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Jan 11, 2010 08:28 PM

Favorite SF Microbrew Beer Bars

I'll be in San Francisco for Beer Week and am wondering where the best places to go are to try amazing local (and nonlocal) microbrews? I definitely prefer brews on draft, but if someone knows of a place with an outstanding bottle list would love to know about that too! I'm a pretty big critic when it comes to beer lists, only because I've been spoiled rotten by Philly which has a ridiculously good beer scene. So bonus points if anyone can tell me where to find an oude gueze or sour beer on tap!


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  1. Toronado, City Beer Store, Monk's Kettle, La Trappe. But definitely, Toronado, first and foremost.

    2 Replies
    1. re: shellshock24

      Toranado is a great place but beer week also coincides with the Toronado Barleywine Festival (Epic in it's own right.) So go to the Toronado early in the week if you want to try a variety of local micros in a vast number of styles. (Don't miss the fest if your stay lasts that long.) La Trappe is very Belgian Focused and totally awesome but if you're looking for local Pales/IPAs that kind of thing, not so much. Want the freshest keg of Lagunitas IPA you're likely to find? Go to the Hog Island oyster bar in the back of the ferry terminal.
      Most neighborhoods have at least one good multi-tap alehouse with local offerings. So depending on where you're staying you could find a good "nightcap" place. (Jack's Taps in the cannery for example if you're staying in the Fisherman's wharf area has a lot of locals. It's also staggering distance from LaTrappe.)

      1. re: Kevin B

        Lucky 13 on Market has become one of my favorites lately. It's a bit divey, but no more so than Toronado, and much friendlier. They have 25 taps and a very good happy hour til 8 where you can have Dogfish Head 90 or Pliny the Elder, among others, for $3 a pint. But for some strange reason, most people seem to be drinking tall cans of PBR for $2.

    2. The Toronado is legendary. Further up Haight (towards Golden Gate Park) is the Magnolia brewpub. It's been several years, but I used to enjoy their Stout of Circumstance and Proving Ground IPA.

      1. check out the city beer map project for locations of pubs, gastropubs, beer stores and breweries.
        Best bets for Belgian beer are Monk's Kettle, The Trappist, La Trappe, Cafe Biere. Toronado also has several Belgians and Belgian style beers (like Allagash and Unibroue) on tap. For German lagers, Suppenkuche seems to have the best tap list. City Beer has lots of Belgian bottles and six taps. For $1 over retail, you can have them pour a bottle for you in the appropriate glassware. There are several Bay Area producers worth checking out as well, especially Russian River Brewing for Belgian style ales. I write a blog about Bay Area beer, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post the link on here.

        7 Replies
        1. re: chuckl

          Chuck, can you post it? I'd love to read it! Thank you for the great info. Actually I'm going to be moving out to the area soon as well and was wondering if anyone knows a great distributor that can get half kegs of things like Ommegang Rouge, Bell's Two Hearted, or Dogfish Head's Festina Peche?

          1. re: MaddyK


            check with Perry's Liquors in Livermore about half kegs or new star-ell or Healthy Spirits in San Francisco. Ask for Harpreet at Perry's. Monument Liquors in Concord might help too. Also, K&L wines is expanding their beer selection, particularly in Redwood City. You can also talk to Craig and his wife, Beth, at City Beer. They seem to know what's going on with beer, Belgians in particular, all over the Bay Area.Also, not sure what your travel plans are, but San Francisco Beer Week starts on Feb. 5 and includes a double IPA festival and a barleywine festival

            1. re: chuckl

              I can't wait for the DIPA Fest and Barleywine Festival. Legendary festivals!

            2. re: MaddyK

              In CA, you don't buy your beer through a distributor like it is set up in PA. You also don't have to buy beer by the case or go to a bar to get a six pack. Beer can be bought at liquor stores, super markets, and convenience stores. A good beer/liquor store should be able to order a keg of Ommegang Rouge. We don't get Bell's in CA. DFH only sends out a few beers to CA. Festina Peche is one that is distributed, but kegs may be tough to order.

              Since you like sours you need to go to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. If you know beer, I shouldn't have to tell you this. Best IPAs and Belgian styles made in the US. They also will have Pliny the Younger on tap at the brewery starting 2/5/10 and at places like Toronado the following week.

              In SF I would go to Toronado, Rogue, La Trappe, Monk's Kettle, 21st Ammendment, and Magnolia. Anchor Brewing does a great tour but it gets booked up early. City Beer Store and Healthy Spirits are good for bottles.

              If you do go to Russian River, you can also stop at Marin Brewing, Moylans, Lagunitas, and Bear Republic.

              1. re: pininex

                I am bummed about Bell's, but excited about touring Russian River, which is already on the agenda! :) Their Belgians are fantastic. I am also excited to visit Bear Republic, as I'm a big fan of their IPAs. The XP Pale Ale is one of my go-to favorites when I don't want something heavy and just want to kick back. I've had Lagunitas but never Marin or I'll be excited to give those a try too.

                1. re: MaddyK

                  Also be sure to try some beers from Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa. They don't make a lot, not even enough to bottle, but everything i've had from them so far has been very good. Moonlight is available at the good pubs all over the Bay Area.

                  1. re: chuckl

                    I second the Moonlight Brewing suggestion. When you are in Santa Rosa there is a restaurant two blocks from Russian River called Flavor that always has 6 Moonlight beers on tap. Toronado usually has 3-4 Moonlight beers on tap at all times and Monk's Kettle usually has a few.

          2. I'm going to go against the consensus here and say that Toronado, while legendary, isn't my favorite place in SF. I don't love the atmosphere, and I don't know how diligent they are about cleaning their taps. It's still a place you should go, but there are other places I enjoy more. That said, they clearly have the best and most diverse tap lineup.

            I like 21st Amendment - some of their beers are really good. Rogue has a pub in North Beach that's worth a visit. Also, if you're there alone, try to make it on the Anchor Brewery tour. Well worth the time.

            Lastly, if you can rent a car I strongly suggest a trip to Santa Rosa (about 40 minutes north of the city) and the Russian River Brewing pub.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Josh

              A lot of people have mixed feelings about the Toronado. It's one of those places where you sort of hold your nose (sometimes literally) and concentrate on the goodness of the beer. 46 taps ain't too shabby. Zeitgeist is a bit like that too, though with fewer taps to go with their somewhat surly attitude. Sometimes I think dive bars like this go out of their way to be the antithesis of the chain brew pubs. It helps if you go when it's not too crowded, like in the afternoon. Plus the prices are better too. I haven't been to the Toronado in San Francisco, but I've heard it's a much nicer experience.

              1. re: chuckl

                Did you mean Toronado in San Diego? That is nicer than the SD one, for sure.

                1. re: Josh

                  yes, sorry, i meant toronado san diego

                  1. re: chuckl

                    Thanks for being honest and not holding back! It's good to know that Toronado doesn't always clean their taps and that it's kind of divey. It won't prevent me from going there, as I'm still a sucker for 40+ taps, but it is good to know because sometimes you're just not in the mood to deal with that kind of a scene. There are a few places in Philly like that--Eulogy, Monk's--that are pretty grimey so I don't hit them as often as I might if they were cleaned a bit more regularly.

                    Any big beer festivals in the area I should know about?

                    1. re: MaddyK

                      double ipa festival at the bistro in hayward on feb 6th, barleywine festival at the toronado on the 13th, i think, and a lot of cool beer events in between all over the bay area. key with toronado is to go early, as nights tend to be a bit crazy. I've not experienced bad taps there, but that's not to say it doesn't happen. Also, there's good food available right outside that you're welcome to bring in. Rosamunde's next door makes fabulous sausages.

                      1. re: chuckl

                        Tips for the Toronado Barleywine Fest. (Some of you probably know these and I stole them all by observation.)

                        Go Early! Before they open! Like an hour at least! By noon on day one you will not be able to find a seat or likely even some standing room. By the end of day one the first, second and third place judging winners will be gone.

                        Go with a group. (I blew this one my first year.) Even at 4 oz it's better to share with 3-4 people than to try to get through all the breweries you want to try (or all the taps, good luck) and still make your way home.

                        Bring a couple empty cardboard six pack holders. The small sample glasses fit perfectly and wouldn't you rather be at your table sampling 12 beers than at the bar fighting for a bartender's attention?

                        Have a Merguez sausage at Rossamund's and some German potato salad. Or the massive Falafel sandwich at Aladdin.

              2. re: Josh

                I agree, the service and the smell can be off-putting. I've been going there for years and somewhat have the privilege of some of the bartenders recognizing me so I get treated fairly well (which would be average service any where else). The biggest thing for me is that Toronado is just cheaper than other places. And if you go to there happy hour (7 days a week unitl 6:30p), some of the beers are an outright steal. I prefer the Trappist, but I'm just too lazy to make the trek to the East Bay, so I put up with Toronado SF.

                1. re: shellshock24

                  Have you tried Lucky 13 on Market?

                  1. re: chuckl

                    I have on a few ocassions. While a nice beer list in the Castro, nothing really outstanding. If I'm in the area I definitely try to hit up Lucky 13 or trek over to Zeitgeist, but both places don't have any standout offerings IMO.

                    1. re: shellshock24

                      three reasons I like Lucky 13 SF: Pliny the Elder, Dogfish Head 90, Black Butte Porter and others. Not a lot of Belgians beyond Duvel and Chimay, but those are pretty outstanding American microbrews. happy hour $3 pints. Hard to beat that. It's easily accessible via muni metro. And without the Zeitgeist attitude