There be beer brewing again down south of ABQ. Twisted Chile Brewing has been operational for a few months now and with just enough of a hole in my schedule, I trekked down to Socorro to check out that town’s newest attraction this Tuesday. Owners K.C. and Stephanie McFadden welcomed me with a flight of samples and even some pizza, because no beer writer should be drinking on an empty stomach and then driving 70 miles back up I-25.
Twisted Chile is located just off California Street, Socorro’s main drag that parallels the freeway, on Abeyta Ave. near the town square. It has a small, cozy interior, with a kitchen in the back and the 3.5-barrel brewhouse behind that. K.C., who handles all the brewing, said he would like to eventually expand to a larger brewhouse in order to keep his beers on tap longer, but for now it’s a good starter system.
The genesis of Twisted Chile had its roots in nearby Socorro Springs Brewing Co., which is a brewery in name only. Long ago, K.C.’s sister and her husband opened Socorro Springs in the same building where Twisted Chile is now. They eventually moved to the current, larger location on California near the northern I-25 exit. K.C. was their brewer back then, but the decision was eventually made to shut down brewing on site and instead contract the beers with Eddyline Brewing in Colorado. After a few years working another job (deputy sheriff, no less), K.C. got the itch to start brewing again, and eventually he and his wife decided to pursue their own brewing venture. The result is Twisted Chile, which has already garnered plenty of local support and is now looking to become a craft beer destination for people throughout New Mexico and beyond.
“It’s been a great turnout,” K.C. said. “I’ve been around Socorro for a long time. So ever since Socorro Springs started right here (in this building), I’ve had a huge following. … I really love to brew, it’s nice, it’s creativity, it’s great. It tickles me that people come in here all the time and they’re willing to pay for my beer.”
Right now K.C. has been able to keep four beers on tap, rotating a few styles, with the eventual goal of having eight house beers on tap at all time and four guest beers. The current lineup had the new Quebradas Sunrise Amber, plus 790 IPA, K.C.’s Traditional Irish Stout, and Pumpkin Ale. K.C. was also nice enough to break out a sample from his remaining supply of McFadden’s Scotch Ale, which he was saving for special events.
Going beer by beer, the Quebradas was brand new but already had a good amount of flavor. I would compare it favorably to Rio Chama Amber at Chama River, having more malty sweetness than most examples of a style that is traditionally brewed for non-craft beer drinkers. This beer was a good place to start.
The Pumpkin was a little different, which is good. They used honey in the mix, giving it a different type of sweetness and keeping the beer from relying on too many of the usual pumpkin spices (cinnamon, clove, ginger, etc.). You could taste the pumpkin itself, as well, which as Porter Pounder and Brandon will tell you (repeatedly) is the key to making a good pumpkin ale stand out from the pack.
“The way I make my pumpkin, it’s an extra step that I do to make it that way,” K.C. said. “I put half the amount of the pumpkin in the aroma cycle. I spin it in. Then I ferment the beer out. When it’s done fermenting, I pull the yeast, I put it back into that portion of the kettle. Then I add the honey, add the spices, add more pumpkin, then put it back and (cold) crash it again for a long time. You’re looking at 110 gallons of wort to 80 pounds of pumpkin and 20 pounds of honey. I’ve been tweaking that for a long time.”
790 IPA is a more moderate IPA than the big hop bombs (they have Venom IPA for that, which was not on tap when I visited). It’s got a good malt backbone, a moderate aroma, and just enough of a kick. I would compare it to Bosque’s Ember IPA.
The Irish Stout is dry, with a good roasted flavor up front. It’s not super thick in the mouthfeel, but then again, Irish-style dry stouts aren’t meant to be. I would love to put it head-to-head with the Dry Stout at Nexus right now for a proper comparison.
The Scotch Ale is a malty beast, with good, solid flavor throughout. There’s just a hint of peat smoke on the edges, while it never gets too sweet on the front or back end. This is a good, balanced beer (and there’s no wonder it was consumed so fast by the public) that would stack up against Bosque’s Scotia Scotch Ale or Nexus’ Scotch Ale.
Stephanie said the desire to get back to brewing these quality beers can be traced back to a few years ago. K.C. brewed for Socorro Springs starting back in 2000, but eventually left his position to work as a police officer. When there were certain changes in the department, he left and took up his sister’s offer to manage Socorro Springs on a day-to-day basis as she and her husband had moved out of state.
“The day he got back to the restaurant people came up to him and asked if he was going to brew,” Stephanie said. “So the whole year, 2013, he spent hearing people say he needed to brew. But we had five kids at home and didn’t have any money to start up our own place.
“At the end of last year the owner of this building, the new landlords, asked us if we wanted to brew for the restaurant that was here. We did decide if he ever wanted to brew again — and he did have interest — we told them we’d be interested in being under someone else’s umbrella.”
By springtime K.C. and Stephanie were being asked to set up brewpubs in other towns, though they were reluctant to leave their home. When the restaurant in the current Twisted Chile building faltered, the McFaddens jumped at the chance to take over and start brewing again.
“It just kind of all happened (quickly),” Stephanie said. “We got the opportunity to come back in February and signed the lease in April.”
Now Twisted Chile has a chance to become an “anchor business” in Socorro in much the same way other breweries in smaller New Mexico towns have become. Just like Roosevelt Brewing in Portales, Three Rivers in Farmington, and Little Toad Creek in Silver City, it fills a void for a local product in addition to the canned and bottled beers distributed from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Moriarty.
The food menu is a mix of styles, from pizzas (mine was quite tasty, from the copious amounts of sauce to the homemade dough) to burgers to New Mexican food. The beers and food pair up well together, all for an affordable price in a comfortable atmosphere.
As for the future, K.C. hopes to someday have a bigger location in which to brew, while still keeping the current system in place.
“It works great, I just wish it would make more,” K.C. said. “I used to sell 10 barrels of my beer a week over there (at Socorro Springs). I know I’m going to outgrow it. When that happens I think we’ll look for a satellite location. We’ll keep the little system here. Then we’ll have the big guy over there. I’d love to get into distribution and packaging, get our stuff out there.”
K.C. also plans to apply for a distillery license for 2015.
While all those future plans sound ambitious, for now Twisted Chile is off to a good start. It’s become a popular local destination already, and the quality of the beers should even draw in people from elsewhere in the state. After all, as K.C. and Stephanie both said, “Soccoro is just an hour from everywhere.”
So next time you find yourself driving down I-25, make sure to stop in Socorro and visit Twisted Chile. Or, heck, just find an excuse like I did and drive down there. Think of it as a mini beercation.