In less than a decade, Derek Gallanosa went from behind-the-scenes industry insider and nth-level beer enthusiast to one of the most popular figures in San Diego’s craft scene. After years working for Karl Strauss Brewing, he helped forge Rancho Bernardo’s Abnormal Beer Co. into reality, earning a rabid cult following before heading north to open Moksa Brewing in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin. Since its 2018 debut, the business has been among the nation’s most talked-about new breweries behind award-winning, clamored-for IPAs, pastry stouts, sours and more. Most San Diegans haven’t had the chance to taste the fruits of Gallanosa’s labors, but with him presiding over a Moksa tap takeover at Churchill’s Pub in San Marcos this Thursday, January 16, it seemed the perfect time to catch up with the #SDBeer expat.
What was it like starting a second brewery from scratch—easier, more difficult?
After having over seven years of professional experience before starting Moksa Brewing, I knew what I wanted to incorporate into the new brand and what to stay away from. Starting fresh with a new brand was an opportunity to set a new company culture with higher standards. Here, I made sure there was a greater emphasis on quality regarding the beer and how it is presented in and outside of our taproom. For example, we do not fill growlers and, instead, only fill branded crowlers that have gone through a streamline process of sanitizing, CO2 purging and filling that the beertenders are meticulously trained on to ensure that every beer leaving our premises has been given the best chance to taste as fresh as possible when consumed. Even the appearance and timing were taken into account, with each crowler having separate labels printed for each beer, reducing the time it would take a beertender to write all the info required. Another example is hiring a talented outside graphic designer that can bring a visual component to our beer and culture. It’s definitely pricier than producing labels in-house, but what our designer, Conor Hunter, has brought to this brand is invaluable. Starting a new brewery and brand will always be challenging, but with the knowledge I have obtained from San Diego, it did make it a little bit easier the second time around.
What is Moksa Brewing all about?
Moksa is a hindu term that is loosely translated into freedom, liberation and release. We use that term to find our own path and brew not necessarily within the guidelines of a particular style of beer but evolve our brewing to produce what we feel is a representation of what we like and what we feel others will like. We love hearing feedback from our customers and what they would like to see in our beers. Of course, we do not brew whatever is recommended to us, but we do use that feedback to guide our perception of what the customers demand as a whole. No matter how many times we heard the request for a red ale, I think my time brewing hundreds of barrels of Red Trolley Ale at Karl Strauss has traumatized me to never want to brew another one again. I’d rather just produce a festbier to satisfy that crowd. If we had a priority list of what styles we need to brew, I think they would be in the order of hazy IPAs, imperial stouts, sour blondes, West Coast IPAs and then lagers. Rarely can we satisfy all those priorities and move on to another style, but when we do, it has produced some beautiful Belgian-style beers, French saisons and American pale ales.
How have you been able to help orchestrate Moksa’s high level of popularity?
My marketing motto for Moksa has been to market globally but sell locally. This means through social media, seminar talks, beer festivals around the world and strategic tap takeovers. The goal has been to bring people back to the taproom and have people order beer from our highly knowledgeable bar staff. The taproom is where you’ll get the most offerings that are as fresh as possible, served by a staff that knows the most about that beer. Giving a taste of our beer at various events in regions that do not distribute has driven the buzz surrounding our brewery locally and beyond.
What is Moksa’s annual barrelage and how do you keep up with demand?
Our 2019 production was about 1,100 barrels and we anticipate a slight increase in 2020. About 25% of the beer we produce is packaged in cans and bottles, but only a select amount of IPAs have been distributed. We are fortunate to have enough demand for our sours and stouts to be sold out through the taproom. We distribute to some local accounts and wherever we travel to make our trips worth it. The numbers for 2019 are not in yet, but in 2018, 91% of our revenue was sold through our taproom. Space is limited in our brewery, so unfortunately, we cannot add more fermenters at the moment, however, we did recently purchase a centrifuge in order to produce quicker batches with larger yields. There are no plans to distribute more draft beyond the occasional event here and there, but there will be more cans that will slowly appear in limited quantities at some of the area’s best bottle shops.
How often do you get back to San Diego and where do you like to go when you’re here?
As soon as I’m within the city limits, I have to grab a burrito. There is absolutely nothing that compares outside of San Diego County. I’m down there now about four to six times a year visiting friends and family while also possibly setting up a tap takeover or participating in a beer festival. Besides consuming as many burritos as possible, I do enjoy my other culinary favorites such as the won ton soup and orange chicken at Minh Ky, the egg rolls at A Chau, the burger at The Friendly and barbecue at Grand Ole. As far as beer, it’s hard not to go check out what Modern Times is up to, but usually I’m hitting up my favorite bars like Hamilton’s Tavern, Toronado, Bar Sin Nombre and Live Wire. Next visit, I’m hoping to check out The Original 40 Brewing for the first time and see the newly opened Harland Brewing taproom in Scripps Ranch.
What can you tell us about Thursday’s tap takeover at Churchill’s Pub?
When I turned 21, I was living in San Marcos, so Churchill’s was basically my first beer bar. I remember going to the first eight or so Renaissance events, sometimes waiting overnight in the rain in order to have access to that amazing tap list. For this event, I’ll be bringing down possibly the best lineup San Diego County has seen from Moksa. Finally, our barrel program has been producing some finished products which will be showcased at the event, including a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with maple syrup, vanilla beans and espresso that we made with San Diego’s Mostra Coffee. Overall, there will be around a dozen offerings ranging from a pilsner to pastry stouts and a whole bunch of IPAs.
Have you kept up on Abnormal Beer Co. since heading north?
I follow the brewery and pay attention to what’s going on. I haven’t come across many of their beers, unfortunately. When passing over the reins to [head brewer] Nyle Molina, I said to make the brewhouse his own and create the styles he wants to make. It looks like he’s been brewing a lot of classic styles and getting it out to a wider distribution footprint. I wish them the best.
What are some of the biggest similarities and differences between the San Diego and Sacramento beer scenes?
The Sacramento beer scene is young but has a lot of potential. There are no breweries here that have been open for decades, however, we do have some very talented brewers. It’s only a matter of time before others start to take notice and visit Sac for beer tourism. As a member of the Sacramento Area Brewers Guild Board of Directors, I’m looking forward to helping build the recognition of this craft beer community.