Save for their signature barrel-aged beers, everything is brand new at Almanac Taproom, which opened just in time for New Year's Eve. The beer label, well known locally and beyond for its "farm to barrel" creations over the past five years, and particularly respected for its fruity, funky ales, is ubiquitous in bottle shops and on taps about town, claiming San Francisco as home with brews that pay homage to Emperor Norton and Dolores Park. But until now, Almanac has really been a roving operation without exact geographic roots, doing its brewing originally in the South Bay. Co-founders Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan are so-called gypsy brewers, working on contract at other breweries. Now, with their taproom, which is deep down 24th Street (at Potrero) in the former Sous Beurre Kitchen space, they've officially laid anchor. That's big.
There's no beer brewing on-site here, but of the 15 taps, including a surprising 11 barrel-aged offerings, several are exclusively offered at the taproom. Those include an impressive IPA called "New Taproom Smell," and a fun, dessert-y "Nectarine Cobbler" sour blonde. The taproom offers two ounce tasters of draft pours, providing a good way to try more eccentric offerings, like 10 percent ABV stout aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels that you might have difficulty drinking by the pint or bottle. Because the price of Almanac's beers has always reflected the fact that they're difficult to produce, taking time and high quality ingredients, and while the taproom prices can't be classified as cheap, drinking Almanac straight from the source is as economical as it gets. Eventually, growlers will be available to go, another way to potentially save.
Meanwhile, the food menu from chef Chad Arnold, previously of Dopo's charcuterie program, and sous chef is Rob Ramshur, formerly a cook at Mourad, caters to the carnivorous crowd and is built for beer pairings. One standout item: the duck sausage sandwich (garlic duck sausage, pancetta, malt vinegar agro dulce onion, frisee, dijon). That's $17, which I found easier to justify than $16 for vegetarian Banh Mi. It's a hefty, serious sandwich, served coiled up on a bun that was crispy and buttery from the griddle. The sausage itself is garlicky, rich and a little gamey, and the dijon has a strong kick. Instead of uncoiling when eaten like a burger, the sandwich stayed together, with even the strips of crispy pancetta underneath the sausage holding in place until coming off into crackly bits with each bite.
Between Sous Beurre's use of the restaurant space and Almanac's, there are more high bar tables, more emphasis on the central bar, and a new, sure-to-be-popular outdoor patio "beer garden" space. Still, it feels like Friedman and Fagan moved in quickly when they secured the space, and it's likely they have more decor and interior design decisions ahead. One quick fix: The space, always a bit brightly lit for a restaurant as Sous Beurre Kitchen, is significantly too bright for a bar. In fact, when someone leaned on a light switch, dimming them, everyone at the bar seemed to relax.
For budgetary reasons, SFist editors and contributors occasionally accept complimentary meals from restaurants and their publicists. More often, we pay out of pocket for our meals. While we refrain from writing formal reviews, we make every effort when giving opinions about restaurants to be objective, and to focus more on food and ambiance than service in order to make up for any possible bias.