SF Part 3
We did no doubt hit the infamous Toronado, which even for me is the best beer bar in the country. In an enjoyable visit, I have to say that while it is still the legendary place it has always been the selection was not as elusive as it has been in the past. I think this can be credited to the availability of so much on the east coast that has not or was not there even 5 years ago. For local offerings, of course there is no better bar for Northern Cali beer for those little breweries and other special delights from some of the other favorites mostly from the western half of the U.S.. The bartender, not friendly but not rude was quick to a point but you better know what you want or else!!! No, not really but kind of. I have always ordered quick, then asked questions as I drank the previous pint after all these people know they have a killer selection but they have multiple things to do and thirsty people to serve so they are happy to help but not wanting to watch you look at the taps or the menuboard.. Being a bartender in the past and present I can understand, a little. Happy to answer questions, want to talk about and promote products of course but when someone has no idea at all what they want it can be a little aggrevating to a very busy bar keep. Where is the harm of having a good clue anyways? The menu is huge and right on the wall above when you walk in the door, how could you miss it?
From here we proceeded to Magnolia for lunch, the beers consistent as always, food wonderful but they have gone through a remodeling that has just not left the place the same as it was. Maybe this was refreshing to the local clientele' which of course matters most, but for me who has only been here a handful of times it was just more drab and subeued without the true spirit of the place. We ate and enjoyed as many beers as we could muster up which was not many but at least a couple few. This was after Anchor and Toronado so I will refer to the notes about what I had and get back to you.. I am sure by that time I did not drink anything too strong, in fact I think I drank quite a few very tasty brews with very low alcohol a bitter and mild? More on this place later...
On our last full day we decided to hit the rest of the brewpubs we usually do that we had not hit yet to see how they had been in aging, so to speak.
First was Thirsty Bear, an all organic brewpub in the SOMA area and kind of a different kind of place all together. To many I guess you could call it more on the "trendy" side, this brewpub's fare is mainly based on somewhat authentic tapas. When I say somewhat, I have never actually been to Spain just a few places that a supposed to be of the more realistic variety. For some who travel all around and appreciate the more run of the mill-ish food found at most brewpubs across the US it might seem a little out of place, but I have to say I find it quite refreshing and a little more challenging to both the clientele and the house brews themselves. We ate lunch here are completely enjoyed it. Being small plates we opted for a few and were able to share and enjoy the ways the dish complemented the house beers and the other way around. Our lunch consisted of great calamari fried perfectly with capers and lemon with a house made aioli, patatas bravas which are crispy potatoes served with fresh thick traditional mayo (not like that stuff from the jar, seek it out there is such a difference), and a brussels sprout dish with pears, bacon, shallots, and hazelnuts. All was very, very tasty, and speaking of tasty. For beer I had their Golden Vanilla; basically a kölsch infused with whole vanilla beans, the ESB poured through a sparkler and with nitrogen for a really creamy texture with just the right amount of bitterness and a nice floral aroma from the hops, and the Polar Bear which is the house pilsner which is very good but a little lighter bodied than I needed on that brisk San Francisco afternoon but very balanced and delicately bitter as a pils should be. All of my choices went wonderful with our food and while I was a little skeptical the first time I had visited this place, knowing everything has always been wonderful makes this place a must see when I am in town at least for lunch and a few beers..
Second on the list and just a little ways down the street was 21st Amendment, always pretty consistent never stellar but not disappointing either we stopped in for a few pints and were happy to find a normal happy hour crowd bellied up to the bar. Other than the spiced holiday beer and a few guest beers the line up seemed to be the usual offerings. They are now canning their beer at another facility which if I am not mistaken is actually in Minnesota. Not that that bothers me, but it seems odd they would have to go that far being in Northern California so close to the better beer regions of the United States. They package only 2 different beers, one being their I.P.A. which is a very good example of the 21st century west coast version of the style, the other a little more out there the Watermelon Wheat. In the past 10 years brewers have been trying almost every fruit imaginable in almost as many ways in lighter style wheat beers and otherwise and found a lot of success in doing so. This was no exception to those other creations, I found that the watermelon gave the beer a subtle tartness at the same time as the sweetness came through all very balanced and not lacking in watermelony goodness. Hops were of course almost nonexistent, and there is not too much complexity to this style but for summertime in Florida? SCORE!! Why is this beer not distributed here already? On a personal note, I have been trying to get my boss to put that Dunedin Brewery Apricot Wheat in cans for almost 5 years now. Warm weather, active lifestyles, the beach, the pool... There is a perfect time for everything, if you get the picture.
Third was the San Francisco Brewing Company, this place in the middle of North Beach the city's Italian neighborhood has quite a history. This is a place that has seen the Barbary Coast Days, the beat generation, hippies, and all of the other revolutionaries that have rolled through the city by the bay. Jack Dempsey once worked at this place as a bouncer in a day where they place was called "Andromeda Saloon" later in it's life it became "The Albatross" some of the pieces of this history remain there to this day including the solid piece of mahogany that makes up the length of the bar complete with the high tile trough that runs the entire length as well. In the old days before respectable women really came out to bars much the walk to the facilities was not far, just unzip and let it flow. Maybe more normal back then than I can comprehend but convenient nonetheless.. The brew house in this little place a 6bbl gravity and it is a traditional gravity feed "tower" system where everything kind of flows down from one step to the other they ferment and condition in the cellar and the beers are naturally carbonated. These beers are pumped back up to the taps at just the right temperature for serving, for me a little warmer beer makes for a bit easier quaff which after a long walk is nice. A little warmer temperature the flavor of the beer is really highlighted, I know you can always wait for it to warm up a little, and I usually do when I am really trying to analyze the nuances of a beer, but in a normal setting I just want to get to that first sip so to get it at the right temperature makes life sublime. For this brewery, while I have always their offerings to be good to very good I do seem to lean towards their dark and higher gravity beers especially the stouts. They just seem to hit me the right way. In fact I have had a few very memorable experiences at this place in just 5 trips to the place, some are more of a blur than others but all were exactly what you would expect in SF. A great place to visit, food here is ok we have had it in the past but you are in North Beach so why not go Italian? Our favorite place in the world for pasta is Caffe' Macaroni just down the block or two don't miss this either if in the area, but drink you will have to have a Moretti or a nice Chanti..
The next day was a travel day, those are always the same when coming home very long, very boring, and not nearly as enjoyable as the trip out there when you were so excited and ready for an adventure! We were happy to be back to our little four legged friends and our familiar little house though, another part of the fun of traveling; coming home!
Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, no matter which way or what you celebrate.