Bay Area craft breweries are on an expansion tear. Fort Point Beer Co. has just opened a taproom on Valencia Street in the Mission, while Fieldwork Brewing is set to add seven more spots to its constellation of hangouts. But Seven Stills, a brewery and distillery that Tim Obert and Clint Potter cofounded barely three years ago, is undergoing an even more profound transformation.
Having started in a space on Egbert Avenue in the Bayview next to Laughing Monk Brewery that Obert and Potter built out themselves, the company is set to open an omnibus brewery, distillery, cocktail bar, taproom, and restaurant later in October, mere months after they took over the former Almanac Beer Co. operation on 24th Street in the Mission. (There was already another taproom on Lawton Street in the Outer Sunset.) In addition, they closed the original Bayview location to the public over the weekend, as the company morphs from a production distillery to a beer- and hospitality-focused brand. It’s almost too much to keep on top of, Obert says, running through the rigors of it all.
“We do a new beer every week,” he says in the beer garden at 24th Street as his dog, Tessie, chills out next to us. “The first Wednesday of the month we do a kettle sour. For this month, it’s Tiki Drink,” adding that there’s also another kettle sour called Zombie, based on a different classic tiki cocktail that’s Halloween appropriate.
“The second week is a stout, so you’ve got Purple Grain,” he continues. “The third week is a double IPA, Against the Trees. And the fourth week is brewer’s choice, which is the Kolsch.”
There’s also a gose called Gose-Mosa, which tastes like a mimosa (and has a deceptively high alcohol content, clocking in at nearly 12 percent — a figure that feels almost impossible considering how light it tastes). Letting brewers get carried away is par for the course in craft-beer-land these days, but Obert notes that Seven Stills’ emphasis has always been on the craft itself, since outlandish flavor profiles — like “a weird doughnut” — can often become an excuse to mask off-notes and other imperfections.
“They’re funky and the styles are really weird,” he says. “They have weird adjuncts and weird spices, but our execution is really good. Regardless of how weird a beer is, they’re all really well-made.
“We weren’t a brewery to begin with,” he adds. “We were a distillery, and we never had the intention of starting a brewery.”
That sounds like false modesty, but it was only after tasting the IPAs on a trip to Monkish Brewing Co. in Torrance, that Obert and Potter decided to expand their portfolio.
“We made our first batch of IPAs in November or December 2017,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make 200 cases.’ I sold it and delivered it myself, and it was gone before we canned it, so we started scaling it again and again until we were like, ‘There’s something here!’ So we pivoted our whole company, by necessity.”
Seven Stills continues to produce beer-distilled whiskeys, like Choca Smoke, Five Pounds, and George, plus a vodka called California Courage. After growing so quickly, the whole operation threatened to become unmanageable, and he admits there was a brief period where quality control began to slip beneath his and Potter’s satisfaction, and there were other frustrations borne of success, like being the only brewery to run out of beer at Outside Lands 2018. (Per state law, the festival pre-orders a set quantity, so there was no way to re-up after the taps ran dry.) To move beyond these growing pains, 2020 is destined to become a year of logistics, when every component gets reintegrated into the whole. Even then, Obert and Potter couldn’t help but pounce after Almanac vacated the premises.
“We saw this spot, and it’s like, ‘This is stupid,’ ” Obert says of their borderline comical awareness that they were taking on too much. “But I wanted a taproom in the Mission, a beer garden, and a spot where we can taste our food.”
Those food offerings include highbrow pub fare like burgers, deviled eggs, and a plate of broccolini that Obert says he could eat several times a week. And the 18,500-square-foot building on Hooper Street in Mission Bay is going to be what showcases it all. There’s a mezzanine, room for private events, and 4,000 square feet allocated specifically as a rickhouse for whiskey aging.
They’ve got a 750-gallon still to ramp everything up, and because the Bayview shop couldn’t accommodate it, they faced the “bittersweet” decision to relocate all the customer-facing portions over there. The 24th Street and Outer Sunset locations are, and always will be, dedicated to beer and food, so no hard liquor or cocktails. And while Obert believes they could open additional spots in six different San Francisco neighborhoods without feeling oversaturated, he insists that there are no plans to expand beyond the immediate area.
He freely volunteers that all these changes might confuse people, especially with the word “still” in the name of an increasingly beer-oriented company. (For merch and the like, they’re moving away from “Seven Stills” and toward “7S.”)
“It’s not something we thought we were going to do, and now it seems like this is what we do because we’ve done this twice in the last six months,” he says of the taprooms. “But we’re now running a hospitality company when, in the past, we were running a production company that distributes our beer and spirits. We want to have a solid food program at Hooper, same as here. But we don’t want it to be the thing you come here for. We want it to be secondary — but we still want it to be good.”
Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery
2704 24th St. and 100 Hooper St. sevenstillsofsf.com