The Land of Beer and Whiskey - Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery
Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery in San Francisco has been growing in massive leaps since its initial launch by Tim Obert and Clinton Potter back in 2013. As part of its latest round of fundraising—to open a new flagship facility in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood—the brewery decided to get creative, including an “Initial Can Offering” release and promotion: As part of a million-dollar fundraising effort through investing platform Wefunder.com, Seven Stills offered at least two free shares on every can of a 300-case hazy IPA release called ICO (with some limitations).
Obert explained that their concept came from combining a similar promotion Boston Beer Company had conducted decades earlier, plus the “initial coin offerings” of modern-day cryptocurrencies.
“I thought the idea was just incredible,” Obert said of Boston Beer’s campaign, which advertised their IPO on their bottles. “I wanted to merge the ideas between that and the whole ICO craze.”
We’ll get to more details on the planned Mission Bay location further on; the fundraising from the Wefunder and Initial Can Offering component isn’t essential for the new location’s opening, Obert noted, but presented an opportunity to closely engage their main supporters as they move forward. (In the context of other breweries, Obert mentioned that Kickstarter was way easier.) “[This] was more of a way to get our fans and our customers involved.”
Seven Stills has only recently begun hitting the beer radars of many folks, as they just began canning brews in October of last year. They already have three locations inside of San Francisco—the current flagship Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery in the southeast corner of the city, the Seven Stills and Hard Frescoes Taproom in the Outer Sunset, and Seven Stills on Nob Hill (at the Stanford Court Hotel)—with the fourth location aiming to be open by the end of 2018.
Obert and Potter officially started the company in August 2013, doing a run of vodka at Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma and hand-bottling it in a storage unit. The two spent the next six months selling their vodka into bars, liquor stores, and restaurants throughout the city. “If somebody said they wanted something,” Obert said, “we would go back to the car and then we would get whatever they ordered, and bring it back like five minutes later.”
With enough costs recouped from vodka sales, they moved on to the primary focus: making whiskey from craft beer. They contracted 300 gallons of chocolate oatmeal stout from Mill Valley Beerworks, found inexpensive 53-gallon olive drums to store said beer, then trucked those newly filled drums up to Stillwater Spirits for distillation. They were left with six five-gallon barrels of their newly made Chocasmoke, which they bottled and sold to their vodka accounts, recouping enough to make even more whiskey. Rinse and repeat for a few years.
Seven Stills’ own Brewery and Distillery opened for business in August 2016, allowing them to bring their brewing and distilling efforts under one roof. After hiring on their first employee in November of 2015, the company has since grown to around thirty-eight employees—and thirty more are expected for the planned 100 Hooper location in Mission Bay. Beer sales have taken off, too, with original estimates of 800 barrels this year being readjusted up to 5,000-ish barrels.
Seven Stills’ beer is available in only eighty self-distributed accounts around the Bay Area. Their Eight Pounds, a hazy IPA made with a particularly large amount of hops per barrel, remains the bestseller on the beer side, while their Chocasmoke whiskey has become a clear focus on the spirits front. A core part of the company’s production cycle are four collaborations that Seven Stills schedules each year, in which they’ll brew a collaboration beer that they will then distill into a whiskey. They then rebrew a fresh batch of the same beer, releasing the whiskey and a four-pack of fresh beer at once. “You can try this apricot IPA,” Obert explained, “and you can try this whiskey, made from the exact same apricot IPA, side by side.”
Moving forward on the spirits side, Seven Stills will be moving to 750mL bottles (from their 375mL format), and upgrading to 53-gallon barrels. “We moved all of our production to 53-gallon barrels from the five-gallon barrels and are doing a longer age statement, which I think is going to have a phenomenal impact on the quality of the whiskey.”
For the time being, the Brewery and Distillery location remains the key Seven Stills experience: showcasing a dozen-plus beers, draft cocktails with their own California Courage vodka, plus a variety of whiskey flights—in a space directly beside where those products get created. The Outer Sunset taproom with Hard Frescos is a showcase of Seven Stills beer, along with hard frescoes and casual Mexican fare. Their Nob Hill hotel bar is able to do full-on Seven Stills cocktails as well as, say, offer three cuts of steak paired to three types of Seven Stills whiskey.
When the 100 Hooper location opens, potentially later this year, it will become the focus of the Seven Stills system. Two-thirds of the space will be allocated to production, with a glass demising wall allowing a view of their two huge stills from most parts of the building. Their current 300-gallon still will be moved to their new location (along with the distilling license), and a 750-gallon still will be added. The remaining 6,000 square feet will be dedicated to the retail side of things. Immersive merch section and tasting area. A giant barrel room. sixty-seat bar, plus full-service restaurant. Secret lounge upstairs. Whiskey-aging rickhouse next door.
They’re aiming to begin construction in September, some retail operations in November.
I asked what would become of their current flagship, where we were currently seated beside shelves of whiskey and vodka. Obert laughed, but probably isn’t joking. “IPA Factory.” — Story and photos by Ken Weaver
Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery