San Francisco is a city with a rich and storied history; long shot hopes of wealth through the gold fields, dreams of a new life from Asian rim immigrants; overcoming adversity after earthquakes and fires; and utopian ideals from the flower generation. It is also a city with a long tradition of craft beer, and rife with world class restaurants; Thirsty Bear Brewing Company is where those two heritages meet.
We had allotted just two days to explore after an excellent three day design conference that brought us to San Fran. And even though the wife enjoys craft beer as much as I do, I had to select a brewery that was in the general vicinity of both where we were staying and the sites we wanted to see; Thirsty Bear met that Goldilocks criteria (pun intended, or allusion, or whatever the case may be).
The morning was spent with dim sum and nearly half a roasted duck consumed by the wife for breakfast, then a trip over to City Lights to buy up half the store. Starting at the northern end of Chinatown, we made our way down Grant Avenue browsing for trinkets to take home to friends and family. Halfway through, being thirsty, we stopped in at the Buddha Bar for a quick Tsingtao and a brief respite. Weaving our way further through the shops, tourists, hawkers, and local residents, I couldn’t help but think of Blade Runner, “…you Nexus Six, I make your eyes.”
Coming out of the Chinese Gate and into a different world, we made the roughly seven block hike to Thirsty Bear. Located near San Fran’s MoMA in the SOMA district, the interior is a mix between wood beams and exposed brick, and minimalist modern, but not in the antiseptic style that is common in many an upscale eatery these days. Arriving between the lunch and dinner hours, just a few other patrons greeted us as we sat down at the bar with them. With breakfast a distant memory, we ordered some tapas and starter beers.
The Howard Street IPA is more like a hoppy amber than true IPA, but was still very good, expertly balancing hoppiness with maltiness; and the Kozlov Stout, chocolaty and nitro-infused, were perfect starters. As mentioned in other posts, IPAs and stouts, especially nitro-infused stouts, are our usual gauges of how good a brewery is going to be; if you can’t make something unique with those two draws, then the rest is usually uninspiring. Both were more than adequate, enough said. The Kozlov by the way derives its name from the inspiration for the bar’s name as well: a newspaper article about a thirsty bear who bites a man (Kozlov) for a cold beer, go to their website for more.
As we savored the beers the tapas arrived, satisfyingly quieting our rumbling stomachs. The day we were there, one of the offerings were goat cheese filled date empenadas, creamy and delicious. The albondigas, pork and beef meatballs on polenta and queso fresco, were equally delectable. The chicharrones were nice and crispy and porky, but small in portions in my opinion. This was hands down the best food I’d ever had in a brew pub, and equally on par with tapas I’ve had anywhere. All of the ingredients were fresh; from the produce to the seafood, meats, and dairy, the components are all local. This is probably a good place to also mention that Thirsty Bear is one of the first to be designated as a CCOF certified organic brewery.
Fortified, we ordered an assorted flight and relished each sip. The Golden Vanilla Ale a multi-palate flavor ride, was much better than it sounded, my notes recorded: Makes your taste buds flip-flop… but in a good way. The Meyer ESB was very distinctive, not just a bitter ale. The wife enjoyed the Nutmeg Ale, but I found it too nutmeggy. Everything we tasted was unique and very well thought out, from the Polar Bear Pils to the Valencia Wheat, all could hold their own with most breweries in the nation.
After buying a glass for the collection, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for another memorable dinner that night at Tadich’s. Unfortunately the glass busted in the luggage on the flight home, but I wasn’t too bummed, the memories of the incredible food and singular beers would always remind me just as well.