San Francisco-based Magnolia Brewing is known for its British-influenced and cask-conditioned ales, as well as balanced, lower-alcohol session beers. Magnolia Brewing is committed to local and artisan sourcing and sustainability in both brewery and restaurant operations, as well as the spirit of community formed around good beer and food.
We talked to Dave McLean, founder and brewer of Magnolia Brewing Co. San Francisco, to find out more about the brewery and its impact on the community.
Q: Can you give us a quick background of the brewery?
DM: I opened Magnolia as a brewpub in the Haight-Ashbury in 1997, coming from a background of home brewing and brewing school at UC Davis. My strongest area of beer interest was (and still is) English style beers and ingredients. I was also interested in the totality of the experience we would offer, from beer to the food program, aesthetics and hospitality. We have always tried to connect those dots for people within the context of being a neighborhood brewery and gastropub. In 2013, we completed our brewery expansion across town and opened our new restaurant (in a new brewery space) last year. That restaurant/bar, Smokestack, explores BBQ as a culinary direction and great beer/food combination, along with an extensive whiskey and cocktail program at the bar.
Q: Can you tell our readers about your balanced, lower-alcohol session beers?
DM: We think of these beers as any with an ABV under 5% or even 4.5%. It’s important to note that the vast majority of the world’s beer falls into this category in some way and that it’s a range that really works well for beer and the beer drinking experience. The push toward more extreme and assertively flavored beers is relatively recent and is admittedly quite a lot of fun, both for brewers and drinkers. There’s a lot of creativity going on in that space and we love to brew big beers sometimes, too. But the trend toward that type of beer can take you away from what might be considered a core beer experience for a lot of people: a kind of drinkability that comes from moderate to lower alcohol content and balanced flavors with subtlety and nuance. We tend to focus on English and English-influences session beers like bitters and milds but we also consider our Kölsch a session beer and do others that are also less English.
Q: Can you share a little about Magnolia Brewing’s commitment to local and artisan sourcing and sustainability in both brewery and restaurant operations?
DM: I think a big part of the underlying intent of small and independent food and beverage production is not just about the flavors created but about caring what you are serving to people and also where the ingredients themselves came from. Beyond that, from an artistic/creative perspective, it is most satisfying to work with like-minded people throughout the supply chain, and in trusting that we share common values. Quality and flavor are the most important characteristics but, thankfully, we often find that those who expose similar values also end up growing and producing the best ingredients. We also try to do things like not just send our spent grain to a farmer but then to also buy that farmer’s pigs that ate the grain to use in our restaurants.
Q: You recently opened a 10,000 square-foot brewery in the Dogpatch neighborhood. What makes this space special?
DM: The space is different because it is in an industrial building and not a Haight-Ashbury Edwardian storefront. That naturally lead us toward different design inspirations and decisions but in the end, it speaks with a similar voice as the original brewpub. In both cases, we have a little fun with and acknowledge history while trying to create places where people really enjoy spending time. It’s all about the details and creating a rich experience for people. Both breweries support both restaurants so the beer lists are very similar at both, though they are never exactly the same, either.