A Few Thoughts On Bay Area Beer

One of the most fun things for me, in moving to the Bay Area from San Diego in 2013, has been learning the ins and outs of a new beer region. We had cut our teeth with craft beer at the Linkery in 2005, and in many ways I think we came of age along with the San Diego beer scene, which is now generally considered one of the best in the country.

Leaving San Diego for the Bay, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, on the average, I prefer the beer the being brewed in the Bay Area to the beers of my hometown. That’s not to say that I think the beers here are better than San Diego’s, just that they suit my taste more. It seems that in the Bay Area there’s more of an emphasis on food-friendliness and in beers that work as part of larger context — which makes sense given that the food scene here is one of the best in the world. The fact that we enjoy the beer here so much was one of the big reasons we had so much enthusiasm for opening The Half Orange, which aims to be a craft beer destination celebrating food and beer (and also wine and cider) as a complete experience. (I would be remiss in not adding that the support of several Bay Area beer luminaries, including Sayre Piotrkowski and Dave McLean, was also an important factor.)

That said, there are some challenges. Until recently, I’ve felt like there were pretty big gaps in availability of styles here, with some important types of beer either not being brewed in the region or only being brewed by breweries that struggle with quality control. Additionally, some of the better, more established breweries are totally maxed out and not taking new accounts. But for the most part we’ve been able to keep a pretty broad list without having to bring in many beers from out of town.

Recently, though, a few breweries have come into our universe that have really, in my opinion, fleshed out the offerings here. Cleophus Quealy in San Leandro, Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley, Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco, along with the expanded production of Magnolia in San Francisco have brought a wide array of styles and flavor profiles into our reach, all at world-class quality. Now, with these breweries added to the dozen or so top-notch breweries we were already buying from, it’s easy for us to put together a phenomenal, balanced draft list all from local producers who self-distribute (an important ant detail for product freshness and condition). This really is a great time to be local beer drinker in the Bay Area, particularly in the East Bay.

That said, there are three developments I hope to see soon in the Bay Area, from the perspective of both a publican and a beer drinker.

1) I wish more places would clean their draft system lines more often. I often order a good beer at local establishments and find it undrinkable due to the condition of the lines. Surely this greatly slows the market growth of good beer — this is why too many people think local beer is just “hipster hype.” They haven’t tasted what makes local beer great. I’m not alone in thinking this is a major issue, in the last couple months two local breweries have hired line cleaning services to clean the lines on the systems where they are on tap, for places that don’t otherwise do it. I think this is a great (and essential) move. Eventually, though, the market of beer drinkers will start forcing drinkery owners to keep their taps in good condition — if one pub won’t serve great-tasting beer, the people will move to one that will.

2) I’d like to see more establishments move away from serving beer in American shaker pint glasses, and into thinner-walled glassware whose shape accentuates the flavors of the beer. As a beer drinker, I think the improvement in the quality of the beer-drinking experience with great glassware, is a big deal. That’s why I often choose to drink beer at places like Hog’s Apothecary, Commonwealth Micropub, and Magnolia Smokestack — places that serve beer in thoughtfully selected glassware.

3) Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to see more non-beer-centric places — such as neighborhood joints, dive bars and casual restaurants — move beyond just the Sierra Nevada/Anchor Steam and Lagunitas IPA/Racer 5 two-local-drafts combo, and open up a few more taps of local beer that represent a wider arrange of styles and breweries. This, I think, is when we’ll know that the beer culture here has really taken off: when you can walk into any bistro or corner bar and expect a rotating selection of expertly made, delicious local beers in multiple styles, served in great glassware and in excellent condition.

I don’t know, maybe it seems far-fetched that this all could happen anytime soon. My guess, though, is that it will, and it will be fun to enjoy the changes.