Bay Area Beer Boom: 9 Trends to Try

Everything you need to know about the booming San Francisco Bay Area beer world.

When it comes to Bay Area innovation, the spotlight often falls on tech entrepreneurs, design professionals and culinary pioneers. The region’s brewers, however, are also making their mark.

Inside the brew house of Anchor Brewing, San Francisco

“The Bay Area has always been on the cutting edge with technology, and you see that theme playing out in craft beer, as well. It’s all about experimentation and creativity,” said Joanne Marino, San Francisco Brewers Guild executive director. “Historically, this region is known for innovation. Anchor Brewing led the revival of the steam beer style that was going extinct, and then introduced Liberty Ale, a much hoppier beer, in the mid 1970s. There’s also Moonlight [Brewing Company] doing gruits [un-hopped beers made with herbs] and Russian River [Brewing Company] introducing sours before a lot of other American breweries were into that style. This region doesn’t limit itself.”

Across the Bay Area, seasoned enthusiasts will find fresh flavors at every turn. Those new to beer are in luck as well.

Local Brewing Co. in San Francisco

“Local breweries and taprooms are designed to offer options and help people discover what they may or may not like," Marino said. "It’s an educational process. Try some samples, ask questions and listen to your own palate.”

When it comes to trends, here’s what to expect on a Bay Area beer-tasting tour.

Go Mobile

Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewing, Farm Creek Brewing in Walnut Creek, 21st Amendment’s San Francisco brewpub and Woods Cervecería, over in the city’s Mission District, are among area breweries selling beer in crowler packaging. Light, durable and portable, these 32-ounce takeaway cans are filled with tap beer and sealed on-site. Travel-friendly crowlers typically cost less than refillable glass growlers, too, though growlers also remain a popular choice at regional breweries.

Beer and food at ThirstyBear Organic Brewery in San Francisco

Beer and Bites

The sheer diversity of beer styles makes the beverage a popular food-pairing partner at places like ThirstyBear Organic Brewery, which features ingredients from local farms and now updates its craft beer menu monthly. Haight-Ashbury mainstay Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery unveiled new menus this summer, expanding housemade sausage offerings and introducing new sandwiches. Smokestack, Magnolia’s Dogpatch barbecue stop and brewing facility, also debuted new dishes.

Looking for Belgian-inspired flavors? Try La Trappe Cafe, Belga or Bel. Sessions at the Presidio serves seasonal fare and expansive bottle and draft lists, while The Crafty Fox pairs craft beer with small plates and shareable mains. In Mountain View, Steins Beer Garden puts an upscale spin on comfort food and pours more than 30 draft beers.

Urban Additions

Urban taprooms connect local patrons with their neighbors and give visitors extra incentive to wander off the beaten path. Cellarmaker and Local Brewing Co. draw customers to SoMa, while Social Kitchen and Brewery, Sunset Reservoir and Old Bus Tavern have created casual, family-friendly gathering spots away from the bustle of downtown San Francisco. A community crowdfunding campaign helped Temescal Brewing open in Oakland. To the north, Benoit Casper Brewing Co. and East Brother Beer are the first breweries to set up shop in Richmond.

Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco

Easy Does It

Looking for something light-bodied? Releases like 21st Amendment’s El Sully and NuBo Pils by New Bohemia Brewing in Santa Cruz offer a low-key, local alternative to lagers by big-brand breweries. Plenty of producers pour flavorful session beers clocking in at less than five percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV), as well. Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s seasonal Dry Creek Blonde Ale and the Publican & the Pelican British-style pale ale by Barrel Head Brewhouse are two examples. Speakeasy’s Session Series includes a session ale, session India pale ale (IPA) and pilsner available year-round on draft and in cans.

Beer Gardens Are Big

On sunny afternoons, claim an outdoor table at Moxy Beer Garden or Westbrae Biergarten in Berkeley, or head straight to the source: Jupiter and Triple Rock Brewery both maintain popular patios (Triple Rock recently completed an interior expansion, too). View the San Francisco skyline from the patio at Alameda’s Faction Brewing, or sip beer in the sand at Woods Island Club on Treasure Island. San Francisco’s Zeitgest has more than 40 taps and a vibrant back garden, while the Bavarian-style Biergarten brings beer and pretzels to Hayes Valley (with more German fare at its sit-down sister cafe, Suppenküche). Up in Petaluma, musicians play for outdoor patrons at Lagunitas. Marin Brewing delivers pints and pub fare to its patio, just blocks from the Larkspur ferry terminal. 

Drake's Dealership beer garden

Pints With a Purpose

Many Bay Area breweries support the community through nonprofit partnerships. Through sales of its seasonal Kick Back IPA, for example, Drake’s Brewing funds trail restoration work in the East Bay Regional Park District. Anchor Brewing raises money for California State Parks Foundation grants with its California Lager; Fort Point also works with various nature and art organizations. Representatives from Harmonic Brewing, Southpaw, Devil’s Canyon and others participated in this year’s Hops for Housing, one of several philanthropic efforts by the Sirwisa Brewing Collective.

Take a Tour

If you’re on a tight schedule, leave the tour planning to the pros. Vantigo visits breweries in San Francisco and south of the city, along coastal Highway One, in meticulously restored Volkswagen vans. SF On Tap leads walking brewery tours in several San Francisco neighborhoods. With Brew Cruz, guests board a converted bus to explore beer hotspots in and around Santa Cruz.

Homebrew supplies at  Black Sands Brewery, San Francisco

Innovation at Work

From the Santa Cruz County berries in Almanac’s Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry, to the Meyer lemon and basil in Old Bus Tavern’s saison, creative ingredients distinguish local releases. Laughing Monk Brewing picks local chamomile for its brews; Triple Voodoo grows garden-fresh lemon verbena. Napa’s Ca’ Momi also looks local, sourcing hops from neighboring Lake County. Cellarmaker and Fieldwork are known for highlighting the complexity and characteristics of various hops in their releases and Magnolia and Black Sands are among several breweries experimenting with single-malt and single-hop (SMaSH) beers. Of course, technique matters, too. The Rare Barrel in Berkeley and Capitola’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, among others, are known for their barrel-aged releases.

Brew-It-Yourself Stops

Craft your own beer at Oakland’s Diving Dog Brewhouse, where the brew-on-premise program equips enthusiasts with the recipes, ingredients and instructions to craft their own brews (with bottling and custom labeling options available, too). In San Francisco, Ferment.Drink. Repeat. and Black Sands Brewery sell home-brew supplies and offer learn-to-brew classes in addition to serving housemade beer.