Welcome to our fifth entry in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2013-14. This series is designed to give a recap, from the breweries themselves, of 2013 while also previewing all that is to come in 2014. We have already visited La Cumbre, Bosque, Kaktus, and Marble, so click the links if you missed the stories.
After stopping by this past Sunday to talk a little beer science — we’ll have more on that in January — I, Stoutmeister, returned to Sandia Chile Grill on Wednesday afternoon to talk with brewer Clint Coker about the year that was and the year to come. Clint made sure I was properly fueled for the interview with a pint of Rio Negro Milk Stout. When in Rome, right?
Reflecting on 2013
Sandia Chile Grill started brewing its own beer midway through 2012, meaning 2013 was its first full year as a microbrewery, in addition to still being a popular restaurant in the Northeast Heights. As with any smaller microbrewery, SCG found itself constantly up against the constraints of the available space.
“Well, we got into the brewing industry and we decided to create our own system,” Clint said. “As we started to build our system and put it together we had some trouble as far as fermentation and how we were going to do it like everybody else as far as collecting our yeast and recapturing that nice (batch). So that forced to start propagating our own yeast. It’s given us heightened viability over what we can get through the labs. We’ve actually got a strain we think we could start selling (back) to them. It’s a little bit different from what they actually sell.”
As Clint has gotten into a groove with his system and the yeast propagation (the Crew will have more on that specifically in January), it has increased his rate of production and the quality of the beer.
“Out here we’re fermenting quicker,” Clint said. “We’ve gone from 30-day, 40-day to five- to-10-day ferments. We can turn barrels three times a month now. Our beer is cleaner. It’s got better esters.”
That has shown up on the awards front, as SCG pulled in multiple medals at the State Fair this year, including a bronze for cider, a silver for Barb’s Barrel Hefeweizen, and multiple medals for their meads, including best of show.
SCG has also established a routine of brewing lower ABV beers in the summer and higher in the winter.
“Now one thing we do is we do a smaller beer, five- to six-percent (ABV) beer during the summer, then as winter rolls on we boost it up to seven- to eight- to give them a little more for their money,” Clint said. “I’ve noticed people come in during the summer and they want to drink more beer. They come in during the winter and they only want one. During the summer we don’t want them getting drunk and during the winter we want to give them more value.”
The most vexing aspect of the past year for Clint has been his Rattlesnake IPA.
“If IPA wasn’t so popular I would not make that,” he said. “It has eluded us and eluded us. I’m getting ready to do a new IPA. I’m hoping this one will stick. We’re going to do Cascade and Northern Brewer (hops). Cascade is one of the hops we have a lot of luck with for our Irish Red and our Amber. It would be a bit bitter for those IPAs. We did an ESB last Christmas just with the Northern Brewer and that went really well. We’re going to do that again this Christmas as well. We’ll let the people decide whether they want the ESB or the IPA. That’s the one I’ll stick with for the hop fans.”
SCG has also fixed a few things in the back that have helped improve the consistency and quality of the beer.
“We’ve fixed our fridge recently so everything is colder,” Clint said. “I think the beer right now, being colder and also being able to keep our back room colder, our beer is better than it’s ever been. Now it’s trying to get past this little hump trying to help Desert Water Brewing. I’m down to two flavors, man, and I’d like to have eight on tap. We’re trying to stock up before the end of the year.”
Desert Water is a friend’s operation just outside of Artesia that has only recently opened.
“We’ve got the licensing for them,” Clint said. “I’m actually teaching them how to brew right now. I went up there last week and I brewed a hefeweizen with them. It’s just going to be a wheat pitched with American ale. They’re carrying our pilsner and our Irish red. They were carrying our stout. But as time goes they’re going to have all their own flavors.”
Preparing for big things in 2014
Like many successful smaller microbreweries, SCG is starting to outgrow its available space. They are hardly alone in the Albuquerque metro area among breweries seeking to increase physical space and/or production capacity in the coming year.
“I need a bigger space,” Clint said. “We’re in the works for that. We’re always trying to move, find a bigger, better place.”
The groundwork for preparing to move has already begun on the brewing front.
“And then again the yeast, being able to brew it three times a month instead of once a month, that’s a huge change for us, it really was,” Clint said. “It’s made us look at our own equipment that we’ve designed and realize we can push it even further. We can make it even bigger before we have to expand to a seven-barrel system. All of the stuff we’re using now, we can use as far as wine-making and distilling. We’re pretty happy. We think we can get, seriously, about twice the brewery we have now and start putting beer out there in the community and start getting rocking and rolling.”
The headaches that come with zoning and licensing are something that a possible move for SCG could help alleviate.
“If we get that location one of the first things we’re going to be doing is to change our license to that location as far as microbrew and then obtain a wine growers’ and growler license,” Clint said. “Not only are we going to sell our beer to the neighborhood, but we’ll sell our mead out to the community as well. We’ll start doing some ciders and wines as well. Out of this location our zoning is all screwed up.
“That used to be a brewery, that Southwest Eye Care (building in the same shopping center as SCG). That land still had exclusive rights so we had to cancel those exclusive rights and then we had to change our zoning and get exclusive rights. Now they’re fighting us on growlers, they’re telling us we have to have a special exceptions license. We’re just looking at it as we have to leave. We’re pretty sure we’ve found a (new) location.”
We in the Crew will be keeping a close eye on SCG’s situation and possible move. When the paperwork and all the rest goes through and they let us know, we will let our readers know where they can still get a beer and some good food to go with it.
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Thanks again to Clint for taking time out of what is usually his day off, and for the pint, of course.
The upcoming schedule for our series looks like this. As we’ve learned a couple times already, it is subject to change based on interview availability.
Friday — Broken Bottle, Monday — Tractor, Tuesday — Nexus, Wednesday — it’s Christmas, I’m taking the dang day off, Dec. 26 — Il Vicino, Dec. 27 — Turtle Mountain
Yeah, we may actually finish up this series before 2014 arrives. Damn, I probably just jinxed it.