The good guys over at Quarter Celtic Brewpub, a.k.a. the brainchild of former Canteen brewer Brady McKeown and company, had invited us over to visit their forthcoming brewery a little while back. After we were reminded again recently, Brandon and I trekked over to check on their progress, take a few pictures, hear lots of stories of shenanigans, and so on, on Monday afternoon.
Quarter Celtic is the creation of Brady, his brother Ror McKeown (former Canteen general manager), their father Robert McKeown, former Chama River assistant brewer/Canteen manager David Facey, and partners Lee Jay Wilson and James Brown. The group decided a while back that it was now or never to open a brewery and get established before Albuquerque careens toward over-saturation, or so Brady told us when the news first broke in July.
The brewpub will be located in the ACE shopping center on the northeast corner of Lomas and San Mateo. It will be the anchor tenant in the lower courtyard, with the hope of attracting future businesses to the site (in particular a coffee joint, or that is the hope of the highly caffeinated working team). The primary parking is on the south side of the building, including a covered garage area that can leave you right next to the brewpub entrance. There is also street-level parking along the west and north sides of the complex, with 120 total spaces including 60 covered. It can be easily accessed by westbound Lomas and northbound San Mateo. Anyone traveling south on San Mateo can either turn left on Marble (natch) and then right into the complex, or you can go to Lomas, take a left and go east to Madeira, then take a left (north). The 50-mile bicycle loop that is planned to go around the city is also just to the east of the brewpub on Lomas, so it will be easy for those who prefer to travel by two wheels to stop by.
“Here was part of the reason we ended up in this spot,” Ror said. “We had a list of criteria. This fit almost all of them. Parking, which you usually don’t get. Infrastructure, it used to be a restaurant. We have a full restaurant that was set up, so that we didn’t have to pay for the hoods and the vent system and the sprinklers. That was already here.
“And also just being on a major artery. Though we’re not visible directly from the street, 70,000 cars pass that corner every day and we’ll have good signage. We’re just waiting. No one notices the sign anymore if it’s up there for six or nine months. We’re going to wait until we’re a couple months out.”
There is a considerable amount of work left to do, so do not expect the doors to swing open to the public in a week or two. The area where the brewhouse is going still needs further preparation. The main bar is ready to be built. The patio work is still in progress. When it is all ready, the entire capacity indoors and out will be around 200 customers.
The patio essentially starts on the west side near the main entrance and curves around the north side of the brewery. Though it has not been zoned yet, it should hold 75 to 90 people. There will be one large community table and several smaller tables. There will be individual umbrellas and a partial covering of the patio for the summer months.
Inside the most notable thing about the place is how big it feels, largely due to the high ceilings and huge windows. That can sometimes lend itself to a place becoming too loud, but the Quarter Celtic staff planned ahead.
“We’ve got 25-foot ceilings, which is nice,” Ror said. “We’re redoing these (acoustic tiles). We’re going to have sound dampeners so it’s not too echo-y. They have the sound foam behind them. On the perimeter we’re going to re-wrap them in burlap. And then on these we’re going to sew a bunch of hop bags together in a cool pattern. Then we’re going to put everybody’s family crests gets a spot up there. The four family crests going up, which is nice. It gives you something to look at, there’s so much wall space up here.”
There will be a mix of high and low tables throughout the interior. The bar itself, located just to the right as you walk in the main entrance, will have a unique shape that fits the Celtic theme.
“Here’s the footprint of our bar,” Ror said. “We just knocked down the old one. You could have driven a car into that thing. It was all concrete and rebar. That was a date with a sledgehammer and a jackhammer. Ultimately when we’re done we’ll have this clover-shaped bar; the stem will be seating, too. We kind of like that because if you stand around it, you can actually talk to each other without having to lean over, which should be nice.
“Since our cold room is directly above we’ll actually be pumping straight down into the bar from the cold room. We’re not going to do a gravity feed. It is nice because logistically it’s a couple feet straight down, which is nice.”
As for what type of beer, expect some beers to fit the Quarter Celtic name, but there will be plenty of other styles on tap as well.
“We’re having fun with the Quarter Celtic name even though we’re going to be an over-the-top Irish pub,” Ror said. “We’ve got quite a few of us with some Irish/Scottish lineage. With that, a quarter of our beer menu will probably be —”
“Instead of an amber, an Irish Red,” David interjected. “Instead of an oatmeal stout, a dry Irish stout. Stuff like that.”
“We’d like to keep things somewhat traditional, so we’ll probably have a Scotch or a Scottish (too),” Ror added. “We’re going to have an over-the-top hopped IPA, but we want to keep some of it kind of to our theme. We’ll do some seasonals. We’ll carry some friends’ taps, too.”
David said he and Brady have most of the recipes written, though there figure to be some adjustments as they learn the ins and outs of the new 10-barrel brewing system that is on order.
“Brady and I have the direction for what our house IPA is going to be,” David said. “Like Ror was saying, a lot of breweries have their house IPA and then they have their big IPA, their Challenge IPA and their house IPA. We want our house IPA to be our Challenge IPA. We’ll do other seasonal IPAs, but we’re still Albuquerque.”
A big IPA can be expensive for a new place with new hop contracts, but the staff is not worried about that yet.
“We’ve learned from places we’ve worked in the past, you have this (IPA) that everyone wants, but you only brew it half the year,” Ror said. “It’s great, it gets people chomping at the bit when you have it (coming) out. But why not have it on tap all the time? Is it expensive (to make)? You bet. Will people pay for it? Absolutely. Offer it and price it accordingly.”
Quarter Celtic is taking over the old Andre’s restaurant space and inherited all of the working restaurant equipment. That will mean a full menu.
“A third of the menu will be starters,” Ror said. “The other third will be the Celtic fare. And then we’ll have pizza and then off the grill will probably make up the final third. Off the grill we’re going to try to make things to complement our beers. Things we can cook with our beer and pair well.”
“You want to keep it traditional,” David added. “It’s still relaxed and low-key. Your price points are very low to moderate.”
The wood-fired pizza oven is small, but functional. The plan is to produce 10-inch personal pizzas that customers can build from the base sauce up. As for the large number of appetizers, that fits into the desire to have a communal space.
“We wanted to have things that people will share,” David said. “Buddies can order it and split it. It’s a big part of our menu. A lot of places probably have only a couple of appetizers and a lot of main courses. We wanted to flip the script, have it more communal, more sharing.”
The combination of people with brewing experience and restaurant experience should be a boon for business at Quarter Celtic.
“That’s another benefit from all of our backgrounds, it’s not just brewery people,” David said. “We come from restaurants and bars (too). So now it’s just an opportunity to bring it all together in one place. That’s the cool part. I think it’s different from elsewhere in town. A lot of guys brew their whole lives and then start a brewery, then they want to avoid a kitchen or things like that.”
Having an award-winning brewer like Brady to run that aspect of the business helps in terms of planning out the rest of the establishment.
“The one thing we do have going for us, people are going, ‘Is the beer going to be any good?’ Well, you know the beer is going to be good from day one,” Ror said. “That kind of takes the pressure off us to concentrate on ambiance, food, a lot of other things.”
The brewhouse and fermenters will occupy the northeast portion of the brewpub. Customers will be able to watch Brady and David brew while they eat and drink.
“From here we’re going to try to 8-foot high storefront glass,” Ror said. “That way these guys can be like John Travolta in the Boy in the Bubble, everybody can watch them. Brady was even thinking about getting some gloves and sticking them out so you can shake his hand.”
That produced a round of laughter from the staff.
“That’s the thing we also enjoy is that the group has is a sense of humor,” Ror said. “Once things get rolling, there’s no stopping it. That’s when the fun stuff happens.”
“That’s the idea of the group, we’re making beer for a living,” David added. “Let’s have fun doing it. Make good beer, have a good time.”
Another promising aspect of the planning of the brewpub was to have two separate walk-in coolers. The one downstairs will be for the food. The one upstairs will be for the bright tanks and kegs. Quarter Celtic is also leasing the office suite directly above and custom-building their walk-in up there.
The former tenant had left some cubicles and the like inside. Those had to be removed so construction on the cold room could begin.
“I let my kids loose in here with a couple of sledgehammers,” Ror said with a laugh. “We filled a 30-yard dumpster in a week. We needed to make this custom-sized. Downstairs we did a lot of work, but it was not much structural at all. It was just moving things around.”
The building itself will more than support all the heavy tanks inside the cold room.
“We had our structural engineer come up here to make sure it could handle the load. Some of those 20-barrel (bright tanks) can hold 5,000 pounds full,” Ror said. “Luckily this whole mall is all poured concrete. It’s reinforced rebar. There are huge metal trusses down there. This whole thing is on a metal floor on metal trusses. It was built like a bomb shelter. It’s able to do what we want to do here.”
Another aspect they pointed out was that much like their former place of employment, Canteen, they will also have a Crowler machine. Only they will call theirs by a different, yet appropriate name — Quarter Cans (since a 32-ounce can is technically a quarter of a gallon).
That will be just another aspect of what they all hope will be an open, welcome place for families, friends, and individuals to hang out.
“We’re trying to be the neighborhood pub,” Ror said. “We’re the only pub in (this) neighborhood. It’s nice to have some concentrated together, because you can from one to the other to other. But if you have one beer at each, then it gets a little scary for brewery owners.
“We’re also hoping to be the anchor down here. I would be completely pleased if this mall filled up once we opened up, because we are going to drive a lot of traffic down here.”
All of us in the Crew figure if any group can pull that off, it is the Quarter Celtic team. With one of the best brewers in town working right from the start, we figure this brewpub will become one of the premier beer destinations in town right away.
We will keep tabs on the progress at Quarter Celtic and you can also follow along with them via their Facebook page and their Twitter feed @QuarterCeltic.
So until the next time, when the beer is ready for us to sample, we wish them all the luck of the Irish as they move ahead.