The educational element is important for us to offer to people...It feels like a cultural experience, rather than just a bunch of beers.
— Connor Casey

 

Brewery Information

 

Number of Employees - Less than 10

Founding Date - October 8, 2013

Distribution - SF Bay area within 90 minutes drive of SF.

Taproom/Tasting Hours - Click here


We were thrilled to spend some time speaking with Connor Casey, the 28-year-old owner and founder of Cellarmaker Brewing Company, located in the heart of the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. We'd never met anyone from San Francisco that actually brewed beer, and our assumption was that craft beer simply willed itself into being from a good idea, much like the rest of the bay area’s industry has done over the past 15 years. Turns out that even their beer won’t make itself, and after talking with Connor for a few hours in a New York City coffee shop, it also turns that the good people of San Francisco have glommed onto his brewery in the best way possible.

Connor was honest and passionate during our conversation, vibrant in his views and quick to pay homage to the muses that got him to the point of owning a brewery. He spoke energetically of Cellarmaker and the community he’s building in SF. His frank and direct approach to our conversation was matched by an equally impressive knowledge of the history of craft brewing and the realities surrounding the current craft beer environment in America.

 

These two handsome chaps are Tim Sciascia (head brewer) and Connor Casey, left to right.

Hey Connor. What’s your background? 

Hey there. I’m originally from Los Angeles. When I went to college in Colorado, I spent a lot of time at Mountain Sun Brewpub in Boulder. That’s where the craft bug really bit me. After college, I moved to San Francisco. My wife and I were hoping to stay in Colorado, but the job market was terrible. Both of my parents were originally from SF, and it had always felt like home. I started waiting tables and started really getting into wine. This is where I got into discovering flavors and what sort of work went into the product. I worked at Fritz winery for close to two years and really enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed wine very much, but beer was always on my mind.

At the time, the Cicerone certification was in its infancy, so I had an advantage going into brewing based solely on my wine experience. I started working for Marin Brewing Company. I was there for almost two years. While working at Marin Brewing, I simultaneously worked for City Beer Store, which is an iconic place in SF. Craig Wathen, the owner, taught me at least half of what I presently know about beer. Marin Brewing Company is also where I met Tim Sciascia, our head brewer. He’s actually from Boston and worked at Sam Adams as a tour guide there. His personality really carries the beer he makes, and I’m really grateful that I can rely on him to speak energetically about the beer.

So when did this brewery come into being?

I wanted to start a brewery since college. There was a point while I was working at City Beer and I had a conversation with a childhood friend who was starting his own business. After several conversations, I began to see that starting this brewery was obtainable. I finalized the halfway finished business plan I had been kicking around for a few years and started looking at locations for breweries and talking to investors. We haven’t had any institutional investment money at all, just friends and family. We found an industrial garage in the heart of the SOMA neighborhood and got to work.

Sweet. And how’s it going? Are you selling beer?

We’ve had a great first year.  One of the biggest challenges for any brewer is ensuring that their beer tastes just as good at their out of house accounts (bars) as it does when they pull a pint off the brite tank at the brewery.  We’ve got a strict policy when it comes to freshness - 90%+ of our hoppy beers are delivered within 3 days of their release date.   Every account we work with is on board with our policy to tap that keg within 7 days of receiving it.  I can see how some folks would say it’s an aggressive approach to freshness but the reality is that these beers change every day.  Even at 3 weeks they taste noticeably different than when they were first released.

How do you manage growth at this stage?

Our brewery opened on October 8th, 2013 with a 10 barrel system, 4 fermenters, and 2 bright tanks.  We’ve added a few fermenters since opening to increase capacity, but we’re sort of running out of room.  The general response to our beer has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re grateful for that.  As we grow, the hardest part is scaling brewery ops, maintaining quality and making sure our product is consumed fresh, as we discussed above.  We currently have a small staff of 10 , most of whom have been involved since day one, so there’s definitely a great family vibe at work.

How’s the brewing scene in SF right now? Same as the rest of CA?

We were the first brewery to pop up in a while in SF since 21st Amendment opened. There are a lot of great beers and breweries in the SF market, but there weren’t a lot of hoppy beers brewed with the newer hop varieties being made in SF.  We started making beers using these newer hops, and have since added a variety of dark and Belgian inspired beers.

This is interesting. Your website says you’ve chosen to “abandon the common concept of a set production schedule” in favor of being more creative. Why?

When I get to the bar I want to try something different and I want a rotating list of beers at the bar. This is why I generally choose to rotate which beers we make at Cellarmarker. We may lose the ability to dial in a beer by brewing it repetitively, but being able to try something new most of the time is just too damn fun. We’re not building the brewery on a flagship, but rather the reputation of the brewery itself.  It’s a different approach in the beer world, but we’re gonna roll with it.

We always ask this question, but how do you decide to make a particular beer?

Honestly, we make the beers based on the tap list and what we do, and do not, have on draft. If we see that we don’t have an easy drinking light-ish beer on tap, we’ll make one.  If we’re getting low on a batch of something rich and dark…it’s time to get one in the tank.   We tend to get pretty specific with our menu descriptions to make sure drinkers know what they’re drinking.  The educational element is sort of important for us to offer to people, take it or leave it. Some people just want to drink a tasty beer and that’s cool too.  It feels like a cultural experience, rather than just a bunch of beers.  Our proximity to wine country and the light education that goes on at tasting rooms up there may have sort of paved the way for this setup.

You’re in NYC right now doing this interview and you just got back from Vermont, Massachusetts and Montreal, where you visited quite a few breweries. What are your thoughts on east coast brew? Any major differences?

It's clear to me that this newer generation of East Coast breweries are making a huge variety of killer beers. They are very much destination breweries, like Treehouse in MA and Hill Farmstead in Vermont.  The beers I had there were awesome. From a hops perspective, they focus on hop flavor and aroma, rather then the most typical west-coast style of bitterness.  The yeast game out here is very different too, with a few fruity, estery yeasts being used as opposed to West Coast style yeast which is generally more neutral.  Dieu Du Ciel up in Montreal brews some mean beer – I was totally mind blown by their dark and Belgian offerings.

Pretty Things recently blew the whistle on pay-to-play shenanigans in the craft industry. Do you have a comment on that?

I like what Dan from Pretty Things said. It’s sad that a bar would want the money versus wanting to be known for great beer.  Stunts like that put a clear message out to other craft brewers to stay away from doing business with those bars.  The reality is that they’d probably make better (and more honest) money just loading up their taps with fresh local beers than taking a single payment for a line with less-than-inspiring beer. 

What are you drinking right now that isn’t your beer?

Russian River, Sante Adairius, Rare Barrel, the occasional Societe growler, High West Double Rye Whiskey and this crazy barrel aged Gin with honey from Vermont – Barr Hill’s “Tom Cat”  

Published November 2014.