Brews on the Bay 2011: Peace through Beer and Mutual Hatred

There was a feel good San Francisco vibe for those who boarded the good ship Jeramiah O’Brien this September 1oth for the Brews on the Bay festival. The festival is held annually by the San Francisco Brewers Guild on the Jeramiah O’Brien, a World War II era ship docked near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, providing fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay from it’s decks. There isn’t a better spot for quaffing some of the finest beers the San Francisco brewing community has to offer.

And there was plenty of great beers to chose from. Perhaps since this festival has been condensed from a two-day to single day event, all the breweries had much larger selections than they have in years past. And it was nice to see Anchor Brewing show up this year. Kudos to Magnolia Pub for rolling out plenty of interesting session beers. Double IPAs and Imperial-styles seem to dominate festivals, but their skillfully brewed milds, bitters, and Kolsch session brews were a breath of fresh air. The worst beers were OK, and the overwhelming majority were good to great. But then, one of the best things about San Francisco is that its breweries always deliver great beer.

And it was a pretty chummy brewing community on the ship, with plenty of brewers hanging out at other brewer’s pouring stations chatting away and sampling each other’s beer. In fact, this feel good vibe was so infectious I actually had a pleasant conversation with not one, not two, but actually three graduates of the University of Michigan, including craft beer blogger and SF Brewer’s Guild social media whiz Brian Stechschulte. This may not seem like a big deal, but as a graduate of The Ohio State University, we’re usually more comfortable spewing hatred towards other. That’s just the way it is.

Of course, a certain bond is created through rivalry, a respect gained by understanding just how deeply the other side disrespects you. There is a certain release in the controlled bloodlust of the game, but once it is over, most of us realize it is just a game and we’re all just people. If we could only overcome our fears and take this same approach over matters like race, religion and sexual orientation.

So as we reflect on ten years after September 11th on the consequences and challenges of hate, I’ll give the last word to the Dalai Lama, who said:

“We need to learn from our painful memories of September 11th and become more aware of the destructive consequences that arise when we give in to feelings of hatred. This tragedy in particular has reinforced my belief that fostering a spirit of peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding among the world’s peoples and faith traditions is an urgent matter of importance to us all. We must therefore make every effort to ensure that our various faith traditions contribute to build a more caring, peaceful world.”

A few observations from Brews on the Bay

The Brews on the Bay beer festival, hosted by the San Francisco Brewers Guild is a pretty simple concept. Each member of the guide sets up a few taps along the deck of the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a World War II era supply ship permanently docked to a pier in San Francisco’s Fisherman Wharf. Before you climb the stairs to enter a ship, they give you a plastic cup. For four hours, you walk around to the various brewer stations on the ship’s deck, and ask the servers to fill your cup with one of their selections on tap. When you get tired of walking around the ship, drinking beer, and enjoying great views of San Francisco from the ship, you leave. Or, 5 pm rolls around, and they kick you the ship. Oh, and there was a Van Halen cover band this year, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

It’s a good opportunity to see what the many great San Francisco breweries are up to. And like any good beer festival, there’s a few brewers around, most of whom will gladly tell you about there beer, and are also good for picking up a home brewing tip here and there. A while plenty of breweries poured there tried and true brews, there were enough specials and seasonals pouring to make it interesting. Here’s a few random observations from that afternoon.

21st Amendment poured their new Imperial IPA, Hop Crisis. One would think the Bay Area needs another big Imperial IPA like most people need another hole in their head, but if you tasted this one, you’d likely disagree. It’s big and powerful, with a strong strong hop vibe, but makes it work is its sturdy malt character that provides a good balance and almost viscous mouth feel to this brew. 21st Amendment plans to release it in four-pack cans this coming spring. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be looking for it.

Social Kitchen & Brewery made their Brews on the Bay debut. I was rather fond of their Rapscallion, a pretty intense Belgian Ale with a zippy ginger-like aromatic spiciness and light apricot notes. Their Big Muddy Weizenbock has plenty of roasty malt, some banana-like esters, and a little clove like spicy vibe to it. I need actually go to their brew pub and actually purchase some of their beers.

-Also enjoyed Rum Runner from Thirsty Beer. It’s got a lot of molasses in it, as well a 120L Crystal Malt, and British Aromatic Malt. It’s lightly sweet, malty and molassessy. (Is “molassessy” a word?) If you ask me, molasses in beer is way under rated, and I’ve got to love a beer with “Runner” in the title.

Since I’m having some problem with my camera, I decided to use a picture for last year’s Brew’s on the Bay, just in case anyone would actually notice.

Lots of good beers, and one lame autism joke: 6th Annual Brews on the Bay

The 6th Annual Brews on the Bay was held on the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a World World II era merchant ship docked on Pier 45 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The seven members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild were spaced around the deck of the restored ship, pouring their beers. I suppose I could write about the festive atmosphere aboard the ship, or the U2 cover band that playing. Or I could just start writing about the beer. But instead, I’m going to write about a subject one of the pourers at the festival was joking about. It’s something many people aren’t familiar with, and often people aren’t comfortable about. The subject is autism.

Linda and I were at Thirsty Bear, and one of the pourers was loudly apologizing for having Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. My eight year old son Brandon has autism, so I turned to him and told him, “It’s OK, my son has autism. Having Asperger’s is OK”. He looked stunned, and I suddenly realized at that moment he probably didn’t have Asperger’s, and his affliction probably involved sampling way too much of Thirsty Bear’s product. I’ve said enough stupid stuff stone cold sober to cut the guy some slack, so shrugged off the lame joke, and Linda and I walked away with our Thirsty Bear brews.

Five minutes later, Linda and I are somewhere inside the ship, sipping our beers and looking at various rooms restored to their World War II era appearance, when a woman from Thirsty Bear came up to us and said “I’ve been looking all over the ship for you. I want to apologize for that guy who told you he has Asperger’s Syndrome.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. We told her not to worry, that we still liked Thirsty Bear, and it wasn’t a problem, and thanked her for her concern. My son Brandon was diagnosed 5 1/2 years ago, and I’ve more or less come to terms with his condition, so I pretty much shrugged this off.

Most people rarely if ever deal with autism, and often when confronted with it, are confused and uncomfortable as to what to do. Brandon’s autistic behaviors are erratic, confusing, nonsensical, and yes, at times, funny. So I can actually understand why some guy might think it’s pretty funny to say “I have Aspergers”. But I find that 99.9% of the people who meet Brandon for the first time deal are confronted with this awkward situation, respond with a great deal of patience and understanding, which is huge for Brandon overcoming his behaviors. Who ever tracked us down inside the ship from Thirsty Bear to apologize, thanks so much for going the extra mile. It’s people like you who give Brandon a fighting chance.

OK, let’s talk about beer. Here’s what Linda and I liked that evening, starting with a couple from our friends at Thirsty Bear.

Thirst Bear Valencia Wheat
We both enjoyed this clear, refreshing wheat beer, brewed with a little coriander and orange peel in the Witbier style. It poured a clear yellow, so perhaps it was filtered. The noticeable orange flavor gives this one a nice twist.

Thirsty Bear Irish Coffee
I didn’t note what style this was, but appeared to be a barrel aged, Imperial Stout with lot of bitter coffee goodness, and we noticed some whisky in the background. Seemed a little light on the malt for the Imperial Stout style, which I found to be a good thing that evening, as it made for an easy drinking barrel aged Imperial Stout. I don’t know if you’re into something like that, but it worked for us.

Speakeasy Mickey Finn Imperial Red Ale
I’ve found many excellent brewers turn this style into something really aggressive, with a double punch of bitter roasted malt and heavy hops, and the result is often barely drinkable. That’s not the case here, as this Imperial Red from Speakeasy has a flavorful caramel malt, with some raisin like character, and a mellow resiny aftertaste.

Magnolia Dark Star Mild
Magnolia seems to focus a lot on their malt, and it seems to be reflected in their beers, which have an artisan bread character to them. Mild is almost a forgotten style in the United States, but this drinkable session beer with lots of roasty malt and a slightly grainy character made me wonder why.

San Francisco Brewing Hugh Hefnerweizen
When it comes to beer, variety is the spice of life. I cannot, and will not simply settle down with one beer. But this Hefeweizen from San Francisco Brewing is luscious, yet slightly muscular, and has a slightly sweet, alluring aroma. It tastes a little rich and fruity with seductive banana notes. If forced to be faithful to one beer, I just might shack up with this one.

Maybe someday, Brandon and I can talk about our favorite beers.