Lava Rock Brewing erupts with updated beer lineup and kitchen partnership

Just in case anyone out there did not know that M’tucci’s and Lava Rock have joined forces, well, now you do. That’s chef/manager Fred Gallegos at the helm.

Greetings and prost, fellow beer aficionados! Franz Solo here after a bit of a hiatus due to the arrival of my daughter over the summer. I began my part of our yearly Look Back/Look Ahead Series with a quick trip over to my neighborhood (Taylor Ranch) brewery, M’tuccis at Lava Rock Brewing.

For those unfamiliar with M’tuccis, it’s rather well one of my very favorite local purveyors of fine italian cuisine, from which one can sometimes find jamon iberico, which is simply one of the greatest culinary delights on the planet to my taste. My wife and I made many visits to M’tuccis in the summer of ’18 for charcuterie and pizza, which were simply awesome. So that kind of sets the stage on the culinary front, though I certainly encourage you to try whatever your fancy on the menu. I have yet to find a dish I didn’t enjoy.

On the brewery side, we had the privilege to do a collaboration Scottish ale brew on the initial 1-barrel pilot system with assistant brewer Steve Siciliano. The brewery itself was not yet complete, and at that time head brewer Ram Khalsa was just nearing his starting date. Suffice to say, the transformation since then is simply put remarkable.

The 10-barrel brewery is fully installed and up and running, with all taps devoted to beer brewed in house. Having tried a full gamut of the offerings, I can attest to the quality and passion that Ram and Steven put into each and every pint and it shows. Without further ado, as is our wont for the Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I give you my discussion with head brewer Ram and chef/manager Fred Gallegos in their own words.  

Solo: Looking back over this past year, what were the successes over the course of the last year and what sort of challenges? What interesting things might have happened?

Fred: Well, I just came on in the middle of July this year with M’tuccis. We took over the kitchen and about two months after that I was asked to take over the front of the house as well. So that’s where I came in. At that same time is when Ram finished brewing all of our own beer.

Ram: Yeah, we had all of our beers on at that point.

Solo: So you’ve been working up to that for a while.

Ram: Once we had the system installed it was basically just a mad rush to try to get all of the taps filled. 

Solo: And, all of the fermenters and the brites and so forth.

Ram: Yeah, and once we kind of leveled out then Fred took over. We did one beer (and food) pairing and we are planning on doing quite a bit more because it went really well. 

Solo: I mean, it makes sense when you have great food and great beer. 

Fred: Exactly, and every time I do a menu I always pair it with our beer so that everything works well together. 

Solo: Complementing each other. 

Fred: Yeah, complementing, it’s the whole basis of my menu here at M’tuccis at Lava Rock. 

Solo: So making the malts and the hops stand out with the pizza or whatever they are going with?

Fred: Yeah, with the pizza, or the eggplant parmesan, or wings.

Solo: Hey, beer goes great with wings.

Ram: We had to bring the wings back. They’re delicious, too. What, you brine them for 24 hours and then … ?

Fred: And, slow roast them for four hours. 

Solo: Outstanding. 

Head brewer Ram Khalsa, left, and assistant brewer Steve Siciliano have been hard at work creating some excellent lagers.

Ram: So on the west side here people don’t really go for the IPA first. It’s usually a question of what do you have that’s like Bud Light or Budweiser. 

Solo: Yeah, there are a lot of transplants over here, so it’s just kind of natural.

Ram: And, that’s fine with me because I prefer lagers anyway. So we have four lagers on tap, and I try to keep things pretty balanced, so that way there’s nothing too in your face, whether it be hop or whatever other flavor. We do have a double IPA and the IPA drinkers do like that (I certainly enjoyed my sample of the 32 Bravo DIPA; citrus grapefruit, dank with nice pine notes as well. — Solo), we use not run-of-the-mill hops for which I really like — Loral, Azacca, Simcoe. I love Loral, that’s something I’ve learned. So anyway, we try to focus on drinkability and I think we’ve struck a good balance as far as hoppy category (versus) malty category. It’s been great, too. I’ve had a helluva time. But, I really do feel like we are on the up and up, we have everything set right. We have a neighbor of ours who is into mycology and has a knack for microbiology. (He) has a lot of the equipment and that helped a lot with our yeast harvesting and such. Our fermentation has gotten 100-percent better because of it. 

Solo: Yeast as I’ve learned is really everything. You feed your yeast, you pitch enough yeast for your wort, you are going to end up with a pretty good beer. And, it gives you a little bit of leeway if other things don’t quite go right for whatever reason. If all else fails if your yeast is happy, then it’s giving you a clean fermentation and all of the right kind of flavors, but if not then you’re screwed. 

Ram: What I realized what that most brewers and brewing people consider yeast as just an ingredient, but really it’s everything. 

Solo: So any interesting things on the horizon for this coming year?

Fred: So we just got our distribution license. We are going to be moving forward with that. We are going to be having a Birra a M’tuccis.

Ram: Yeah, an Italian lager that will be served at all of the M’tuccis locations.

Solo: Outstanding. (As a lover of lagers these days, getting to try a proper Italian style locally whets my palate, as the only examples we can typically find here are oxidized and less than fresh imports from overseas. Suffice to say, I’m really exited about this birra.)

Fred: We have a couple other accounts that are going to start off right away.

Solo: Nice, get yourselves out in the market a bit.

Ram: Yeah, and nothing crazy, just a few taps well within our ability. With the focus on equality, where in a lot of other places it’s kind of focused on one or the other, where here our food and beer are both equal partners. 

Solo: Food done right, beer done right.

Ram: That’s the plan. We will have more food and beer pairings coming up as well. 

Solo: Anything else you want to add particularly?

Ram: What I want people to know is that while it seems far getting over to the west side, if you plug it into Google Maps, I guarantee it’s only 10 minutes away from wherever you are.

Fred: And, we have a kick-ass happy hour 3 to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and we have weekend specials, Sunday football specials, and stuff like that. 

Ram: And, everything Fred makes is from scratch.

Fred: It’s a from scratch kitchen. All of my bread is a three-day fermentation. Today’s bread started three days ago, no commercial yeast. In any of my bread or pizzas there is no commercial yeast at all. Charcuterie is also really good, top notch stuff. 

Solo: Most definitely, as I can attest to from many visits to M’tuccis deli and so forth.

After our interview I stayed to try several of Ram’s beers, ranging in style from lager to IPA, Berliner Weisse, red ale, and brett sour, and found them all quite tasty and quaffable. In particular, his lagers really hit the spot for me, and rest assured I’ll be enjoying, oh, just a few pints with some delicious food at my neighborhood brewery.

It’s quite a rarity these days to have such great food married to some really lovely beers, and that alone to me makes M’tuccis at Lava Rock rather unique. If you haven’t been in a while, I highly recommend heading back over, and if you’ve never been, it is definitely worth checking out.

In any event, enjoy some brews and great food on the west side, and until we meet again, I bid you good eating, and prost!

— Franz Solo

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