Teetotaler seeks beer advice...
I'm planning a fairly casual party in a few weeks, but as a non-drinker (nothing moral, just generally don't like the taste) I'm completely clueless when it comes to interesting stuff to have on hand.
It's kind of a young, hipster crowd, so PBR is probably a given. Aside from that, I've only heard random bits about Hoegaarden being decent, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, and Badger Tangle Foot (?) as a sweet alternative. I'd love to get something tasty/interesting/drinkable for everyone in the beer spectrum, and cost really isn't an issue.
Any suggestions or bay-area microbreweries I should check out?
As Jeff mentioned, City Beer is a great resource for harder to find, exotic beer. That being said, Whole Foods has a pretty good selection, especially the one on 4th St and Harrison.
Personally, I find Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA to be really malty. If you want a good local IPA, try Lagunitas, Anderson Valley or Drake's. Lagunitas' Censored or Trumer Piis are some other good choices, if you want something less hoppy. Anchor Christmas and Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice are available now too, if you want some winter warmer beers.
Assuming you are in the city, the 2 stores that you should go to are City Beer and Healthy Spirits. Both have a nice selection of beers.
The one beer you need to stock up on is Pliny the Elder by Russian River out of Santa Rosa. They bottle the beer in 16 oz. bottles and it is incredible. It is extremely hoppy and aromatic, but so well balanced that most people end up liking it. It blows away Dogfish Head 90 Minute in terms of freshness and taste and they even give the brewed on date on the bottle (I currently have a few in my fridge that were bottled on 12/30/08).
I also get good responses from people when I serve Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde and Duvel. Both are lighter colored beers that still pack some nice alcohol warmth.
Instead of doing PBR cans, I say buy any of the canned offerings made by Oskar Blues out of Colorado. They make a great pale ale named Dale's and they have an imperial stout named Ten Fidy.
If you want to do some trappist Belgian beers, try something different than Chimay and go with Westmalle's Triple and Rochefort's 8 and 10.
As for six packs, here are a few suggestions:
IPA: Green Flash West Coast IPA; Stone IPA; Ballast Point Big Eye IPA; Speakeasy Big Daddy.
Holiday Beers: Sierra Nevada Celebration (really an IPA); Anchor Christmas.
Stouts: North Coast Old Rasputin; Deschutes Obisidan Stout
Porter: Anchor Porter; Deschutes Black Butte Porter
City Beer Store
1168 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
2299 15th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
questions like this are hard.
If this is a party of 20 or 30 people, you probably don't need more than a case of pbr and a case of "other". In that case, the other should be a selection of 6s, in which case you'd want a spread. Like a six of something christmas, a 6 of something local IPA and well known (speakeasy or lagunitas), a 6 of something more unusual (I like the 2-degrees-below by fat tire right now, Dogfish Head might be a good choice) and a 6 of something light and more well known - hoegarden, traumer pils. You could also add a few tall boys of chimay and glasses. Jam 'em all in a cooler and call it a night.
But if you're talking more than 100 people, you're dealing with a more complicated serving situation and want to keep it simple. You might consider going with two cases of PBR in a cooler and a 5 gal mini-keg, in which case you're going to have a harder choice, and you'll have to pick your battles. This time of year I'd go with something a little heavier and maltier like a west-coast IPA or Ale - Racer 5, Anderson Valley, Speakeasy, something from Russian River, etc. Whatever you can actually get ahold of in a small keg.
BevMo is not unreasonable for small kegs, and you can view their selection easily. They don't stock a huge selection of good, small kegs but they have a few and pickup & return is easy.
Closer to summer I'd consider Hoegarden for the keg, but not this month.
And if you really want to be cool - PBR is so over. Try Tecate or no-names from Trader Joes - send a beer drinking friend on a mission. Buy 6 6-packs from TJ's and report back on what's drinkable.
hope that helps....