Craft beer got a major boost in 1965 when Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. The brewery is widely believed to have kicked off the craft beer scene in America because during the Gold Rush in 1854, a German brewer named Gottlieb Brekle established a brewery that would evolve into Anchor.
Today’s national suds scene still takes cues from England, Germany and Belgium. Yet the “grain-to-glass” craft beers often showcases flavor notes of blood orange, coriander, caramel or even chocolate (from roasted cacao nibs, of course)—a focus on ingredients that is similar to California’s own farm-to-table movement. Whether it’s a big night on the town or you just want to enjoy an elevated pint or two before a ball game, San Francisco promises fabulous craft beer bar options, artisan snacks optional. While there may be other places to partake, this list sports the seven best craft beer spots in San Francisco.
7. RUSTY’S SOUTHERN
While working at the popular German stalwart Suppenkuche as a bar manager, Southern transplant Rusty Olson and his wife Cody used Kickstarter to successfully raise funds for a new Tenderloin namesake beer bar that happens to serve incredible Carolina-style BBQ. Rusty’s beer list skews NorCal with a few exceptions: Golden Gate Gose wheat beer (Almanac), Puck the Beer petite saison/farmhouse ale (North Coast Brewing), and a hoppy Villager IPA (Ft. Point Brewing) along with a Schwarzbier style Baba Black Lager (Uinta), a Salt Lake City contender. Oh-so-tender pork shoulder and fried chicken are must-tries from chef Francis Rubio, whose menu pays homage to Lexington Barbecue in North Carolina.
6. HOPWATER DISTRIBUTION
A rotating list of 30 California brewery taps is the big draw at this Lower Nob Hill hotspot. The race is on to get there first for a special glass or growler: will it be Social Kitchen & Brewery’s The Smell IPA with blood oranges in cask? Or perhaps you’ll luck into a serving of Old Rasputin, presented on nitro—a strong 16-oz. life changer if ever there was one. You can’t go wrong with the Linden Street Burning Oak black lager, really. The food menu is from chef Bruce Paton, and includes steak fries, buttermilk fried chicken tenders, and Dungeness tater tots, which ably meld crab with carb.
5. ROSAMUNDE SAUSAGE GRILL (MISSION)
Although she had dinner reservations at a fancier spot across town, Lady Gaga whiled an afternoon away—and bought a Rosamunde t-shirt—for a whopping three hours, sipping and chatting at this humble Mission District house of brews. Gaga’s up on her beer game, since there’s 26 ever-changing craft beers here (La Chouffe Houblon, Evil Twin Justin Blabaer, HenHouse Biere De Garde, Rodenbach Grand Cru), along with a slew of extra special cans and bottles (Anchorage The Tide and its Takers Triple), all the better to take in a sweet Italian or wild boar sausage. Rosamunde is one of the few spots where your vegan and vegetarian friends can also order a link to their liking and the house curry ketchup or garlic pepper mayo offer a nice contrast to the beer. Insider tip: bring cash or upload the PayPal app for this one.
4. SOMA STREATFOOD PARK
An outdoor bar next to a slew food trucks comprise the heart of SOMA Streatfood, the city’s biggest beer garden. The space is particularly popular during beer week, where more than 20 craft breweries and beer food specials rock a full capacity crowd. The rest of the year, it’s an ideal location to do a working lunch and perhaps nab a sunny seat and pint of Anchor Steam, made a few blocks away by Anchor’s Brewmaster, Mark Carpenter. Take your grub and suds to the yellow school bus dining area—we can’t say enough about the juicy burgers with house made red bell pepper ketchup from the Doc’s of the Bay truck. Insider tip: the Costco parking lot is a popular spot for card-carrying members, but check to see what time the garage closes.
3. MAGNOLIA BREWING COMPANY SMOKESTACK
Dave McLean has long been the bearded godfather of the city’s Brewery Guild, and in 2014, he was able to expand operations from his original Haight Street location and open a 30-barrel Dogpatch production brewery with “non-denominational” BBQ. Trust us; go for the hot pastrami and brisket. While there are 80 seats, it remains a popular spot and you are likely to see breweratis from other well-known hot spots. Still, any potential wait is worth it, since it means a pour of bright and light Kalifornia Kolsch or something delish from the 20 rotating taps and three hand pumps. Look for special finds with their barrel-aged beers to gruits (a time honored tradition of using herbs, also called gruyt or grut). Cask beers fans will also find something here, and since McLean loves English bitters, heed the call and wet that whistle. Hot tip: Parking on Illinois can be a breeze or take the T-line for public transportation ease.
For “warm beer and cold women,” in a divey Mission beer garden patio setting, it’s off to Zeitgeist you must go. Tattoos are optional and don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting at the table and enjoying the scene and beers for more than a few hours. Zeitgeist’s 40 rotating taps tend to loyally cover California and Oregon craft territory, be it a Damnation Belgian-style strong golden ale from Russian River Brewing Company or the creamy and filling Black Butte porter of Deschutes Brewing Company. Even the jukebox is rocking’ here, bring those quarters. Zeitgeist was for years the main stop of the famous Tamale Lady, Virginia Ramos, who magically would show up with her blue rolling cooler to sell drunken fans the best tamales around—due to regulations, patrons must now satisfy themselves with the burgers, bratwursts and grilled cheese that make up a petite yet filling menu.
1. THE YARD AT MISSION ROCK
The Yard is the newly opened natural outgrowth of the enormously popular food truck trend. Essentially it is a beer garden in an 18,000-square-foot food village made from recycled shipping containers—a green scene that includes a variety of eats from Off the Grid. Nestled close enough to the San Francisco Giants ballpark and McCovey Cove, think of The Yard as the place with killer views to hit before or after a game (although it is open the rest of the year). In the likely case that your date gets too chilly from those infamous Bay breezes, the neighboring North Face pop up has enough fleece and puffer coats to get you through the night.
Anchor takes up the beer menu here, with 16 rotating taps and the chance to go deeper: from the dark and chocolatey Anchor Argonaut collection, there’s Flying Cloud San Francisco stout, crafted from two black malts, Golding hops, English Maris Otter malt and flaked barley. Of course you can stick to tried and trues like Liberty Ale or Steam beer, but the newly launched and definitely experimental Double IPA is at the ready, which is hopped primarily with Cascade and big in flavor. The beer’s release is limited; your picnic table with views of the water and blue skies waits.