On my next trip to San Francisco, CA my first stop for beer will be at the Magnolia brewpub in the Haight-Ashbury district, just off of Golden Gate Park. Unless I can't get there without stopping at Toronado first. So, edit the opening line, my first stop at a brewpub in San Francisco will be Magnolia. Sure, 21st Amendment is very good (and near the ballpark), Thirsty Bear is worth another look, and Anchor will of course get a return visit from me. But, standing at the top of the heap in my mind for the complete brewpub experience in San Francisco is Magnolia. Dave McLean and his crew are head and shoulders above many others in the industry. You may have noticed that over the past six weeks or so I have been sharing with you the beer experiences that I had while in San Francisco in March. I saved Magnolia for the last review because I wanted to make sure that I got it just right. So, I wrote some, reviewed it, let some time go by, reviewed it again, and finally figured that it is time to "pull the trigger" and share this great information with you all. If you followed closely enough, you may remember that I trekked out on foot from my hotel at Union Square to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood one beautiful evening. I knew that it would be a decent hike, but close to 3 miles later, I finally arrived at Toronado. You can see the full Toronado review here. But, then I met Paul Hayward and, soon after, we ventured up to Magnolia approximately 1/2 mile closer to the park. I was hungry (for food and beer) when I walked in, and I was starving by the time I finally got my burger delivered to me. This was because the joint was jumping. Not jumping in a raucous way, mind you, but more of just a happy, friendly neighborhood buzz kind of way. While the space is not large enough to comfortably hold all of its fans, Magnolia's staff and patrons and their attitudes (at least on this particular evening) somehow make the close quarters just a bit friendlier. With Paul's acquaintance Kelly working the bar, we fortunately got a little quicker attention. I started off with the Proving Ground IPA (CO2) and by the end of the evening (and thanks to a little friendly coercion from Kelly) I also sampled the Proving Ground IPA (Cask), Pearly Baker's Bitter (both ways), Saison de Lily, Cole Porter, and Stout of Circumstance. Should I be disappointed that I did not try each of the beers on the full list?! It was so difficult to attempt a ranking of these beers that I tried. They all scored at least an 'above average' up to an 'excellent' reaction from me (maybe I need a scoring system?). But, if you pushed me hard enough, I would have to put the Proving Ground IPA (esp. the cask version) and the Saison at the top of the list. They would be followed closely by the Cole Porter, the Pearly Baker, and the Stout of Circumstance last but certainly not in a bad way. The food, ah the food! I knew I was off to a good start after reading the menu and seeing that these guys are into supporting locally grown, sustainable, and organic food however possible. You can certainly tell that there's a chemistry that they work at here at Magnolia. I had a Niman Ranch burger with blue cheese and a 1/2 pound later I was full of some real good cooking from the kitchen. What a perfect accompaniment for the beer, especially the porter. It is always fun to find these kind of places, especially given that you'll be hard-pressed to find their beer anywhere else...draft, bottle, or otherwise. Another significant allure is the special attention that they give to cask-conditioned ales. They have gone the extra mile to install the capability to serve a handful of cask conditioned brews at any given time. By the way, if you are interested in the rich and unique history of Magnolia Pub and the Haight-Ashbury in addition to their cask conditioning system, their website contains a lot of very interesting detail. Well, I could certainly go on and on here about Magnolia. And, for those of you regular readers, you may be surprised that I am not going to ;-) All I really want to say in summary is that if you are in San Francisco and looking for excellent beers, with great food, served by incredible people then make sure that you check out Magnolia Pub. p.s. If anyone knows how to nominate a 'bartender of the year', please let me know. Kelly deserves 1000 votes (or more). Her friendliness, great attitude, and knowledge of the beer made the experience at Magnolia even better.
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