Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Bubbling Up: Seven Trends Spotted At SF Beer Week 2015 

Wednesday, Feb 18 2015

SF Beer Week is over for another year, and it's time for the beer community to rehydrate after 797 events in 10 days. But the celebration of all things brewed, which just finished up its seventh year, is more than simply an excuse to party. Beer Week's purpose is to "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," says Brian Stechschulte of the SF Brewers Guild, which organizes the event. It's also a chance to see where the beer scene is and where it could go. Here's the good stuff I learned after a week of daily beer-drinking:

IPAs are far from over.

Much has been written lately about the rise of low-ABV, easy drinking session beers made by local brewers, which have led some to speculate that the reign of the famous California hop-bomb IPA is done. The 80 or so double and triple IPAs at the Double IPA Festival proved that wrong, but the IPA is evolving all the same. Brewers are using bright, citrusy hops like Citra, Galaxy, and Pacifica or new methods like hop-oil extraction to produce perky, lighter brews, like Almanac's Don't Call It Frisco Double IPA and Sierra Nevada's Hop Hunter IPA, that have plenty of hop aroma and flavor but without the sometimes-syrupy heaviness of their ancestors.

Sour beers are pushing new frontiers.

During last year's SFBW, it became apparent that sour beers — those fermented with wild yeast strains until they're tart, rich, and mature — were everywhere. This year's multiple sour festivals, including one organized by sour superpower Almanac, showed how far the style has come even in a year. I especially loved discovering the sours that incorporated hops, instead of sticking to more traditional fruit flavors, like Woodfour's chipper Sticky Sour Ale and What Hop Pun?, a dry-hopped golden sour aged in oak barrels from Berkeley's The Rare Barrel (in collaboration with Cellarmaker). I also appreciated sour versions of other styles, like the sour pumpernickel rye from San Jose's Hermitage Brewery.

Smoky beers are happening.

Smoked beer from Bavaria, also called Rauchbier, is intense and almost bacon-y — an acquired taste. But smoked beers coming from Northern California are more mellow. This year's SF Brewers Guild special SFBW collaboration ale, Swept By Fire, meant to commemorate the breweries lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, was a hoppy smoked pale ale made with beechwood-smoked malt and charred almond wood from Magnolia's Smokestack barbecue. It had a smoky upfront flavor that led to fruity, tropical notes; a stunning brew. And it wasn't the only one. Fort Point also makes a beer with smoked malt and charred manzanita, and the Mission's Southpaw put together a smoked pecan barleywine.

Custom brews are awesome.

Beer and food have always made a good pair, but there's something special about concept beers made specifically for a restaurant. One of the best brews I sipped during SFBW was a collaboration between 4505 Meats and WOODS Brewery. The goal was a light lager like the 4505 team occasionally enjoyed in the kitchen (Budweiser was the model), but it was then infused with hickory logs from the meatshop smoker. The result tasted intensely of wood but not smoke, like a deep breath at a sauna, and went great with barbecue. Another intriguing ale was Magnolia's custom brew for the Academy of Sciences NightLife, an English golden bitter ale brewed with plant types found on the Academy's living roof, including yarrow, rose hips, sage, and honeysuckle.

Mead is soon going to be your favorite brunch drink.

Honey wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages on earth, and close enough to beer that S.F.'s fledgling mead community decided to commandeer Beer Week to spread the word. I love the complexity of San Francisco Mead Company's honey wines, but the new line of sparkling mead from the East Bay's Calicraft is poised to bring the beverage into the mainstream. The brewery has long incorporated honey into brews like its signature Buzzerkely, and is now about to debut its Bear and Bee sparkling mead, a light beverage with fruit flavors like strawberry and pomegranate that seem made for sipping in the sun.

The local beer scene is just going to keep growing

More than a dozen breweries are planning to move into San Francisco alone in the next year, according to Stechschulte of the Brewers Guild, which will only contribute to the brewing landscape. Many of them are operating under a Type 75 license, which caps the volume of beer brewed but also allows the business to sell full liquor (a difficult and expensive license to get in this town). That doesn't mean the new breweries won't be making excellent beers. I was impressed with the lovely AmWit IPA, made with Pacifica and Citra hops, from Laughing Monk coming into the Bayview, Local Brewing Co.'s easy-drinking California Common Lager, and brews from New Normal and Alpha Acid. And for you gluten-free folks out there, Comrade Brewing's softly floral vanilla lavender gluten-free saison is worth seeking out.

Northern Californian breweries are changing the definition of beer.

These breweries can push genre boundaries and use untraditional ingredients because they're great at what they do. I tried a lot of mediocre beer last week as well, but those brews just illustrated the craft and skill that goes into making a quality batch. Whether it's a supercharged triple IPA, a smoky brew, or a sour one, the very best beers balance their alcohol content, acidity, and hop and malt flavors to make a product that unfurls on your palate as much as any fine wine. Northern California's wine industry became famous because it was willing to break all the rules in the name of discovering new things. Once again, its beer scene is poised to do the same.


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.


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"