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The best beer store options in San Francisco

From local IPAs to rare Belgian imports, these are the top beer store options for scoring a bottle in San Francisco

Photograph: Courtesy City Beer Store

With its close proximity to hundreds of breweries, beer bars and beer gardens, the Bay Area is a hub for serious beer lovers. Whether you’re a hophead with a penchant for double IPAs or a wannabe-cicerone with a palate for rare Belgian or Japanese imports, there’s a local store stocking your specialty (and maybe a special gift for a friend). From longtime corner-store standbys to Cali-focused newcomers, our favorite beer store options offer the best selection of brews in San Francisco.

Find your favorite brews at SF’s best beer stores

1

City Beer Store

Craig and Beth Wathen founded this petite SoMa beer store and bar in 2006. Though the shop expanded into the space next door over the ensuing decade, the neighborhood feel remains. The couple’s industrial-sized coolers hold over 400 beers organized by style, from blondes to barrel-aged to Belgian darks. The spot is particularly renowned for its selection of IPAs and sour beers, including limited-edition collaborations with local breweries like the Bruery and Cellarmaker Brewing. Mix and match the ideal six-pack or case to go, or crack a bottle open on-site at the adjacent bar, where 15 rotating beers from spots like Temescal Brewing, Barebottle Brewery, and Faction Brewing are also on tap.

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SoMa
2

Healthy Spirits

This San Francisco mini-chain touts three locations in the Castro, Bernal Heights and the Inner Richmond. Owner Rami Barqawi, a former stock broker, opened the original Castro store in 1998, offering a sizeable assortment of beers alongside batches of his mother’s “Rami’s Mommy’s” homemade hummus. Since then, Barqawi has vastly expanded his booze business, hiring a certified Cicerone to manage the beer buying and growing beer club. (The five-year-old Inner Richmond shop looks more like a library than a typical corner store, decked with dark wood shelves floor-to-ceiling and library ladders for reaching rare bottles.) The variety of beers is enormous, from the full range of Hitachino ales to heady triple IPAs. The store clerks are eager to nerd out about tasting notes and brewing styles.

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Castro
3

Ales Unlimited

Beer guru Steve Smith now oversees two locations: a well-appointed beer store in Pac Heights and a basement bar-plus-bottle shop in the Tenderloin. The former is a holy grail for hopheads, containing more than 700 bottles and 60 cans—tasting notes included. The ever-changing selection spans local, domestic and far-flung breweries, with a particular emphasis on rare Belgian ales. The newer Beer Basement, opened in 2016, offers eight beers on tap, as well as a smorgasboard of over 100 bottles—all of which are also available to-go.

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Pacific Heights
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4

New Star-Ell Liquor

Don’t let the unassuming exterior—or the unusual name—fool you: this corner store is a hidden gem for local and international brews. Brothers Sameer, Salim and Kaled Nasser own the shop, which features nine coolers of craft bottles, six coolers of six-packs and a towering storage shelf packed with rare 22-ounce bottles. The selection is particularly strong in Kolsches, Belgian ales and California craft beers, but the vast supply spans breweries across Russia, France, Germany, the UK and Japan.

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Western Addition
5

Jug Shop

The family-owned Jug Shop is stocked by longtime beer lovers who know their stuff—formerly headed up by certified cicerone Eric Cripe, and more recently by his brother, Evan. The coolers are filled with new releases by California craft breweries, including Russian River Brewing, 21st Amendment and Stone, as well producers that are farther afield, like Jolly Pumpkin, BrewDog, Avery, Chimay and Deschutes. The shop makes a point to keep a large assortment of sours and Belgian ales. (In addition to beers, the spot is known for its attention to Australian wines.) Stop by on Friday evenings, when the store hosts generous weekly beer tastings.

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Nob Hill
6

Epicurean Trader

This Bernal Heights gourmet shop focuses on craft breweries, artisanal cheese and chocolate producers, and small distillers. Though owners Mat Pond and Holly McDell are particularly known for their selection of brown spirits—including the shop’s legion Whiskey Club—the beer section is similarly sprawling, including purveyors like Fort Point Beer Company, Evil Twin Brewing and Moondog Brewing. Pond and McDell stock a particularly impressive assortment of porters, stouts, dark ales and barrel-aged sours. Check the shop’s Facebook page for the schedule of free in-store tasting events.

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Bernal Heights
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7

Local Cellar

As the name suggests, this Mission bottle shop by Yaron Milgrom (formerly of Local Mission Eatery) is all about California craft breweries, wineries and distilleries. The selection may be smaller than some of its fellow beer-stockists, but it stands out for its commitment to small-scale producers and limited-edition releases. Sure, you’ll find go-to standards, like Lagunitas and Almanac—but there’s also a great smattering of under-the-radar brands like Headlands Brewing, Eel River Brewing, Dust Bowl Brewing Co., Hop Concept and Calicraft. The shop hosts free tastings in the back room every Saturday, with distillers and brewers from across the state.

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Mission
8

Royal Cuckoo Market

While other bottle shops may emphasize the local, Royal Cuckoo co-owners Paul and Dustin Miller make a point of seeking out rare imports from Belgium, Germany and Japan. (Look for the Suiyoubi No Neko or “Wednesday Cat” cans in the back.) Coolers spanning the back of the narrow shop are packed with eclectic cans and bottles by far-afield breweries, all sold singly or by the pack. And though the pair also runs the Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge, a cocktail bar in the deep Mission, in 2016 they quietly added a makeshift, eight-seat bar to the front of the market, Horsies Saloon, where eager beer buyers can crack open their bottles.

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