The Evolving Nature of (Magnolia) Beer

It’s an interesting creative assignment to pick up a project in progress.  Lots of great movies have been the result of a succession of writers or directors, and many of the world’s architectural marvels have been designed, redesigned and eventually realized by a sort of historical relay, with the creative baton passed through generations of endeavor.  Not to aggrandize too much the portfolio of a small brewpub in a hippie neighborhood in San Francisco. Still, with all the history and accomplishment wrapped up in Magnolia’s beers, it’s worth pausing to make a couple of observations about the process of taking up, evaluating, tweaking and altering a venerable and beloved lineup, especially when placed against the changing landscape of craft beer at large.

For a couple of decades, of course, Magnolia has been known for a collection of beers mainly harking to classic English styles, including versions demonstrating an impressive devotion to traditional cask ales.  In addition to the bitters, pale ales, porters and stouts one might expect, patrons have been presented with multiple versions of these days relatively obscure styles such as mild and brown ale, styles which in England itself rarely rear their heads at all.  And there have been beers which didn’t particularly fit this model.  It’s seemed a little funny to me that the biggest selling beers for a while now at Magnolia haven’t been English-style ales: Kalifornia Kölsch and Proving Ground IPA, the former a North-German style golden ale and the latter a West Coast IPA nonetheless displaying some sturdy English root stock. (You might have noticed that we recently refreshed the packaging for both of these beers too!)

The history of craft brewing has many chapters centered on a number of different and progressing stylistic developments and trends.  In the beginning it was enough simply to make your own beer, often in a single style with your own name on it. Sometimes there was a dark version and pale version, named no more creatively than that: pale and dark.  The classic brewpub of yore typically added something amber to the mix. Then came emulations of beers from around the world. Often pubs were centered on beers harking from a particular European point of brewing origin: England or Germany, mostly, and eventually Belgium.  Then all hell broke loose and American craft brewers riffed on everything, folding it all back on itself and making flights of ridiculous deliciousness to keep themselves entertained and their customers beguiled. All sorts of crazy stuff happened, and continues to happen every day.  Times change, at Magnolia as well.

At Magnolia, these days you’re likely to see some representation of the place’s former lineup: Kölsch and Proving Ground, of course (though even casual observers have noted a substantial change for the modern in PG’s profile), but perhaps Blue Bell Bitter or Aliciela (we’ve got a new version using fresh yarrow), or even (gasp) one of the excellent milds brewed throughout Magnolia’s history.  But they’ll see other, crazy newer stuff which we make every effort to make delicious and interesting. You’ll see beers of my device, such as the large handful of so-called Eclectic IPAs of the past couple of months, and you’ll see beers reflecting the creative efforts of brewers Seth (Galactic Rift, Pigtail and Fivey Time) Wile and Andrew (Petty Oligarch, Native Sable and a succession of Session IPAs) Combs.  You’ll see beers celebrating our city and neighborhood, such as Station 12 Red Ale and our upcoming modernist take on California Common, which we plan to call City and County.

Your attention and indulgence was much appreciated as we rotated out old with the new. 

Summer of Love IPA—This is the second version of last year’s beer commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of 1967’s iconic season.  The malt bill is much the same, with just a touch of rye amid pale others, and a concentration on Southern Hemisphere hop stalwarts Pacific Gem and Galaxy along with good old Mosaic.  6.5% abv and 65 IBU

Conflagration Imperial Red Ale—Another nod to first responders at our city’s and regional fire departments, this is a massive—and massively hopped, with the same Cascade and El Dorado—version of Station 12.  8.5% abv and 80 IBU

Momomojo Smoked Peach Ale—Built of pale malt and small percentages of white wheat and peachwood smoked malt, puréed peaches (momo is Japanese for peach; mojo, well, nobody entirely knows what that is—and that’s the point) are added to the ferment to bring a fruity touch to a lightly smoky ale of 5.8% abv and 36 IBU.

Prague Bock—Say it aloud and it sounds like a beer we had on for Strong Beer Month back in February, and like Prog Bock it’s a strong lager.  This time around, however, it’s built on a Pilsner chassis, with lots of Saaz hops and pale pilsner malt. Say it soft and there’s music playing (on the Charles bridge), say it loud and it’s almost like praying. 7.4% abv and 40 IBU

Spice Girl—We thought long and hard before deciding not to commit to just one of the Spice Girls for this Strawberry Wheat Ale.  There’s a pint of fresh-squeezed ginger in it (and a touch of coriander), so Ginger Spice might have been the way to go. It’s not so big, so maybe Baby; moderate, even Sporty at 4.9% abv and not particularly Scary with just under 40 IBU; but its cloudiness probably makes it something other than Posh.  

Admarillo—In enthusiastic support of our local Admiral Maltings in Alameda, Andrew brewed this pale ale with three of their malts:  Maiden Voyage for the base and Kilnsmith II and III, along with a dash of white wheat and a fair amount of Amarillo hops. 5.5% abv and 50 IBU