Slow but steady wins the race is one of those old timey sayings that can actually fit in the world of craft beer. Certainly, it never helps when a brewery rushes in trying to get open. Realizing this, the good folks over at Rio Bravo Brewing took their time to get everything right. The result is that the finish line is finally in sight in the form of a soft opening on Friday, Aug. 14, with a grand opening to follow in September.
Since the last time I visited, a heck of a lot has changed inside Rio Bravo. What was once just a shell of a building is now on the verge of being one of the more attractive taprooms in town, with a spacious brewery area in the back, filled with shiny new equipment that is already in use. Two beers were ready for us to try, a hoppy amber and a hefeweizen, while two IPAs were not quite ready but should be by next week. Brewer Ty Levis, who gave Adam and I the full tour, said next up are a pilsner that should be ready in September and a stout that will be ready sooner.
“We’re still looking at opening next Friday, just a quiet, soft opening,” Ty said. “We’re going to bring in some guest taps right away. We’ll (eventually) have six of our own on tap, which is the number of serving tanks that I have. Once we get everything a bit more refined, we’ll start selling kegs to bars and restaurants. We’re in the process of sizing what our packaging lines are going to be.”
The state-of-the-art 15-barrel brewhouse has already been hard at work. Just across the aisle sit a collection of 15- and 30-barrel fermenters. There is plenty of room to add some future fermenters, likely of the 60-barrel variety. One of the best aspects of the existing fermenters is the lack of hoses everywhere. Instead, there is a stainless steel hard-piping system beneath them.
“We hard pipe across every single fermenter,” Ty said. “I have a universal joint that just fits on the hard pipe and attaches everything to the fermenter. I have a hundred-percent hose-free brew day. … I don’t have all that spaghetti on the floor. It’s so much easier to clean up. It’s universally fit to go on every tank perfectly.
“It’s come out really, really well. We’re really happy with how everything is working good. It’s nice to have all-new equipment. There’s always a learning curve. We haven’t had any extensive ones.”
The transformation of the building from an empty shell when I first visited in January to a functional brewery has been an impressive one.
“Getting back to the nuts and bolts of brewing is the fun part,” Ty said. “There were so many late nights, where you can’t sleep, you have so much going on, you’re checking off each detail. Where are we? What are we doing? I only had to worry about this half. I didn’t have to worry about the bar too much. It turns out there were a whole lot of issues with the bar. (Owner Randy Baker) was here constantly. He was able to get it figured out and it came together nicely.”
“It’s a crazy, crazy thing how far this place has come,” Ty said. “We’re really excited. We’re ready to get the food trucks going. Probably not next week when we first open, but get in the rotation soon after that.”
While the front lot that faces west toward 2nd Street looks small, patrons should not worry. There is a big lot on the south side of the building along Haines Ave.
“Having a place to park is really nice,” Ty said. “Most of the breweries are really struggling with parking. This is our main lot. We actually have 87 spots on site, plus whatever is on the street.”
There is still space inside the building for a future restaurant area, just beyond the bar area south wall, if they ever choose to go that route. In the meantime, it will be a well-used storage space. In addition, Ty has his own lab and office downstairs, where is already working on some yeast strains.
“We’re running different yeasts right now,” he said. “We’re trying to do specific yeasts for each style, to make them each the way we want them to be. Which is going to be challenging, but I think it’s the way to go. Have really good strain maintenance on site. Get some small amounts of cultures and put them wherever our needs have to be. It will really dial in each recipe.”
So far, other than the glycol running a bit too cold on the first batch (an easy fix), brewing has gone smoothly.
“The brew days were not really a big deal,” Ty said. “The first day I was expecting all of these problems. It was nine-and-a-half hours. The last one we did, the IPA stronger version, it was seven-and-a-half hours.”
The present looks good, but the future offers up even more promise. Rio Bravo will eventually install a canning line and begin production there. Other plans include installing a grain silo outside and more.
“We’re really excited for what’s next,” Ty said. “Once we get everything dialed in we’ve really set ourselves up. We’ve already talked about helping other people with contract brewing. I’m already shopping more expansion.”
With plenty of available space inside the brewery, future growth should not be a problem, either.
“There’s 75 barrels of fermentation and then I have basically 60 barrels for bright tanks and 90 barrels for serving tanks,” Ty said. “I have quite a bit for normal day-to-day stuff. I feel starting out with that and just doing kegs we’ll be able to keep up pretty well for the Albuquerque area.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to get something super fun in (for seasonal beers), especially like a barley wine for the winter months, maybe a sour coming into the fall. Right now, I just want to get the staple beers going. We decided on six. Once those are up, we’ll start getting exactly what we want.”
“Slow and steady has been good,” Ty said. “Every opportunity that we had to work on what we had was good.”
The upstairs mezzanine remains a work in progress as well. While those barrels are sitting nicely in the window that looks down on the bar, they will be filled at a later date and time, not right away. The eventual plan is to turn the upstairs into a half-storage area and a half-VIP room, where guests can enjoy special tastings and possibly some beer classes and the like. There are also plans to eventually put an indoor patio on the north side of the brewery area, just past the future packaging line and the walk-in cooler, and for an outdoor beer garden as well.
Overall, I would have to say that Adam and I came away most impressed by the tremendous work that the Rio Bravo staff has completed. We enjoyed our samples of the amber and hefeweizen and the full tour. All of us in the Crew, and I am sure most of our readers, truly appreciate when breweries open up and give us this level of access.
We cannot wait until the soft opening a week from today and then the grand opening in September. Rio Bravo should make an immediate, positive impact on the New Mexico craft brewing scene. It is truly the more (breweries), the merrier!