By: Matt Brasch
San Francisco is famous for many things–like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Prison, and being the birthplace of the Grateful Dead–but now the City by the Bay finds itself as a popular U.S. craft brew tourist attraction. From established craft breweries like Anchor Brewing to exciting brew pubs, the beer scene in San Francisco mirrors the city itself–cool, diverse and happening. Without a doubt, there is a groovy vibe from the 1960s that still permeates San Francisco and adds to the terroir of the locally brewed beers.
21st Amendment Brewery
21st Amendment Brewery was founded in 2000 by brewers Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan. They opened a brewpub in the historic South Park district, south of the new city center and financial district, and only two blocks from the San Francisco Giants ballpark. The proximity to the stadium makes 21st Amendment perfect for pre-game and post-game meals. In April you’ll be able to try the Opening Day IPA, brewed with all pale malt and Cascade hops to celebrate the beginning of the warmer months and the baseball season.
Flights of five are served at the brewpub, so if you visit with a friend who doesn’t mind sharing, two flights will get you a taste of every one of the eight house brews on draft. A regular is the Hell or High Watermelon, a light wheat beer brewed with watermelon, and garnished with a slice of the summertime fruit. The watermelon essence appears and recedes pleasantly, and is a perfect way to quench your thirst after walking the hilly streets of San Francisco.
In 2008, 21st Amendment contracted with Cold Spring Brewing Company in Minnesota to brew and can their beers. This helped to expand production and make their beer available nationwide. Earlier this year, 21st Amendment announced plans to end their agreement with Cold Spring and bring their production back to the Bay Area. As a result of this increased production, many of 21st Amendment’s beers can be found in the Philadelphia area–including the Hell or High Watermelon. But if you ever find yourself in San Francisco, a trip to the brew pub is definitely worth it, especially before a Giants game.
ThirstyBear Brewing Company
A lesser known San Francisco brewery, ThirstyBear Brewing Company, is located a few blocks north of 21st Amendment. It prides itself as the first and only brewery in San Francisco to brew CCOF and FDA certified organic beer. Although overshadowed by larger production breweries, ThirstyBear has been in operation as a brewpub since 1995 and follows a simple philosophy: “to pair the ultimate social beverage, beer, with the ultimate social food, tapas.”
A popular happy hour spot for professionals from the financial district, the ThirstyBear brews an organic brew for every palate–from the Valencia Wheat Belgian Wit to the Kozlov Stout. If you are lucky you will find the Panda Bear on tap– a golden ale infused with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. The amount of chocolate flavor in this amber-colored beverage will have you doing a double-take in disbelief that it is not a stout!
The Toronado Pub
The Toronado Pub has been a craft beer destination on par with Monk’s Cafe since its opening in 1987. Nestled in the Lower Haight section of San Francisco, as soon as you walk into the Toronado you know that you are in a special place. Beyond the bottles and tap handles that adorn the walls, there is something more to this small bar– there is a palpable feeling that everyone there is reveling in the experience of the beer in their hands. And why shouldn’t they? With Pliny the Elder and many other local brews that are hard to find outside the San Francisco area on draft, it is truly a reason to celebrate.
After a visit to The Toronado, a short walk will bring you to the Haight-Ashbury section–the center of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s. Even though the area has changed since the days of hippies and free love, the distinctive architecture remains and there are still enough tie-dye shirts and marijuana references to remind you that this was once an important place in American history. Of course, every Grateful Dead fan who visits the Haight must visit 710 Haight Street, the “infamous” Grateful Dead house where the band was busted for possession in 1967. Although it is privately owned and not open to the public, the evidence of other Deadhead visitors can be seen on the sidewalk and the neighboring houses.
The Mikkeller Bar
After a day of visiting San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory and Lombard Street, the Mikkeller Bar is the perfect place to sit back and relax with a wide range of specialty brews. Located on the ground floor of a Victorian building at 34 Mason Street, the Mikkeller Bar features 40 taps from domestic and international breweries, 2 cask handles, a specialized bottle selection and exclusive Mikkeller house beers, such as Mikkeller Invasion IPA and the Orange Yuzu Glad I Said Porter. The Mikkeller cellar hosts The Tivoli Sour Room, where you will find a large selection of lambic and sour beers from around the world.
In addition to their fantastic beer selection, Mikkeller offers several delicious varieties of house-made sausages that are the perfect complement to your choice of beverage. If you can’t choose between the half smoke sausage (smoked beef and pork with chili, onion and mustard) or the chicken fennel sausage (chicken, fennel and apple slaw), you can always order the sausage sampler platter–all five varieties and their toppings. Once you refill your tank on beer and sausage at the Mikkeller Bar, you may just have the energy to stay out and enjoy San Francisco’s night life!
Not To Be Missed
Other places that you should try to visit if you find yourself in San Francisco:
Anchor Brewing – Founded in 1896, Anchor is famous for its Steam beer and leading the charge in the modern craft beer revolution. Brewery tours are available daily, but by reservation only. You can make your reservation up to 6 months in advance of your visit.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers – Celebrating their 17th anniversary in June, Speakeasy creates their craft beer “with the spirit of the Prohibition Era.” Their Prohibition Ale, an American amber/red ale, won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. The Speakeasy Taproom is located at the brewery and is open every day except Monday.
Russian River Brewing Company – Although it is located a little over an hour north of San Francisco in Santa Rosa, it is well worth the drive. Russian River is renowned for its Pliny the Elder and Younger, as well as its hard to find Belgian-inspired brews like Consecration. Russian River’s Brew Pub is open every day and offers limited release beers that can’t be had anywhere else.
A visit to San Francisco and its craft beer scene will make anyone understand why Tony Bennett sang, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.” Whether you enjoy a 21st Amendment beer at Fisherman’s Wharf or drink a Pliny the Elder with new friends at The Toronado, San Francisco will leave you with a desire to come back soon to the City, and its brews, by the Bay.