I GREW UP in the auto age. When we wanted to buy a quart of milk, or even a chocolate bar or a soda, we had to get in the car and drive to the store.

I've only lived within walking distance of a neighborhood tavern or cafe from my house twice. Once was in Boston. It was a place much like the pub in Cheers, the TV show. But I lived in real Boston: The bar owner, the story goes, didn't pay protection and a stolen gasoline tanker blew up in front of the place early one Sunday morning.

The other time was in Mexico. Every time I return there, I always find someone I know in the place. It's that kind of bar, and it's just down the street from where I used to live.

Back in the States, I don't have that kind of convenience. Brewpubs making fresh and different beer have proliferated, and even average chain restaurants usually stock something like Sam Adams. Still, I mostly buy my beer in bottles and drink at home.

The statistics about drinking and driving are, well, they're sobering. I weigh 165 pounds and two pints makes me legally intoxicated and unable to drive.

So here we have this crazy-making situation: Craft brewers are cranking out some wonderful beers these days. But in our transit-poor society, driving your car to the pub is often the only serious option.

There's a point to this, besides the way our housing is built so we're forced to drive everywhere. Here in the Bay Area we're approaching an amazing couple of weeks of beer-filled events.


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Talk to your favorite designated driver, learn about BART and AC Transit and San Francisco Muni and read on.

In the weeks ahead, the pub's the place. Here's the schedule:

-Strong beer month begins now at two San Francisco brewpubs, 21st Amendment Brewery, 563 2nd St., and Magnolia Pub & Brewery, 1398 Haight St. Between them, they've got eight strong beers, over 8.5 percent, in a variety of styles, some barrel aged, some aged for a year or more, including Golden Doom Belgian-Style Tripel and Hendrik's Russian Imperial Espresso Stout. There are special glasses and

T-shirts, as well.

-Saturday, Feb. 11. Sixth Annual Double India Pale Ale Fest at the Bistro, 1001 B St. in downtown Hayward, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., $20 admission, includes barbecue and live music. This increasingly famous event is craft beer's cutting edge. Dozens of strong, extra hoppy beers from around California and the United States. The Bistro is three blocks from Hayward BART. (510) 886-8525.

- Wednesday, Feb. 15, Beer and Cheese Tasting, Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union St., San Francisco, (415) 362-7880. This is another event that's getting bigger and better each year. Sheana Davis, of the Epicurean Connection, Sonoma, brings artisan cheeses from around Northern California. Rogue supplies the beer, which besides Rogue's best, includes beer from Anderson Valley, Bison. Lagunitas and Russian River. We've posted the entire list on our blogs, http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.insidebayarea.com/beerblog. Tickets $30. Reservations essential: Call (510) 538-2739.

-Friday, Feb. 17. Beer and chocolate dinner, Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Executive chef Bruce Paton holds beer dinners year-round. This one features Scharffen Berger chocolate used in unusual ways and paired with Chimay Trappist ales and Schneider Aventinus. To give you an idea, the first course is a Napoleon of butter-poached lobster, artichoke and celery root with chocolate sauce Americaine, paired with Chimay Cinq Cents. $80 per person. Reservations by Thursday, Feb. 9. (415) 674-3406. Email bpaton@cathedralhillhotel.com. There's also a special room rate for dinner guests at the hotel.

-Saturday, Feb. 18. Toronado Barleywine Fest, Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco. This is the granddaddy of'em all. Proprietor David Keene's not sure how many years this fest's been running. One thing's certain, there will be more than 50 barleywines from around the nation and Europe. Pay by the pint. Fest lasts until the beer is gone, hours for winners of the professionally judged contest, days for other, equally great, strong beer. A barleywine, by the way, is a beer so strong it approaches the strength of wine. Think double digits, or almost. http://www.toronado.com.

-Sunday, Feb. 19, Celebrator 18th Anniversary Party, Trumer Brauerei, 1404 4th St., Berkeley, 4-8 p.m. Cajun-Creole food, music and beer from many West Coast breweries. Sponsored by the Celebrator Beer News. $35. Info, tickets, (800) 430-BEER. Mail checks to Celebrator Party, P.O. Box 375, Hayward, CA. 94541.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.