As noted in a recent edition of The Week Ahead in Beer, Back Alley Draft House has bid adieu to brewer Addison Poth, who is headed for San Diego. While it’s always sad to see a good brewer depart, it’s one of those “the king is dead, long live the king!” moments as the torch has been passed at BADH. Enter Brandon Venaglia, the new brewer who has spent the past few months training under Addison. Brandon was gracious enough to take time out of his now much busier schedule to sit down and chat about what’s to come at BADH, which is looking to increase the size of the brewing system and start offering up beers on a more regular basis.
Q: So take us through it, how did you come to take over at Back Alley?
Brandon: Well, it all started a year ago with Addison wanting to do a collaboration. I started years ago, of course, at home. I just worked my way into one day where Addison tried one of my beers and wanted to do a collaboration and it kind of went from there.
Q: When did he come to you and say there might be an opportunity for you to jump in?
Brandon: It was about nine months ago when I did the first batch of Berliner Weisse. That was where we did something together and collaborative. It just kind of went from there. … We were trying to do a run on GABF (Great American Beer Festival), but it didn’t happen. Didn’t get the check in on time. So then we decided to focus on the State Fair (Pro-Am). We ended up on this a dizzying pace brewing. I ended up his right-hand man all through the month of August and September. We got some of my recipes in that got some good recognition. We worked on Berliner Weisse together and got the gold at the State Fair for that. My California Commons recipe was best in the state, too, in the Amber/Hybrid Category. Which I’m going to continue brewing. I’m really going to focus on the lagers we started working on. It’s going to be a primary focus for me. And also continuing to build on the IPA, Soroche.
All of a sudden he found out in July that he’s probably going to San Diego. We’re going to be working all through this and I didn’t want it to all go to waste. All the work we’ve put in, developing recipes, finally getting the recognition. It was only logical that I would continue.
Q: Back Alley has always had rotating beers. Do you ever foresee a time when you’ll have more of a set lineup of beers?
Brandon: We’re going to try to be more consistent. We’re definitely going to keep the pre-Prohibition style stuff. We’re going to keep those pretty regular. Of course, Ladron’s Peak, we’re going to continue to build on that. The only ingredient of Ladron’s that is not native to New Mexico is the barley. The barley is going to come from Colorado Malting Company. I want to keep it regular. The latest one (Ladron’s con Fuego) was an experiment that just wasn’t … it went a little (off). We’re always one upping each other on that. I woke up in the middle of the night (and thought) why aren’t we using the granite?
Q: That one brought out some pretty diverse responses from people. Did you hear that?
Brandon: That’s OK. Sometimes, you know, you want to take people on a journey with a beer like that, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes you make a wrong turn, you’re still near the trail. We’ll get back on it this week. We’re going to brew Ladron’s again.
Q: When you’re first starting out at a brewery it’s nice to be set up at a smaller place, where you’re not always having to brew a specific style for production and/or distribution. Do you see it that way at Back Alley?
Brandon: Absolutely. That’s one of the things that attracted me at the beginning. That’s something that, even if the expansion plans do come through, hopefully it looks it will be in the next few months, we don’t lose that spirit. We’re going to keep the small system as a pilot system and keep utilizing it. The freedom and creativity of it is what was most attractive. I think it was just that they were going through the first transition into Addison, you have to really love beers if you want to work on that. It’s a lot of work and you’re never going to get paid enough. You have to find people that are willing to help you.
Q: We had heard there was an expansion coming. What can you share right now?
Brandon: We’ve put together a plan for hopefully a five-barrel system. It’s going to be interesting. We’ve got to make certain sacrifices for it because we don’t have some large investment firm behind us. Also, I prefer working with my hands anyway. I’m a hands-on kind of person. That’s how I began. I’m always attracted to those old-school ethics in brewing and everything that I do. I think some of that, the craft of that, is (fading). You actually feel like you’ve done something, you’ve worked on something, as opposed to just pushing a button.
Q: In terms of the physical layout, how would you fit that in there?
Brandon: We would be shortening the bar, the whole back area would need to be converted. We would be expanding the cooler. That’s the area … a lot of that is being underutilized anyway. There’s a dart board and one TV. It’s always important that you have it on display. That’s all of the attraction to it.
Q: What’s the timeline looking like?
Brandon: Hopefully in a few months. It’s kind of out of my hands, other than me and Addison working to set up the plan, figure out what works best for me.
Q: Going back way before this, how did you get into home brewing? Was there anything specific you remember?
Brandon: I think it was … I was actually into, before I was 21, I first got into it, the epiphany of I can buy all the ingredients of beer, just not drink the end product. I went away from it for a couple years, I didn’t have the space to do it. I got into curiosity about like making Absinthe and distillation. That kind of brought me back to brewing again. That was about seven or eight years ago. I’m a researcher about historical brews, but really anything historical. The fascination of trying to recreate, well, you’re never truly recreate it, but they figured it out 100 years ago. All of the science and everything was figured out 100 years ago. The pH scale came out of Germany. … I can read 1200 pages and try to recreate it. It’s more about the spirit than anything.
Q: We know about Back Alley, as do most folks you would consider beer geeks, and we all enjoy the comfortable atmosphere. But it still seems like a lot of folks don’t know you’re back there. Would you like to see it more heavily promoted?
Brandon: I’d love to. (But) that’s kind of what attracts people to it, too. So you always want to retain a certain element of that. It has the elements, the brick walls, it has that (comforting) feel. But you definitely want an increase in customers. Our most popular recently were the Oktoberfest and Ladron’s Peak, which has just exploded more than we’re able to brew it. It’s a lot of work, but fun work. We’re helping that’s something that will help us grow, having something that’s creative and different, something indigenous and local. That’s something that does attract people, but it’s a niche thing, even as popular as it’s been.
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Brandon would later add that the beers he hopes to have on taps fairly regularly were the Poth’s Pilsner (pre-Prohibition style), California Commons, Soroche IPA, Ladron’s Peak, a dark lager, and possibly a wit beer. However the lineup shakes out, we’re excited to hear that Back Alley could be adding a full-size system soon. We’ve already been drinking some of Brandon’s beers (without knowing it), and all have been solid so far. The Poth’s Pilsner, named for Poth and Sons Brewery (not Addison, technically, though we can see why they picked the name), was a sweet, delightful treat when we sampled it last Saturday. We look forward to seeing what else Brandon can come up with in the future.
Well, have a good weekend everyone. I am on the beer-drinking disabled list thanks to a stupid head cold that seems to vacillate between mildly annoying and soul-sucking horror every hour. Stupid cold medicine says I shouldn’t mix it with beer, though maybe in between doses I’ll sneak a sip (gotta get that Witch’s Brew 2014 badge on Untappd, after all). Stay safe out there this weekend, especially with all the little ones trick-or-treating tonight and hanging out for Dia de los Muertos on Saturday. Raise a pint for all of us who are out of commission for the weekend (though at least I didn’t waste money on a costume beforehand).
Cheers! And achoo!