Presidio’s busy brewery a labor of brotherly love
People strolling near Crissy Field at the Presidio of San Francisco can see all manner of startling sights, mostly new uses on the bones of a historic former military base.
There’s Planet Granite, where people learn mountain climbing skills in an old airplane hanger; a swimming school; a trampoline park called the House of Air; the Roaring Mouse bike shop; and even a University of San Francisco branch campus offering graduate courses in nursing and the health professions.
And just down the road is what may be the Presidio’s most unusual use — a fully functioning brewery.
All these operations face a lovely green meadow that once was an airfield. The Golden Gate Bridge is the backdrop. It’s an only-in-San Francisco kind of place.
The brewery is called the Fort Point Beer Co., named for the old, walled fortress not far away. Fort Point Beer, with its gleaming steel vats and wood pallets loaded with beer cans, is the only brewery in the world inside a national park. It occupies a l4,000-square-foot building that once housed a motor pool, where the Army stored and repaired big trucks and jeeps.
Justin Catalana, who with his brother, Tyler, founded Fort Point Beer three years ago, thinks the site is perfect. The building is big enough and solid, and it’s in San Francisco.
“We love the city,” Justin said. “We always wanted to open a beer company here. To us, San Francisco embodies entrepreneurial values and the spirit of doing things differently.”
The brothers were born and raised in Mill Valley, and though they have lived in other places, they were always drawn to the city. “We always thought San Francisco was the center of the action,” Justin said.
That may sound sentimental, but the Catalana brothers have a shrewd business plan. They started small and are thinking big.
They are taking advantage of the boom in craft beer, which started in San Francisco at the venerable Anchor Steam brewery years ago and has taken off in the past five years.
Now, even neighborhood corner stores stock 40 or 50 brands of beer, and big beer gardens, where families, kids and dogs are welcome, are all over the place. Justin Catalana credits Toronado, a beer bar in the lower Haight, with pioneering the concept.
That story must be beer lore to him, since Toronado opened 30 years ago, and Justin is 31. His brother, Tyler, is 39.
The brothers started Mill Valley Beerworks, a tiny operation in their hometown. Their output was only 300 barrels.
“A passion project,” Justin calls it. But “a light went on,” he said. They saw an opportunity. By January 2014, they had leased the Presidio building, ordered equipment and were in business.
Justin likes to joke a bit about the work they do. “It’s a fun industry,” he said. “After all, beer is a vice.”
But it’s clear Fort Point is serious business. According to Brewbound, a trade website, the brothers had raised $3.5 million by last winter and are looking for more.
They now produce 20,000 barrels a year, and hope to turn out 30,000 next year. That’s small beer compared with Lagunitas Brewing, which produced about 800,000 barrels the year before the company was sold to Heineken.
“Our aim is to stay local,” Justin said. But local means selling in the Bay Area and Sacramento, and in Los Angeles and San Diego. Auburn, in Placer County, is Fort Point’s Northern California frontier.
They do their own distribution. They have their own fleet of trucks and sell to small corner stores and establish relationships, thinking big by acting small.
But the brewery is definitely not large. Passersby can look in when the doors are open, see the glistening vats and tanks and the small canning line. The quality-control lab is a bench along one wall.
“This city is very techdriven these days, but we are going in the opposite direction,” Justin said. “We lug our own hoses and pumps around.”
Fort Point makes three brews just now: a Westfalia, a German-style red ale; KSA, which is lighter, in the style of Cologne in Germany; and Villager, which has a bit of a hoppy edge.
“We think of San Francisco as a series of small villages with their own identity,” Justin said. “So we call Villager a San Francisco-style IPA.”
There are no tours at Fort Point, “People are welcome to stop and say ‘Hi,’ ” Justin said. But there are no beer sales at the brewery. You can make beer in the Presidio, but you can’t drink it there.
Fort Point Beer Co. workers clean kegs and floors at the Presidio brewery, the only one in the world inside a national park. The brewery was founded three years ago by Justin and Tyler Catalana, brothers who were raised in Mill Valley and had long wanted to open a beer company in San Francisco.