From the West: Bay Area Brew Fest, Part Two

This is the second part of a two part series about the author’s adventures at the Bay Area Brewfest. If you’re looking for part one, click here.

From the entrance way, it seemed like the Bay Area Brewfest was tiny. However, as I walked through the boisterous crowd, I realized it wasn’t small at all; in fact the Festival Pavilion was absolutely enormous. Determined not to get overwhelmed by my barley based choices, I decided to do a lap and weigh the options.

With my reconnaissance circuit completed, mental notes taken and a thirst needing to be quenched, I took the next logical step and headed to the booth with the best beer and shortest line. The proprietor of said booth was Pyramid Brewing. Normally, the Seattle based brewery’s penchant for using wheat combined with my wheat intolerance doesn’t mesh well. However, I reminded myself that I wasn’t at a health fest and was going to have to suck it up. Luckily, they had their Black IPA tapped and upon request, handed me my first beverage of the fest.

Beer in hand, I moved away from the crowd to a section of empty booths. The Pyramid Black IPA had a dark brown complexion, with a hint of red. As I held the small mug to my nose, I detected a faint floral character mostly overpowered by malty goodness. The first sip revealed a bit of coffee intertwined with floral hops and sweet malt. The slightly heavy beer finished with a touch of bitter and dryness. Overall, it was an excellent beer and instantly became my favorite of the Pyramid offerings, wheat or not.

As I walked around, looking for my next beer, I noticed the surprisingly short lines at both Ninkasi Brewing and Speakeasy. I took the hint from the beer gods and walked over to Ninkasi for a pull of their Oatmeal Stout. Black to the eye, roasted malt to the nostrils and chocolate malt to the tongue, this beer was indeed a stout. A smooth, heavy body gave way to notes of bitter cocoa, which lingered on the palate. I was two for two and was very happy with myself.

But then it dawned on me that I had started with two of the darkest, heaviest beers at the fest, generally a tasting faux pas. I quickly reassured myself that all was fair in love, war and beerfesting and parked myself at the end of the awesomely short Speakeasy line.

They had two taps flowing, one with their flagship Prohibition Ale and the other with Double Daddy Imperial IPA. Having had, and loved, the former many times, I decided to continue my big-beers-first trend and asked for the Imperial IPA. This golden treat’s aroma was surprisingly void of any hop character, but instead was an excellent mix of sweet malts and biting alcohol. The Double Daddy was very thick with an almost perfect combination of malt and hop flavors. For its gravity, the finish was superb and I again made note of the stellar flavor balance.

Halfway through my glass, I started to feel the monster’s 9.5% ABV grip take hold. I decided some fresh air would do me good and sauntered through a set of double doors to the pavilion’s outdoor section. I walked to the end of the pier and leaned against the railing. It took several moments, but then it hit me, the little chunk of land I was gazing at was none other than Alcatraz. I looked to the left and sure enough, the Golden Gate Bridge was shining a brilliant red in the beautiful daylight. What a shame that the festival was indoors I thought to myself. I took a few deep breaths of the bay air and headed back into the ruckus.

I did another lap around the brewfest to reorient myself and check on the lines of a few booths. As I passed the Lagunitas booth, I spied a tap bearing the name “A Little Sumpin’ Wild”. This piqued my interest and I decided to hop on the end of the long line, telling myself I could probably use a few more minutes after that Double Daddy.

After a brief wait, I was handed my tasting mug filled with the golden, straw colored brew. The hop floral smell hit my nose immediately, almost masking the milder strawberry and citrus notes. One sip in, I knew I had a mostly wheat beer on my hands. I apologized to my immune system and focused on enjoying the sweet, yet tart flavor. The smooth, light body led into an excellently clean, dry finish. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was certain this was a wheat beer, I would have jumped back in line for seconds without a doubt.

The “A Little Sumpin’ Wild” marked my final attempt at “taking coherent notes”. From this point forward, I meandered between booths, drinking old favorites and mostly forgettable beers alike. A couple of times I was stopped and told how great my shirt was. From there my notes became somewhat crooked and vague. They mention a distinct lack of pretzel necklaces, a girl in 80s workout gear, a gent in lederhosen, a long men’s room line, something about medical staff with mullets and a picture of me with a food scientist.

At some point, the will to consume another drop of beer faded and I made my way to the exit. Excellent placement of food trucks outside the venue convinced me that I needed a Goddess salad. Sustenance in hand, I semi-steadily made my way back up the stairs to the park above. I heaved my things down onto a nice section of grass and proceeded to eat my salad/people watch/nap. The last thing I remember about the Bay Area Brewfest was a young man dressed up in lederhosen carrying a girl, unable to walk on her own, through the park of Fort Mason. “Well, I guess that’s what happens when a brewfest is all you can drink,” I thought to myself.