San Francisco, Calif. — 20 years ago, 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. The duo fell in love with homebrewing and had a dream to open their very own San Francisco brewery. Upon a chance meeting at a summer brewing class at UC Davis, it was instant karma.
When 21st Amendment’s San Francisco pub opened in 2000, the neighborhood was in transition as a warehouse district where regular bonfires took place in nearby South Park and the city was on the cusp of the first dot.com bubble bursting. A sustaining force through any challenging times though was the ballpark down the street where the San Francisco Giants play 81 games a year (at least they did normally) and had opened the same year, 2000. In retrospect, changes over the last two decades in both the SOMA neighborhood and craft beer industry are nothing short of extraordinary. In 2000, there were 200 craft breweries in California and 1,566 in the U.S. Currently, there are nearly 9,000 craft breweries nationwide with over 1,000 in California. We have all come a long way.
When 21st Amendment opened, canning was essentially unheard of and wouldn’t become a craze for many years to come. In 2006, Shaun and Nico launched their portfolio in cans when only 25 craft breweries in the entire country were doing the same. Canned beer had traditionally been a “big beer” phenomena 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 now canning their beers. In 2005, when Shaun mentioned the idea of canning 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 craziest idea in the world. Ha! The first cans off their small table-top Cask Brewing System two head filler were wonderful. Opening a can of 21st Amendment’s 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 certainly have changed over the years as well. In 2001, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat was first brewed. Originally a homebrew recipe by Nico, they first brewed Hell or High Watermelon Wheat 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 Nico and Shaun attended beer festivals, they’d typically pour an IPA and Watermelon Wheat and when consumers asked for their 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 its evident as their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat is a huge part of 21st Amendment’s identity and it all started in a walk-up apartment in San Francisco. That beer was divergent from the styles of the time, which was dominated by traditional pale ales, ESBs, and porters. Fast forward to 2020, fruit, vegetables and every conceivable kitchen ingredient is fair game in beer recipes and beer drinkers love it.
From 2015 – 2020, 21st Amendment has expanded their distribution footprint with their beers taking flight to 30 states and necessitating building the Bay Area’s largest production facility in San Leandro. The new brewery has spawned both brewing innovation and idiosyncratic creativity. One fact that is never lost on Shaun and Nico is that two of their 500-barrel fermenters in San Leandro are equal to the entire year’s production at the San Francisco pub brewery.
Over the past 20 years, 21st Amendment has experienced so much. The SOMA neighborhood has grown up, and certainly, they have grown with it. At their modest pub they’ve seen marriages, births, breakups, and have had to say goodbye to beloved fans of the brewery, as well as loved ones. 21st Amendment’s time on 2nd Street has been incredible, rich with stories and unforgettable moments. Many current co-workers and those who have moved on have directly impacted the 21st Amendment in so many positive ways.
Nico and Shaun sincerely thank all of their supporters throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Cheers to another 20 years of an amazing adventure