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SF Beer Week 2013: Beer Guru Sayre Piotrkowski Guides Us Through Beer Week's Opening Celebration

Caleb Pershan | February 11, 2013 | Story Wine and Spirits

“To be informative about the Fair is a task for someone with a steadier nose than mine,” E.B. White reported from the 1939 World’s Fair: “I saw all as in a dream.”

No one’s nose was “steady” last Friday at the dreamlike SF Beer Week Opening Celebration, least of all mine. As a novice in the crowded beer world gathered at the Concourse Exhibition Center, I was fortunate to have a steadier guide in Sayre Piotrkowski. The Beer Director at St. Vincent and a Certified Cicerone, Piotrkowski wants to “separate the vinyl from the leather” in the beer world— though I couldn’t separate the ceiling from the floor when we were through with our tasting tour.

There was an insidery air in the room on Friday night as brewers with grizzled, suds-catching beards hugged and toasted one another. A total of 78 breweries poured at booths around the convention-sized space. “I think the Bay Area becomes a much more vital and important beer destination when you expand out,” said Piotrkowski, “between Firestone and North Coast you’ve got 50 legitimate breweries that you can reach in a day’s drive.” This means the kind of brewery-direct freshness that Piotrkowski takes advantage of at St. Vincent and that we could taste on Friday. He advocates, “treating beer as a highly perishable product, like bread, eggs, or cheese— not like wine.”

We didn’t mind going from beer to beer in the same glass— in fact nobody did, which accelerated the dizzying process. First to try was Green Death, an SF Brewers Guild collaboration in honor of Beer Week. Hoppy and bright, its style has historical precedent in the Bay Area. Next was the yearly-released Pliny the Younger, where a huge line quickly formed. A very serious cult surrounds this beer— its arrival is a kind of Christmas for devotees. The Younger was richly golden and smelled of freshly cut garlic: “Anybody that’s worked in a kitchen loves that aroma,” said Piotrkowski.

There were too many great beers to try, mention, or even remember. Strong dark ale from Beltane was a hit. Pacific Brew Labs' collaboration with ThirstyBear focused on SF’s food as much as its drink: a black steam beer made with local sourdough yeast and oysters. That’s right— you can brew with oysters, either adding them freshly shucked (they dissolve) or letting their juices and shells add flavor to the beer before they’re removed. HenHouse Brewing showed off their keg-pulls, made with wood from old chicken coops. “If you want old school overly-hopped nasty-awesome beer,” said Piotrkowski, “High Water Brewing is legit.” I had their Campfire Stout, which smelled of smoke and tasted like s’mores.

Piotrkowski was right that “there should be a lot of bottled water and coffee sponsors—” and for a break from beer we stopped at the Slow Hand BBQ booth. The buzz in the room had peaked and began to dull, and with my notes a scrawl, I realized the night was already behind us. Beer Week continues until the 17th, so there’s plenty of time for me to study my notes and for you to try the best beers yourself.

At St. Vincent, Piotrkowski ’s second beer-pairing dinner “From the Seed to the Kernel: Points North” will match an established brewer with an up-and-comer (Marin Brewing and HenHouse Brewing). It’s on the 17th with open seating from 5:30 to 10p.m. for $85 per person. Call 415-285-1200 to make a reservation, and check out these other recommended events throughout the week.

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