Dave McLean is a busy man these days. The owner and head brewer at Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in the Haight launched a second production facility in the Dogpatch earlier this spring. His new location also houses Smokestack — a full-on barbecue restaurant with a menu designed to match his beers. He's also the founding member of the thriving San Francisco Brewers Guild.
And if that seems like a lot of responsibilities to juggle, consider his summer task: organizing and curating Beer Lands, a comprehensive collection of craft beer pouring at the seventh annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival this August.
"For me, curating the Beer Lands list starts with the overall identity that Outside Lands has cultivated over the years, especially around its food and beverage options," says McLean. "The whole festival is special in my opinion because of the way it expresses such a strong sense of place. You never forget that you are smack in the middle of one of the great urban parks of the world and that you are in San Francisco. The feeling is amplified by the presence of so many great San Francisco restaurants that bring their experiences out to the park for the weekend."
That sense of place informs the tap list, relying heavily on locally sourced beers. And although many of the Bay Area favorites featured at OSL are potential competitors of Magnolia, it's clear that McLean doesn't regard them in that vein. For him, and to most craft brewers, they are all part of one big, hoppy family. It's a refreshing industry model to behold.
"What has worked for me so far is to start as close to the festival as possible and make sure there is good San Francisco brewery presence there to match the S.F. restaurant/food presence," he says. But McLean understands that the Golden State has a vibrant craft scene up and down the coast. "I just work outward from [the city], adding in a lot of nearby Bay Area breweries and rounding out the list with some farther flung NorCal breweries and a few from SoCal and the Central Coast, just to keep it interesting."
And although McLean is willing to look beyond the bounties of the Bay Area, he does set up firm geographic boundaries. "I've stuck with an all-California list, which feels like a good way to go about it for this unique festival," he says. This narrowed focus allows him to concentrate on the dynamics distinguishing our state's varied field of craft beer. "I try to be mindful about a mix of new and classic breweries, small and large, and, of course, assembling an overall menu that has a diverse range of beer styles so that people can get a taste of the breadth and depth of the California craft beer culture," he says.
With such an embarrassment of riches, McLean's greatest challenge is not what to include at Beer Lands, but what to leave out: "The hardest part is that there are just so many great breweries in California and so few spaces to fill."
The lifelong brewer and craft beer enthusiast is motivated by the throngs of fellow craft connoisseurs populating the Golden Gate Park polo fields every August. There's a clear sense from his passion that this "extracurricular activity" is more a labor of love than anything else. Plus, it's great for business.
"I love the way the energy of the festival spills out into the surrounding neighborhoods, especially the Haight, before and after the festival. Magnolia and Alembic [another McLean-owned bar] both see a bit of that energy, with people stopping in for brunch before and for dinner, drinks and beer after," he says. "There's no missing the fact that 60,000 people are nearby for the weekend!"