La Cumbre celebrates year three while preparing for an exciting year four

Posted: December 9, 2013 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2013-14
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Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister here with the first post in what we’re calling the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2013-14. As the year draws to a close, rather than just write up a single summary review of the last 12 months in beer, I decided to take all this free time I have and go talk in person to breweries in the ABQ area to get their thoughts on both the year that was and the year to come.

Among the many highlights of 2013 for La Cumbre was the release of their second beer in cans, Slice of Hefen.

Among the many highlights of 2013 for La Cumbre was the release of their second beer in cans, A Slice of Hefen.

First up on the interview list was La Cumbre president Jeff Erway, who sat down to chat in advance of his brewery’s third anniversary party, which will kick off all day Tuesday. The party will feature the debut of a new Belgian Quad as the third anniversary beer, plus they’re bringing out some aged second anniversary Russian Imperial Stout, and some additional special cask beers. Reviva will be playing music starting at 7 p.m. and The Supper Truck will be outside to keep everyone’s bellies full of good food and not just good beer. For additional info, check La Cumbre’s official website. The Crew will, of course, be in attendance. Maybe not all six of us, but I hope at least half of us.

Anyway, with that event about to go down, Jeff and I sat down in his spacious new office to discuss the year that was and the year to come.

Reflecting on 2013

As this year draws to a close, La Cumbre is getting bigger, quite literally. The brewery has moved into the space on its north side, giving it new offices, an actual conference room, and additional storage space. While all that has been going on behind the scenes, La Cumbre has begun canning just its second beer for distribution, A Slice of Hefen (hefeweizen). All of that, plus a new baby at home, has kept Jeff a very busy man.

“I think we as a company sort of hit our stride with production,” he said. “Certainly we’ve greatly improved just our shelf stability on our IPA, which has certainly kind of prepped us for getting the hefeweizen out there. There’s a big difference between being a brewpub brewer and a production brewer. One of those main differences is coming to grips with the reality that your beer has to survive far long than just going into a serving tank or a keg.”

In addition to canning another beer, Jeff and his right-hand man, brewer Daniel Jaramillo, have expanded the staff in the back.

Just about every time we stopped by La Cumbre this year it was full of customers either drinking the beer on site or filling up their growlers.

Just about every time we stopped by La Cumbre this year it was full of customers either drinking the beer on site or filling up their growlers.

“The greatest thing that’s happened in 2013 is the addition of brewing staff that Daniel and I have done a good job of training to do a lot of the day-to-day production for us,” Jeff said. “They’re extremely intelligent, capable people that are passionate about what we do. That allows us a great deal of freedom to do what we really want to do. For me, it’s not just about what I want to do but what I feel needs to happen. La Cumbre needs to have someone driving the creative flow and someone taking on the projects. That’s what I intend to do for 2014, take on many, many projects.”

That renewed drive for Jeff stems not only from how he feels about his own performance in the year gone by, but also from the new addition to his household.

“Overall I’ve got to say just from a perspective of me I’m almost a little disappointed in myself in that I feel like a lot of 2013 I just sat on my hands and didn’t really grab the bull by the horns as much as I should have, maybe,” Jeff said. “And to that end, it’s taken us a year-and-a-half to get another beer into cans.

“But it’s kind of funny when my first son was born, Miles, right towards the end there, September of 2010, the birth of Miles was kind of imminent and I felt like somebody lit a (fire) under me. I just got a burst of energy and that helped me get through the first few months of the brewery getting open. I feel the same thing now that Owen’s been born. I know what my wife experiences when she looks in the eyes of our kid, but I feel like whenever I look into the eyes of my son Owen, it’s just an absolute inspiration and grab this opportunity I’ve been given by the horns as much as possible.”

Jeff does not want people to think that he believes 2013 was a disappointing year for his brewery. There were still plenty of big moments, including the Project Dank IPA series that wound up earning La Cumbre a bronze medal in the American IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival in October. That category alone had well over 200 entries, making it the biggest and most competitive at GABF.

“I feel like while 2013 has been good to me no doubt — we’ll produce somewhere right around 5,000 barrels this year — I feel like 2014 already is going to be a better year than 2013 was. Like I said, 2013 wasn’t a bad year. I just feel like for me as a person I just feel like I became a little too satisfied with things going the way they were. In 2012 we kind of hit our stride with La Cumbre and I kind of became satisfied with things. I didn’t really … in 2013 I guess I feel like I didn’t do enough to continue to push that.”

Preparing for big things in 2014

The new year will bring plenty of new beer to La Cumbre, while fans will also be able to take more of their favorite beers home and not just in growlers. There is a new bottling line in the brewery that will enable them to put specialty beers like the aforementioned Third Anniversary Belgian Quad in 22-ounce bombers. The award-winning Project Dank will also be bottle and there is a chance, Jeff said, to possibly can that popular hop bomb as well. In addition, the 2013 Brew Crew Stout Challenge winner, Malpais Stout, will soon be available in cans in late January/early February, Jeff said, though he could guarantee an exact release date just yet.

Now that La Cumbre has expanded into the space on the north side of the building, there will be a lot more space for storing and aging beers like these.

Now that La Cumbre has expanded into the space on the north side of the building, there will be a lot more space for storing and aging beers like these.

That theme of brewery expansion, either in terms of production or distribution or just the actual physical size of the facilities, might be the biggest overall theme around Albuquerque in 2014. Though La Cumbre now has more space than it did a year ago, it will be a more gradual increase for Jeff and his staff. Expansion can be a daunting challenge for any brewery, he said.

“You’re going to see a very clear delineation from the brewers that can consistently produce quality beer from the ones that can’t yet,” Jeff said. “Because those bad batches of years aren’t three-barrel batches or seven-barrel batches, they’re enormous batches and thousands can have pints from them.”

In addition, an increase in production and/or distribution can lead to an increase in competition, which can be eye-opening for many companies.

“The production side of things is not particularly easy,” Jeff said. “It’s not very profitable. You get into a side of the beverage industry, not the brewing industry, mind you, a side of the beverage industry that’s not in any way friendly and in every way competitive. The owners of two major breweries can come together at the craft brewers conference, shake hands, go out to dinner together … at the end of the day, their beer is very much competing for shelf space. Their beer is very much in direct competition. It doesn’t mean that they’re not friendly, it just means that you’re competing, not kind of competing, really competing.”

That does not mean, however, that Jeff would discourage other breweries from expansion. The more good beer out in the marketplace can only help the reputation of Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole, as a state that produces good craft beer.

“I applaud anyone that wants to grow their business,” Jeff said. “I truly hope that any and all breweries in this city and other cities are doing it for the right reasons. In my mind that’s to hopefully supply our collective customers with a truly good, quality product. I think most of them do, most of them intend to do that. I know for a fact some of them don’t. It’s their own prerogative and their battle to win or lose.

“Growing is something we’ve experienced a lot of it and it’s daunting. But it provides a great deal of excitement for a lot of people involved.”

As for La Cumbre itself, Jeff said his plans are to continue the solid, steady growth the brewery has already experienced.

Wonderful dark beers like these are proof that La Cumbre is not just a brewery for hopheads.

Wonderful dark beers like these are proof that La Cumbre is not just a brewery for hopheads.

“Our goals for 2014 is a lot of development of the La Cumbre brand,” Jeff said. “We’re going to do a lot to release new and interesting one-off beers to people on the production side of things which we will distribute. We want to continue to develop our reputation as New Mexico’s finest craft brewery, if you will. And we also want to, hoping to get people to recognize that La Cumbre is truly good at producing beers other than just hop bombs.

“Obviously people are interested in what Daniel and I can do with the different hops we have. That’s great and we love producing such beers. That being said we do want to keep some leeway for other brands. For our third anniversary we’ve produced a Belgian-style quad that I’m really proud of. It’s bottle-conditioned, 10-percent alcohol, it’s going to be coming out here (this) week. We’re going to be releasing Cafe con Leche in bottles, Project Dank in bottles next month.”

In many ways, 2014 for La Cumbre will all be in preparation for some big moves in 2015.

“We are going to grow a little bit as far as capacity-wise,” Jeff said. “More than that we’re going to continue to fill out the space we already have. I’m going to do my damnedest to grow to the point that by 2015 we can justify to everyone that it’s the right time to invest in a 30-barrel brewhouse and a full scale bottling line. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be abandoning cans in any way shape or form. We’re going to continue to produce cans. We’re going to have three (products) on the shelf this winter.”

* * * *

A big thanks to Jeff from taking time out of his very busy schedule to sit down and talk. And yes, we both had a beer in hand during the interview (he went with the 2012 Barley’s Wine, I had to try the new Cabra Fuerte, a sweet, malt-forward bock that proves what Jeff said above, that he and Daniel are quite good at producing beers other than hop monsters). All of us in the Crew have enjoyed the time we’ve spent at La Cumbre in 2013 and are looking forward to more good times in 2014.

Oh, yeah, and I plan to buy up as much of the Malpais Stout in cans when they hit the shelves. My nickname would not be Stoutmeister if I didn’t do that, now would it?

And since folks always love to know what’s coming up, here is our schedule for more in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series. As always, things are subject to change, mostly due to the fact I have not set up interviews at all the breweries. At least not yet.

Tuesday — Bosque Brewing; Wednesday — Kaktus Brewing; Thursday — a special separate from the series story about the 12 Beers of Christmas at Santa Fe Brewing; Friday — Marble Brewing; next Monday or Tuesday — Sandia Chile Grill; next Wednesday or Thursday — Nexus Brewery; TBD — Back Alley Draft House, Broken Bottle, Chama River, Il Vicino, Tractor, Turtle Mountain

All of that plus E-Rock’s The Week Ahead in Beer should keep us plenty busy. In addition, we will be at SFBC for the Babes in Brewland’s beer release on Saturday at 2 p.m. (yes, that is part of the 12 Beers of Christmas series). And next week is Marble’s Reserve Ale release party on Wednesday, Dec. 18. Who says beer news slows down for the holidays?

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Comments
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