Photo by Jennifer Maiser.
Fridays when I am in town, you will likely find me at The Jug Shop participating in beer tastings organized by Eric Cripe, Beer and Spirits Specialist and a certified cicerone (cicerones are the beer world's version wine sommeliers). Over the past couple years, I have been able to taste literally hundreds of different beers under Eric's guidance, many of them hard to find and specifically curated for these tastings.
When a friend and I stumbled upon the beer tastings at The Jug Shop in early 2010, we immediately noted the differences between these tastings and a typical wine tasting that is held at The Jug Shop tasting bar, which is located in the back of the popular liquor store. Where the wine tastings are quiet and small, the beer tastings are raucous and often crowded. Locals of all ages attend The Jug Shop tastings, and the group size can range from about 10 people to groups of more than 50, dependent on the theme. If an important sports game is playing, Eric will often have it playing in the background as he pours.
Eric Cripe leads the beer tastings. Photo courtesy of Joe, Beer at Joe's blog.
That's not to say that it's a drunken frat party. Underneath the fun atmosphere is a current of education. At The Jug Shop, I've been able to explore beers from all over the world and hone my taste buds to understand clearly what attributes I like and don't like in beers, and I've been able to do it at an affordable price. Eric is a master, and is able to answer nearly all of the (many, many) questions we often have. He is a true teacher who is happy to host aficionados of all levels without judgment or attitude.
It took hardly any time before we were recognized by Eric and others who attended the tastings. Many new people cycle through the tastings, but if you come a few times, chances are you will be recognized and that Eric will remember something about what you like and don't like. The regulars at the tastings also often bring another level of education--many are beer geeks who know San Francisco's beer scene inside and out.
Beer tastings take place nearly every Friday from about 6:30 to about 8:30, and you can arrive on a rolling basis (though The Jug Shop’s license does require that they shut down tastings by 8:30 pm). Eric has a general goal of having four tastings a month: one tasting features a specific brewery, one features new beers in the store, one is a vertical or something that is a little more expensive, and one is a specific style of beer. The prices are usually around $15, but vary.
To say that you get a lot of bang for your buck with The Jug Shop beer tastings is an understatement. A recent sour beer tasting which was limited to 30 people cost $35 and featured generous pours of 29 beers that would have cost me over $400 to assemble if I could even purchase the rare ones.
For this A-type Virgo, it sometimes takes a little bit of patience to attend the tastings. You may not get a tasting announcement until 24 hours before the event; you may arrive at 6:30 to find the tasting won't start for 15 minutes or so. But if you have any interest in the beer world, these minor hurdles are well worth the effort.
The best way to find out information about the tastings is through the Jug Shop's newsletter. It's where the information comes out first, which is important for exclusive tastings which sell out. And, while you can usually walk in and pay for a tasting (pay up front at the cashier, ask for a glass, and head back to the tasting bar), it's less expensive if you pre-pay through the newsletter.
Friday's beer tasting will be of Firestone beers. Photo by Jennifer Maiser.
The schedule through January 6 is as follows:
Parabola, Abacus, Fourteen, Fifteen, and a firkin (a small wooden barrel) of Union Jack Double IPA
Scaldis vertical from Brasserie Dubuisson.
This tasting will feature 5 years of Scaldis Premium and 3 years of Scaldis Prestige. Verticals are always an interesting way to taste beers, and are difficult to assemble as a tasting on your own outside of a tasting room environment.
Domestic Christmas Beers
Imported Christmas Beers