Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister here with the 10th post in our Look Back/Look Ahead series for 2014-15. Normally I would list the previous nine entries, but that’s starting to chew up space, so just go ahead and click on the category link above in the byline and you will find everything we’ve written so far in this series. We hope to get the remaining entries published by the end of January.
This time around I hopped over to Marble Brewery on Friday evening to talk with head brewer Josh Trujillo. Since I had already had a lengthy chat with owner Ted Rice back in November, it was Josh’s turn this time around. 2014 was a huge year for Marble, which brought home the Small Brewery and Small Brewer of the Year awards from the Great American Beer Festival, along with two gold medals for the Double White and Imperial Red. Prior to that, they also won gold at the World Beer Cup for their Pilsner.
“It’s been a great year for us,” Josh said. “The World Beer Cup was in April, sometimes you think about it and it seems so long ago but it was in the same year. Three gold medals, small brewer and small brewery of the year were all within six months of each other. At times it’s very pressuring to hold up to those standards.”
Winning awards, however, was just part of the story. Marble also went through a major reorganization, with founding partners John Gozigian and Jeff Jinnett leaving, Ted taking over most of the day-to-day overall operations, and Josh ascending to the position of head brewer. Toss in a total re-branding and new logo, a massive renovation of the patio outside the downtown pub (as well as the bathrooms inside, always an underrated but appreciated move), an expansion of the Westside Taproom, the opening of the new Santa Fe taproom, and … well, it was a busy year.
“For parts of me it was hard to believe that it was only a year,” Josh said while sitting in his remodeled office/lab in the brewery. “At times it seems much longer. At other times it seems much shorter. You just kind of get into your groove and roll with it. We may not have an easier year (in 2015), but there will be a little less happenings. It was a very fast-paced year. We’ve always kind of grown throughout the years, but this year especially there was a lot more changes, with the culture, the staff, everything else that’s been going on.”
Bringing home all that hardware from Denver did help out, of course, in terms of accepting that all of the changes were worth it.
“If we didn’t win all the accolades this year, I’m not quite sure how I would have felt having all of that to deal with and not really having anything to show for it,” Josh said. “It makes me feel very confident in the abilities of myself and Ted and my staff to be able to manage all of those situations and still make sure that the beer was top notch and will stand up across the nation and the world.”
Josh has been working his way up the ladder since the early days of Marble, giving him a unique perspective on just how far the brewery has come.
“For me it’s great,” he said. “I started here when we were still small. It was just me, Ted, and Daniel (Jaramillo) back here, humping it every day. I earned my stripes, moved up through the ranks, making sure that everything was absorbed into my mental state of brewing to achieve what Daniel and Ted taught me. Certainly I worked my own style and my own vision into the process as well.
“We all, me and Ted, everybody back here we have a lot of respect for each other. Me and Ted sync up pretty well in our ideas and what we want to achieve. We almost don’t have to tell each other things sometimes. Even the obscure details, we know what we have to achieve. I execute his ideas or vice versa. It works out well.”
The transition from Ted to Josh running the show in the brewery day-to-day has been fairly smooth.
“I’ve built the crew pretty solidly over the last couple years,” Josh said. “Everybody respects my opinion back here. They know I’ve earned my stripes in brewing and they take my direction.”
Despite the never-ending demand for more and more beer to be produced, Josh and the brewing team have never sacrificed their standards.
“We tend to stick to our guns and make sure that the beer is quality over production,” Josh said. “Looking at the numbers, fortunately our distributors and patrons all understand that and are willing to work toward the better of the beer rather than the higher consumption.”
Marble is currently at their production ceiling, meaning that no matter how much fans or distributors cry out for more of any particular beer, they cannot make more.
“The Pilsner is probably our most medaled beer and it appeals to a wide range of people, but it’s the longest to produce and takes up a lot of tank space,” Josh said. “We have minimal space (so) it’s hard to increase production on something like that without sacrificing numbers on other beers. You want to increase your numbers across the board.”
Luckily for Marble, that problem is about to be resolved.
Brewery expansion on tap for 2015
Marble finished 2014 brewing about 13,000 barrels of beer. The plan is to double that production in 2015. To do that, the brewery will expand to the north, eventually ending up with another 7,000 square feet of space.
“We’re excited to have this expansion and the extra space for us to really just move around, so we’re not working on top of each other,” Josh said. “It gets rough some days when we’re transferring, CIPing, brewing, packaging, kegging, everything all at once. There’s not a lot of proper thoroughfares for us to efficiently move. That’s the thing I’m most excited about is just getting my efficiency up.”
The plan is to keep the brewhouse where it sits, while moving the fermenters into the expanded area and add more fermenters (12 new 150-barrel behemoths, Ted told us back in November).
“You know, we’ll definitely be able to produce (more) across all of the styles that we have on the board,” Josh said. “But I think ultimately it’s just going to give us all a kick in the ass and let us know that we are growing rapidly on the up and up. Everybody needs to step up their game and accept that we’re not going to be a small brewery forever. We need to grow together and get everybody to embrace this growth.
“Hopefully we gain more efficiency is kind of what I’m hoping for. Because it also gives us the opportunity to know new stuff on a larger scale. We’re going to get a centrifuge and a handful of new equipment that’s going to require even more attention to detail just in the production process.”
Marble has already acquired a parking lot across the street from the existing back lot, which will be reduced to about eight spaces, Josh said. That should alleviate one concern for customers while the construction begins soon. It will last a projected five months once it begins.
“To be honest with you, I’m not as involved in the numbers and the planning, which is why I’m here and in the position I’m in,” Josh said. “I’m here to make sure through all of this — the people that are removed from the brewing now to make sure achieve this growth by working with the contractors and banks and everything — somebody needs to be here to manage this place. I’m perfectly comfortable with that.”
While Josh said taking a vacation is at the top of his list of things to do at some point this year, for the most part he will be focused on the beer. That will give him the opportunity to tweak or maintain the primary styles, while also putting on his mad scientist hat from time to time.
“I’d like to wear it all over the place and make sure everything is good,” Josh said. “Fortunately, when you’re here in a brewery you have the ability to sort of exercise your creativity rather than brew to certain style guidelines. Ted’s really done a good job of letting us do that. Rather than today we’re going to brew this style, it’s more of a (situation where) being the forward creators that we are we can say I like this or I had a glass of this or this dish inspired me to make something new, something outside but still has that classic drinkability. Ultimately I want people to crave what we make. If people aren’t craving what you make, it’s a sign you’re stalling out.”
There are at least of couple of beer styles that Josh plans to play around with once the expansion is done.
“Hopefully we can up our sour beer production a little bit over the next couple of years and start turning out some really nice offerings on the sour end as well as some interesting bourbon barrel stuff,” Josh said. “We’ve got a handful of barrels back there. I think this new expansion is going to make it easier to access the barrels we do have and figure out some interesting wood-inspired beers over the next spring and fall months.
“With any of luck we’ll be able to offer more of that into smaller bottling (runs). Which is really exciting to get those out to a wider range of people that may not necessarily want to come down to the pub setting. There are a handful of beer geeks out there that don’t have time to visit their local pub. There’s a lot of bottle trading and hitting the liquor store on the way home and picking up a new bottle or an old bottle. We’ll be getting into some of those markets a little bit more, do more smaller releases in bottles.”
All of us in the Crew are in support of more unique bottles we can take home, but don’t worry, loyal Marble fans, they have not forgotten about those of you who prefer to drink your beer fresh from the tap.
“We love the patrons here, too,” Josh said. “One of my favorite things to do is sit at the end of the bar and socialize with the people that have ultimately made the business successful. It’s a business of consumption. If people aren’t consuming your product and it’s just sitting there, then your business isn’t growing. I enjoy interacting with the patrons and seeing what they think about new beer styles at our brewery and other breweries.”
To further accommodate those patrons, Marble will be making some additional renovations indoors, just as they did outdoors last year.
“We’ve started remodeling the pub, expanding the seating a little bit, making it a fresher, more comfortable model pub setting for patrons,” Josh said. “We’ll have a little live music inside (too).”
The success of Marble in 2014 was big not only for the staff and patrons there, but for further helping to put New Mexico breweries on the map.
“I’m really curious to see what the next year, year-and-a-half holds,” Josh said. “Back in the 90s we kind of went through this growth spurt again and a lot of those breweries closed. Hopefully the breweries that have opened up are trying to educate themselves to make the beer to represent our state with.”
Thanks to Josh for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat (and for the pint of cask IPA, too). And thanks to Leah Black for setting it all up, her help to the Crew has been invaluable. We all look forward to what Marble has in store for the coming year and the years beyond.