Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Seven Stills tour

November 25th, 2019
Seven Stills tour


Last night I took a tour of the new Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, a brewpub located on the edge of the Design District and Mission Bay in San Francisco. The six year old company is in the process of moving their operations to this new facility but it’s not up and running just yet.

It was the first day of the tour in the new facility, and the tour wasn’t quite going according to schedule. I assume that will be resolved soon. The dining area isn’t fully open yet either.

The tour began at a small tasting bar just inside the front door. The tastings began with a glass of pilsner as a palate cleanser, while our guide explained their concepts. As a local company the name Seven Stills is a play on words, referencing the “Seven Hills” in San Francisco. Some of their products reference specific hills and their surrounding neighborhoods on their packaging.

The origin of the company was a home brewer met an experimental home distiller. A few years later they decided to launch a unique brewery and distillery company, with the distillery focused on making whiskey from their own beer.


Seven Stills tour


As we got underway our guide explained the key components of beer brewing: grain, yeast, and hops. All basic stuff, until he got into brewing with fresh hops instead of the dried stuff. Turns out the more boutique brewers like Seven Hills have fresh hops trucked in from Washington state for special beers when hops are in season.

The first real tasting of the night was Five Pounds, a west coast style IPA paired with a whiskey distilled from it. I’m not a huge fan of this style of IPA, but I really enjoyed the pairing between the two. Even though the hoppiness is lost in the flavor of the whiskey it’s still very much present in the scent.


Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour Seven Stills tour


We walked into the back room and we were hit by another surprise. The brewing tanks are brand new, still covered in plastic wrap. The plumbing was still in progress. The copper still wasn’t fully built, with the main boiler still dangling from a hoist on the ceiling and other parts in the room outside.

Personally I found it interesting to see all of this equipment in its bare, just delivered state, essentially a factory waiting to be assembled. It’s supposed to be all up and running in the next few months. If you want to see what a brewery and distillery looks like while it’s being built, now’s a good time to go.

Before returning to the front for another whiskey and beer pairing, we sampled a “negroni” beer that really just tasted like a sour beer with a berry aftertaste. The guide discussed some of the beers they’ve made with unusual adjuncts, including a guacamole beer which didn’t sound very good to be honest.

We also had small samples of the vodka and gin they make. The vodka just tastes like a good vodka — not bad but also not very interesting. The gin had a strong pine tree scent to it, almost like a perfume.


My recommendation: How often do you get to taste whiskey and the beer it was distilled from in the same place? On the other hand the historic Anchor Brewing is located just up the hill with a similarly priced tour. For those only interested in one, which should you go with? If you’re more interested in beer history Anchor’s your best bet. For newer types of beer and whiskey distilling Seven Stills is worth checking out instead.

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

July 6th, 2019

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
Lagunitas Brewing Company tour Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

Today I took a tour of the Lagunitas Brewing operation in Petaluma. The facility was largely built before they sold themselves to Heineken, and still operates independently. Tickets for the tour are free and (if you’re over 21) include a free beer.

The tour focuses very little on brewing and much more of the stories behind the company. Which is fine with me, every brewery essentially does the same thing at some level. Back when I used to brew beer at home I covered the process here.

Some highlights from the Lagunitas tour stories:

  • Founder Tony Magee was an unsuccessful musician from Chicago who moved to California and started brewing “house beers” for local bars, eventually launching his own brand.
  • An early version of the brewery was in a much smaller town that (unbeknownst to the company) had a communal septic tank instead of a proper sewage system. Let’s just say you don’t want to trap yeast with human waste in a closed environment.
  • The state had the brewery shut down for a few weeks after catching employees smoking marijuana at a company party. Lagunitas responded by issuing a beer to commemorate the occasion when they reopened, the Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale.

I’ve left out many details, and there are many more stories on the tour. Depending on the tour guide you might get a different set of stories entirely.

My recommendation: Anyone who enjoys Lagunitas’ beer or is curious about this quirky brewing company would probably enjoy the tour. Their taproom and beer garden with live music and food is just outside the brewing facility. One caveat is it’s only accessible by car; I think I spent around $30 total getting to and from the brewery from downtown Petaluma via Lyft.

Beverages and bites in downtown San Diego

January 2nd, 2019

Downtown San Diego features many amazing places to eat and drink. By no means did I visit all of them, but here are three that I’d suggest to any tourist.

Bean Bar

Bean Bar

This small coffee shop is across the street from the Central Library and a block or so away from Petco Park. It’s run by a friendly young husband and wife team. Aside from coffee they also serve a small, seasonal food menu — I highly recommend the avocado toast.

A few people sat around doing work on laptops so I assume they have wifi. But the owners seemed happy to chat with anyone who wandered in.

Quartyard mural

Beer at the Quartyard

The Quartyard is a popup space near Park & Market, designed to fill an empty corner lot while the city plans what to do with the property long term. In the meantime it features a bar with an amazing selection of local craft beers on tap. They offer a menu with various burgers and other items — I had the grilled cheese. Wasn’t bad for a beer garden, and a pretty good deal if you order during happy hour. To be honest I wasn’t expecting to eat here but I stayed for a while as I was reading a book I couldn’t put down.

During the day the Quartyard has a cafe facing the sidewalk, but I can’t really recommend it — you can easily find better coffee nearby. Stick with the beer.

Tocaya Organica Tocaya Organica

Tocaya Organica

This fast casual Mexican restaurant chain has various locations in southern California. According to online reviews it’s a favorite in the Gaslamp, and it’s easy to see why. The taco combo includes two tacos, two side dishes, and one beverage for only twelve bucks. Many of the side dishes are sharable.

The San Diego location is located next to a perpetually empty TGI Friday’s. It’s telling when a small chain serving fresh Mexican food close to the border can poach customers from a mediocre chain of American diners. Who wants microwaved appetizers when delicious spicy tacos are next door?

Sierra Madre beer

October 9th, 2011

Sierra Madre

Yes, it’s Federale from Sierra Madre, i.e. Sierra Nevada’s little cousin.

Making beer at home: Part 3

March 23rd, 2010

This is a follow-up to part 1 and part 2 of my home-brewing series.

The final step, as you may have guessed, is bottling the beer. There’s not a whole lot too this: you put your bottles in the dishwasher, then bake ’em a little to sanitize them, fill them with beer via a siphon, and cap the bottles.

It’s a good thing this is simple too, because I didn’t get any photos during the bottling. It turns out that digital cameras require something called a “battery” which needs to be “charged.” Who knew?

To take a step back here, you might wonder “where do I get beer bottles?” Well it’s obvious — you drink beer and reuse those bottles. You’ll need about 50 or so dark pop-top bottles. The labels can be removed by soaking the bottles in your kitchen sink overnight in hot water. You can use a cap full of bleach for suborn labels. But the good news is you can keep your de-labeled bottles and use them again.

Here’s a pic of how the bottles get sanitized in the oven once they’re washed. You just place bottles on the racks of your oven, crank the heat to ~300 F, and wait for 20 minutes or so. This is actually more than enough to kill anything that survived the dishwasher.

Sanitizing the bottles

The siphoning part isn’t very interesting, you just need a hose or ideally a hose connected to a pump. That part makes a huge mess but there’s not much to it.

Everyone seems to be interested in capping the bottles. This crab-looking thing is the device that’s used for capping. You pull the handles and it pinches the caps on, and there’s a little magnet inside to hold the cap steady. It’s very easy, if you don’t mind a little hair in your beer you could probably train a monkey to do this part.


Important note to my Bay Area readers: don’t use Anchor Steam bottles! They seem ideal otherwise, but when attempting to cap Anchor bottles I’ve had nothing but issues. Usually the caps won’t snap on easily. One bottle actually broke while I was capping and I got glass all over. FAIL!

This concludes my brewing series. Perhaps I’ll have some other topics later if anyone’s interested.

Making beer at home: Part 2

March 4th, 2010

Today we’re going to follow up to Part 1 of my home-brewing series.

The next step takes place about 5 days after part 1. We’re going to begin “secondary fermentation,” aka putting our beer into a different container.

As always, the real first step is to sanitize everything. So my glass carboy (jug) gets sanitized with iodine and rinsed out. The same thing happens to a rubber stopper, a hose, and an airlock. This is about 10 minutes of work.


Next step: transferring the beer into a new container. All we do is plug in a hose and let gravity do the work.



Now that our beer is moved, we plug up the glass carboy and cram in an airlock.



That’s it, we’re done with setting up our secondary fermentation.

If you’re paying attention, you’re no doubt wondering why we changed containers. The end result of part 1 and part 2 look very similar. So why bother?

Well the answer is simple — we left behind a bunch of sludge in the original container. We tossed the sludge and cleaned out the plastic bucket for next time. It’s like moving your fish while you clean out their bowl. The absence of this gunk makes the resulting beer more clear and less gunky.

Next time in my home-brewing series, we’re going to bottle the beer.

Making beer at home: Part 1

February 24th, 2010

For a few months now I’ve been making beer at home. It’s surprisingly simple. If you can make tea, you can probably make beer.

I’m by no means an expert at this, but I’m chronicling my attempt at making a porter. This is my 6th batch of beer ever, and it will take around two months. Not to worry though, there’s maybe 4 hours of actual work involved. The rest is just waiting.

All the ingredients, recipes, and special equipment come from SF Brewcraft here in the city. (If you’re living somewhere else, you can probably find all this at a local brewing place or online.)

Important note:
brewing beer at home is legal here in California, but it may not be where you live.

Enough talk, let’s get started: here’s day 1 of making the porter.

First you get a big pot of water to a near boil. Three gallons of water (more or less.) Unless your stove is super fast this will take a while. I think it took me about an hour.

Your grains go in a cheesecloth bag and you tie that bag to the side of the pot. This has to soak for about 40 minutes give or take. The resulting water with grains is called “wort.”


Once that’s ready, you have some free time. You turn the stove off, cover the pot, and wait 45 minutes.

Then you spend a minute and 5 seconds fumbling with your camera trying to get the shot of you holding your iPhone timer to demonstrate this. It’s cool though, because you’ve got time to spare.


Beep beep, 45 minutes is up and it’s time to pull the grains out!


Now it’s back to a boil. The malt sugars and hops go in now. The malt I used here is thick and liquid, like maple syrup. Six pounds of malt sugar go in, so I hope you’re not on the Atkins diet.

Hops come in little pellets and look like rabbit turds. They smell like, well, marijuana. Hops are what add flavor to the beer. They go throughout the boil at prescribed periods. This takes another hour.


Okay, the hour is up, now it’s time to cool our batch down in ice water. So we fill up the sink and place the pot in. But unfortunately the pot isn’t heavy enough and it floats, so we put a bunch of heavy junk on top to weigh it down.


Meanwhile, we have a bucket of 2.5 gallons of room temperature water ready to go next to it in a sanitized bucket. The wort goes in here along with yeast, then it gets sealed.


Here’s the whole thing sealed up and ready. The hose acts as a one-way valve so the gasses from the fermentation can escape.


Where does the hose go? Into a bucket of water, of course! For you druggies out there, this is just like a hookah/water pipe.


And that’s it! Next time: secondary fermentation.