As far back as the 19th Century, San Francisco was the brewing center of the west. Even as far back as 1896, the growing city had close to two dozen breweries. Craft beer in San Francisco entered what some consider the silver age of American brewing when Fritz Maytag purchased Anchor Brewing in 1965. Today there are more than 1,400 small craft breweries in the United States; northern California has more breweries than most states and enjoys an unrivaled reputation for the quality and diversity of its craft beer.
Microbreweries represent a new strategy in the brewing industry: in order to be competitive in a lucrative market, rather than focus on low price or creative advertising, they market themselves on the basis of unique product characteristics. The emphasis is on small-batch freshness of locally produced beer, unique taste as they experiment with much stronger malt and hop flavors, and new and long-discarded brewing recipes. Often a microbrewery will reintroduce a style that had been popular decades earlier; for example, Maytag used West Coast hops instead of English hops and the result was a West Coast IPA. The experiment inspired some British and Belgian brewers to use West coast hops.
Each February, local breweries and pubs organize SF Beer Week to celebrate the early roots of the modern Renaissance in artisan beers. The 10-day celebration showcases the Bay Area’s brewing heritage with as many as 100 events – beer dinners, cheese and beer pairing events, other gourmet food events celebrating world-class cuisine, special releases, “meet the brewer” evenings, home brewing demonstrations, music, films, and even a museum exhibition exploring the history of Bay Area brewing, from Monterey to Sacramento and beyond.
If you live in the Bay area or are planning a visit, here are some destinations for beer aficionados:
Anchor Brewing Company (Potrero Hill)
Brewing hand crafted beer since 1896, Anchor Brewing Company is one of San Francisco’s oldest traditional brewing establishments. Tours are available, reservations are required.
1705 Mariposa St., 415-863-8350
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Embarcadero)
Home crafted German-style beer, the recipe for Gordon Biersch beer contains only four ingredients as dictated by the 500-year-old German purity law called Reinheitsgebot.
Two Harrison St., 415-243-8246
ThirstyBear Brewing Company and Spanish Cuisine
Located next to Moscone Center and SFMOMA, this award-winning brewery-restaurant specializes in organic handcrafted beers and Spanish cuisine.
661 Howard St., 415-974-0905
21st Amendment Brewery Cafe
The San Francisco Chronicle says, “A good microbrew selection and good rib-sticking food makes 21st Amendment the right place for any crowd.”
563 Second St., 415-369-0900
San Francisco Brewers Guild
The guild is dedicated to preserving, promoting and celebrating the heritage and craft of San Francisco’s artisan breweries. Learn more about the breweries of San Francisco including tour information by visiting the Web site. Group tours available by arrangement.