What’s in a Monk’s Cellar?

Craft Beer San Francisco

I have talked in the past of craft beer and food pairings and cellaring beer, but it is now time to bring in the big guns. Christian Albertson is master cellarman at Monk’s Kettle which is a big part of San Francisco’s thriving beer scene. They also have a new project on the horizon, Abbot’s Cellar, which will open this summer. Here is our e-mail correspondence on those craft beer topics and more.

Sean Inman: How do you select what to put away into the Monk’s Kettle cellar and do you set a “timer”, so to speak on how long you keep beers before bringing them back before your customers?

Christian Albertson: I select beers to cellar when they come in fresh. I decide based on style, on its flavor profile, and how I think it will react to aging: whether I feel it will improve, or even just be different. At first it was a bit of an experiment—I would put a few bottles away of a ton of different beers, to see how they fare—and based on tastings periodically (especially when that item comes in fresh, as a vertical), we are able to figure out better what should be put away and for how long. As for the “timer,” it’s really about re-visiting that beer after a year or two or three—and keeping detailed notes about tastings—but in general, about two-three years is the golden age for a lot of the beers.

SI: How do you manage to not buy more than you can hold for the cellar considering that there are so many great beers out there to buy?

CA: This is a challenge in beer buying in general. The number of products available to us now is probably twice what it was when we opened a little over four years ago. Competition for a spot on our beer list in general has gotten higher every year, as craft beer has seen a huge explosion in not just demand, but supply. There are more importers, distributors and the brands they represent than ever before. That said, I have been developing systems for ordering and cellaring as we’ve gone along that are based on how much we sell—much of this was guesswork at first, but I’m beginning to get a feel for it much better now. The vintage program has been a challenge in that I’ve had to anticipate the beer’s performance, the storage space in the cellar, inventory levels (cash flow), and projected sales far into the future (there are times I cellar something for years, and it’s gone in a week). But I will say that the program is going very well, and I am beginning to develop better systems for buying and storage.

SI: There are some oft repeated pairings of beer and food but are there any pairings that you did not think would click that really work together?

CA: We’ve had all kinds of surprises, but the one that comes to mind as the most mind-blowing is due to the genius of my partner/chef Adam Dulye. At the beer dinner with Moonlight Brewing, he paired a Moonlight no-hop gruit with a hop ice cream that he helped develop. It was brilliant.

SI: I noticed one of my local craft breweries, Craftsman, in the video on your website. Do you have a wish list of breweries that you would love to do a beer pairing dinner with?

CA: We did a beer dinner every month for almost three years, and worked with many of the breweries that are in our area. Many of those on our wishlist are in other areas, and we are working with some of them to make it a reality.

Your Beer of the Week and Homework comes from Bend, Oregon, and Deschutes Brewery. They will be setting up Base Camp from April 9th through the 14th at various beer spots throughout L.A. And you certainly should plan a visit with Woody, not the “Toy Story” version but the street legal barrel one. There will be many events but I will highlight one. Steingarten L.A. will be hosting brewer Robin Johnson who will talk brewing and even give away clone recipes and hop kits.

While you are there you can have the beer of the week which is their Chainbreaker White IPA. Some of you may have had a version of this beer when it was a collaboration between Deschutes and Boulevard Brewing, called Conflux #2. Now it is back and will be on tap and in six-packs soon.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman's writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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