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Beertown, U.S.A.: San Francisco

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CATEGORIES: Beertown   Feature  

Long home to one of the country’s most innovative food scenes, San Francisco is producing plenty of exciting brews lately, too.

by Brendan Spiegel


A decade ago, even the most devoted beer geek would have been hard-pressed to name a San Francisco-made beer beyond the long-popular Anchor Steam (Potrero Hill, anchorbrewing.com). Today, the city is teeming with craft, micro- and nanobreweries. The newest kids in town, Southern Pacific Brewing (The Mission, southernpacificbrewing.com), opened in January, turning a former machine shop into a very California take on the beer hall, with reclaimed wood tables, indoor trees and 22 taps, including a Belgian-style white ale brewed with candied ginger. Thirsty Bear (SoMa, thirstybear.com) offers unique organic brews like Golden Vanilla, a session ale “dry-hopped with vanilla beans, as well as collaborations with start-up SF nanobreweries such as Local Brewing (localbrewingco.com), plus a menu of Spanish tapas and live flamenco dancing. Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery (Haight-Ashbury, magnoliapub.com) specializes in bitter English-style beers, and a dedicated cask cellar turns out a stellar selection of wood-conditioned brews. Brand-new gypsy brewer Pacific Brewing Laboratory (pacbrewlab.com) hosts pop-up events around town; its inventive beers—Squid Ink is a black IPA brewed with enough roasted malts that it’s darker than Guinness—can already be found at most serious beer bars around town, including The Monk’s Kettle(The Mission, monkskettle.com). That’s also a good place to sample


beers from year-old Triple Voodoo Brewing (triplevoodoobrewing.com), whose Inception Ale is a Belgian-style beer gone Californian, with an overload of hoppy flavors. All these newbies make 12-year-old 21st Amendment Brewery (SoMa, 21st-amendment.com) look like a veteran, but it still consistently produces new winners like Hop Crisis, a bold, citrusy imperial IPA (and one of DRAFT’s top 25 beers of 2011).


Sauerkraut, soft pretzels and full liters of German beers like Weihenstephaner Helles are on tap at the DIY-style Biergarten (Hayes Valley, biergartensf.com), where the bar is set inside a shipping container and picnic tables are scattered around an abandoned construction lot. A rotating selection of Bay Area brews from the likes of Bear Republic, Lagunitas and Moonlight are available to stay or go at casual bar/bottle shop Pi Bar (The Mission, pibarsf.com), which also serves up New York-style pizza—topped with local and organic veggies, of course. The granddaddy of SF beer bars, dive-y Toronado Pub (Lower Haight, toronado.com) is not the prettiest place to park, but with roughly four-dozen beers on tap at any given time, mostly from the West Coast, the selection is hard to beat. A surprising find far from the tourist crowds, neighborhood craft beer and burger bar The Dark Horse Inn (Crocker-Amazon, darkhorseinn.com) is worth the trek for knowledgeable bartenders, meet-the-brewer nights and Northern California gems like Drake’s Hopocalypse and Moylan’s Pomegranate Wheat Ale. Finally, skip the tour bus and hop on Brewtruc (brewtrucsf.com), the city’s first taproom-on-wheels. Rare finds from area nano- and homebrewers like Muddy Puddle (muddypuddlebrew.tumblr.com) and Poplar Brewing (poplar brewingcompany.com) are served on rides to scenic locales like Twin Peaks. dine Nearly every ethnic cuisine can be found within these city limits; start with one of the most obscure at Burma Superstar (Inner Richmond, burmasuperstar.com), featuring creative takes on Burmese and Chinese cuisine in dishes like the 22-ingredient rainbow salad and platha—a rich, multilayered fried bread dipped in coconut chicken curry. The West Coast’s fishable bounty is on display at Pacific Catch(Marina, pacificcatch.com), an always-crowded hole-in-the-wall serving mahi mahi tacos and seared ahi tuna layered on


ginger-sesame-wasabi rice bowls. In the once-seedy, increasingly trendy Tenderloin area, Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen (Tenderloin, jasperscornertap.com) is a neighborhood bar-and-grill kicked up a notch, with Wagyu beef burgers, pork-belly-avocado grilled cheese and truffle parmesan French fries, plus 18 tap beers, 60 bottles and beer cocktails. For fancier foodies, the 11-course tasting menu at Coi (North Beach, coirestaurant.com) offers the definitive take on Northern California cuisine, utilizing foraged flowers, wild-harvested leaves, local seaweeds and organic meats in far-out fare like asparagus soup with coconut milk.


It doesn’t get more eco-friendly than The Good Hotel (SoMa, thegoodhotel.com), a hip, affordable property featuring a recycled-chic design, with everything from light fixtures crafted out of water containers to bedspreads made from soda bottles. There’s even free parking for hybrid drivers. A renovated Best Western in the Japantown neighborhood, Hotel Tomo (Japantown, jdvhotels.com) has recently been redone with a whimsical “J-Pop” theme that makes each room feel like an anime cartoon. The arty Hotel Palomar (Union Square, hotelpalomar-sf.com) has a “local brew for two” package that fills the in-room mini-fridge with a range of Anchor beers. San Francisco’s newest hotel is also one of its most scenic: The 22-room Inn at the Presidio (The Presidio, innatthepresidio.com) occupies a historic building inside the 1,500-acre Presidio, a national park set at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Nowhere is this city’s creative spirit more evident than in its increasingly wacky ice cream scene. Humphry Slocombe (The Mission, humphryslocombe.com) has far-out flavors like Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes). Nearby, Bi-Rite Creamery (The Mission, biritecreamery.com) serves orange cardamom ice cream with foodie-friendly sundae toppings like bergamot olive oil, Maldon sea salt and balsamic vinegar. Smitten Ice Cream (Hayes Valley, smittenicecream.com), conveniently right next to Biergarten, tops frozen chai with rose petal syrup and pistachio brittle. Best for beer lovers: Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (Dogpatch, 415.970.0750), near the Giants’ baseball stadium, has a “Ballpark” flavor made with Anchor Porter, chocolate-covered peanuts and pretzels. •



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