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Your Five-Step Plan for the Perfect Beer Week 

Wednesday, Feb 4 2015
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SF Beer Week is once again upon us. Veteran devotees likely already have their plans locked down, Google Calendars flooded with tickets and dinners and nights they're totally going to make. But if you're a Beer Week newbie, here's a can't-miss five-step plan to experience the best 10 days in the Bay Area.

1. Go to a festival.

A beer festival is the best beer bar you will ever go to. It's a giant list of beers you've never had from breweries you've never heard of, and instead of drinking three pints, you can drink 16 different three-ounce beers. Some of the festivals are flat-rate tickets, so you can budget properly for an entire night of drinking. The odds are in your favor.

Festivals are the best way to learn about a beer scene, or about beer in general. Don't know the difference between an IPA and a pale? Don't know what a gose is? Haven't heard of that brewery before? You can build your beer education however you want. And if you don't know what something on the list is, just ask. Beer folk are friendly, and the person pouring that beer can either tell you everything about it or knows someone nearby who can. It's the perfect way to find the beers that are right for you.

The opening gala has been sold out for weeks, but you've still got lots of options if you didn't get tickets. If you want to settle the geographic battle once and for all, the Battle of the Guilds at Zeitgeist pits our city by the bay against our friends to the south. For only $30, you can try all the homebrew you can handle while supporting the SF Tenants' Union at Hops for Housing. And finally, close out your SFBW in style and set yourself up until next year by drinking your way through the Celebrator Beer News 27th Anniversary Party.

2. Go to a themed festival.

Are you in love with sour beer? Are you a double IPA fiend? Or alternately, do you have no idea what a sour beer or a double IPA is? A themed festival is a great way to get more of what you love or figure out how to love a style. It's immersion therapy.

There are sour events nearly every day of the week, from United Sours of America at Monk's Kettle to Sour Sunday at Jupiter or Almanac & Friends Sourfest. The Bistro will be hosting its 14th Annual Double IPA fest. There are 90 results when you search the SFBW website for "barrel aged," but The Trappist's event should be very, very exciting. You can learn all about cask beer at Magnolia's Festival of Firkins or Thirsty Bear's Cask & Queso.

3. Go to a tap takeover.

This is that week you're going to check out a brewery you've heard of but have never actually encountered. It's the week to gain access to 10 beers from your favorite brewery in one place. It's the week your favorite neighborhood beer bar serves as a temporary taproom for three or four different breweries.

My favorite SFBW practice is to bounce around to my favorite spots later at night, when the super trendy kegs have probably already kicked and so crowds have completely dispersed. Any spot with Pliny the Younger at opening is going to be half as full three hours later. If you're chasing more popular beers, getting there as early as possible is in your favor, but be prepared to get a little friendly with your neighbors. Tap takeovers are rarely ticketed events, so lines and crowds are bound to happen.

4. Drink beer and eat food.

Beer/food pairing is in a really exciting place right now; it's broken out of its infancy, but no one's worried yet if something doesn't adhere to the rules. Beer and food can bring out everything that's right about one another.

There are more than 100 beer-and-food options to choose from, from chocolate and cheese pairings to blowout 15 course dinners. Have a favorite restaurant that you know has a good beer list? It just might be running a special SFBW menu. Got a favorite brewery? This is your chance to really think about how its beers work with dinner.

If there's a beer dinner you'd really love to attend but you're already booked that night, going in the next day often has very favorable results. Kegs from the night before might still be on, and even though the special plates aren't around anymore, there's a good chance your server or bartender will have suggestions on great menu pairings for what's still around. This works best at restaurants with a more sizable draft system, as they might not be in a rush to free up those tap handles just yet.

Of course, at the very least, at a beer dinner, you're guaranteed to not be drinking on an empty stomach. Which leads us to...

5. Drink water and eat food. We’re mothering you here so your friends don’t have to. Eat food and drink water. Don’t be that person who needs someone to take care of them two hours into a four-hour festival because you had 30 three-ounce pours on an empty, dehydrated stomach. Eat before you hunger and drink before you thirst. Strive to not be that girl woozily air-pawing at someone else’s pretzel necklace.

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Jen Rizzo

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