Quarter Celtic Brewpub owners Brady and Ror McKeown came prepared this time around. After our Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry last year got a bit, ahem, long-winded, they had a plan to keep things from going off the rails this time around. Fear not, however, they still managed to keep things appropriately off-beat, which is the norm for the brewpub on the corner of San Mateo and Lomas.
“(2018) flew by, so it’s amazing to me that in a couple weeks here we’ve got our three-year anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day,” Ror said. “It was super fast. I think our first year seemed like it took a long time. Now things are just ramping up, which is great.”
The past year was a big one for Quarter Celtic, with more medals on the wall and customers in the seats.
“Looking back on 2018, Brady did a great job on the beer,” Ror said. “He hit the trifecta. I’ll let him talk about that, but we’re pleased how it turned out.”
So what is the trifecta?
“In our mind (it was) the three big competitions we medaled in,” Ror said. “In the Great American Beer Festival we got bronze for the Mocha Hipster Bomb with Palmer (Brewery). Brady’s brewing it again, so keep an eye out. We got a silver at World Beer Cup for Pedro (O’Flanagan’s Mexican Lager). And then, North American Beer Awards, we got two, so we got a bronze for the MacLomas Stout and a silver for Pedro. In our minds, those were some of the bigger competitions where you can gauge where you brewery is at on a national level, even a world level, I guess. It’s nice, because a couple of those beers are our house beers.”
The good news is the one specialty beer on the list, Mocha Hipster Bomb, has just been brewed again.
“I’ll have that on more often than not,” Brady said. “A medal at GABF is always good, it doesn’t matter what it’s for. But, I mean, you look at the other winners, that’s really good company to be in.”
“On a side note, it was one of the first ones (announced), so I didn’t have to pop any antacids or anything,” Ror added.
The past year also saw a fair amount of experimentation for Brady in all of the newer styles of beer that are starting to catch the attention of the general public. Even for someone who has been brewing for almost 25 years, like Brady, there are still new styles to learn.
“It’s always fun to (try) a couple new styles,” Brady said. “The new hazy IPAs, the fruited goses, or Catalina sours, or whatever they call them now. It was fun to try new things. It’s always fun to learn something new.”
“There are some beers that people may not like, but Brady wants to try the style,” Ror added. “We’re going to throw it out there.”
“That’s the fun of a brewpub, we don’t have to put it in a can,” Brady said. “That is fun. That’s sort of the whole M.O. of Quarter Celtic — fun. It’s a fun place to be, a fun place to hang out, and it translates into the beer, too.”
Heck, there is even a sign about all of that adorning the south wall behind the bar.
The brothers McKeown have kept things upbeat since their days together at Canteen Brewhouse, and even long before that.
“For me, I always look forward to coming to work with Brady, because (he’s) a fun person to hang out with, keeps things light,” Ror said. “We definitely have a nice rapport going, 50 years in the making.
“Then life’s been good, because we have a great staff. Our customer base is fantastic. It really is refreshing coming to work, which is kind of a phrase that many people don’t put together.”
The beer, however, remains key to making sure the public is enjoying the pub as much as the staff. Brady said there have been a few tweaks here and there with the equipment.
“It may not make it easier to brew, but hopefully we’re making the beer better, which is always the focus,” he said. “Now we’ve got an RO (reverse osmosis) system, and a new cold liquor tank, so now we get the fermenter back that we were using for cold water.”
Those minor fixes/upgrades might not seem like much, but in the end it all comes down to the pending addition of the first offsite taproom for Quarter Celtic.
“That kind of leads us to looking forward, because some of the things we’re doing is getting ready for doubling the number of barrels that we’re going to be selling as Quarter Celtic,” Ror said. “Early on, we got the wholesale license so we could get our name out there. We still have some capacity in this brewery, but right now we’re in the process of kind of pulling some of the wholesale back. Because we know if we keep wholesale where it was and we open the taproom, then this brewery wouldn’t keep up.”
“Somebody would be disappointed, and eventually many people (would as well),” Brady added. “Just mathematically looking at what we sold, what we sold wholesale, what we sold in house, looking at the seats we’re going to have in the new place, we figured we should give people warning that we’re pulling out so we can supply our customers.”
The taproom will be located at 1930 Juan Tabo NE, between Indian School and Menaul, on the east side of the street. It will be about 3,000 square feet, which is smaller than the main location, but odds are it will be just as busy.
As for when it will be open, Ror said he is hopeful that things will be up and running before the summer.
“Probably early May, (but) you can always throw a date out there (and hope),” Ror said. “The building, we love the location, but we’re doing a lot of infrastructure type things that needed to happen to it. It just slows the process down.”
“It saves a lot of money, though, when Ror does it all himself,” Brady added.
Essentially, the space has now been cleared out and prepared for the eventual build-up to becoming functional.
“We’ve got Lee (Wilson) coming in here this week, so things should speed up,” Ror said, referring to another of Quarter Celtic’s owners. “We’ve got all the dirty, time-consuming things out of the way. Now it’s just trying to turn it into what we think an Irish pub should be like. That’s a little stressful, because we’re going to turn a strip mall into an Irish pub.”
While Ror has been away, Brady and the staff at the main location have been busy preparing for the anniversary party that starts March 16 and continues through the infamous Irish holiday.
“On that one, we’re going to do a two-day event again,” Ror said. “So this is going to be Saturday-Sunday, and pretty much mirror itself (from last year). We’re bringing in the pipers, the dancers, the band. It will be set up pseudo-beerfest style like we’ve done the past two years, which just from a volume (standpoint) is the only way we can pull it off. Otherwise there would be three-hour waits.
“Inside will still be full service and probably a really long wait. Outside it’s fend for yourself, get your own beer, we will have food out there. You may get to sit down, you may have to stand. But, it’s worked well the last couple years. People have enjoyed it. They understand that those two days, you’re not going to be able to come in and get the nachos, because you’ve got to slim the menu, too. Anything Celtic you can do is on that limited menu for those two days.”
Brady will have a few special beers available, as he has in the past.
“We saved some of the Irish Handcuffs, (barrel) aged, as well as Kill or be Kilt,” Brady said. “We’ve only got a couple kegs of the stout, so that will go fast. But, definitely, we have more beers (ready) than we have taps right now. We’re going to try to get the Mocha Hipster on for the anniversary. … Hopefully we’ll have the Clark (Hazy IPA) back on.”
Clark should replace the popular Never Cry Wolf-Dragon DIPA, which is running low this week, so go over and help drink it up, if that is your preferred style.
In the end, everything happening now is about gearing up for the taproom opening later this year.
“Basically for us, looking forward is just the logistics of two places,” Ror said. “Before we were always here. I mean, Brady is still always here, but when it comes to the management side of it, I’m out, Lee’s out, but we’ve turned it over to capable hands with Allison (York, general manager) and Caroline (Marquez, assistant general manager) running the show here. Now we’re focused on QC 2. Once that one is up and running, we’ll be back and forth.”
Oh, and do not fret, once QC 2 is open, Ror and Brady and the rest of their team will get back to making those wonderful, wacky YouTube videos. Who knows, maybe the Crew will even show up in one of those at some point. Or, maybe there will be one that honors the movie Shaun of the Dead, since several of our friends frequently refer to Quarter Celtic as “The Winchester.”
For now, we just suggest everyone head over to QC for a nice cold pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.
A huge thanks to Ror and Brady for the interview, the laughs, and a pint of No, You’re a Dort.