“Where are you guys?” I said into my cellphone as I sat in my car just outside the Presidio Social Club, in San Francisco’s Presidio.
“Do you know where Fort Point is?” asked the voice on the other end.
“We are right next door.”
Never in a million years would I have guessed that the Fort Point Beer Company would be right next to the actual Fort Point, that Civil War icon that sits just beneath the south span of the Golden Gate Bridge. In the booze business things are not always what they appear. Whistle Pig rye whiskey is not made in Vermont, it is bottled there. Hangar One vodka is no longer made in the old Hangar One at the decommissioned naval base in Alameda, it is made down the street. Same with 209 Gin, which is not made at the old 209 distillery in Napa for which it is named. And the popular Asahi beer is not imported from Japan, it is imported from Canada. It goes on and on. It can get confusing especially when GPS gets involved.
The Fort Point Beer Company was founded in 2014 by brothers Tyler and Justin Catalana (both of whom are partners in Mill Valley’ Beerworks restaurant) along with head brewer Mike Schnebeck. The new brewery is in a historic Presidio building that used to house the old Army motor pool.
“One of the advantages of our location,” says Matt Colling, head of sales, “is that we don’t have to deal with the city, and, that we get our water from the Lobos Creek well.”
The brewery is, technically, on federal land, as part of the Presidio Trust, and its well water is from the old army well. As such it is softer and not chlorinated like the rest of San Francisco’s water (which comes from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.) And when it comes to beer, water is the most abundant ingredient.
“It’s better for the styles we want to make,” says Colling, resting his hand proudly on one of the seven new glycol-jacketed fermentation tanks that line the building.
The flagship style for the Fort Point Beer Company is a Kölsch-style beer. Typically beer comes in two types.: lager, a cold fermented beer, and ale, a warm fermented beer. Originally beers were made without the knowledge of yeasts. In fact the Reinheitsgebot, the famous beer purity law dating from 1487, only lists three ingredients: water, malt and hops. With the advent of the microscope and better refrigeration techniques it was learned that certain yeasts acted at certain temperatures, making the distinguishing factor between lager and ale a yeast equation, and not necessarily a temperature one.
Kölsch-style beers are “lagered ales” or beer made using ale yeast but cold brewed. Another San Francisco beer, Anchor Steam, is the exact opposite: a lager yeast beer that is warm fermented. Kölsch itself is a product with protected geographic indication (PDI) under European Union law and must be brewed within a 31 mile radius of Cologne, Germany (Köln).
“We are not trying to re-create European Kölsch,” says Colling. “We are making a Kölsch-style beer, with California sensibilities.”
The beer is light and approachable, not overly hoppy like many pale ales. “It is not about: ‘Let’s talk about the beer.’ It is about enjoying the beer and moving on” — something many beer geeks forget about.
The Fort Point Beer Company actually makes six types of beer: the Kölsch- style ale, an IPA, a wheat beer, a smoked altbier, a German rotbier,and another “café” style Kölsch. In addition it contracts brew beers for several other companies including Headlands, Pine Street, Federalist, Baeltane, Simpleton and Holy Craft. And it also cold brews coffee for Blue Bottle.
Colling envisions a time when they won’t have to brew their competitor’s beers. But as he says, “We need to pay the bills.”
And paying the bills they are. Their beers are available all around the Bay Area and, of course, at Mill Valley’s Beerworks. But their brewery is right where it should be, right next to Fort Point. And that alone separates them from the rest of the crowd.