When word broke last year that the head brewer at the top-rated craft brewery in San Diego was moving to the Sacramento area to start a new project, it was tempting to view the news as validation of our thriving local beer scene.
However, the reason behind Derek Gallanosa’s journey from San Diego to Rocklin, where he helped found the red-hot new brewery Moksa, is a lot simpler and sweeter: He did it for love.
After a stint at San Diego's Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Gallanosa in 2014 created Abnormal Beer Company from scratch. Within two years it was the top-rated San Diego brewery on beer rating sites like Untappd and Beer Advocate.
But when his fiancée Steph, an archaeologist, found a job in Sacramento, Gallanosa promised to find a way to follow her here. Unfamiliar with the Sacramento beer scene, he reached out to friends and colleagues in the area, eventually connecting with Nu Boonkham, who became Moksa’s main investor.
“It took a few months, actually sooner than I expected,” Gallanosa said. “I wanted to make sure it was an upgrade from my previous position, with a little bit more responsibility and control, and that’s what I found here.”
Gallanosa's knack for creating buzzworthy beers is apparent in his new venture. With nearly 2,000 user ratings, Moksa is currently the second-ranked brewery in the Sacramento area, just behind Moonraker and well ahead of Knee Deep in third place.
Moksa opened on Feb. 3 in the space formerly occupied by Dragas, and by the time we visited two weeks later, half the beers were off the board. Three IPAs and a golden ale had sold out, leaving only Smoochberry -- a tart blonde ale with raspberries -- and three stouts. Café Moksa is a silky-smooth mocha milk stout served on nitro, while Thicc Nibs (a collaboration with Anaheim-based Bottle Logic) and Bisco Party are the sort of high-alcohol imperial stouts that Gallanosa grew famous for making at Abnormal.
All four beers were worth the trip to Rocklin, especially the decadent yet drinkable imperial stouts, although Gallanosa is also considered a master of IPAs. Moksa temporarily had to stop selling crowlers to make sure there would be enough beer for the tasting room, but along with his brewing partner, former New Glory head brewer Cory Meyer, Gallanosa is rushing to refill those taps. They anxiously await delivery of a chiller that will allow them to nearly double their fermentation capacity.
Because Abnormal Beer Company shared space with a winery, Gallanosa never was permitted to experiment with sour beers, a process that involves using types of bacteria that lead to wine spoilage. But barrel-aging is a top priority at Moksa, and they already have 16 filled barrels resting in the tasting room, with the hopes of having a wall of at least 40 barrels.
“By the time we get to that 40-barrel mark, the first ones will be ready,” Gallanosa said. “Those type of beers don’t come out for a while, so we want to get them into barrels and developing.”
Gallanosa graduated from California State University, San Marcos with a degree in marketing, and that customer-focused background came in handy when he started selling his own beer at Abnormal.
“When you have a brewery, it’s not just what you like -- it’s what you can sell,” he said. To that end, he checks Untappd regularly, searching for unbiased feedback and looking for ways to improve his beers.
Before starting Abnormal, Gallanosa taught a class at San Diego State University called "Marketing Craft Beer," and he would love to do something similar in the Sacramento area. But for now, he is plenty busy with Moksa projects, including hosting a Pink Boots Society brew day on March 8. He also is excited about a recent collaboration with Miami brewery J. Wakefield, as well as possible upcoming collaborations with Alvarado Street, The Bruery and Omnipollo.
“You get to share techniques and combine your efforts to create something better than what you can create by yourself,” he said.
Moksa's address is 5860 Pacific St., Rocklin; 916-824-1366
Beer of the week
Russian River ran out of Pliny the Younger on Feb. 19, but it’s still triple IPA season on Sacramento area beer boards.
Beers with names like Berryessa’s Trendy Triple IPA make winking reference to the Pliny craze, and that’s certainly the case with Claimstake’s Ain’t Getting Any Younger (11.5 percent ABV).
Brewed with 07270 and Eureka hops, this beer pours a dark gold with a filmy white head, and while both the aroma and flavor hit the same notes of pine and citrus as Pliny Younger, the Claimstake beer is smoother and better balanced.
We sampled the beer at Old Town Pizza Roseville, an oft-overlooked gem in the area beer scene, and a place that consistently puts together one of the best tap lists in town.
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, beer enthusiast and one half of the blog “His & Her Beer Notes.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.