Rich Higgins / Photo © Brian Stechschulte
By the end of February Rich Higgins will have made his final batch of beer at Social Kitchen & Brewery on 9th Avenue in San Francisco. The Master Cicerone has been at the helm of the brewing program since the Inner Sunset brewpub opened back in May of 2010.
His immediate plans call for some time off and research in Belgium, England and Germany, and then he’ll focus on his craft beer consultancy business. According to Higgins, “I’ve got too many opportunities, gigs, and contracts out there that I’m not able to seize upon and move my career forward.”
Higgins’ career started back in 2004 when he took an assistant brewer position at the San Francisco Brewing Company (now closed). After leaving in January of 2005 he spent time at Gordon Biersch and ThirstyBear Brewing before taking the brewmaster position at Social Kitchen.
During his two years at the brewpub Higgins created a balanced menu of session styles and bold high gravity beers. He also worked closely with the kitchen and several visiting chefs on his monthly Brewmaster Dinner Series. Higgins firmly believes that “there’s a beer for every food, and a food for every beer,” which he carefully explained during a recent series of beer and food pairing classes at the Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts in San Francisco.
Higgins’ exit from Social Kitchen also means he’ll be stepping away from his involvement with the San Francisco Brewers Guild, where he spent two years as Secretary, two years as President, and one year as a Board Chair. He spent many hours with the group organizing SF Beer Week, Brews on the Bay and other Guild activities. While he said the extra work outside the brewery has been exhausting, “I’ve learned a ton and it has given me great tools for effective leadership, organizing, and rabble rousing down the road.”
Don’t expect Higgins to disappear from the Bay Area brewing community. He’ll be working with restaurants and other venues around town that could use some help on beer menus and food pairing options. Before you can enjoy those results, head down to Social Kitchen over the next few weeks to try his strong beers while you can.
Enter Kim Sturdavant
Fans of Social Kitchen shouldn’t despair. Higgins will be handing off the brewing system to a set of capable hands in Kim Sturdavant, who’s spent the last five and half years at Marin Brewing Company under the mentorship of Arne Johnson. Sturdavant plans on easing his beer onto the menu while learning the ropes of Social Kitchen’s brew system.
Down the road his goal is to get 10 beers on tap at all times, but he’s still figuring out how to juggle the equipment to ensure it happens. According to Sturdavant, Social Kitchen’s brew system is far too large for on-site consumption only and ownership has decided to pursue a distribution license.
As for the beer he has in mind, priority number one is a Pale Ale and then some hoppy English beers. Fans of Higgins’ Belgian styles won’t be disappointed. Rapscallion will stay on board and Sturdavant is thinking about brewing some sort of Belgian Single. You can also expect a Stout and Pilsner in the future.
Sturdavant is excited about the new opportunity even though he’s leaving a mentor behind. He said, “Arne Johnson is a great brewer and has impeccable taste. I can’t say enough about how valuable it was to learn from someone like him, to really learn to do things the right way, right off the bat.”
In the coming month you can expect to see Sturdavant’s hard work appearing on Social Kitchen’s beer menu.