After a recent excursion through the underappreciated and under-visited neighborhood that is Portola, I wrote that Four Barrel Coffee was the only sign of gentrification along San Bruno Avenue, a commercial strip that’s otherwise mostly lined with inexpensive eateries from various Asian cuisines.
It’s not entirely accurate, because Portola also has a microbrewery with a strong attachment to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The agreeably named Ferment Drink Repeat shares initials with the 32nd president, and there’s a sign above the taps reading, “The only thing we have for beer is beer itself.” Roosevelt also espoused four freedoms: freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from fear and want. Well, we all want a lot of shit, and a lot of what we want is good beer.
By design and by proclamation — on its website, not by fireside chat — the seven-month-old Ferment Drink Repeat isn’t interested in brewing the world’s greatest beer, but in creating a good gathering spot in a neighborhood that’s lacking them. Rather than the cavernous industrial settings that characterize so many breweries in the Dogpatch and elsewhere, its blue walls, orange chairs, and lots of board games feel more like a cafe than a place where 50-pound sacks of malt are regularly wheeled through on hand-trucks. (The fermentation tanks are there, but they’re in the rear, beyond the restrooms and the shuffleboard table and the reproductions of World War II-era Allied propaganda and the wall-mounted portraiture installation by Phillip Hua, “We Are San Francisco: United Portraits of a Divided San Francisco.”)
Here, under hop-cone-shaped lights, you can drink a commendably wide variety of beers, from the citrus-y, hardly-the-least-bit-hoppy Cat in Tracksuits American IPA to the lightly bitter Portola Pils to the curiously bicultural amalgamation that is the Moon Rox Belgian IPA. If you can’t commit to a 64-ounce growler refill for $24, you can always get a flight of four 4-ounce pours for $10. Some, like the Portola Pils or the I Got Your Bock, are perfectly drinkable and even a bit ordinary, but FDR gets pretty funky. (I’ve never had a white stout, for example, until tasting El Unicornio, which in addition to being a proper English winter warmer, is also chocolaty from the addition of cocoa nibs and whole coffee beans during the fermentation process.)
Probably my favorite of the lot was the Saint Lucy Lager, a relatively high-alcohol (8.3 percent) rauchbier with plenty of smoke, and a strong cedar note like the least-rented-out room in a ski lodge. Otter, Maris Otter, an American pale ale, might be the most complex, containing a strong nutty component and a slightly acrid quality.
This playful Otter — which is named for a strain of hops, not the adorable aquatic mammals that link arms when they sleep so they don’t float away — is actually a collaborative effort between Ferment Drink Repeat and a home brewer named Matt Murray. There’s an entire room devoted to home-brewing equipment, in fact.
Apart from little bags of chips, there’s nothing to eat, but you can bring food in from outside establishments, like the Hawaiian Drive Inn or Queen’s Louisiana Po’ Boy Cafe. It’s not as though there’s nothing in Portola — far from it. But there’s nothing even remotely like Ferment Drink Repeat anywhere near it, which means it could have half-assed its way into the neighborhood and probably won itself an audience.
That’s the opposite of what happened, though. Not a bad tribute to the president who ended Prohibition, right?
Ferment Drink Repeat, 2636 San Bruno Ave. 415-825-5657 or fermentdrinkrepeat.com