Planning Your Beercation

Anchor Brewing

Once upon a time, beercations were the domain of only the most serious beer nerds. Those days are long gone. Now, brewery tours often fill up even on weekday mornings during off-peak tourist season, as was the case when my husband and I visited Anchor Brewing a week and a half ago. Granted, that evening the opening gala would kick off San Francisco Beer Week, but with Anchor tour tickets at $20 a pop, I hadn’t expected the maximum 35 people on the 10:00 a.m. tour. A decade ago, when visiting craft breweries and brewpubs was far from mainstream, finding those places was half the fun, according to Chris Nelson and Merideth Canham-Nelson (thebeergeek.com), who have visited over 1060 breweries and pubs.

Today there are crowd-sourced review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, craft fan apps like Beer Advocate, Rate Beer, Untappd and BrewGuru and a plethora of books on regional breweries like Jay Brooks California Breweries North. Newspapers and online zines like Thrilllist frequently have in-house beer writers and regular and guest contributors.

If you’re a craft beer fan who likes to visit new breweries and bars when you travel, my advice is keep a To-Visit list and do some advanced planning. My list stands at 4 ½ pages and growing. I keep places I’ve visited on the list with an * beside the name.

Once Hugo and I decided to go to the SF Beer Week gala, I pulled up my list with “San Francisco and Bay Area” currently numbering 20 venues. We limited it to San Francisco proper, and I consulted Chris Nelson to help winnow it down. Over several messages, he mentioned eight venues, some already on the list, plus BeerByBart.com. The upshot was a longer list.

Magnolia's tap list

Magnolia’s tap list

Unlike Chris and Merideth, Hugo and I aren’t adventure-hardened beer warriors. Arriving on Thursday, we went to lunch at Magnolia, one of San Francisco’s oldest craft breweries, located on Haight St., the heart of hippie mecca a half century ago. Hugo, who holds a fondness for English-style beers, enjoyed the warmer, less carbonated offerings. I was intrigued by the basement brewery with a sizeable metal grate that vents mash steam up into the pub and allows customers a view of kegs below (at least when we visited).

That afternoon, we stopped by Woods Cervecería in the Mission District. I had emailed owner Mike Haro to say we were planning a homebrew with yerba mate and that I’d like to chat with someone at Cervecería since they’re best known for their MateVeza. After sampling five beers, we had a great conversation with brewer/bartender Pablo Soriano and some customers, which I’ll be writing about after our mate brew.

Woods Cerveceria flight

Woods Cervecería flight

An early dinner found us standing in line at the trendy 42-tap Mikkeller San Francisco, one of two dozen Mikkeller venues sprinkled across the Northern Hemisphere. When we finally followed our very nimble host to a table, it involved navigating masses of twenty- and thirty-something hipsters. I asked our server if this was normal for a Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. “Sometimes it gets more crowded,” she replied. Given the awesome beer selection and the great food, I’m not surprised.

The number one San Francisco beercation activity I recommend is the Anchor tour. If you visit craft breweries, you’ve likely seen some very attractive to downright gorgeous breweries like Sierra Nevada, Stone, Firestone-Walker, Widmer and Deschutes. Anchor is in a whole other league. The story of Fritz Maytag saving the venerable but failing brewery from closure in 1965 is well-known. By 1979, Maytag had turned the brewery’s fortune around and moved it to the current location. With the exception of a few macro breweries, thirty-eight years ago, breweries weren’t tour destinations. Anchor has that no-frills look and feel. This brewery is comfortable with itself. It doesn’t have to impress anybody, and that makes it impressive.

Anchor Brewery

Anchor Brewery

While the Anchor tour is pricey, it includes generous samples of a variety of beers. From there, we were headed to lunch at another brewpub when I asked Hugo if he planned to have a beer with lunch. No, he didn’t. With the gala a few hours away, we opted for a nice Indian lunch at Pakwan, a restaurant we now highly recommend.

The gala, which I wrote about last week, was one of those beer events we’ll reminisce about for years to come. On our drive home to Monterey Saturday, we’d planned to hit 21st Amendment in San Leandro but our beer appetite was seriously diminished. Instead, we walked through blocks and blocks of Chinatown where a Chinese New Year street fair was drawing thousands before the annual New Year parade that evening.

In the end, we felt like we’d packed a good bit into our 48-hour beer getaway.

Chinatown street fair

Chinatown street fair

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