Santa Fe Brewing Company gets a new brewmaster

Posted: September 3, 2015 by Luke in Beer in Santa Fe, Interviews, News

He only just got here and he already has the right shirt.

Santa Fe Brewing Company has been undergoing a lot of big changes lately. No doubt you’ve seen the SFBC tower of the new taproom scraping the Albuquerque sky as you fly by on I-40. That opening can’t come soon enough. (Just ask our ABQ bar staff.)

SFBC just broke ground on our $5 million canning line upgrade before the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, so you know it’s legit. The ambitious expansion of the main brewery and taproom is currently in the works. We’re putting in the Go-Pro for the time-lapse shot tomorrow. If that’s not official, I don’t know what is.

One big change, however, that isn’t as flashy or as (pardon the pun) ground-breaking, yet is much more important to the success of the brewery, is the hiring of a new brewmaster. Bert Boyce has come to SFBC from Sam Adams. You may have heard of them. As in, Bud Light? Miller? No, that’s OK. Do you at least have a Sam Adams? I tease, of course. They make many quality products. But with the amount of experience Bert’s acquired, working in the industry for 20 years, he’s got a lot to bring to the table for this brewery on the rise.

One day, after work, I grabbed us a couple beers and we talked about his new position at the new brewery, right there on the back of the loading dock — not my usual venue for interviews, but hey, it was the quietest place in the brewery at 5 p.m. on pint night.

Bert’s originally from California. Prior to our sunny state, he had lived all over the West Coast, Boston, and Cincinnati. He started homebrewing when he was 18, and his first job at a brewery came when he was 19 years old. His dad was a horse shoer who had always known what he wanted to do since he was young. Some of that rubbed off on Bert as he knew, right away, what he wanted to do. As soon as he discovered homebrewing and realized that he could brew for a living, he dove in headfirst. He’s been doing it ever since and he’s just shy of 40.

DSBC: Where did you work prior to Santa Fe Brewing Company?

Boyce: That’s a very long list. (laughs) I started out at Sudwerk Brewing in Davis (Calif.) while I was going to school. They were, at the time, the largest brewpub in the country, making about 10,000 barrels. The beer was awesome. We were winning all kinds of awards. I started out washing kegs and working on the line, and worked my way up into brewing. I worked at two different wineries. I worked at Drake’s Brewing Company in Oakland (and) 20 Tank Brewery in San Francisco. I lived in Portland, Oregon, for a while. I tried to work my way into the scene up there, right after college, but I was a little too young. I had a great time, though. I ended up working at the Horse Brass Pub. I met some great people there, but didn’t end up landing the brewery job that I wanted. I eventually ended up helping a friend open up Hollister Brewing Company in Galena, California, right outside Santa Barbara. From there, I moved over to Boston and started working at Sam Adams. I was there for the last seven years before coming here.

At Sam Adams, Bert was the brewing manager of a 10-barrel brewhouse. They were making 1000 to 1500 barrels of beer per year. Almost all of it was R&D, testing new recipes, new ingredients, new equipment, and production methods. Anything that the company was interested in looking at, they did it there first.

Boyce: That was awesome. We got to develop a few different lines of beer, a bunch of wacky new beers. We had a great time, with all the resources in the world. We had no excuses, I should say.

DSBC: Over the years, you’ve gained a lot of experience. I’m guessing you’ve learned a few tricks here and there to keeping a brewing job. Anything you can share with people interested in that part of the industry?

Boyce: From brewing for 20 years? Yeah, put your head down and go to work. Don’t make any excuses. It’s not just about sitting around and drinking beer, although that’s a great part of it, but that’s not what we do. It’s a business; treat it like one. Be respectful. Work hard. Don’t fuck around. Don’t cut corners. I dunno, I think if I could convey one thing that I’ve seen the business go though, a couple ups and downs, a couple high points and a couple low points. We’re in the business of cool. So, we have to accept that, whether we like that part of it or not. I personally don’t care. It attracts the kind of person that thinks the business is a certain way from the outside, because of how it looks. And I feel like, at this point, my job is to crush their dreams … demystify it.

This is a business full of hard work, a lot of it thankless, and a lot of it cleaning. And the best part of it is when we can sit around at the end of the day and enjoy a beer, and talk about how hard our day was, but how we still got through it. It’s not about what you think or what you taste — that’s such a small part of it. If you’re not willing to put in the effort and work hard and make decisions that affect your teammates and put the quality of the beer in a positive light, then this isn’t the business for you.

Bert officially started as brewmaster at Santa Fe Brewing Company on Aug. 31.

DSBC: Why did you choose Santa Fe Brewing and what did you find appealing about working here?

Boyce: It seemed to have a little bit of everything — obviously a bright promising future, a pretty aggressive strategy for growth, awesome beer already, the barrel room program, the fact that there’s a centrifuge here, the fact that it was already a successful company, biggest in the state and growing, an awesome team/family. I got the sense immediately, first day, that everyone hangs out together. It seemed like a lot of fun, a complete departure from where I came from. It was a little bit of everything. It seemed like a place I could sink my teeth into, make a difference, but there were already so many good pieces in place to really enjoy every aspect of the business. I was looking at a company on the rise, which needed some help, obviously, but just in more of an organizational capacity.

DSBC: What are some of your new responsibilities as brewmaster?

Boyce: Well, the short answer to that is to improve the quality of the beer as much as possible, and improve the efficiency of our operation as much as possible. So, that entails a million things, obviously. I think the top five things I do are plan our production based on our demand and our sales. So I’m in communication with the Sales Department, about what we’re selling, making sure that we’re brewing the right beers at the right time. I’m also kind of the de facto maintenance manager as well. I’m also in charge of making sure all of our equipment is functioning the way it’s supposed to, and we’re getting the beer out of it that we want to.

I spend time training people and talking to everyone about the right and the not-as-right way to do things, and making sure we’re always doing things the right way, not cutting corners, slowing down, looking at the big picture, exploring new avenues and opportunities, and seeing what else is out there, talking about new beer styles, what’s next, trying to be more proactive than reactive. So, I try to stay ‘big picture’ as much as possible, but you know, oftentimes we get dragged down into the most minute details.

DSBC: Speaking of big picture, what sort of high hopes or big plans do you have for Santa Fe Brewing Company?

Boyce: Well, Brian (Lock) wants to grow, so it’s my job to make sure that we have the systems in place that allow us to grow responsibly, and allow us to grow into, not ahead of, but into. And mostly those are planning systems and production systems and quality systems that we can grow into so that when we hit 50,000 barrels, we’re still making quality beer, not running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We’re doing the same thing we were before, we’re just doing more of it.

DSBC: Let’s talk about beer, do you have a favorite style?

Boyce: I don’t know about particular style of beer, but a design, a particular design, dry and hoppy, I would say. Right now, depending on the day, I’m drinking anything from Gold to Autonomous (Collective IPA). It just depends on what I have to do afterwards.

DSBC: Do you have a particular style of beer you like to brew? What were you making as a homebrewer at 18?

Boyce: I was making sweet, malty, high-alcohol beers when I first started. I guess, the beer you wanna brew is the one that you want to drink, but I mean, it’s every beer. I mean, until you’ve perfected a beer, and I don’t know that anyone’s ever perfected a beer, they’re all just as challenging. You brew for the challenge, not the fun anymore. And so the challenge is to make whatever beer you’re making today, to make that as good as it possibly can be. So whether I personally prefer that as my favorite style, that’s totally irrelevant. This is what we’re making today, and we’re going to make it the best possible.

DSBC: I know brewing’s very different for you now than it was before, but what about recipe development? You have a major hand in that.

Boyce: Yeah, for sure. But even recipe development, that’s two different things. One is taking an existing recipe and tweaking, modifying, improving, and the other one is making something from scratch. Both are super fun and not without their challenges, because you’re looking for those small, fine improvements in one sense. And in our case, it’s really making sure that our process is consistent enough and we are solid enough that if we make these tiny improvements, that they will be noticeable, and it’s not just chance or some other variable. So I like that part, and making sure that we’re constantly moving forward and not just getting lucky. And then the other one, yeah, making a new recipe and whiffing really sucks. So, making a new recipe and having it do well, it’s probably one of the more rewarding things, but that’s the geek talking. 20 years in the business, and that’s no longer the most important thing. It’s a cool thing.

DSBC: But it is just part.

Boyce: I’ll level with you. So, what really gets me off, and what I feel the beer drinking public should hear, not necessarily what they want to hear, but what they should, are sometimes two different things. I love creating new recipes. I love hitting home runs. I get super excited when we do something new and it comes out well. The Kriek was fucking amazing this year! So stoked for the brewery! Autonomous has some issues. I’d say it’s about 75 percent of what I wanted it to be. That’s pretty good. I’m happy with that and drinking that. And yes, that’s exciting, but I just can’t stress enough, that we’re a growing up business, and it’s no longer just about how cool it is to turn my homebrew recipe into a commercial recipe, it’s about the struggle to try and do that perfectly every day. That’s the real challenge and fun of this business.

DSBC: And I think that’s exactly why you’re here.

Boyce: I don’t ask this question, but I probably should start, in an interview. You hear people say, I’d rather be lucky than good. I think I’d ask people, would you rather be lucky or would you rather be good? Because if someone says they’d rather be lucky, then you’re not the person to work here. This business isn’t about luck; it’s about hard work. And I feel like we’re at that point in the industry where everyone has stars in their eyes and they show up here, like it would be so cool to brew beer! It is, but it’s not nearly as cool as you think it is, and it’s way harder than you think it is. But that aside, yes it’s still an awesome industry, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

* * * * *

Santa Fe Brewing will continue to go through changes both large and small. Since Bert arrived, I’ve already seen some big things happen around the brewery. SFBC is lucky to have him. He’s a welcome addition to the many passionate souls already working hard to keep the ship in steady waters. But with Bert at the wheel, SFBC’s future is near, just at the edge of the horizon, and it’s as big and bright as the Zia Sun.


— Luke

For more #CraftBeer info, @NMDarkSideBC news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.

  1. Chris says:

    Where can you get that shirt?

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