The craft-brewing industry is in a state of flux, forcing companies within it to reexamine their business models and, in the case of larger operations, alter them in order to thrive or, in some cases survive. Larger operations such as Stone Brewing, Green Flash Brewing and Karl Strauss Brewing have all had to adjust course as consumer preferences shift to smaller, local, independent breweries, and active consumer demographics begin to skew toward younger factions, many of which have only ever drunk craft beer. It’s to be expected of interests that are among the country’s 50 largest brewing companies. Though it is considerably smaller and, at its heart still a family-run business, Coronado Brewing Company has been quite vigilant over the past several years, keeping an eye on the rapidly changing market and making moves to weather an uncertain storm. The latest of those moves includes today’s announcement that CBC will purchase East Village-based brand Monkey Paw Brewing. Owner Scot Blair‘s other businesses, South Park Brewing and Hamiltons Tavern, are not part of the deal.
Blair has had lofty aspirations for his beer-making business since opening it in 2011, but was not satisfied with progress toward increased production and distribution. He examined a number of options for meeting those goals, including acquisition, but says he wouldn’t have sold to just anybody. A stalwart figure within the craft-beer world for more than a decade, Blair knows the industry and the individuals within it, and says it was his long-standing respect for and friendship with CBC owners Ron and Rick Chapman that distinguished this as the right move for him and his business. Another key factor is control. Blair has a vision for Monkey Paw and its beers, and will remain intimately involved with the brand, focusing solely on beer—conceptualization and growth of the entire portfolio.
This deal is reminiscent of Green Flash’s 2014 acquisition of Alpine Beer Company. That move allowed for increased production of Alpine beers at Green Flash’s much-larger brewing facilities. Likewise, Monkey Paw, which produced less than 700 barrels last year, will now have the majority of its beers produced at CBC’s Bay Park headquarters, while still making beer on the 15-barrel system at its East Village pub. CBC began brewing its beers at that site—affectionately referred to as “Knoxville” for the street it occupies—in 2013, a year after taking over the 14,000-square-foot property. Since then, it has taken over several other buildings bordering the brewery, creating a rather impressive cul-de-sac campus. CBC is also in the process of installing a kitchen at Knoxville to increase the draw of its tasting room. This is particularly important with the impending arrival of a satellite tasting room from Benchmark Brewing Company and a new brewery, Deft Brewing Company, slated for arrival in Bay Park this year.
CBC is also changing up its game in the southerly municipality of Imperial Beach. The company opened a bar and restaurant there in 2014, and recently signed on to construct a 7,500-square-foot brewpub at the upcoming Bikeway Village on Florence Street. This will increase brewing capacity in a more high-profile location not far from CBC’s original brewpub on its namesake island. Meanwhile, CBC has ceased distribution to certain states, strategically tightening things up to better compete in the marketplace and maximize profits and expenditures.
And two months ago, the company announced the Chapmans’ investment in SouthNorte Brewing Company, a new venture headed by CBC head brewer Ryan Brooks. That operation, basically a CBC offshoot or sub-brand, will meld the brewing cultures of Baja California and Southern California, but there’s more to that fermentation fusion than mere ingenuity. An MO like that figures to appeal to demographics CBC does not currently reach in as great a quantity as they would like. Ditto Monkey Paw’s liquid wares, which skew to a younger demographic more interested in locavorianism, that likely wishes to support an edgier brand versus a company that recently celebrated its 21st anniversary. While this acquisition (which is set to be completed by September) may seem odd to those not paying attention, a look at CBC’s recent body of work where business-model adjustment is concerned shows the logic behind it and how it fits into a large and intricate puzzle.
From the Beer Writer: While recently visiting the East Village, I had a chance to catch up with an old colleague, Nick Norton. Both of us are former members of Team Stone, but I hadn’t seen him since he’d left his job assisting Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station’s brewing manager in that brewpub’s production enclave. His reason for leaving was to become head brewer at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery, a position vacated late last year by popular homebrewer-turned-phenom Cosimo Sorrentino. The latter took the former under his wing, executing an intensive transition that saw the two spend a great deal of time brewing at the downtown pub as well as participating in collaboration beer projects. It would seem Norton has the hang of things at his new digs. When I showed up, 17 house beers were available and all of them were up to snuff, including holdover standouts like Bonobos San Diego Pale Ale. But the gem of the day for me was a beer unlike any I’ve found throughout the county, Monkey Paw Ol’ Colo, an imperial altbier that drinks like a bready, balanced yet satisfying amber ale. It’s a style Norton presented during his job interview; a beer that helped get him his current gig. That pre-employment prospect comes across nicely in 6.3% alcohol-by-volume reality and is a nice early sign of the new guy’s creativity and appreciation of styles more obscure to the San Diego market.
From the Brewer: “Colo the Western Lowland Gorilla was the first known gorilla to be bred in captivity anywhere in the world at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and also the oldest gorilla to ever live at 61 years old. In honor of her recent passing, we brewed a slightly bigger version of a Düsseldorf altbier, which we affectionately named after her. With all German malts, American Crystal hops and a German ale yeast, the beer presents a bold amber with an off-white head. A huge bread-crust aroma is supported by a moderate floral hop scent and clean, slightly fruity German ale-yeast presence. The aroma carries over to the flavor, with more bread crust, floral hops and light fruit esters. Medium-bodied, with a crisp carbonation and hardly noticeable alcohol presence, it may be the least ‘cool’ beer to come out in a while, but what it lacks in fashion sense it makes up for in flavor. This is a beer I have wanted to brew since falling in love with the base-style in the form of Space Bar Friends, Stone Liberty Station’s awesome alt. I was really excited when I pitched the idea of an un-hazy, un-juicy malt-bomb of a beer to (Monkey Paw owner) Scot Blair, he was totally on board. Come grab a pint!”—Nick Norton, Head Brewer, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery
Yesterday, the owner of Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, Scot Blair, announced that he has selected the replacement for head brewer Cosimo Sorrentino, who will be leaving his post come the end of the year. That individual is Nick Norton, who has spent the past two years working in the brewhouse at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station.
Norton worked on the restaurant-side at Stone Brewing‘s Point Loma brewpub before being brought into the brewery by Liberty Station brewing manager Kris Ketcham. While there, he aided in the production of a wide-ranging and often adventurous portfolio of beers, one of which, Witty Moron, medaled at the Great American Beer Festival, not once, but twice.
This hire marks a departure from form for Blair, who has had two brewers at his East Village brewpub over the past five years, both of which were plucked from San Diego’s home-brewing ranks. Though young, Norton has more professional experience coming into this position than Sorrentino or his predecessor, Derek Freese (who currently brews at Modern Times Beer Company).
But heading brewing operations at Monkey Paw was only half of Sorrentino’s job. He was also in charge of beer-making at sister-business South Park Brewing Company. Blair constructed that brewpub next-door to his flagship operation, Hamilton’s Tavern, in 2015, and Sorrentino evolved the brewing program to the point where every beer on-tap was produced in-house.
Blair has decided to take control of the brewery-side of South Park Brewing. But he won’t be alone. In taking the reins, he is promoting cellarman Ryan Traylor to the position of assistant brewer. When asked about the beers that will be produced under this new order, Blair says he’s committed to moving things forward while honoring the past.
From the Beer Writer: Many are the fans of the beers at East Village brewpub, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery. And many are the beers of that divey-but-divine spot. But few are the opportunity for those fans to take those beers home in bottles, making the chance to get Monkey Paw Thank You! Double IPA in 22-ounce glass something of an early Christmas present. At first-blush, being able to buy a beer doesn’t seem all that special, but owner Scot Blair is essentially giving this beer away, charging a miniscule $4 a-bottle, which he says is just enough to cover the costs of brewing and packaging the hop-heavy (read: expensive-to-produce) beer. Its the celebrated local publican’s way of saying thank-you to those who have supported Monkey Paw over the past five years, a milestone he will officially celebrate tomorrow, Saturday, November 19, when Thank You! and holiday imperial-stout Santa’s Pet Monkey go on-sale to the public at Monkey Paw. Adding to the value (I’d say collectability, but holding onto a fresh IPA is San Diego sacrilege) is the fact these are some of the last beers that will be produced by Monkey Paw’s popular head brewer, Cosimo Sorrentino, who recently announced his impending departure from the business at year’s end. Rather than toasting all that could have been had he stayed, might I suggest toasting all that he and Blair accomplished in conjunction with the craft-beer fans they are extending their gratitude toward with this pair of releases.
From the Brewer: “In English, ‘thank you’ derives from ‘think’. It used to mean, ‘I will remember what you did for me.’ Everyday people thank us for what we do as brewers and publicans and every time I want to say, ‘No, thank you.’ I’m stoked every day to have my job and to be part of this community. That only happens when hundreds of people choose to spend their hard-earned money on our beers and/or in our establishments. Thank You! double IPA is our way to say, ‘I have and will continue to remember what you do for us.’ We have made a beer in the style of Muriqui and Gibbon Back, and bottled it two days before the release with a message to ‘Drink this now!’ Selling the beer for $4 per-bottle out the brewery door covers our costs and keeps it legal, but otherwise results in no profit. This one is for the conscious beer drinkers!”—Cosimo Sorrentino, Head Brewer, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery