At about 4:00 am local time, October 22, 2012, the quiet night was jarred by a red construction crane pulling up next to the massive, lacy-looking Transit Terminal building. Mike Seitz, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco’s BareBottle Brewing Company, met a few people as they showed up in hard hats and reflective vests, rewarding them with donuts and a confident smile.
Soon enough, two painstakingly customized cargo containers arrived, proudly perched atop a massive flatbed truck. The trick would be to lift the future taproom and coldbox units two stories off the pavement in light wind, swinging them onto the park up top, without damaging the signature white aluminum architectural lace facade designed by mathematician Roger Penrose. Nothing but suffering would result if any harm were to befall the airy structure surrounding the bus terminal and its 5.4 acre rooftop park. A park that was on the verge of getting a beer garden featuring a popular City brewery, if only the crane operator could swing it into place blind, from the street, over the fragile white veil enveloping the building, merely by listening to a coworker with a walkie-talkie!
After minor puzzles were solved and details adjusted, the first big moment arrived. A worker climbed atop the first container-taproom unit and attached what looked like yellow ribbons to the corners. It was hard to imagine that the yellow webbing he clipped in place would be strong enough to lift the first metal unit, bedecked with various modifications, counters, shelves, pipes, decking and other enhancements.
The ascents of the two units were swift and flawless. The aluminum veil and the botanical-garden-like plantings along the perimeter were untouched. There was zero drama. Using ropes to slowly turn the unit around in the air before lowering it where the plumbing was waiting to be connected took longer than the lifting. There would be inspections and minor delays to come, but the vision was becoming real at last.
Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of the winter solstice 2022, friends and passers-by gathered to sip fresh BareBottle beers, wines and coffees at that tidy little kiosk up in the high park, surrounded by trees and towering buildings continuing up into the chilly sky. On the soft opening night, a small yoga class showed up to work out on the translucent glass surface in front of the box with the BareBottle logo on the front, soon heavily outnumbered by beer industry folk eating empañadas and sipping lagers, hazies, sours and stouts as the sun set through the glass forest of skyscrapers.
The park, open daily, features trees and plants from around the world, kids’ playground structures, a whimsical water sculpture that marks the arrival of buses into the structure below and all kinds of scheduled activities. Entrance is via the building or up a swift gondola from street level.
“The desire to do this project was to be able to highlight Magic’s & Kelsey’s — and the whole production team’s — amazing beers,” Mike Seitz told us, “as well as Lester’s inspired Wines and Coffee, in a setting that showcased the best of what San Francisco has to offer.”
Among the distinguishing characteristics of BareBottle are a team approach to making the beers that extends to the pair of head brewers, Kelsey Holstein and John “Magic” Montes de Oca, and the rest of the crew that participates in creating an ever-rotating line up of tasty beverages. The brewery is one of a handful that also has a winery license and involves their professional brewing team in winemaking. On top of that, co-founder Lester Koga, a maker at heart, has been mastering small batch roasting, working with green coffee beans that he selects with the same passion as when sourcing grapes or hops, for several years now. BareBottle has installed an espresso machine at the Salesforce spot.
[Above — Start of the soft opening at Salesforce Park. Photo by Gail Ann Williams]
The soft opening felt good. After a season of closures, where City Beer Store retreated to its Valencia Street popup location, Cellarmaker’s original taproom was shuttered (while two new projects are on their way over in the East Bay) and Local Brewing Company came to a screeching halt after a recent fire destroyed their single location not far from the baseball stadium, it felt refreshing to gather for beers in an optimistic environment for the second time in a long time. Like the new Olfactory Brewing Co. a few weeks earlier, BareBottle at Salesforce Park steps up now to boldly embrace the City of the hollow skyscrapers. The number of workers going in to work in all the newish skyscrapers is low, but SF neighborhoods and high rise apartments among the office buildings house many thousands of people. We are still here and, yes, many of us enjoy good beer.
BareBottle Salesforce can be found a few blocks from Montgomery BART, in the impressive park directly on top of the East Bay bus terminal. For hours, check the BareBottle company website or follow the Instagram. Get over there soon for that new venue feeling, and consider coming back for a multi-brewery special event, the SF-specific Kick Off party for SF Beer Week 2023.
[Above — Evening in Salesforce Park, with the glass plaza decked out for the holidays. BareBottle crowd and taproom on the left. Photo by Gail Ann Williams]
P.S. We remember writing up BareBottle when they opened. For your amusement, the piece first published at Celebrator Beer News follows, at the bottom of this article.
Here’s the photo that ran with that story six years ago:
[Above: Lester Koga (L) and Mike Seitz (R), two of BareBottle’s three founders. Photo by Gail Ann Williams, 2016]
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
Item on the opening of BareBottle, first published in Celebrator Beer News, in our old SF Scene column, Aug-Sept Issue, 2016.
BareBottle Breaks Out on the Backside of Bernal
By San Franciscans Steve Shapiro and Gail Ann Williams, Aug 2016
Meanwhile, in Bernal Heights, the little residential hill just southeast of SF’s Mission District, soft-opening days were underway for BareBottle Brew Co. Neighbors enthusiastically previewed beers at a spacious, attractive taproom near the end of Cortland Avenue.
Lester Koga, Michael Seitz and Ben Sterling became friends while business students at Cornell. They vowed they’d open a business together someday, and then dispersed into careers at major corporations. Along the way, Seitz discovered homebrewing, and made sure Koga got seduced by the hobby. The three soon became interested in competitions, and in judging. Koga credits the Beer Judge Certification Program with teaching him brewing flaws and how to eradicate them.
Seitz was similarly transformed by his beer-judging journey. “It was a history lesson mashed with geography mashed with biology. It’s incredible,” he said. “You see how styles developed.”
The three have dedicated their new 20-barrel brewery to expressing local influences, from the physical, such as the natural temperature fluctuations allowed while fermenting their saison, to the agricultural, such as their C’s Bees, a honey ale made with Oakland Hills honey, tended by beekeeper and head brewer Cortlandt Toczylowski, formerly of Drake’s and E.J. Phair. Some beers will only be metaphorically local. BareBottle’s Muir Woods IPA is inspired by impressions of walking through the nearest destination redwood grove. Homebrewers were invited to compete, and versions adapted from the three top scoring entries were brewed up so local patrons could play beer judges and vote in what may become a flagship beer.
The founders had decided not to include a restaurant in their business plan. Koga explained that they’d rely on SF food trucks parked out front. “Let the food people do what they love and we’ll do what we love, and in the middle is the taproom…” They pulled together investments from friends and family, including the Cornell professor whose class had once inspired them to work together. Originally they set out to find an 8,000 square foot warehouse zoned for manufacturing, so that they could package beer as well as having a tasting room.
“We looked at the map and started cold-calling some of these places that looked like they were out of business,” said Koga. Seitz admitted that they were getting desperate. “We had the money, we needed a place. So what do you do?”
What you do, it turns out, is to notice a space listed on Craigslist that is twice the size you’d hoped for, and negotiate with an owner who likes that you’ll be making craft beer. “All the stars aligned in this property: One, to find it; two, to get the right zoning; three, to be big, so as to be able to expand; and four, to be in the neighborhood,” smiled Koga.
The BareBottle website lists a series of style-specific homebrew competitions, offering the honor of having your beer recipe produced commercially. Top local homebrewers have been signing up to take a stab at it.
In the first weeks of operation, on the day Toczylowski poured BareBottle beers at Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America fest, the founders stayed on duty back at the new taproom. Koga watched the festival highlights on social media. “Ken Grossman was there, pouring Otra Vez,” he marveled. “It’s very humbling. And exciting!”
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