In February, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (805 16th Street, East Village) brewmaster Derek Freese unexpectedly gave notice at the brewpub so he could take a job with Point Loma work-in-progress Modern Times Beer. He gave several weeks notice, but fortunately for Monkey Paw owner Scot Blair, it only took 24 hours to replace Freese. It was serendipity, really. Blair had spent the weekend leading up to Freese’s resignation at Hillcrest Eatery Local Habit’s crawfish boil. During that two-day gorging session, he struck up some spirited conversations with Local Habit server and avid homebrewer Cosimo Sorrentino.
The two jived on much of their philosophies on brewing as well as their shared passion for the craft. For those who’ve never met Blair, his level of passion on this and all endeavors is through the roof, so that says a lot about Sorrentino’s enthusiasm. So, when Freese made his exit, Blair asked Sorrentino if he’d like to make an entrance into the professional brewing industry as his new brewmaster. Sorrentino accepted and has spent the past two months working closely with Blair and adapting to his inherited brewhouse.
I first met Sorrentino two years ago when he was working at University Heights restaurant, Farmhouse Café. He offered me samples of his homebrew and I was very impressed. There are a great many recreational brewers in San Diego and Sorrentino is definitely in the upper tier of that class. His beers exhibit stunning clarity and pointed flavors that match traditional style guidelines. It’s good to see him getting his shot (not the first brewing job offer he’s received in his time, by the way). Remembering that Freese also made the leap from standout homeboy to pro brewmaster, this would seem the optimal environment for Sorrentino to make his debut.
Recently, I headed to Monkey Paw to taste a wide array of Sorrentino’s first-run brews. I was a fan of Freese's beers and was curious to see if Sorrentino could match the good product put out during the brewpub’s first year in business. After processing the taste and characteristics of the current house beers, he’s not only matched previous batches, but actually raised the bar; something that’s a bit tough to do at Monkey Paw, where Blair insists on brewing exotic, esoteric styles of beer that aren’t on tap throughout town.
Case in point, two collaborations currently on tap—a German Zwickelbier called Brain Food that was made in collaboration with local brewers at Green Flash Brewing Company and Gordon Biersch utilizing yeast from the latter operation to make a lager that’s “hopped to the teeth” with Nugget, Falconer’s Flight, Amarillo, and hops harvested from the Albert Einstein Academy in South Park (a dollar from the sale of each pint of the beer goes to the school’s agriculture program), and a chocolate and orange steam beer brewed with Almanac Beer Co. out of San Jose, California. Blair likens the latter to the popular chocolate-orange break-a-part balls sold during the holidays. It's an accurate assessment, though I also picked up a nice underlying nuttiness. Both of the aforementioned beers taste great and, just as importantly, they're different! Also interesting is a Summer Honey Citrus Saison made with blood orange, sweet lime and Meyer lemon zest, and the same yeast strain used to make Green Flash’s Belgian pale ale, Rayon Vert.
Sorrentino’s style really comes across in Bonobos, his adapted homebrew IPA or, as he chooses to refer to it, San Diego-style pale ale. With rich but well integrated pineapple and mango hoppiness, it screams San Diego. Ditto a single hopped pale ale, Hooked On Chinook, that’s Monkey Paw’s bitter, citrusy take on a style that’s becoming very popular as a way to educate drinkers as to the singular properties of specific hops. Rounding out the hop-driven beers is Rich Man’s IIPA, an imperial IPA Freese used to brew, that’s been tweeked to be “more Northwestern” in flavor and, as a result, is a bit more focused than it used to be.
Adjustments are being made along with brand new beers, but through it all, Sorrentino is making nice strides and quickly finding footing while taking the next step in his brewing odyssey.
*Note: All photos by Tyler Graham.*