Beer Lands has been a beloved component of Outside Lands since its introduction in 2012. Our hub for craft beer celebrates the creativity and passion of the Bay Area’s brewing community, with beers from more than 30 local breweries. Check out this year’s lineup here!
Since day one, Beer Lands has been curated by Bay Area beer aficionado Dave McLean - co-founder of Admiral Maltings, and previously known for founding Magnolia Brewing Company and Alembic Bar. In celebration of the 2019 Beer Lands lineup announcement, we sat down with Dave to learn more about Beer Lands, his process, and his work beyond the festival.
What’s your process for curating the Beer Lands lineup at Outside Lands? What factors do you take into account?
This is the eighth year of Beer Lands and the craft beer movement has grown and changed so much even in those eight years. Meanwhile, the Beer Lands footprint hasn’t changed in quite awhile - so we still have a finite number of spaces available. That makes curating Beer Lands a juggle that starts with returning breweries, some of whom have been with us all eight years. It’s always been my goal with Beer Lands to showcase as broad and diverse a selection of breweries and beers as possible, keeping in mind some of the logistical considerations that come into play at an event of this size. At its best, the glorious diversity of Bay Area brewing, large and small, is represented, as is a good cross section of longtime local legends and relative newcomers.
Craft beer has become a staple at many music festivals. What makes the Beer Lands lineup and experience special?
Outside Lands had already established itself for its efforts at creating a strong sense of place and celebrating the local food culture as much as the music. That was an easy sentiment to get behind and try to amplify with Beer Lands. Even in the beginning, Beer Lands was made up only of California-based breweries. And as the local beer culture has grown over those years, Beer Lands has doubled down on local—all Beer Lands breweries are from Northern California these days and a great many of them are from San Francisco itself or very close by in the Bay Area. I haven’t seen this kind of commitment to local beer at other music festivals.
Besides Beer Lands, what is your favorite thing about Outside Lands?
Since the music is probably a given, I’d say my other favorite thing is spending three days in Golden Gate Park. It’s San Francisco’s backyard and seeing the festival come to life within its familiar forests, fields and trails each year never gets old.
Any recommendations on pairings for the Outside Lands music lineup? Which beers go best with which bands?
I find that each year is, for me, more and more about discovering new (to me) music. And if I correlate that back to beer, I’d say that there’s also a growing, adventuresome, experimental side of the beer world these days that fits right into this approach. From IPA variations (like hazy and brut) to experimental goses and all kinds of unusual brewing adjuncts turning up, trying new beers, checking out new music, and discovering new pairings feels like the right theme this year.
What are you excited about in the beer industry, particularly around the Bay Area?
I’m excited by how far brewers have come in learning their craft and committing to continual improvement in brewing. There’s so much more knowledge and information out there now than there was 20-30 years ago when I was first getting into it, and it is all shared so freely and spread so effectively thanks to the strong community spirit that continues to be part of our industry. If you aren’t making great beer and trying to make it better, it’s not for lack of access to info and knowledge these days. I’m also excited to see our local brewers guild, which started as the SF Brewers Guild, grow into a regional organization connecting brewers around the extended Bay Area, from Monterey to Sonoma. As competitive as recent growth has made things, it’s important to stick together and help each other make good beer.
The craft beer scene is always evolving with new techniques and trends. What’s next?
I think we’ve evolved toward a series of parallel “nexts”. For everyone out there chasing the latest iteration of the never-ending IPA craze (and its various new hop addition techniques and hop varieties), there’s also someone applying everything they know to a revival of continental-inspired lagers and pilsners or pushing the envelope with wood-aging, spontaneous fermentation, or use unusual adjuncts. But since you are talking to a malt guy, one of the more exciting trends I see is a movement toward local malt, since malt is the backbone of beer. There’s a craft malting movement that has emerged around the country as a way for brewers to differentiate themselves and make truly local beer.
What are you up to when you’re not curating Beer Lands?
These days, my world revolves around Admiral Maltings in Alameda. We’re the first malting company in California of the modern era and one of the only maltsters in the country employing the traditional method of floor malting. I spend a lot of time talking with brewers about how we make malt, where we source our grain, and helping them work our local malt into their local beer. Some of them let me come and brew with our malt with them, which helps satisfy my itch to keep brewing and to stay close to the process. I also do some consulting when there’s something I have to share that can be of help to a brewer or brewery owner. I’ve learned so much over my almost 30 years in and around beer and brewing and it feels good to pass some of that knowledge along and forward. Beyond that, I still try to squeeze in a Phish show or three every year and catch as much other live music as I can.
How did you get into craft beer?
I found myself drawn toward the breweries and brewpubs that were popping up in Boston (where I was living at the time) and elsewhere on the east coast in the late 80s. Brewpubs in particular fascinated me. For something that I grew up associating with giant, industrial factories, it was a trip to walk into a place where the beer was made right there. I guess it was a happy accident but they weren’t always the best at checking ID at the time, either (and I wasn’t yet 21). But the deal was really sealed in the parking lots of Dead shows, circa 1990-91. Deadheads seemed to be early adopters of craft beer, maybe because it was indie and not corporate. So many of my “firsts”, like first Sierra Nevada Pale, for example, happened in the lot, purchased out of a cooler. Music and craft beer have been intertwined for me ever since.
What is your favorite beer or type of beer?
The brewer in me appreciates experimental, extreme and/or intense beers but almost more in a professional and intellectual way and not so much for my drinking pleasure. Before I learned to make beer (and the reason I learned to make beer) is because I really like to drink it. And so I like the kinds of beer that I can enjoy 2-3 of, maybe not spend too much time overthinking what I’m drinking, and just enjoy the fact that it’s incredibly well made and fresh. I’m happiest with a great expression of a pale ale, a Kölsch or a pilsner for that reason, or a perfect pint of English bitter if I find myself in the UK.
Do you have a “white whale” beer? Something you’re dying to get ahold of that is rare or hard to find?
I know there’s a ton of collecting and trading and whale hunting that goes on in the beer world these days but I just can’t get myself to that place with beer. Beer for me is as much or more about what’s happening around me, who I’m with, what else I’m doing, etc. as it is about collecting taste experiences. Even if I’m particularly focused on tasting beer at a moment (visiting a brewery, for example), I’m more excited by what might be fresh and in really great shape, or something the brewer is excited about and proud of, than whatever might be rare or hard to find. I do have certain favorites that have spoken to me over the years and sometimes I find myself dying to go back to those places and to drink those beers again. But I’m always open to finding the next beer that speaks to me that same way!