By Scott Thomas Anderson
I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at the bar in Monk’s Cellar jotting down notes for different stories I’ve covered over the years, but it’s enough that some of my most-read pieces for SN&R definitely have a connection to the place, at least in the form of me escaping the heat to scribble out questions over a tall glass of hard cider. I’ve been going to Monk’s almost since the day it opened in 2014, and the overall vibe that this brew house has – polished but not pretentious, ambitious but still neighborly – makes it a place where I feel supremely at ease, whether there’s a quiet calm around the taps, or whether the high stools are packed shoulder-to-shoulder. I distinctly remember being hunched over Monk’s bar with a notepad and pen as I tried to process the early pieces of evidence in a homicide that would ultimately lead to SN&R’s cover story “Midnight Burning.” I also recall dropping by for lunch on scorching summer days and chatting with owners Paul Gould and Andy Klein about a baffling murder case off of PFE Road that had the city buzzing. The more I started following that investigation, the more I started mentioning to Gould and Klein, somewhat cryptically over my wine, that I thought the unsolvable enigma might actually be solved. Much later, when SN&R was about to publish the whole dark saga as “Blood on the Tracks,” the boys at Monk’s were some of the first people I gave a heads-up to.
Even as I write this, SN&R continues to follow a Roseville cold case from 1984 tied to Monk’s building, one which involves “the Can Lady” Madeline Garcia having her body stuffed in an alcove between the West House and what’s now the brewery. Klein and Gould were kids when that incident happened and heard their neighborhood talking about it. That’s the thing: Since the owners of Monk’s grew up in Roseville, they’ve lived through its astounding transformation from a trainyard town into the third largest city in the Capital Region. In creating Monk’s Cellar, they brought South Placer a stylish concept worthy of a bigger metro, while still embracing the community mindset that they were raised with.
Just last month, I was strolling through Denio’s with its marketing director, Kevin Hernandez, when he motioned to where I could buy some Big Jim Denio American Lager. Monk’s Cellar had brewed this craft marvel as a special commemorative for Denio’s 75th anniversary, and Klein had even dialed its tasting profile into what was common for American lagers in the 1940s when Big Jim opened his swap meet. Hernandez told me that Gould and Klein had been eager to help with Denio’s celebration because their mothers had operated a booth there together when they were young. They’d kind of grown up at the place.
That’s a nice detail for a one-off project, but the fact is the Big Jim lager is also a kick-ass brew. Moreover, Monk’s is making the house beer for Father Paddy’s Irish Pub in Woodland, a special nitro-infused Celtic red known as Loftus Hall. Watching the taps turn on that selection in western Yolo is a beautiful site, indeed. Given the inventiveness at Monk’s, it shouldn’t have been a surprise last week when it was named the California State Fair’s Brewery of the Year.
The competition was fierce: There were 214 craft brewing companies vying for that honor. Not only did Monk’s come out on top, it also saw three individual beer entries win gold medals and a fourth win a silver. And one of the gold medals was awarded for Monk’s “Cellmates” brew, a collaborative project it has with a new Rocklin outfit called Mindscape Fermentation, which makes beer, kombucha and fermented hot sauces. A Sacramento-area brewery taking California’s top beer honor is a huge deal, especially when one considers how thriving the craft scene is in San Diego and the North Coast. In light of that, this seems an appropriate time to re-highlight SN&R’s 2021 feature about how Monk’s Cellar parlayed the high-spirited drinking community it’s created into the Capital Region’s most intriguing whiskey club. The club is still going strong – still making interesting barrel sections from the West Coast to Kentucky. The only big update since our feature was first published is that Monk’s just had its own barrel of mezcal made by La Luna in Mexico.
“Unlike picking a barrel of whiskey, where you taste several different barrels – and the uniqueness of the barrel is from to the characteristics the whiskey picked up during the aging process – La Luna’s mezcal is unaged,” Gould told me. “So, what they do is distill private and unique barrels. The process starts by tasting, and selecting, one of their expressions, or the different mezcals they produce from different agave plants. In our case, we chose their Manso Sahuayo … The main thing we added was whiskey barrel staves that were used by Maker’s Mark to finish the barrel that we picked from them for The Monk’s Cellar Whiskey Society. We also added tobacco, orange peel, cherry, cacao nibs and pecans, which produced a mezcal with subtle whiskey notes.”
Whether your preferred poison is an American lager, a glass of bourbon or a bottle of mezcal, one thing that’s worth lifting a glass to is individuals who reach for new creative heights.
Scott Thomas Anderson also writes and produces the ‘Drinkers with Writing Problems’ podcast, episode 6 of which, ‘Boomtowns of the American West,’ is about the Sacramento region.