Nob Hill Bar & Grill’s Decaro talks about their dedication to craft beer

Nob Hill Bar & Grill manager Thomas Demarco has been bringing all sorts of rare craft beer goodness to Albuquerque.
Nob Hill Bar & Grill manager Thomas Decaro has been bringing all sorts of rare craft beer goodness to Albuquerque.

Big things have been happening in Nob Hill in the last six months. Sitting between Kelly’s and Bistronomy B2B on the beer map of Albuquerque, Nob Hill Bar & Grill has been around since 2008 offering upscale, but casual, American dining and cocktail bar experience. Just before Halloween last year it was brought under new ownership who put a new bar manager in place.

Since then they have focussed heavily on their American craft beer offerings, with 27 taps lining their bar (soon to be 28, with the addition of a nitro line) and craft beer events filling their calendar. I sat down with Thomas Decaro, the bar manager overseeing this new focus, to find out how these changes came about and what the future holds.

NMDSBC: It’s been six months now since the ownership change. Did they bring you on board straight away?

Thomas: I was bartending here at the time, almost two years before that. I took on that role as I wanted to get into a buyer’s role for future career prospects as I was graduating at the end of the year. Then it kind of stuck.

NMDSBC: Did the new owners bring in the focus on craft beer?

Thomas: No, that was me. Nicole (Kapnison, the owner of Nob Hil Bar & Grill) is great, she lets me do whatever I want. Whenever I bring in a super expensive keg like Uncle Jacob’s she doesn’t bat an eye. I’m allowed to bring in that stuff that we weren’t able to before. It actually started with John over at Premier (Distributing), he gave me a call and said “Hey, we’ve got an extra (Goose Island) Bourbon County keg, do you want it?” and that sort of kicked it off and we saw how successful that could be. I decided to get rid of all the not-so-good beer on draft and focus primarily on American craft.

Thomas’s relationships with the distributors has lead to him participating in meetings with breweries coming into the state. He’s planning launch parties for Upslope and Ballast Point in the next month and sitting in on talks with other breweries not yet under distribution contract.

Thomas: We need this beer. It will pave the way for Firestone Walker, Founders, and others to come to New Mexico. I’ve tried to focus on out-of-town craft, but I do have the Marble Brett IPA, Choice Blanc, and a few others. I have a partnership set up with Marble now where I can bring on fun beers, for example we have the Brett Stout coming on this week. For a while I neglected the local market a little too much, but if I can get fun beers which are one-offs that you’re only going to find here or at the brewery, then they compete with all of our beers on tap. Beers like Elevated and Slice of Heaven we have because they’re so in demand, but we try to have a rotating DIPA handle, a rotating IPA handle. Everything rotates.

NMDSBC: It seems like you all have been experimenting with a few different kinds of events. Beer dinners, beer launches, and so on. What’s been working well for you, what do you see doing more of down the road?

Thomas: Beer dinners, for sure, I want to set up a few of those. Tap invasions — I’m working on one in June is a Belgian invasion. Since we do American craft we can do country invasions, just take over seven taps and make them all rare Belgian beers. Also, we might do a Christmas in July thing, bring some darker beers in, do that around Summerfest time. There’s a lot.

NMDSBC: What have you got going on for ABQ Beer Week? Seems like it’s quite the list!

Thomas: Ok, here’s what I have in my calendar:

  • Thursday (May 21), we have an Oak Aged Wake Up Dead keg and then New Belgium are supposed to be doing something that evening.
  • Friday night (May 22) is going to be the craziest night of Beer Week by far. Goose Island are going to be bringing their DIPA, The Illinois, The Ogden, and a keg of Bourbon County Coffee Stout. I’m from Chicago so I’m going to bring down my Chicago flag for that tap invasion.
  • Saturday (May 23) we have a Mother Road cask coming from Arizona, then Mirror Mirror from Deschutes, their barleywine, (and) then Ska is going to do something, not sure what yet.
  • Sunday (May 24)/Monday (May 25) we’re off for Blues & Brews and Memorial Day.
  • Tuesday (May 26), Lagunitas is giving us a cask, don’t know what it is yet, but they told us they’d filled one up for us.
  • Wednesday (May 27), Santa Fe is bringing us a cask, maybe a lemongrass sour or some Java Stout, not sure.
  • Thursday (May 28) will be Odell’s Barrel Thief Oak-aged IPA.
  • Friday (May 29) we’re doing an Alpine, Green Flash, Avery night. I think I have another Uncle Jacob’s keg stashed which should have aged so nicely.
  • Saturday (May 30), Stone is sending us two barrel-aged beers, Reason Be Damned and Cali-belgique aged in Red Wine barrels. Super excited about those.
  • Sunday (May 31) is Boulder Breakfast/Brunch, so we’ll have a bunch of brunch items with their beer in it and they’ll have a barrel-aged keg for us as well, then that night is a Narwhal keg from 2014.

In addition, once we get room next week we should be getting The French {Hop} Connection, an Odell/Alamo Draft House collaboration. It’s a saison which is dry-hopped, it’s a little spicy. It was supposed to be a Beer Week keg, but we were pretty much full on events.

It’s cool, the distributors take care of me with cool beers. When I do orders through them I’m able to ask for specific beers and they’ll get it for me. That’s how we got the Green Flash Hop Head Red and the Double Stout, which nobody else in the state has on tap. Green Flash doesn’t have much of a market here, but their styles are really great for Albuquerque, balanced but super hoppy beers.

NMDSBC: It seems those sort of breweries have become passé for some people, they just think ‘I’ve had that’ and walk on by.

Thomas: Yeah, another is Bridgeport Pale Ale, (a) great porch-sitting pale ale, but nobody else has it. That’s what I want from a pale ale, just tasty but super-easy drinking.

I try to get them to bring in beers not yet in this market, harass them to send me some! Literally my Ballast Point order was this keg, this keg, this keg, this size, this size. We’ll have the regular and Grapefruit Sculpin (IPA) for sure, hoping on some of the other ones. I’m so excited for those.

NMDSBC: I will be camping out here on that day!

Thomas: I can’t wait. We’re going to do a kick-off party with a tap takeover and just have all the beers available on tap. At first it was all about Nob Hill, obviously it’s my job to build that up, but you have to look at the bigger picture, too. We have to build up Albuquerque’s beer scene in general. If Ballast Point comes in here and tanks then we’re not going to get any good beer. You’re going to take one of the hottest beer brands in America and it tanks in Albuquerque, do you think Firestone or Founders are going to want to come here? No way. So, I want to do an industry night where everyone can come in and try all the beers without having to front the cost, because it is expensive beer, so that Albuquerque can have it on tap in more places. The more places with Sculpin, the better.

We need to make it so that Union Jack or Wookey Jack can come here, and this is the start. We need to take care of the whole scene, not just Nob Hill. If we can get more people doing what I do — my ideas aren’t original, you go to bars out of state and see beers from all over the country, that’s what I want. If I want to go and get a local beer I’ll go to the brewery to get it.

NMDSBC: The thing which needs the originality, I think, is making that work in this market. Especially when you’re talking about the more expensive beers, are people willing to spend the money?

Thomas: That’s the thing. All of my beers are affordably priced. My most expensive beer is the Brett IPA right now, $7 a pint, which was set by the brewery. Most 10-ounce pours are $6 max, and that’s about where I stop at. I want the consumer to drink it, I don’t want to sit on it. My profit margin may be lower, but I get to have more cool beer on all the time, it’s way more fun.

I don’t want to go to a bar where they have the same taps over and over. What’s going to make you go? They have Marble Red, they have Stone IPA. They’re great beers, but they’re all the same beers, all the time. I don’t want to go to that place. I’ll bring in the rare beers, the ones which are sought after, you’ll want to have dinner with that beer, have some dinner and a have a Choice Blanc, have some dinner and have a Brett IPA.

NMDSBC: So, beyond beer week, what does the next six months hold?

Thomas: I’ve to got start doing more beer dinners, the Christmas in July thing. I have a Fernet Aged Porter keg for that, I think. I’ve got to do more rotations because I got bored with my taps for a second. When I get bored I have the worst ADD, that’s why they’re always changing. I made a joke to the boss that we should put on our tap list ‘Don’t get attached,’ because our beers change so much.

But it’s been good. With one of our distributors we are up 27 percent in the year, just on beer. For March, year-on-year, we’re up 70 percent, that’s without Guinness, Dos Equis, Blue Moon, or Stella (Artois) on draft. They freaked out at first when we said we wanted to pull them, were like, “Are you joking? Your sales are going to go down,” and I told them, “Just watch,” and we replaced them. We’re way better off without them, so nice not having Blue Moon on tap. Those are all available in bottles, but when you’ve got 27 beers on tap, why are you going to order something in bottles?

The beer community here is sweet and they’re just dying for good beer. I’m really lucky to have a good kitchen. Where else in Albuquerque can you get really great food and really great beer? It’s too much to keep up with all different kinds of beer from all over, but we have American food and pair it with American beer, and that’s sort of our focus.

* * * * *

With an amazing line up for beer week and plenty more besides you’d be wise to keep a close eye on the goings on in this corner of Nob Hill. Even when they’re not running special events their draft lineup is most worthy of exploration.


— Adam

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