Ponderosa overcomes bumpy start to ride high into 2015

Posted: December 23, 2014 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2014-15
Tags:

Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister 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 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 definitely beyond December and into January with other Crew members chipping in as well.

They're feeling a bit festive at Ponderosa as 2014 draws to a close.

They’re feeling a bit festive at Ponderosa as 2014 draws to a close.

Ponderosa Brewing Co. opened their doors back in September, joining the long list of new establishments to debut in 2014. Located in the Sawmill District, just north of Explora! and the Natural History Museum, Ponderosa was the brainchild of the folks behind PINTS Brewing in Portland, Ore. Their owner already owned property in Albuquerque and wanted an anchor tenant for the commercial space beneath the apartment building on Bellamah. Brewer Matt Kollaja, who had served as an assistant at PINTS, was dispatched to run the show.

It was not the smoothest of transitions, as anyone at Ponderosa will tell you. From learning how to use the new, state-of-the-art brewing equipment, to issues with the building and more, Ponderosa has endured its fair share of ups and downs in the first four months of operation. Things, however, are looking up, and the ball is already rolling toward 2015. Matt and general manager Devan Colston, formerly of La Cumbre, sat down with me to discuss all that went wrong and right in 2014, plus all their goals for Ponderosa’s forthcoming first full year of operation.

First up, many people have complained that Ponderosa is hard to find. Don’t worry, they have heard you at the brewery.

People have had a hard time finding Ponderosa, but don't worry, they're installing a big, bright sign atop their colorful building.

People have had a hard time finding Ponderosa, but don’t worry, they’re installing a big, bright sign atop their colorful building in the Sawmill District.

“There’s always unforeseen roadblocks, obstacles when you’re trying to get a business open,” Devan said. “Simple things from just trying to get a sign put in a certain place and the city not letting us due to permitting issues, which has obviously been an issue. We’ve been open three months and there hasn’t been a sign.”

Glory be, the permits have been dealt with and the sign is on its way. That will help increase Ponderosa’s customer base, or so they hope.

“I think once we get our signage up it’s going to be a lot different,” Devan said. “Because that’s the biggest trouble right now is people being able to visibly see us, especially at night. We’re going to have a pretty large, about 4-by-12-foot illuminated sign on the top of the building, which will definitely bring some attention to it. It will be on top of the building. It will be visible from a ways away.”

Just getting people to see Ponderosa has been one challenge. Getting them to embrace the brewery’s different lineup of beers and overall different atmosphere — they even have a children’s area — has brought out some mixed reviews. For the most part, the positives have outweighed the negatives.

The beers are Ponderosa are often German-style or Pacific Northwest-style.

The beers are Ponderosa are often German-style or Pacific Northwest-style.

“The feedback that we’ve actually gotten from the people that come here and frequenting the business has been really positive,” Devan said. “I think it’s due to the fact we had quite a different menu than a lot of bars. We’re trying to offer a bit healthier food. We’ve got a nice, wholesome atmosphere. And we’re offering a different beer selection than a lot of places because we’re specializing in German-style beers.”

Getting those beers from concept to tap has not always been easy.

“Matt’s finally had a chance to dial into the brew system a little better,” Devan said. “He’s never worked on a system even similar to this. It’s been a whole new experience for him, almost a science experiment, if you will, even though he’s been brewing beers for years.”

Matt said he feels there has certainly been some positive progress since those first batches debuted in September.

Ponderosa's brewhouse still has some tricky times, but everyone is getting the hang of it.

Ponderosa’s brewhouse still has some tricky times, but everyone is getting the hang of it.

“I think things are going a lot smoother,” Matt said. “I still have a lot of work to do. Every time I brew I’m learning something new about the system and how things work. I finally got the mill and augur all adjusted to where it needs to be. That’s going to help a lot with our brews and with our efficiency and hopefully also ultimately flavor.

“We still have some work to do but I’ve definitely made strides. We’re becoming more consistent and figuring out what people like and what they don’t like and that’s guiding future recipes.”

Just before I arrived at Ponderosa last Thursday, there was a boil-over with the lauder tun, where Matt was brewing his first imperial stout on the system.

“It will probably take a good year before I feel like I’ve got everything completely down,” Matt said. “You’re still going to have bad brew days where something goes wrong, like today. I learned that trying to do a 21-plato beer in a seven-barrel batch, a few things are not going to go according to plan.

“Every time I’m learning a lesson. It’s like the Kolsch, I pretty much have that down. I’ve brewed it enough I know exactly what to do. Whenever we do something (like) a really big beer, it’s going to take a few batches before we figure it out.”

The crowds have been digging the Oktoberfest and Dunkelblizten at Ponderosa.

The crowds have been digging the Oktoberfest and Dunkelblizten at Ponderosa.

Still, as more people come to drink at Ponderosa, and Matt has more time to get his beers behaving themselves, the feedback has been positive. Topping the list of fan favorites so far was Ponderosa’s take on a popular German autumn style.

“The Oktoberfest was our best seller and so we brewed this Dunkel(blizten) as a replacement for it and it’s been really well received,” Matt said. “The Nikolaus that we now have, the spiced lager, it’s also been really well received. People like the uniqueness of the (Marbelous Imperial) Rice Lager, just because it’s not something you see around here.”

The only other brewery in the state that has brewed a rice lager, even semi-regularly, has been Desert Water Brewery in Artesia, so Matt was right about that.

Distribution tops list of changes coming to Ponderosa in 2015

For all those who can’t make it down to the Sawmill District, or are still having trouble finding Ponderosa on Google Maps, fear not, for soon you will be able to buy their beer elsewhere.

They won't come in these neat glasses, but you will soon be able to buy Ponderosa beers at other bars and restaurants.

They won’t come in these neat glasses, but you will soon be able to buy Ponderosa beers at other bars and restaurants.

“The really awesome thing that is going to take place within the next week is we’re gearing up for distribution,” Devan said. “We’re pairing up with Admiral Beverage Company. So they’re going to try to help us get our beer out there in 2015, which should definitely help grow the brand, bring some awareness and consciousness to our existence, which has been kind of a struggle just getting people to know we’re here.”

That distribution will be limited to selling kegs at bars and restaurants as there would be issues with any sort of packaging.

“We’ll probably never do bottling or canning here,” Matt said. “We don’t have the space. We could do mobile canning, but then again you still have to have the space to store all of that product. As it is my walk-in (cooler) is completely filled to the brim with kegs. So that’s going to be the focus.”

Matt said the initial brews offered for sale elsewhere will likely come from the most commonly brewed styles, such as the Crosscut Kolsch, Rip Saw Red, and Ghost Train IPA. If some of the brewery’s one-offs are requested, those can be kegged for sale as well.

Of course, no brewer is going to just sit back and rest on the styles he or she has created to date.

“Our goal is to expand, of course,” Matt said. “If we do, then I can do even more interesting styles. I’ve said in the past I absolutely want to do a Berliner Weisse. The only way we’re going to do it is to do it right. We’re not going to cheat and throw lactic acid in it or something. We’re going to do a true-to-style (version).”

These fermenters may get some company soon at Ponderosa.

These fermenters may get some company soon at Ponderosa.

While space may be at a premium in the walk-in cooler, there is still space out on the brewing floor, which means some new equipment may soon arrive.

“If I get three more fermenters, even two more fermenters, I’ll have a dedicated hot tank and then I’ll be able to do some saisons in addition to the Berliner Weisse,” Matt said. “I think really what we’re going to be focusing on is staying true to what we do best, which are primarily German lagers and Pacific Northwest beers. I still have more work to do on the Pacific Northwest beers, but they’re getting there.

“And so far everyone seems to like them. I haven’t had any horrible feedback. I think we’ve got a good setup. 2015 is mainly going to be focused on getting our beer out there. We are completely open to feedback and suggestions. We want to brew beer people want to drink.”

That sounds like the best recipe to all of us in the Crew.

Thanks to Matt and Devan for taking time out of their day, and away from that feisty imperial stout, to sit down and chat. And of course for the beer samples. The Nikolaus Spiced Lager is alone worth the visit right now.

So head on down to Ponderosa — seriously, it’s not that hard to find, let the Google guide you — and enjoy some German-style beers in the coming year.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Advertisements
Comments
  1. […] 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 than just write up a single summary […]

  2. […] 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 year draws to a close, rather than […]

  3. […] 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 story have already appeared. As the […]

  4. […] Ponderosa was another new brewery that opened in 2014. After overcoming some initial hiccups, things are looking up. They finally have their new sign atop their building in the Sawmill District, which should really help considering the number of people who still seem unaware of their actual location. You should be able to find Ponderosa beers on tap at locations around town this year as they have begun distributing to bars and restaurants. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s