Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Big-time brewhouse additions
New brewers for Modern Times Beer and Monkey Paw
Over the course of the past few months, more and more questions have been answered about upcoming San Diego craft brewing company Modern Times Beer (3725 Greenwood Street, Point Loma), as owner Jacob McKean has piece-mealed out details. It’s been a slow data trickle, though given the rather transparent nature of his operation, many have expected a flood.
McKean has blogged about how he raised the seed money for his business and has no qualms about sharing his philosophies on brewing and business of craft beer—even when those opinions are unpopular among industry peers. Even those of us who are on the inside, having interviewed him and attended beer tasting sessions, have a number of outstanding queries. One of the largest was: Who will be doing the brewing? Earlier today McKean cleared that one up in a big way, introducing a trio of known industry names who have come aboard at Modern Times.
Heading up brewer operations will be Matt Walsh, who spent two years as the head brewer at Eureka’s Lost Coast Brewery, after time spent rising through the ranks at San Diego’s own Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and serving as head brewer at Speakeasy Ales & Lagers in San Francisco. In his time at Lost Coast, he was responsible for annual production coming in at an average of roughly 65,000 barrels. That high-output experience should serve him well as, unlike many new local breweries, McKean is starting big, starting out with a 30-barrel brewhouse and a packaging (in cans) from day one.
Another well known individual lending experience and credibility to the operation is Alex Tweet, whose name is synonymous with Indra Kunindra Curry Export Stout, an outlandish dark brew rife with the exotic flavors of Indian curry made further unique by the addition of cayenne pepper, kaffir lime and toasted coconut. That odd but tasty beer is brewed and packaged by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, where Tweet worked as a brewer and “cask czar.” In that capacity, he created a number of other exciting beers including the cult fave, Victory At Cereal, a one-off version of the company’s vanilla- and coffee-infused Victory At Sea Imperial Porter made using kiddie crack-in-a-breakfast-bowl, Cap’N Crunch.
Easily the most surprising name to surface in McKean’s announcement was that of Derek Freese. Freese has made a successful transition from homebrewer to pro brewer since taking the reins as the brewmaster at the Monkey Paw Pub & Brewing (805 16th Street, East Village) in 2011. In addition to his brewing duties he has also been a mainstay behind Monkey Paw’s bar. Apparently, he will be at Modern Times’ tasting room as well. In addition to brewing, Freese—a Siebel Institute alum, certified beer judge, and cicerone—will also manage the tasting room at Modern Times.
When approached for a statement Monkey Paw owner Scot Blair said, “This is a very opportunistic day and age, and it’s a volatile industry that is rapidly expanding. As disappointed as we are to see Derek go, we are also happy we were able to take the risks and provide him the opportunites and on-the-job training to begin his dreams. My business plan for Monkey Paw has always been to promote the homebrewer through employment, home brew contests, and more.”
That last statement was driven home by the one that followed when Blair announced the appointment of Monkey Paw’s new head brewer, Cosimo Sorrentino. I first met Sorrentino when writing an article about some of the homebrews he was fashioning while working at University Heights French eatery, Farm House Cafe. Interviewing him, I was immensely impressed by his knowledge and the drilled down level of detail he employed when crafting his beers on the home front.
In speaking with other local craft beer entrepreneurs, one had expressed sincere interest in bringing on Sorrentino to head his operation. Until this latest move, Sorrentino was working the front-of-the-house at Hillcrest’s Local Habit, where he had a solid hand and positive influence in making their beer program a San Diego standout. While this is quite the shake-up, it would appear that both businesses are in a decent, if not good position moving forward. Only time (and Modern Times) will tell.