Against the Grain
Written by Katie Mullen
Photo by Tony Santos
It’s a beautiful Saturday in San Francisco. The sun has come out to play and so have you. You and a group of friends decide that the only thing to compliment the beautiful day at hand is a well-crafted beer. You guys are in luck, you live in a city dotted with some of the finest micro-breweries out there.
Beer has quickly gained popularity in the past seven to ten. More people are learning about it, attempting to make it, and simply drinking more of it. Home brewing was not made legal in the United States until 1978. This is not to say that home brewed beers were a pigment of the imagination though, they were just a well-kept secret.
Now, it seems that every other person you talk to will tell you how they are attempting to brew at home or that on of their friends are. It use to be taboo for girls to drink beer, it was a drink for manly men. It was the alcohol of football games and arm wrestling tournaments, and besides it had too many calories for girls to drink it, right? Well not anymore.
Beer has become a coveted and respected drink. Its no longer just the drink of beer pong and beer bongs. It is a hand-crafted alcohol that people smell before tasting to get a whiff of the hops in it, they sip it and attempt to decipher hints of coffee or hazelnut, perhaps there is a hint of fruitiness or citrus.
Perhaps the most trending type of beer is the infamous IPA, short for India pale ale. You may have head people say, “oh, its so hoppy, I love it!” and may of you may have shook your head agreeing but really had no idea what on earth they were referring to. Well let me break it down for you. Hops are one of the few main ingredients found in all beers. It is simply the flower of a hop plant, which is part of the hemp family. It gives off a bitter taste, which is what many IPA lovers search for. Shockingly, there are over three hundred different types of hops grown anywhere from Germany to California and Washington.
Hops were originally used to balance the beer. Grains that are used in beers are extremely sweet and sugary. So, by adding hops and bitterness, brewers were able to create more of a balanced flavor that was less overwhelming for the drinker. The IPA took that a step further to overpower a beer with the hops.
Here is some information about IPAs to impress your friends with. India pale ales came into existence around the 18th century. A man named George Hodgson would ship beer, his pale ales, from England into India. Because the voyage was long and hops acts as a natural preservative, he would add extra hops in order to help the beer stay fresh. The taste because increasingly demanded and born from the pale ale came India pale ale we know and love today.
Currently, the West Coast IPA has become a new way to brew using the process of dry hopping. Which in short gives you the aroma and flavor of the different hops creating different tastes in beer. This is why no two IPAs will taste the same. And our recommendation would be to try them all!
San Francisco is proud to be the home of Anchor Steam Brewery but it is also home to many other amazing breweries that have somehow remained under the radar for many years. With beer now coming into the social scene, they are gaining popularity and foot traffic but they are still considered local gems.
Some of these breweries are Cellarmaker Brewing Company of Howard St., ThirstyBear Brewing company in the Financial District, and a Giants fan’s home away from home: 21st Amendment. But at the top of the local beer guru’s list would have to be Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, Triple VooDoo Brewery, and Southern Pacific Brewing.
Speakeasy is a locally brewed and mostly locally sold beer. It specialized in Ales and Lagers. Ale beers are brewed from malted barley and yeast. It is fermented very fast, which gives it a fuller taste and is often times fruity. These also contain hops to balance the malt. Lagers ferment much more slowly than ales. They are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast then are stored at cool temperatures to mature their taste. The hops are much easier to taste in a lager than in an ale.
Speakeasy is a fun place to spend a day. Sampling beers and talking to the servers and bartenders that could talk to you for days about the beers they currently have and beers they use to carry. “I love going to Speakeasy not only because I love their beer but because I always seem to learn something about beer whether it be about how it is made, how it is processed, or what is in it,” says Michael Herndon, a previous SF State student now living in the city. If you are interested in the process of how ales and lagers are brewed, the tour would be the place for you to go. But, take a pen and a notepad because brewing is a long and complicated process. Luck for us, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers has it down to a science, literally.
Next on the list would be Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room. If the name alone isn’t enough to draw you in there, you are in luck because I have more information for you. Berkley student and beer enthusiast, Derek Campbell says, “Every time I come into the city, I make it a priority to come into Voodoo. I hate to be corny but I really do think they cast a spell on me or put a potion in their brews or something.”
What is cool about Triple Voodoo is that you can have food from local restaurants delivered to you as you are sitting and enjoying a nice, cold, well-crafted beer. The brewery has sixteen beers on tap that rotate, meaning that they are not all available year round. This is kind of fun because if you are use to drinking a beer but it is not on tap when you go in, you are forced to step outside the box.
And finally, probably the least known and talked about brewery would be Southern Pacific Brewery. This brewery is awesome because it is not what you are expecting when you see the building. It also has some tasty food to compliment the beers they have on tap. One woman’s favorite is the Porter, it is on tap and when that tap runs out, it is gone for a while. “I literally cried one time when I came in here and the Porter tap was gone,” says Raimi Mitchell-Young who lives in the city. “The thought of it was the only thing that got me through my day, it is the best beer I have yet to find in the city, and it was gone!” She also went on to say that the black bean burger and sage fries are to die for.
These breweries only scratch the surface of what San Francisco has to offer the beer obsessed individuals. But to get into it would take hours to read through. The best advice is to start at a microbrewery, spark up a conversation with a bartender or fellow beer drinker, and ask them what other breweries they enjoy. Then the fun part comes, go explore them! There are so many beers out there that it can be daunting, but the more you try, the more you will know and the more you can narrow the search for your personal perfect beer. Beware of the sours though, rumor has it that they grow on you if you can drink a full glass in one sitting, emphasis on the “if”… Now go forth and taste!