Winter has settled on the Santa Cruz Mountains, and up old San Jose Road where Derek Mortisen lives with his wife, toddler and young twins, the air is cool and crisp as autumn leaves. It’s perfect weather for “coolship” brewing, Mortisen tells me, as he leads me down a path to the garage that serves as his brew house. Inside, oak barrels stacked floor-to-ceiling are filled with fermenting beer.
Mortisen’s new nanobrewery Soquel Fermentation Project specializes in coolship beers, which are produced in a seasonal, low-tech style that harnesses winter temperatures to cool beers naturally by exposing the freshly-brewed wort to the open air instead of cooling it mechanically in a closed environment. This process allows airborne yeasts and bacteria to settle in and create unique, terroir-driven flavors as the beers age in oak barrels anywhere from four to 20 months.
Mortisen began brewing just two years ago, after earning a Ph.D in chemistry, and in the last year his passion project has become a bona fide business. Since February 2017, he’s released six beers through Soquel Fermentation Project—four single-barrel beers and two blended creations—in 750 ml bottles and in kegs to local taphouses. Ranging in color from straw to molasses, all express the kind of sour, funky flavors that beer nerds go ga-ga over and a complexity that keeps the drinker intrigued through the last sip.
I adore all of them, especially Saison #1, a blend of three saisons with a tropical bouquet bursting with pineapple and guava—the result of late-stage dry-hopping with Mosaic hops—and a restrained acidity. Dark Farmhouse #2, aged with blackberries, is a burnt caramel-colored libation with a tartness that hits the center of my tongue before melting into dark fruit and chocolate.
Having found early success with his well-crafted brews, Mortisen plans to stay the course in 2018. He recently hired two brewers and sales managers to help keep everything running while he juggles a full-time job and family life. He hopes that with their help he will be able to increase distribution and the variety of beers available to maintain his current trajectory: “more of the same, but more of it,” he says.
Soquel Fermentation Project is at soquel.co.