stay tuned to SFoodie all next week for advice on the best events and more.
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About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


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