by Brian Stechschulte... Nov 27, 2012

Have you ever felt a small and steady vibration running through your body at Magnolia Pub & Brewery? Or maybe you’ve wondered why the cozy space is filled with steam during lunch? It wasn’t a little earthquake or belching radiators. A small, yet very productive brewery, lies just beneath the feet of many unsuspecting visitors. Since the doors opened in 1997, Magnolia has made approximately 406,658 gallons of beer in their basement.

Magnolia’s very first brew day was on October 30, 1997. This was the recipe.

When they opened 15 years ago, fitting a brewery into the tiny underworld beneath Haight Street was a significant challenge. In fact, when would-be owner and brewmaster Dave McLean brought equipment manufacturers into the space, a few weren’t up to the challenge and simply walked away. Thankfully, Brian Hunt, fellow brewer and owner of Moonlight Brewing, helped him find a company in Sonoma County that was willing to take on the project.

Since then, Magnolia’s brewing system remained intact until this past October. Their large brew kettle, where hops and other spices are added to a rolling boil in the brewing process, sprung a persistent leak over the summer. Minor repairs are commonplace at breweries, but upon further investigation, a patch was just too costly when compared with the price of a new kettle, so a new one was ordered.

For some production breweries swapping equipment is much more straightforward. Of course it’s still complicated, risky and time consuming, but they might have room for a forklift, can drive it through the door, and don’t have to worry about customers. In comparison, Magnolia faced a surgical procedure. The new kettle had to come through a large window and get lowered through a hole in the floor, with inches to spare, all before 11:00am, when the first customer is seated at the bar. Making matters worse, they needed to make a batch of beer the next day for the BRU/SFO Project.

At 5:30am on October 24, Magnolia brewer Ben Spencer met the window company, which removed a very large piece of glass. Shortly thereafter, the rigging company arrived with the new kettle in tow. Their first task was to install a heavy duty I-beam and pulley system for raising and lowering the old and new kettle. When that was in place, the grates covering the hole were removed and the lifting began.

Once the old kettle reached the first floor and was still dangling by a chain, the rigging company unloaded a forklift, drove it up to the window and placed the forks underneath the kettle.

After the kettle was secured, the forklift backed out, swung towards the trailer, and placed the kettle on the sidewalk. Then the rigging company simply followed the same procedure in reverse, to lower the new kettle into the basement.

The whole process went very smoothly. After the kettle was on the brewery floor, four men carried it down one step and slid it into place.

Then Spencer called the plumber, while the rigging company packed up their equipment, including the old kettle, covered the hole, and then the window was installed. It all happened with time to spare, before the first customers arrived at 11:00am. By the next day, Magnolia was brewing again.

Dave McLean and Ben Spencer saying goodbye to the old brew kettle.