Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister 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 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 brewery staffers 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, as it is definitely going beyond December and into January with other Crew members chipping in as well.
So fifth up on the docket is Tractor Brewing Co., which enjoyed one heck of a busy 2014, their 15th anniversary year. The brewery itself moved from quaint, but undersized and outdated, facilities in Los Lunas to the massive new Wells Park site on 4th Ave. With that move has come an expansion in Tractor’s canning line, now up to three beers with a fourth on the way, as well as Wells Park becoming a major site for all sorts of events, including the 2014 IPA Challenge.
To cover all that went on in 2014 and what’s to come in 2015, I was joined by Tractor’s Nicole Duke and Carlos Contreras, the hard-working duo who manage all of the events and keep us all in the know about Tractor via social media and more, in the comfy confines of Wells Park’s taproom.
“We opened (Wells Park) in the beginning of February, so we’ll hit a year (this) February, which we’re pretty jazzed about,” Nicole said.
Wells Park has opened up Tractor as more than just a supporter of the arts from afar. Now it can actually host major events.
“Tractor for me from the outside looking in they were always a supporter of the arts — a supporter of theater, of art in general and not just music — and then this space has really lent them the space to show that, not just to like support it from being the sponsor of events and off-site serving at events, but to bring in those events here,” Carlos said.
That in turn has helped create what almost amounts to a circuit of breweries big enough to host everything from standup comedy to musical acts to slam poetry to art openings and more.
“I imagine just with the brewery scene, you see more and more people who are performing here and then performing at two or three other breweries in the week,” Nicole added. “I feel that really might help fill the gap for them artistically.”
Throw in the Beer for a Better Burque program, where patrons can donate money from beer sales on the first Monday of every month to non-profit charities, and Tractor has been doing a lot beyond just selling beer.
Of course, Wells Park still is a brewery, first and foremost, so it hosted two major beer-related events this year. First up was The Battle of the Beer Geeks (won by a certain team of writers who also brew in their spare time) in May as part of ABQ Beer Week, followed by the 2014 IPA Challenge in July.
Nicole and Carlos both called the Battle a good practice run for the even bigger Challenge. Many of the long lines at the former were eliminated for the latter.
“The IPA Challenge was much more logistically sensible and a good use of space,” Carlos said. “We’ve figured out in a year how to use this space in some cool and interesting ways.”
The space in the back is what most folks do not see. Tractor has been able to greatly increase production, which included getting the Farmer’s Tan Red Ale, Farmer’s Almanac IPA, and Mustachio Milk Stout (which was named Best in the City by ABQ The Magazine, it should be noted) into cans and in turn getting those out around town.
“We started canning the beer instead of bottles, which has really improved our world,” Nicole said.
Tractor was rewarded when Beverage World Magazine gave their cans an award for the design by local artist David Santiago.
“Canning has been fun for distribution and it’s been interesting for visibility in the sense that David Santiago is a local artist and he’s the can artist,” Carlos said. “That’s been fun. It’s been cool to see this place lend to art as a business in every way it possibly can. Not that he wasn’t highly visible before, but now he has his pieces of artwork sitting up on liquor store shelves, which is an interesting thing but a crazy cool thing (too).”
Managing those various accounts has also been a good learning experience for Tractor.
“The cans, I think they’ve really started to take off,” Nicole said. “I feel like we’re canning every week, practically. That may not be true, but I feel like Mother Road is always here canning beer. The cans have received a lot of buzz. Going into Costco has been big for us. Realizing this growth has really shown us a lot in trying how to manage and really check up on those different accounts to make sure that product can really shine at all those locations where in town or across New Mexico.”
In addition to selling cans out of liquor stores and at Costco, Tractor has always been putting the Farmer’s Tan on tap at bars across the city.
“It’s been going pretty good,” Nicole said. “I think we’ve been expanding on that front just more and more. We started out with one or two, maybe three places where we serving our kegs. We have 20 locations now. I think that’s big, because a lot of people look for craft beer on draft regardless of where you’re at. So that’s nice for us.”
Not to be forgotten, Tractor’s Nob Hill taproom has continued to find itself packed multiple nights per week, with events like the Solos on the Hill music series and more.
“Nob Hill continues to really survive on foot traffic in that area and regulars who are in that neighborhood,” Nicole said. “It continues to do well.”
“It has a very loyal following,” Carlos added. “They both do in very different ways.”
“There’s something about being in that taproom that’s even nostalgic for me,” Nicole added.
“They’re two very fun places that have two very different vibes but share the same brand,” Carlos said. “That’s obvious, too, (but) it’s kind of interesting the way that’s all worked out.”
(As a side note, while they are not a couple in real life, it was adorable throughout the interview how many times Nicole and Carlos finished each others’ sentences.)
And for those patrons who were only going to one location but missing their favorite servers from the other, that is no longer an issue.
“Staff-wise all of our staff works at both locations and I think that’s a really good move for Tractor,” Nicole said. “Our patrons are expecting to see a full range of folks here. They get to see their favorites at both places. I think that’s really nice. I think it’s evened things out for our staff here to hit both locations. When we first opened and trained, that’s what it was, everybody was at both locations.”
Oh, and not to forget, Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, one of the classic beers in the lineup, just happened to win the 2014 Dark Side Brew Crew Stout Challenge. It will aim to become the first back-to-back champion in 2015.
Plans are afoot for a big 2015
Nicole and Carlos did not have a full list of beers planned for the coming year, largely due to the public demand for Tractor’s core styles.
“As far as like mid-winter, spring stuff, honestly we’re just trying to keep up with brewing what we’ve got going on in our cans and our classics,” Nicole said. “Really it’s just keeping those cans together and working on that.”
One thing they did know is that a fourth style will soon be appearing in cans. Neither was allowed to say exactly what that beer is, but then, kinda like The Walking Dead‘s Facebook page did when **** died this season, theirs went out and basically leaked it all with that there picture.
Anyway, the events calendar at Tractor figures to be full all year. The staff is planning far ahead this year instead of just jamming everything together at once.
“2015, we’re really planning way ahead in terms of what our big events are going to be in terms of entertainment,” Nicole said. “I think our first big push is January 17.”
So just what is that big event?
“That’s an art opening, we’ve started to do these things largely in part due to Nicole and Skye’s enthusiasm and encouragement to make art openings a bigger thing because we always art that changes on the walls,” Carlos said. “So the 17th we open with Christian Gallegos’ art and Reviva and Red Light Cameras will play. So you put those two bands in here, hopefully that should mean there’s quite a few people in here, too.”
That weekend will see a second major event when the latest installment of I’ll Drink to That will take place on Jan. 18 in connection with a certain local theater festival of international acclaim.
“We’ll be a sponsor in January for the Revolutions Festival,” Nicole said. “They’ve really got a lot of stuff going on. We’ll have an event here as part of the Revolutions Festival, we’ll be doing I’ll Drink to That.”
Tractor hopes to have at least one major event per month in support of the local arts community in addition to the local brewing community.
“There’s a big something almost every month in 2015,” Carlos said. “That’s been the push for this (location). We got so event-heavy as we started, it was like how do we get out ahead of ourselves and how do we plan. In 2015 we’ll be planned way far out so everybody will have fun.”
All of us in the Crew look forward to that, as well as just what beers David Hargis and his staff are secretly cooking up in the back. Remember, David, we still have first dibs on the Luna de los Muertos Russian Imperial Stout you’ve been aging in that bourbon barrel. Right? RIGHT?!
A big thanks to Nicole and Carols for taking the time to sit down and chat. Oh, and for the pint of Chocolate Milk Stout, too.