Greetings, gang! As you all should know by now, Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos had a “soft” opening several weeks ago. The place has been a very welcome addition to the local beer scene (which basically consisted of a good beer pub and a surprisingly nice beer bar within our mega-grocery store). BRB is planning their official grand opening this weekend, with live music both days and the long-anticipated unveiling of their own beers. (UPDATE: The ribbon-cutting ceremony was just held, and currently there is only one BRB beer to be had, a stout. More will be coming online in the near future. There will still be brews from around NM to fill in as they have had since the soft opening.) This is one you won’t want to miss! For more info on BRB, visit their home page at bathtubrowbrewing.coop, or check out their Facebook page.
To find out more about the guys in charge of things, I interviewed general manager Jason Fitzpatrick and head brewer Hector Santana. The interviews were done on separate occasions, so without further adieu, we’ll start with Jason.
NMDSBC: So, Jason, can you tell us about your background, and are you new to this area?
Jason: I’ve been living in New Mexico for five years now. Before that I was in L.A., before that was in London, and I grew up in Phoenix. So, I’ve lived other places here and there as well, but I’ve decided to make New Mexico my home. The reason I came out to New Mexico is my twin brother had an art gallery in Santa Fe and I was just looking for something new instead of Los Angeles … (so I) ended up working for Santa Fe Dining, met my wife there. The rest is history.
NMDSBC: So your education/background is in restaurant management?
Jason: It’s not. My undergraduate degree is in political science from Notre Dame. From there, I went to a year-and-a-half of law school. That was at Arizona State, and I decided after a year-and-a-half that doing homework for a living was not for me. So at that point, I made a segue into bartending just as something to do until I figured out what I wanted to do, and that brought me eventually to craft beer, which I love and I am very, very happy that this is the career I ended up on.
NMDSBC: Well, you can’t go wrong with a career in beer. All of our readers will agree on that one. So it sounds like your brother is in Santa Fe, not Los Alamos … do you like this town, is your family happy here, do you have children?
Jason: I do. I have a 3-year-old son. He has been here at the brewery a few times. He really likes that we have a park across the way that he can dig out in that front area. Yeah, it’s a really great town. I’m an outdoor-type person, so this goes well with that.
NMDSBC: And Los Alamos has a good education system. A lot of people come here just for that. The whole LABC and BRB is based on a co-op model, which is unusual at least. How does that work, and does that affect your day-to-day running of the place?
Jason: So it did to start. When the Board of Directors brought me on, there was a period of transfer from them being more operational, which they had to be until they brought a general manager on to take that over, to more policy-driven. Over the past few months we’ve made those transitions, and we’re now getting to the point of me as the GM being the operator and the Board of Directors being policy advisors, someone to lean on for me when I need help. They’ve been great in that role.
NMDSBC: It is a co-op and people are certainly encouraged to join, especially if they live in the area, but they don’t have to join to be customers of the place. What are the benefits if they do join?
Jason: If you do join, you’re supporting really what the idea behind this is, and that’s a gathering place for the community. And we hope to be here as a focal point of the community, a gathering place for a long period of time. And to make great beer for this community, as well. The advantage of supporting the co-op is to allow us to get better and better and to improve, and that’s our goal, not only in brewing, but also in the taproom and our events.
As far as the benefits for the members, with an annual membership, which is for the year from when you buy it to that date the next year, you get discounts on beer, so instead of $5 for a pint it’s $4 for a pint. You’re also invited to special beer tasting events, which we haven’t done yet, but once we get our beer up and running we’ll have those specialty tours, classes with myself, and also Hector, our head brewer. Talking about beer, beer tasting, the ingredients that go in. That’ll be exclusive to all members, and with the lifetime membership, you’re really committing to a larger part in planning on this being around for a longer time, so those are the members that we’ve come to appreciate. It’s those who look at this as a long-term goal and gathering place for the community. And with your memberships, also, at the end of the year, if the business is profitable, which we think it will be, you will receive a patronage dividend. So the amount of money that you spent over the course of the year, whatever percentage that is of the total spent by members, you’ll get a dividend back at the end of the year.
NMDSBC: So the more you drink, the more money you make. Sounds dangerous.
NMDSBC: OK, that sounds great. I hope a lot of people come by and join. You did mention some activities and events. This is a very nice place; people will see that when they come visit. Do you plan on having music/bands playing?
Jason: We do. Starting May 29 for our grand opening, we will have music from 5 to 7 (p.m.), and then on May 30 … the reason we’re stopping at 7 is that we know Gordon Events in the park are very big for this community and we don’t want compete with that, we want to supplement it. So that’s why we’re having music 5 to 7 before it starts at 7 over there. And on May 30, we will have three different bands starting at 3 and going until 9 or 9:30. Those will be Pajarito Mountain String Band, Higher Grounds, and Saltine Ramblers. Saltine Ramblers are from Albuquerque. So it’s going to be a bluegrass-type festival on Saturday.
NMDSBC: Nice. Then there will be occasional musical events throughout the future?
Jason: Yeah, so we’re building a deck right now. It’s in planning, and as soon as we have that out there, we’re hoping to have Thursday, Friday, Saturdays for music. We’re also going to have events here on Wednesday nights which we’re in the final stages of planning. Just heard from Geeks Who Drink that they did hire a moderator here in town. So we’ll start to have trivia nights on Wednesdays.
NMDSBC: That’s great. You had mentioned the grand opening, but the place has been open for two to three weeks now. So it’s a soft opening, and you’re serving other people’s beers for now. I assume when the grand opening happens then you’ll have some of your own beers?
Jason: We will. As we speak here right now, Hector is back there starting the process of the first brew, so we will have at least four, we’re hoping for five beers on the 29th for that release. And we’re going to showcase at least the first four — a blonde ale, a wit beer which will be spiced with orange and coriander; we’ll have an IPA, and a milk stout. And from there, we’ll have four specials that we’ll rotate through. They will have over-arching categories. We’re going to be playing a lot with those four beers and really trying to have fun with them.
NMDSBC: That sounds great. Since you have been open for a few weeks, have you learned anything, have any changes planned, or fine-tuning?
Jason: We will be fine-tuning. We’ll always be fine-tuning. But we did learn a lot the first week. The staff here, they’re great, they have experience, but have not worked in this environment before. It is a little different when you’re serving so many people and it’s just beer, instead of a restaurant-type environment. We’re fine-tuning there. We’ll constantly (be) getting better.
Something we’re requiring also from all of our bartenders is that they become server Cicerone certified. That is a national program of becoming sort of a sommelier in wine, to a lesser degree on the server side. There are levels of different Cicerone trainings and we’re requiring them within the first 60 days of their employment to pass at least the server Cicerone test. So we’re working on educating our bartenders, and then we’ll move into educating the community as well. So that’s all stuff we’re working on.
NMDSBC: You mentioned the beers. Is that just Hector, the brewer’s department, or do you have some input into that, too?
Jason: I spoke with Hector, also our other brewer Jason Kirkman, who’s here a couple days a week to help out Hector. We all sat down and tried to come up with what we thought would represent a wide range of palates. And some of the specialty beers, the experimental beers we’re going to do, I leave that strictly to them. They are the experts.
NMDSBC: Right. And I have to ask, of course, what is your favorite style of beer?
Jason: So, I drink all styles. There isn’t really any style that I don’t like, which I’m sure a lot of craft beer drinkers would say. If I were to choose one, smoked porter would be my favorite. I am a big fan of Scotch (ale) as well. I really like smoked, peat flavors, and I think that the porter represents that style very well. Also, I have a Scottish heritage. My grandfather is from there.
NMDSBC: So if we see a smoked porter on the menu at some point, we shouldn’t be surprised.
Jason: You shouldn’t be surprised. We actually have one coming up from Chama River.
NMDSBC: Great. I’ve been here several times, and each time we brought outside food in, which is allowed, because there are a few restaurants right nearby. Are there any plans for you to start serving your own food, or maybe have some food trucks out in the parking lot here?
Jason: There are. The initial plan for this space was to put in a small kitchen in the back. Once we started building the brewery, we quickly realized that that space was dwindling, and that we wouldn’t have space for a kitchen. So under the guidance of the Board of Directors, we recently started looking at other options and found a food truck available in White Rock, and completed a purchase just this week.
NMDSBC: So the Co-op owns the food truck?
Jason: The Co-op bought a food truck, and we’re in the process of creating a menu and getting that set up. We’re hoping to have it open by the grand opening, but there are some hoops to jump through with the county as far as permitting and also figuring out staff. Food is in the works, and even when we have that food truck, I do want to sure that everyone knows, especially the food vendors around here, that customers are still welcome to bring in any food that they would like.
NMDSBC: That’s really great, it goes well with beer.
All right, thank you for your time. I think that’s all the questions I have, but is there anything else you’d like to add? Here’s your chance to bring people in.
Jason: I would just like to thank the community for having so much support for us, especially with the soft opening that we did. We could really see that people have been waiting around for this for a while. We’re just really happy that we’ve been able to open the doors and start to serve. And we’re really looking forward to having our own beer on tap, even though we will (still) bring guest taps, we want to make sure that we still stay tapped in to the New Mexico beer community. To have as many events and gatherings up here as we can to introduce other craft beer drinkers around the state to Los Alamos.
NMDSBC: This is a small town, and it’s a bit of a trip to get to Santa Fe or Albuquerque, so I also want to point out that it’s great that you fill growlers here. Otherwise you would have had to go somewhere far away, so that’s really nice. Thank you for your time.
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And here is our interview with Hector Santana, the head brewer at BRB.
NMDSBC: So Hector, could you tell us about your background and how you got to be in this position?
Hector: Well, I was in the Army eight-and-a-half years, and as I was getting out of the Army to go to school, I started part-time at the Santa Fe Brewing Company. I really wanted to learn how to brew, so I bugged Nick Jones, who was one of the brewers there at the time, to bring in this homebrew system so that we could start brewing. He did, eventually. Kyle Johnson, Leif Rotsaert, who was bartending at the time actually, would go into the back to grind kegs and to bondo kegs and wash them, and then go back to bartending. Eventually, we started brewing every weekend and had too much beer to drink and didn’t know what to do with it, so it was, “Let’s throw it on tap.” So we started throwing it on tap, as we had an extra tap usually. That’s what turned into the Small Batch Saturday program at the SFBC, and there’s been one every Saturday since. Then I just kept working there part-time. I didn’t really want to get a full-time job at the time. It was perfect because it worked out for both of us. They could call me whenever they needed help bottling, things like that. And then I went to Japan and the tsunami happened. I moved to Japan and was supposed to be there for two years.
NMDSBC: You were in the Army?
Hector: No, my ex-wife got stationed in Japan, so I went there to be closer to my son. And to get out of this country, because Japan is cool. It kinda trips me out because I went from Santa Fe, which is about 40 kilometers from Los Alamos, to Iwakuni, Japan, which is 40 kilometers from Hiroshima. I ended up having to come back after the tsunami happened. Then, basically, after that is the time the brewing company got a canning line. Right before I left for Japan, actually, they got a canning line (at SFBC), and that’s when things got crazy over there. They started expanding, expanding, expanding.
When I came back from Japan, I started working there again. I slowly worked my way around to doing different things, I started working full-time. I ended up being in charge of running the canning and bottling, then moved over to washing kegs and doing that part of the house. I skipped cellaring to go straight to brewing. At that time, two of the brewers had left. One’s wife was going to school up in New York, so he went over to work at Ommegang. Then my other buddy, Adam Bishop, from Monday Night Brewing, who I almost went to go work for instead of this place, they both called me on the same day, but BRB called me first.
NMDSBC: We won!
Hector: Right. So, Adam came from Sweetwater in Atlanta — I think they’re in Atlanta — to here at SFBC and then started Monday night brewing in Atlanta. So I almost went to work for them. But, I’m glad I came here instead.
NMDSBC: We’re glad you came here instead. So you’ve made the jump from an assistant, do-it-all kind of guy, to head brewer, so I assume you call the shots now? You’re the boss? You are the person who decides what beers to brew?
Hector: Absolutely. I decide what gets brewed. I work with Jason, our other brewer, on that. A lot of it’s going to be what’s popular from what Jason and I decide to brew, and we can tell that by what sells the most.
NMDSBC: Yeah, it is a business, still.
Hector: It is still a business, even though I’m not concerned with that. It needs to be fun.
NMDSBC: If you were brewing a lot of awful crap that no one wants to drink, the GM might have some words for you.
Hector: Exactly. That’s the other side of the coin, I’m responsible for it all.
NMDSBC: You are the product!
NMDSBC: So what kind of beers do you plan to have available? I assume there’s staples, the ones that everybody has to have, and then you have some room to play.
Hector: Absolutely. We’ll have four staples, which are still subject to change depending on what the customers really like and what sells the most. We’re going to start off with a blonde, a wit, an IPA, and a milk stout. Those are the four staples. And then we’ll do four other taps as styles that will rotate. The first style is a Belgian beer, which will start off with a saison. Then, the next style is an imperial, which we’re doing a red ale for that. Then we have another IPA, single-hopped or different IPA, or porter or brown. Probably an IPA until I get tired of it.
NMDSBC: Well, everyone around here seems to love IPAs, me included. I did put in a vote early on for a triple IPA or quadruple IPA or something insane.
Hector: We’ll see. That’ll be on the fourth category. And we’re going to start off with an English IPA, a traditional English-style IPA. And then the experimental tap, which is where that triple IPA or quad IPA would go. I’m going to start off with what I call Pirate Booty, and it’s a pineapple ginger hefeweizen.
NMDSBC: Oh yes, that will make my wife happy, and many others too, I’m sure. Do you plan on doing any nitro or casks or Randalls, which I’ve never even had?
Hector: Absolutely. Randall will take some time, but I’m definitely planning on doing Firkin Fridays or something like that, where we put out a 5- or 10-gallon firkin of something that we made. Definitely want to try to put that stout on nitro, and maybe anything else I want to throw on nitro.
NMDSBC: Is stout the only (style) that really works with nitro? It seems like the only one you ever see.
Hector: No, not at all. You can do a really good cream ale on nitro, also. And we’ll throw an IPA on nitro, also. Why not?
NMDSBC: Has anyone ever done that? That’s crazy! Ha. See what happens …
Hector: I also plan to make sure every employee and board member brews a beer. Jason and I will be there, of course, but they get to choose the style and we’ll build the recipe together. I feel it’s very important for them. They need to know what’s actually going on.
So that Bathtub out there … I’m going to do open fermentation in it. I’m going to start off with kombucha. I want to have kombucha on tap. No other brewery has kombucha on tap.
NMDSBC: I’ve never seen that before.
Hector: Not here, not in New Mexico, at least.
NMDSBC: OK. Well there’s a reason to come to Los Alamos right there … until the Board of Health comes. That sounds cool.
Hector: We’ll keg it all, I’ll give it to them. Ask for forgiveness, not permission!
NMDSBC: Ha-ha. So, the place has been open for several weeks now, and it seems like business has been good. Given the size of your equipment, how much rotation do you see happening? Kind of hard to predict, I know.
Hector: We got an order of kegs on Friday, and a lot of them are gone already.
NMDSBC: Wow, in two days?
Hector: Most of them were about to go, but it’s a good flow. I don’t know, we’ll see. I haven’t had time to pay attention to that, too busy trying to actually brew beer.
NMDSBC: Ah, yes, that’s one of the sadder questions. The place has been open several weeks, and yet you have not been able to start brewing yet. Do you have a date when you’ll be ready do you think?
NMDSBC: OK, two days from today you’re hoping to finally start brewing and in time for the grand opening, which is later in the month.
NMDSBC: Well, we hope that all comes together. I’m sure you’re getting nervous.
Hector: I was nervous two weeks ago. I was like, “Oh, no, there’s not enough time!”
NMDSBC: You have an assistant, also named Jason but not the GM Jason, that must be a big help for you. I’ve never really brewed beer myself, especially at this scale. It’s a lot of work, right?
Hector: It is a lot of work. I’ll do most of it as far as prepping and stuff, and we’ll start splitting brew shifts when that comes. And maybe cleanings, once they let me give him more hours. Once we actually start brewing they’ll see that he needs more hours.
NMDSBC: It could end up being two full-time jobs.
Hector: Exactly. But I’m grateful to have him because he’s pretty much everything I’m not, you know. I’m a little wild and crazy with my beers. There’s some styles I’ve never tried because they just seem boring to me, like nut browns. Why the hell would I ever want to make a nut brown? I’m not going to drink it. Unless I’m throwing chile in it or something.
NMDSBC: There you go! Pecans, perhaps? Speaking for my wife again.
So what is your daily job like? Maybe it hasn’t really firmed up yet since you’re not even brewing.
Hector: I’m the first one in and usually the last one to leave.
NMDSBC: I’m sorry to hear that, hopefully you enjoy your work! And in a small-time brewery like this, where there are only so many employees, you have to wear a lot of hats, I’m guessing.
So (for) you personally, what kind of beers do you like?
Hector: I won’t do it when it stops being fun! Well, when I walk into a brewery, I automatically go for the craziest thing I can find.
NMDSBC: Not necessarily the strongest or hoppiest.
Hector: I don’t even care if it has no alcohol at all. If it’s got uncommon ingredients, that’s what I’m going to try first.
NMDSBC: You clearly have vision, so it’s going to be interesting to see what you make given that answer. Do you talk to other breweries in the state? It seems like there’s a lot of camaraderie amongst the bunch.
Hector: Yeah, yeah, you can tell, too, when a technical conference that the Brewers Guild has. You can kind of tell how good people’s beer are by who shows up at these technical conferences.
NMDSBC: There is a reason to have such things, isn’t there?
Hector: Exactly. Absolutely, we learn and grow from each other. And that’s where you get to meet everybody in the business, too.
NMDSBC: And it’s not really cutthroat, either, is it? Friendly.
Hector: Not at all, everybody really likes to help. If you really pay attention, Chama River produced a lot of brewers that opened their own breweries here in the state. Ted Rice, Jeff Erway, Justin Hamilton, John Bullard. There’s definitely a lot of camaraderie in the business. It’s nice to see SFBC providing the same thing for the scene. Camaraderie like that is something you don’t really get to see in other businesses.
NMDSBC: And you probably like to go visit them and check out their products, see what they’re up to.
Will you be participating in events like beer festivals around the state, especially the ones at our ski hill? We have one coming up in June.
Hector: Absolutely. Yup.
NMDSBC: That’s good news.
Hector: We’ll be participating in the IPA Challenge this year. I gotta brew that soon, we’ll have one IPA under our belt by then; that should be plenty. The first time that other breweries in the state get to taste our beer.
NMDSBC: Nice. That’ll be interesting to see how you fare on that one, first time.
This is a co-op, and it’s supposed to be heavy on community involvement. Do you plan on having educational sessions, or showing people how to brew beer, or tours of the facilities, things like that?
Hector: Yeah, we’ll definitely have tours, once things go for a while, and we kind of get the rhythm for how thirsty the town is, how often I have to brew, clean, and do all that stuff, I want to do a small batch thing here also on Saturdays. I told the Atom Mashers that they need to actually start having meetings so that they can have them in our space. Educational stuff would be awesome. I’m sure I can schedule some of my friends from other breweries to come in and also give lectures to homebrewers or anyone else who’s interested in showing up.
NMDSBC: I think that would be a lot of fun. I know there are a lot of homebrewers in this area. With LANL right around here, it seems to attract that sort of person. This is definitely a thriving beer community here. Speaking of Los Alamos, it is a quirky little town, do you live here now?
Hector: I don’t live here yet, it’s kind of hard to on $250 a month, so I’m doing a lot of camping actually, which is awesome. Everybody freaks out; “Come stay at my place,” but they just don’t know how much I enjoy being outside. I kinda enjoy them freaking out about it, too. I was in the Army for eight-and-a-half years, so being outside is not such a big deal. I noticed the first time that I did it that I missed it. Then the other night I was sleeping on my cot, and it started raining on me, so I just covered myself in my sleeping bag, and I woke up dry. Didn’t even get wet.
NMDSBC: We don’t want our head brewer getting pneumonia and dying, so …
Hector: It helps when you have a sleeping bag that says it’ll keep you alive at minus-52 degrees.
NMDSBC: Yeah, it gets cold here, but it doesn’t really get that cold, even in May.
Hector: Well, it says it’ll keep you alive, not warm.
NMDSBC: I’ve pretty much reached the end of my questions here. Is there anything else you want to tell our readers? No is an OK answer, we’ve covered a lot of ground here.
Hector: They should come and visit! Absolutely, come and visit.
NMDSBC: I agree. It’s another brewery in New Mexico. You think you’ve seen them all and then another week goes by and one pops up.
NMDSBC: One thing I forgot. How do you like the brewing setup and equipment? You haven’t really broken it in yet.
Hector: It would have been nice to have been here from the original designs because there’s some things that I would have done differently or paid attention to. Like having hot water over in the cellar. It’s all cold water, so I have to have that re-plumbed. Things like the cooler is 8 inches too short … if it was 8 inches taller I’d be able to wheel out my empty serving tanks and clean them over where the drains are. Things like that.
NMDSBC: Well thanks for your time, Hector, appreciate you stepping away and hopefully we’ll get more people in here to try your beers, which should be quite an adventure. Thank you.
Hector: Absolutely, thank you.
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See you all the Grand Opening!