San Francisco

Barrel Head Brewhouse Celebrates First Year With Refreshed Menu, New Brewmaster

It's been a little over a year since Barrel Head Brewhouse opened its doors on Fulton at Masonic, and strolling it at 4:30pm on a weekday, it's obvious that business is thriving. Manhattans are being mixed, burgers grilled, and beer is brewing right on the main floor of the restaurant. We caught up with owner Ivan Hopkinson to hear what he and his brewhouse have been up to these past 12 months, and what he's learned along the way.

First off, there's been a fair amount of internal personnel shuffling to find the perfect team for Barrel Head. Finding the task of running a business, working behind the bar and brewing beer to be a bit too much to handle, Ivan ended up passing on the role of brewmaster to his colleague, Kirk Hillyard. No stranger to the complicated and rich history of beer brewing, Kirk worked at Devil's Canyon Brewing Company prior to working at Barrel Head, and also spent eight years at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Brewmaster Kirk Hillyard (Photo: Nuala Sawyer / Hoodline)

Barrel Head is now in full production mode with its beer, taking up anywhere from five to eight of its 30 taps with its own brews. The direction the beer takes is both traditional and experimental, from a Mexican-style lager to a sour Framboise aged in wine barrels. One of the more popular beers that Barrel Head makes is the 4 and 20 Blackbirds Black IPA, brewed with Irish pale malt, roast barley, honey malt and rye.

For those who prefer a happy hour cocktail instead of a beer, bar manager Davin Affrunti (formerly of Prospect) can mix you up any combination from their self-designed "Manhattan Project." Pick a spirit, mixer, bitter and garnish to design your own—or go with their recommended combinations. Davin's favorite is the Hooker's House White mixed with Dolin Blanc, rhubarb bitters and topped with a Luxardo cherry. All in all, the Manhattan cocktail combinations can result in 400 different drinks. Add in the 10 non-Manhattan cocktails the bar also recommends, and that's 410 cocktail options for customers to choose from. 

Another significant change that Barrel Head has made since first opening its doors is a menu redesign. The sous chef, Michael Kapetanakis, graduated to the role of main chef, and curated the menu to appeal to a wider audience. 

"We changed the menu pretty drastically," said Ivan."We were finding it to be too dude-oriented." The new menu is definitely influenced by Southern food, with shrimp gumbo, brisket and mussels on the menu. But there are also unusual items now that don't usually grace the menu of a brewhouse, including vegetarian risotto with English peas and asparagus, or a roasted beet salad. 

Along with beer production, a cocktail specialist and an updated menu, regulars at Barrel Head may also notice some quirky little additions that pop up every now and again. There's a large flying saucer hidden in the decor (hint: look up), as well as octopus tentacles emerging from the ceiling above the bar. Every couple months or so a new tentacle appears. 

(Photo: Barrel Head Brewhouse)

On the way to the bathroom, you can see a framed history of the famous tap torpedo hanging on the wall. Called the NA-TASHA 17.76, the torpedo apparently hails from Russia, where it was designed in 1939 by an Italian sailor named Goe Gatto. A dramatic escape and a love story are all outlined in the torpedo's history. As to whether it's all true, you can read it over and decide for yourself next time you're waiting in line for the bathroom.

Finally, if you're looking for last-minute Friday night plans and have a penchant for cider, head to Barrel Head tonight for the NorCal Cider Nosh Session. Six different California cider houses will be represented, with a four course meal and pairing fights to enjoy. The event runs from 5:30-8:30pm, and tickets can be found here.


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