Chama River intends to focus on the beer in 2015 as a good brewery should

Posted: January 26, 2015 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2014-15

Greetings everyone, Stoutmeister here with the 16th 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.

Brewer Zach Guilmette, left, was a brave man to let the Brew Crew into his workplace.

Brewer Zach Guilmette, left, was a brave man to let the Brew Crew into his workplace.

Prior to the event-laden weekend that just passed, I made it over to Chama River early in the day to chat with brewer Zach Guilmette once again. It was his brewery’s turn in this series, though I was a little worried we had covered a lot of the ground back in October after we chatted following his return from the Great American Beer Festival with a shiny gold medal for his Class VI Golden Lager. Thankfully, Zach still had some tales to tell of the year gone by and what is to come here in 2015. Unlike most of his fellow brewers around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Zach does not have to worry about expansion plans, or distribution plans, or pretty much anything but the beer itself.

“Yeah, this brewhouse runs well,” Zach said. “Who wouldn’t want a new toy like a hopback or something exciting? But the reality is I can make great beer on this brewhouse. We don’t have any intention of expanding it at this time. All we have to do here is keep brewing.”

Zach and assistant brewer David Facey both came to Chama River in February 2014 from Canteen Brewhouse. They took the reins from Justin Hamilton (now at Boxing Bear) and Tim Woodward (now at Turtle Mountain).

“We will officially be here a full year next month,” Zach said. “It’s been a whirlwind, I’d call it, of a year. I’m excited for that. Lots of new beers, meeting new people as well, getting a chance to steer my own ship. The first year has been really rewarding, a chance to kind of spread my wings, so to say, with styles of beer. Experimenting with hoppy beers and different styles. Of course malty beers I did a lot of those with Canteen. I think just for that reason it’s been great, just for the diversity of beers I’ve been able to brew.”

Working at a brewery is not always glamorous, nor is it always just about brewing.

Working at a brewery is not always glamorous, nor is it always just about brewing.

The toughest adjustment for anyone going from assistant brewer to head brewer always seems to be dealing with the aspects of running a brewery that do not actually involve brewing.

“Recipes and brewing, that was the easy part,” Zach said. “Understanding how to schedule your brews, making sure you don’t run out of anything, scheduling help as well as taxes, all these new things. It kind of created a real challenge right in the beginning there. It all came at once. Now a year later I’m really comfortable with those aspects. Now I can get back to new recipe development.”

The De-cen-ni-ale Russian Imperial Stout was a delight.

The De-cen-ni-ale Russian Imperial Stout was a delight.

While at Canteen, Zach said his forte were the big, malty beers like Panama Joe Coffee Stout. Coming over to Chama River has allowed him to tackle some styles that were usually left up to Brady and Doug.

“I’d say one of the most exciting beers was brewing Radioactive IPA,” Zach said. “It was only because I hadn’t brewed a really hoppy beer before. I’d never entered any of my own beers in the New Mexico IPA Challenge. I brewed it for the third time in December and it’s starting to come around. I change it a little bit each time. Every beer you steer it toward a certain goal, that you may have in mind, whether that’s an award (category) or flavorful style or it’s kind of just public enjoyment or acceptance, stuff like that.”

Radioactive was certainly a hit at the Challenge, finishing with 72 votes for third place overall behind Bosque and Marble.

“With the four special taps we have here, it gives me a chance to play around,” Zach said. “One of the more enjoyable specials I had fun with was the Kolsch. We brewed another Kolsch (last) week. I think what I’ve come to really enjoy is a clean, light beer like that, whether it’s a Kolsch or a lager, being able to balance something delicate, creating a delicate, subtly balanced beer.”

Chama River brewer Zach Guilmette poses with his GABF gold medal and Class VI Golden Lager. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

Zach poses with his GABF gold medal and Class VI Golden Lager. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

Zach certainly made his mark with a clean, light beer when he brought home gold from GABF for Class VI.

“Playing with the house recipes here was one of my most exciting chances to do what every brewer wants to do, which is make your house beers your own, put your own twist on it,” Zach said. “That’s something (the gold medal) I’ll probably take with me the rest of my life. One of the goals I set for myself a year ago, and not thinking it would happen so soon, but was eventually to win a medal for a house beer. To say the beer we have on every day is a medal winner. That was a great thrill for me.”

As for 2015, with no major plans for expansion or renovation, Zach and David can remain focused on just making lots of great beer.

“I’d like to brew a saison series,” Zach said. “I’m going to do four saisons, the first of which will be a plum saison. The second one I release I call Lemon Jester. That’s going to be with Sorache Ace — Sorache Ace has become the (main) hop for saisons — it brings out a lemon character in a saison that would be pretty interesting. And then Sine Qui Non. The last one will be Woot King on Red. Woot King is going to be the first one I brew but the last one I release. It’s going to be aged in a red wine barrel, hopefully Cabernet. I want to call it Woot King on Cabernet, but I can’t guarantee I’ll get a Cabernet battle.

“All four of these will vary. One will have flaked rye and an interesting spice character. Another will be just pilsen, wheat, a little dex, and the simplest recipe you can imagine. None of them will have spice added. All four of them will have spice characteristics added by the yeast. So I’ll be playing with fermentation temperatures and pitch rates to try and manipulate the yeast and create different characters. Saison is one I want to focus on and enjoy and learn more about.”

There is plenty of room in the back of Chama River for more good beer.

There is plenty of room in the back of Chama River for more good beer.

While most of the other beers Zach wants to brew are further down the line, one pop-culture tie-in beer will arrive fairly soon. Saul-utations will be an India Pilsner Lager brewed just in time for the upcoming debut of the TV series Better Call Saul on AMC. The Albuquerque-based show filmed part of an episode at the Chama Microbar downtown, so Zach wanted to pay tribute. The beer will debut at viewing party for the debut episode of the Breaking Bad spinoff series on Sunday, Feb. 8.

Beyond that, Zach said he hopes to get Chama back out on the festival circuit this year. They missed out on WinterBrew last Friday as they were a little busy having a week-long celebration of their 10th anniversary.

“Absolutely. I definitely want to attend at least 10 festivals,” Zach said. “David Facey and myself are putting a list together of the festivals we’d like to attend. We certainly want to make a presence in New Mexico as a whole. I want to go to Pajarito (SummerFest) this year, I haven’t been up there and I know that’s just a great festival.

“We definitely want to be out there. Festivals are fun, you can bring beer to the people. It’s also a chance to release new beers to people. It can be their first chance to try one of our new ones.”

Thanks to Zach for taking the time out to chat. His De-cen-ni-ale Russian Imperial Stout, brewed up and even bottled in a limited run for the 10th anniversary, was a wonderful monster of a beer. We look forward to everything else he comes up with this year.

And who knows, maybe we will even get to do another batch of Obey the Darkside Stout, too.


— Stoutmeister

  1. […] Chama River brought in a new brewing team in Zach Guilmette and David Facey last year and the payoff was immediate. They brought home a gold medal from GABF for Class VI Golden Lager. Their plans for this year are to just continue to brew great beer and have fun. […]

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