Food & dining


21st Amendment Brewery celebrates originality

21st Amendment

Shaun O’Sullivan admits his brewery is a little weird.

O’Sullivan is the cofounder of San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery. You may have had 21st Amendment staples like Brew Free! Or Die IPA or Hell or High Watermelon, a wheat beer in a colorful can that is just about everywhere during the summer. The former is decorated with an image of Abraham Lincoln sticking his mug in front of Mount Rushmore, the latter with the Statue of Liberty perched on the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We like to celebrate the right to be original,” says O’Sullivan, who named his brewery after the 1933 amendment to the US Constitution that repealed Prohibition.


O’Sullivan has been many things, at one time a photographer who shot punk rock shows, at another a student seriously considering law school. In 2000, he and business partner Nico Freccia founded 21st Amendment as a San Francisco brewpub. Last year, the duo expanded brewing operations to a former Kellogg’s factory in San Leandro, Calif.

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“It’s where they made the Pop-Tarts and Frosted Flakes,” says O’Sullivan.

The new space has drastically increased production, and stirred up some ideas. There’s a new beer, Toaster Pastry, inspired by the location. It’s an “India Style red ale,” and it comes in a giant can, a biscuity beer with notes of strawberry jam.

Another special offering is Lower De Boom, part of the brewery’s limited-edition Insurrection Series. Lower De Boom is a barley wine, a style only similar to actual wine in that its alcohol percentage approaches that of the grape-based beverage.

Back in 2005, after a trip to Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery, O’Sullivan decided that canning beer was the way to go. Especially for craft brewers, the packaging was not yet popular.


“I told Nico about an idea for expanding the business, and he thought it was the dumbest idea in the world” at first, O’Sullivan says of canning. “Not a lot of people were doing that. We spent a lot of time convincing people about the can and talking very little about the liquid.”

Lower De Boom comes in itty-bitty cans, an homage to the way barley wines used to be sold in small bottles. The brewers think the 8.4-ounce cans are the smallest on the market, a detail less important than the fact that the can is unique.

O’Sullivan is as proud of doing things a little differently as he is of the fact that big brewers like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada are now also canning their beers. Sometimes, he says, business students come to him asking the secret formula for starting a successful brewery. He laughs.

“Just raise more money than you think you should.”

Gary Dzen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.