by joanne... Apr 17, 2016

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Business partners, brewing buddies and best friends John Zirinisky and Bennet Buchanan at Old Bus Tavern

Old Bus Tavern opened last summer in Bernal Heights and has entirely upped the pub grub ante by providing a seriously high-end dining experience, complemented by fresh quality craft beer brewed in-house, in a decidedly unstuffy neighborhood setting.

Old Bus partners Jimmy Simpson, John Zirinsky and Bennet Buchanan are delivering a well-rounded experience to patrons, a yin-and-yang of craft beer and artisan fare. Having earned countless accolades from reviewers as well as regulars, they’ve succeeded in spades, all while producing such exciting brews a refreshing lemon basil saison and complex chile porter made with roasted poblanos and Valrhona cocoa nibs.

Old Bus Tavern takes its turn hosting Meet the Brewers night this Wednesday, April 20, at 6pm. The team will be pouring some special brews on this night — their Rye-noplasty Pale Ale through a Randall packed with Amarillo hops, and the debut of an English-style mild, Into the Mild, for some easy sipping.

In advance of April 20, we asked Bennet and Zirinsky — long-time friends who not only had homebrewing in common, but a love for old Westfalia VW buses and all the freedom and curiosity about he world those buses impart — to share thoughts about the startup process and how they arrived upon and executed their concept.

Read more about the beers and festivities coming on April 20, which include the Drink SF Beer shuttle, stopping at Old Bus, Woods Cervecería, Southpaw BBQ and Rosamunde Sausage Grill with the latter doing a San Francisco Brewers Guild Tap Takeover featuring Almanac Beer, Fort Point Beer, Headlands Brewing, Pine Street Brewery and San Francisco Brewing Co.

Answers by Ben Buchanan unless noted.

Q: What most influenced you to become a brewer?

I’ve always loved working with my hands and creating things, but I was never much of a cook. I started getting interested in craft beer toward the end of my college career, and soon after school, I brewed my first batch in my kitchen. I loved the idea of creating something — particularly something as awesome as beer — that I could enjoy and share with my friends and family. Years later, after John and I had brewed many batches together, I decided that I had to focus on what I really loved, brewing beer.

Q: Was there ever a ‘pivot’ moment when you had to shift your strategy?

Our food concept changed radically when we hired Chef Max Snyder. He brought a far more refined food concept than we had initially envisioned.

John adds: Even before deciding on a more ambitious approach to food, the decision to open a brewpub rather than a packaging brewery was seminal. Rather than focusing on refining a set of core beers for wholesale, we chose an alternative path that lets us constantly experiment on the production scale and get direct feedback on our beers from guests.  While this gives us much greater control over the freshness and service of our beers, it also meant we needed to create equally exciting food, guest beer, wine and spirit programs to complement our house beers and keep guests returning.

Q: Was there any ‘ah ha’ moments when an opportunity presented that you hadn’t expected? What has surprised you most now that you’re up and running?

Since this is my and John’s first professional brewing experience, I was pleasantly surprised when people who weren’t our friends and family actually liked our beer. It’s always good to hear nice things from people who don’t have to be nice to you.

Q: How do you differentiate Old Bus Tavern from the other breweries launching around you?

We brew on a four-barrel system at Old Bus with seven-barrel tanks. That small size, along with selling nearly all our beer in house, allows us to experiment with different styles and recipes that we might not brew otherwise if committed to large batches. We also have great list of Bay Area guest drafts, a growing collection of rare and exotic bottled beers, and a full restaurant and bar with extensive spirit list.

Q: How does where your located effect your business, its growth, the beers you make, how you market yourself?

As a neighborhood brewpub in Bernal Heights, where I also live, we love our local customers, many of whom are homebrewers like us. We have always aimed to be a comfortable place where our neighbors can enjoy some great beer, food and cocktails.

As a San Francisco brewery, we are fortunate to be in one of the best beer cities in the world. The Bay Area knows good beer, so it certainly keeps the pressure on us to constantly improve quality. In addition to being inspired by many San Francisco breweries, we are so grateful for all the help and advice we have received from our fellow brewers as we grow our business.

Q: How do you see Old Bus Tavern evolving in terms of its craft beer offerings and overall growth plan?

Moving forward, we plan to continue with five or six house beers on tap with the rest of our 14 taps dedicated to new and interesting guest beers from small Bay Area breweries. We’ll distribute a small amount of our beer soon. We are also in the process of expanding [the Tavern’s] bottle program, which will focus on rare and cellarable beers such as sours, strong Belgians and imperial stouts.

Visit Old Bus Tavern at 3193 Mission Street, and join the San Francisco Brewers Guild there on April 20 when Old Bus will be hosting this month’s Meet the Brewers night from 6-9pm.

Chef Max Snyder's influence resulted in a welcome course correction.

Chef Max Snyder’s influence resulted in a welcome course correction.