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Beer Is Good Food 

Tour the city's breweries and brewpubs this summer.

Wednesday, Jun 24 2009

The art of matching food to beer hasn't quite attained the snob appeal of pairing the perfect wine to that juicy slab of porterhouse, but we're getting there.

Now that microbrews are as much a part of the modern-day dining experience as griddled mizuna and pistachio dust, it's inevitable that the pros and cons of pairing grilled Sonoma duckling with a nice, malty Doppelbock should inspire discussion. Since the microbrew revolution was fomented in our own backyard at about the same time that artisan cheeses, hand-plucked spring greens, and small-batch breadstuffs were turning the Bay Area into Provence West — introducing a generation of Bud-swillers to the diverse pleasures of Boont Amber, Red Tail, and Anchor Steam — it's only natural that these culinary vanguards should meet and mingle as deliciously as possible. Why shouldn't roast chicken be just as tasty with Mt. Tam Pale Ale as with an unassuming Châteauneuf du Pape?

Theoretical ramblings aside, however, even the most complex beer is at its best when its gastronomic companions are on the rustic side — thick burgers, molten enchiladas, smoky platters of barbecue, big slabs of pepperoni pizza — and the best brewpubs are hip to the concept. M.S.

A jaunt to wine country is the local tippler's time-honored choice for passing a summer's weekend, sniffing and sipping and gargling and rinsing your way through the golden hills of Napa and Sonoma. But for many of us, the pleasures of quaffing a beaker of beer are infinitely greater, especially when there's so much delectable product brewed and bottled right here in San Francisco.

Honoring a suds-loving tradition dating back to the Gold Rush, nine local establishments craft an incredible array of artisan beers, some of them bright and floral, some of them rich and creamy, and all of them well worth sampling. Here are the essential stops on a brewery-by-brewery hop through San Francisco.

Anchor Brewing

The grande dame of the San Francisco beer world is Anchor Brewing (1705 Mariposa at De Haro, 863-8350,, which has been mashing the malt for 113 years and still follows traditional, all-natural brewing methods. Touring the Jules Verne–like Potrero Hill plant, agleam with copper vats, tuns, and kettles handcrafted in Germany half a century ago, is an informative pleasure. Here the malted barley stored on the roof is mashed, hopped up, fermented, carbonated, and otherwise converted into Anchor's seven signature brews. The best part is getting to taste several in the handsome brass-and-mahogany taproom afterwards. This incredibly popular 45-minute free tour is offered once per day by telephone reservation only, and in late May was booked up through July.

Speakeasy Ales & Lagers

A more casual experience is provided at 12-year-old Speakeasy Ales & Lagers (1195 Evans at Keith, 642-3371, in Hunters Point. The free 20-minute tour, led by an affable brewmaster with a contagious enthusiasm for his work, meanders past steam-fired stainless steel tanks and kettles and a fascinating bottling-and-conveyor-belt gizmo in a room almost the size of a high school gymnasium. There's a small makeshift bar where you can try half a dozen house brews at $3 per pint, including the Shock and Awe Double Daddy, filtered through a jar of hops just before serving for a particularly bracing kick in the pants. Free popcorn is available, alongside burritos ($3) and taquitos ($1) from La Laguna Taqueria up the street. Tours happen every Friday at 4 p.m., and the bar is open till 9 p.m. through the summer.

Elizabeth Street Brewery

Cooler still are the open houses at the Elizabeth Street Brewery in Noe Valley (798 Elizabeth at Douglass, 244-5496, Every now and then — the schedule is erratic — Richard and Alyson Brewer-Hay invite friends, neighbors, and beer lovers in general to sample the home brews they've been cooking up in five- and ten-gallon batches since 2003. A few years back, their rumpus room was converted into a pub for the While You Were Out decorating reality show, and this friendly wood-and-brick nook is the ideal setting to enjoy free samples of (for instance) Daddy's Chocolate Milk, a rich and creamy stout made with four breeds of malt, including chocolate. Brewing updates and information on the next open house are available via the Web site or Twitter.

San Francisco Brewing Company

San Francisco's six other breweries function primarily as brewpubs, offering suds crafted on the premises and the foods that like them best. The city's oldest, San Francisco Brewing Company (155 Columbus at Pacific, 434-3344,, is a 1907 Barbary Coast saloon where Jack Dempsey was once employed as a bouncer and Baby Face Nelson was apprehended by the FBI. In 1985, it became one of the country's first brewpubs, and it's a pleasure to sit among the century-old stained glass by the brass-trimmed solid mahogany bar, sipping the unpasteurized, unfiltered, and absolutely fresh ales, stouts, and lagers. An uninspired menu of pub grub includes burgers, sandwiches, nachos, and calamari; cellar and brewhouse tour available upon request.

Beach Chalet

Nearly as venerable is the Beach Chalet (1000 Great Highway near Fulton, 386-8439,, built in 1925 and a highly successful seaside brewpub for the past 12 years. After checking out the evocative WPA mural downstairs, grab a table in the elegant dining room, take in the sweeping Pacific panoramas, and sip one of the nine brews crafted in the copper tanks and kettles visible behind the bar — the potent Fleishhacker Stout is especially yummy. The menu of New American comfort food includes Dungeness crab cakes, Star Ranch ribeye with escarole, and a splendid chocolate sandcastle; the more casual Park Chalet out back features burgers, pizzas, crab rolls, and barbecue.

Gordon Biersch

Three South of Market brewpubs provide beer and snacks to beleaguered cubicle drones, Giants fans headed to the ballpark, and the just plain thirsty and rambunctious. At Gordon Biersch (2 Harrison at Embarcadero, 243-8246, the remnants of the dot-com generation purse their lips and preen in a noisy ambience of flatscreen TVs, pressed Dockers, and cobalt-colored cocktails, but the crisp house Hefeweizen and the potato chips draped in blue cheese and bacon are worth investigating.

21st Amendment

The 21st Amendment (563 Second St. at Brannan, 369-0900, cooks up some of the city's more unusual and tasty brews — the Oyster Point Stout and the Hell or High Watermelon Wheat are two fine examples — and the snack items, particularly the pressed Cuban sandwich and the ice cream float made with house-brewed root beer, are just as delectable.


ThirstyBear (661 Howard at Third St., 974-0905, is famous not only for nine all-organic house-brewed beers — check out the lush, malty Brown Bear Ale — but also an impressive selection of Spanish tapas, from fried garbanzos and stuffed squash blossoms to pork belly with anchovy butter and lamb empanadas with mint mojo.


The quintessential San Francisco brewpub just might be Magnolia (1398 Haight at Masonic, 864-7468, in the Haight. Located in a historic Victorian, the place thrums with good vibes, a hip yet welcoming attitude, and the irresistible sound of clinking glasses. Up to 10 highly original beers are produced in the basement brewery — the crisp and summery Weather Report Wheat and the rich and hoppy Blue Bell Bitter are two of our favorites. The menu is impressive, offering bar snacks like duck wings with celery root salad and a fabulous selection of pork, rabbit, and lamb sausages with rainbow chard and cheese grits. What more could the fun-seeking San Franciscan ask for as the summer fog billows through the Golden Gate?

Read more articles from Summer Guide:

Fun Times from Uncle Sugar: Fifteen fabulous ways to stimulate the local economy.

Cheap Musical Thrills: Give your ears — and your wallet — a summer treat.

Reading Highway 1: A literary road trip up the Mendonoma coast.

Hotels, events and books for your trip north on the Highway 1/Shoreline Highway

About The Author

Matthew Stafford


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