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 Street.

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 them.

Gregg Smith


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