Last Sunday, my old company, Beverages & more, where once upon a time I was the beer buyer for almost five years, hosted the first holiday beer fest in the Bay Area. Dubbed the BevMo Holiday Beerfest, it was organized by local beer festival promoter Jeff Moses, who also does the Monterey Beer Festival, among others. It was held at the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
It was a good space and they wisely used only a portion of the hall so it wasn’t too large inside. I’ve long thought San Francisco needs a holiday beer festival, Pacific Coast Brewing’s holiday tasting notwithstanding. Winter and Christmas beers are some of my favorite seasonals because brewers tend to really be creative with them. Plus, I like spice beer more than most.
I’d guess only about one-third of the beers there were in fact winter seasonals or holiday beers, but still, it was a good start. Unlike many festivals, beer from abroad was also served, which allowed a greater range of beers to be available. I think this could, over time, develop into a great annual festival, especially if the focus on holiday beers increases. Organizer Jeff Moses only had a few weeks to put this year’s festival together, so I expect next year’s to be even grander (no pressure, Jeff). Naturally, I couldn’t try everything there, but of what I did have, here are a few stand-outs:
- Anchor Christmas Ale 2009: The last few years have not seen the roller coaster flavor changes of the late 1990s, more’s the pity. But it’s as solid as ever and still one of my all-time favorite holiday beers and one of my go-to beers for Thanksgiving.
- Anderson Valley Winter Solstice: For years, this beer has been too vanilla-forward for my tastes, but this year they’ve got the balance just right, with just a delicious hint of the vanilla.
- Ayinger Weizen Bock: A great mix of wheat character and the dark, malt strength of a bock.
- Grand Teton Pursuit of Hoppiness Double Red Ale: A terrific big, hoppy beer; one of two great double reds at the festival.
- Lhasa Beer: A clean pilsner brewed in Tibet. Despite the politics surrounding the beer, it tastes pretty decent.
- Mad River John Barleycorn Barleywine Style Ale: Another beer that continues to improve. The last few years, this beer has been fantastic, and this year’s edition is no exception.
- Ninkasi Believer Double Red: Not yet in the Bay Area, but soon, I’m told. Keep an eye out for this, and their entire line. If you love hoppy beers, Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewery will quickly become one of your favorites. Brewmaster Jamie Floyd has a deft hand with big, hoppy beers. The Double Red is a terrific hop monster with great balance.
- Okocim Polish Porter: I haven’t tasted this porter in a few years, and it’s even better than I remember. A really nice example.
- Uncommon Brewers Rubidus Red Ale: A beer brewed with mushrooms that nicely captures the savory flavors of Candy Cap mushrooms balanced by the addition of maple sugar.
Here is a slideshow of the BevMo Holiday Beerfest. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.