A while back we reported on the pending departure of founding brewer Matt Kollaja from Ponderosa Brewing. At the time we did not know why Matt was leaving the nascent brewery, nor who his replacement would be. While serving as the proverbial fly-on-the-wall for the creation of the 505 Collaboration beer, Matt told me that his departure was completely amicable. His wife had gotten a dream job back in Oregon, and as luck would have it, Matt’s boss at PINTS Brewery in Portland was opening a new location that Matt was chosen to run.
Of course, that still left the question hanging of who would replace him at Ponderosa. As it turned out, his replacement was standing just a few feet away. Marble production manager Andrew Krocshe was officially announced this week as the new brewer at Ponderosa, making the leap from being part of a huge brewing team to running his own show. As luck would have it, Andrew was in the house when I stopped by Ponderosa on Thursday afternoon and had just enough time to chat while a beer was going through the boil in the back.
NMDSBC: So when did things come together as far as you moving over here?
Andrew: I put in a month notice at Marble around the 28th of April. So I worked with Marble and Ponderosa through May. Through this week I’ve been solo here, running the ship.
NMDSBC: I know you enjoyed your time at Marble, but was the opportunity to come over here and run your own ship just too much to pass up?
Andrew: Pretty much. It is something that Marble could never offer me, the chance to run my own ship, and really branch out and make a name for myself. It was too tempting. I learned everything I know from Marble and I really enjoyed it, but I wanted to grow.
NMDSBC: Now you have this shiny system, but I know for Matt it was a temperamental system at times. What are some of the challenges moving over here?
Andrew: The more immediate challenge for me right now, which isn’t really that bad, is the fact it’s designed for decoction mashing, because the brewmaster was trained in Germany. So he built the system to make (German) brews with decoction mashing. So making American-style beers on it is a little tricky, but it’s not the hardest. Before I left I spent most of my time working on the mill to adjust the gap predominantly because we opened it up and it started mixing and churning, it’s breaking it up more after in the mash tun. When we lauder it, it’s becoming more flour. That was the first challenge, which I feel we have beat.
NMDSBC: In terms of putting your own stamp on things, what are some of the things you’re looking to brew?
Andrew: I’m currently brewing a brown. It will eventually become a house brown. So I’m actually changing the menu to have five house beers. That’s going to be the IPA, Red, Kolsch, Brown, and then a wheat of some sort. I’m debating between an American wheat or turning the Bavarian Belle, which is the hefeweizen, into a house.
NMDSBC: Is there any particular reason you’re wanting to do that? Is it just to give customers are more consistent, core group of beers?
Andrew: Yes, absolutely. I also want to really hone those beers in, to really create a following for them so customers say, ‘We really want to go to Ponderosa for this beer, because it’s always there and I love it.’ Whereas right now we have three beers that are usually always on. This is hard. When you’re figuring out a new recipe, figuring out what yeast am I going to keep alive. So with five house beers I can keep two yeast strains, maybe three alive.
NMDSBC: They’ve been into some limited distribution here with kegs. Are you looking to keep that going or ramp it up?
Andrew: As far as distribution with Admiral, I want to bump it up. I want us to take over.
NMDSBC: Any other long-term goals, or are you just focused on the immediate?
Andrew: Honestly, right now I’m focused on the immediate. Coordinating all the beers, really dialing in the brewhouse, doing some tweaks here and there to make the brewery run more efficiently. Once those goals are met, those are kind of my six-months-to-a-year goal, then I’ll start looking further into the future once things are really solid.
NMDSBC: Do you have any new seasonal ideas coming?
Andrew: For right now any of my work’s towards the house beers are going to be kind of summer seasonals. The one that I definitely want to make very soon is a Mexican lager. Something fun for July, really light, about 4-percent (ABV), kind of sessionable.
NMDSBC: Going into your background, were you only at Marble or were you anywhere before that?
Andrew: Marble is the only one.
NMDSBC: You were there from when to when?
Andrew: I think it was 2012, from ’12 to ’15. Maybe 2011 and change. I know I was there for approximately 3½ years.
NMDSBC: What were all the jobs you did there?
Andrew: I started off scrubbing floors and ended up as the production manager.
NMDSBC: So you followed the Josh Trujillo path and worked your way up the ladder. It’s kind of the theme over there that people do that. What are the biggest lessons you can take from all your jobs at Marble to over here?
Andrew: The biggest lessons would probably be one, organization and cleanliness. I’m continuously cleaning as I go. It’s something that was set in stone there. I’ve really kept it. Another one is taking the time. Rushing a beer is no answer, no answer. I take my time. Sometimes my runoffs are really long compared to what Ponderosa Brewing is used to. Also, I diacetyl rest for much longer. I feel the results show. We’re not a production facility. It’s out when it’s out.
NMDSBC: Is it going to be just you back there for now?
Andrew: Yes. Once Admiral picks up, which I do want it to, there will be a position opening up for an assistant. Some time possibly in the next year, there will be an assistant position opening up. It’s probably going to be the same thing (I once did), scrubbing floors and keg washing. And eventually brewing.
NMDSBC: That’s a good thing, to work your way up. That way you see every aspect of the brewery from the tiniest thing to the big picture. It helps with such a detail-oriented job.
Andrew: One thing also, as a brewer or someone that would hire your assistant or replacement, if you can’t take pride in cleaning the floor, you won’t ever take pride in your own beers.
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Thanks to Andrew for taking some time out of his busy schedule to chat. I also got to sample a very advance preview of the reworked Ghost Train IPA. Andrew still plans to tinker with that one a few more times, upping the hoppy qualities and not letting it be overly malty.
While it was tough to see Matt go, we know that Ponderosa will be in good hands. The ABQ brewing family tree has grown another branch, much to our collective benefit.