Station to Station
Speakeasy, ThirstyBear, 21st Amendment, Gordon Biersch, and old Anchor are the production houses within city limits, and then there are a few smaller gastro pubs like Magnolia and Social Kitchen. I've enjoyed many an evening with each of their products. But when I heard that Southern Pacific Brewing was coming to 19th and Treat, I found myself thinking, finally.... I mean, it just seemed wrong that the Mission, of all neighborhoods, lacked brewery-fresh beer straight from the source.
Southern Pacific Brewing opened in late January and owner Chris Lawrence tells me the line was about 300 people long. Clearly, for the very thirsty city of San Francisco, the demand was there for another brewpub.
And to Chris, the Mission is no strange land. He grew up in Bernal Heights and before opening Southern Pacific – which takes its name from the old railroad lines – he worked at Speakeasy, distributing product and getting an inside sense of the industry and the San Francisco beer market. Then, a couple years ago, he and some friends got a bead on an old abandoned machine shop. They rallied investors and soon Chris found he'd become a construction foreman, working eight days a week turning the tattered space into a restaurant, pub, and brewery.
They had some outside help too. Much of the wood and metal from the old machine shop was refurbished and reused in the new joint. Their neighbors, OHIO Design, built the high-top chairs. Chris' family had an old barn in Sonoma County that they tore down, using the ancient planks as the backdrop to the bar. You can even see some of the lichen in the cracks, adding to the rustic-urban feel of the décor.
In fact, when I first walked into Southern Pacific Brewing, I thought I'd stumbled into a sort of hybrid dimension between San Francisco and the Colorado mountains. I spent my early 20s bouncing around the brewpubs of the Rockies, sipping finely crafted local ales in the mountain air. Here was roughly that same feel, crossed with a modern design, in the heart of the Mission district.
But Southern Pacific is a brewpub. You come for décor third, beer second, and friends first. I showed up around 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and the place was already hopping with folks easing their buttons after work. A quick scan of the clientele offered a nice cross section of the city. Three guys in old sweaters were hovering intently over mockups on an iPad. There was a table of folks exclusively in black jeans and creatively colored tops and scarves. At the bar were friendly old-timers and fresh-outta-college types grabbing a pint. The place had been open 10 days and already it was a San Francisco version of Cheers.
His primary job is making beer, but intertwined with that is making the right amount of beer. One of the hardest parts of opening a new restaurant is gauging how much of what product you're going to sell. Should the next batch be IPA or porter? (I vote IPA.) Southern Pacific pipes in big-brand beers and local microbrews as well – along with hosting a full bar – but people come to a new brewery to try new beers. And that's left Andy scrambling to keep up. So far, however, he's kept the taps flowing.
When Belgian Wits are brewed, tradition typically holds that the brewmaster adds in a spice of his choice. Andy chose ginger to go along with the orange and toasted coriander. The beer isn't exactly sweet however, just a light tasty brew, like Allagash or Great White.
Despite the name, this brew takes cues from Germany. The European hops give it a nice sharp finish. Andy says he wants each of Southern Pacific's offerings to have crisp endings. California Blonde pays heed to that rule.
This is to be Southern Pacific's "session beer" – an affordable $3 ale with long-term drinkability (read: low alcohol content) that still provides real taste. It hails from the States, getting the hops from the Northwest and using good ol' California yeast.
I am an IPA-o-phile, so I very much enjoyed these next two brews. The basic IPA is a simple blend with a sharp, bitter end – the kind that makes you go "ahh" on the first sip.
But this guy was my favorite of the whole roster. The taste was big like a hearty IPA should be. It wasn't quite as large as Lagunitas or Racer 5 – Andy's push for crispness keeps it from that ilk – but it was rich and absolutely tasty. In the future, this beer will find its way into my hand after work.
Andy called this dark brew "a black hole." Not because it does something weird to your taste buds, but because when he shins a flashlight into it – a common quality test for brewmasters – the light travels about a millimeter and dies. This doesn't inhibit the taste, however. Porters aren't my thing, but I will say that if you like a good rich one, add it to your list.
I asked Andy why none of his brews have names, and the weary part of his smile returns. He tells me he hasn’t had the time, but whatever these folks come up with, they're going to continue with the Southern Pacific Railroad theme.
Might I suggest “Mission Depot IPA”?
Because Southern Pacific Brewing is certainly a stop I’ll make again.
Southern Pacific Brewing is located at 19th, a little south on Treat Ave. It’s open seven days a week, starting at 11 a.m. The space is gargantuan and can easily fit a big party. The beer list is subject to change.