Ted Rice is a busy man these days. Marble Brewery’s co-founder/co-owner/brewmaster has barely had a chance to catch his breath since 2014 began. It didn’t get any easier, but sure was rewarding, when he and his team brought home two gold medals and the Small Brewery of the Year Award from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver earlier this month. Luckily, I managed to catch up with Ted at NM Brew Fest over the weekend and then we were able to carve out 20 minutes of his time Tuesday afternoon to try to sum up the wildest, busiest, most award-winning year in Marble’s history.
Q: So take me through the entire GABF experience, from winning gold for Double White and Imperial Red to Small Brewery of the Year.
Ted: “I walked into the theater just as the awards were starting. The rest of the gang was already there, they had a seat for me. I just sat down and took a deep breath and waited for it all to go down. I’ve been to the GABF as a professional brewer since 2000, so I’ve gone through the myriad of emotions that are involved in being a participating brewer. My heart used to palpitate each time a category would come up that I was entered in. Now I’ve reached that sort of level where it comes and goes.
“So I think that was maybe our second category (for Double White). Our first category we entered in the order of announcement was the American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast. So we didn’t win anything there. We entered the Wildflower Wheat there, it was a first-time entry. It has honey in it, but we didn’t want to enter that beer in the Honey Beer category because it’s not bursting with honey character. That one came and went and then Other Strong Beer came up. Just winning one medal, whether it’s bronze or let alone gold, is amazing.
“It’s a ton of fun these days when we’re coming to GABF with a big crew. Anticipation is high to deliver and thankfully we’ve been making great beer and been recognized I guess for the past four years in a row here.”
Q: Seven medals in four years is an accomplishment. Leah (Black) captured some of the reaction this year in her videos posted to your Facebook page.
Ted: “When Chris Swersey is announcing the medals and you’re hanging on his every word, I don’t even look at the screen anymore, I just close my eyes and listen to him annunciate every single word. When you hear that ‘duh’ of Double and then ‘Double White,’ when it’s absolutely confirmed when he said ‘Marble,’ that’s when we jumped up.
“We’re all jumping up and down, we run down there, get our medal, come back and sit down. When the Imperial Red came up, that was the beer I was most confident as far as a medal contender. I just thought it tasted great, I tasted a bunch of other imperial reds on the floor and nothing else had that character. Two years ago we medaled at the GABF with exactly the same two beers, Double White and Imperial Red, but it was bronze and silver.
“We got an Imperial Red into GABF other times and also into the World Beer Cup, and those batches I didn’t feel were all that good, but those beers went to the final table. This year I was pretty confident that it was a really strong contender. Sitting back after winning Double White I was just like what could be better, let’s get gold for Imperial Red.”
Q: And then came the big one. Were you even expecting that?
Ted: “Imperial Red was our last category. It didn’t really cross my mind that Small Brewery of the Year could be on the table. So we win Imperial Red and I move to a different section in the theater to go hang out with my friends from Telluride Brewing Company. My buddy says to me, nobody else has won two golds, you could win Small Brewery of the Year. I’m like, ‘No way!’ So I stayed there for the rest of the announcement. And lo and behold, we’re up there, grins ear to ear, accepting that award as well. After that, just walk on over to the festival floor, and just have some fun and try to keep it level, keep it real.
“The last thing these medals are going to do are go to my head. It’s only going to push me to keep performing at that level of excellence, batch after batch after batch.”
Q: What did you do after the ceremony?
Ted: “So during the afternoon session I think we basically ran out of both Double White and Imperial Red at that session. We probably should have rationed it, but it’s so hard to pick up the 5.2-gallon keg and feel it and say I’m going to save that for the Saturday evening session. Then we went over to Jack’s Fish House down in LoDo (Lower Denver, the area near Coors Field), just enjoying some cocktails and some nice plates. After Jack’s we went back to the festival floor, celebrated some more, and that’s pretty much it.”
Q: As a state, New Mexico earned eight more medals this year, tying last year’s mark, and pulled in a record five golds. What does this mean for the brewing scene here?
Ted: “It’s pretty amazing. Where have we come? We’ve come to be a force to be reckoned with. A lot of people, yeah, maybe dismiss us because we’re down here in this sparsely populated state. But as I always tell people, the people that live in New Mexico love big, bold flavors, so the brewers are following hand in hand with the citizens’ palates, just bringing big, bold flavors.
“I think myself and several of the other brewers that have been brewing in this state for a long time have kind of set this level of excellence that all the other brewers coming up through the ranks follow through. They’re kind of standing on our shoulders in a way. They have solid procedures set, they have solid flavor profiles set, and they’re able to build on those right alongside of us. That’s fun.”
Q: So all of that came after what can best be described as the busiest, craziest year at Marble. You’ve taken on a lot this year. Have you ever sat back and asked yourself, what am I doing? Am I crazy?
Ted: “It’s been huge, yeah. (But) I can’t turn it away, it’s only what I wanted. When we opened Marble we opened with five partners. At the beginning of this year we purchased the shares of two of the founding, managing members. And so that was just kind of inevitable that was coming down the pipeline. Those guys did a great job setting everything up. But it was just the right time for people to part ways.
“Our president and vice president were bought out as of the beginning of this year. I assumed some new roles there. Unfortunately it took me away from the brewhouse. I haven’t brewed since maybe January. Lord knows I walk through the brewery all day every day seven days a week. So I’m still there, steering it and everything. So there was that shift in ownership.
“Then we sold our distribution rights in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to National Distributing Company. And then we pretty much dissolved our distribution arm, Marble Distributing, which did a great job of getting our beer out to market. But we decided it was time to focus on running a brewery. We’d done as much as we possibly could with our distributing arm. So there was that change there.
“Then as far as projects and renovations, we renovated the patio. We renovated the bathrooms. We’re currently almost complete with the renovation of the Westside Taproom. Then we also had a really good showing at the World Beer Cup with the gold for our Pilsner and now GABF. Now we just sent our permit set to the City and also out to contractors for bid for our expansion here at 111 Marble Ave. So we’ll add 7,000 square feet and be able to more than double our current capacity. So that’s all coming together. I hope to break ground at the end of this year. I’m working on securing on all of my equipment right now. So I’m hoping I can take a deep breath in 2015, but I highly doubt that.”
Q: And don’t forget the new design for Marble. How did that re-branding ultimately play out?
Ted: “People call it a rebranding and I have to clarify it because my designer clarified it with me. Your brand is what you sell, products and services. Those things have not changed. We’re still selling the same great beer. We still have the same great environment, if not enhanced a little bit more. But we wanted a new visual representation for Marble Brewery. So yeah, we did that as well. There’s been a lot of talk about that. I think it’s all very positive. I’m ecstatic and I’m happy to have the Maverick.
“We knew people were going to push back, we knew people were going to be shocked. It was kind of interesting to see how deeply vested people were into that imagery. We live and breathe our beer, our images all the time. We knew it wasn’t a true representation of what the brewery has evolved into and what we really felt comfortable with. We knew it was time to move on. I know over time, hopefully those who didn’t really care for it at the get-go have embraced it and understand why we made that shift.”
Q: There was a perception among some people that National was doing more than just distribution, but was calling a lot of the shots, including the redesign. We know you’ve wanted to set the record straight, so here’s your chance.
Ted: “So there was this thing that Marble has sold out. Marble has always owned Marble and Marble still owns Marble. Marble is a little bit more consolidated these days in its ownership, but its ownership is still firmly in Marble. National Distributing always had the rights to distribute our beer outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. So what we did is we took our distribution rights that we owned and sold them to NDC so that way they can do a great job of getting our beer out to the consumer and we can do an even better job of brewing great beer. Marble never sold out. It was time to shift the focus on the business.
“Most breweries do not own their own distribution arm. Most breweries would prefer not to deal with distribution. Marble Distributing was not making any money. The purpose of Marble Distributing was to go out there and get Marble beer in as many accounts as possible. So once we did that and we were selling a bunch of beer, the brewery was picking up the slack financially for distribution. That scale of distribution business, it can’t really be a profitable entity. It was time to cut that, to tie off the bleeding.”
Q: So getting back to that whole brewery expansion bit you mentioned earlier, we’re always excited for an increase in production. Are we to assume that you’ll be pushing the walls north?
Ted: “Where our distribution cooler is now, there’s a big door right now, that will be the entryway into the new production space. In that production space there will be enough room for 12 150-barrel fermenters. There’s going to be a lager distribution cooler. There’s also going to be a nice piece of equipment that’s really going to help us increase yields … which is going to be a centrifuge.
“So the brewhouse will still say exactly where it is. In the current space where there are numerous fermenters, we’ll move them into the new space and then expand the packaging in our existing space, canning, bottling, and kegging. Right now it’s kind of a run around to achieve anything because the space is so tight. You have to jump through hoops to get from A to B.”
Q: What is Marble’s current output by year in barrels?
Ted: “So last year we did 12,500, this year we’ll probably do a little over 13,000. So not as much of an increase as we’ve seen in years past because there’s only so much we can do. I can’t really add another tank outdoors. I’m not really a big fan of using fermenters that are outdoors. It’s kind of an unpleasant work environment and it also has other concerns. So those things will move indoors.
“And then we’ve already secured more parking for our pub customers. So that’s going to be across the street right now where there’s a recycling business. We’re going to occupy that space middle of November and have additional parking. We want to make sure that it’s easy for people to come down here, whether it’s a place to lock up your bike or a place to park your car.”
Q: What’s going on with the taproom in Santa Fe?
Ted: “We’re staying in our current space for the near future. We’re just working on making that space the best kind of intimate beer bar that we can.”
Q: So you’re not moving into the bigger space upstairs?
Ted: “Not so sure what the timeline is on that right now. It’s going to be a little longer than anticipated, so we’re kind of in a holding pattern right now.”
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Ted: “The cool thing about the Westside, if we can revisit that, we’re doubling the square footage (and) we’re tripling the seating. It’s going to have a much better flow when you walk into the space, it’s not going to be that congestion right there into the front. We’ve been turning away customers for a long time now because it’s just too crowded. So thank you (to the customers) for showing up and coming out and drinking our beer on the west side.
“We’re also adding a stage over there. And so we’re going to bring that component that we love at 111 which is live music, bring that to our brand over on the west side and double our capacity on the patio as well. It’s just going to be just like the mothership over here.”
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A huge thanks to Ted for taking time out of his busy life to sit down and talk. It’s always nice to go straight to the top guy, plus this allows brewer Josh Trujillo to focus on the beer and Leah Black to keep working hard on planning all the great events going on at Marble in the near future. (They’re our usual contacts at Marble, in case some are wondering.) Marble will have a special release party tonight for their Pumpkin Ale (see The Week Ahead in Beer for more details). The Westside Taproom will hold a party to celebrate the completion of its expansion on Friday, Oct. 24.