West Coaster readers voted Kelsey McNair of North Park Beer Co. San Diego’s Best Brewer of 2018. When told the news, McNair revealed he didn’t vote for himself: “I voted for Travis Smith,” he said, referring to Societe’s brewmaster who won in 2014. “In all seriousness, I have way too much left to learn to have such an honor bested upon me.” We asked McNair to put his humility to the side and answer a few questions for us.
How would you sum up 2018?
Philosophically speaking, 2018 was a year of breaking out of my comfort zone and not being complacent. I spent a lot of time analyzing our processes and working with my team to figure out where we could make improvements. Sometimes this resulted in taking a couple of steps backward in order to take several steps forward. Ultimately, I believe that the efforts have resulted in some great strides in quality for our new beers and mainstays alike.
We also brewed several collaborations, which meant a lot of brainstorming, sharing our methods for various processes with other brewers, learning how other brewers were doing various processes, and ultimately learning new things together. From my perspective, each collaboration brew should be a knowledge building opportunity for everyone involved. A successful collaboration can be so much more than just getting together and making a beer.
How does your location, on a prime North Park corner, impact what you choose to brew?
One of the things that I have had to accept is that I need to try and please as many people as possible with our beer portfolio. This means making beer that people want without compromising on my values as a brewer (most of the time… there was that charcoal glitter thing we made for Comic-Con, which is going to haunt me forever).
We continued to brew a lot of traditional beer styles, but I did set aside the BJCP style guidelines at times and embraced more “free form” brewing which included making some fun culinary inspired beers, such as our popular Bakers Man Brand Stout series. I fully embraced the haze and dove deep into that style, which I believe has led to us making some truly exceptional versions. Our 2nd Anniversary Hazy Double IPA “Gimme a 2nd” garnered several reviews comparing it to that of a Monkish release, which was incredibly gratifying considering that Monkish is touted as one of the best brewers of the style. I remembered that I really enjoy the experimentation and tinkering side of brewing, which connects directly to my history as a homebrewer.
What’s in the works for this year?
We’ll continue down the path we have been paving: more collaborations, more tinkering, more learning and having fun with our beer. You’ll see more barrel aged beer releases in bottles and more releases for some of our non-barrel aged beers in cans. Some of our existing beers, such as Hop-Fu!, should level up in quality as we’ll start brewing with hops that I personally selected in Yakima, Washington. We plan to continue expanding within our existing space by adding some more fermentation capacity and growing our beer production team as needed. I think it is going to be an amazing year for North Park Beer Co.