Chama River’s new brewer intends to make his own mark

Posted: March 24, 2014 by cjax33 in Interviews, News
Tags: ,

The last few weeks have seen a slew of movement among brewers in the Albuquerque metro area. It has also seen a lot of high school basketball state tournament games, so yours truly was a tad busy when it came to tracking down all those brewer moves. Fear not, for now I have a week of no sports, so it was time to take the old digital recorder and notepad away from the stadium/arena and back into the breweries to do some overdue new brewer interviews.

First up, I headed over to Chama River earlier today (Monday) to talk to new head brewer Zach Guilmette, who was already dealing with all the challenges of running his own show after spending the last few years as part of the brewing staff at Il Vicino. Zach didn’t mind setting aside the mountain of paperwork that also goes with being a head brewer to talk about what led him across the freeway and what plans he has for Chama River.

New head brewer Zach Guilmette is gung-ho to run the show at Chama River.

New head brewer Zach Guilmette is gung-ho to run the show at Chama River.

Q: So take me back to the beginning, when did you see this job opening up and what made you decide to apply?

Zach: You could see there were a lot of jobs becoming available, and Blue Corn was one. When John Bullard started to move I took an interview up there. I realized after the interview that although that brewhouse would be awesome to work on … I didn’t want to drive to Santa Fe and back every day. I knew there were other openings in town, Chama was one that was definitely at the top of my list. So I told Jim (Hargrove), who is the president over at Santa Fe Dining, he interviewed me for the Blue Corn job and I told him that if anything ever opened here in town let me know. So he called me a week later and said that Tim (Woodward) was moving and Justin (Hamilton) was on his way out, too, and this job was available.

Q: Certainly Chama River has an appeal after all the great brewers who have come out of here, like Ted Rice at Marble, Jeff Erway at La Cumbre, and John Bullard at Bosque. What is it about Chama that helps prepare brewers for that next level?

Zach: I think what makes Chama a great place to work is that they give you the resources you need. This five-barrel brewhouse that every brewer has worked on over the years is just immaculate. It’s well taken care of, it’s a little five-barrel system but it’s set up professionally. You know from going around town to breweries, you’ve got to get by, you’ve got to do what you can to make beer until you can buy better equipment or what not. The equipment that’s here allows a brewer to make great beer. And so the limitation is only within the brewer’s ability to create good beer.

Q: What is the challenge when you take over an established brewery like this? There’s a lot of customers that like their Jackalope IPA a certain way. What’s the challenge of coming in here and continuing on with those recipes, but maybe tweaking a few while also adding some new styles the seasonal list?

Zach: I think it’s important for customers to realize that every time there’s a new brewer, every time there’s a new face, that there is going to be some change. Every brewer wants to make their own mark. Justin Hamilton told me himself that even when he took over for Erway everyone was telling him don’t do anything to the beers, don’t change the beers. He went ahead and did that because he’s his own man and he proved to be a great brewer. And I think people adjust.

I hope that everyone’s going to enjoy the way I interpret the Jackalope IPA. But I’ll tell you that I do understand that customers don’t want to be shocked. So you don’t go crazy and make a recipe totally different, (causing people to say) what the hell, this is not even close. You just tweak it, you make different changes to the dry hop or hop character. The malt bill is going to stay the same. It’s really a part of changing the brews just a little bit.

Q: You’ve had a good time over there at Il Vicino. Brady and Doug are two great guys to learn from and work with. What are the things you can take from that job to this one?

Zach: I think the greatest asset for me after my experience at Il Vicino was learning from Brady how to be really creative with your recipe development. And just go for it. I think prior to working at Il Vicino I didn’t have pub experience. But I always knew that I wanted to play around with recipes and make different beers. That’s the pub experience. That experience is going to continue here. Every stop I’ve made along with the way has taught me a little bit. You learn a little bit from every brewery. Even when Justin and Tim did here was a little different and in some ways better. I’m going to incorporate what I learned at Il Vicino and even before that.

Q: Where did you get your start in the brewing industry?

Zach: The biggest ice-breaker for me, the best opportunity was Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, Vermont. I was living in New Mexico at the time and Chama River was pretty much one of the only places I used to go. That’s why I’m excited to be here because I remember it from back in the day. But I didn’t want to leave (Albuquerque), I was hoping to get a brewing job in town. This job came up and I grew up in Vermont so I went back for three years and it was the best decision I ever made. Because working for a big brewery, it was a 40-barrel brewhouse, we did 35,000 barrels a year, just that repetition, just brewing over and over and over, cleaning tanks over and over, that was the way to learn. I learned so much quicker. And it really prepared me for getting into a position like this eight years later.

Q: Being a head brewer is more than just dealing with beer, there are lot of administrator tasks like paperwork and the like that take up your time. Has there been anything so far that has surprised you?

Zach: No, I’d like to say yes, but there isn’t. Paperwork is just part of the job. Making your rounds from here to the Microbar to the Draft Stations that will be opening up, you’ve just got to (learn to) be in 100 different places at the same time. Ultimately, I think you just get started earlier. The earlier in the day you get going, the more time you have to like be in the brewhouse before it starts getting busy. That’s why I’m trying to take care of my paperwork and stuff (now).

Q: We always get asked when someone new takes over — when is the first new beer going on tap? Do you have anything planned right now, like a new recipe or new style?

Zach: I’ve got two beers in mind right now. One will be coming out fairly soon. I’m talking like eight weeks or so. I’m going to take Jackalope IPA, alter that malt bill just slightly, take a very similar hop bill, and just make it a session IPA and call it Little Jack. The next beer that I’m really excited about is I’m going to do a Rauchbier. Do a smoked beer, lager it, put it in the tanks (and let it age). What I’m excited about is just working with chef, we’ve got a restaurant here and we do beer dinners every month. So if I do a smoked beer now, I can age it for a couple months, and when it starts getting hot out we’re going to get together and talk about a barbecue dinner. We’ll use that smoked beer to be the focal beer with the entrees.

Q: Does having the restaurant here, instead of just a few sandwiches and salads, give you the opportunity to try some different things with your beers?

Zach: Yeah, I definitely think there’s a good value to that. I know that the people that go to Il Vicino and some of the other breweries around town that are specifically breweries, they expect to see Belgian beers and interesting beers and new things. I’m getting to know my new clientele here and I’m don’t find that a lot of them are ready to experiment like that. I may be wrong and I hope I am. But I think my advantage is that I can pair these beers with food and that way when they’re here to eat I might be able to introduce them to a new style of beer that goes well with their food.

Q: You told me earlier about the assistant brewer position, but for the record, what’s the official status of that at this point?

Zach: David Facey is coming over from Il Vicino. David did all the CIP, the dry-hops, he did some transfers, he did all the cask beers. He was a real big part of the brewery for Il Vicino for the last year. It’s not too often you hear guys who want to leave management to go into brewing. You take a pay cut and have to get dirty, longer hours. But that’s what David has proved to me over the last year he’s willing to do. I think he and I have been on the same page. We work well together. So I think you guys can expect some fun things to come from us. I’ve got him working on some beers we’re going to age in rum barrels. I haven’t decided what kind of wine barrel to bring in. We’ll definitely be bringing in a couple different barrels. Facey will definitely be a big part of creating beers for those.

* * * *

A big thanks to Zach for taking some time to talk on what was technically his first full day in charge of the brewery. He and David, who officially starts next Monday, should do a great job running the show at Chama. We’re definitely looking forward to that Rauchbier and whatever David concocts for those rum and wine barrels.

For the record, in case anyone missed our recent beer notes covering the brewer shuffle, former Chama head brewer Justin Hamilton is set to run the show at Boxing Bear Brewing Co., which will open later this year in the old Elliott’s Bar location near Alameda and Corrales. Former Chama assistant Tim Woodward is at Turtle Mountain now and I will be sitting down to talk with him Tuesday afternoon.

So look for the Turtle Mountain story either Tuesday or Wednesday, followed by an interview with new Nexus brewer Kaylynn McKnight on Thursday. After that, the Crew will resume trying to track down as much info as possible on the new breweries opening up around town, from Dancing Bear to Lizard Tail to Hops to Rio Bravo and more. Plus we will have some updates on the progress of the new Bosque and Tractor brewhouses, as well as the various taproom spinoffs that are happening around the city.

As we said on Facebook, there is more beer news locally than you can shake your pint at. Just don’t do that, or you’ll spill the beer.


— Stoutmeister

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  4. […] If there is anything you want to know about new head brewer Zach Guilmette, Stoutmeister interviewed him last […]

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