Occupying the sweet spot between the overcrowded Monk’s Kettle and its deceased sibling Abbot’s Cellar, one of San Francisco’s preeminent craft beer companies has opened a brick-and-mortar at last. In the extreme southeast corner of the Mission, where Sous Beurre Kitchen used to be, Almanac Beer Co.’s Damian Fagan and Jesse Friedman have opened Almanac Taproom. Seven years after its founding, this represents an unusual order of operations, since Almanac doesn’t have a brewery of its own yet. But their hyper-seasonal focus was never going to work with just any old food menu, so the Taproom is obviously the product of some careful deliberations, and the results are solid.
(I’ve never met Fagan, but in the interests of disclosure, I’ve known Friedman casually for seven years. We met when I was an ice-cream maker at Humphry Slocombe, occasionally reducing various then-new Almanac beers to a syrup to add to the base, and I later worked with his wife, Elianna, at a catering company. I’ve also occasionally retweeted his vociferously worded musings on the current neo-Nazi takeover.)
The charcuterie-centric menu is quite good, and as a rough index, the odder the item, the better it is. Skip $3 Miyagi oysters and things you can get virtually anywhere. Technically, the dry-hopped saison vinegar mignonette is not something you can get anywhere, but it had an unpleasant, almost plasticky finish. My dinner date dismissed the whole plate as “stadium oysters.” Similarly, the fried Brussels sprouts ($11) were pleasantly minty but way too heavy on the lime.
Go with cured meats instead, like a vivacious lonza ($9) that’s striped almost as brightly as a barber pole. (The suggested pairing, the dank, multiple-dry-hop-infused Blueberry Jack, was great, as if beer and meat had locked arms and spun around in a field.) Bedecked with almonds and sage and drizzled with pungent olio nuovo, the chanterelle mushroom pâté ($12) is rich and deep, with the consistency of refried beans. But the very best was the ’nduja ($12), a smoky, Calabrian-chile-and-pork spread that may not be the prettiest thing to look at, but you will pinch the casing to get every bit of it onto the crostini. Pair that one with A.C.L.I.B.U., an American IPA with a serious nose but a mild enough flavor to let the ’nduja do its thing. (As its name suggests, proceeds go to a certain civil-liberties organization tasked with keeping the lights on through January 2021.)
If the rusticity of offal isn’t your jam, Almanac has geometrically pleasing musubi, including a more-citrusthan-heat spicy ginger and an avocado preparation ($6 for two pieces) that I enjoyed even more. Or stick to sandwiches, like a vegetarian banh mi ($15) made with falafel-esque “polpette.” A meatball sandwich ($16) can feel very Man Show, but this one’s got pancetta among the tomato and mozzarella, so it’s simple but not plain.
Even things like simple sourdough ($5) excel: The butter is malt butter, and there’s citra hop salt on top of that. For dessert, two hot, fresh, hop jelly-filled donuts ($8) will do you; no need to gild that homulus lupulus. Apart from a $16 burger that doesn’t come with fries, prices are reasonable, and vegetarians can thrive. As menus grow organically over time — and there’s a certain methodology here — I would expect the Taproom’s to accrete like rings on a tree. But this being such a relentlessly dreary winter, I would have loved some hearty entrees: a tagine, a cassoulet, something with lamb. There’s a hole where big plates should be.
But the range of beer is already complete and, in all honesty, pretty dazzling. Almanac is a “gypsy” operation, which means it doesn’t yet own its own brewing equipment. (It’s also Almanac Beer Co. and not Almanac Brewing for a reason.) Having been a subletter — as it were — since its inception, you’d think it would be far from coming into its own. Nope.
Without fail, every time I take a sip of Nectarine Cobbler, a gentle sour enhanced with baking spices, I wonder how it can be so good. Then I force-feed it to whoever’s with me and darken my brow until they agree — which they do, anyway. It tastes so effortless. How is this not a gross gimmick with all the elegance of a vodka-Frangelico-and-lemon-wedge “chocolate cake” shooter? Or take the Barbary Barrel Noir, a high-ABV exercise in controlled demolition that’s aged in Woodford Reserve barrels to sand down its strident qualities. Don’t confuse it with the Coffee Barbary Coast, which is even bigger, with more of a roasted quality.
Even the less adventurous selections hit all the marks: Simcoe Sour, one of Almanac’s Hoppy Sour series, is as bright as a coniferous forest, and High Esteam is a California Common that tastes like summer in Dolores Park itself. Samplers are $2 or $3 each, so two people could get wild and share six or eight or 10, with an emphasis on whatever’s new or only available on-site. And for what it’s worth, they’re presented on a labeled placemat matrix, so you don’t lose track of what’s what.
Almanac has two main drawbacks, which will irritate people to varying degrees (or not at all). First, you really have to enjoy sour beer, or else you might not have much fun. Even by the standards of S.F.’s recent crop of beer-oriented eateries and the wave of taprooms opening around town, Almanac’s sours are serious business, presented in a 2-to-1 ratio with the fresh beers, and the food comes second to the beer.
The other issue is that Almanac is very loud. On one visit, I was legitimately shouting across a two-top. A corollary to this high-intensity atmosphere is that I get the sense people treat table boundaries and personal space more like they would in a bar. For example, one guy hovered over me for 20 minutes, talking to a party of six at the next table — something nobody would do if the environment were quieter. (Consequently, you’re going to be treated to a fair amount of eavesdropping on beer-nerd conversations.) And if you watch the staff closely enough, you can see them frantically placing “reserved” signs on empty tables to deter line-jumpers from seating themselves. But as I’ve only visited when it’s been either cold or pouring rain, things might improve once the capacious beer garden, basically a double-wide, can pick up some slack.
Apart from that, the main desire one is left with is a yearning for more: more charcuterie, in particular. Assuming that the teetotaler-in-chief doesn’t one day imprison all the antifa brewers of San Francisco, opening this taproom feels like a very intermediate threshold for Almanac. This brewery is poised to do very big things while staying small — and staying true to the spirit of extraordinary craft beer.
Almanac Taproom, 2704 24th St., 415-932-6531 or almanacbeer.com