Pre­sidio’s busy brew­ery a la­bor of broth­erly love

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NEWS - By Carl Nolte Carl Nolte is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. His col­umn ap­pears every Sun­day. Email: cnolte@sfchron­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @carl­noltesf

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.

Liz Hafalia / The Chron­i­cle

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.

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