SF Chronicle: Woods Island Club brings beer to Treasure Island

By Esther MobleyOctober 18, 2016 Updated: October 20, 2016 8:20am. View original article.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle   Beer on the beach at Woods Island Club on Treasure Island.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle

Beer on the beach at Woods Island Club on Treasure Island.

For a microbrewery producing just 1,000 barrels of beer every year, Woods Beer sure does have a lot of taprooms.

OK, “a lot of taprooms” is relative — this is no Gordon Biersch — but to have four bars in San Francisco and Oakland, with a fifth coming very soon, seems like a lot of overhead and market saturation for a beer company that only opened its first brick-and-mortar storefront in 2012.

The latest to open, the Woods Island Club, is especially curious.

Billed as a “beer beach,” it’s essentially an airplane hangar turned warehouse, sparsely filled with eight taps, stacks of barrels and a lot of beach chairs folded against a wall. Outside is a rectangle of sand — a kind of oversize sandbox — carved into the middle of a parking lot.

Did I mention it’s on Treasure Island?

In many ways, the Woods Island Club is the quintessential Woods Beer outpost, a perfect expression of its beer style and even its business model: idiosyncratic, compulsively fun and marooned on an island.

The genesis of Woods Beer goes back to owner Jim Woods’ high school days, when he began home brewing “because it was the easiest way to get beer.” He kept up the hobby through college and later as a real estate acquisitions analyst for Deutsche Bank; eventually, still holding that day job, he was selling his beers (contract-brewed at the time) in as many as five states.

But this model started to look unsustainable. Woods had a whim to open Cervecería next to Dolores Park in 2012, and immediately felt that the taproom had done more for the brand than he’d accomplished in his previous five years of peddling to local markets and haggling with distributors. Self-distributing was inefficient, he felt; traditional distribution meant losing control of quality and brand representation. Taproom business, meanwhile, was booming.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle   Woods pours beer at his microbrewery, an airplane hangar turned warehouse with eight taps.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle

Woods pours beer at his microbrewery, an airplane hangar turned warehouse with eight taps.

“Why am I pounding my head against a wall trying to figure out this distribution thing?” Woods asked himself. “Why don’t I take a different path to market, and continue to open my own establishments?”

Cervecería, an interpretation of an Argentine estancia (ranch), was followed by Woods Bar & Brewery, a beer garden in downtown Oakland; and Woods Polk Station, a “mountain lodge” in Russian Hill. Each is different: Cervecería bumps at 5 p.m. on a Saturday, when Dolores Park begins to chill; the Bar & Brewery gets busy after shows let out at the Fox Theater. A spot at 46th Avenue and Judah in the Outer Sunset is forthcoming.

The space for Woods Island Club was initially secured to provide cold storage and space for barrel fermentations. Treasure Island appealed because of its location, smack-dab in the middle of the Woods Beer nexus, and also because of dirt-cheap rents — a dollar per square foot, Woods claims.

In characteristic fashion, Woods couldn’t resist making his new storage facility into a bar.

“The beach was a no-brainer,” says Woods, though he had to bring in 50 tons of sand to create it. He also got a 35-foot palm tree — a free sidewalk giveaway from elsewhere on the island.

Something about the Woods Island Club feels makeshift, unformed. The sign is hard to spot. The warehouse feels pretty empty. Aside from the aforementioned sand and palm tree, there’s not much in the way of vegetation or other decor to achieve a full beachy effect. You’re acutely aware that you’re kind of sitting in a parking lot. As far as we could tell, there was just one employee working, and he was profoundly good-natured, exuding that combination of geekiness and snarkiness that seems particular to craft brewery employees.

For example, we asked him why they opened a brewery on Treasure Island. His response: “Because we’re pirates.”

Jim Woods’ first great beer, which remains the company’s flagship, is the MateVeza IPA ($6/16 ounces), brewed with yerba mate. A longtime drinker of the bitter, herbal South American tea, Woods had a revelation during college that the bitterness of mate could supplement hops bitterness in a beer.

“In beer, you need to balance the sweetness of the malt, but hops bitterness can be a little bit angular,” Woods says. “So in the IPA we reduce the amount of bittering hops, and the mate is doing some of the lifting, in a softer way.”

Joining the mate chorus now is the Morpho Herbal Ale ($7), which is brewed with mate, bay leaf and hibiscus and includes virtually no hops. So high is its mate content, Woods claims, that it packs as much caffeine as a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola or half a cup of coffee. Dark fuchsia in color, it’s weird and delicious, with a Framboise-like quality, lightly sour and sweet with floral berry flavors.

That’s a Woods Beer signature, in fact: embracing funky, offbeat ingredients like these without producing an excessively offbeat-tasting beer.

Its seasonally released Girl Scout Cookie beers are a great example of this. Or take the Golden Spyglass ($8), fermented with the brettanomyces yeast — yet hardly tasting of the typical barnyard but rather of vanilla cream and pungent mint.

Or the Local Honey Pale Ale ($7), inspired by honey produced specifically by the bees on one Woods brewer’s Mission District roof. Those bees pollinated eucalyptus, lavender and yarrow, which now serve as infusions in the ale. (Since honey ferments, it couldn’t have been the flavor additive itself.) Intensely aromatic, the beer wafts a floral perfume, its bitterness manifesting as fennel flavor.

The Island Club has encouraging precedents: A number of wineries already operate successful tasting rooms on Treasure Island. One even has a bocce court, adjacent to Woods’ lot. “We’re all hoping people start to see Treasure Island as more of a destination,” he says.

It doesn’t even have to be a destination. Many San Franciscans may not realize quite how easy it is to get to Treasure Island. There’s plenty of parking. The 25 bus runs every 20 minutes from Transbay Terminal. The city promises that the bike path on the Oakland-Treasure Island portion of the Bay Bridge will be open by the end of the month. I recently took a Lyft there from the Mission and it was just $21, during a 50 percent surge.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle   Woods Island Club on Treasure Island.

Photo: John Storey, Special To The Chronicle

Woods Island Club on Treasure Island.

Speaking of that Lyft, I filled it with three friends. It would be hard to overstate how much fun we had at Woods Island Club.

The beach-going crowd seemed primarily people in their 30s. We may have been the only group that did not bring either toddlers or dogs, though we certainly enjoyed our proximity to both. We’d brought sandwiches and hummus; surveying our neighbors, we spotted bags from Gott’s Roadside and pizza boxes from Tony’s Slice House. Still, we ended up trying a few of the $5 empanadas at the bar (from El Porteño, which also supplies them to Woods’ sister bars).

I’d managed to convince my most beer-averse friend to come along, luring her to the island with promises of sand and sunshine. It was the first time in years I’ve seen her drink beer, and the first time ever I’ve seen her finish one. (Actually, three.) Balanced but not boring, fun but not funky, they went down easy as we dug our feet into the sand, gazing toward the eastern portion of the Bay Bridge. The water sparkled.

Esther Mobley is The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine, beer and spirits writer. Email:emobley@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Esther_mobley Instagram: @esthermob

What: MateVeza IPA ($6), Morpho Herbal Ale ($7), Local Honey Pale Ale ($7)

Where: Woods Island Club, 422 Clipper Cove Way, San Francisco (Treasure Island).www.woodsbeer.com/islandclub

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; open selected Thursdays for special events and pop-ups. See website for most up-to-date schedule.

James Woods
Cookie Beer Returns Friday 3/11

Cookie Beers are back! Our annual toast to those delicious seasonal treats we love to eat, but can’t legally name — scout’s honor! — returns Friday, March 11.

As always, we’ve turned the classic cookies into five delicious beers: Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, Coconut Caramel Dubbel, Shortbread Golden Ale, Peanut Butter Cream Ale, and Chocolate Peppermint Porter.

Come thirsty, and take home your own limited-edition Bay Area Merit Badge, honoring the special skills of local beer fans like you.

Stay tuned to our Instagram account and follow the hashtag #cookiebeer for sneak peeks.

James Woods
SF Beer Week: January 22–31


Beer Week! It's our favorite time of year and we're celebrating with a packed calendar of events at all three Woods bars. Take a look at what's brewing below, and pick up a trail guide to the festivities—and a beer while you're at it—at your neighborhood Woods.

Download the WOODS BEER GUIDE TO SF BEER WEEK 2016 as a PDF 

Download the PDF

Download the PDF

Saturday Jan 23

Brew Day! 7-Day Brew

Woods Cervecería: 9:00am—2:00pm
Woods Bar & Brewery: Noon—4:00pm

Calling all brewers! Help us brew a special Beer Week ale. Taste and choose ingredients, lend a hand on one of our trusty brew systems, and send our collaboration off and fermenting with our favorite fast-acting house yeasts. Both Woods breweries will be joining the fun. Come back Saturday, Jan. 30 to taste your creation!

Smoothie Brews & Fruity Sours: Tropical Tap Takeover

Woods Cervecería: Noon–11:00pm
Woods Polk Station: Noon–Midnight
Woods Bar & Brewery: 

A tart, tingly taste of the tropics: three different house-made sours, each one its own fruit basket of flavor. Try them all and earn a special island-hopper badge of honor!

Sunday Jan 24

Shaman Series: Local Honeys

Woods Cervecería: Noon–10:00pm
Woods Bar & Brewery: Noon—8:00pm

Our brewing bees have traveled far and wide, gathering nectars from the most delicious herbs and flowers from around the country, and bringing them back to Woods to flavor a cleansing, medicinal flight of Local Honey beers to start your week in high spirits.

Après-Ski Beers

Woods Polk Station: 5:00–10:00pm

Frighten away the frigid Frisco winter at our cozy, mountain-top ski lodge, Polk Station. Sport your chic-est ski wear, sip warming winter brews—Mahogany Quad, Cocoa Caliente, O Tannenbier— and send retro ski-resort cards to pals down below.

Monday Jan 25

Honey vs. Hops: Beer & Mead

Woods Cervecería: 5:00–10:00pm

Explore the ancient, magical elixir of fermented honey! Taste extra special meads from
SF Mead Co. and Heidrun Meadery, paired with our very own beers. 

Beer Cocktails

Woods Polk Station: 6:00–11:00pm

Explore a brave world of classy craft cocktails featuring great Woods beers. Roam beyond shandies and sangritas to flips, highballs, cobblers, and more.

Homebrewer Appreciation Day

Woods Bar & Brewery: 4:00–10:00pm

Calling all homebrewers! Take our beer and make it yours. Buy a Woods house brew and we’ll fill your carboy with wort to take home, twist, tweak, and remix to your own
brewery’s unique style. We’ll knock out at 6:00pm—first come, first served! 

Tuesday Jan 26

18th Street Collaborations

Woods Cervecería: Noon–10:00pm

We brewed a series of beers with our 18th Street neighbors, highlighting foodie-favorite offerings from Bi-Rite, Delfina, and more!

Brats, Beers, and Bonham!

Woods Polk Station: 5:00–10:00pm

Our resident carnivore and Zeppelin fan Jimbo will crank up the Kashmir, debut our new year-round unfiltered lager—Woods Retro Pilsner—and pair it with his famous traditional, homemade beer sausage.

Cafe Van Kleef Greyhound Beer Release

Woods Bar & Brewery: 4:00–11:00pm

We brewed a sudsy spin on the infamous Greyhound cocktail served at our neighboring watering hole Cafe Van Kleef. Try them both and earn a limited-edition badge of honor!

Wednesday Jan 27

Jump the Scotch IPA Release

Woods Cervecería: 5:00–10:00pm
Woods Polk Station: 
Woods Bar & Brewery: 

What’s better than a fresh-brewed, sticky-strong, citrus-and-pine-packed double IPA? A fresh-brewed, sticky-strong, citrus-and-pine-packed double IPA—infused with peat smoke! Come taste Jump the Scotch, an extra-special peated version of our very own cult-hit brew, Jump the Shark. Beer hounds and whisky snobs, unite!

Thursday Jan 28

Mission Chefs Mash-Off

Woods Cervecería: 5:00–10:00pm

We challenged chefs Michael Mauschbaugh of Sous Beurre Kitchen and Aaron London of AL’s Place to trade kitchen clogs for brewers boots and bring their culinary chops to Woods in a limited edition series of foodie- inspired beers.

Cheese Plus Beer

Woods Polk Station: 5:00–11:00pm

We will guide you on a fermented flight of fancy through a selection of staff-favorite cheese-and-beer pairings.

Double the Funk: Wild Beers vs. Wild Wines

Woods Bar & Brewery: 4:00–11:00pm

Brettanomyces! That funky, fruity, wild yeast embraced by renegade brewers, feared by the straight-laced wine world. . . . Until now! Join our resident wine expert and taste some funky house-brewed beers paired with the latest cutting-edge crop of wild-fermented wines.

Friday Jan 29

Swensen’s Ice Cream Beer Floats

Woods Polk Station: 3:00–11:00pm

Try your favorite Woods beers in float form with delicious scoops of ice cream from our friendly neighbors at Swensen’s.

Oaktown Spice Collaboration

Woods Bar & Brewery: 4:00–6:00pm

Think beyond the humble hop: follow your nose and try a beer made with fragrant, exotic spices from Oaktown Spice Shop.

Battle of the Beer Bands

Woods Bar & Brewery: 8:00–11:30pm

Rock out with your favorite musically inclined local brewers as house bands from Woods, Fort Point, and others go head to head—and beer to beer—for a night of tipsy tunes.

Saturday Jan 30

7-Day Brew Debut

Woods Cervecería: Noon—5:00pm
Woods Bar & Brewery: Noon—11:30pm

Come enjoy our special Beer Week ale! Every year, we kick off beer week by gathering fans, brewers, and drinkers to collaborate on a special fast-fermenting brew—made on Saturday, Jan. 23 and tapped just one week later. You’ll never taste beer as fresh as this! 

Ladies’ Night: Women of Woods Beer Release

Woods Cervecería: 5:00–11:00pm

Meet Woods Beer’s talented female staff, shake what your momma gave ya to girl bands on the jukebox, and toast the X chromosome with our all-lady-brewed Rye-Alt Grrrl.

Morpho Festival

Woods Polk Station: Noon—1:00am

Our fan-favorite herbal brew deserves a night all its own. Celebrate the power, the glory, and the pinkness that is Morpho! We’ll feature Dry-Hopped Morpho, Brett Morpho, Morpho Noir, and the rarely spotted Vintage Morpho.

Sunday Jan 31


Public House @ 24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF: 11:30am–2:30pm

Start your day right with beer-and-food pairings of brunch munchies and morning-friendly beers — mimosa-like Morpho, buzzing coffee stouts, and more. “Beer in the morning!” you say, “Blasphemy!” Well, you too will believe, as our divine pairings defy convention and show that the beverage of the masses is truly a beverage without boundaries.
Tickets $59 / beerunch.com

Bob’s Donuts And Beer

Woods Polk Station: Noon–5:00pm

Donuts and beer? Nope—donuts *in* beer. That’s right: we’ve brewed another batch of our epic Belgian Quad, flavored to pair with Bob’s infamous apple fritters.

Beer Remix Party

Woods Bar & Brewery: Noon–5:00pm

Remix your favorite beers with French press infusers full of a brewer’s bouquet of some of our most popular hops. Amp up our MateVeza IPA with a burst of resinous Simcoes; pile on Morpho’s herbaceous goodness with an extra dose of flowers and spice. You be the brewer. No beer is safe! 

James Woods
Cocktail Ales: Saturday, April 18

Our yearly magical mixology mash-up returns on Saturday, April 18, with a series of cocktail-inspired beers like Fernet-and-Coke — with a top-secret recipe of herbs and spices, you’ve never tasted a beer like this! — and the fan-favorite Big Lebowski White Prussian
Brewer and Master Cicerone Rich Higgins will come to Woods Bar & Brewery to brew his legendary ode to the Dude: an old-school, unfiltered, slightly sour German ale called a grätzer, featuring coffee roasted by our friends at Bicycle Coffee Roasters. As Rich says, “that coffee's interesting, man. It really ties the brew together.”

Fernet + Coke - The cult classic San Francisco cocktail: bitter Fernet, spicy-sweet Coke, two secret recipes, a dozen exotic herbs and spices, one unmissable taste.

White Prussian - The Dude's favorite, interpreted by friend and fellow brewer Rich Higgins: a slightly sour—nihilistic, even—German ale, creamy with a touch of milk sugar, bitter with a hint of dark roast coffee.

Greyhound - Zippy, zesty, sparkling tart; sweet and speedy, slyly sour. Fast but friendly, blink and it's gone. Time for another!.

Old Fashioned - Just the way we like it: a slug of malty rye, a dash of bitter Angostura, a twist of orange; snappy, spiced, and strong. Simple. Solid.

James Woods
Cervecería turns THREE

The little Mission brewpub where Woods Beer Co. began started pouring our unique MateVeza IPA three years ago—and look how we’ve grown! Our trusty 20-gallon brewhouse is churning out creative new brews and we’ve brought our adventurous spirit to two new locations around the Bay.

But it all started here—and we’re celebrating!

Join the fun this Tuesday, April 7, and toast many happy returns with this extra-special draft list of rare and curious new brews!

Yerba Mate IPA - The beer that started it all! Our first brew, and now our flagship, is an adventurous spin on a classic style: flavored with a South American tea called yerba mate (say "mah-tay"), this friendly IPA is golden and a touch sweet with a minty, herbal bitterness. (As much caffeine as half a cup of coffee.)

Morpho - An extra-special keg of our fan-favorite “gruit” style herbal beer, made with yerba mate, hibiscus, and bay leaves. Our very first batch of Morpho, aged three years and blooming with wine-like fruit and berry notes, a refreshing sourness, and a tart dry finish. (As much caffeine as half a cup of coffee.)

Anniversary Tripel - Three years in and shining bright! Celebrate Cerveceria’s third birthday with this Belgian brew (appropriately called a tripel), made with exotically juicy hops and a touch of our trademark mate. 

Local Honey - Blossoming scents of spring, the taste of Bay-Area honey, infused with our bees' favorite flavors: fragrant, fennel-like yarrow, the resinous bite of eucalyptus, lavender's sweet high note of mint and berry.

Sparkle Motion WILD - Get committed! A sequined-bright blonde ballerina, nimble but strong. A sweet lip-glossed kiss of sourdough bread, a playful slap of bitter maté and boozy heat. This funky encore performance was fermented with a wild yeast called brettanomyces.

La Morena - A slightly roasty, English-style brown ale. A bit of crunch, a bit of caramel, like toast drizzled with Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

Beachcomber NITRO - A tingling tart blonde ale infused with mangoes, berries, and dark tart cherries. A bright, tropical taste of paradise — no cocktail umbrella needed. Served on a nitrogen tap for a smoother, softer finish.

James Woods
Cookie Beer Day: Friday, March 13

Cookie Beer Day is Friday, March 13! Our annual celebration of those certain seasonal cookies you know and love returns — and this year’s is bigger and better than ever. As always, we’ve turned the classic cookies into delicious beer: coconut caramel Samoale, oatmeal peanut butter Brew-ski-do, shortbread Beerfoil, chocolate peanut butter Hopalong, and chocolate peppermint Thick Mint.

But this year’s release gets extra special, with our handmade Local Merit Badges. We’ve embroidered a series of patches to honor the special skills of Bay Area beer fans like you. Stay tuned to our Instagram account and follow the hashtag #cookiebeer to see the badges in the wild, then stop by any Woods location this Friday to earn your own Cookie Beer patch, and purchase your favorite local merit badges.

Come thirsty — these beers go fast! But in case you miss your chance to try them — or just want your own to enjoy at home — this year, for the first time ever, we are also offering a limited supply of 22-ounce bottles of each Cookie Beer. Order your Cadette Kit and pick it up at your choice of Woods locations between Friday, March 13 at 5pm and Sunday, March 15 at 10pm.

James Woods