There are many hotspots around the country for craft beer and one of them is California’s bustling city of San Francisco. The Bay Area is home to some of the country’s most popular and unique breweries. Among the many companies thriving in SF is the longtime brewery known as 21st Amendment Brewery.

21st first opened its doors back in 2000, and at the time it was a simple SF brewpub. The building contained a modest 12 barrel brewery that was housed within 500 square feet. The brewery quickly identified that its two best selling beers were its IPA and Watermelon Wheat.

What I believe is the same beer as mentioned above, the Watermelon Wheat, Hell or High Watermelon, is a seasonal brew for 21st. The brewery did not begin packaging its beer via bottles. Instead, 21st went with cans from the start back in 2006. Workers at the time managed to push out 15 cases an hour, as Co-Founder Shaun O’Sullivan told We Write Things.

“There was great interest and the beer was selling well so we started ‘partner brewing’ at Cold Spring Brewery in Minnesota in 2008. We ran up against a capacity ceiling back there and decided to build a production brewery in San Leandro, CA where we have been brewing since 2015. The new brewery allows us to innovate and create new beers,” O’Sullivan said.

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat with a generous garnish of watermelon (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat with a generous garnish of watermelon (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).

The brewing scene in San Francisco has changed quite a bit over the past decade and a half. If any brewery has seen changes happen, it has to be 21st Amendment Brewery. Back in 2006, O’Sullivan said there were just eight breweries that made up the San Francisco Brewers Guild. Through this year, the membership has blossomed into an impressive 28 different breweries.

Craft beer’s popularity has exploded across the country, that is an undeniable fact. The industry’s popularity has caught the attention of even the largest of breweries such as Anheuser Busch and Coors Brewing Company. O’Sullivan said San Francisco is a microcosm of craft beer’s current state nationally.

“San Francisco mirrors what is happening across the country right now with more breweries opening and a fevered interest in craft beer from consumers. Sour beer or wild beers have become more popular grabbing the attention of brewers and craft beer enthusiasts alike,” O’Sullivan said.

21st Amendment ultimately decided to put its brewpub in the City Center area, but the brewery considered other locations as well. As 21st looked for space, rent varied considerably and as you would expect, this influenced the decision to ultimately put the brewpub at 563 2nd St in SOMA.

An additional factor was this brewery was near where the San Francisco Giants baseball team currently plays at, AT&T Park. Many people have wondered if the decision to build the brewery near AT&T Park was planned, but O’Sullivan says it was “really dumb luck” that they ended up their. With the Giants only a few blocks away, business has been great.

Brew Free! Or Die IPA's can with some patriotic flare (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).
Brew Free! Or Die IPA’s canned with some patriotic flare (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).

As I said before, craft beer’s popularity has gone national in the past decade or so. 21st no longer is competing with just the seven other breweries that made up the SF Brewers Guild in 2006, they have to compete with 27 others in total. So how exactly has 21st managed to stay competitive in such a fast-growing business?

“We’ve always been the brewery that when the industry goes right we look left and go in that direction. We were the first brewery to come out with a watermelon wheat beer, a black IPA and barleywine in a can. Our packaging is very innovative and unique. We have drawn on an Americana iconic look with a twist,” O’Sullivan said.

As you can imagine, the 21st amendment of the U.S. Constitution had a major impact on history. He said there was a real challenge 21st Amendment Brewery generating a “direct representation of that era.”

They have fun with the names and artwork you see on their cans, and they believe this puts their own unique take on that time period in history. “Our Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer, there is the image of the Statue of Liberty enjoying a summer vacation on the Golden Gate Bridge while plucking watermelons off barges.”

Craft beer is a seriously popular industry, but it is one that breweries make sure they keep fun and light-hearted. In fact, O’Sullivan said fun is at the heart of everything they do at 21st Amendment Brewery.

“Our rule is if we’re not having fun we’re not doing it right. The can package and the box gives us an opportunity to showcase and have fun with imagery. With the can [as] opposed to a bottle label, we have a 360° [canvas] to design.  Our beer is packaged in a recyclable cardboard box that provides us [another] canvas to tell the story,” O’Sullivan said.

Toaster Pastry India Style Red Ale's label logo (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).
Toaster Pastry India Style Red Ale’s label logo (Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewery).

Craft beer, like any other industry, has trends and things it does well, and it has things it can sometimes struggle with. Starting with something craft beer can get better at, O’Sullivan went straight for brewers making sure the beer they sell is quality beer.

“Beer quality is an area that needs to be the center [of] what we all do. When someone cracks up open a can or bottle it’s imperative that we as an industry present the best beer we can. I would hope that my craft beer brewer brothers and sisters have that idea at top of mind,” O’Sullivan said.

Ensuring beer is of a high quality is absolutely paramount to craft beer’s continued growth. Beer drinkers have become more perceptive and can tell the difference between good beer and bad beer, no matter what ingredients are mixed in. O’Sullivan finished up our chat with a comment on what craft beer does well.

“Craft beer does a great job of attracting enthusiasts from both sides [of] the bar. More often that not, craft beer drinkers are just as uber geeky about craft beer with what goes into it and how it’s made as the brewers who [produce it are]. It’s a symbiotic relationship that exists and we’re all in it for fun and the camaraderie and the collaborative effort,” O’Sullivan said.

It’s totally true, I’m pretty geeky about everything that goes into creating a craft beer. 21st Amendment Brewery sits proudly in San Francisco CA. If you are in the Bay Area and have a hankering for some 21st Amendment beer, you can see where their various locations are via their website. Stick around here at We Write Things for more on craft beer.

About Steve Ruygrok

Gaming, Spirits, and Craft Beer enthusiast. If you say you don't like beer, then you just haven't had the right type yet. Great spirits keep away the bad ones. Video games are kind of amazing, just do it...or something like that.
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