Localize it, pt. 4 - Some closing thoughts
The completion of the premiere SF Beer Week seems an opportune time to close the door on our recent ruminations on "local beer" in its many iterations. In many ways, actually, a local theme did emerge throughout the ten days of competitions, dinners, and other festivities, what with a San Francisco brewery taking a medal at Toronado's storied barleywine fest, some of the country's finest chefs a la cuisine a la biere showing off on their home turf, North and East Bay breweries receiving honors at the Bistro Double IPA festival, Anchor revealing their very first barrel aged beer, and local bloggers hosting events to easily rival the pros, all amidst the reemergence of the "official" beer of the week, a historically recreated batch of pale ale hearkening back to the area's distinction as ground zero for the new craft brewing movement. And despite the appearance of some of the industry's highest profile figures, the most exciting "meet the brewer" event featured none other than one of our own.
And arguably, that could be the best lesson learned from our first ever rally for Bay Area beer, that the bash was at its best when it was celebrating hometown successes, be they brewers or bars or chefs or restaurants. In retrospect, some of the activities that would have been unmissable under any other circumstances - visits from brewers from abroad, for example - looked like nothing more than filler. Hopefully next year, the local businesses who strangely opted to sit out this year's beer week will recognize the goldmine of opportunity that they missed out on, and will enter into the fray when February rolls around again, making it an event where one really does "come for the bay, stay for the beer." We'll just have to see, won't we?
And on a side note, I'm still haunted by those growlers, too, the ones we saw getting filled up at Russian River on the day Pliny the Younger was tapped, how wrecked they must have been when they finally made their way into hands over 3,000 miles and who knows how many warm, oxidized, flat UPS-rattled days away. Retelling that horror story to another aficionado, he replied, "that beer doesn't even taste the same once it's been in the glass for five minutes." At Toronado, the bartenders were uncorking the 20th Anniversary ale in front of the buyers to make sure they didn't try to sneak out with them to post on Ebay or worse, which made me wonder how Vinnie and Natalie must feel about having their hard work represented so falsely and sloppily. Brewers care about how their work is perceived, simply. Something that tastes so good because it's fresh, because it's local, it's hard to imagine what those long distance traders look to really get out of the deal other than a fresh tick on their "to have" list.
And lastly, in closing the book on this first experiment in formally saluting the Bay Area's beer scene, it's only fitting to donate a moment of remembrance to William Brand, whose tragic death wove a somber undercurrent beneath the proceedings. Critically injured just two days into the celebration, finally succumbing to his injuries eleven days later, he was such an anticipated presence at so many of the events that his absence was a somewhat strange and chilling entity, despite the nightly toasts held in his honor in dozens of taprooms, restaurants, dining rooms, and brewhouses throughout the region. There's little I can add to the chorus of sympathies being sounded out around both journalistic and beer circles, but he will be sorely missed.
(Image above from SF Beer Week's culminating liverbasher, the Toronado Barleywine Festival: Firestone Walker Abacus Blend, Elysian Old Cyclops, He'Brew Human Blockhead, and Ballast Point Three Sheets.)