San Francisco Beer week begins this weekend, and -- cross-state rivalry aside -- the craft beer scene in the Bay Area is surpassed only by San Diego’s as the best in California. It’s certainly worth taking a moment to reflect on all the great brews from San Francisco that have helped establish the craft beer industry. Here are four suggestions for beers brewed by the bay worth a toast.
The quintessential San Francisco beer, Anchor Steam has a long history and is the gold standard for the California Common style. Also known as “steam beer” (though Anchor Brewing trademarked that term in the 1980s, preventing other breweries from using it), the California Common is an ale-lager hybrid that uses a clean-fermenting lager yeast at warmer temperatures more common to ale. The result is a bright, crisp brew that strikes a balance between caramel malts and classic Northern Brewer hops.
Drake’s Brewing 1500
The modern American pale ale was basically invented in California, and it is the style that ignited the craft revolution in the '70s. California still makes more superlative pale ales than anywhere else in the world, and the dry-hopped 1500 from San Leandro’s Drake’s Brewing is one of the best. Crisp, dry, and rich with floral and citrus aromas, 1500 is like an India Pale Ale-lite with a ton of hop-character but only 5.5% alcohol.
Almanac Bourbon Sour Porter
The brewers at Almanac are making “farm-to-barrel” beers that fit perfectly with the local food movement in the Bay Area, and the brews often include fruit, herbs and other items more often found at farmers markets than in beer. They also produce a reserve series of barrel-aged brews, and the Bourbon Sour Porter is a recent entry that defies classification. It’s tart, rich with bourbon flavors, and eminently sippable, and it’s unlike most everything else out there. It's one of those brews that raises eyebrows with the first sip, then continues to delight for the rest of the glass.
This local-favorite brewpub and brewery is perhaps best known for its summer-sipper Hell or High Watermelon and playful can designs. Unfortunately, not a lot of its beer makes it down to Los Angeles (Try K&L Wines in Hollywood). However, this year the head brewer took a trip down to Torrance to collaborate on a special brew for S.F. Beer Week, and California Love is now pouring at the Smog City taproom. The big, hoppy red ale was brewed with Pinot Noir grapes and fresh, local citrus to represent SoCal/NorCal unity, and it’s a great way to celebrate our neighbors to the north as they get their beer week underway.