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Why Have Sam Adams When You Can Have Speakeasy?

San Francisco is certainly wine-soaked. And, since the days of the Gold Rush, it's always been a place that loves its hard stuff. But what about beer? Though there is still a lot of improvements to be made on the beer scene here, as several brewers have voiced to me, there's no question that beer's fortunes are changing. Look at the fact that last year we got not one, but two new beer joints: Monk's Kettle and La Trappe. The Bay Area got a new brewery, Napa Smith. San Francisco Beer Week was by all accounts a great success this year—with tastings, dinner pairings and lots of "meet the brewer" sessions—though Dave McLean of Magnolia confessed that he and his fellow brewers need to make a more concerted effort to get the word out (it snuck up on lots of people).

Microbreweries say they're doing well—beer consumption is up across the country, thanks to the recession. I was thrilled to be drinking Lagunitas IPA during a recent Giants win over the Texas Rangers. Summing it up, Rich Higgins, president of the San Francisco Brewer's Guild, declared 2009 "The Year of the Beer," writing that "Quality beer is incredibly diverse and damned tasty. And even the best beer is relatively affordable—offering flavor, art and history while setting you back a fraction of what you might pay for comparable quality wine." And, pardon the pun, there's more brewing.

21st Amendment continues to put some very cool beers in cans. As we've noted in this blog, beer pairing dinners are up at Ame and Monk's Kettle. And more and more restaurants are getting into the action. As Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper noted, Anchor and Hope's "already-popular beer selection is seriously ramping up. They ... are putting in 16 taps, plus they will have a beer engine to hand pump beer from casks (how British), and eventually will have 60-80 bottles." All in all, beer is clearly on the upswing, and its place at the table as an alternative to wine is being taken seriously these days. Brewers continue to refine their art, offering flavors and nuances that we've not tasted before.

What are things I'd like to see happen? I'd like to see more bars convert their taps to local brews. Why carry Sam Adams when you've got breweries like Speakeasy in your own backyard? I'd like to see the beer pairing trend spread—more people need to understand how well beer can go with everything from Caesar salad to braised short ribs to chocolate cake. And I'd like to see decent beer become a little more affordable—prices seem to be climbing at the stores, as it's hard to find good local beers at less than $9 a six-pack these days. Next up on the calendar is the 6th Annual Brews on the Bay, September 12 & 13. But that's still two months away and there's plenty of caps to be popped until then.