Why SF Beer Week is So Special

Jen Rizzo, February 04, 2015

I’m something of a known cheerleader for SF Beer Week. It is my favorite ten days of the year. Though it is not at all called for, I put on a too-fancy dress and curl my hair for the opening gala every year. I am well aware that non-SF friends mute me on Twitter for the entire week (and probably a few days on either side of it, for good measure). I catch myself slowly moving away from anyone with a cough or the sniffles because I will be damned if I’m going to get sick and not make it through all ten days. I take my beer week very, very seriously.

A week ago, a friend asked me what the point of beer week was. My gut instinct was to get offended. Offended! To sputter, to be unhappy, to take genuine personal offense to the question. What’s the point of beer week?!

But after letting the dust settle, the question still sort of rattled around in my head. What is it that we’re doing here? With over 700 (!!!!) events on the calendar for this year, are we educating the masses and making craft beer more approachable, or are we coming up with neat excuses to be drunk for a week and a half?

The first year was a learning experience. No one really knew what to do yet. If you want to smile, read Jay Brooks’ post from September 2008 announcing the very first SF Beer Week. Only seven of the current twenty-five members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild were producing beer. The gala didn’t come around until year two. The dates were chosen to purposely coincide with a couple of yearly events that happened before the idea of a “beer week” existed around these parts. I had only lived here for six months or so, and it was an absolute treat.

The first two years of the SFBW gala felt like a high school reunion. (But, like, the good kind, filled with people you like and unlimited beer.) It was held at Yerba Buena. It took exactly one year to grow too large for the space. It was packed. People stood in line for hours and some of us missed the bulk of the event. A sort of crazy choice was made regarding ticketing and it just did not work out at all. We all not-so-silently acknowledged that this had to be the growing pains year. For everything everyone learned in 2009 and 2010, 2011 was the year that it all sort of changed. This wasn’t just a week of cool beer events and beer nerds doing what beer nerds do, this was A Thing.

And so the gala moved to a new space. Over the next couple of years we saw the event list grow to over 500, then over 600, then are you serious we actually have 700+ events for this year. Your favorite beer bar has an event. (Your favorite beer bar might have six.) Your favorite restaurant has some cool menu going on. Your favorite brewery is doing a tap takeover in the city, in the East Bay, in the South Bay, in the North Bay.

As you scroll through the list of events, there are breweries you’ve never heard of. YOU, the resident craft beer nerd among your friends. The community has exploded. In five years I’ll probably be embarrassed by that sentence because maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe the community “is exploding”. Maybe the 2020 Gala has 400 breweries pouring and 60 of them are members of the Brewers Guild. Year seven feels like we got it all figured out, but what if this is just the beginning? God, I hope it’s the beginning.

We talk a lot about the “craft beer community”, but I’m still blown away every time I really get to see that community at work. I boarded an airplane for Seattle the day the Elysian sale was announced; within 24 hours of my arrival, six strangers had asked me how I felt about it. Of course you’ve heard of it, right? Our small talk is built in. As soon as the now-infamous pumpkin peach burn happened in the Budweiser ad during the Super Bowl, I grabbed my phone to check Twitter, not because I had anything useful to add to the discussion, but because I knew that this weirdo community I’ve built on the 4.7” screen in my hand was going to be losing their minds.

The beer community is so much more than Beer Twitter, though. It is walking in to your friend’s apartment and having them hand you a growler pour of the new Cellarmaker beer. It is orchestrating which of your friends is getting which beer at a tasting room, because you know you’re going to pass them around and try everyone else’s the second they’ve taken a sip. It’s having a beer poured for you by the person who wrote the recipe and seeing their eyes genuinely light up when you tell them how good it is. It’s walking into a bar and getting excited when you see a beer you’ve been wanting to try for ages; it’s getting excited when you see a beer you’ve never heard of. It’s the excitement of having so many beers that people care so much about and not knowing how to choose. It’s sharing that with people you care about.

I have never been a part of a community where it is so easy to make friends. We have built-in second-degree small talk. Hello, my name is Jen, it’s nice to meet you, how do you know so-and-so, awesome. Hey, what are you drinking? Now we’re off and running. Can I try this, what does this remind me of, how do you feel about this, any idea what yeast this is, you’re right it DOES taste just like grapefruit!

It is so refreshing to be surrounded by people who love the thing you love, to walk in to a conversation where you already have a shared vocabulary. And if you’re kinda new to this whole thing and you don’t have that vocabulary yet, ask questions! Say things that might be wrong! All those folks with their noses deep in their glasses picked up their first craft beer once, too, and I bet they’re excited you’re here. We all get to try more beer if this community has more drinkers in it.

Sure, there are tap takeovers every week. There are beer dinners all over the Bay Area, all the time. There are festivals that take place outside of these ten days. SF Beer Week is this once-a-year opportunity to spend ten solid days focused on what this industry is and what it means to you. It is ten days in a row where you have endless opportunities to learn something new or to go all-out on things you love.

Tap takeovers are your thing? Go to ten of ‘em. Never been to a tap takeover? Go to ten of ‘em. Go to a beer dinner. Go to one of those strange events that you’re not sure if it’ll be cool but it could be really cool. Get those Untappd badges, if that's your thing. Take your friends with you, introduce everybody to everybody, pass your glasses around. Revel in the celebration of how weird it is that this thing is so different than it was five years ago; make predictions that will probably look silly five years from now.

But whatever you do, drink up, friends! It’s SF Beer Week!