Twenty years ago, we (Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan) opened the doors to the 21st Amendment Brewery at 563 2nd Street in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district. Nico was a recovering theatre major who had worked in restaurants his entire life, and Shaun was a former paralegal who traded his suits for boots and was saved by beer. We both fell in love with homebrewing and had a dream to open our own brewery. When we met at a summer brewing class at UC Davis, it was instant karma.
When we opened our San Francisco pub, the neighborhood was in transition from its days as a warehouse district where a train line once went straight down Second Street, and there were regular bonfires in the middle of South Park. When we opened, the first dot.com bubble was just about to burst, taking down the likes of Pets.com and Webvan. The bright light through all this, and also what sustained us during challenging times, was the ballpark down the street which opened in early 2000 and where the San Francisco Giants play 81 games a year (at least they did normally). Looking in the rearview mirror at not only the neighborhood but the craft beer industry, the changes have been quite extraordinary. When we opened in 2000 there were 200 craft breweries in California and 1,566 in the US. Now there are almost 9,000 craft breweries nationwide with over 1,000 in California alone. We have all come a long way.
In 2000 craft beer in cans was not even a thing and wouldn’t be for many more years. When we first started canning our beer in 2006 there were about 25 craft breweries in the entire country doing the same and we talked mostly about the can package rather than the beer inside. Canned beer had traditionally been a “big beer” thing with its light color and mild flavor profile. Today, craft beer in cans makes up more than 50% of beer sales with most, if not all, craft breweries putting their beer in cans. In 2005, when Shaun mentioned the idea of putting our beer in cans to Nico after a visit to Oskar Blues Brewery (in Lyon, Colorado and among the very first craft breweries to ever put their beer in a can), Nico thought it was the dumbest idea in the world. Ha! The first cans off our small table-top Cask Brewing System two head filler were wonderful. Opening a can of our IPA at 7% abv with its full hop flavor and aroma was a serious “ah ha” moment as beer like that was just not available in cans at that time.
Styles have changed over the years as well. In 2001 our Hell or High Watermelon Wheat was first brewed. This was originally Nico’s homebrew recipe that he first brewed in the basement of his San Francisco apartment on Oak Street, just off the Panhandle. The idea of fruit in beer was pretty novel at the time, and there certainly weren’t any watermelon beers. When we would attend beer festivals, we’d typically bring an IPA and Watermelon Wheat and when asking for our beers, typically the interaction was “I’ll have your IPA” but “I’ll try your watermelon beer.” Once most tried the watermelon beer they were instant fans and it’s evident as our “Hell or High Watermelon” is a huge part of what we do and it all started in a walk-up apartment in San Francisco. That beer was divergent from the styles of the time that were dominated by traditional pale ales, ESBs and porters. Today, fruit, vegetables and every conceivable kitchen ingredient is fair game in beer recipes and beer drinkers love it.
In twenty years here we have seen so much. We have watched our San Francisco neighborhood grow up and we certainly have grown with it. At our modest pub we have seen marriages, births, breakups, and have experienced losing fans and loved ones. The time here has been extraordinary and rich with stories and experiences. Many co-workers that are with us now or have moved on have directly impacted the 21st Amendment in so many positive ways.
In the past five years we have grown even further, with our beers taking flight to 30 states and necessitating building the Bay Area’s largest production facility in San Leandro, allowing us to innovate and have even more fun with being creative. One fact that is never lost on us is that two of our 500-barrel fermenters in San Leandro are equal to the entire year's production at our San Francisco pub brewery.
We certainly have come a long way and we thank all of you for being supportive and purchasing our beers and visiting our San Leandro and San Francisco locations. Here’s to another 20 years of this amazing adventure. We are definitely just getting started.
-Shaun and Nico