Today, Northern California is quickly becoming as well known for its beer as it is for its wines. This is only fitting since San Francisco help spur the craft beer revolution almost 50 years ago when Fritz Maytag purchased a local brewery named Anchor.
In honor of San Francisco Beer Week 2011, members of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers put together a list of some of our favorite S.F. Bay Area and Northern California beers. Many of these should be available during S.F. Beer Week and some can be purchased in bottles to be savored later. We hope this list encourages you to try other Bay Area breweries that you may never have heard about and to serve as a guide for your next beer tour. Since beer lovers often have their favorite styles, this has been organized by category. Cheers!
Breakout Stout from Marin Brewing in Larkspur
Part of the fun of a trip to Marin Brewing is that you can go there by boat. The ferry takes you by Alcatraz and San Quentin which are prisons made infamous by its captors. We’re pretty sure that anyone breaking out of either place would not stop for beer (unless they were a beer blogger) but if they did this stout would be worth stopping for.
Chocolate Kiss from Steelhead Brewing in Burlingame
Many beers have notes of chocolate but this beer literally tastes like someone melted Hershey’s Kisses and put them in your stout.
Daddy’s Chocolate Milk from Elizabeth Street Brewery in San Francisco
ESB is best described as “a room in some guy’s basement” which is exactly spot on correct. But it’s so much more. The “brewery” is open randomly throughout the year.
8 Ball Stout from Lost Coast in Eureka
A good all-around earthy stout. Not too thick, more of a halfway meetup between Guinness and an Imperial Stout. The carbonation gives it a good kick making it a beer you could drink over and over. A good choice for thirsty nights.
Koslov Stout from Thirsty Bear in San Francisco
This stout has a white creamy head that smells like chocolate with a hint of coffee. You might want to try a blend of Koslov with the Golden Vanilla. Let us know how that worked out for you.
Oyster Head Stout from Magnolia in San Francisco
Sweet and rich that begs to go with something on their menu like the Devils on Horseback cheese stuffed dates wrapped with bacon. Sublime.
Black Bear Stout from Bear Republic in Healdsburg
Perfect for when it’s cold and you feel like a hearty pint. Easy to drink, robust in flavor with roasted malts and caramel and a noticeable hoppy bite.
Bourbon Barrel Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas in Petaluma
Like chocolate milk with a shot of espresso and a finger of bourbon, all swirled together. Creamy. Intense. Worth the trip to Petaluma alone.
Leviathan from Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland
Sweet and roasted malt character with a heavy syrupy body. Grab one on your next visit to the Oakland Convention Center to make sitting through those presentations more palatable.
Old Rasputin from North Coast in Fort Bragg
Pours like motor oil and has a hefty alcohol kick to it. The richness will make the taste buds in the back of your jaw scream in agony while your tongue will be begging for more. If you can find the bourbon aged version, grab as many as you can possibly carry.
Ryan O’Sullivan’s Imperial Stout from Moylan’s in Novato
Dark black with creamy tan head. Aroma of coffee, cola, dark fruit and chocolate. Rich and chewy with tobacco, prunes and espresso. Subtle hopiness balances the high alcohol content.
Scarface from Speakeasy in San Francisco
Delicious, deep roasted malt flavor that is rich and very smooth. Subtle on the coffee, it’s there, but it doesn’t feel like you’ve got espresso grounds at the bottom of your glass.
Anchor Porter from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco
Anchor Porter is THE porter. It started the porter movement back up again when it was wallowing in despair, forgotten by the masses. It’s refreshing taste means you could drink pint after pint and not have to settle for just one as with most of the thicker porters. An icon.
Baltic Porter from Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz
Meant to last the journey across the North Sea, Baltics are a more robust version of a porter. This one is rich, chewy and malty with some unique flavors that you can’t quite put your fingers on until you look at the bottle and read that it’s brewed with licorice and star anise.
Chelsea Moylan’s Porter from Moylan’s Brewery in Novato
It’s just a 5.0% alcohol porter, so have that second pint. Dark chocolate and coffee flavors in this beauty are evocative of higher alcohol beers which actually contain those ingredients. Not here. Yes, we’re assured all this flavor has been coaxed from the roasted malts.
Coffee Porter from Iron Springs in Fairfax
The smooth coffee flavor in this rich beer is perfect for any time of the day. Start your morning off right!
Imperial Bonfire from Napa Smith in Napa
Chocolaty, roasty goodness that goes down way too easily for an Imperial.
Payback from Speakeasy in San Francisco
The “porter style” was said to have been made as a blend of all the beers on tap at a pub. A little heavy, a little stout and a little pale. The bartender charged a little less because the guy ordering it didn’t have a lot of money as his job was being a porter. The name stuck with the style and soon the brewers were making something called “porter” that came out of one tap. Payback is sweet bitty black goodness.
Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada in Chico
The beer that helped bring California craft beer awareness across the country. Great by the bottle, the pint, or even the pitcher. This beer is a historic legend, treat it as such, honor it.
Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco
Its recipe is taken from the pages of an old brewing book describing the beer that was sent to India to support British troops in the 1800′s. It’s as authentic to the style as you will find.
New Dogtown Pale from Lagunitas in Petaluma
When was the last time you had Pale Ale that made you say “Wow!”? Lots of people think the style is boring but NDP isn’t. The best way to describe it is “angry” and the best place to enjoy it is on the Ferry going to Larkspur.
North Coast Red Seal Ale from North Coast in Eureka
Red Seal is an all-around great beer for everyday drinking. It’s as refreshing as it is tasty with a amber hue and slightly sweet taste to it. Get it on cask whenever possible, it really brings out the best in this beer.
Puddle Jumper from Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa
Reminiscent of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with a surprising amount of hops for a pale ale. No wonder it is an award winner.
INDIA PALE ALE (IPA)
Big Daddy IPA from Speakeasy in San Francisco
This IPA has a big hop flavor but a clean finish that doesn’t overpower with bitterness. It’s aromatic and resiny but mild and smooth at the same time. It’s perfect for those days where you want a strong flavor but don’t want the syrupy sensation that can often
develop with IPAs.
Bombay by Boat from Moonlight in Fulton
Moonlight is to the Bay Area what Mac & Jacks is to Seattle; a regional beer never bottled and crazy delicious. This Sonoma County brewery is run by a single person. Brian Hunt makes this beer, washes kegs, and delivers beer among the many jobs often done by a staff of people. Bombay by Boat is an IPA that doesn’t taste like an IPA. It’s a light, citrusy beer that’s smooth and crisp with a bitter hop kick at the end. It’ll grow hair on your chest.
Casey Jones from Iron Springs in Fairfax
Ask a beer blogger what their favorite IPA is and chances are they won’t name this beer but only because they’ve never had it. Floral, citrus, hop bite are all in balance. If you don’t want to bother with the windy road to San Anselmo you can find it in bottles in better bottle shops around the Bay Area.
Hops on Rye from Firehouse in Sunnyvale
In bottles or on draft at the pub, the HOR is pungent and pushy, with sharp glints of hop citrus flavor balancing a sharp rye quality with a trace of sweetness. For a change from your favorite everyday India Pale Ale or as a candidate for a new favorite, this is worth a glass.
IPAX from Triple Rock in Berkeley
Another IPA missing from lists is IPAX. It’s everything you want in an IPA and you don’t have to drive to try it. It’s only served at the pub but you can easily get there by BART.
Lagunitas IPA from Lagunitas in Petaluma
It’s a medium strength hoppy, but not too hoppy, and malty, but not too malty version of an IPA. It won’t knock you over the head with hops, but it will deliver a crisp refreshing flavor that’s perfect any time.
Lil Sumpin Extra from Lagunitas in Petaluma
This stuff is dangerous because you’ll want another pint but the strength of it means you’ll be walking home or passing out in the bushes. A rich coppery color, awesome aromas, and tastes delicious.
Rebellion from Bear Republic in Healdsburg
Brian Hunt, yeah back to that guy, said “Why the hell would I make a Russian Imperial anything when (A) it’s not going to Russia, (B) I don’t live in Russia, (C) Are their even imperials anymore? Exactly! In this case Rebellion refers to the underdogs that blew up the Death Star. Down with Empire and the Imperial Storm Troopers.
Denogginizer from Drakes in San Leandro
If you are a Seinfeld fan you’ll know this name. It was one of Kramer’s attempts for a name of a serial killer. Don’t plan on making a session out of Denog or it’s Ka-pow lights out. You’ll know exactly what hit you tomorrow.
Hopsickle from Moylan’s in Novato
Northern California’s known for big beers. Especially big IPA’s. Moylan’s played a huge hand in gaining this rep with Hopsickle. At 9.2% it’s certainly big. But for all it’s mouth-slapping pine and grapefruit juiciness, it’s surprisingly smooth.
Pliny the Elder from Russian River in Santa Rosa
The King of Imperial IPA’s. There’s so much demand for this beer that it can be hard to find it on tap anywhere except places with dedicated taps. If you see it, nab a pint and prepare for an education in awesome beer. The aroma is exactly like holding a handful of hops.
Promised Land from Magnolia in San Francisco
“Hey, I didn’t order grapefruit juice! Where’s my beer?” That is your beer. It’s been said that once a beer goes over 100 IBUs that you cannot taste any more bitter. But something else happens instead. You start tasting other things. Like grapefruit. Or tree. Or grass. And not a subtle hint of but a whole mouthful. And thats the Promised Land.
Back in Black from 21st Amendment in San Francisco
Black Imperial Pale Ale is exactly why we should stop calling this style INDIAN! The idea was to add another layer of complexity. 10% dark malt not only adds color but makes a richer flavor and gives the beer a smoother mouthfeel. Everything else we love about IPA is still there: aroma of bitter, sweet, citrus, and pine. And that clean finish that defines the balance. Everyone is making a Black IPA. This one was one of the first we knew about.
Black Magic Rye from Iron Springs in Fairfax
Dark, sweet, nice hoppy crispness. Delicious coffee and tobacco flavors around the edges. Every sip has a hint of something new.
Monkey High Five from Bear Republic in Healdsburg
Great balance of hops and slight roasted malt. Beautiful dark, slightly transparent brown with clinging foam lacing.
Serious Madness from Mad River in Blue Lake
A black ale that beats the pants off of most other black ales weighing in with a 8.6% ABV and 74 bitterness units.
Burning Oak from Linden Street Brewery in Oakland
A delicious, malty, dark lager that’ll convince all you lager-haters the errors of your ways. This is a cousin of the famous beers now represented by Anchor Steam, related because of the California-friendly historic yeast strain. Sip, and the dark malts take you in a whole other direction. Not a black IPA, but hoppier than a German schwarzbier. The Brewmaster Adam has a fairly small brewing capacity and the demand for his beer is so high he can’t make enough!
Death and Taxes from Moonlight in Fulton
It’s black in color but it’s not a stout. It’s got a great nose but it’s not a hop bomb. It’s complex roast is chocolaty and smooth. Don’t let the “I don’t like dark beer” voice in you speak up, try this beer.
Schwarzbier from Gordon Biersch in San Francisco
“I see your schwarz is as big as mine” is the first joke cracked as soon as the glasses are raised but this beer is not a joke. Even if this beer doesn’t do it for you, you’ll still enjoy the view of the bridge from the heat lamp garden.
L’Enfant Terrible from Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco
Brewer Rich Higgins describes this as a Belgian table beer, which has a nice mix of chocolate and roasted malt, with a little fig and a little spicy zip to it. At under 5% ABV, it’s a very complex and flavorful session beer.
Rejection from Russian River in Santa Rosa
A Belgian Dark Ale with only a minute bit of sourness, similar to Back In Black IPA, but with a much more complex malt profile.
BELGIAN STRONG ALE
Brother Thelonious from North Coast in Fort Bragg
A strong dark Belgian ale that pays homage to jazz visionary Thelonious Monk. Somewhat atypical for the style, this beer, likes its piano playing namesake, forces you to drink outside the box a little. The nearly 10% abv is readily apparent.
Monk’s Blood from 21st Amendment in San Francisco
Belgian candy sugar, fresh figs, cinnamon and some other spices make this beer in a can (that’s right, cans) stand out. As we’re local it’s been fun to taste this beer as it’s gone through many iterations. From Shaun Paxton’s original home brew version to a 15 barrel version to 100 barrels that’s served in cans today. Find a four pack to take home. It ages really well.
Pranqster from North Coast in Fort Bragg
A strong golden Belgian style ale. Expect aromas and flavors of banana, citrus, clove and other spices, but well carbonated and dangerously delicious for a strong beer. Pranqster pairs exceptionally well with fresh seafood like oysters or fish tacos. It hides its 7.6% ABV potency remarkably well. Having several of these is way too easy.
Brown Shugga from Lagunitas in Petaluma
Sweet, warming booziness makes this a mandatory part of any Winter Ale list. The beer itself started as a batch-gone-bad of GnarlyWine that was resurrected with the addition of brown sugar. Lots of it. The result is a malty, candied concoction that’s one of the more unique holiday brews you’ll find in the Bay.
Jack and Ken’s Ale from Sierra Nevada in Chico
A black barelywine that doesn’t taste like fuel like some other barely wines because they are so high in alcohol. Aroma is syrupy with strong but pleasant alcohol notes and heavy layer of hops. Hickory smoke and roasted espresso flavors.
Jewbelation 14 from Shmaltz Brewing in San Francisco
Brewed with 14 different malts and 14 different hops plus its 14% alcohol by volume. Malty bready aroma with a tinge of floral spiciness. Chewy mouthful with raisins, molasses, and some orange. Alcohol kicks in at the end with a generous amount of hops to singe the tongue.
Old Dipsea from Marin Brewing in Larkspur
Robust floral bouquet mixed with strong and sweet malty aroma. Taste of raisins, port, fresh bread with plenty of hops to balance out the alcohol content.
Old Foghorn from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco
Anchor’s English barleywine is best consumed at the brewery in Potrero Hill. Old Foghorn has plenty of flavor and goes down dangerously easily. Less hoppy than American barleywines like Big Foot, Old Foghorn tastes almost delicate in comparison.
Chili Pepper Ale from Six Rivers in McKinleyville
If you hate the idea of chili beer or just can’t find one you like, this is your gateway beer. This spicy beer manages to burn your throat in all the right places while also quenching the fire it starts. Paired with some tortilla chips and a burrito, you’re in fat city.
Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco
Though the ale’s recipe is different every year, it consistently remains a classic version of the style first introduced hundreds of years ago by European monks who saved their finest ingredients for the holiday. This year’s version pours auburn brown with a spicy spruce nose. The cornucopia of flavors includes ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and roasted caramel malt followed by a wonderfully sour finish of orange peel.
Consecration from Russian River in Santa Rosa
If you only have time for one beer from Russian River this is the one to have. Aged in American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels with wild yeast and bacteria. Aged? What about that whole fresh beer campaign you ask? High alcohol beers don’t suffer getting old. In fact these beers often improve with age. With this beer, the oak retains some of the wine flavors that are passed on to this delicious beer.
Boont Amber from Anderson Valley in Boonville
An excellent balance of malt and hops, Boont Amber is a staple of a lot of bars in the Bay Area, even outside it. The epitome of an amber, light and smooth while still saving a little bit of space for some sweet undertones.
Poppy Jasper from El Toro in Morgan Hill
A delicious, somewhat fruity amber ale with an aroma of wheat bread. Think of it as a hoppy red ale.
Doppelbock from Sudwerk in Davis
A tribute to the German Paulaner monks who brewed doppelbocks as a source of sustenance during fasting, Sudwerk is an excellent example of the style. Rich, malty and mocha flavors. If only this were available year round!
Maibock from Gordon Biersch in San Francisco
A maple-syrup colored lager that will convert you to loving lagers if you don’t already. Hard to get since it’s seasonal but keep your eyes peeled around springtime.
Full Boar from Devil’s Canyon Brewing in Belmont
Lots of dark roasted malts combined with buttery, toffee-like notes with light molasses and savory umami flavors. It’s complex, but not heavy, making it very versatile beer that’s both very drinkable and a great sipping beer.
Jolly Rodger from Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro
Drakes makes some damn good seasonal beers and Jolly Rodger is no exception. At 9% ABV take heed of just how much you’re drinking because you will lose track, all you’ll want to do it keep sipping it all night. Very rich with malts, great herbal spice, thick to the tongue, a damn good beer.
Kolsch from Social Kitchen in San Francisco
Session beers can be thought of two ways: something heavy that will take a long time to enjoy as it warms up in the glass or as a beer that you drink many of while telling tales from the weekend. This Kolsch fills the latter perfectly. It’s light, crisp and comes in a tiny glass making sure the beer is cold all the way to the bottom. Once you finish that one another is right there in front of you.
Pils from Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley
Ahh, pilsner. there is nothing quite like you. After we journey through hops, big flavors, high alcohol we come back to you. Delicate, clean if not a bit pedestrian. This is one of the better pilsners you will enjoy. The only style this brewerymakes and they make it well.
Scrimshaw from North Coast in Fort Bragg
Scrimshaw is sadly often overlooked by beer drinkers. Compared with North Coast’s other beers, Scrimshaw is subtle and doesn’t overassert itself. It’s refreshing and clean, light and tasty. If you’re in the mood for a pils, you can do a lot worse than Scrimshaw.
Anchor Steam from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco
This is the beer that started it all. Anchor Steam was the beer that got Fritz Maytag to buy a brewery that started craft beer in the USA. The beer is unique in every way from the open fermentation to the bottle. One look and you know it’s a steam beer.
Brother David’s Triple from Anderson Valley in Boonville
This strong Tripel comes most commonly in a 22oz bottle with a happy looking monk (With glasses? Who is that?) on the front. A rich orange color with a sweet fruity flavoring that is balanced by the sharp carbonation bite. Like the bottle says (in a dig to Stone) “You Are Worthy.”
Chrystal Wheat from Sierra Nevada in Chico
Crystal Wheat is great for drinking all night with friends. Very light, refreshing, but also flavorful. It’s a lot like a glass of lemonade in that you could drink it all day. Highly recommended.
Tangerine Wheat from Lost Coast in Eureka
Refreshing and crisp, perfect for a hot day. None of the banana taste that can overwhelm some wheat beers. Instead it’s been replaced with tangerines!
LeMerle from North Coast in Fort Bragg
A rather nice Saison that’s a little funky, as is characteristic of the style, and a little hoppy. LeMerle has enough flavors to maintain your interest. LeMerle is on the upper end of the alcohol level for the style but hides it quite well and is a fine match for a variety of foods like chicken or pasta carbonara.
Billy Sunday Bitter from Magnolia in San Francisco
Poured on cask at Public House at AT&T Park, Billy Sunday is a good interpretation of the British session beer style. Billie Sunday is smooth, slightly bitter, with a rich mouthfeel and very little carbonation. British CAMRA pubs are built around beers like this.
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