Dick Cantwell: Absolutely. Dave has fostered a culture of cask–especially at the Magnolia pub–that makes it work: good selection, expert execution, and sufficient customer attention to sell through the beers fast enough to keep them in good shape. Another bit of ancient history: I wrote what I think is one of the seminal articles on producing traditional cask ale in America (along with Fal Allen, now of Anderson Valley, and Kevin Forhan, now of Flying Bike Brewing Cooperative in Seattle) for Brewing Techniques in about 1993. And I love Milds, though I’m not sure we need two of them on at all times.
Q for Dick: How does Magnolia’s emphasis on traditional English ales align with what kind of beers you would like to make and the Lambic production?
Dick Cantwell: You might recall that I spent 2 1/2 years brewing at Pike Place Brewery in Seattle. We were one of the first US breweries with access to Crisp malts, and Charles Finkel insisted on the use of traditional English stuff–Maris Otter, Goldings and Fuggles and all that. I didn’t get so strongly into the American thing until I moved to Big Time (sister brewpub to Triple Rock), and then onward to Elysian, but even then I’d work in English stuff. I do expect that we’ll compress the English-style beers to allow space for new, more American-style stuff, as well as Oud Beersel draft and whatever we all decide to bring in and produce from New Belgium. And by the way, there are strong historical ties between the traditions of Belgian sour beer and Britain already. The Rodenbachs got some of their ideas for aging in wood from Greene KIng, and the very word brettanomyces connotes British beer. Harmony involves lots of different parts, not just the melody produced in a few voices.
Q: Is it literally all going to be under one roof? I am curious how the coolship is going to be added and if its made in the same space?
Dave Mclean: It’s definitely intended to be here (Dogpatch).
Dick Cantwell: Well, now that all this has actually happened, I can get some current quotes from fabricators for the coolship. Gert has already alerted me about some available foeders. We are also talking to the landlords at Smokestack about taking over enough additional space to make room for some of these things, as well as additional public space.
Q: Is there any concern about having all those wild yeast and bacteria in this space?
Dave Mclean: I have never been that concerned about that in general with our barrel-aging, there is plenty of breweries that have successfully navigated that, it’s just about having good practices and separate hoses and gaskets. There is a best practice for having multiple things like that going on. There is going to be a lot of procedural stuff.
Q: Magnolia has always had a great food program balancing American pub food with British food and it goes well with the beers they have been making. With a new line of Belgian collabs and Lambics does it call for a different menu or perhaps a separate pub or tasting room with it’s own Belgian flair like the Magnolia Smokestack focuses on BBQ?
Dick Cantwell: Easy there! You’re absolutely right that the introduction of new beer styles representative of other cuisines and cultures calls for some response from the menu. We’re not thinking yet about another pub, though. We’ve got plenty to work with for the moment. Plus, Magnolia has never shied away from Belgian styles or other areas of brewing.
Q: Who is going to handle the creative aspect of the beer? Is it going to be you and Dick deciding that?
Dave Mclean: A big part of that, an awesome part is that Dick’s back in brewing. He is also someone I have admired for a long time, I have read his books and looked up to as a brewer. I have my Magnolia-centric beer that I would like to stick around and move forward but I also cant wait to have some sense from Dick about what he wants to do and make that happen. I think to be honest I suspect that he will drive and the overall big picture as what this place is doing as far as brewing wise and the new stuff that is intended, and that’s cool. I was talking to Seth the other day about this, just like how amazing the opportunity is if your really into beer and brewing you just gotta keep your ego in check, this is an opportunity for everything we do here to get better through more eyes and tastebuds on the beers and process to the access to raw materials that we may not have. Everything about it is sort of cued up to potentially make it all better including the existing regular beer which is sort of a life-long quest. If you really dive in and say this is what I am going to do with my life, which I have for the last twenty-five years, the last twenty with Magnolia and five years preparing. It’s about the long game, always trying to become a better brewer and make better and better beer. It seems like this presents an amazing opportunity. We will sit down and figure out just what this looks like.
Q: What will your particular roles and titles be?
Dave Mclean: I don’t know. I just gotta figure out what I gotta be when I grow up.
Dick Cantwell: I’ve never been one much for titles. All I ever called myself at Elysian was Head Brewer, since I felt that I lacked the education to deserve the Brewmaster moniker. Magnolia has Head Brewers at each location, so that designation is taken. I guess I’ll be the ‘Whatever in charge of brewing operations’. I will be working with Dave and the other brewers on both old and new beers, coming up with it’s of new stuff cooperatively but also casting a glance at all the recipes.
Q: When will we start seeing changes and new beers coming out of Magnolia Brewing and anything in particular we can expect other than the announced Lambics?
Dick Cantwell: The first order of business is doing things the same way with the beers. Very soon, however, we’ll be making room for some of the other things I’ve mentioned. Seth, the Head Brewer at Smokestack, is soon to produce a double IPA he’s had in mind. Then I’ll probably suggest something. I’ve recently finished up a book on “Eclectic” IPA (IPA containing fruits or vegetables, herbs, spices and wood and sour treatments), so you can imagine I’ll be working stuff like that in, as well as particular styles I just love to make. I’d like to sneak in some lagers–Dortmunder, Maibock–and some Belgian stuff of my own. We’ll have a lot of tools to work with, between what Magnolia has already done well, the stuff I’ll suggest, Oud Beersel beers already being produced, New Belgium wood beers (for example) we can ship in to blend (as well as having back-and-forth between the New Belgium and Magnolia brewing staffs), and the spontaneous stuff we’ll be producing down the line. It’s a lot to figure out and to decide on.
Dave Mclean – Magnolia founder at the Dogpatch brewery
Q: Does it feel weird not owning the brewery anymore?
Dave Mclean: Absolutely. I have lived and breathed Magnolia, including its startup period the last twenty-five years and I would be lying if I didnt say it was strange but also I am really excited about the direction it is going in. I feel like other people are asking me a lot more ‘are you ok, how do you feel about this?’ more than I am. I am a little sad and it’s a little bittersweet. It’s like a baby of mine that I spent the last twenty-five years and intend to spend my entire life doing that and I hope I still get to do that. It does feel weird, it doesn’t feel bad it just feels kind of weird. But that has been part of the Magnolia story all along and my life philosphy, except change, embrace change, it’s the kind of things that keep you on your toes and keep you honest when you say those kinds of things and then you get into a situation like this where ‘did you really mean that? and if you did than this is kind of a good thing and see where the adventure takes you next’
Q: You still own Alembic right?
Dave Mclean: Yeah I am part of it. I own a small stake.
Q: I also hear you own a Maltster?
Dave Mclean: Yes I have an even smaller stake in that. But I am active in it’s management. I am super excited about that, we are going to start malting next week. Floor malting in Alameda in the bay area using all California grown barley. That’s a total passion, labor of love thing that I particularly like because I want Magnolia and California to have locally malted California grown grains. Even in a non-malty beer I like the contribution the malt gives. This project, emerald malting it’s called, is an awesome opportunity to be a part of.
Q: What is the longterm goal with Magnolia Brewing ?
Dick Cantwell: As we implement all these various projects, we need to be mindful of the market and the industry. I don’t think anyone has even mentioned anything very ambitious in terms of expansion. We’d like to add enough in the way of tanks, etc. to have the place run smoothly and be responsive to all the ideas we have and will be developing. This will be an experimenting brewery that’s quick on its feet. That’s the beauty of being small.