To kick the weekend off right, we’re taking you to some of the best places across the city to wet your whistle and bulge your belly on Thursday nights. There’s no better of a place to start than at San Francisco’s original gastropub: Magnolia (1398 Haight Street).
When it first opened in 1997, Magnolia was well ahead of its time–the craft brew movement had yet to go national and the term ‘gastropub’ sounded more like an insult than anything else. Nowadays, popular culture has caught up with owner David McLean’s vision of fresh-brewed beer accompanied by great-tasting grub. And although they’ve remained San Francisco’s premiere brewpub for well over a decade, they refuse to rest on their laurels nor be lulled into a sense of complacency.
We sat down with Ben Spencer, Magnolia’s Head Brewer since 2004, as he explained to us some of the unique libations created on-site and the flavors of food that are best suited to each:
Magnolia offers a solid list of starters but perhaps none as decadent nor desirable as their pulled pork poutine. This sinful ensemble of gravy, halloumi cheese curds and juicy, shredded meat has a savory goodness that is perfectly paired with their light and crisp Kalifornia Kolsch–a smooth and refreshing lager-like drink, served in a manageable 9 oz. pour.
Getting a little gamey was the succulent Rabbit sausage, nestled atop a billowing bed of wheat berries. To go along with this unique flavor was the herbaceous and entirely unexpected Weekapaug Gruit–brewed without hops. Before the German Beer Purity Law, more than 500 years ago, beer was commonly brewed this way, using lowland herbs such as wild rosemary and sweet gale to balance out the sweetness of the malt. Magnolia continues this tradition today with their own version of gruit–a dark and smooth drink that tingles with a subdued hint of herb flavor, stopping well short of being medicinal.
For the main course we were graced by one of the city’s most delicious hamburgers: the Magnolia Pub Burger, cooked medium rare and topped with melted bleu cheese. To cut thru the juicy, robust flavor of this organic, red-meat and pungent bleu cheese I needed a beer with a particularly strong hop profile. Thankfully Magnolia had Proving Ground on draft, their own west-coast IPA with all the bitter, piney, citrus tones that make this style of beer my favorite on Earth.
The menu here is constantly evolving and they’re always conjuring up new flavors and ingredients, injecting an innovative spin into one of the most traditional crafts in human history: making beer. This is hardly an accident. Ben the brewer explained to me that the mantra behind much of what they do at Magnolia is to always “take it further.” In line with that mentality is a new, considerably larger production facility and brewpub slated to open in the Dogpatch later next year. Without a doubt, our city is a better place thanks to the hardworking folks at Magnolia…And your night will be better as soon as you make it thru their door.