Throwback: Tower Brewing resurrects Monkey Knife Fight, and people can’t get enough

A pint of Monkey Knife Fight sits on the bar at Sacramento’s Tower Brewing.
A pint of Monkey Knife Fight sits on the bar at Sacramento’s Tower Brewing.

Tower Brewing’s Evan Rosatelli is a bit of a throwback. When it comes to music, the 26-year-old head brewer talks excitedly about seeing Dead and Company, which features most of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. The Rolling Stones are on his concert bucket list.

Then there’s his beer preference. While his friends all love hazy IPAs, which have taken the industry by storm in the last five years, Rosatelli talks wistfully about crystal-clear beers you can read a newspaper through. (What a great idea.)

All of which helps explain why Rosatelli resurrected Monkey Knife Fight pale ale a few months ago. Monkey Knife Fight was brewed for decades at Rubicon Brewing, which went out of business in 2017 after almost 30 years in Sacramento.

Rosatelli started his Sacramento brewing career at Rubicon - his first job was in San Diego - and knew how much thirst there used to be for Monkey Knife Fight in Sacramento. Last fall, Tower’s owners, Ken Reiff and Jeff Howes, bought the rights to all of Rubicon’s intellectual property rights last fall and turned it over to Rosatelli.

It was mostly about Monkey Knife Fight.

“We knew we had to bring this Sacramento staple back” Rosatelli said. “The thing about this beer, it’s really nostalgic for a lot of people. It was a lot of people’s intro beer to craft beer, or even just getting into hoppy beers.”

The beer is unlike most hoppy brews in that it’s a deep amber color – think Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale – and clear. You really could read a newspaper through it. Rosatelli’s only tweak to the original recipe was a bit more dry hopping, which results in more aroma and pairs nicely with a piney hop taste on the front end. The beer finishes sweet and smooth, with little bitterness.

Tower’s other brewer, Mike Ungerbuhler, was a regular at Rubicon starting a decade ago and said a well-done pale ale has become hard to find.

“I think it helps to set us apart from other breweries that are focused on the hype of haze cans,” Ungerbuhler said. “Nothing against hazy beers because ones that are brewed well are delicious and there are a lot of those in the area.”

People seem to think Monkey Knife Fight is delicious. While Tower makes an IPA called Haze The Bills, Monkey Knife Fight has quickly become the brewery’s flagship.

“It’s literally all we can do to keep that beer in kegs and in cans,” Ungerbuhler said.

That’s saying something. Tower has two 30-barrel fermenters making nothing but Monkey Knife Fight. Each batch is over 900 gallons of beer. There’s a new batch ready for canning and kegging every 10 or 11 days.

And they can’t make enough of it.

“We’re chasing our tails to keep up with the demand for it,” Rosatelli said.

Part of that demand comes from nostalgia; bars and restaurants knew the name of the beer. Tower targeted big accounts that used to carry Monkey Knife Fight.

Fittingly for a guy going to see a Dead and Company concert, Rosatelli has plans to resurrect another Rubicon beer. Tower will produce a batch of an English old ale named Rosebud, after one of Jerry Garcia’s guitars. The beer will be released Aug. 1 for Garcia’s birthday.

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