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Beers Made by Walking Native Plant Hikes

The parking lot is cool and foggy and small drops of fog are dripping from the trees above. It’s just another Sunday July morning on Mount Sutro. We’re gathered for a Beers Made by Walking (BMBW) Native Plant Hike at the parking lot above the Sutro Native Plant Nursery. We’re working with 17 local breweries this year, and today we’re joined by Sirwisa Brewing Collective, Standard Deviant Brewing, and a handful of community members. Sirwisa Brewing Collective is joining us for the second year of the Bay Area program of Beers Made by Walking. Last year they produced two fantastic beers for the program, including one infused with “local tea” featuring native yarrow. Standard Deviant Brewing is participating for the first time this year and is a brand new brewery about to open in the Mission.

As we wait for everyone to arrive, we sip on yerba buena tea brewed with native yerba buena from the nursery. There’s a sprig of the plant next to the tea jars; rub your fingers on yerba buena (meaning “good herb”) and you will catch the distinct lemon-mint scent. The tea is smooth, minty, fresh, and light with only a hint of earthy-ness. Yerba buena was used in Bay Area BMBW beers produced last year by 21st Amendment Brewery, Headlands Brewing, and ThirstyBear Brewing. Once everyone arrives, we do introductions before hitting the trail. Starting out on the Fairy Gates Trail next to the Chancellor’s House, we look out over Woodland Canyon and talk about all of the “green stuff” we see. Passing through the Fairy Gates rock cut, we’re careful to avoid the poison oak growing to the left above the rocks and learn how to identify this plant (“leaves of three, let it be”), as well as tell it apart from blackberry (which also has leaves of three).

Tromping down the Fairy Gates trail, we taste and smell wild plums, nasturtium, and blackberry, but avoid the red elderberries. Just after a left fork, we cross Medical Center Way to the base of the North Ridge Trail. Here we pause to pick more blackberries and learn about redwoods and pine needles. The young redwood needles smell fresh, piney, and slightly citrusy. I can imagine these being used in beer. Climbing the north ridge we saw beautiful and interesting radiolarian chert in addition to more plants. On the ridge, we zipped up our jackets as the wind and fog found us from the west side of the mountain. Coming to a fork, we took the longer route to the summit and veered left onto the Mystery Trail. Between tree stump carvings we talk about ferns, snowberry, sweet cicely, and soap plant. There’s even show-and-tell at the soap plant with a fibrous brown husk that once encased a bulb. The casings can be used for brushes and the bulbs had many uses.

Reaching the summit of Mount Sutro at just 908 feet, we stop to talk about the mountain’s history before touring the aromatic sun-loving plants that grow at the summit. Although it’s foggy this summer, the summit is one of the few places with enough sun for many sun-loving native plants to thrive. There are a wealth of edible and medicinal plants here and we spend most of our time in and around the summit areas. A few sages, mugwort, sagebrush, and wax myrtle are just a few of the notable species. Following the summit, we make our way back down to the nursery to see a few plants we missed along the trail and to try some tinctures made from plant we saw along the trail. From sipping tea to sniffing plants, eating berries to tasting tinctures, we get a good idea for the ways plants can be prepared and how they taste.

The brewers are now tasked with brewing a place-based beer inspired by local plants, a favorite hike, or a special open space. We can’t wait to see what the brewers come up with for their BMBW creations! This fall there will be a tapping party where you can try all the creations from the 17 participating breweries! UPDATE: Join us for a tapping event Sunday, November 13 at Standard Deviant Brewing. Tickets will be made live as the date approaches.

This year we’re working with creative local brewers from:

Barrel Head Brewhouse


Comrades Brewing Company

Fort Point Beer Company

Headlands Brewing Company

Laughing Monk Brewing

Linden Street Brewery

Magnolia Brewing Company

Old Bus Tavern

Pacific Brewing Laboratory

Sirwisa Brewing Collective

Social Kitchen & Brewery

Southpaw BBQ

Standard Deviant Brewing

ThirstyBear Brewing Company

Triple Voodoo Brewery

Woods Beer Company

Thank you to Beers Made by Walking and all of our participants for your creativity and contribution to Sutro Stewards' stewardship efforts!

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