Archive for May 14, 2015

La Cumbre co-owner Laura Erway helps keep the brewery running while also raising future co-owners Owen, pictured, and Miles.

La Cumbre co-owner Laura Erway helps keep the brewery running while also raising future co-owners Owen, pictured, and Miles. (Photos courtesy of La Cumbre)

After a grueling battle between our respective hectic schedules, Laura Erway, co-owner of La Cumbre, and I were finally able to hash out an interview for the NM Women in Brewing series. Laura now has two adorable babies to look after; I can’t even imagine how much work that must be. But her passion for beer is still very evident, and I want to thank her so much for her responses and for her continued enthusiasm for the local beer industry.

NMDSBC: Laura, speaking of babies, can you give us a little background on how La Cumbre was originally born?

Laura: La Cumbre was the culmination of a dream that my husband Jeff and I had been talking about for around seven years. We were huge craft beer fans and road tripped all over the country searching for great beer and cool breweries. Jeff started homebrewing in 2003 and very quickly knew that brewing was where his true passion lies; lucky me. I was his occasional homebrew assistant, but knew that my interests are in quality control. We would daydream with each other about what our own brewery would be like: what kinds of beer, what kind of atmosphere, etc. He began taking strategic steps toward becoming an exceptional professional brewer, including extensive home brewing, graduating from The American Brewer’s Guild, and then brewing professionally at Chama River for several years.

NMDSBC: And what were your thoughts at the time? What concerns did you have, and how involved did you want to be?

Laura: I had always known that I wanted to be a part of realizing the dream of having our own brewery. I could also see that it was quite likely that the timing would coincide with when we were ready to have children. My whole life I have dreamed of having children and the opportunity to be with them while they are little. At the beginning of 2010, Jeff began his full-time dedication to the opening of La Cumbre, while I kept on working as a teacher and embarked on my first trimester of pregnancy (and nine months of not drinking!). I admit that it was a little scary being pregnant and approaching maternity leave, while briefly being the only breadwinner, and betting everything on the success of a business that was not even open yet.

We were excited to find the location on Girard which already had so many of the aspects that we were looking for to facilitate a production brewery and taproom. Jeff had already been searching the professional brewers’ forums for the brewhouse and equipment that he wanted. He worked tirelessly for months striving to finally make La Cumbre a reality. I brought home as much bacon as a teacher can, incubated our child, helped get the taproom set up and decorated, designed merchandise, etc.

In early October, our son Miles was born. Jeff took off two days, and then went straight back to work, as we were only eight weeks away from our opening date at La Cumbre. Three weeks later, Jeff politely let me know he really needed me back at the brewery to help him. So I packed up Miles and we started spending each day at the brewery. We had no other employees yet; it was just us. Paul Cornett and Daniel Urea were both volunteering their time to help us with all kinds of things getting the equipment set up. I started interviewing for servers, always with my son in tow. When we were ready to really open the doors of La Cumbre Brewing Company, we had hired six servers to help us.

Come on, admit you're jealous, you wanted to grow up in a brewery, too, just like Miles here.

Come on, admit you’re jealous, you wanted to grow up in a brewery, too, just like Miles here.

NMDSBC: What was your personal brewing/brewery experience?

Laura: I was Jeff’s assistant brewer for the first six or so batches he ever brewed on our system. I am not a brewer. I am a beer lover. I just followed Jeff’s lead, and did whatever he asked. Meanwhile, our newborn slept in his car seat in the corner of the brewery. We opened on December 10, 2010.

NMDSBC: And what was it like when you opened?

Laura: I had been hearing from friends that there was some buzz amongst local beer lovers that we were going to open, but we had done no formal advertising. It was amazing to me that on opening day we actually had a bunch of people waiting outside before we opened. That first day was packed! And the people just kept coming. It was (and is) such a rush to know that all of these people are coming out, excited to buy and drink what we have made, to hang out and be a part of this business that we had been working towards making a reality. It was awesome and it was a very crazy time for us.

Months went by where Jeff and I and our new son were at La Cumbre from mid-morning until at least 1 a.m. every day, seven days a week. We only went home to sleep. But Miles still woke up multiple times a night to eat. It was nuts. I just felt like a machine working and nursing, working and nursing. But Jeff was making great beer and the patrons were amazing and appreciative. We started meeting so many nice people from so many different professions and backgrounds. We quickly established a crew of regulars, many of whom have become friends. These are folks that my son, now four-and-a-half, has known his whole life. I feel so very lucky to be in a situation where I have been able to have my babies with me while working at the brewery.

NMDSBC: Laura, I remember when La Cumbre first opened, my friends and I thought it was so cool how we would see you running around the place with a “Baby Bjorn®” type carrier strapped to the front of your body. Plus, we thought that was a very lucky baby to be in a brewery all the time! When you were young, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” I doubt you thought you would own a brewery!

Laura: As a teenager I loved music, and have always been quite talkative, so I thought I would be a radio DJ. By age 20, I knew I wanted to do something that I felt helped people. I have always enjoyed kids (grown-ups are so serious!), and fell into teaching. I taught kindergarten and first grade for eight years. I have always known that I wanted my own kids someday and that I wanted to be with them full-time while they are little. I have loved quality beer since my early twenties and loved a good pub atmosphere since I was a kid. Being an owner of La Cumbre allows me to experience most of these things: I get to help people by providing them with excellent beer which can be enjoyed in our cozy taproom; I get to have my kids with me whether I am working or having a beer myself; I get to make sure we have a variety of good music played in the taproom; and, I get to talk with lots of interesting people all the time.

NMDSBC: I know it’s quite a bit more difficult now with two. What is the hardest part for you about spending less time on-site?

Laura: Since the birth of our second son, Owen, in late 2013, I spend much less time on-site at our brewery. I had gradually worked myself down to three days a week over the previous two years, as Miles was becoming less of a baby and more of a little boy who deserved to do other things besides just go to work with his parents. About three months after Owen was born, I started coming back a couple days a week. Even that is challenging with two kids in tow. The toughest part about not being around the brewery as much is probably just letting go of control. I have to trust our great staff to do their best and make decisions with the best interest of the business in mind. I admit it is also hard for me that some newer employees and taproom patrons don’t even know that I used to be there all of the time; that is a pride thing for me. But I have made my choice to be the one who is with my young kids all day, every day. That is a choice I do not question. I am grateful to have that choice. I know that they should not have to be at the brewery all of the time, and I know that it is quite impossible for me to get much work done when they are both with me. We all have to make choices and sacrifices.

NMDSBC: La Cumbre was really part of the first big push of craft breweries in town. There were several in existence, of course, but you were on the “big wave” when it started. What do you think is the biggest difference now versus when you were opening?

Laura: The explosion of breweries in Albuquerque in the past couple of years is wild to me! I seriously cannot keep up with it. I think that it is exciting that so many more people are thinking about, and drinking, craft beer! I like to think that La Cumbre and the other quality breweries that were already around four years ago really helped to expose more beer drinkers to craft beer and to fuel the excitement about the potential for great locally made beer. The biggest difference that I see is that some people may be opening breweries because it seems trendy, as opposed to genuinely having their passion lie in craft beer. The product will speak for itself, and local beer drinkers can taste the difference when the beers are crafted with passion and expertise.

NMDSBC: Have you noticed an increase in your female customer base? What about the types of beers women are drinking — are they changing?

Laura: I feel like we have had an increase in the female customer base. I hate stereotypes about beers that women will drink. I know a lot of IPA- and stout-loving women. That said, both men’s and women’s tastes are more likely to evolve with exposure to new flavors. We pride ourselves on offering a very wide variety of styles on any given day and throughout each year. I have had many taproom customers tell me that they love a particular beer we have on tap that is in a style which they had never tried before. In 2014, Tammy Lovato organized several women’s beer tastings at La Cumbre. They were sold-out events where many women came to sample, analyze, and discuss a number of our beers, as well as hang out behind the scenes in our brewery and get to talk with our brewers. Most of the women had never participated in anything like that, but they all seemed to have a really good time and enjoy learning more about different beer styles and ways to interpret and appreciate the beers they come across. I feel that having a female-only event provides a different opportunity for women to really take ownership of their beer-drinking experience.

NMDSBC: You’ve probably seen it all by now. What words of advice to you have for women who want to enter the industry?

Laura: Oh, geez. If you really want to enter the brewing industry, first of all — love beer. Seriously. Love it. Go try as many styles as you can. Try them from as many breweries as you can. Learn what is quality and what is not. Then take that knowledge and love and be confident about it. I have definitely had people assume I don’t really know anything about beer because I am a woman. I have been asked if I even drink beer while serving beer in our own taproom — crazy, I know. Take yourself seriously when it comes to beer and your interest in the brewing industry. My other advice would have something to do with the challenges of working with beer while being pregnant and nursing. In the past five years, I was unable to drink for one-and-a-half years of that time. Staying involved with what is being brewed and served is challenging when you yourself are unable to be an active participant in drinking the beers.

NMDSBC: These questions are somewhat difficult to ask, because — whether you are male or female — it’s hard not to feel guilty even thinking in terms of gender. It should be irrelevant, but as a society, we’re not there yet, hence the subject of this series. Hopefully the Crew can do a little bit to “normalize” the subject of women in beer.

Laura: I hear ya.

NMDSBC: So then, let’s switch gears just a bit. Is La Cumbre in the market for another location (hopefully)? If you were to ask many of my friends what their favorite local brewery is, they will answer without hesitation that in terms of beer it is La Cumbre. But many of them also wish that La Cumbre would expand because it is too popular (I realize that is not such a bad thing for an owner!) and is therefore often overly crowded. This leads to some difficulty if you just want a quiet, after work beer and a conversation with a friend or loved one. Can you talk at all about future plans?

Laura: Yes, La Cumbre is looking to open an additional taproom or two.

NMDSBC: (NOTE: Back when I first asked Laura this next question, I had not seen the work being done at the taproom. Since then, I have.) What about a patio? I know the footprint around the building might be challenging, but my significant other wanted me to ask …

Laura: You may have seen it by now, but our new patio currently under construction. We are very excited to finally be able to offer outdoor seating!

* * * * *

Any more seating at this location is a good thing, and patios are always an awesome and welcome addition. According to Laura, the patio should be open by the end of this month. Ah, perfect timing for summer!

A great big cheers to all women who love beers (and the men who love them)!

— AmyO