Breakout Brewer: Cellarmaker Brewing

Cellarmaker Brewing Company is one of the most cellar-focused craft breweries in San Francisco, if not the country, and accordingly named. They’ve built a reputation as a Bay Area institution in less than three years.

Emily Hutto Oct 15, 2016 - 8 min read

Breakout Brewer: Cellarmaker Brewing Primary Image

Meet your makers—Tim Sciascia, Connor Casey, and Kelly Caveney. This trio founded Cellarmaker Brewing Company in San Francisco’s SoMa district in 2013. Their business is built around the idea that great beer isn’t just made on brew day; it’s developed over time during fermentation and aging.

“The growing mantra around here is that beer is truly formed in the cellar over days, weeks, months, and years with less importance being placed on the actual brew day,” says Tim Sciascia. “‘Cellarmaker’ is a play off that idea.”

Sciascia graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in his hometown Boston with a degree in classical saxophone performance. “During those years, I began homebrewing and formed an insatiable taste for everything beer. After college, I began giving tours at the Sam Adams Boston Brewery. I was hooked from then on out.”

Sciascia would eventually pack his life into his car and drive across the country to wash kegs at Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur, California. They eventually let him touch the brewing equipment, on which he brewed for five years before the inception of Cellarmaker.

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Sciascia met his business partners, Connor Casey and Kelly Caveney, when they were all working at Marin Brewing. Casey also worked at City Beer Store, and Caveney’s decade plus in the industry included a stint bartending at Russian River Brewing Company.

Russian River was a big influence on the hoppy beers that Sciascia would go on to make at Cellarmaker. “Our hoppy style began with much influence from Russian River’s high hopping and restrained malt bills,” he says. “I think from there we further held back bitterness and began drying out the beer a bit more. Some of our beers were not clearing up, and we began to assess why that was. Our preference shifted, not completely but 50/50, toward these hazy-to-opaque pale ales and IPAs. We discerned a difference between the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel in the same beer that was cloudy as opposed to clear. We now brew either way depending on how we feel at the moment or how a beer may speak to us.”

The huge spectrum of hops flavor and aroma available is one of the reasons Sciascia and crew can brew for the moment. “The variability in hops flavor and aroma alone can create a spectrum that can mimic malt and yeast, spices and fruit. We get really excited about discovering and combining new and old hops varieties in our beers to explore that spectrum,” he says, adding, “Hops are on top these days for a reason.”

Cellarmaker crafts a multitude of hoppy beers, including the potent Hop Killah that uses Citra and Simcoe hops; the four-grain Cantaloupe Island IPA brewed with oats, spelt, barley, and wheat, and generously hopped with Citra, HBC 344, and Simcoe hops; and the Alpha Redux, an IPA amplified with Vienna and Munich malts and aggressively bittered with mid-boil Columbus hops. Alpha Redux also employs Simcoe, Equinox, Citra, and Mosaic hops.

Earlier this year, Cellarmaker announced that it would begin bottling its hoppy beers in limited quantities. “Bottled hoppy beer is a huge point of contention among many brewers and drinkers,” said a press release about the new bottles. “We are very divided on the issue of bottled hoppy beer,” adds Sciascia. “We refused to do it until we felt that our main customer base had reached a level of freshness education and that we had found a format that gave us every tool available to help ensure the beer is drunk quickly.”

Those tools, including a bottled-on date and label instructions for consuming and storage, demonstrate Cellarmaker’s mission to care for its beer long beyond brew day and through its shelf life. “During my formative brewing years, I would go down to the local beer store and buy a six-pack of this or a bomber of that. When I got home, all too often those beers were oxidized and stale,” Sciascia remembers. “It’s a lesson that’s difficult to learn for a hardcore beer drinker, let alone the casual taster. Brewers themselves are doing better at pushing freshness, but there’s a lot to improve. I never want a Cellarmaker customer to be sold a less-than-stellar product, whether they know it or not.”

For those reasons, Sciascia explains, he, Casey, and Caveney plan to keep the brewery small and self-distributing. Their bottles are date-stamped (month-day-year format), and drinkers are encouraged to consume these beers within twenty-one days of bottling. Thus far, Cellarmaker has released Dank Williams, a tropical Double IPA brewed with New Zealand hops, and Mt. Nelson, a pale ale brewed with 100 percent Nelson Sauvin hops at 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) of hops per barrel.

In addition to IPAs and pale ales, Cellarmaker also crafts a variety of small-batch beers that let them experiment with different hops, grains, barrels, and yeasts. For example, they make a dry-hopped blonde ale, Daphne, and a smoked coffee porter, called Coffee & Cigarettes, that uses locally roasted coffee beans from San Francisco’s Sightglass Coffee. There are often barrel-aged selections on the brewery’s tap list and an occasional kettle-soured beer such as the SoMa Vice #2 Berliner Weisse fermented with pureed guava and mango.

Cellarmaker brews on a 10-barrel brew-house attached to a small tasting room between 7th and 8th Streets on Howard Street. Upon opening, Cellarmaker quickly became a neighborhood hub. When Cellarmaker started offering growler fills in other breweries’ growlers, it became the town hero. “When the brewery opened, a law about filling other breweries’ growlers was just ‘clarified,’” Sciascia explains. “The ABC added the fact that in order to fill a growler that doesn’t have your logo, you have to obscure the logo somehow and add your own info to it while leaving the government warning and having proper label approval. We wrap painter’s tape or black stretch wrap around the growler and then add a hanging tag with all the approved info and warnings.”

Growler fills were hardly the most challenging barrier for Cellarmaker, or any brewery getting started in San Francisco for that matter. “The cost of opening a brewery in San Francisco is almost prohibitive with rents soaring,” Sciascia says. “If you can get through that, however, this is a thirsty, ever-growing market ready for as much good beer as you can give it. Beer city? Not until recently, if yet, but it has been an Epicurean city for a while. Beer is really making its impact now.”

PHOTO: COURTESY CELLARMAKER BREWING

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