Cicerones are the world’s foremost experts in fermented malt—the sommeliers of beer, in other words. Old Devil Moon, a New Orleans-themed bar on the edge of Bernal Heights, may be the only spot in the Bay Area that can count three certified cicerones among its owners. And on Saturday, Sept. 10, the bar celebrates its sixth anniversary with a Satanic Panic party, replete with a demonically rare, mixed-fermentation sour saison.
“We’re having tarot readings, we’re having costumes, we’re having drag legend Polly Amber Ross come with her horde, and we have a playlist by DJ BatKat,” co-owner Syr Beker tells The Standard. “We’re celebrating our 6-6-6 anniversary. We made it through!”
Every day is spooky season at Old Devil Moon, with its palmistry-filled decor reminiscent of a haunted alley in the French Quarter.
There are four levels of cicerone, each of which demands a considerably broader range of knowledge than the one below. Some 125,000 people worldwide have attained the first rank of certification, which consists solely of a 60-question exam, no tastings required. Old Devil Moon co-owner Chris Cohen is in the third tier, which has a lower pass rate than the California bar exam. That makes him an advanced cicerone.
“There’s only 150 of us in the world,” he says. “When we opened, we had five certified or advanced cicerones on staff, and I think that’s the most of any organization on Planet Earth. Most breweries would be happy to have one.”
If this sounds like a recipe for people with a highly specialized knowledge base to get tipsy and talk over each other about minutiae, Cohen insists that that’s not the case.
“We’re all nerds,” he says, “so we connect on that more than we fight about it.”
Beer is a dynamic field, and the rabbit hole only gets deeper as the craft-brewing revolution continues. Yeast, in particular, has been a major focus for the last few years, along with the chemical reactions that happen when brewers make hazy IPAs.
“That’s a frontier of knowledge that I’m dealing with personally,” Cohen says. “So is understanding human perception of aroma and flavor.”
Six years on, Old Devil Moon remains the only bar with this level of expertise partly because—as the owners agree—San Francisco isn’t really a beer-drinking town.
“I’ll bet it’s different in Portland or San Diego,” says co-owner Ericka Schell, “but San Francisco is still such a cocktail city.”
So is New Orleans, home of the Vieux Carré and the Ramos Gin Fizz, among other famous drinks. That’s why Old Devil Moon implemented a full cocktail menu, as well as a Louisiana-centric food menu filled with po’ boys, jambalaya and fried Gulf shrimp.
“When we first opened, we aspired to be one of the top craft beer bars in the city,” says co-owner Andrew Kelley, who became a certified cicerone (the second level) in 2014. “We definitely are, but we realized we’re not going to survive on beer nerds coming from halfway across town. We needed to have some cohesion, and a sense of grounding—and that’s where the New Orleans swampy vibe came in.”
In its first six years, Old Devil Moon has built a reputation as a hangout for horror-film fans and speculative-fiction meetups—and the kind of place where you can try a one-off hibiscus donut and know you’ll get the right suggestion for what beer to pair it with. And while it clearly occupies a spot in the Southern Gothic nether regions, its precise neighborhood in San Francisco is up for debate. It’s not really Bernal Heights, and not really Glen Park, but definitely not the Mission.
“I always joke that we’re in Bernal Flats,” Kelley says.
“If you ski down Bernal Hill, you could ski into our bar,” Beker adds.
Saturday, Sept. 10, 5 p.m. | Free
3472 Mission St., San Francisco
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]