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The SF Beer Week 2014 Opening Gala

[Photos: Gene X Hwang/Orange Photography]

Sold out weeks in advance, the SF Beer Week Opening Gala was a predictable zoo this year, with throngs of thirsty guests in search of the best of the 200+ brews poured by the 80 breweries in attendance. Or, as it turns out, mostly in search of one extremely hyped triple IPA. Glass in hand, we scoped out both the more sedate media hour before the storm, as well as the onslaught of mega-excited beer fans that began when the clock struck six. What were some of the most popular pours? Will the affection for sours ever end? What was up with that guy in the chicken costume? Ahead, our Hangover Observations from the gala.

· We heard tell that some of the folks at the front of the line had camped out overnight the evening before—no mean feat, considering the cold, rainy weather this weekend. They may have been disappointed that when the crowd was finally allowed in, they were encouraged to mass in a big lump, as opposed to let in one by one, meaning getting there super-early didn't confer too much of an advantage.

· When the rush was unleashed, the crowd all headed (some of them running) to one place: the Russian River booth, in search of a glass of Pliny the Younger. The line immediately stretched nearly the entire length of the Concourse Exhibition Center, and didn't abate all night. (We later heard the ultra-rare brew referred to as "Liney the Longer.") Irony: The equally rare (and to our minds, even more delicious) Beatification was also on tap, but most folks zoomed right by it.

· It also didn't escape notice that the organizers placed the Pliny line right next to the evening's live rock band, which kicked up immediately after it formed. Not that ringing ears seemed to dissuade anyone.

· Sour beers were hotter than ever this year, with The Rare Barrel showcasing a top-notch gose, Almanac bringing four knockout sours to the party (the Valley of the Heart's Delight, a barrel-aged sour with apricots, loquats, and cherries, was our favorite), and Triple Rock and Sante Adairius teaming up on two versions of their barrel-aged saison, Cellarman.

· A lot of people take their beer-event outfits really seriously. We saw faux-Trappist monks, women in St. Pauli Girl ensembles, and no end of homebrew-club T-shirts and ridiculous mug hats.

· Moonlight Brewing has mostly eschewed the barrel-aging and fruit-adding trends, but a spectacular wine-barrel-aged Death & Taxes and a beautifully balanced Reality Czech pilsner with the slightest hint of cherries are strong arguments in favor of their getting on board with that trend.

· Anchor's new IPA, which they dropped their long-running Bock in favor of bringing on board, drew an appreciative crowd.

· Seemingly everyone was wearing necklaces strung with pretzels on a piece of ribbon (presumably for hands-free access). We searched in vain for their origin point, but ended up pretzel-less.

· One of the best things about the local craft-brew community is its supportiveness. At nearly every booth, brewers were exhorting us to go sample something great they just tried from their technical "competition."

· The Beer Week Award For Committedness goes to the guy in the chicken suit tirelessly flogging Soul Groove's chicken-and-waffle sandwiches. In general, food choices were on point for sopping up the booze: Alicia's tamales, Rosamunde sausages, Belly Burgers, and soft pretzels were all big players.

· We're told the party continued well into the wee hours at Cellarmaker (which made a strong debut showing this year), with beer insiders getting "really sloppy," as one attendee confessed to us through the veil of hangover the next day.

· The 15 Best Events of SF Beer Week 2014 [~ ESF ~]
· 27 New and Forthcoming Bay Area Beer Spots [~ ESF ~]