Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister here with the 15th post in our Look Back/Look Ahead series for 2014-15. Normally I would list the previous 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.
After hitting Canteen in the morning on Monday, I trekked across town to meet with Turtle Mountain owner Nico Ortiz and brewer Tim Woodward in the afternoon. First off, let me just say that having Paseo del Norte done makes the westward drive a heck of a lot better, even if I did get stuck behind a slow-moving construction vehicle on Unser. Regardless, I made it to TMBC, snagged a pint of the tasty Stauffenberg Stout, and got down to asking some questions about how 2014 went and what looms in 2015.
The biggest change at TMBC in the past year was the addition of the bearded brewer to Nico’s left.
“For the first time in 15 years we had a new brewer, which was definitely the biggest change,” Nico said. “In our 16 years of history we’ve only had two people make beer for us, well, two head brewers. So that was a huge change. We ditched all of the recipes we had up until March of 2014 when Tim got hired. We started out with 100-percent, brand-new recipes, which is highly unusual but necessary in this situation.”
Tim was previously the assistant brewer for Justin Hamilton (now at Boxing Bear) at Chama River. Going from there to TMBC was a bit of an eye-opener, but it was a challenge Tim was more than willing to accept.
“I think for me it’s kind of hard to pick out one specific highlight that was so great here at Turtle Mountain,” Tim said. “To come in and basically rebuild from the ground up the entire brewery, the beers, the attitude about the beers, the whole nine yards, there aren’t words to describe the experience. To receive overwhelmingly positive reviews for our house beers that have come on and the excitement over some of these specialty beers that I’ve gotten to produce. Building from the ground up is profound.”
It was not just about creating a new beer lineup, however.
“Unfortunately we had eight years of delayed maintenance come and bite us in the ass,” Nico said. “So Tim and I are currently dealing with that as far as just issues of things not being maintained as well as they should have. So that costs money when it hasn’t been done for so long. That’s going to be on 2015’s list of stuff to get done. We had enormous change, but change for the better certainly.”
It was not an easy decision for Nico to part ways with founding brewer Mark Matheson and bring in Tim, but it was a necessary one. After years of being far removed from the rest of the metro area brewing scene, TMBC has now seen Cazuela’s begin to brew in Rio Rancho, Blue Grasshopper just opened, and Kaktus (Bernalillo), Boxing Bear, and the Marble Westside Taproom have also moved into the area.
“It was Jeff (Erway) who told me the news that I didn’t want to hear that I knew, that I needed to switch brewers,” Nico said of La Cumbre’s owner/brewer. “It was also Jeff who came in (afterward) and said these beers are good. That’s obviously good. We had some solid entries into GABF last year. The comments were good and considering these were new recipes on a new system and everything, 2015 should be better now that Tim is getting more familiar with how the system works.”
Tim said there are still times he wonders if he has taken on too big of a task to revamp the beer menu, fix up the brewing system, and more.
“There’s still times when I ask myself that,” he said. “I feel like that if you’re in a position of responsibility, if you don’t every once in a while ask yourself what the (heck) you’re doing, then maybe you’re not doing it right in the first place.”
“I still ask myself that 16 years after the fact,” Nico added with a laugh.
“It was nice, literally Tim walked into what amounted to a brewery startup that blessedly had historical cash flow and a solid team,” Nico said. “But he was in essence starting from scratch. Essentially there were no recipes. It was a clean slate. That would be, for most brewers, that would be frightening. There’s obviously a lot riding on the learning curve being as steep as possible to get good beer through the pipeline as quick as we can.”
Ultimately, Tim embraced the challenge while reminding himself that perfection in brewing, like in life, is almost impossible to attain.
“I kind of knew this at Chama, but one of the most important things to take away is that nothing ever goes the way you think it will,” Tim said. “Even if you’ve transferred a beer a million times, there’s always going to be something quirky that happens. That’s always the name of the game, especially in brewing. It just seems like if you feel like you’ve learned all of this, you’re dead wrong.”
One other bit of positive news for TMBC was that finally, after years of wrangling, the City of Rio Rancho approved the construction of a new parking lot to ease the overcrowding in the existing lot and the surrounding street curbs.
“By July 30 we have to have this parking lot done, which is obviously crimping our ability to fix some of the eight years of deferred maintenance,” Nico said. “As soon as that project is done and we can get ourselves back to full strength, it will be good. The additional 50 parking spaces this summer will be welcome.”
On a final note about 2014, Nico said he noticed an upswing in returning customers, many of whom had bailed out on TMBC years ago for other breweries.
“Personal highlights, just people actually coming in and say they stopped coming into Turtle Mountain because the beers weren’t as good as they used to be and having those people coming back in and saying they’re coming back in because the beers are good,” Nico said. “Anytime people told that to me that was a personal high for 2014.”
A big new festival is among the potential highlights for 2015
One of the biggest things that could happen for TMBC this year is not actually in the hands of Nico and Tim.
“From a business standpoint, the (NM Brewers) Guild has put forth several initiatives in front of the (State) Legislature this year,” Nico said. “One of which corrects a significant disadvantage that restaurant breweries have over those that operate just on brewers licenses, that we cannot distribute our own beer. So that is a big initiative that we’re pushing to basically provide for all brewers license holders.
“If that does indeed get passed and signed come July 1, we’ll be able to start distributing our own beer, which has gotten to become much more important in defending our turf, so to speak. So within Rio Rancho and my side of town, I want to be able to take my beer and put it on tap where I like. It also helps just marketing our product. That is a huge thing. We’re working really, really hard to get that licensing, that change through.”
TMBC will, as always, be heavily involved in two of Rio Rancho’s biggest festivals, Pork and Brew in the summer and Oktoberfest in the fall. But there is also a new festival being planned that could dwarf everything else this state has ever seen.
“The big change this year is Bernalillo opted to sever its ties with the wine festival on Labor Day Weekend (and) it’s now going to be a beer festival,” Nico said. “The Great Southwest Beer Festival in Bernalillo I think is what they’re calling it. It’s going to be a full-day affair all day Saturday and all day Sunday.
“We’re looking forward to bringing the 27 years of Bernalillo experience with the wine fest to bear on a beer festival, which we’re hoping is going to be by far the biggest beer festival this state has ever seen. We’re looking forward to that. That will most certainly be from a Guild festival that will be the biggest event we have.”
The wine festival used to attract anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 patrons over three days, while this new beer festival aims for 10,000 over two days. Do not worry, the Brew Crew will be on top of this story as the year continues.
In the meantime, Tim will be hard at work in the brewery, focusing on the beers and a few special treats here and there.
“At the end of 2014, Nico and I procured a couple of Pinot Noir barrels from Gruet (Winery),” Tim said. “We’re hoping for one, possibly even two bottle offerings this year. They’re going to be very specialty. We’re both very excited about that.”
“The anniversary is March 22, so we’re hoping that which is resting in the two barrels will be ready to roll for our 16th anniversary (party),” Nico added. “Obviously we’ll make that determination sometime next month. I’m excited to see. We did some barrel-aged stuff a few years back but it wasn’t a whole-hearted effort, I’d like to say. This is certainly a whole-hearted effort.”
TMBC fans can expect some of their favorite seasonals to become short-term fixtures in the lineup in terms of always appearing around the same time of year.
“In addition to that of course we’ll have what will hopefully become our regular seasonal specials, featuring things like the Marzen and the Kolsch,” Tim said. “I still want to brew a classic American lager in July for Independence Day. I’ve also got some plans that I’ve dreamed up for some rather esoteric styles. I’m not going to go too in-depth on those yet, because we’re still working out details, see if we can actually make them viable or not. I have some fun ideas. I’m kind of maybe stretching my legs a little bit, seeing if I can do some bizarre, creative, fun beers.”
TMBC did win the Brew Crew’s Oktoberfest beer competition, so we are all looking forward to that beer returning along with many others. Tim said he hopes at least one or more of his beers will make an impact beyond just with the members of a beer-writing website.
“We’re dying to collect some hardware this year at GABF,” Tim said. “We’re jonesing for some medals to hang on the wall. We’re going to be working hard on making the styles we want to submit and making sure they’re exactly to the style guidelines up there. We’re just excited to keep on trucking and slowly continue to build this awesome company up, get the beer out there a little bit further.”
Nico said he was happy to have someone whom he knows can handle all aspects of the brewing side of the business, which frees up Nico to focus on the big picture.
“I’ve got my things I’m looking to get done,” Nico said. “Tim is responsible for making sure that we exercise eight years of deferred maintenance on the brewery and get the brewery 98 percent fully operable. I’m hoping by the end of 2015 I’ll be able to go to local establishments and see my tap handle on there, knowing that we now have the ability to self-distribute our own beer. There’s lots of things coming down the pipeline.
“2015 should be an exciting year. Obviously the competition is out there, so we have to make sure our game gets raised. I’m sure this year there will probably be a shakeout at some point. There’s a lot of breweries and I’m sure not everybody is going to survive. We’ve got to make sure we’re one of those that will survive. I don’t have any fear that we won’t. But, like I said, you have to come to work every morning with a little fear in the back of your mind with a little fear or you don’t have any motivation.”
Now that getting from east to west is a lot easier and faster, all of us in the Crew plan to visit TMBC more regularly in 2015. The pull of better beer always helps, too. We look forward to seeing how Stauffenberg Stout stands up against the rest during our annual Stout Challenge this coming Super Bowl Sunday.