The SF Beer Week pressure valve was released on Friday, February 13, after weeks of social media fervor bolstered anticipation. With tickets in one hand and nervous fingers twitching for a treasured tasting glass, attendees formed a line that stretched around the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

At 3:30pm the doors leading to the Gala swung open for the ninety-minute VIP session. Inside Bay Area breweries lined the walls and occupied an island of taps in the center of the large room. For the time being, the floor was spacious and hopheads rushed around searching for the rare and unreleased. A line quickly formed in front of Russian River Brewing for a small keg of Pliny the Younger that emptied in minutes, but there was plenty of incredible beer to go around.

The highlight of the evening was the panel discussion that featured several brewing luminaries that included Terrence Sullivan, Vinnie Cilurzo, Pete Slosberg, Brian Hunt, Mark Carpenter, Shaun O’Sullivan, and Matt Brynildson. Rich Higgins, president of the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild, lobbed questions that fueled a wide-ranging discussion filled with history and knowledge laced with a passion for craft beer. Several video cameras were documenting the dialogue, which will hopefully reach a wider audience.

With highlights also come low-lights. When the doors opened for general admission at 5:00pm rumbles of discontent also trickled into an already packed hall. The line to get in was immense and ticket holders faced an hour-long wait or more. At one point they were even told capacity had been reached and refunds were offered. Topping it all off, when patient attendees finally crossed the threshold, commemorative glasses were gone in addition to some very desirable beer.

This debacle should have been avoided. Clearly way too many tickets had been sold. Jen Rizzo, author of the blog Pedals and Pints, was caught up in the headache and offers a very insightful editorial on her website.

Once tensions were eased with beer, the night carried on with tremendous fanfare. The Gala kicked off a week filled with over 300 tastings, beer dinners and other special events that will leave many beer connoisseur’s pleased in the end.

Update (2/14/2011): In response the difficulties surrounding the Gala festivities, organizers issued the following response via e-mail to ticket holders, which includes info on refunds and glassware.

Dear SF Beer Week Opening Gala ticket holders,

Thank you for your continued support of local craft beer and SF Beer Week! While the Opening Gala was a success on many fronts, we’d like to address our capacity issues with you, below.

We are profoundly sorry that some ticket holders couldn’t enter the Opening Gala. We are awed by your overwhelming support of the craft beer industry.  In brief, the problems we encountered were as follows:

1.  Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the fire marshal and SF Beer Week planners all had different understandings of the event’s traffic flow and capacity. We sold tickets based on the total capacity for the venue.  On the night of the event, the YBCA and fire marshal worried that too many people in one particular area of the entire venue created a hazard.

2.  Peoples’ enthusiasm for particular beers created lines that crowded too many people into one particular area of the entire venue.  We could not predict this beer lovers’ bottleneck.  Consequently, YBCA staff limited admission for the entire venue.

We will send refunds to ticketed individuals who were not admitted to the event. The refunds will begin on Monday, Feb 14 through Eventbrite.  If you do not receive your refund by Feb 18, one week after the event, please reply to this email at openinggalasfbeerweek@gmail.com with your name and ticket information. Thank you for your continued patience and support of the many grass root events that combine to create SF Beer Week.

Further, if you did not receive a commemorative glass, more are on their way.  We will be in touch with more information in the week to come!

Best,

SF Beer Week
Opening Gala

Steve Donohue pouring his beer from Firehouse Brewery.

The crew from Devil’s Canyon Brewing.

Sugar filled palate cleansers were available along with a host of other food options.

Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing.

A Russian River Brewing magnum on ice.

Left to right: Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River), Pete Slosberg (formerly Pete’s Wicked Ales), Mark Carpenter (Anchor Brewing), Brian Hunt (Moonlight Brewing), Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker), Shaun O’Sullivan (21st Amendment), Terrence Sullivan (Sierra Nevada)

Shaun O’Sullivan of 21st Amendment snapping photos of the action on stage next to Matt Brynildson from Firestone Walker.

Fan favorite Brian Hunt from Moonlight Brewing.

A new brew on the horizon (bottles were empty).

Tom Dalldorf (left) publisher of Celebrator Magazine with the Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton.

Two generations of brewers, Pete Slosberg with Patrick Horn and Bryan Hermannson of Pacific Brewing Laboratories.

Lead singer of The Brothers Comatose.