By Gregg Smith
To the devil with the cable cars and fisherman's wharf and who needs more sourdough
bread? Already this is heresy, because the residents (nobody seems to be a native) will be
in arms over mentioning the tourist attractions rather than the food or wine. True, the
Halloween parade in the tenderloin is fascinating but all that is just a side light to San
Francisco's real asset.
The Bay is what makes this town one of the most unique cities in America. It would be a
great place to watch an America's Cup race. Imagine those high winds every afternoon as
the 12 meters leapt about like young colts at play, plunging bows reemerging only to toss a
mane of salt spray back over the jib, deck and crew. The course would run across the gate,
behind Angel Island and Alcatraz to Treasure Island and beneath the Bay Bridge, it would
round up past the best vantage point of all, the Gordon Biersch Brewpub on Harrison
To find the brewpub head down to the water near the foot of the Oakland Bay Bridge. The
brewery sits in what was the old Hills Brothers Coffee building, and although the
refurbished facade looks near modern the roof top Hills Brothers sign is a beer beacon for
the dry of throat. The sign is your best landmark because Gordon Biersch is marked only
by a corrugated metal grain silo sitting out on the corner.
If you've visited the other Gordon Biersch brewpubs in Palo Alto and San Jose this one
may be a bit of a surprise. For as the others are warm, the interior of the Harrison Street
brewery is as stark as the building's outside. The feel is something of a parking garage and
the lack of wood or fabric does result in rather high ambient noise levels. But don't let the
initial reaction to the surroundings influence you, especially if you haven't ventured upstairs
for the view.
Some may prefer the Bay's scenery from the Fort Mason area but Gordon Biersch's vista
of the Bay, Bridge and Treasure Island is just as inspiring without the frequency of the
Gate's fog bound existence.
What about the beers? Well they're different also. Unlike brewpubs which concentrate on
high turnover of quick finishing ales, the Gordon Biersch team makes what the forty
nine'rs really wanted when they invented their own corrupted style called steam. At Gordon
Biersch you find lagers. It's only natural the brewery would feature this beer class. Partner
Dan Gordon was the first American graduate in 30 years from the prestigious
Weihenstephan Technical University of Munich. After the 5 year brewing science program
he was well prepared to develop a variety of lager beers.
Partner Dean Biersch also brought his talents to the table-literally. Dean made his name in
the hotel and restaurant business as an accomplished chef and caterer. Having spent many
weekends in the wine country near Mendocino he felt brewing and cooking were a most
exciting combination. It wasn't long until he decided he wanted in and along with Dan
started lining up the funding to open the first pub in Palo Alto. They followed this success
with the San Jose brewpub and its premier says something about the food quality.
Opening night patrons ordered up more than 1,000 meals which provided both the thrill of
public acclaim combined with the agony of running out of food.
At the Harrison Street brewery choose to sit in the upstairs dinning room, but be careful,
the large windows may hold your gaze and distract you from a menu variety which will
satisfy several ethnic tastes along with both vegetarian and those who steer their appetites to
portions of broiled bovine.
However, this is a brewery and if you choose to sit at the bar you'll be equally rewarded,
and although there are no hard liquors your non-beer friends can entertain themselves with
a wine list which extends well beyond mere adequacy.
Settled in it's time to direct your attention to the brews. Ignore the sailboat crews on the bay
as they glance longingly in your direction, you're about to have what they lust for, and there
are always a few choices. The beers are available in a variety of sizes including a boot. But
in running through the spectrum of taps resist the American philosophy of lots is good so
more is better and opt for the smaller sized glass.
At sampling there was a Dortmund style export with a complex maltiness rolling across
the tongue but lacking some of the style's hop character. There also seemed to be a low
level of fruitiness to the otherwise clean nose. A second beer was a marzen which asserted
itself by starting with a bit of a toasty bite yet eased into a softer finish of caramel. A Mai
Bock was also offered, but beware of this one because underneath a malty palate lurks a
high alcohol beast ready to run off with part of your brain cells and speech center. Sip this
beer slowly. The boot sized glass for bock should be ordered only if you intend to share
with friends or do yourself in without the assistance of Dr.Kevorkian. All the beers were
clean but did exhibit a small amount of DMS in the aroma. However, a general high level
of quality does allow this to be overlooked.
A final word to ale drinkers, remember these are beers noted for clean taste not the wild
running sensations produced in beers of warmer ferments. Tune your palate into some
lagers and their subtleties are extraordinary. Gordon Biersch is a great place to experience
© Gregg Smith