Back to school, back from vacation: isn't it cruel that fall's back-to-business calendar inevitably coincides with the long-delayed arrival of summery-feeling weather in San Francisco? But if you're not spending the weekend in Black Rock City, you can pretty much look forward to having the city's best hangouts to yourself. Save the bitters and bourbons, the house-concocted amaros and hyssop tinctures for the lengthening dark nights that will be drawing in soon; for these last, best carefree days, break out the Ritz crackers and pour the drinks that go down chill and easy.
Who knows better than a college student how to get a cheap, festive buzz on? On a recent meander through Missoula, home of the University of Montana, we stopped in at Black Coffee Roasting Company, an excellent small-batch, organic craft roaster. As the barista pulled us a couple of fine cortados, he reminisced about a recent road trip he and his girlfriend had taken, which ended up--where else?-- in the hour-long line at Tartine Bakery. And then he shared his favorite up on the roof on a Sunday morning drink: the Pablosa, a fizzy combo of Pabst Blue Ribbon and orange juice. Mix student-budget sparkling wine with juice and you're just starting your hangover all over again. At least with this kind of canned brew you know what you're getting: call it a session beer on the serious cheap.
Once we started thinking of beer as a mixer, well, what sweet to spicy vistas opened up before us! My friend Annika recalled family members downing V8 and beer. For that Baja beachside feel, there's Clamato and beer, garnished with a skewer of pimento olives and a whole shrimp or two. For drinkers who like it hot, try squirting fresh lime juice and a little sriracha sauce into Tecate, maybe add a few drops of fish sauce, and call it a Srirachelada, a Thai-American spin on a Mexican michelada. (The tequila or mezcal chaser is up to you).
At the Hotsy Totsy Club in Albany, beer's the mixer in two cocktails on the summer list: the Devil in Red Dress (pisco, lime juice, and Strawberry Harvest lager from Louisiana'a Abita Brewing Company), and Beer Street & Gin Lane (gin, lemon juice, and pilsner with a grapefruit twist). At the recent Yacht Rock II, CUESA's summery, nautically-themed edition of its quarterly Cocktails from the Farmers Market event, Matt Fleeger of North Beach's 15 Romolo was right on trend with his complex, spicy-fruity S.S. Minnow Summer Punch. A blend of fresh strawberries, tarragon, and hot peppers with a touch of absinthe and some warming blood orange liqueur from Germany called Pur Likor Spice, it was washed ashore by a smooth, golden wave of pilsner. The Express Lane, a beer cocktail on 15 Romolo's regular menu, tarts up a glass of pilsner with a shot of the Basque-born, tongue-twisting liqueur Ordoki Patxaran--a nod to the bar's location in the old Basque Hotel.
And if just mixing with beer isn't enough for you, enroll in Oakland's Food Craft Institute's upcoming hands-on how-to, the Business of Beer, running from Oct 24 through Dec 21. No mere brewing 101, this is the chance to put your porter to the test and take your beer crafting experience to the next level.