By the time the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill approached the owners of Almanac Beer Co., the San Francisco brewery was already known for a proliferation of "farm to table" beers that used local produce. This spring's Biere de Mars harnessed the flavors of fennel.
But the Fairmont's rooftop, complete with apiary, might count as the tiniest farm ever. When its beverage staff wanted a partner to make a beer from its bees' honey, Almanac was the logical choice.
"After touring the stately hotel, their gardens and restaurant, we tried to incorporate all of that inspiration into the beer," says Almanac's Jesse Friedman.
Why would breweries - typically jammed with in-house projects to bring thirsty patrons to their door - take on a partner? For the same reason that restaurants would reach out to a brewer: to reach a bigger, different audience. That has been occurring with increasing frequency on the West Coast as chefs seek beverages tailored to their food.
Maybe Public House, with its dedicated entrance to AT&T Park and sports-bar setting, isn't the most unusual venue to commission its own beer. But Billy Sunday's Best Bitter, created by Magnolia Pub head brewer Dave McClean, is hardly a usual beer. For one, the food, under chefs Traci Des Jardins and Chris Wade, exceeds standard ballpark fare.
More crucially, Public House has a meticulously maintained cask program. Cask ales require more exacting storage and serving because fresh beer goes straight into a cask - no treatment, filtering or flash-pasteurizing.
Billy Sunday's is a classic English bitter; whether it's the cask or low carbonation, the ale is dominated by the aroma of apple blossoms, with a soft cider taste. It's as proper a foil for Public House's crispy cauliflower with pine nuts, capers and peppers as it is for the chorizo and jalapeno fritters.
"It's unique to us and presumably most U.S. breweries, because it's the one beer we make that's only available cask-conditioned," McClean says.
More recently, McClean - who also has Magnolia's own restaurant in the Haight to service - teamed up on a beer for Namu Gaji, the recently opened Korean-inspired project in the Mission District that's a successor to Dennis Lee's original Richmond District restaurant.
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