Adventures In Hops: A Look at Cellarmaker Brewing Company

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In just a year and a half, San Francisco’s Cellarmaker Brewing Company has stormed onto the craft beer scene, both locally and beyond, where they were recently crowned RateBeer’s Top New Brewery in America and the #3 brewery in the world. This rapid rise raises interesting questions about the method to the madness of Proprietor Connor Casey and co-proprietor/master brewer Tim Sciascia. “Our philosophy on beer is not to make something that’s already available,” says Casey. Sounds simple enough, but this sentiment comes with a high-level of foresight, and a commitment to using hop varieties that are beginning to change beer as we know it.

Of Cellarmaker’s first 100 batches of beers, 73 were unique brews. They’ve been seemingly flagship averse from the start; Casey explains that, “for our size, we don’t need to have flagships.” They produced 800 barrels in year one, are shooting for 1,200 in year two and use their many offerings to showcase their personality. “We’re serious about beer but beer shouldn’t be serious,” says Sciascia. This comes through in the whimsically juicy complexity of the “Dank” themed double IPA series to the Paste favorite Coffee & Cigarettes Smoked coffee porter (which uses beans from nearby Sightglass coffee) to the Catch A Fire IPA with Motueka hops from New Zealand (it’s also named after a Bob Marley & The Wailers album).
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Their experimentations have yielded extremely aromatic beers that are hop forward, yet balanced and low in bitterness. The presently available “Are You Afraid of the Dank?” double IPA is a balanced blend of Mosaic, Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial and Zeus hops that Sciascia pulls juicy flavors from, providing the signature Cellarmaker tropical fruit nose. The Duality Pale Ale was the beer that roped me into the Cellarmaker lineup, and it still stands as a model for everything there is to love about their style: Boiled with mosaic hops and dry-hopped with Citra, it yields a cloudy color, bursts with passionfruit aroma and holds subtle flavors of hopped orange blossom.

Yet with each batch of new beer, Cellarmaker continues to evolve. Years prior to opening the brewery, Casey began investing in hop futures from all over the globe. He speaks of New Zealand hops like Nelson, Motueka and Riwaka in an almost viticultural sense: “Their terroir is unique. It’s a special flavor and has fruity elements that are nice to throw into the mix. But it’s not easy. I don’t know how sustainable and scalable it is, since there’s limited acreage of nelson hops and New Zealand hop farmers.” Cellarmaker has nelson hop contracts through 2018. Casey says, “if I hadn’t signed ‘em before now, I’d never get ‘em.” They’re sitting on a considerable stock of Nelson and Riwaka hops and are proud of being one of the only breweries in San Francisco that uses Nelson hops.

It’s this audacity to treat beer as a lifestyle and sensory vehicle (like wine) that continues to set Cellarmaker apart and allows them to transcend beyond their small-but-chic tap room inside of San Francisco’s seven square miles. “Unique flavors will always be accepted,” Casey punctuates. “We all try the different approach, but we want to grow slowly and responsibly. I don’t want to increase production to lose everything that we have that’s unique.”

Amen.

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