Kaktus aims to keep it innovative in 2015 just as they did in 2014

Posted: December 15, 2014 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2014-15
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Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister here with the second post in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2014-15. Our La Cumbre story ran last week. As the year draws to a close, rather than just write up a single summary review of the last 12 months in beer, I decided to take what free time I have and go talk in person to breweries in the ABQ area to get their thoughts on both the year that was and the year to come. I’m not going to put up any sort of schedule for this series, and it will likely extend beyond December and into January with other Crew members chipping in as well.

Kaktus' patio is one of the most popular spots around New Mexico to drink beer in the summer.

Kaktus’ patio is one of the most popular spots around New Mexico to drink beer in the summer.

Kaktus Brewing Co. just wrapped up their first full year up the road in Bernalillo. Despite being one of the smallest breweries in the state in terms of production, Kaktus managed to crank out a lot of unique and popular beers while keeping everyone cozy in their one-of-a-kind taproom.

“We’ve been open for one year and two or three months, roughly,” owner Dana Koller said. “2014 was our first full year and it was fantastic, better than what we expected. We’ve been obviously refining recipes, getting our equipment down pat, everything was running smoothly. Now we’re looking forward to adding some nice additions to our menu, like our food menu as well as our beer menu. So we’re pretty excited about that.”

Opening and operating a successful brewery can always be a challenge, but it is one that Dana, brewer Mike Waddy, and brewing mentor Mark Matheson have been able to navigate in year one.

Kaktus' beers pulled in four medals, one gold and three silvers, at the annual State Fair Pro-Am.

Kaktus’ beers pulled in four medals, one gold and three silvers, at the annual State Fair Pro-Am.

“I think really if there was any challenges it was more internal than external,” Dana said. “Just figuring out things with the equipment or the layout of our floor plan as we get more and more busy. Just kind of being inventive about that. Everything is going kind of the way we planned.”

Those plans included Kaktus entering its first beer competition, the annual State Fair Pro-Am, and coming away with a gold medal in the German Wheat and Rye Beer category for Bannaweizen, plus silver medals for ESB in English Pale Ale, London Porter in Porter, and Cream Stout in Stout.

“We submitted our first beers to the State Fair, won four awards there, so those were our first award-winning beers,” Dana said. “We’re just going to keep moving from there, because we’re not a bottling brewery. The majority of breweries that are opening now immediately are competing in distribution. We looked to not do that. We just wanted to be your classic community brewery and really just focus on making Bernalillo a proud place to have one of the best beers in the state.”

That approach, combined with Kaktus’ location and overall ambiance, have given the brewery a different crowd than what is seen around Albuquerque.

Any brewery that employs the lovely Desert Darlings, plus our own E-Rock (far left) and our buddy Frank is a good place to hang out.

Any brewery that employs the lovely Desert Darlings, plus our own E-Rock (far left) and our buddy Frank is a good place to hang out.

“Our crowd I would say is typically going to be 35 years of age and older, and families,” Dana said. “For the most part, I think we do harness a completely different clientele than a lot of the other breweries. It’s families or couples, not a lot of single people. It’s kind of a little bit of an older crowd. Which is great for us. But again, during the summer, we pull in people from Santa Fe and Albuquerque because of our location, we’re kind of a center point. We pull in people from both sides. At that point, if we’re doing music especially, we pull in a little bit of everybody.”

Keeping the entertainment as varied as possible has helped as well.

“When we’re thinking entertainment we’re thinking culturally,” Dana said. “And so we did bring in the (Desert Darlings) belly dancers every Sunday. Then we also the first Saturday of every month we host flamenco dancing. Along with the flamenco we usually invite the Guava Tree, which is Cuban-style sandwiches. They come down and do their grill and offer a different set of food, which is really fun. So that kind of switches things up a little bit.

“Where we’re trying to focus our entertainment is definitely a little more performance-driven than it is music-driven. Granted, people play music as a performance, but a little more activity is what we like. We are looking to expand our back patio and do an outdoor concert series in the future, something different like country music to change it up a little bit.”

Another photo of the Desert Darlings, because why not?

Another photo of the Desert Darlings, because why not?

Subtle improvements on tap for 2015

As much as the beers themselves can be considered seasonal, so can an entire brewery.

“It seems to be that Kaktus is going to be definitely more of a summer place than a winter place, because of our patio, the KOA Kampground being next door, things like that,” Dana said. “We’re planning on pulling in some business from Placitas by being a little inventive in how we do that. We actually just made our first batch of cider. We’re doing it the traditional way which considers it a wine. So we went ahead and got our wine license, which was just approved a couple weeks ago. So we should be hanging that license before the end of December, I’m hoping. Definitely by the end of January. That will allow us to serve ciders as well as beers.

“To complement the ciders we decided to bring in pizza as well. So you can see just got our new pizza oven. So we’re going to be doing some nice gourmet, definitely not your traditional pepperoni and sausage. It will be more gourmet-style with duck and elk and some vegetarian options, eggplant and green olive, things like that.”

Kaktus always wins the award for the most unique chairs of any brewery.

Kaktus always wins the award for the most unique chairs of any brewery.

Due to their small brewing output, Kaktus largely stayed away from the beer festival circuit, though that will change somewhat in the coming year.

“We’re definitely going to try to get involved where we can,” Dana said. “The thing for us is because we’re not bottling, it’s really in our best interest because we’re a nano-brewery, the festivals where people are just giving away tastings is a little bit more difficult for us. We will get there eventually, but we’re just not there yet. The festivals we’re goign to be focusing on are the ones where we can get full pints in people’s hands and let them enjoy a full pint versus just a small tasting.”

One big plan for Kaktus involves a certain Irish holiday in the early spring.

“We just rented the Rail Yards, so we’re going to sponsor the largest St. Patty’s Day event in Albuquerque,” Dana said. “It’s going to be March 17 on St. Patty’s Day. We’re hoping to fill the place with 900 people. We’ll be obviously the main focus as far as beer goes. But we’re going to create some community events on our own to get the word out about our brewery.”

Beyond that, Kaktus just hopes to continue to grow organically, getting the word out that there is good craft beer in a small town like Bernalillo just like Albuquerque to the south and Santa Fe to the north.

You can still hang out on Kaktus' patio, even in the winter months.

You can still hang out on Kaktus’ patio, even in the winter months.

“I’m most excited for 2015 where we’re going to grow our business,” Dana said. “It’s definitely the cider, offering a little bit more food kind of encourages people to come down this way, (and) the St. Patty’s Day event. And after that if everything goes well, we are kind of throwing around the idea of a (second) small taproom. But we’re kind of just taking our time with that. We want to make sure we do more here than open another place. It’s all good. We felt like we’ve grown 25 to 50 percent, which is our goal (again) next year.”

Thanks to Dana for taking some time to sit down and chat, and for the beer samples (it was an early interview, so I wasn’t ready for pints yet). I do recommend the Peppermint Stout, which has a nice balance between the peppermint and roasted malt flavors; Gunslinger Cherry Wood Smoked Brown, a rather unique beer that has some spicy hints around the edges; and the newly refined Red Ale, which sits about midway between Marble’s hoppy Red and Il Vicino’s malty Irish Red.

If everything actually goes to plan this week, we will have additional stories in this series from Bosque, Tractor, Ponderosa, and possibly more. Enjoy this wonderful week of good beer!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Comments
  1. […] Kaktus aims to keep it innovative in 2015 just as they did in 2014 […]

  2. […] here with the fourth post in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2014-15. Our La Cumbre story, Kaktus story, and our Bosque story have already appeared. As the year draws to a close, rather than just write […]

  3. […] here with the fifth post in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2014-15. Our La Cumbre story, Kaktus story, Bosque story, and our Ponderosa story have already appeared. As the year draws to a close, rather […]

  4. […] here with the seventh post in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2014-15. Our La Cumbre story, Kaktus story, Bosque story, Ponderosa story, Tractor story, and Santa Fe story have already appeared. As the […]

  5. […] here with the ninth post in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2014-15. Our La Cumbre story, Kaktus story, Bosque story, Ponderosa story, Tractor story, Santa Fe story, Boxing Bear story, and Blue Corn […]

  6. […] Kaktus is growing steadily up in Bernalillo. They have a cider on tap and are now serving gourmet pizzas. Kaktus will be the main sponsor of a St. Patrick’s Day party at the Railyards this year, but otherwise they are keeping things within reason for being a small brewing operation. […]

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