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
Earlier this week, news broke about popular local brewer Cosimo Sorrentino resigning from his dual-head brewer post at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery and South Park Brewing Co. A fixture in the community who made a point to communicate and collaborate with nearly every brewery within the county, it was surprising to here he was stepping down, but even more confounding to discover he would absolutely be leaving San Diego come the New Year. More information was in order, so we went to the source to appease readers’ logical queries and concern.
West Coaster: What led you to depart your position heading Monkey Paw and South Park Brewing?
Cosimo Sorrentino: A combination of factors, the biggest of which is a necessity for personal growth. I was lucky to learn my craft in the community I grew up in and under an owner that has so much passion, but I feel that I have reached a point where to progress I need a little less comfort and a new environment.
WC: Though your next step has yet to be determined, you are certain you will leave San Diego. Why is that?
CS: I feel San Diego has crossed over to a new era in brewing. The community spirit is being fractured; too many breweries fighting over the same styles, following trends for profit, not enough quality staff to provide front-of-house service…and let’s not get into the distributor issues. This was inevitable and will not necessarily be a bad thing for those making or drinking beer. San Diego beer will get better and those that succeed will benefit from the competition! For myself, I hope that finding a location where the scene is a bit younger will allow me to help foster the same type of conscious collaborative growth that has led to San Diego’s emergence as the beer capitol of the world. It might be selfish, but I have really enjoyed the journey so far and want to keep making new beers with and for new people.
WC: After being such a peacemaker and heavy collaborator within the San Diego industry, is it difficult for you to move on?
CS: Not to be cliché, but this is truly the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. It means stepping away from, not only the coolest brewing job I’ve seen, but leaving family, friends and, potentially even my dog. I am bummed that I will not have the chance to collaborate with some guys and gals in town—especially some of the new breweries—and that I will not be part of Monkey Paw’s next step as a business, whatever that may be.
WC: What will you miss the most about the San Diego brewing and beer scenes?
CS: One word: HOPS! No, but seriously, I will miss the universal nature of the love for beer and brewers in this city. It will be weird to walk into three-or-four bars in an evening and not run into a fellow brewer or maybe even an educated beer-drinker. I’ve never felt the camaraderie and respect that I have experienced in San Diego with brewers and consumers alike.
WC: What are some of your finest memories of your time brewing professionally in San Diego?
CS: Wow. Hardest question…I’ll never forget the first week I got the job at Paw. I had every brewer that I had looked up to either drop in or hit me up on the phone to help me get dialed in. It was a whirlwind, and I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but this foundation paid off and I will be forever grateful. Those memories were revisited last year when I got to sit in on a collab at Karl Strauss on Columbia Street. Not only did we have (KS brewmaster) Paul Segura, (Gordon Biersch head brewer) Doug Hasker and (Monkey Paw/South Park Brewing owner) Scot Blair brewing that day, (Ballast Point Brewing VP) Colby Chandler dropped in to open some bottles as a farewell to (former Green Flash Brewing Co. brewmaster and current Silva Brewing owner/brewmaster) Chuck Silva on his last day in San Diego. This was only made better by the fact that I had invited (North Park Beer Co. assistant brewer) Joaquin Basauri to drop in. This was early on in Joaquin and I’s friendship and the look on his face as we drank barleywine and talked shop with these godfathers brought me back to that feeling of awe.
WC: What were your goals for the semi-controversial public-forum you held to discuss the changing landscape of San Diego beer?
CS: While the forum never became a series, I hope that the discussion was opened and people are more likely to speak honestly and in an informed manner about the evolution of our city and the industry. I am glad there is a reduced amount of animosity because that energy can be redirected towards progression instead of hate and fear.
WC: Any parting words for our readers?
CS: Thank you for absolutely everything. I hope I’ve returned 10% of the happiness and joy you have given me.