Barebottle Brewing Company, the lauded San Francisco brewery, has arrived in Menlo Park, adding to the Peninsula’s vibrant craft beer scene. The brewery’s new taproom is serving its wide range of locally inspired beers and natural wines at the Springline mixed-use development on Oak Grove Avenue. The Peninsula taproom is Barebottle’s fourth and its second location south of San Francisco.
Barebottle’s Menlo Park taproom is a bright and airy 3,000-square-foot space, its entrance flanked by cozy outdoor sofas and chairs. Inside, customers sit at long, tall communal tables typical of the beer hall aesthetic, while accents like sleek, shiny tap handles set against a colorful tile backsplash give everything a modern feel. For mirth and merriment, Barebottle has thoughtfully added pinball machines in the back of the space.
Behind the bar, customers can find over 20 of Barebottle’s beers on draft, ranging from light, crisp lagers to fruited sour ales and stiffer options like double IPAs and a barleywine. Nonalcoholic beverages, like sparkling hop water, a ginger-hibiscus soda and blueberry pomegranate kombucha — all made by Barebottle — are also available, as are Argentinian empanadas from San Francisco caterer Pampa BBQ. Customers can also bring their own food or even order pintxos and other Spanish-inspired fare from tapas restaurant Canteen, which will bring the food over to the taproom from its space next door.
Barebottle — though new to the Midpeninsula — has a storied history in its home city of San Francisco, where it was co-founded in 2016 by Ben Sterling, Lester Koga and Michael Seitz — a trio of business school classmates turned homebrewing enthusiasts who took their hobby professional with a brewery and taproom in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. From there, the company’s steady growth eventually led to another taproom in Santa Clara in 2020 and an outdoor beer garden in San Francisco’s Salesforce Park in 2022.
For the team at Barebottle, opening yet another location on the Peninsula was a no-brainer. “The Peninsula has been an area of focus for us. We had this hypothesis that there’s an underserved community here,” Seitz said. As businesses began closing their doors at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — including Barebottle’s brand new Santa Clara taproom (which had only been open for less than two months) — the brewery would have a chance to test that hypothesis.
With their taprooms sitting empty, Barebottle spun up a home delivery beer club on the Peninsula to keep its suds flowing to customers. “We got over 400 people to sign up…I think I did over 5,000 individual deliveries during the pandemic,” Seitz said. It was through these deliveries that Seitz would meet enthusiastic customers curious about whether Barebottle would continue to expand on the Peninsula. “And so that really piqued our interest and got us looking,” Seitz added. The arrival of the Springline development, with its convenient location next to the Menlo Park Caltrain station and opportunity for an outdoor beer garden, proved to be just what Barebottle was looking for.
While Barebottle brews a wide range of beer styles, they say their beers are representative of an underlying philosophy: to make the types of locally inspired craft beers they grew to appreciate as homebrewers, and later, homebrew contest judges. In fact, each can of Barebottle beer includes a recipe that homebrewers can use to replicate their favorite of the brewery’s beers in 5 gallon batches should they desire.
The brewery’s flagship IPA — the Muir Woods IPA — is perhaps the best example of Barebottle’s philosophy, coming to existence through collaboration with the local homebrewing community. “I went out to my homebrew club here in San Francisco and I said, ‘Guys and gals, make us the best version of an IPA that’s evocative of Muir Woods,'” Koga said. The contest yielded a range of contenders, but a citrusy, hazy, pine-tinged beer proved to be a favorite, and it evolved into the Muir Woods IPA now served across Barebottle’s taprooms.
Where some brewers may be content to seek out local herbs, fruits or flowers to give their beer a sense of place, Barebottle is also considering an often overlooked beer ingredient: water.
“Brewing water has a huge impact on the types of beers you can make,” said Seitz, adding that the mineral composition of local water supplies adds to the unique qualities of beer in celebrated beer-brewing cities like Dublin, Ireland, or Pilsen in the Czech Republic. The Bay Area’s own water supply, which mostly includes water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, is of a similarly soft mineral composition (containing lower amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals) as the water in Pilsen, according to Seitz. “We feel uniquely suited to make a beer that celebrates that water,” said Seitz. The end result is Hella Hetchy, a beer Barebottle calls a “Yosemite-style pilsner,” brewed as an homage to the clean, crisp pilsners of the Czech Republic, with a spotlight on the high-quality local water supply that makes the beer possible.
Though Barebottle considers themselves a beer company first and foremost, they haven’t been able to ignore the call of another significant local ingredient — wine grapes. “It was just a natural progression of getting into another beverage that we deeply love,” said Koga, who notes that the Barebottle team’s love of wine predates their foray into beer making. After noticing that groups of customers visiting their taprooms would often have at least one member who didn’t drink beer, Barebottle took advantage of a 2019 change in California law that allowed them to serve their own wine in addition to beer in the same taproom.
But Barebottle’s winemaking philosophy differs from its beermaking one in a significant way: They don’t add any yeast to aid fermentation. This hallmark of natural winemaking, known as native fermentation, relies instead on the wild yeasts that already reside on the grape skins. Barebottle says that producing in this manner allows them to deliver a more interesting glass of wine to their customers, in part because of the more complex fermentation characteristics of wild yeast as compared to the cultivated yeast strains widely used in conventional winemaking. “That’s texture, that’s body, that’s flavor that you can’t get from just pure pitches of yeast,” said Koga. “We kind of love that wild element of it because it gives you a more interesting character.”
“Great wine is made in the field. So as a winemaker, your job is to find the best grapes,” Koga said, noting that Barebottle has looked to farmers and vineyards across California — in Anderson Valley, Livermore, and Santa Barbara, among others — for their supply of grapes. And though they do make wine from two classic California grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, Barebottle says they also enjoy making wines from the less popular grape varietals grown in the area.
“We procured a barbera and a primitivo from Amador County,” Koga said. “I think these old vine Italian varietals are really fun and really cool.” To drive home the point, a sign in the Barebottle taproom describes the character of the barbera as “like untangling yourself from a backyard blackberry thicket.”
Barebottle also offers a number of experiences and events for customers to book via their website. A pair of happy hour experiences let you taste through a series of beer styles, wines and even coffee, while aspiring homebrewers can learn the art of brewing directly from the Barebottle team. Finally, just in time to enjoy the late-summer weather, Barebottle will add an outdoor beer garden in Springline’s plaza, with beers served from a vintage Citrôen bus retrofitted as a beer stand. Barebottle says the beer garden in the plaza will be ready by the end of September.
Barebottle Brewing Company, 550 Oak Grove Ave. Suite B, Menlo Park; 650-714-0506, Instagram: @barebottle. Open Monday-Wednesday from noon to 10 p.m., noon to 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.