Prohibition, a period devoid of all things golden and intoxicating, was a dark and lackluster time for beer lovers. Prohibition in San Francisco wiped out most of its breweries or drove them underground, and it wasn't until the 1970s that they started popping back up again. One of these was the New Albion Brewery, which opened in 1976, becoming one of the first craft breweries in the United States.
There are now some 1,400 small craft breweries, many of them concentrated in Northern California. That seems like reason enough to party, and party we shall with the first-ever San Francisco Beer Week. This 10-day event, running Feb. 6&–15, celebrates the Bay Area's history of brewing and includes 150 events taking place from the North Bay to the South Bay. Lagunitas Brewery has a fantastical beer circus, Marin Brewing Co. adds a Mexican flavor with a fiesta, Noonan's is serving various whiskeys and Moylan Brewing Company's beers, Horizons Restaurant is doing it up in the moonlight with a Sierra Nevada five-course tasting meal, and Iron Springs Pub and Brewery is hosting a beer dinner. The kickoff event is the Bistros Double IPA Festival in Hayward on Feb. 7 where Napa Smith Brewery will unveil the "official" beer of SF Beer Week, its Napa Smith Original Albion Draft Ale, created by master brewer Don Barkley.
Barkley started at New Albion as an intern, advancing to master brewer by the time the brewery closed its doors in 1983. He then helped launch the Mendocino Brewing Company, creating the unique Red Tail Ale. He is currently the master brewer at Napa Smith Brewery. Owner Steve Morgan speaks highly of Barkley's experience. "Don's been making craft beer longer than anyone besides Fritz Maytag [who opened Anchor Brewing in San Francisco in 1965]."
The Albion Draft Ale gives a delicious history lesson to those who try it, because "it is literally a recreation of the very first craft beer in the United States," says Morgan, who explains that Barkley found the New Albion Brewery recipe in a shoebox. The two decided to go back and brew the original craft beer especially for SF Beer Week. There is only one batch being made, the equivalent of 30 kegs, and none of it is being bottled. "Once it's gone, its gone," says Morgan. For dates and times, go to www.sfbeerweek.org.
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