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By Doug Konecky
On a quiet corner in the heart of Noe Valley is a blue building with a (not-too) secret life. In one of the building's condominiums live Richard and Alyson Brewer-Hay and their two small children. He's a corporate blogger for eBay, his wife a USIS investigator. So far: normal.
But on select weekends, the garage door of the condo flies open to reveal a sweet, wood-paneled hideaway, its walls lined with beer bottles. This little room that was formerly a storage area is now the home of Elizabeth Street Brewery (ESB). Yes, right across the street from the little park where you can chip your teeth on the water fountain because it never has enough water pressure, Richard and Alyson Brewer-Hay (he was Hay, she was Brewer) are managing to brew some of the tastiest craft beer in San Francisco. And when new beers become available, they open their "pub" to the public.
"I got married," Richard says, when asked why he began brewing his own beer. "I needed a hobby."
It's more than that. Hay is a Scottish clan name, and part of Richard's family is from Leeds, where his great-great-grandfather was the landlord of the largest pub in the north of England. So Richard comes by his brewcraft urge naturally. Still, he needed a place to do it.
That's when Alyson stepped in. (Remember, her family name is Brewer. Can this be a coincidence?) Not long after moving into their condo in 2003, she and Richard had built a "guys room" out of an old storage area and filled it with the requisite poker table and recliner. But Richard had been brewing his beer in a kettle on their stove upstairs, and Alyson knew he needed a larger space. So she contacted the TV makeover program While You Were Out, and the production company arrived with cameras. In 48 hours, the guys room had been remade into a comfortable little pub, and Elizabeth Street Brewery had its brand new home. (See Voice, December 2005 issue.)
Richard keeps his coils and his wort and his sparge tanks and the rest of his brewer's paraphernalia behind cabinet doors in the pub, so it can bubble away while guests sit on chairs or a sofa, watch sports on TV, and taste and talk about the beer. The brewery now has the capacity to turn out the maximum the home-brewing law allows: up to 200 gallons, per family, per year.
This is great stuff. We tasted Daddy's Chocolate Milk, a delicious dark beer with the light texture of a lager but the sweet taste and color of a porter.
The writer's wife, a fan of India Pale Ale, usually disparages dark beer: "You call that beer? It's candy!" But after doing some tasting on Super Bowl Sunday, she is now a convert: "I think that's the best beer I've ever tasted."
Bearing in mind that Richard and Alyson have two daughters, Addison (age 2) and Quincy (three months), here are the names of the other three beers in normal rotation: Addison's Firecracker Red, Quincy's Winter Warmer, and Mummy's Double Honey Ale.
A brew pub in Noe?
"I knew the minute I saw 24th Street that I wanted to live here and put my pub here," Richard says. They looked a long time before finding their space on the corner of Douglass Street, and now that they're here, Richard is determined to stay. He'll continue to use ingredients locally grown or at least sold locally, he says. He buys honey from the Noe Valley Farmers' Market for Mummy's Double Honey Ale, Bernie's coffee for the Quincy's Winter Warmer, and is trying to secure a regular supply of local raspberries for Addison's Firecracker Red.
You won't find the brewery open every weekend, but you can check the web site (www.elizabethstreetbrewery.com) for up-to-the-minute information. Bear in mind that the law does not allow Richard and Alyson to sell their beer; at open houses you are permitted to show your pleasure by making a donation, if you choose, or purchasing a T-shirt or cap with the Elizabeth Street Brewery logo. The caps are also available at Bernie's Café on 24th Street.
If Richard Brewer-Hay has his way, he will one day be brewing his beers and selling them from a shop on 24th Street. Until then, we can keep up with his and Alyson's progress by stopping by the blue house when the pub is open. Daddy's Chocolate Milk is worth the trip.