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The Battle for San Francisco

Eno Sarris, September 23, 2013 -   

The grand-daddy of west coast beer -- and according to some, all of craft beer -- is a San Francisco beer, but have the younger breweries passed Anchor Steam by? There's a vibrant brewing community in the bay area, and some "big smalls" in the city are nationally recognized. Using this list of San Francisco breweries, I set up a custom leaderboard. You'll soon (very soon!) be able to do this yourself on our leaderboards, and use the URL to share your leaderboard.

For the very now, though, your top 10 San Francisco craft beers, sorted by Beers Above Replacement:

  Beer Style Brewery ABV wOBAR BAR
1 Farmer’s Reserve No. 3 American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 6 0.26 3.6
2 Anchor California Lager Golden Lager Anchor Brewing Company 4.9 0.45 3.48
3 Brew Free! or Die IPA American IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 7 0.28 3.42
4 Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine American Barleywine Almanac Beer Co. 12 0.38 3.35
5 Hell or High Watermelon Fruit Beer 21st Amendment Brewery 4.9 0.31 3.29
6 Hop Crisis Imperial / Double IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 9.7 0.23 3.17
7 Bitter American American Pale Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 4.4 0.28 2.94
8 Barrel Noir Belgian Strong Dark Ale Almanac Beer Co. 10 0.28 2.74
9 Vendetta IPA American IPA Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 7.6 0.28 2.54
10 Anchor Steam Beer California Common Anchor Brewing Company 4.9 0.21 2.42

Almanac is a strong contender for San Francisco's best, and they brew in San Jose in Hermitage's brewery. No matter, they're based in the city and there might be a tasting room in the city shortly. And obviously, they make some great beers. Known a little more for their "farm fresh" philosophy, it's nevertheless their sours and barrel-aged beers that do the best at the top of the San Francisco leaderboard.

But a brewery is also only as good as the worst beer you've had of theirs. And the Almanac Honey Saison was worst in our sample, as you can see in the full leaderboard at the end of the piece. If that was your introduction to the brewery, you might never drink their Farmer's Reserves, which would be a shame.

So perhaps it's 21st Amendment. It's probably the first brewery that comes to mind when you think of innovative craft brewing in San Francisco. Their Hell or High Watermelon and Brew Free or Die are distributed beyond the bay area and are obviously well-regarded. A BAR of three belongs to an above-average beer that can taste like an all-star in the right situations.

Since BAR is tied to the number of check-ins, it's a counting stat in effect. And since BAR gives credit to score in beer style more heavily than number of checkins, this is not a crazy idea: let's add up the BARSs for the different breweries in San Francisco and see who comes out on top?

Brewery Total
21st Amendment Brewery 17.46
Anchor Brewing Company 15.54
Almanac Beer Co. 13.31
Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 4.04
Magnolia Pub and Brewery 1.26
Pacific Brewing Laboratory -0.47
MateVeza Brewing Co. -0.73
Triple Voodoo Brewing -1.72
ThirstyBear Brewing Company -5.63

And so we have it. By having a high number of excellent beers, and good distribution, 21st Amendment Brewery wins the battle for San Francisco. Anchor Steam, the giant of the craft beer scene and one of the very first American microbreweries, rides the score of its top two beers to one-third of their overall total score, and that seems about right. Speakeasy is more loved than hated, but maybe more liked than loved. Magnolia does well in some styles that were not so common -- if you sort by wOBAR over BAR, the unweighted numbers push Magnolia's Kalifornia Kolsch to thirteenth, and their English Bitter up to 20th, while keeping their IPA around 15th. That puts them comfortably above replacement.

There are some good breweries at the bottom of this list. Triple Voodoo's Inception Belgian Tripel is nice, MateVeza's Yuerba Mate IPA is at least interesting and could be a positive beer if it finds a few more fans, and Pacific Brewing Squid Ink Black IPA is firmly on more than a few wish lists.

But if you're looking for the best overall collection of San Francisco craft brews in one place, there's a bar right near the ballpark that'll serve your needs. All while celebrating the amendment that repealed prohibition!

  Beer Style Brewery ABV wOBAR BAR
1 Farmer’s Reserve No. 3 American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 6 0.26 3.6
2 Anchor California Lager Golden Lager Anchor Brewing Company 4.9 0.45 3.48
3 Brew Free! or Die IPA American IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 7 0.28 3.42
4 Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine American Barleywine Almanac Beer Co. 12 0.38 3.35
5 Hell or High Watermelon Fruit Beer 21st Amendment Brewery 4.9 0.31 3.29
6 Hop Crisis Imperial / Double IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 9.7 0.23 3.17
7 Bitter American American Pale Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 4.4 0.28 2.94
8 Barrel Noir Belgian Strong Dark Ale Almanac Beer Co. 10 0.28 2.74
9 Vendetta IPA American IPA Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 7.6 0.28 2.54
10 Anchor Steam Beer California Common Anchor Brewing Company 4.9 0.21 2.42
11 Farmer’s Reserve No. 4 American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 6 0.19 2.3
12 Back in Black Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 6.8 0.18 2.29
13 Prohibition Ale American Amber / Red Ale Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 6.7 0.22 2.06
14 Flowering Gose Gose Almanac Beer Co. 0 0.29 2.01
15 Dogpatch Sour American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 7.5 0.16 1.84
16 Single Origin Chinook IPA American Pale Ale Almanac Beer Co. 7.5 0.26 1.8
17 Proving Ground IPA American IPA Magnolia Pub and Brewery 7 0.23 1.79
18 Our Barrel Ale American Strong Ale Anchor Brewing Company 8.02 0.24 1.71
19 Biere de Chocolat American Porter Almanac Beer Co. 5.5 0.19 1.7
20 Imperial Jack Extra Special/Strong Bitter 21st Amendment Brewery 8.9 0.22 1.62
21 Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) Winter Ale Anchor Brewing Company 5.5 0.17 1.58
22 Gigantes IPA American IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 6.4 0.23 1.41
23 Kalifornia Kolsch Kölsch Magnolia Pub and Brewery 4.7 0.26 1.39
24 Fireside Chat Winter Warmer 21st Amendment Brewery 7.9 0.15 1.35
25 Zymaster Series No. 3 Flying Cloud Stout Stout Anchor Brewing Company 7.4 0.14 1.25
26 Zymaster Series No. 2 Marks Mild English Mild Ale Anchor Brewing Company 4 0.19 1.13
27 Monk's Blood Belgian Strong Dark Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 8.3 0.12 1.09
28 Scarlett Red Rye American Amber / Red Ale Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 5.5 0.13 1.08
29 Smoked Payback Porter Smoked Beer Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 0 0.16 1.04
30 Blue Bell Bitter English Bitter Magnolia Pub and Brewery 4.5 0.2 1.04
31 Red Giant Imperial / Double Red Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 13 0.15 0.99
32 Lower De Boom (2013) American Barleywine 21st Amendment Brewery 11.5 0.12 0.95
33 Payback Porter Porter Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 7.5 0.1 0.93
34 Humming Ale American Pale Ale Anchor Brewing Company 5.9 0.11 0.89
35 Marooned on Hog Island Oyster Stout 21st Amendment Brewery 7.9 0.07 0.88
36 Anchor Bock Beer Bock Anchor Brewing Company 5.5 0.1 0.8
37 Anchor Porter American Porter Anchor Brewing Company 5.6 0.07 0.72
38 Extra Pale Ale Belgian Pale Ale Almanac Beer Co. 6 0.09 0.67
39 Anchor Summer Beer American Pale Wheat Ale Anchor Brewing Company 4.6 0.07 0.65
40 Old Foghorn English Barleywine Anchor Brewing Company 8.8 0.06 0.61
41 Tallulah XPA American Pale Ale Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 5.6 0.07 0.57
42 Our Special Ale 2011 (Christmas Ale) Winter Ale Anchor Brewing Company 5.5 0.08 0.47
43 Big Daddy IPA American IPA Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 6.5 0.04 0.41
44 Inception Belgian Tripel Triple Voodoo Brewing 8 0.05 0.39
45 Big Leaf Maple American Amber / Red Ale Anchor Brewing Company 6 0.05 0.34
46 Liberty Ale American IPA Anchor Brewing Company 6 0.03 0.3
47 Lord & Master English Strong Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 8.7 0.04 0.26
48 Barrel-Aged Scarface Imperial Stout Imperial Oatmeal Stout Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 9.5 0.01 0.07
49 Betrayal Imperial / Double Red Ale Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 8.2 0.01 0.07
50 Squid Ink Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale Pacific Brewing Laboratory 7 0.01 0.07
51 Zambo Imperial Red Ale Imperial / Double Red Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 8.9 0 0.03
52 Brekle's Brown American Brown Ale Anchor Brewing Company 6 0 0
53 Zymaster Series No. 4 Fort Ross Farmhouse Ale Saison / Farmhouse Ale Anchor Brewing Company 0 0 0
54 Butchertown Black Ale Black IPA / Cascadian Dark Ale Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 8 0 -0.01
55 Morpho Herbed/Spiced Beer MateVeza Brewing Co. 6 -0.02 -0.11
56 Polar Bear Pilsner German Pilsner ThirstyBear Brewing Company 5.7 -0.04 -0.17
57 Lower De Boom American Barleywine 21st Amendment Brewery 11.5 -0.02 -0.26
58 Black Hand Milk / Sweet Stout Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 5.5 -0.04 -0.29
59 Kozlov Stout Irish Dry Stout ThirstyBear Brewing Company 6.3 -0.07 -0.4
60 Nautilus Hibiscus Saison Saison / Farmhouse Ale Pacific Brewing Laboratory 5 -0.08 -0.54
61 Witness Witbier Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 5.2 -0.09 -0.59
62 Yerba Mate IPA American IPA MateVeza Brewing Co. 7 -0.1 -0.62
63 Meyer ESB Extra Special/Strong Bitter ThirstyBear Brewing Company 0 -0.11 -0.66
64 Nelson, Jade And Helga Imperial / Double IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 10.5 -0.09 -0.8
65 Anchor Small Beer English Bitter Anchor Brewing Company 3.3 -0.13 -0.81
66 Double Daddy Imperial IPA Imperial / Double IPA Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 9.5 -0.07 -0.84
67 Spring 2012 Biere De Mars Bière de Garde Almanac Beer Co. 7 -0.18 -1
68 Old Godfather American Barleywine Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 10.2 -0.15 -1.06
69 Dub Step Imperial / Double IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 10.2 -0.15 -1.25
70 Grizzly Bear Red Ale American Amber / Red Ale ThirstyBear Brewing Company 0 -0.24 -1.28
71 Promised Land Imperial IPA Imperial / Double IPA Magnolia Pub and Brewery 10.9 -0.17 -1.35
72 Farmer's Reserve No.1 American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 7 -0.12 -1.36
73 Valencia Wheat Witbier ThirstyBear Brewing Company 5 -0.28 -1.56
74 Howard Street IPA American IPA ThirstyBear Brewing Company 7 -0.23 -1.56
75 Old Thunderpussy Barleywine American Barleywine Magnolia Pub and Brewery 11.2 -0.22 -1.61
76 Farmer's Reserve No.2 American Wild Ale Almanac Beer Co. 7 -0.15 -1.64
77 Two Lane Blacktop Imperial / Double Black IPA 21st Amendment Brewery 10 -0.19 -1.69
78 Scarface Imperial Stout American Imperial / Double Stout Speakeasy Ales and Lagers 9.5 -0.17 -1.94
79 Kraken Imperial / Double IPA Triple Voodoo Brewing 9 -0.22 -2.11
80 Sneak Attack Saison / Farmhouse Ale 21st Amendment Brewery 6.2 -0.19 -2.23
81 Honey Saison Saison / Farmhouse Ale Almanac Beer Co. 4.8 -0.3 -2.7
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