Sharing a bottle of wine at dinner, or even lunch if you’re into the European way of doing things, is pretty much the modus operandi when many friends go out. But lately I’ve noticed that more and more people are sharing beer, too, thanks to the appearance of large format craft brews on menus around San Francisco, encouraging the same sense of community and conviviality around the table that wine has done for centuries.
Nick Henry, beverage manager at Epic Roasthouse (www.epicroasthouse.com), launched his large format beer program just two months ago, the catalyst being a trip to Europe he took more than a decade ago.
“Back in 2000, I spent the winter in Italy and noticed that Italians would serve beer in large liter bottles for the table to share,” Henry recalled. “I quickly realized that this was done as a gesture of community and since Epic has large groups of people for happy hour as well as lunch and dinner, this ‘family style’ format seemed like a perfect fit.”
Among the myriad large format bottles Henry has on the menu are California’s Anderson Valley’s Poleeko Pale Ale, Anchor Brewing’s Brekle’s Brown and Stone Brewery’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, each 22 ounces for $12. They are served upstairs in the Quiver Bar as well as in the main dining room and on the patio overlooking the Bay Bridge. For those who enjoy the ritual of having a bottle of wine opened and poured, fear not. At Epic, beers are poured tableside in proper ale glasses.
Beer has long foamed in the shadow of wine, which is often perceived as the more sophisticated choice. But over the last 10 years, artisan craft beers have held their own, swelling in popularity with tipplers, and now accounting for more than 14 percent of beer sales in the United States, according to the Brewers Association.
Large format bottles range in size and shape, from standard metal caps to cork- and cage-style bottles á la Champagne. A typical single-serving of beer is 12 fluid ounces, or roughly 350 milliliters, while larger format brews can go from 22 fluid ounces, or roughly 750 milliliters, up to hangover-inducing 1.5-liter bottles.
And for those who say, “I don’t like beer,” I say, forget what you remember from the tailgaters and keg parties in college. Craft brews are high quality, with flavors as limitless as the ingredients used to create them, from hoppy and fruity, to sweet or sour, bold or tangy — the variety is staggering and will have you rethinking beer.
Over at Fat Angel (www.fatangelsf.com) they’ve been pouring large format beers since opening in 2011 in hopes of curating the best possible list of good and hard-to-find beers for customers.
“The decision to offer larger format craft beers had everything to do with getting excellent, hard-to-find craft beer on our guests' tables,” said Jason Kirmse, a partner in Hi Neighbor restaurant group, which manages Fat Angel.
A good beer is not just as tasty as a fine Bordeaux but it also can be equally, if not more, economical than wine. A browse through Fat Angel’s beer tome and you’ll find a heavy emphasis on European and West Coast beers including many from California and Oregon, with a smattering of offerings from other parts of the U.S. at affordable prices.
A 750 milliliter bottle of Gift of the Magi from The Lost Abbey (www.lostabbey.com) in San Marcos is $23; The Tripel Tonnellerie from The Bruery (www.thebruery.com) in Placentia (750 milliliters) is $28 and New Almaden Red from Santa Clara Valley Brewing (www.scvbrewing.com) in San Jose (650 milliliters) is just $16.
“We totally encourage people to share beers this size,” Kirmse said. “Not only does it give you an opportunity to pair different beers during your dinner, but sharing also goes a long way in keeping palate fatigue in check.”
Lest your palate fall asleep unsatisfied, call a few friends, grab a beer tonight, and go big. Cheers!
Kimberley Lovato has been writing about travel, food and drink for the last 20 years and has never met a happy hour she didn’t like. She writes at www.kimberleylovato.com</p>
SHARE A COLD ONE
2124 Market St., S.F.; (415) 513-5883, www.blackbirdbar.com
369 The Embarcadero, S.F.; (415) 369-9955, www.epicroasthouse.com
1740 O'Farrell St., S.F.; (415) 525-3013, www.fatangelsf.com
Liquid Gold Bottle Shop and Tap Room
1040 Hyde St., S.F.; (415) 660-5142, www.liquidgoldsf.com
24 Willie Mays Plaza (AT&T Park), S.F.; (415) 644-0240, www.publichousesf.com