Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery owner Dave McLean is also a member of the San Francisco Brewers Guild, the presenting sponsor for SF Beer Week. We got a chance to check in with McLean on Magnolia’s plans for Beer Week and the history of the event itself.
How did SF Beer Week come about?
SF Beer Week evolved out of a small series of events that took place every February for the preceding 10 or more years before the first Beer Week. First came the Toronado Barleywine Fest, which goes back more than 20 years. The popularity of that event attracted many brewers and beer media from out of town. A handful of other beer events sort of filled in around that legendary event – a popular beer dinner, a beer and chocolate tasting, a double IPA festival, and an anniversary party for the Celebrator Beer News. Magnolia and the 21st Amendment have also run a monthly event for the past 11 Februarys called Strong Beer Month. At some point, many of these events began to be advertised together in the Celebrator as “Beerapalooza,” highlighting the fact that there was so much going on in so little time.
In 2008, Tom Dalldorf of the Celebrator, Jay Brooks of the Celebrator and Brookston Beer Blog (and writer for other beer publications), Dave Keene of the Toronado bar, Bruce Paton, the Beer Chef, Shaun O’Sullivan of the 21st Amendment, and I got together to discuss renaming the week SF Beer Week. Philly Beer Week was being planned, there were examples of successful “restaurant weeks” around the country, and I specifically remember drawing personal inspiration from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where the net effect of day after day of music events pretty much 24/7 combined with an embarrassment of riches of food and other culture is overwhelming in the best possible way. Even with just a half dozen or so local beer events back then, February was already taking on a similar you-can’t-do-it-all-but-it’s-fun-to-try spirit. We all knew there was something special going on and that we could perhaps nudge it along to the next level, showing off to a wider segment of the Bay Area community how great the local beer culture is.
The SF Brewers Guild, still fairly new at the time, was also very interested in the direction things were taking and our fellow Guild members, especially Ron Silberstein of Thirsty Bear, were eager to help and participate. Life and work dragged many of the original founders away over the next couple of years and the SF Brewers Guild took on more of a primary role in making sure SF Beer Week happened and was as successful as possible. Today, the Guild takes the lead role in producing SF Beer Week but we do it on behalf of all Bay Area breweries, bars, restaurants, and retail stores who make up our amazing beer community. We determined there was nothing more important to our mission than shepherding Beer Week to success to help promote craft beer in the Bay Area.
The event seems to have grown each year, is that the same sense organizers have gotten?
Yes. I think we had around 100 events the first year, over 200 the next, and well over 300 every year since. But the event count is secondary to the quality of events and the size and success of many of them. What seems to grow even more every year is overall turnout. Hard numbers are tough to come by given the grass roots and decentralized nature of the week but event hosts are generally thrilled with the results and tend to come back with more events year after year. What we are starting to feel now is that SF Beer Week has hit a critical mass of sorts and has become an event that many people around the Bay Area look forward to and participate in. It has definitely expanded its reach.
For someone who might be experiencing Beer Week for the first time, what’s a good game plan? What are some of the “must-do” events?
There are so many events it can seem overwhelming but, as I said, that’s kind of what we’re going for and it just speaks to how incredible the local beer culture is. Everyone brings their A game to Beer Week and tries to put on excellent events. There are a few ways to make some sense of it. You could stay local and check out the events in your neighborhood or town. Maybe there are some places nearby you’ve always wanted to check out and their Beer Week events make the perfect time to do so. If you have some favorite breweries, you could search for the various events they might be involved in around the area. You could zero in on beer dinners and other beer and food events, which, as a whole, showcase the amazing versatility and fun you can have with beer and food.
Has spreading out outside the city itself been a boon to the success of the event?
Some of the pre-SF Beer Week events of “Beerapalooza” and even before took place outside the City and so we tried from the beginning to be as inclusive as possible and encourage businesses all over the Bay Area to participate. SF Beer Week would never be as successful as it is without that wide range it covers. The more the merrier and all are welcome!
Where is the craft industry right now? How and why do you think it has reached such successful levels over the last few years, especially here in the Bay Area? And where is it heading in the future?
It feels like it turned a big corner a few years ago and has really hit critical mass. More people than ever are not just drinking craft beer but really embracing everything that it stands for. The wider food movement has dovetailed with craft beer and vice versa in a way that strengthens the overall story. That story is pay attention to what you eat and drink, celebrate taste and diversity of flavor and expression, get to know who makes the things you like and reward them with your business instead of the mass-produced and mass-marketed products that came so close to taking over the world. That’s powerful stuff and it’s not stuff people back away from. Once you open that door of perception, you don’t really go back through and go the other direction. Therefore, I think the future is very bright for craft beer (and good food)!
Tell us a little about Magnolia. It’s been such a success for now 15+ years. You guys have created quite a niche in San Francisco’s beer scene?
The massive amount of support we’ve seen come our way over the years is humbling and also a strong motivator to keep trying to get better and keep making people happy. There were some dark years when my initial decision to open as a brewpub/restaurant and not just a brewery didn’t seem like such a great idea. But I love what we’ve managed to become and I think we get better with age. It was some of the great pubs of England that inspired me most — the idea that, as important as the beer in the glass is, there is an opportunity really become a part of the fabric of the community beyond that, too…an opportunity to be there for people and help them create moments and occasions in their lives. It strengthens the bonds they feel with your beer and it’s something that can be there for the long haul. 15 years feels like an eternity to me sometimes but look at some of the 300 year old pubs in the UK and I see we have a little way to go still.
Is it fun to have so many great local brewers in San Francisco now? Is it more friendly competition just getting the word out about the industry?
It’s really pretty awesome. We are some of the luckiest people around because we have a very unique bond and it feels a lot like family. Something about beer has always drawn its makers together in guilds and groups and in friendship. Beer has been an important part of human society for millennia and its an honor to have a small part in that and to know and work with so many great brewers. I’d be sugar coating it if I didn’t admit that the shelves are a little crowded sometimes and a little healthy competition does exist but, in the end, we’ve done pretty well winning over lots of people to the world of craft beer and there seems to be no end in sight right now. As long as that’s the case, we all have a decent opportunity to keep doing what we love and making a living doing it.
Along with being poured at events across the Bay Area, here are some that Magnolia is hosting over the rest of Beer Week:
Oyster & Beer Extravaganza at Magnolia (February 12, 11:00-5:00) – The 4th annual event pairs oysters and beers. Magnolia will release it’s latest batch of Oysterhead Stout along with a special menu of oysters both raw and cooked. Pricing is a la carte.
Magnolia/Nombe Beer Dinner (February 12, 7:00-11:00pm) – Pairing four beers (including Proving Ground Double IPA and Oysterhead) with four of Nombe’s signature dishes, guests will also get a scoop of Stone of Circumstance Stout Ice Cream. The dinner is $45 per person and reservations can be made online or by phone (415-681-7150). Nombe is located at 2491 Mission Street.
Festival of Firkins (February 14, 11:00-8:00) – Guests can celebrate Valentine’s Day with a sampling of cask-conditioned ales. Tastings will run as long as the beer lasts. Although many of the beers will be from Magnolia, there will also be some from its craft brewer brethren.
Magnolia Beer Brunch (February 16-17, 9:00-2:30) – To round out Beer Week. Magnolia will be offering brunch an hour earlier than normal with morning beer and food pairings. A la carte pricing both days.
Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery is located at 1398 Haight Street in San Francisco.
Photo Credit: Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery, via Facebook