Slow down, have a brew

Move over, wine. It just might be beer’s time to shine. According to the Brewer’s Association, craft beer — defined as being produced by brewers that are small, independent and traditional — saw an impressive 11 percent growth for the first half of 2007, and is the fastest-growing category in the alcoholic-beverage industry.

Here in San Francisco, restaurants are picking up on the trend: The Marina’s Bin 38 boasted a “beer sommelier” to suggest beer-and-food pairings when it opened last year, and now offers 22 exotic brews from around the world.

More restaurants are expanding their beer offerings to keep up with the demand: Millennium stocks more than 15 small-production beers from all over (including some lesser-known local brews); Magnolia Pub & Brewery is celebrating a “Strong Beer Month” that’s attracting record numbers of beer aficionados.

The time certainly seems right for the Slow Beer Festival, happening today at Golden Gate Park’s County Fair Building, offered by Slow Food and the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild. Last spring, the two organizations paired up to produce a tasting event titled Beer and Bites at Fort Mason — and it was such a success that they decided to pair up once again for another sipping-and-snacking event.

“It seems to me like craft beers are going through a growth phase that seems to parallel consumers’ awakening to other artisan products,” says Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub and a member of the Brewer’s Guild, who helped plan the event. “You can tell by the types of questions that people ask about the beer that there’s a new interest.”

This weekend’s festival will unite 12 of the area’s craft brewers, including Magnolia Pub, Wunder Brewing Company, Marin Brewing Company and Speakeasy, with some well-known local artisan food producers (Fra’Mani Handcrafted Salumi, Mendocino Mustard and sweet treats from Massimo Gelato). Each of the breweries will be pouring two to four of their craft brews.

Of course, many of the foods are natural complements to beer. If you’re trying to decide what beer to drink with what food, McLean recommends the classic pairing of oysters (supplied by Ferry Building favorite Hog Island Oyster Company at the festival) with stout beers, as well as knockwurst from Fatted Calf paired with ambers, bitters and pale ales.

IF YOU GO

Slow Beer Festival

When: Noon fo 4 p.m. today

Where: County Fair Building, Lincoln Way and Ninth Avenue, Golden Gate Park

Tickets: $50 regular, $75 VIP

Contact: www.slowbeersf.com

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