Welcome to our tenth 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, Nexus, and Il Vicino, so click the links if you missed the stories.
For our final scheduled interview, I, Stoutmeister, hit the road to Rio Rancho on Tuesday afternoon. After navigating the mess that is Paseo del Norte, I sat down with Turtle Mountain owner Nico Ortiz to talk about the year that was and the year yet to be.
Reflecting on 2013
The toughest part of the year that was came when Turtle’s sister restaurant, Timbuctu, had to close its doors. Still, Nico was not going to let that drag down the whole year for him and his brewery.
“2013 overall was good,” he said. “Production was relatively flat, but obviously not being a distributing brewpub, that’s kind of the curse of being a brewpub. The only real way to increase production is either you have to have a ton more people coming through the doors buying beer (but) the economy is still somewhat soft on that, or you’ve gotta open up taprooms and stuff. We tried that in the first part of ’12 with our Timbuctu on the north side.
“Then the residuals of the real estate meltdown out there in Mariposa kind of came home to roost. Even with growlers and the taproom beer license out there, we could not get anybody to go out there. We sort of shuttered that in March.”
For the most part Turtle focused on keeping things going well at the main location, while also reorganizing their festival schedule.
“Certainly with the number of events … 2012 we had way too many events,” Nico said. “There were Guild events; I’m on the Brewers Guild board so I have an obligation to attend the events the Guild determines are official. There are Pork & Brew and Oktoberfest, which are two events that are significant money makers.
“This past year we had to share them, which meant less revenue, still good money-making events. Pork & Brew used to be all us and now it’s Cazuela’s and us. I can live with sharing that. Oktoberfest went from all us in 2012 to I think there were four of us in 2013, Cazuela’s, Santa Fe Brewing, us, and Kaktus. Obviously a little shot to the pocket book sharing those things. But I’m not going to throw my weight around and try to get exclusivity. From a business standpoint I could and should, but we’re not in this business to shut out other people. We’re in it to give other people exposure. It’s one of those things where sharing was necessary.
“I was glad in 2013 that the number of events went down. People still had a lot of events but we just chose not to participate in them. Being a brewpub instead of a packaging brewery I don’t have the need to get my name out there. If you’re a Santa Fe, if you’re a La Cumbre, if you’re a Marble, you have to constantly have your name out there.”
2013 saw other breweries moving closer to Turtle’s territory. From the Marble West Side Taproom to Kaktus in Bernalillo, Broken Bottle off Coors, and with the Stumbling Steer coming in 2014, the bar is being raised for Turtle.
“For the longest time I had this side of town to myself,” Nico said. “Obviously Milagro came and went. There will be a couple other places that I anticipate will come and go. The west side is where it’s at. That’s where the population is.
“I know some people are sniffing around Montano and Coors to put something there. I heard somebody talking North Valley. I’ve heard lots of stuff. This town can only handle so many places. I don’t want to see a bunch of half-barrel places go in. That doesn’t do justice. It’s really hard to make really damn good beer on systems when you don’t have the proper infrastructure.”
Turtle will take all the lessons of 2013 and apply them going forward.
“2013, it was a good year, but it was a retrenchment year,” Nico said. “I still have our two taproom licenses and as quickly as I can get another plan of action we’re going to go out there and open something up. Probably more along the lines or closer to what Marble is doing up there at Unser and McMahon. I definitely still agree that putting in a restaurant, at least on this side of town, is beneficial. With a lot of families and stuff the offering of food is kind of necessary. The food trucks and stuff in Albuquerque in the downtown-Nob Hill-Il Vicino corridor works well. Rio Rancho is very, very family heavy.”
Preparing for big things in 2014
The most immediate item on Turtle’s to-do list in the new year does not have to do with beer or satellite locations. It has to do with making life for the brewery’s customers a lot easier.
“I have a parking issue coming on line hopefully in January,” Nico said. “Most of 2014 is going to be spent, knock on wood, expanding our parking. So most of our attention and money is going to go to that. Any further expansion is going to have to get bumped back to 2015.”
Like many breweries in crowded areas, Turtle has long had an issue with fitting cars into the small lot outside while not disturbing their neighboring businesses.
“The city and I are working on a solution which I’m hoping the beginnings of which are going to come to fruition in January,” Nico said. “I’ve been working on the issue of parking for six years now. I would make a few steps going down one direction and that would not pan out. So we’d go another direction. It’s frustrating because it’s not been six years of working on this in terms of one specific plan. It’s working on any solution available to me at the time.
“Finally I think we have what is the solution, the final solution so that we don’t ever have to worry about parking ever again and the city and I can be done with this issue. I’ll have more details in January. I don’t want to jinx myself.”
Once that issue is out of the way, Turtle will be putting a renewed effort into their beer.
“We’re going to continue making 40 to 50 beers, hopefully some new recipes coming online,” Nico said. “We have some wine barrels in the back. The first crack at it … it needs much more focused attention. I’d like to get some bourbon barrels and join the crowd and so some barrel-aged stuff, bourbon, maybe some red wine and white wine. Hopefully we can do some small things like that in 2014.”
With places like the Stumbling Steer opening soon, Turtle could see their market share diminish if they don’t keep pace.
“The bar is being raised, the competition level is there,” Nico said. “There’s more places for people to go and spend their beer dollar. Just because we’ve been here the longest does not mean jack. There are a lot of restaurants that have been around forever that suck. 2014 is definitely going to be spent refocusing our energies on making sure that the products we offer are as good as can be.
“I’m going to be spending some more time focusing the brewhouse on getting into some new recipes. We have a book of about 100-plus recipes that we kind of circulate through, it would be nice to try some new stuff. Again, try to get an IPA Challenge beer that can take on (the best).”
Turtle will be at WinterBrew in Santa Fe on January 24. Beyond that festival, Nico said he will pick and choose the best events to attend in what should be another busy year for Turtle Mountain.
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A big thanks to Nico for taking some time out of his busy schedule, particularly since it was Christmas Eve and all. And a big thanks for the samples of Winter Solstice Ale, Maduro Stout, Cosmic Imperial Stout, and a full pint of Ironman Black IPA (on cask, twas delicious).
That wraps up the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for now. I still hope to talk to Back Alley, Cazuela’s, and Chama River at some point, probably after New Year’s. E-Rock will have The Week Ahead in Beer back up this Monday or Tuesday, giving everyone plenty of time to plot out which beers to get for New Year’s Eve.
I hope everyone had as much fun reading this series as I did writing it. I and the rest of the Crew will be back in 2014 to cover the beer scene in New Mexico.