Zeitgeist: great craft beer in The Mission, attitude optional

Having a bar named “Zeitgeist” carries with it a certain responsibility and attitude – even more so when it’s located in San Francisco’s Mission District, not far from the seedier side of Market Street. Zeitgeist, the German noun, means the spirit of the time, the general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period . Culturally, zeitgeist suggests “the general moral, intellectual and cultural climate of an era,” like the Victorians' faith in industrial progress and American settlers' belief in manifest destiny. The zeitgeist of the Zeitgeist Bar and Guesthouse has a rebellious urban edge, as befits a divey tavern, under the shadow of a freeway overpass, whose clientele mostly gets around on two wheels.
Several vehicles adorn one of the walls in the spacious beer garden (“Do not leave your bike here. It will be removed”). The tavern almost revels in being edgy, with kitschy bric a brac and copious signage, including notices about prohibiting videos or pictures next to a mural of pink elephants balancing on a motorcycle.
A certain amount of the attitude is cosmetic – the bartenders are no worse than, say, Toronado’s and the food server pandering for tips is more amusing than menacing. Part is real, though, manifested in a disdain for the proliferation of young “hipsters” who seem to have descended in great numbers upon the Mission and Zeitgeist in particular. (Several of the hipsters apparently are not very hip to craft beer, since there seemed to be as many people sipping PBR, Tecate and Pacifico as there were drinking microbrews.) It's as if the zeitgeist of gritty urban defiance is being undermined and threatened by the indifference of the Blackberry-wielding newcomers.
Some patrons have voiced their umbrage in response to rude treatment. One Yelp critic complained, “The bartenders are all despondent apathetic slugs that think their sh*t is ice cream,” yet concluded, “Just because I give this place one star does not mean you'll have great time, you will, in spite of the bar.” Last year, Esquire voted Zeitgeist one of the best bars in the U.S. This is because Zeitgeist offers excellent beer among its two dozen or so taps; pours a good, clean pint for a decent price; and has a nice, spacious patio where you can enjoy your brew with a good cheeseburger ($5, but don’t forget to tip) or a tamale from the Tamale Lady. They also make a mean Bloody Mary.
Among the brews on tap on a recent visit were a couple of dark beers from Moonlight Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Although Moonlight’s Death and Taxes California black lager was listed, it wasn’t available. Instead, the bar was pouring Moonlight’s excellent dark lager called Toast and a dark ale that Zeitgeist had dubbed “xxxmas,” a beer I wasn’t familiar with. To clear up the details on the mystery beer, I contacted Moonlight owner and brewer (and just about everything else at the brewery) Brian Hunt, who explained: “Zeitgeist sometimes uses some creative license in naming beers, and last year or before they began calling the Tipple ‘Rated Xmas.’ I think they shortened the name this year and made it more ‘hard core!’"
Hunt described the dark ale (top, with a grilled cheese) as “porterish without going quite that dark. It is aged on wet/dry hops. These are the same hops that were picked at the brewery and put in the aging tanks and filled with Homegrown. The timing works just right so that when the Homegrown is all sold, I refill the tanks with Tipple. There is a resulting freshhop character that makes the dark ale more almost fruity, as opposed to hoppy. It is as if the dark malt flavor masks some of the grassier freshhop notes, and the richer notes are able to surface up with the malt flavors. It was at least three weeks old when first released, likely about five or six weeks old when the last keg went out the week before Christmas.”
He described Toast as a slightly burned strong lager, “an exercise in toasty flavor. I just used all the malts that I felt would make a beer that tasted like Toast. Hops were just minimal enough to round off the dry edges. This beer, however, was a year old. Last year I released two versions: a small amount 3 years old, and the bulk that was 4 weeks old. My intention from now on is to only release it at one year, except for a few extra-old kegs. All aging is in stainless. Both are 6.0% (abv).”
Needless to say, both were delicious and especially excellent sipping in the outdoor patio on a partially gray San Francisco afternoon.
My advice: ignore the attitude, bring a hoodie, buy a burger or tamale and enjoy some great beer.

199 Valencia at Duboce
(415) 255-7505

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