When SF Weekly checked out Admiral Maltings, the gigantic production facility dedicated to the underappreciated beer ingredient, it was July 2017 and the machinery in the building had yet to get cranking. (It was still hard-hat time.) While it wasn’t hard to envision beer nerds going long and deep about malt the way they already do about hops, it may have been a little harder to imagine such an artisan-facing enterprise becoming a genuine hangout spot. The intersection of Tower Avenue and Pan Am Way in Alameda Point rates pretty low on the walkability scale, and while a fitness club and a Naval Air Museum are nearby — and both Faction Brewing and St. George Spirits aren’t terribly far — opportunities for spontaneous pedestrian traffic are few.
The former is more than just physically attached to Admiral Maltings; it’s fully part of it. Having opened in February just before Beer Week, it’s a spacious spot with cork-stoppered test tubes of malt grain on the bar and pictures of Admiral Akbar from Return of the Jedi bedecked with more military decorations than a Latin American dictator, all of it cheek-by-jowl with 1940s-era propaganda about good ol’ American wartime ingenuity.
While it’s quiet by the standards of manufacturing, the menu comes on a stamped attendance record that looks to be of World War 2 vintage, and a “This Department Has Worked __ Days Without a Lost Time Accident” sign mounted high on one wall seems like a joke. At least none of the employees was wearing a cast or a cone of shame.
The snack menu is smallish but elegant, heavy on cured meats. Among the mortadella and chicken-and-foie terrine are a cheese board, pickled quail eggs, and a (very) hot pretzel with intensely beer-flavored cheese. While you can eat outdoors, it’s better to sit inside and get hypnotized by the act of raking malts — visible through windows that let onto the production floor — or make conversation with a bartender who’s pouring pints brewed by Admiral Maltings’ customers. Try a stiff, bracing Sea Haggis Scotch Ale by Alameda Island Brewing Co. or a Neptune Beach Pale Ale from Black Hammer. Buried under the maltiness of Triple Rock’s Pale Ale is an intriguing level of orange peel, like a shipwrecked anchor once you’ve scraped off all the barnacles. The only thing missing is the sweet smell of malt itself.
Down on the other side of the former naval structure is Almanac Beer Co.’s Barrel House & Taproom, which consolidates production for Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan’s farm-to-barrel microbrewing operation at last. (While their S.F. taproom has been open in the Mission for about a year-and-a-half now, the actual brewing had been outsourced to another site in San Jose.)
The barrel-aged and sour beer selection remains as varied as ever, with lots of seasonally appropriate options for this side of the vernal equinox. The rose sour (a farmhouse ale aged with Merlot grapes, rose hips, and rose petals) is deceptively potent considering its dry qualities. Don’t miss the Peach Galaxy, a dry-hopped sour farmhouse ale that’s maybe a little less overtly luscious than their standby Nectarine Cobbler, but these guys know their way around stone fruit.
Whereas The Rake is self-contained, here you can stand before the fermentation tanks or chill out by a full-wall mural of Alameda that looks a little like SimCity 2000 and a little like the opening credits to Silicon Valley. Outside, picnic tables and a hedgerow of herbs demarcate the site from the low-slung residences beyond. This level of craft excellence was almost certainly not on anyone’s mind when the entire site was decommissioned in the 1990s, a few years after the Presidio was demilitarized. But aye-eye, admiral, all the same.
The Rake at Admiral Maltings, 651A West Tower Ave., Alameda, 510-666-6419 or admiralmaltings.com
Almanac Beer Co. Barrel House & Taproom, 651B West Tower Ave., Alameda, 415-992-3438 or almanacbeer.com