Inhale deeply the instant you set foot in Woods Outbound, because your olfactory nerve endings are going to detect something unusual for a bar: the rich, buttery aroma of empanadas.
They’re El Porteño empanadas, to be precise, and it’s a characteristic endemic to some of Woods Beer Co.’s four other neighborhood spots. The other giveaway quality is that, like Woods Cerveceria on 18th Street near Dolores Park or Woods Polk Station in Russian Hill, it’s very small. Narrow and only 750 square feet, it’s meant to evoke the Mad Men-era train cars when drinking yourself into a stupor on the way back to Connecticut wasn’t considered antisocial behavior. (Sans-serif typefaces and a clock that wouldn’t be out of place in an elementary-school gymnasium add to the effect.)
The unadorned, two-tone, high-gloss walls could use a little ornamentation, though. Unlike Woods Island Club, the so-called beer beach on Treasure Island that’s only open on the weekends and in season, you can’t bury your toes in sand or play volleyball with Spuds Mackenzie. So these environs come off as a little spartan.
Woods Outbound is two doors down from Trouble Coffee and on the same block as Celia’s Mexican Restaurant by the Beach and Outerlands, four streets away from where the N-Judah loops around and heads back downtown. Food-heavy but beer-starved, a cluster like that is a good spot for offbeat offerings, and what’s going to lure people here is this craft brewery’s willingness to defy expectations.
If you’re looking for fruity sours or a hoppy, cannabis-forward IPA, you’ve got plenty of places already. Here, there might be two IPAs on tap — as there were on a recent visit — and one of them is likely to be the MateVeza, a once-experimental beer that originated at the 18th Street location and became a standby at every other Woods Island spot. It’s got yerba mate, the high-caffeine herb that’s as common in Argentina as Moon Mist Faygo is at the Gathering of the Juggalos, and the aggregate effect is an appealing, slightly mentholated quality that stands out from the piney dankness characteristic of its peers. Another tap may contain Islay IPA, a double that’s aged in Laphroaig barrels to yield a peaty intensity that borders on — no pun intended — woodiness. (Or, as the charmingly wacky explanatory blurb on the menu has it, a “kilt-clad grapefruit.”)
There’s also an unfiltered retro pilsner, highly drinkable at 4.8 percent ABV, and something called “Shaman: Earth” that seemed to contain a unique batch of herbs, as if a benevolent incantation brought it to life. A coconut pale ale leans hard on the tropical fruit, but coffee notes are detectable — and what do you know, they come from Trouble (as does the darker Dubbel Trouble).
As at the other Woodses, the joy here is inexpensive 32-ounce growlers — only $12 in the case of MateVeza. While we would never encourage anyone to flout the law by taking a growler full of booze to the Ocean Beach — it’s the glass we’re worried about, swear — it does bear reminding that bonfire season started March 1.
Woods Outbound, 4045 Judah St., woodsbeer.com/outbound