More California

After Russian River and a head-clearing stroll around the SOMA district of San Francisco, I would up at the SF Beer Week opening gala beer fest for a few hours, tasking and talking. Mostly talking, actually.

This happens every time I visit the Bay Area, which in the case of this visit had been a couple of years since the last time. I want to taste beer and focus on what’s been going on since my last time through, but there are so many people I know and friends I haven’t seen for a while that I wind up chatting more than drinking. (Socializing while drinking is never a problem with pints at a pub, but with smaller samples at a crowded fest, it can be a challenge.) As a result, I did far more catching up with people that night than I did sampling beer, which given that I had woken up at 4:15 am eastern time – 1:15 am west coast time! – and hadn’t had more than an airplane catnap or two since, was probably not that bad a thing.

Nevertheless, I did manage to make one remarkable discovery at the gala, that being a more than intriguing beer from Valley Brewing of Stockton, California. Called Calambic, aka Bill Brand-bic, in honour of the late beer writer, it starts with a base of 60% Freaky Kriek, which is a pomegranate and cherry ale aged and exposed to resident bacteria in a six-year-old white wine barrel, which is then blended with 40% other “assorted” ales, according to Valley brewer Steve Altimari.

Officially, Calambic wasn’t on the program for the night, but I got word that Altimari was pouring a bit “under the table,” as it were, and rushed over for a taste. Glad I was that I did, too, as this beer demonstrates the best balance a soured ale could hope for, with the fruitiness holding the tartness in check but never growing dominant, much in the fashion of Cantillon’s Lou Pepe fruit lambics. Certainly the highlight of a most enjoyable if somewhat exhausting evening.

After sharing a bit of ice cider and foie gras with Jay Brooks back at his place, I retired to my air mattress and slept like the dead until morning.

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