Inspired by the free beer garden hosted on the SFAI campus this weekend (RSVP here), for this week's picks and drinks I decided to take a detour from the usual cocktails and travel to the cozy Haight Street standby Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery and give this week's picks the cicerone treatment.
Long ahead of the beer craze going down in San Francisco these days, Magnolia was opened by Dave Maclean in 1997 and takes its name from only-in-SF punk rock grande dame Magnolia Thunderpussy, who ran a restaurant on the spot remembered for delivering late-night feasts (and maybe a little extra!) to legions of hungry rockers. My spiritual guide for this excursion into the world of beer pairings is bushy-bearded front-of-house manager Matt Costa, himself an off-duty rock n' roller and a film buff to boot. At Matt's request I've listed the ABU (Alcohol by Volume) and the IBU (International Bitterness Units) measurements next to each beer, as any seasoned publican would expect from a good local taproom.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Alyson Klayman's unvarnished but ingratiating introduction to the life of Chinese art star and political dissident Ai Weiwei is a must-see for justice-minded San Franciscans for purely political reasons, but also conceals an equally compelling narrative: That of Weiwei's own transition from young hellraiser to dedicated crusader. Through standard-issue talking head interviews, footage collected by Weiwei for his own activist documentaries and postings from his Twitter feed (and 24/7 protest forum), the artist works his way into our hearts as the playful but serious spokesperson for those oppressed by the modern Chinese political system, which moves from opaque obstacle to menacing enemy as his fame increases. Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, 415-346-3243.
Matt Recommends: Tillie's Union Ale (4.7% ABV, 15 IBUs)
A collaboration with Dennis Lee of Namu Gaji only available there and at Magnolia, Tillie's is San Francisco's answer to the rising number of craft brewers using rice in unconventional brews–it's with toasted rice flakes. Obviously rice is one of China's biggest exports, but Matt's shooting for something a little more insidious: "Clearly Tillie's isn't as imperiled as Ai Weiwei, but it's controversial in its own way, and it pushes the conception of what beers are supposed to be, like all good art pushes the boundaries of what art does." The name also alludes to a political history; Matt tells me "Tillie was a union organizer for laundry workers who used to work out of an office in the Mission."
The Queen of Versailles
At the beginning of Lauren Greenfield's "riches-to-rags" documentary, former Miss Florida, Jackie Siegel, and her 70-something husband, timeshare mogul David, are the embodiment of the long-lost "American Dream," for better or worse. The cringe-inspiring nouveau riche couple's fortune begins to change and the film slides from farce to tragedy as the real estate market crumbles and bankruptcy threatens not only David's corporate ambitions but the Siegels' extravagant new home, a scale replica of the Palace of Versailles. Those feeling cruel will have occasion to laugh at daffy Jackie's ridiculous assertions and ludicrous excesses in the face of their cash crunch but those with a more forgiving eye will recognize, however overblown, a mirror to the trials everyone has faced in the last few years. Either side you end up on, Queen is quite a spectacle. Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Center, 415-267-4893.
Matt Recommends: Proving Ground IPA (7% ABV, 100 IBUs)
"In 1999 when we started making Proving Ground, it was before really bitter IPAs took off, so it was a little like the Siegels… luckily we did better than they did, I guess," Matt confides. One of the key ingredients in Magnolia's version of the heavily hopped IPA is a British malt Marris Otter, which gives it a more mellow character than similarly "hot" ales. Like the mock-palace in Queen, the beer itself is a replica of a continental style–IPAs were born in England.
The Well Diggers' Daughter
As unlikely as it may seem for someone who was born in 1981, Claude Berri's unassailable Jean de Florette (1986) was my introduction to French film, and its sequel, Manon des Sources, my introduction to the legendary beauty of the country's young actresses (in that case the still radiant Emmanuelle Béart). The preceding two films were where The Well Digger's Daughter director and star Danielle Auteuil first made his mark in the minds of many as lovelorn suicide case Ugolin, a fate he reversed in real life by marrying Béart after the film's release. Years later, it's clear that Auteuil remembers those days fondly as well. Here, he's delivered a tone-perfect, if less emotional, replica of the atmosphere of those films in Daughter, which is also adapted from the work of Provençal playwright Marcel Pagnol. Opera Plaza Cinemas, 601 Van Ness Avenue, 415-267-4893.
Matt Recommends: Sara's Ruby Mild (3.9% ABV, 15 IBUs)
Named for the classic but seldom-seen British brew "Sarah Hughes Original Ruby Mild," Sara's shares quite a bit with Daniel Auteuil's throwback pastoral despite its country of origin. Honest and uncomplicated in its flavors, it's a direct revival of a form from the past. "When we first brewed it," Matt tells me, "milds were disappearing at an alarming rate. This is our attempt to revive that style." There's also a bit of the prole in the beer's heritage: "Sara's is what's called a 'session' beer, a lighter beer meant to be drunk by farmers, coalminers, and other laborers who want something refreshing."