The Tailor-Made Guide to the Craft Beer Scene of San Francisco

Updated: Aug 10



Having been a convert to the Craft Brewing scene for almost twenty years, the holy grail of cities in the United States to visit, San Francisco, was on the TMI bucket list for some time! Home to the first uniquely American beer style to be produced - steam beer (sometimes referred to as California common beer) – San Francisco and its breweries have been leading the charge in popularising and developing craft beer in the US and abroad.



From the late 19th century, when steam beer was developed to suit the unique climate of San Francisco, brewing this type of lager without the use of refrigeration, Fog City’s pioneering breweries created a vibrant and creative brewing culture. The brewery scene, however, took a massive hit with Prohibition and the later consolidation and massive commercialisation of beer production by a handful of mega breweries.



The renaissance of beer production in the US arguably didn’t start until 1971, when Anchor Brewing’s owner, Fritz Maytag, decided to bottle and distribute their unique Anchor Steam brew. This became the clarion call for existing and potential brewers to develop their own small batch, traditional beers. Now, over fifty years later, San Francisco has become a hotbed of craft brewing, boasting many breweries, taprooms, and bars purveying a wide variety of styles to the highest quality.



Join us now in a trip through San Francisco’s craft beer scene and our favourite breweries, taprooms, and bars.


Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting the San Francisco craft beer scene appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the city’s breweries and taprooms, or indeed, a general tour of San Francisco.



Breweries


Anchor Brewing Tour


Our guide starts with the craft beer trailblazer Anchor Brewing. Established by German brewer Gottlieb Brekle in 1871, Anchor Brewing conducts popular tours of their Mariposa Street facility at 3:00pm on a Friday and 11:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.



The tour delivered by Anchor Brewing doesn’t disappoint. The one-and-a-half-hour tour is fascinating, informative, and entertaining, taking you through every area of the brewhouse. The tour is also the most generous in terms of the number of tasters that were offered, giving you the opportunity to taste any of the 12 beers available. Although I tried my best, I was unable to taste all 12 within the allotted tour time!



Tailor-Made Top Tip: Following the tour, you can cross the road to the recently opened Anchor Public Taps and continue your beer odyssey! I particularly enjoyed the West Coast IPA and the Tropical Hazy while there.



Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant


Beach Chalet is located at the western end of San Francisco's famous Golden Gate Park, overlooking Ocean Beach. The compact brewery located on the first floor of the building, operated by brewer Mikey Paine produces a wide variety of styles. While eating at the restaurant, I requested the opportunity to view the brewery and I was lucky enough to go and see the operation and it was an absolute pleasure to talk with Mikey himself.

The meal at the restaurant was excellent, especially the fried oyster po’boy sliders, and they were beautifully complimented with pints of Riptide Red and Chalet Kolsch from the brewery.




Tailor-Made Top Tip: Take time to view the murals in the ground floor reception area of the Beach Chalet.


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San Francisco Brewing Co


Another brewery that I was lucky enough to get a personal viewing of was the San Francisco Brewing Co. & Restaurant in Ghirardelli Square, with Geff Perry, the General Manager, guiding me through their impressive facility. As well as being an innovative craft brewery, it is a bar, restaurant, and has an outdoor beer garden. Their pub food was excellent, and I also enjoyed two different flights of beer.




There was a great choice of beers that could be included in a flight, but here is my choice: Revenge of the Nerds Sour, DBL Happiness Milkshake IPA, Broadway IPA and Angel Island Apricot Ale for the first flight, then Stay Frosty My Friend Cold IPA, Alcatraz Amber Ale, Kable Kar (Kolsch) and Lombard Lager (Italian Pils) for the second.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: Ghirardelli Square is a popular shopping and restaurant area and a trip to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience is always advised.



Black Hammer Brewing SoMa


Black Hammer is a very popular central brewery and taproom offering a wide range of beer styles, with eye-catching décor. It certainly had a great vibe during my visit. The two beers I went for were the Hella Sexy (Munich Helles) and Puck Futin (Imperial Double Stout) and they certainly didn’t disappoint.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Black Hammer Brewing SoMa is within easy walking distance of 21st Amendment Brewery and Local Brewing Co, so why not take a mini-brewery tour.




21st Amendment Brewpub


21st Amendment Brewpub has a large indoor area, with multiple TV screens and pub grub, make this brewhouse a firm favourite with both hopheads and baseball fans heading to Oracle Park.


I opted, as usual, for a flight of beers. There was a large menu of inhouse beer, but finally decided on Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Curve Ball Saison, Orange & Black Amber Ale, X1400 DDH IPA, Brew Free! Or Die Blood Orange IPA, and El Sully Mexican Style Lager. Easy drinkers, with lots of interesting flavours.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: A great venue to watch sports while enjoying your favourite libation.


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Local Brewing Co


Local Brewing Co. are a small batch brewery hand-crafting innovative and approachable brews. I found this small brewpub to be really friendly and relaxed, complemented perfectly by their tasty ales.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Loved my flight of beers, which included SF Lager, Baycation (a tropical blonde), Plaid Pajamas (spiced amber lager), Air Hugs (DOH hazy IPA), Loud n Clear (modern West Coast IPA), and Bluxome Black Lager.




Cellarmaker Brewing Company


Constantly experimenting with production of small batch beers, Cellarmaker Brewing Company is a popular little hangout in SoMa. Just a ten-minute walk from the Asian Art Museum and City Hall, Cellarmaker is an ideal break from the culture and architecture of Civic Center.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: I tried their Pineapple Peak, an Hazy West Coast Pale Ale, and it was quite delicious.



Bartlett Hall


Handily located just off Union Square, Bartlett Hall is more of an upscale bar than a taproom. Their beers are welcoming and complimented with an excellent menu.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: I tried two interesting Saison style beers that I haven’t come across before and thought they were great – Saison Chauncey (a Petite Saison with flaked Rye) and Biere Nez Bleu (a farmhouse-inspired Saison with spelt).




Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery


Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery can be found in the heart of the Haight Ashbury district and offers its brews alongside a great selection of bar food. The building itself has an interesting history, starting off as a pharmacy, before turning into the Drugstore Café in 1964, becoming one of the original hippie hangouts in Haight Ashbury. A few years later it became the famous Magnolia Thunderpussy’s, named after its proprietor, a larger-than-life legend still talked about today.



For my flight, I chose Witching Hour (Dark Lager), ESB the Change (English Extra Special Bitter), Szyslak (Pastry Stout), and Dear Haight Street (Brown Ale), all of which were great.


Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, San Francisco
Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Magnolia’s Dubs Golden Lager can be bought in cans at many supermarkets around San Francisco, so if you can’t make it to the bar itself, buying a can or two is a welcome option.


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Seven Stills - Brewery & Distillery and Outer Sunset taproom


Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery is a warehouse-style destination featuring both beers and whiskeys made on site, as well as great food and cocktails.



Sticking to the pattern, I ordered a flight of beers, choosing a Slo Flo Pilsner, Apricot Wheat, Kolsch, West Coast IPA, and Udderly Delicious Milk Stout.


Beer Flight, Seven Stills - Brewery & Distillery
Beer Flight, Seven Stills - Brewery & Distillery

Now, going to a brewery that is also a distillery, is quite unique, so to mark the occasion, I also had a flight of their whiskeys which they had distilled from their own and guest beers. The beers are brewed, then boiled, removing the alcohol (a spirit called white dog). The white dog is then poured into a barrel to receive its colour and flavour.


I delighted over their Eau De Oyster (distilled from an Oyster Stout), Sour Swap (distilled from a Red Ale), Five Pounds (distilled from a Hazy IPA), Chocasmoke (distilled from a Chocolate Oatmeal Stout), and 1.21 Gigawatts whiskeys (distilled from an Imperial Oatmeal Stout).


Whiskey Flight, Seven Stills - Brewery & Distillery
Whiskey Flight, Seven Stills - Brewery & Distillery

Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you can’t get enough of Seven Stills, they also have a taproom at Outer Sunset, which serves house beers and Mexican cuisine in a chill, eclectic environment, just a few short blocks from the beach, and, quite conveniently, it was just around the corner from our accommodation - perfectly planned!




Standard Deviant Brewing


Standard Deviant Brewing has house-brewed beer, food-truck fare & pinball in a low-key setting with an indoor beer garden vibe. Not only was their beer refreshing, but so was their attitude to naming their beers, with no gimmicky monikers, just beers called after their styles. My choices were the Kolsch and Porter. Simply stunning!



Tailor-Made Top Tip: I was lucky enough to visit while the Dry Rub Republic were serving food at the outside the taproom. Their Texas Brisket was to die for!


Dry Rub Republic's Texas Brisket
Dry Rub Republic's Texas Brisket

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New Belgium Brewing


Located in the trendy Mission Bay neighbourhood, New Belgium Brewing is a cool hang out for beers and food. Spacious, with a lovely contemporary décor, it has a great view of Oracle Park.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: I only had time to sample one beer, but it was a lovely fruity little number called Razor Rhizome (Juicy IPA).



Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company


A deceptively large beer hall, Sunset Reservoir is a great place to hang out with friends. This brewpub really feels like the heart of a community and was buzzing during my visit. Sunset Reservoir also sell food. Although I didn’t have anything to eat while there, I stared enviously at the tasty-looking plates of pub grub that went past me!


Tailor-Made Top Tip: I tried an Outside Lands Kolsch and a Moraga’s English Pale Ale, both were excellent.


Read on to find out our favourite San Francisco taprooms.




Brewery-owned Taprooms


Fort Point – Valencia & Ferry Building


Fort Point brews its popular beers in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge at Crissy Field. Although you can’t visit the brewery itself, they have two tap rooms in the city, one on is Valencia Street in the Mission District and the other in a kiosk on the outside of the Ferry Building.


The Valencia outlet welcomes its guests with stylish neon lights & bold colours and is a lively beer hall serving craft beers & playful shared plates. My tipple for that visit was KSA, a refreshing Kolsch-style ale.



The Ferry Building's kiosk is on the outside of the edifice, to the left of the main entrance. Seating is outside but covered and a lovely little spot to take refuge from the bustling energy of the city, especially when enjoying an Animal IPA, as I did during my visit.



Fort Point had a third outlet until recently. Lower Haight had a tasting room and outside seating but has now closed permanently. While there, I had a lovely Westfalia Red Ale.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: Combine a trip to the Ferry Building’s kiosk with a sample of the foodie delights in one of the market’s gourmet boutiques.



Woods – Outbound & Cervecería


Woods Beer & Wine Co. Is another local brewery with multiple bars throughout the city. Currently operating five bars with a sixth on the way, Woods make creative, small-batch beer and wine inspired by nature, place, and tradition.


I only managed to visit two of their excellent bars. I found Woods Outbound to be a lovely, cozy, beachside clubhouse, while the tiny Argentinian-inspired Woods Cervecería offered a welcome rest from the busy Mission Dolores and Castro districts.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: While at Woods Outbound, I enjoyed a Nelson Session (Hazy Session IPA), Smooch Passionfruit (Sour), Pugasus (Porter), and Local Honey (Gruit / Ancient Herbed Ale), which what was possibly my favourite beer during the whole trip. Meanwhile at Woods Cerveceria a pint of Retro Pilsner quenched my thirst.


Read on to find out our favourite San Francisco bars.




Bars


City Beer Store


The City Beer Store is a locally owned shop, featuring a wide range of craft beers & a tasting bar with rotating brews on tap. The City Beer Store has recently located to the Mission District. My visit, however, occurred while they were still at their SoMa premises.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: I had my first taste of the ever-popular Pliny the Elder here. You should try this famous Double IPA from the Russian River brewery if available.




Emporium


As well as having an excellent choice of beers, Emporium is a lively arcade bar and live events venue offering everything from classic arcade games to pinball, with professional sound and lights.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The beer menu is rotating, but while there, I quaffed a lovely pint of Berryessa Free Kittens (Japanese Rice Beer).




Conclusion


San Francisco is a beer-lover's paradise and my visits to these amazing breweries, taprooms and bars made my trip to Fog City truly memorable. It was only when writing this blog that I realised just how many I visited, but they can be easily combined into a more general tour of the city’s impressive attractions. I honestly didn’t find a craft beer that I did not enjoy, although that probably doesn’t surprise those who know me well! The quality of the craft beer and the breweries must surely be second to none. The Craft Beer scene is an ever changing one, so I look forward to the day when I visit San Francisco again and find some new gems and revisit some old favourites.


Comment below and let us know which San Franciscan brewery is your favourite.



Don’t forget that at Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting the San Francisco craft beer scene appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the city’s breweries and taprooms, or indeed, a general tour of San Francisco.


Join us next time on our family adventures when we discover San Francisco’s eye-catching street art and murals. We post every two weeks, and you can subscribe to our latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

Barry

Contact Us: tailoritineraries@gmail.com

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