As beer geeks go, we often make the pilgrimage to our favorite breweries. I found myself in the great city of San Francisco the day after Father’s Day…so…I had to see 21st Amendment Brewery. When the doors opened at 11 AM, and I walked into 21st Amendment, I knew my field trip to San Francisco was going to be perfect. I got the privilege to sit down over a few beers, with co-founder/brewmaster, Shaun O’Sullivan during this visit and we talked about hops, the increase in production, how beer saved him, and what’s in a name.
This is a long one; grab your favorite drink, sit back, and enjoy…
The meeting with Shaun was at noon so we (me, my wife, and my son) found a table, ordered some food, and drinks. The Monterey Bay Calamari, a 21A signature item, was the best I’ve ever had – seriously, it was really good. Interestingly enough, it paired rather well with the glass of Hell or High Watermelon I was enjoying.
Because (biologically) we were still on Eastern Time, it really felt later than lunch to us and eating too heavy didn’t sound like a good plan before heading out for an all-day walk around the city. Don’t get me wrong, I would have sampled everything on the menu and tried my best to wash it all down with every beer available. However, as excited as I was to be there, we had a lot of other places to see in a short amount of time & I decided to save a little for another visit.
The entire interview only took about 15 minutes but the memory of having a glass of Lower De Boom, a delicious Barley-wine with a dry finish, and a proper glass of Monk’s Blood in the brewery, with the brewmaster, will last a lifetime. No really, you may not understand – I revere craft beer brewmasters as high as Jedi Knights to the rebel cause. These guys (and gals) are bringing beer back to what it should be. The 18th Amendment called for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United Sates – not such a free-thinking idea now is it? Without the 21st Amendment (the constitutional one) we might still be under the influence of a dry country, and without these Jedi Knights of craft beer we could be ruled by the king of fizz and heading for the mountains of yellow water.
Brew Free or Die IPA exemplifies the American spirit of craft beer, and what better brewery than one called 21st Amendment to make it! I’ve always liked the name 21st Amendment as a brewery name and asked co-owner/brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan if that name came without much thought or if there were other names they considered.
SO/21A: “Well thanks for saying that, I’ve always thought it was a mouthful. But luckily it’s caught on. When we first opened our pub here on 2nd Street, right here near the baseball park, in San Francisco…we are in a historical area…this building we are in was built in the 20’s (I think) and when we were looking at names of breweries that existed around the 1920’s and we discovered there were a lot of historical names that really weren’t that interesting. We went to the old white pages at city hall and there were no names that really grabbed ya’. My business partner, Nico and I were kind of playing in that era of the ’21st Amendment’ and it made sense, we learned there were about 45 breweries in San Francisco before prohibition. We looked at ‘The Slate Square Brewing’, ‘US Brewing’, ‘Phoenix Brewery’ – it just wasn’t that interesting, it (21st Amendment) just came to us, it sort of found us.”
I know a lot of home brewers who wish they could open a brewery and live the dream. I’m sure like the AC/DC song says, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock-n-roll” but listening to Shaun’s response about being a brewer might make a lot of you reconsider your plans. Well, if you hate cleaning anyway. I asked Mr. O’Sullivan when was the point he knew there was no other choice but to make beer.
SO/21A: “I think about that a lot because I honestly have to pinch myself. It’s great when a career path finds you. Living in LA at the time…I had a lot of different jobs, worked at CNN as a producer, worked as a photographer and I started home brewing when I was working at a law firm and thinking about going to law school. I started home brewing about 5 years into that job at the law firm and said, ‘screw it’ I don’t want to do it (become a lawyer). I was 29 or 30 and moved to Northern California to see if I could get a job. I Moved to Berkeley and within nine months, I got a job at Triple Rock Brewery as an assistant brewer. I just loved cleaning that mash tun out. For all the brewers, or wannabe brewers out there; if you’re not excited about cleaning, then this is not the industry for you.”
“I have two sayings about being a brewer:
- We are not very smart but we can lift heavy things
- If you don’t attack the cleaning process…well…essentially we are glorified janitors
…because in the end it’s all about cleaning. There’s something about clean stainless steel.”
I have to admit, I’m pretty interested in hops and how they are used in beer. It might appear to many of you reading this that asking a question about the most common hop used at 21A might be silly, but I was curious to know if one variety was more common than others in their beer. Shaun’s response to my question actually got me thinking about balance and the incredible number of options brewers have when it comes to bittering and aroma.
SO/21A: “That’s like asking me who my favorite kid is, ya’ know? I’m fond of citra right now, amerillo, I like a lot of the New Zealand hop varieties too. My go to hop is Centennial – I’ve been using it since day one. It’s kind of a workhorse – a great hop to use as a mid-addition hop during the boil. I’m always partial to the real dank, aromatic hops…”
As one might expect, the choice of hops is more about the style of beer, the bittering profiles, aromatics, balancing out the malt(s), and more. But what I did get out of Shaun was that Centennial hops are a good all-around hop to use – maybe the most common at 21A (not really sure I got a solid answer on this one, haha). Certainly any of you home brewers out there know that the 3 – C’s make a great IPA (Centennial, Cascade, and Columbus).
The craft beer industry is growing, it’s really blowing up. I read a news release that 21A announced a new production facility in San Leondro boasting increased production and asked O’Sullivan about the new facility and if it meant more styles (or if he could even say).
SO/21A: “Absolutely, I cannot say…haha…no, no, we’ve been producing beers in Cold Spring, MN since 2008, and we will brew 75,000 barrels this year but we’ve run up against a capacity wall there. So we are building this new brewery just across the bay at San Leondro near the Oakland airport. The reason is that we just can’t do any more in Cold Spring.”
“…and absolutely, we’ve been kind of limited a little bit, in Cold Spring. Great bunch of guys back there, and it’s been a good business model for us but we’ve not had as many beers as maybe we would have liked to and with the new brewery we’ll have that luxury. It’s funny you should bring that up too, I’m home brewing (home brewing!) on a 5-gallon system at my house…a brew…the first brew we plan to brew at the new facility. I’m taking it from 5 gallons to 100 barrels and if that doesn’t get you all clinched up on that day…I don’t know what will. It’s super exciting, we have a lot of great beers out there but we haven’t been able to release that many different types but that’s going to change.”
Shaun and I headed down to the on-site brewery for a few photos over a glass of ‘Monk’s Blood’ (also a dangerously delicious 21A brew) – the conversation continued as we discussed artwork, brewing, the craft beer industry and the Bay Area. Finally, I met up with my wife for a few last things to try on the menu before heading out to see the city.
I loved the fried cheese curds, if you get a chance to order these, get some! The chipotle ranch dipping sauce was perfect and let’s face it, fried cheese and beer is a no brainer.
Lisa rounded up her pre-walk light lunch-and-munch with a decadent dessert called, “Beeramisu”. This dessert is a 21A beer soaked batch of ladyfingers with a mascarpone custard and powdered chocolate delight. I only got a few bites, but I almost ordered one for myself.
I’m looking forward to seeing more 21st Amendment beer in Ohio. It will get pretty expensive flying back and forth to the Bay Area for beer even though I know I will be going back often. We fell in love with the city and now I know why Tony Bennett sings “I left my heart in San Francisco”. 21st Amendment Brewery makes a lot of great beers and I would bet most of you have only scratched the surface with the different beers they have to offer. Locally, for me anyway, 21A can only be found at the Kroger stores but they typically only stock the Brew Free or Die IPA and the Back in Black IPA. Both solid beers, but if you can find Lower De Boom, Monk’s Blood, Hell or High Watermelon (a seasonal beer) and any of the other beers they make, take some home and enjoy it.
I want to thank Shaun O’Sullivan, the staff at the 21A pub, and my friend, Loni for helping me make this post possible and for my wife Lisa, who has yet to become a beer drinker even though I coax her into “sipping” everything but always puts up with my choices. You are all rockstars to me.
I could go on and on with this post because there really is a lot more to say about 21st Amendment than what I’ve shared. For those of you living in the Bay Area, I’m jealous – you have great weather, great scenery, and you can see a ball game and walk a few blocks to enjoy 21st Amendment beer and food in a cozy, family friendly brewpub. I’ll be back…and hopefully if I can talk the wife into moving, we’ll be back for good.
You can learn more about 21st Amendment and even use the “beer finder” to find your own beer on their website.