Il Vicino holds a steady course as 20th anniversary looms

Posted: December 26, 2013 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2013-14

Welcome to our ninth 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, Marble, Sandia Chile Grill, Broken Bottle, Tractor, and Nexus, so click the links if you missed the stories.

So before holiday madness got its claws into me (Stoutmeister), I headed over to the Il Vicino Canteen to talk to brewer Brady McKeown about what he and the rest of the mad scientists have planned for 2014 after a busy 2013. Though Brady claimed it’s “mostly boring stuff,” I think Il Vicino has more than enough to keep us entertained beyond their goofy photos and promotions on social media.

It was Il Vicino's turn for an interview this week. A pint of Sweet Sandarine Porter was the drink of choice.

It was Il Vicino’s turn for an interview this week. A pint of Sweet Sandarine Porter was the drink of choice.

Reflecting on 2013

The biggest moment of the year for Il Vicino was when the brewery brought home a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for their Panama Joe Coffee Stout.

“It’s always fun, at least for the brewers, to do the competitions and see how you’re doing,” Brady said. “We did well, so we’re happy for that. We hope a little bit of that has translated into new faces in the seats.”

The rest of the year did not have any other singular moments, just a lot of steady growth and progress.

“It was great,” Brady said. “Increased growth. We brewed more beer. We saw a lot of new faces. We sold more beer, which is nice. So business is up; it’s industry-wide, it’s nothing unusual. It’s been good.”

Seeing five other New Mexico breweries bring home another seven GABF medals this year was also a good sign for brewing in the state.

It was a big year for Il Vicino's Panama Joe Coffee Stout, which brought home a gold medal from GABF.

It was a big year for Il Vicino’s Panama Joe Coffee Stout, which brought home a gold medal from GABF.

“It’s growing just like everywhere else,” Brady said. “We’re just lucky that we have some talented people. I’m not including myself in that. But Ted (Rice of Marble) is extremely smart, Jeff (Erway of La Cumbre) is extremely smart (and) we have some good guys popping up that are making good beer.”

The big surprise of the year was that Il Vicino’s Exodus was finally dethroned after a three-year reign at the IPA Challenge. Blue Corn’s Resurgence came in and absolutely crushed all competition in its path.

Brady said he expects his staff to be prepared to try and take the trophy back in the year to come.

“Well there’s always motivation,” Brady said. “We’re always excited for a good fight. But good for (Blue Corn’s John Bullard). Good for him to show he can do good things and that he’s a good brewer.”

The loss of the trophy was both good and bad for Il Vicino.

“It’s bittersweet, because it took some pressure off,” Brady said. “Everybody was gunning for us. It got a little nasty, but still in a fun way. We’re not going to throw it this year. We’re definitely going to try to win (it back). It makes it fun, I think, especially for the customers. It’s not fun if somebody just wins all the time. You know how it is in sports, like the Yankee syndrome. People start to love to hate us.”

Other notable events this year included Il Vicino’s annual Malt Madness competition, where its own beers go head to head in blind taste tests to determine the public’s favorite; the Cask Fest, which was held at the Canteen; the Hop Kwon Do and Solstice Blackout sampler trays of goodness; and numerous smaller events for members of the brewery’s mug club.

Il Vicino's 20th anniversary celebration may be similar to 2012's Year of Beer festival, taking place inside and outside of the Canteen.

Il Vicino’s 20th anniversary celebration may be similar to 2012’s Year of Beer festival, taking place inside and outside of the Canteen.

Preparing for big things in 2014

To prepare for our interview, Brady went back and read up on the other breweries’ stories for this series. He does not have anything to share as exciting, in his opinion, as Bosque’s new brewhouse or Broken Bottle talking about canning their beers or Nexus possibly opening a second location. Still, it does not mean it will be all quiet at the Canteen in the coming year.

“We’ve been around for a long time, which brings me to the first thing I wanted to mention is that we’re having our 20th anniversary in 2014 and we will have a 20th anniversary party,” he said.

The event’s exact date has not been set, but Brady said it will be during the summertime and could be similar to the Year of Beer festival held in 2012 that was not repeated in 2013 due to cost issues and the like.

“We’re saving beers for it,” Brady said. “We even have, I can’t guarantee they’re all OK, but we have (St. Bob’s) Imperial Stout from ’07, ’08, ’10 and this year. We’re hoping those older ones are OK, still.”

Cask Fest will return to Il Vicino on May 31 with a slightly different format.

Cask Fest will return to Il Vicino on May 31 with a slightly different format.

Cask Fest will be return, though the format may be different and it won’t be held until May 31 at the end of ABQ Beer Week instead of earlier in the year.

“It will just be Il Vicino Cask Fest,” Brady said. “As far as the Brewers Guild is concerned, they have a lot on their plate. It wasn’t much of a fundraiser for them so they’re not going to put their effort into it. We don’t want them to put money or effort into something that doesn’t benefit them. We’ll just do it.

“We still may invite a few people if they want to come. We have an idea where we get the employees involved, and get them to come up with an idea. We’ll do it, but if we can name the beers after the employees and get 10 of them, that will be fun for them as well. That’s the way we’re leaning right now.”

One temporary change that will affect the Il Vicino restaurants has come as a result of some reinterpretation of the state’s liquor laws. In the past, each restaurant had a brewing license, even though all the brewing is done at the Canteen. That enabled Il Vicino to supply its own pizza parlors with its own beer, but that will change in 2014. Now Il Vicino must get a wholesalers license, so if you head over to Nob Hill or up on Montgomery to get a slice, you may not be able to order a pint for a little while.

When things are eventually resolved via the new license, it could open the door ever so slightly for Il Vicino to begin selling more beer to other bars and restaurants. Brady said not to suddenly expect Wet Mountain IPA to pop up all over town, since there are currently no plans to expand on the brewery’s seven-barrel system. There is still some talk about opening a second taproom, but that talk has been going on for the last two years with no resolution.

There has also been some talk of doing some limited bottling or canning, though that would force a reduction in the number of beers offered at the Canteen. All those wild and crazy seasonal offerings are a big draw for customers.

Yes, it's true, Il Vicino is planning on brewing a beer in honor of the six of us. We're still dancing jigs as a result of this news.

Yes, it’s true, Il Vicino is planning on brewing a beer in honor of the six of us. We’re still dancing jigs as a result of this news.

“It’s fun for us, trying new things, trying new grain, trying different yeast,” Brady said. “So as far as from the business side of it, it may not make the best sense, but if we do start distributing … if that happens, which probably will not happen, then a lot of these specialities may be gone. I’m torn. Either way is good. It doesn’t mean we have to have 14 beers on tap. We can drop a few and still have plenty.”

And as a final note before we wrapped up the interview, Brady dropped this on the Crew: “I was going to have Zach break the news, but we’re going to come up with Dark Side Brew Crew something,” he said. “We’ll come up with something, something dark of course. We’re thinking maybe an oatmeal stout or a cream stout.”

Once I got my jaw off the floor, we started discussing ideas, recipes, and more. The Crew will be meeting this weekend to start the process of creating our own beer with Il Vicino (don’t worry, they’ll brew it, we just get to have a little input). To say we’re stoked would be the understatement of the year. Heck, of all time. With luck, our resident member of the film industry, Porter Pounder, will even be able to take everyone behind the scenes with his camera as Brady and Zach and the rest of the IV mad scientists make the first Dark Side Brew Crew beer. We can’t wait to try and create a beer everyone will love, and with the IV staff handling the actual brewing, we know we’ll be in good hands.

* * * *

A big, BIG thanks to Brady, plus Zach and Doug, who also stopped by later to chat for a bit. And thanks for the pint and the Piggly Wiggly, one of the best pulled pork sandwiches anywhere on the planet. Hey, a beer writer has to eat, or else he has trouble walking straight, much less driving home.

This series will wrap up, temporarily, with Turtle Mountain on Friday. I am still working to get a hold of Back Alley, Cazuela’s, and Chama River, but those may not appear until after the calendar flips to 2014. Fear not, for the Crew will still have plenty of content in the new year.

Until then, we’ll keep everybody updated on the Dark Side beer’s progress at Il Vicino, mostly through social media, and then hopefully via video on YouTube, and lots of stories and still photographs of us grinning like mad fools.


— Stoutmeister

  1. Thomas Molitor says:

    II Vicino is the benchmark for all breweries in town, in that after 20 years it is still brewing great beer while creating a great companionable, unpretentious canteen atmosphere. When I am in the canteen, I can almost feel the spirit of Hawkeye and Trapper John enjoying a break away from surgery over a pint of Panama Joe.

  2. […] Il Vicino holds a steady course as 20th anniversary looms […]

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