Three top brewpubs bring artistry to San Francisco beer

See recent posts by Melanie Haiken

Social Kitchen and Microbrewery

At brand new Social Kitchen and Microbrewery, which opened in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco last week, the concept of handcrafted microbrewed beer is getting a dose of "slow food" style refinement. Owner and brewmaster Rich Higgins is chief of the San Francisco Brewing Guild and takes the art of locally made and handcrafted beer very seriously. His passion shows up in plans for an extensive educational program of beer tastings, brewery tours, and even monthly brewing days where the beer-curious can come observe Higgins at work. And of course beer-and-food pairing dinners. Want to know what goes well with kolsch? Come find out.

Fish, chips and beer at Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, one of San Francisco’s best brewpubs

This is actually the sixth brewpub to open in this space, which was originally the old Wunder Brewery, so let’s wish Higgins well and offer our support. The newly redone atmosphere is all rustic wood and metal, with the brewery upstairs and the restaurant downstairs. Chef Rob Lam is finding clever ways to cook with beer; the menu includes beer-batter sweet potato tempura and short ribs braised in ale. Higgins is a veteran of popular brewpubs Thirstybear and Gordon Biersch, but with Social Kitchen he’s trying to do something different; create a low-key, sophisticated atmosphere more conducive to romantic dates and girlfriend chats than tossing a pitcher back with the guys. Even the names are different; ask for a pint of Rapscallion Belgian Dark or L’Enfant Terrible Strong Belgian Golden and see if you can keep from smiling while you do it.

Stay at the Campton Place Taj hotel in Union Square for a central location that makes it easy to get to all the City’s most colorful neighborhoods.

21st Amendment Brewpub

Not quite so new (it opened a few years ago), but still being discovered by those who think San Francisco beer begins and ends with Anchor Steam, is 21st Amendment Brewpub on 2nd Street close to the waterfront. Also specializing in Belgian-style ales and stouts, 21st Amendment is above all a friendly, informal place, with a big semi-circular bar that seems to welcome strangers into an already happening party. An open kitchen continues the welcoming atmosphere; the only downside is it can get loud in there, especially early in the evening when SoMa workers flock in.

Stay at the Hotel Vitale just a few blocks away and you’ll have a pleasant stroll along the waterfront to get back to your bed.

Beach Chalet and Park Chalet breweries

Back on the west side of the city, in fact about as far west as you can go, are the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet brewpubs, located at the westernmost end of Golden Gate Park where the dunes meet the sea. Best known for the history, architecture, and atmosphere of the buildings they’re located in, these brewpubs deserve a nod for their handcrafted beeer as well. Owners Gar and Lara Truppelli take brewing so seriously they provide diagrams and instructions on their websites, so the handmade nature of the process will be fully appreciated.

Still, back to the buildings, which are worth a visit for admiration’s sake — and for the view. The Beach Chalet is located on the second floor of the old Golden Gate Park Visitors’ Center, which had sat vacant for 17 years before its rebirth as a brewpub, and the dining room has a jaw-dropping view of Ocean Beach. The spectacular craftsman-style building was designed by famed SF architect Willis Polk, and features restored art-deco WPA murals depicting scenes of what San Francisco life was like during the 1930s. The restoration and reopening of Beach Chalet was completed in the late 1990s, so it’s not news, but it became a much hotter destination a couple of years ago when the Park Chalet was added, with its garden patio and massive stone fireplace. Saturday and Sunday afternoons now feature live music, ranging from jazz to funk.

Stay at the Hilton Union Square and you can continue your beer explorations at the hotel’s popular bar, the Urban Tavern.

— Melanie Haiken of

[Photo credit: Flickr/rick]

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