Sub Rosa Cellars soon to be Santa Fe’s fifth brewery

Posted: July 28, 2015 by Luke in Beer in Santa Fe, Interviews, New Brewery Preview


Santa Fe will have a new brewery before long, as local homebrew club president John Rowley has assured me. You’ve probably already heard the rumors. You’ve probably already seen their Facebook page. Well, at least 527 of you have. The Dark Side Brew Crew wouldn’t be the most-read beer blog in New Mexico if we didn’t bring you big scoops on the new breweries in town. And as Santa Fe is my territory, I promise to get you all the details as they continue to roll out. Recently John and I met at a (neutral) brewery and had a few pints. For two hours, we talked beer, the business, and hashed out the details of what will soon be Santa Fe’s fifth brewery.

DSBC: So tell us a little about yourself and your partners. What made you guys want to open a brewery in Santa Fe?

Rowley: So, I’ve been wanting to do a brewery for a while. It’s one of these things that, you know, as a homebrewer you kinda crave eventually to get into bigger and bigger batches. And for what I want to do, it’s mainly the barrels. You can’t really do the whole lot of 265-liter wine barrels in your garage.

DSBC: Not as a homebrewer.

Rowley: You can do one or two. Three or four and if you have a wife, she starts talking about divorce. But yeah, as a homebrewer you just want to grow and do bigger and bigger things.

DSBC: And you reach limitations at a certain level.

Rowley: For me, it’s like, I got all this beer. I can’t drink it all myself. I really want to share it with everyone. I can’t sell it as a homebrewer. I can’t really do anything with it. You can kind of give it away. You can do a little bit of trading, but it takes a while trying to convince people that this is better than (regular) homebrew. This is really good beer. So, I think the next logical step is to go pro. Let’s serve the local community with my passion. I want to make good beer. That’s all I want to do is make the best beer I can make.

DSBC: A worthy goal. Tell me a little about your partners.

Rowley: So, I have two partners. One partner is going to remain unnamed at this time. He’s a well-known chef. He’s got a local following of his own. I think that’s kind of advantageous. Santa Fe’s the kind of town where you need to have food. The City Council is not really too hip on places opening without a food component. We saw that with Duel. And everywhere there’s a beer place, there’s some food. Maybe not at Eldorado, but there is food, next door, and they bring it over, that kind of thing. But yeah, I think it’s responsible to have food. You’re selling beer. You don’t want people to get torn up and drive around.

DSBC: Plus, I think food sells beer, too.

Rowley: Yeah, they go together. It’s kind of a perfect pairing. I think a place that doesn’t have food can sell one or two pints, and then people are gonna get hungry and go somewhere else. I’d rather have a place that has some food. You can have more than a couple pints, have some food, a family-friendly place to hang out. People talk about tables turning over. You know, I don’t really care about that. Maybe my partners do. For me it’s more about having a good time and having a good experience for everyone. So, for that, we have a chef, well known, well regarded, (who) has that local following.

DSBC: That’s pretty important in Santa Fe. How about your third partner?

Rowley: My third partner is a chemist. I work with him at the lab. He’s a great guy. He bought the building. He has no brewing experience whatsoever.

DSBC: That’s where you come in.

Rowley: But, at the same time, he’s real friendly and a really personable guy. I think he would do well just hangin’ out and talking to people. And he’s actually expressed an interest in learning how to brew. So I think I’m gonna have to teach him at some point.

DSBC: Oh, he’s gonna have to learn.

Rowley: I was hopin’ to put him to work, more with the bottling and those kinds of things, because those are the things I don’t like as much.

DSBC: Teach him how to clean kegs.

Rowley: Yeah. (Laughs) You know, being a brewer is just a glorified cleaning man, really. You gotta clean, constantly. So, that’s fine, though. We’re gonna find … I’m hoping to find a good young brewer to kind of teach and hire full time. Cause I’m not gonna leave the lab right away. I’d like to find someone that I can have some faith in, someone that really sees the vision.

DSBC: Someone who listens.

Rowley: Yeah, and someone that’s a hard worker, too, someone with a big back, cause we’re moving barrels. What we’re doing is old school. It’s a combination of old-world and modern techniques. We’re not going to be making the next IPA Challenge beer. That’s not us. If we do the IPA Challenge, it’s gonna be a Brett IPA. It’s gonna be obvious that it’s ours. (Laughs) I don’t even know if we fit in that category.

DSBC: Oh, I don’t know. The IPA Challenge is pretty diverse. I wouldn’t let that stop you. But, anyway, let’s get back to your vision. You guys had this dream to open the brewery. But what makes believe that it might succeed here?

Rowley: Well, one thing I think about Santa Fe is we need more breweries. You hear all this talk nowadays about, are we saturated? Are there too many breweries? If you look back to pre-Prohibition, there was a brewery on every corner. There was a brewery serving this part of town and that part of town. It wasn’t these big macrobrewries. It was really very local.

DSBC: It was almost like the local bar.

Rowley: Yeah, it was almost like the local bar. And my grandfather had a bar in Rochester, New York, during prohibition. He ran it the whole time. I think he was sellin’ beer to cops. My mom said my grandfather would be real proud of me, if he was alive today. But, I really like the whole local kind of focus on your neighborhood kind of concept. And I really think that Santa Fe needs more of that. Santa Fe’s weird. We’ve got four or five breweries now?
DSBC: Mm-hmm. Four.

Rowley: You know, that’s not very many, if you think about it.

DSBC: We’re not keeping up with the population.

Rowley: We’re definitely not doing well. And Santa Fe’s a tourist town. We could do really well with more beer options. You go to Bend, Oregon, they’ve got like 10 to 15 breweries. You know, people go there because of that and I don’t see why Santa Fe can’t be like that. So, I’m not the only brewery opening. There’s a couple more coming down the pipeline and I think it’s great. It’s not gonna hurt the community to have more breweries.

DSBC: Hear, hear! Why don’t we talk about your brewery? What are your plans for Sub Rosa Cellars?

Rowley: What we plan to do, it’s kind of like two businesses in one. There’s gonna be a taproom. The taproom is gonna have a lot of guest taps. I’m not afraid of that. We’re not gonna be able to produce a lot of beer. We’re gonna be focusing on bottle conditioning. And we still have some taps. But I think a real big component is to have a lot of well-curated taps, so we’re gonna work hard to get as many cool beers as we can get.

DSBC: Awesome.

Rowley: And you know, there’s a lot of stuff like this, right now. But there’s a lot of homogeneity, too. You know, every place now has a Sculpin (IPA). Every place has this similar lineup. I want to work on a unique, well-curated beer list, and that will be a lot of our business, along with the food, and then we’re gonna be doing the brewery which focuses on bottles and bottle releases, something along the lines of Casey, I don’t know if you’ve been to Casey yet.

DSBC: Not that Casey.

Rowley: Something more rustic, traditional. So, it really is kind of two things in the same places. So, all of the fermentation is gonna take place in wood. You know, I’m not gonna buy any stainless steel fermenters. Everything’s gonna be done in puncheons, which are 130-gallon oak barrels, converted into primary fermenters. And hopefully we can do well and eventually we’ll move into foeders, which are bigger oak vessels. They don’t have quite as much character, but at the same time you can brew more beer. Places like Jester King, Crooked Stave, they have foeders. New Belgium is known for having the most foeders. I think it’s on my Facebook cover page, there’s a picture of the foeder wall at New Belgium, which is insane. It’s so big. Those aren’t our type of aspirations, but it’s really cool at the same time. I really have a thing for foeders.


New Belgium’s Foeder Forest. Picture courtesy of John Rowley’s Facebook page. If you have a thing for foeders, does that make you a foedie? Or do you have a foed fetish? Those are the things that keep Luke awake at night.

DSBC: Tell me a little about the brewhouse.

Rowley: So, we have a three-barrel brewhouse. We’re also gonna be brewing with Santa Fe Brewing. I haven’t nailed down details with Brian (Lock), but every time I’ve talked to Brian, he’s on board with getting some contract work for me. And that would at least be a good way to get started. Or, if we’re in a pinch, and we need a lot of work.

DSBC: The larger brewery is a very possible way to get that done.

Rowley: Yeah, and you know, a lot of sour breweries do this. They don’t have their own brewhouse. Like the Rare Barrel in Berkeley, they contract out with Heretic.

DSBC: Now, is there any fear … I mean you’re not adding the Brett yet, so there’s no way of infecting the brewhouse or anything.

Rowley: No, no, it won’t hurt Santa Fe at all. There’s no chance. We’ll have clean totes. Yeah, we’ll just fill the tote with wort. It’s basically the same thing that Santa Fe Spirits was doing when Nick (Jones) started working there. He would make wort at Santa Fe Brewing, put it in a tote, move it over to their location and then pitch the yeast. I think we would ideally do the same thing. Or, if there’s a beer, say there’s a dry-hop, clean Saison that I want to do, Brian would be amenable to using my recipe and doing the whole thing and putting it into kegs. I don’t see that being something we do a lot of, maybe a few times, but to do a 30-barrel batch, that’s a log of kegs for me to deal with. I’m not really lookin’ to get into the keg distribution business.

DSBC: What are we looking at in terms of annual production projection? Also, will it mostly be bottle sales and such?

Rowley: Yeah, mostly bottle sales. Some percentage of the beer will go into kegs. I’m a real big fan of natural conditioning, so I like bottle-conditioned beers. I think the same could be said for keg-conditioned beers. Just add the sugar and let it do its own thing. It has this quality that you can’t really get from force carbonation. And I’m hoping that will be the case for us as well. I don’t do a whole lot of keg conditioning at home, so that’s something that I’m gonna have to learn how to work on. I usually bottle all these batches of the sour beers, just bottle the whole thing.

DSBC: Wow.

Rowley: And I really like that. And I think people will kind of appreciate that. We’re gonna try to do everything in 750-ml bottles.

DSBC: So champagne bottle size?

Rowley: Exactly, and so you have a bottle, you go share it with a friend. It’s really trying to promote more social drinking, being social with your friends and bottle sharing. There are some breweries selling the 375-ml bottles, single-serving, if you will. (Laughs) But, I’m not a huge fan of them. I like the social aspect of having the 750, bringing it to your friend’s house, or if you got a girlfriend.

DSBC: It’s like what Santa Fe Brewing is doing with their Los Innovadores and ECS beers.

Rowley: Yeah, and I like that concept.

DSBC: Sort of speaking of being social, are you guys thinking about any entertainment for the taproom? Is there a space for that?

Rowley: There’s not really a whole lot of space back there for that, but we do want to do something along those lines. I think what we’re planning on doing is doing kind of an outdoor area, kind of like Second Street, where they have that outdoor patio with the tree, and we would try to do a music thing out there. We’re not trying to focus on being a music venue. We might have a small component, and my partner Derek, he’s gonna work on that. He’s really gonna be the entertainment side of the business. He’s comfortable with that. He doesn’t even drink beer, which is weird.

DSBC: [Cue spit take.]

Rowley: He drinks those iced tea and lemonade mix … I can’t even say it.

DSBC: Arnold Palmers.

Rowley: Yeah. (laughs) He loves that shit. We might have to have one of those on draft, you know, a nitro version, a nitro cold brew.

DSBC: Dear god.

Rowley: Yeah, I don’t like the idea either.

DSBC: Speaking of what’s on draft, let’s talk about beer selection. Now, I keep hearing from people things like, “So I heard a sour place is opening up in Santa Fe.” Now, I know Sub Rosa Cellars is not a “House of Sours,” like Cascade, catering to only the most hipsterish of Santa Fe, but how about you set the record straight for the people?

Rowley: No, no, we don’t care for hipsters. We’re not looking to bring in those types of people. But we are looking at mixed-fermentation brewing. So, I’m gonna be brewing with a mixed house culture that I’ve been developing for a long time. I’m really happy with where it’s at right now. It’s a mix of wild captured yeast and lab wild yeast and some Brettanomyces. I don’t know how many strains of Brett there are in there by this point, probably nine. I have to really work on the clarification of that. I am gonna do some lab work, before we get started, just so we have like a slant that we can work off of. Right now I’ve just been re-culturing bottles that I make, so I’ve been using it over and over and over. And I can continue to do that, that’s not an issue. I really wanna do more lab work on that. I think there are a couple souring bacterias in there, so the beer is gonna sour. And I’ve also done a lot of Berliner Weisse Style, like lacto with primaries, and switch over to Brett. We’re gonna really do kind of a house culture beer, and that’s gonna be a mixed fermentation saison, and there are gonna be a lot of variants on that, like dry-hop versions. Some people like more herbal versions, Rosemary kind of stuff. That’s not really my thing, but I think we’ll probably throw one or two of those into the mix, just for diversity’s sake.

DSBC: So what would your lineup look like? If you had to …

Rowley: If I had to just guess, right now? Cause, really it’s gonna be organic. Like, OK, this week, what are we gonna do? You know, let’s do a cucumber Gose. That kind of thing. It’s really gonna be seasonal in a way. I’m gonna have a base saison. That’s gonna get a lot of treatments. We’re also gonna have a base sour beer, a golden sour beer, that’s gonna get a lot of different treatments as well. Probably the sour beer, itself, is gonna get fruited in many ways, cause I’ve been trying to develop this relationship with these guys in Velarde who grow a lot of fruit. And Crazy Rob’s got a guy that I haven’t met yet, and he’s really tight with him, he has a lot of trees, he has seven, eight hundred trees, all kinds of peaches, cherries, so I’m really hoping to get a relationship with that guy, once we get going, to actually go and pick through with him, and so yeah, fruited sours. I really have a thing for dark sour beer. I don’t think a lot of people do. Maybe that’ll be more of a winter time thing, like Oud Bruins, maybe like a Black Cherry Oud Bruin. We can fruit the saisons as well. But, really, it’s not gonna be a consistent thing. There’s gonna be a lot of variety with that.

DSBC: Now, something I see, when you look at little towns, you see people sort of gravitate toward one style of beer, or one beer that they like, and they really latch on, and they get really upset when that’s gone. What do you think makes Santa Fe a good place for mixed fermentation farmhouse ales on a seasonal rotation?

Rowley: I think there is a thirst for this beer here. No one’s doing this beer. I have a thirst for it! I have to go out and trade for it, brew it myself. And I understand, there’s really a big risk in doing this. If you’re a brewery like Santa Fe Brewing, and established, you can get away with that.

DSBC: And they did, with their Saison 88 for the 25th anniversary beer.

Rowley: Yeah and props to that. Gabe did a great job with that beer. I drank a lot of that beer.

DSBC: I think a lot of people could really like the saison, they just don’t know it yet.

Rowley: I think that’s probably true. People aren’t going to go out and buy 750’s of Saison Dupont. You know, that might be a classic example of a saison, but it’s really not a great example, I think. Saison is such an open thing. The style is really open to interpretation, and I really like kind of the more recent developments, the more American versions with a lot of dry-hops, more oats, less sugar, less thinness. I want to focus on more drinkable beers.

DSBC: And the saison has so many nuances …

Rowley: Yeah, definitely. Saison is my muse, and I want to treat her well.

DSBC: Excellent. One last question. How far are you guys along on your progress so far?

Rowley: We’ve applied for most of our permits so far. We basically own the building. We’re ready to go. We just need to start our build-out. So, where we’re at right now, is we’re doing a private placement. So, we’re selling approximately 28 percent of the company to investment. So, we’ve identified a fair amount of investors. Once we go through this private placement period, which is basically gonna take 120 days. And how that works is we’ve set a minimum of investment of $150,000, once we hit that number, we can start drawing that money out of the account and using it. We have a general contractor. He’s gonna do our build-out. He’s gonna apply for permits. We have an architect. He’s gonna draw it all up. Those are the first two things we need to do. We basically have it all laid out already. We know where everything’s gonna go. We know how it’s all gonna lay out, but we need engineering documents for the city. The architect’s gonna do that for us. That’s gonna turn into plans for the contractor. Once the permits for the construction begin then we’re gonna help and go in there and we’re gonna build the bar and tear out all the existing structure in that part of the building.

DSBC: I can see it now.

Rowley: The contractors will do work, as well. We’re gonna try to minimize as much of his work as possible, but he has a lot of work to do. I think our plan is solid. The cool thing is we’re not building a traditional brewery where we have to order a huge brewhouse and it comes in six months to one year later. Puncheons are already sourced. They’re all ready to go. We just have to set ‘em up. I mean, that’s gonna be the easiest part of the process. I’ve been personally building the brewhouse, myself. I’ve got a guy in Los Alamos I’ve been working with for years. He’s a fantastic welder. So the frame is already done. I just need a little bit more work on the heat shields, and then I can install the burners and the plumbing, and wire it all up, and then order kettles, and then we’re good to go. So really, the brewhouse is not going to be a limitation for us.

DSBC: It’s just things like electrical work, the plumbing …

Rowley: Yep, and the drains. That’s gonna take a little while. But I still think we’re gonna come in at a good time. I think we’re gonna be OK.

DSBC: So, I know how it works, with projected dates. You know where I work … so, do you have any kind of time-frame for our readers?

Rowley: We’re hoping for the beginning of the year. That’s our current number, which is a little less than 6 months now. It may bleed over a little bit, but I think that’s fairly realistic.

* * * * *

With the multitude of breweries opening up in New Mexico, and more on the way, I think I agree with John. The more the merrier. Let us be another great craft beer destination. When Marble pulled out of Santa Fe, we weren’t exactly lacking for good beer. (Thankfully.) And don’t get me wrong, they’re totally missed, but here in our small town we still have four solid breweries that I consider powerhouses in what they do and what they bring to the table.

But Santa Fe is not a craft beer town, either. Not yet. I still know too many folks that will only drink what dad used to drink. That will change with time and with more breweries appearing on the Guild’s map. Let the dark corners of the internet wonder if our little state is reaching the point of saturation. I don’t think we will, not for a long while, but in the meantime, more breweries means at least one thing — that brewers and craft businesses must continue to step up their game to keep us walking through their doors. But to all newcomers, I say welcome to our state of craft beer. Good luck to you all. I hope to be trying new brews of yours for years to come.

To Sub Rosa Cellars, I will say this: I couldn’t be more excited for your brewery to open its doors. Our town has too few examples of a carefully curated tap list. I’m thrilled for your business. As it is, you’ll get plenty of mine. The season of the saison is nearly upon Santa Fe. They may not know what they’re in for, but I really believe they’ll love it once it’s here.


— Luke
For more #CraftBeer info and more @nmdarksidebc news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!

  1. […] Mexico brewing scene. I spoke with John Rowley, very near-future head brewer of Sub Rosa Cellars (the newest brewery in Santa Fe), and a man who is no stranger to entering and judging in these many brewing competitions. He was […]

  2. […] Sub Rosa Cellars (Santa Fe): Luke already wrote up a preview of this forthcoming, wholly unique new […]

  3. […] major organizers, the very busy John Rowley, whom you may know as head of the soon-to-be brewery, Sub Rosa Cellars, in Santa Fe, which is now confirmed to be moving forward, by the way. John is also the club […]

  4. […] couple weeks ago, John Rowley, head brewer of Sub Rosa Cellars, which, as you now know, is the new brewery opening soon in Santa Fe, contacted me to let me know that he had some big news. It wasn’t good news, but it wasn’t […]

  5. […] couple weeks ago, John Rowley, head brewer of Sub Rosa Cellars, which, as you now know, is the new brewery opening soon in Santa Fe, contacted me to let me know that he had some big news. It wasn’t good news, but it […]

  6. […] sat down with Rowley a little over a year ago and we talked the details of the new brewery plans, back when it was Sub Rosa Cellars, and back when it was to be the fifth brewery in Santa Fe. The […]

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