Downtown continues to become more of a destination for something besides just late-night chicanery. There are more condos rising up every day. A grocery store will soon join those living spaces. In that sense, it is becoming more of a neighborhood unto itself than ever before. The addition of neighborhood pubs, rather than hipster clubs, is the next step in the development. First came Boese Brothers near the western edge of downtown. Now comes Sidetrack Brewing near the eastern edge, specifically on 2nd Street between Lead and Coal, next door to Zendo Coffee.
It will be smaller in scale than Boese Brothers, but will offer up a similar vibe, almost a throwback to the pre-World War II era. Sidetrack is the creation of two couples, the Herrs and the Slagles, who are also partners in an architecture firm (the office was moved upstairs to the second floor to accommodate the brewery taproom). In that sense, the fewer partners, the better, as other breweries have recently shown.
I got the chance to meet with Dan Herr and Kim Slagle last week for a tour of the taproom, brewing room, and gain a little insight into what they have planned. Dan, who is in charge of the brewing, handled most of the questions.
“I’ve been home brewing for over 10 years, 10 to 15 years,” Dan said. “Just that passion for creating something with the beer and the whole thing about it has always intrigued me. We were just talking about how life is getting … it’s time for a change. We’re just looking for something a little bit different and it’s something that’s always been interesting so we’re going to see what happens.”
The Crew first spotted a liquor license application for Sidetrack way back in January 2014. Since then it has been a slow, methodical process that the staff has gone with to try to make sure they were doing things right.
“We have been cautious and we’ve been pretty conservative in our approach to make sure that we do have approvals,” Dan said. “We’re architects, so we know how the system works. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. So just with having that knowledge, we knew sort of what the potential were for coming across roadblocks. So we just made sure to clear the roadblocks before we really started risking capital and a lot of time. As an example, we converted our office (into the taproom). We had a lot at stake. We wanted to make sure it was all going to be OK. Once we got more assurances, we started rolling.”
Sidetrack was not under an undue amount of pressure to open, unlike some other places that need to start producing capital to pay for rent on their space.
“We own the building and we’re not having to pay rent or make any sort of timeline as far as that goes,” Dan said. “So we’ve got a pretty big luxury in that area. That’s really how our process has gone. We’re finally to the point where the brewing business is really starting to take on a life of its own and has demands since we started brewing. Now the yeast is telling me what I need to be doing. We’ll kind of continue on that kind of slow pace compared to how many other people are coming about. But the end is in sight.”
Sidetrack will be, in essence, a four-part brewery. The taproom exists facing 2nd Street, directly across from that crazy-looking castle. Beneath the taproom is a basement that will be used for keg storage, plus the walk-in cooler is down there, with the lines heading up to the bar above. To the west of the building is a patio area that is still under development, with the plan to have it ready by next spring. The physical brewery is located in an old garage out back.
The brewery is a seven-barrel system. The entire garage had to be redone, with some comparisons to the same setup at Boese Brothers, albeit on a smaller scale. Dan noted it was just brick walls and a concrete floor that required major plumbing and electrical work. Now it is a functional brewhouse with two fermenters and other equipment present, plus just enough room left over for one or more people to move about. There are some skylights above that add to the somewhat quaint ambiance of the structure.
“The construction has been sort of a challenge,” Dan said. “Trying to lead the double life has been a challenge, too. I think everybody starting out their own business (knows) that aspect of it. We have the architectural firm going, and then managing the construction (and) the licensing. The equipment installation, we’re doing most of it with our own (staff). What do we have, six hands? Eight hands? We’ve hired out just the very minimal to do what we need for building permit and inspections. Everything you see in here we built. That’s beneficial for us because we’re able to save a bit of money. The other side of that is it’s time consuming.”
For the taproom, the bar had to be installed, plumbing was added, the tables were installed, and the small bathroom (Dan said it was about four feet by four feet) had to be expanded to meet ADA requirements. From the look of things, it could seat about two-dozen customers, while the patio addition will eventually increase that occupancy. Sidetrack will share the patio with Zendo, and hopefully down the line they might even do some collaboration coffee brews.
The vibe inside the taproom has a throwback feel to it, from the all-wood floors to the tiling and more. It conjures up images of the old-time, after-work pub for the local residents.
“We love this building,” Dan said. “The floors are beat up, old and creaky. So yeah, that aspect of it was a throwback vibe. This building and what it was at the time it was built and what Albuquerque was back at that time, we’re trying to be, we’re hoping to be … there’s lots of residential (development) happening, there’s the grocery store that’s happening.
“When we bought this place, Zendo came to us like a day after we put a sign up and said, ‘We want to be here. It’s really a great vibe around here.’ We took Zendo on and wondered if that was a good idea. It’s a coffee shop and we’re in kind of this funky area. But they were open for less than a month and they just had a magnetic draw. We’re hoping for that sort of carryover.”
The new downtown grocery store is indeed rising up just down the street. The area, once forgotten, is now being overrun with new apartments and high-end condos. There should be plenty of foot traffic coming in and out of Sidetrack. That should help since they do not have their own parking lot, just street parking (Dan did say they were hopeful of working out a deal with the United Methodist Church to the west on Lead to use their parking lot at night).
As for the beer, Sidetrack has already brewed a red and a stout on their system. Those are just test batches and will not be sold to the public.
“We’re getting to know our system,” Dan said. “Those two are a little bit more forgiving than a pale or an IPA. But I think as far as the beer goes, we’ve got the opportunity and the system, we’re not going to have a set tap list. We’re going to have what we have. We’ll do what the demand is. We’re not going to lock into, say, we’ve got these four all the time. We’re going to have six taps and two beer engines. We’re going to try to have a cask all the time, either as a variation of what we have on tap or its own thing.”
Sidetrack does not have a set opening date, though they do have a targeted month if everything goes right with the next few test batches of beer.
“We’re going to come at this opening thing with a really soft touch,” Dan said. “We’re going to try to stay under the radar. We’re going to have our doors open to the public. We’re going to try to make sure it’s right before we really say, ‘Here we are.’ I think Rio Bravo did the same thing, we’re just on a smaller scale.
“We’re hoping to be able to have some people in November. I think that’s what we’re going to do, yeah. Being that we are making this transition, we’ve been in the architecture business — I’ve been doing it for 25 years, Joe’s been doing it for 35 years — we like to think we know that. We’re a little green with this (brewing). We want to have it right. I think we’re doing the right things.”
If everything goes right, Sidetrack should be another solid addition to the downtown scene for craft beer. All of us in the Crew look forward to heading back and trying the beer when it is ready. We will keep everyone updated on the final progress for Sidetrack.