For more than 15 years, Thirsty Bear has attracted after-work beer aficionados, office parties and tapas fans. Surprisingly, the organic craft brewery has also become a favored spot for patrons who like unique cocktails and high-end spirits. In fact, bar manager Matt Gunderson has developed a rotating cocktail menu that is every bit as innovative as the brewery’s award-winning beers and the restaurant’s popular Spanish cuisine. And Gunderson now has dedicated cocktail regulars to show for it.
Thirsty Bear, 661 Howard St., San Francisco, (415) 974-0905
Why does a brewery have a cocktail program? We are a well-rounded establishment. We have great food, handcrafted beer and a seasonal, fun cocktail menu. Plus, in San Francisco, the level is set very high for the bar set.
Is there a particular theme to the cocktails? We try to keep the flavor profile seasonal. We rely on the classics as the foundations for our interpretations and we have homemade syrups.
How do you come up with new drinks? It’s by trial and error. I’ll have a theme and I’ll know what works well together. Then I will fine-tune it to the quarter-ounce to make the drink perfect.
When did you start bartending? I started working in the kitchen as a prep cook and then I was working on the line. But I wanted to be more social and be face to face with people. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and had a lot of formal training in Sacramento. I went to the California Culinary Academy and worked a few other jobs. Then I came here two years ago as the bar manager. Here, I’ve really enjoyed getting back behind the bar and being more hands-on with the cocktails. I also have more of a connection with our guests.
How would you describe Thirsty Bear? It’s a rocking good time. We have a very diverse clientele and we have our regulars and beer connoisseurs. We have a big after-work crowd and have a lot of private events and banquets upstairs. We also get a convention influx from Moscone Center.
What’s the seasonal beer right now? We have our 15th anniversary ale. It’s an Imperial red and it is wet-hopped with Ivanhoe and Centennial hops. We use Belgium dark candi sugar to boost the alcohol and give it a nice color. It’s slightly hoppy and supersmooth.
What are your best-selling spirits? Rye whiskies are popular and gin always makes a nice cocktail.
If you could have a drink anywhere in the world, where would it be? It would be on a white-sandy beach in the Caribbean and I would have my feet up with a nice tropical drink.
Mist a bucket glass with three sprays of St. George Absinthe before filling with ice. In mixing glass, combine all ingredients except absinthe, add ice, stir and strain. Garnish with a lemon peel and orange peel.