Bay Area Breweries

by Alex Kalaf with Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
June 2013

The origins of beer brewing in the Bay Area are traceable to the legendary Gold Rush of the mid 19th century, when tens of thousands of thirsty American and immigrant frontiersmen trekked to the Eureka State with glimmers in their eyes. Few, however, ended up toasting to riches. To drown their day-to-day disappointments, the miners sought out brew pubs. The territory’s first such establishment was the Adam Schuppert Brewery, opened in San Francisco in 1849, one year into the bonanza and one year before California became the 31st state. By the turn of the next century, hundreds of breweries throughout the region served prospectors, who would become commonly known as the 49ers.

Among the throngs of 49ers was a considerable population of men of German descent. Along with the hope of striking it rich, they brought with them the brewing traditions of Bavaria—the birthplace of lager. Beers brewed in this fashion are fermented in cold caves typically at temperatures below 45˚F. The Bay Area’s lack of such lagering sites presented significant challenges to brewing. But the clever, aspirant, and determined disposition of the pioneer brewers—mimicking the prospector mindset and spirit—provided for the invention of an entirely new type of beer and the only truly American style. Steam Beer, otherwise known as California Common, is brewed with lager yeast but at high temperatures, a process that produces a distinctly fruit-forward flavor and also, for a young country (and an even younger state), pride in a beer all its own.

Brewers Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan of Almanac Beer Company

Brewers Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan of Almanac Beer Company

Imperial IPA: Hops Forward with Vermont Maple and Rye

Imperial IPA: Hops Forward with Vermont Maple and Rye

21st Amendment Brewery

21st Amendment Brewery

This strong brewing tradition, forged with American-style ingenuity on the California gold fields, has withstood many forces of change and crises in the years since the Rush. The great earthquake of 1906 leveled hundreds of breweries, many of which were never rebuilt. And in the 1920s, the temperance movement nearly put a nail in the coffin of what was left of Bay Area brewing. When the 18th amendment was at last repealed in 1933, ending prohibition, only a handful of breweries remained.

Nationwide a smattering of small breweries managed to survive subsequent changes in taste, industrialization, and advances in refrigeration technology that saw the rise of large brewers that produce lighter, cold-brewed lagers that have come to characterize American mass-market tastes. However, few were able to withstand the modern marketing blitz waged by the big commercial brewers in the mid-twentieth century. Even federal brewing regulations favored giants like Anheuser-Busch and Coors. At the turn of the 20th century more than 4,000 breweries flourished in the United States; by the 1960s only 70 remained. Anchor Brewery was the sole survivor in the Bay Area.

Frederick Louis Maytag III, the great-grandson of the founder of the Maytag Corporation, bought the struggling Anchor Brewery in 1965. He revived the tradition of California Common beer (even trade-marking the term “Steam Beer”) and brought the style to national prominence. Having made San Francisco ground zero for the microbrew movement, Maytag is widely considered the father of modern microbreweries.

Today, micro or craft brews are as much of a craze as gold was in 1849. In a now crowded market, new microbrewers are forging unconventional identities for their beers by emphasizing unusual flavors, intriguing techniques, and creative branding. Such is the case with the brews we tasted at 21st Amendment Brewery in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco.

21st Amendment produces contemporary style beers and is one of the first craft breweries to can their beers rather than bottle them. Canning reduces the shipping weight of their beer and protects it from light, and 21st believes that the cans are more convenient for their customers. Their aluminum containers are colorful, graphic, and prominently display the provocative name of the beers: Bitter American, Hell or High Watermelon, and Marooned on Hog Island—the last of which is brewed with the isle’s Sweetwater oyster shells. Their sleek website proclaims “Refuse To Go Quietly!” and “Celebrate The Right To Be Original.”

Fennel pollen and single origin-cocoa beans are examples of locally sourced and unexpected ingredients that Alamanac Beer Co. (based in San Fran’s Dogpatch neighborhood) incorporates into their “farm to bottle” beers. And a pop-up brewery called Pacific Brewing Laboratory began humbly in the garage of its brewmeister Bryan Hermannsson. As its name suggests, the transient, event-driven Lab produces experimental beers throughout San Francisco, with a line up including Hibiscus Saison, Squid Ink Black IPA, Chamomile Ale, Lemongrass IPA, and Szechwan Peppercorn Red ale.

2013 Bay Area Rising Star Brewer Adam Lamoreaux of Linden Street Brewery in Oakland is mining the brewing history of greater San Francisco for inspiration. He primarily and purposely produces beers that fit the historical context of brewing in the Bay Area: California Common-style beers that he tweaks with his own innovative touches. By opening the first production brewery Oakland has seen in 50 years and using a distribution model focused almost entirely on local restaurants, Lamoreaux has been able to generate a tremendous amount of interest in a relatively short time. Utilizing Tartines’s famous, proprietary strain of sourdough yeast, Lamoreaux brews a beer, called The Daily Bread, exclusively for the restaurant.

The epicenter of cutting edge brew-culture is firmly entrenched where it originally began. Where microbrewers are the new prospectors, this post-modern gold rush is filling mugs across the region with fermented refreshment. Fortunately for beer enthusiasts, they’re spreading the wealth around and creating a new gold standard for brewing in America.