This week marks SF Beer Week, but soon, every week will be beer week in the Bayview. Laughing Monk Brewing (1439 Egbert St.) is set to debut in the neighborhood as soon as next month, offering 16 taps of Belgian-style beers made with California ingredients.
The brewery is owned by Andrew Casteel, who's already made his mark in the neighborhood by volunteering at community events and commissioning murals. A longtime nonprofit worker, he has a strong background in building effective public and private partnerships in the transportation, technology and education sectors, but beer is his true passion, he says. He's joined by brewmaster Jeff Moakler, formerly a brewer for BJ's in Arizona.
Hoodline met with Casteel to talk brewing and what we can expect from Laughing Monk.
As a person with such a wide background in the nonprofit sector, what made you decide to switch gears to opening a brewery? Why call it Laughing Monk?
I started my career working for the San Francisco Bike Coalition. The organization is about advocating for the bike community, getting people from point A to point B, and creating places that people want to hang out.
A monk is a person in that is respected in the community, and takes care of it. Culturally and traditionally, monks are the creators of Belgian beer; that's been the case since the Middle Ages. So the idea that a monk is a community-oriented person, and that beer brewing is a monastic tradition—I want this place to reflect both of those things. The "laughing" is about how we don't take ourselves that seriously.
The monastic tradition is very strict about what can go into beer, and they did a lot of things right. But there's also a lot of new things happening with beer that need to be combined with that, so that's where we come in.
Our tagline is "We are traditionally irreverent." From the start, we have a way of looking at the old traditions and what's great about them, but leaving some of it behind too.
On a personal level, where does your passion for creating come from?
I've always been a producer, more than a consumer. When I go out and buy things, I feel like I'm doing espionage. I go to a nice restaurant and I'm like "What did they do to that risotto? I could totally make it."
Really, I just like to work backwards from what I taste, to see if I can make something similar. It basically comes from a belief that you need to have passion about what you consume. You have to have emotion around what you eat and drink every day.
Tell us about what you're brewing.
We've done a chamomile saison, and we have a Belgian dark stout that has a little bit of cocoa nibs and whiskey oak in there. Those are what we consider in brewing to be adjuncts—they're beyond the four key components in beer, which are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. That's where some of the new comes in to what we like to brew.
Both of us have been homebrewers for a long time, and homebrewing is where all of the great innovation happens. When you're there with your own brew, you can do whatever you like to it. Beer is a really resilient substance; you can make a lot of changes to what was done before. The difficulty is taking those brash new flavors and refining them. Combining those two takes some practice before you get the old and new style techniques into working harmony.
What made you decide to build in Bayview?
I looked around a lot of places for the brewery. I used to work in the East Bay, so I looked around Jack London Square and other places. Then I looked at the Peninsula. Then I made my way to Bayview and found this space, which is about the size that I wanted to have a brewery in. So I talked to people in the neighborhood, and realized there was a lot of food creativity here. I felt like I was in a community of creators. That pretty much settled it for me. I want to be here in the Bayview.
Coming from bike advocacy, I realized that you don't just live somewhere—you've got to participate as well. That's what makes it real for you and other folks that are around.
So I've worked on murals in the neighborhood as well. I was walking out of a meeting from Old Skool Cafe and I saw artists [Shawn Bullen, Mel Waters and Michael Covington] painting a mural on the back of a building in Mendell Plaza and I was like "We need more of this."
I've been in nonprofits for a long time, so I like to get in and just do stuff. I don't like to wait and talk about it. So I worked with Shawn and Antoinette Mobley of SF Art Everywhere.
After that, I decided I wanted more of this to happen, so I co-founded IMPRINT.CITY with Tyra Fennell. We're trying to find more funds and artists to work on murals in the Bayview, and we're hoping to eventually get an event, a street art festival, in the Bayview, where we can celebrate all the artists.
We have the Shipyard, Public Glass, and all these other artists. There are still places in this neighborhood where you can work from and afford to be an artist in San Francisco. That should be celebrated and expanded. As much as I can help to make that happen, I will. It just feels good.
What other elements can we look forward to at Laughing Monk?
We're working on food being delivered from Azalina's Malaysian; their kitchen is nearby. Customers will be able to place an order, and they will deliver here. We've seen similar things work at other breweries.
The Belgian yeasts have a lot of spice character to them. It's similar to the spices in curries and the seasonings that are in Malaysian food, so I think it will be a good pairing. We'll also host a lot of events.
When do you anticipate opening?
I would like to see us open around late February, but that's as much info as I can give for now. Our equipment is all installed, but we have some last-minute things that we need to get right. Once we get the kettle burning, I can give a solid date.
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