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Oct 21, 2012 12:42 PM

11 miles, 10 hours, 50 beers - the epic SF brewery crawl

Yesterday, my beverage and walking friends decided to not just to a winery hike (we do about one a month, 5 to 10 miles, usually one winery) and try to hit all the SF breweries, and try all the beers. While walking. SF being a small town (7x7, 49 squares, etc).

We knew we wouldn't get them all, because on Saturday Anchor Steam doesn't taste. We also trimmed Gordon Biersch and Beach Chalet, leaving us with 7 stops:
Social Kitchen
Southern Pacific
Southpaw BBQ
21st Amendment
Thirsty Bear

We considered avoiding Magnolia, but it was close to our starting point and opens at a reasonable hour, thus our first stop. There, we hit on a formula which allowed us to tipple without overdoing it: ask for all the beers they brew on site, in the smallest possible glass. Each one had some kind of "sampler pour" which ranged from 2oz to 4oz and cost about a buck a taste (very roughly). Among the 6 of us (3 couples), we would split each sampler into 3 parts, and each couple could try every beer.

My co-conspirators all though we could not make more than 2 or 3 stops; and that seven - especially walking - would be out of the question. We'd just get too tired and tipsy. Thanks to some excellent food, and general perseverance, we managed. Of our group, I'm more of the IPA hound, A. is a brit with typical love of body and belgians and dislike of hops, M. who dislikes the strongest of flavors and is more discerning, preferring pinot among wines, and the girls, who generally dislike hops and appreciated the light pilsners and wheats.

We had food in about half of the places. The "thank god" was a Margarita pizza at 21st Amendment, which somehow damped down the excessive hops from Speakeasy and allowed me to continue. The overall cost of the entire day, with a large amount of bites as well as beer, was in the range of $60/pp - with very little tracking, and $4/pp in public transit costs.

Our route took us walking from one side of the city to the other, and we ended up at 3rd street with a mission to get to Speakeasy, so took the T trolley down and back up to SOMA. After thirsty bear, we took the N back out to the upper Height. The walk across buena vista heights, and down through castro/mission, was particularly good - a gorgeous swath of Victorians and architecture. Other than the T ride to speakeasy and back, and the N ride home, everything was on foot. We left our hosts' house at 11am and ended up home just about 9pm. We checked the full walking distance via google maps later, which showed a full 11 miles of hoofwork.

Overall thoughts:

Magnolia - beers are thin. Almost no body. Two beers worth drinking are the Rosebud, which has either rose water or rosemary (we thought rosemary) and the prescription cask. Did not eat the food. Kind of crowded, too, if we had shown up an hour later we wouldn't have dared. Generally a "would not repeat" place.

Social Kitchen - similar body problems to Magnolia, but everything higher in quality. The standout was Rapscallion, the highest in alcohol, which had more "going on" and delighted the group - I didn't love it, though. The IPA is a very classic west coast IPA and true to style. In general, a strong adherence to style. Food was _excellent_, best of the lot to my taste. Sausage was tops, Brussel sprout chips reminiscent of Saison.

Southern Pacific - we enjoyed the hip warehouse setting, and the urban winery next door doing a crush, outdoor seating and too-loud warehouse, but the beer was only fair. Similar to Magnolia and Social Kitchen, a real problem getting any kind of body in the styles that should have them. Most enjoyed was the stout, simply because it had some balance. Food wasn't bad at all - the charcouterie, and the pickles. The "inverted root beer float" was a hit among the girls starting to tire of beer.

Southpaw BBQ - these guys have just one beer vat, and very well curated list of non-southpaw beers. Their house beer, at $4/pint on happy hour, was one of the favorites as well as the cheapest in a restaurant setting. The beer didn't try to be of a particular style, just a solid Amber with a good hops signature (closest maybe to Anderson Valley Boont), thus a strong thumbs up. The food here was decent - more beloved of my travelling companions, such as the Pulled Goat. Being currently up on my BBQ, this is _not a bbq place_, at least, we didn't get a two-way, and all of the smaller bites like my brisket slider shows the BBQ as some kind of imitation. That being said, the food was quite good if you didn't think of it as BBQ, and happy hour pricing of things like $2 sliders can keep the party going. A. listed this as his favorite beer of the crawl, where I had to go with the Speakeasy beers.

Speakeasy - this was tasting in their brewing warehouse, not a brewpub, and it showed. These are awesome and amazing beers, served in a black hole of a secret warehouse out towards hunter's point. They were serving 9 beers (and a root beer) typical to the extraordinary hops Speakeasy is known for. The last three, the Double Daddy, the XV Anniversary, and the Imperial Stout were so over the top in style that they were almost fun, but I left somewhat queasy. The lighter beers - which I had never tried, being less known in Speakeasy's list (witness, eveylyn) were very presentable. The house-made root beer was a good touch for those who had bailed out of the beer program by then. This is worthy of a real beer-lovers stop, even with the hassle of getting out there.

21st Amendment - I was pleasantly surprised. Either my palate was completely blown by this point, or they've upped their game a bit. Although still thin on body, these beers seemed decently balanced, and I would consider drinking there again. The "back in black" was the most interesting, very dark without the cream of a porter, with a solid hops signature. The i5 South tasted well too, a light straw pilsner style with more of a west coast hops. Nothing was bad here. By 6pm on a Saturday, the place was full to the gills with 20ish frat boy SOMA locals and some tourists, which wasn't very pleasant. The food was filling - that cheese pizza was a lifesaver, although lacked sorely in all pizza metrics beside being warm and cheesy - and pleasantly middle of the road.

Thirsty Bear - night had started to fall, but the distance between 21st Amend and TB is small, so we made the trip over and found a lot of tables in the front bar area. TB has a full sampler platter of beers served on a wooden board ("all our beers - $12"), and we ordered bites like Albondigas. The predominant problem with TB is a sour taste in all beers that generally comes with poor hygiene - it's not a sour that you aim for in most of those styles, but can be a result of natural yeast fermentation. The least effected was the Valencia Wheat (which should have some sour in the style anyway). two modified beers - the vanilla and the whiskey stave - allowed for some distraction at the end of the trip. I've never really liked the food there (it's OK but pretentious), and found no real difference this time around. My taste buds were fully fried. Atmosphere was more upscale - the UCSF School of Dentistry was holding a Thing upstairs) - but I always find it a little generic.

Cutting and pasting my tasting notes in CH is hard, so I'll include a link to the spreadsheet with full tasting notes. The categories were made for wine ( you can check us out at ), so have little rhyme and reason for beer, but the "overall" category and "notes" make sense.

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    glad you skipped Gordon as they are closed/closing
    but the Chalet has some great brews. next time

    3 Replies
    1. re: smatbrat

      Everyone involved had been to the Chalet several times before; the phrase was "nice if you want a view of the ocean, otherwise, let's skip it". I'll admit it might be 5 or 8 years since my last visit. I've always liked their dedication to surf music, though.

      What beers there do you consider great, in contrast to the set we tasted?

      ( GB was also skipped because it's a Palo Alto import )

      1. re: bbulkow

        Gordon Biersch in SF has been closed for almost 6 months now, which probably would suffice as a reason to skip them. Don't know what will happen to the space, but I walked by last night and there is definitely some form of construction work going on.

        1. re: nocharge

          D'oh --- had no idea it closed so long ago.

    2. Nice work, bbulkow, and timely for us. Just sent a link to this report to the SO who is the beerhound in the family. Looks like Speakeasy is the standout for the kind of beer he would like. Thanks!

      5 Replies
      1. re: grayelf

        You're welcome. Speakeasy is not easy to find and has odd hours, but worth the trip. They said Friday was the lively afternoon. I didn't mention how dirt-cheap the price is, and interesting knot of restaurants at 22nd and 3rd - a little article here -

        1. re: bbulkow

          Nice link, thanks again. I've been wanting to try Mr and Mrs for ages. Beer and ice cream. Why not?

          1. re: grayelf

            Come out for beer week, they make beer ice cream and beer floats

        2. re: grayelf

          I'd like to suggest Social Kitchen to you, but I don't think (remembering your itinerary) it can knock off any of your other choices. It's a classic california-fresh-ingrediants kind of place. It would be a great choice if you had a planed afternoon at the De Young - especially for afternoon beers and a light snack - on that side of town.

          Speakeasy is great because it's a whole non-dinner non-lunch destination, so a slam dunk.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Good to know about Social Kitchen -- maybe not this trip but next, inshallah. Abbott's Cellar has crept up the list as well so we will have at least one other beer centric target besides Speakeasy.

          1. Well, that sounds like one fine day to me! I would have skipped Beach Chalet as well--I've only been there once but visit the "Lake" version in Oakland enough to have formed a pretty solid "meh" opinion of their brews. I took my friend to Speakeasy last year when he was in town and we had many of the same beers as you did (I think it was early November) and left with very similar impressions of the awesome space and quality of offerings (along with a pretty good buzz on; man they go down easy). Need to go do this again sometime.

            I think Thirsty Bear is the worst of the lot. I kind of put it in the same category as Pacific Coast in Oakland--yeah, I guess they brew beer but it's generic and not especially notable. I do like the Thirsty Bear lamb burger.

            I haven't been to the others, but have visited Anchor Steam on many a Wednesday! This is a great list--thanks for the link from that other thread.

            4 Replies
            1. re: lakemerritter

              I think the take-away, after much reflection, Sf is a good place to drink beer and a lousy place to brew beer. Speakeasy is great. Anchor has its moments (I often like their lighter summer beers). Southpaw was worth a drive. Everywhere else - get a non-SF beer!

              1. re: bbulkow

                a nice afternoon's and evening's work, even for rather disappointing results. thanks. you've confirmed my general priorities for picking a pub -- well kept beers and ales almost always made elsewhere and good grub, not necessarily in that order.

                1. re: moto

                  What I like about RWC's Vesta and MP's Cafe Barrone (same owners) is they have only a few taps (4), one of each major group (a porter, a hefe, a lager, a west coast IPA, roughly), and each one is well selected and kept fresh. At Vesta the IPA is Green Flash, at Barrone it rotates a bit between Lagunitas and Racer 5. My odds at having a pint at Barrone tonight are at least 50/50.

                2. re: bbulkow

                  You could always try an Oakland beer! I think Linden Street Brewery is doing great things. Can't wait until they get their tap room open again.

              2. I just found this via another thread, this is amazing!!!