The ever-popular SF Beer Week festivities begin in just two and a half weeks, and if you want in on the opening weekend tasting event featuring almost every craft brewery in Northern California, you'd better get on it.

Tickets are on sale now for the SF Beer Week Opening Night Gala, which is happening on February 7 at Pier 35, and this year's event will again feature around 125 brewers, each serving up tasting pours of three or four or more of their beers. And this event is special in part because it's the only time of year that this many NorCal breweries are assembled in one place, and brewers tend to do a lot of showing off for each other — something that is just an added bonus for beer geeks and hobbyist homebrewers looking for an update on the state of the art of beer-making.

(This is not to be confused with Bay Area Brew Fest, which is a newer event happening this weekend, on January 25, in two sessions at Fort Mason, and features about 80 breweries.)

General admission tickets for the Beer Week opening are $80, and VIP tickets are $125. The main event goes from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., but VIP ticket holders get in an hour early, at 5 p.m., to taste stuff in relative peace before the real lines start to form.

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The gala on that opening Friday is followed by ten days of smaller events spanning all over the Bay, with nearly every beer bar and brewery taproom hosting at least one, and tons of restaurants participating as well. But the opening gala is the only time to taste across the spectrum of breweries, with a couple dozen participating from each of five regions: San Francisco, East Bay, North Bay (and points north), Silicon Valley, and the Coast.

A word of advice to newbies at the gala: Don't waste so much time in those lines! Whenever possible, seek out the brewers who don't have the name recognition and cult status, and you may be more than pleasantly surprised. These beer fests always have their stars — in the case of SF Beer Week, one of the perennial cult favorites is Russian River Brewing and their annual Pliny the Younger release. But that super-rich triple IPA has, in this editor's humble opinion, been eclipsed over time by many, many more interesting beers, and it's hardly the only show worth seeing at this highly diverse tasting event.

SFist will bring you some more specific updates about the festival as the calendar solidifies. But check out the schedule as it stands here.

Photo: SF Beer Week/Instagram