Distillery 365 set to also jump into the local brewing scene

Posted: February 5, 2015 by cjax33 in New Brewery Preview
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A little while back the Crew was contacted by the owners of Distillery 365. As a group we are not adverse to indulging in alcoholic drinks besides just beer, it just tends to be rare and often involve things of an extremely positive (e.g. champagne at a celebration) or extremely negative (e.g. shots of whiskey after one of our teams suffers a crushing defeat) nature. Still, we were intrigued why a distillery would send a message to a bunch of beer writers.

There, lo and behold, in the opening message, was the news that they were planning on brewing, too. Wait, really? A brewery and a distillery all in one? This was something we had to check out. And by we, I mean me, since the best time for co-owners Matt Simonds and Matt Bishop to meet was during the week while the rest of the Crew was either working or on baby duty. So off I went to 2921 Stanford Dr. NE, just south of Candelaria, not far from La Cumbre.

Distillery 365 hopes to be open this year with in-house beer and liquor available.

Distillery 365 hopes to be open this year with their own beer and liquor available on tap.

The two Matts greeted me in the parking lot outside and took me on a quick tour of the small, but impressive, building that will be home to the joint operation. It was abuzz with construction activity with the hope of opening potentially as soon as March, but more likely in mid- to late April.

“But the one thing we started to realize real quick was that we’re going to get all this distillation equipment and we’re like OK, we’ve got a cash-flow problem because you can’t sell bourbon until it’s been aging for a while, what are we going to do to stay afloat,” Simonds said. “We’ve got all the brewing equipment. There’s 90-percent overlap. Why not do some beer as well?

“So we decided to do dual-licensing. We’re licensed as a distillery and a brewery. We thought what better way to round out your product offering then to have a place where you can come in and have a couple beers or a couple drinks?”

Simonds and Bishop have known each other for years. They attended Eldorado High School and UNM together. Both said their background is more on the distilling side, but they have been brewing for a while now at home.

“The beer is kind of interesting,” Simonds said. “Neither of us are brewers from the traditional sense. We’re not part of any of the (brewer) family trees here in Albuquerque. We’ve done a lot of homebrewing experience. But distillation is where we’ve really had the experience. Both of us (were) chemistry and biology majors in college.”

They do have friends within the brewing scene in Albuquerque, including the staff at Bosque. That in turn led them to the very equipment they will be using for both brewing and distilling.

“We’ve got a seven-barrel system,” Simonds said. “(It’s) made by the same guy who made Bosque’s original system. They forwarded me his name and he was awesome to work with. He was really excited to help us out with the distillation column. He doesn’t do distillation equipment, but he customized basically a brew kettle to operate as a boiler, essentially, for the distillation column.”

That distillation column is the unique piece of equipment, unlike anything one would normally see at a brewery.

The distillation column is the "pride and joy" of Distillery 365's equipment.

The distillation column is the “pride and joy” of Distillery 365’s equipment.

“This really is the pride and joy,” Simonds said. “It’s a hybrid distillation column with four plates. Each of those little windows is where a separation plate exists. It’s kind of a middle-of-the-road, jack-of-all-trades distillation column. So our goal is to be able to produce a vodka, a gin, a rum, whiskey, ideally from the start.

“And then the beer, so whiskey is essentially beer that has been run through the distillation column. So that was where the product overlap came in. We’ve got the mash tun, the fermenter, everything that overlaps.”

The setup of the building is a fairly simple one. You walk in through the entrance that is on the east side straight back to a mid-sized bar area. There will be a large glass window behind the bar so people can observe the brewing and distilling process. There will be barrels up front. In fact, those barrels should lead to some fun future endeavors.

“We’re actually really excited about that,” Simonds said. “Everybody is doing these aged beers now, which I think are really cool. To be able take our bourbon barrel and make our aged beer out of it (is great).”

There is 90-percent overlap in the equipment for distillation and brewing.

There is 90-percent overlap in the equipment for distillation and brewing.

The idea of hybrid brewing/distillation creations is also in the works.

“One of the beers we’re really excited to experiment is a style called Kentucky Common, which is basically a bourbon grain bill that is hopped moderately and done a sour mash to it, as alkaline as our water is, putting it in a sour mash will help to buffer and drop the Ph level on the fermentation,” Simonds said. “To take that and put it into a bourbon barrel, I think it may be gimmicky, but hopefully it tastes good, too. Gimmicky is how you get them to drink the first one. Flavor is how you get them to drink several.”

That experimentation will extend to the spirits as well.

“The one I’m excited about is we’re going to be doing a hopped gin,” Simonds said. “We’re actually going to be using some of the stuff from the Abiquiu monastery, the New Mexicans hops. It’s priced like it’s gold, which sucks, but it’s got an amazing aromatic quality to it. We were playing around with some concoctions. I’m so excited about getting that one out to the market because it is, one, it’s unique, but two, it’s definitively New Mexican.”

Going through the process of brewing should help make them better at distilling, Simonds added, and vice versa.

“It’s interesting, I’ve observed from a lot of the other distilleries both in New Mexico and outside of the state, it’s that they kind of tend to look at fermentation as a means to an end,” he said. “The distillers I’ve talked to don’t tend to be really good brewers, they don’t (like to) ferment. Whereas in the brewing world, if you screw up any little tiny aspect of that fermentation you’ve ruined your batch. I feel excited that this gives us an opportunity to basically force ourselves to be really good at both aspects. I think that will ultimately lead to better end products on the distillation end. So we’re really excited about doing the beer largely for that reason.”

That desire to add something a little different to the local brewing scene led the two Matts to decide to locate right in the midst of the Brewery District, even though it will put their beers in the shadow of La Cumbre and Canteen.

Patrons will be able to look behind the bar through a glass wall to observe the brewing and distillation process.

Patrons will be able to look behind the bar through a glass wall to observe the brewing and distillation process.

“That was one big thing when we were looking at leasing a space, how are we going to be as a place?” Simonds said. “We figured why not go right smack in the middle of the Brewery District? What’s the term? A rising tide lifts all ships. This is really a cool part of town to go to for people that like beer. Our hope is to kind of complement what’s already there and definitely be a part of this area. It really is cool and at least within Albuquerque it’s very unique, if not statewide or regionally.”

The construction never stopped while I was visiting. That, however, figures to be the easy part in terms of getting Distillery 365 ready for opening. As just about every other brewery around town can agree, it always tends to be the various federal/state/county/city licenses that prove to be the biggest hangup.

“The construction is moving along right where it should be,” Simonds said. “We should wrap this up in the next month or two. Our TTB agent was on medical leave for a month-and-a-half. It’s like, and you didn’t think to just reassign it over to somebody else? Then she came back and she was (disorganized). We’re still waiting on the TTB approval. That could come in the next week or two.

“We’ve still got formula and label approval to go through, which is another month, month-and-a-half. My goal would be, and I’m stretching it a little bit, but March 1 get our first batch run through, just so we can get something in a barrel to start aging. I have a feeling once we’re up and running we’re going to run into bottleneck issues trying to keep up, I hope. But I hope if we can get a little head start on that it can buy us some extra time.”

We wish the two Matts all the luck and patience in the world when it comes to dealing with regulatory agencies. They promised to keep the Crew updated in their progress and we look forward to trying their first beers and spirits when they are ready for consumption.

It may seem like there is a never-ending flow of new brewing establishments entering a crowded local market, but Distillery 365 at least should offer up enough unique aspects to stand on its own.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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