In today's story, writer Genevieve Brennan ventures slightly southwest of the neighborhood to explore Healthy Spirits, a world of intoxicating delights at the corner of 15th and Castro.
If you need more beer, bourbon and hummus in your life (and who doesn't), Healthy Spirits has you covered.
Just a short walk up the hill straddling the Lower Haight, Duboce Triangle and the Castro, the shop sits as a shangri-la of quality spirits. When word goes around that they've received a new local nanobrew or microdistilled whiskey, Lower Haighters bolt uphill to grab a bottle.
"Some limited releases and rare beers have sold out in 30 minutes," says David Hauslein, the store's beer manager.
Open for 14 years, Healthy Spirits started focusing on craft beer about 5 years ago. The shop keeps to its corner store roots, though; the same family still owns it, and continues to stock it with homemade hummus and baba ghanoush. Hauslein reports that they sell about 700 different beers at any given time, with about half available regularly, and seasonal and limited-release brews rounding out the rest. Refrigerated cases line one wall, shelves are stuffed with bottles, and a tip jar labeled "Beer Research" sits on the counter.
"Beer has always been what we're here for, but over the last 3 years, the whiskey has really come into its own as well," store manager Nate Breed says, noting that the shop's focus on craft beer and spirits grew along with the Bay Area's. "There's a symbiosis. We're up there with the best beer stores, and we're also up there with the best whiskey stores. We're the only place that does both really well."
Locals pop in to grab a cold bottle to drink with dinner, while fans from around the country come in to peruse the stock and learn about unusual beers and whiskeys.
"The difference between us and a lot of other beer stores is the level of personal service," Hauslein says. "We research the beers thoroughly, and try them. People who work here are homebrewers and know their stuff. We'll help you learn about what you're buying and find something perfect. We've spent an hour going through a menu with someone to figure out pairings for what they're serving."
The shop keeps their blog updated with fresh arrivals. So what's going on now in the beer world? "Sours are the new big thing," Hauslein says, "We're always looking for great sours. Black IPAs are also massive right now, and we're starting to see white IPAs," hoppy versions of Belgian-style wheat beers.
When the first batch from local nanobrewery Almanac Beer Co. came in last year, the shop bought more than two dozen cases. They sold out quickly. "It's good to get behind things like that," Breed says. "We see the value in the local breweries, the farm to barrel thing."
There are trends in the whiskey world as well. "We're seeing a surge of white whiskey on the market, because microdistilleries can really experiment" with unaged whiskey, Breed says. "We go as in depth as we can." The shop's bourbon blog touts their selection. "We're known as a bourbon shop, but we stock it all."
Not only do they stock it, but they have a hand in making it. Several times a year the shop partners with distilleries to get limited-run whiskeys made especially for them. After bottling, they pass the whiskey barrels on to local breweries, who use them to age small-batch brews. When the beer is ready, onto Healthy Spirits' shelves it goes. "It's fun, and it gives them an opportunity to do something new," Mike says of the breweries, which have included Moylan's, Triple Voodoo, Telegraph, and Highwater.
To keep their finger on the pulse of the beer world, Breed and Hauslein say they read sites like Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, speak to the brewers, chat with their customers, and are regulars at Toronado. Many of the beer-focused bars around town, Hauslein notes, are members of Healthy Spirits' beer club. The monthly club, which also has a bourbon equivalent, provides access to new brews, tasting notes, limited releases, and shop discounts.
"People are fighting for some of these releases," Breed says. But with Healthy Spirits so close, no fighting is necessary; beer and whiskey lovers are happy to come in, wander around, ask questions, and uncover some boozy gems.
Healthy Spirits is located at 2299 15th Street, at Castro. It's open from 10am until 10pm Monday through Thursday, closing at 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 9pm on Sundays.