Upslope Brewing finds their own niche in New Mexico

Yeah, we need to find this beer. (Courtesy of Upslope Brewing)
Yeah, we need to find this beer. (Courtesy of Upslope Brewing)

The other day, Stoutmeister and I met up with Eddy Madani from Upslope Brewing Co., based out of Boulder, Colo. They’re in New Mexico spreading the craft beer love at the moment and we were delighted at the opportunity to have some time with him to talk about their brewery, canning line, origins of the company, and their future, including here in New Mexico. I’ll be sipping on one of their Christmas Ales, in fact, as I write this.

PORTER POUNDER: So what brings you guys down to New Mexico? General expansion?

EDDY MADANI: So, we actually pretty much go up and down the Rocky Mountains. The first two places we started distributing (of) outside Colorado were Arizona and Texas. Right after that we ended up going up to Wyoming, back down to New Mexico, back up to Montana, back down to Utah, and Utah is the last place we ended up distributing. We’re really trying to maintain the Rocky Mountain region. We were thinking about Idaho, but that’s not going to be till 2017.

PP: That’s still something to look forward to down the road.

EM: Exactly! And Idaho’s craft brewing market is still at it’s infancy, it’s still very small, so as awesome as it would be to come in and dominate, we want them to grow, and the people to get a little more used to craft beer before we come in.

PP: Totally, you see the over-saturation in some cities and states, they get all excited about one craft beer brewery, and then more come in and it becomes too much at once.

EM: Absolutely, and they also try to become neighborhood bars, which is cool, if the brewery’s intention was that in the beginning. If that’s not their intention, it kinda sucks for them, because then they’re taking up a bunch of other people’s shelf space. Distribution is a lot harder than expected. Like, one of my constant battles with New Mexico is there’s a hardcore New Mexico (breweries) following. It doesn’t matter how close the restaurants are to the breweries themselves, they can literally say walk down from the brewery, there’s still a local passion, pretty much.

PP: So, for your expansions, have you opened up taprooms or anything else anywhere, or just in-store sale distribution?

EM: So … we did, but unintentionally. We have our original location which is in North Boulder.  When we expanded into our bigger location, a manufacturing facility, we wanted to decide on two paths, like we can either shut down our original location, or we could keep it going. There isn’t any law against keeping a second third of fourth taproom open, so they just decided to keep it open.  It’s kind of morphed into our creative “beast.” That’s where all our barrel aging goes, any sort of new beer that we think of …

Stoutmeister: It’s nice, though, to have that mad scientist lab, cause brewers, I’m sure they enjoy their jobs and all, but doing the same beers every day for weeks would kinda get monotonous for them. It’s nice to still be able to go back to their roots, you know, let’s play around with stuff. Let’s throw these hops together and see what happens.

EM: Yeah! Absolutely! That’s one of the reasons we left it the way it was, cause that’s pretty much how they started. Creativity, in the process of brewing. Another cool thing, too, is that it’s a lot more manual. So, our manufacturing facility is pretty much touch and go, touch and go. With this place, it’s like originally how you brewed.

PP: So, what’s your staples? What’s your typical mainstays at the brewery?

EM: So, we have a core five year-round beers: An Imperial IPA, IPA, Pale Ale, Craft Lager, and a Brown Ale. Craft Lager seems to be our staple, it’s our number one selling beer. It’s our longest running, and it also took us a while to get our recipe down, just cause we hadn’t really messed around with lagers in the craft beer scene at that time.

PP: Everyone’s immediate go to seems to be IPA.

EM: Well, ours is actually Pale Ale.

PP: Different, I like it already. Cause you know, similar kind, but still different and doing your own thing.

EM: We have three founders, one of them is the original founder, and he found a guy from Argentina to help start up the brewery. Cause Sierra Nevada was a pretty big Pale Ale out there, and he wanted to try to emulate that. So, that’s how the Pale Ale became the flagship.

SM: I know the tough thing with lagers is the ‘ales for sales thing,’ because fermentation time and everything else. I mean, do you feel you haven’t had the pressure to make that, ‘Hey we gotta ramp up sales even more, push the Lager aside!’

EM: Actually, it just does, Lager just dominates sales for us. I think it’s a great introduction into the brand; our mixed boxes emphasize a little bit more of the Lager, they offer three each, where as our Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and IPA offer two in a 12-pack. We do a lot of good things with our Lager, too. One percent of all our proceeds, too, go to a local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Luckily enough there’s Trout Unlimiteds all over the places that we distribute in, so everyone gets a little effect from that.

PP: What exactly is Trout Unlimited?

EM: Trout Unlimited, they go around cleaning up rivers, lakes, things like that. Really awesome non-profit.

PP: That’s great! I’m a very outdoors guy myself, so I love hearing stuff like that!

EM: So, I work with a local chapter here in Albuquerque, one up in Santa Fe, and it’s nice knowing that the Craft Lager sales, a certain percentage of the proceeds goes to their markets.

PP: So the Craft Lager, that’s a great year-round beer, too. Some people like me, I could drink a stout middle of summer, or drink something light middle of winter. I don’t care what time of the year it is, but I know a lot of people want stout in the winter cause it’s rich and heavy. But Lager, especially since it’s intended to be cold, I think it fits in general with any season. In winter it’s cool and fits the mood, but in summer it’s crisp, light, and cold. I can see how it can become a great staple, especially in a place like Colorado.

EM: Well, it’s definitely attracted youth into our brewery, because everyone kinda brings in their own way of shotgunning a beer, and our way of shotgunning a beer is our Craft Lager.

PP: I get that, because it’s smooth and light, you’re not doing that with a Baltic Porter. Definitely not an Imperial IPA.

EM: Although, it has been tried … non successfully …

PP: Although, I play beer pong with stouts, but clearly I have to bring my own, but it’s worth it.  So, obviously you’ve got this Christmas Ale available now, what manifested this compared to another seasonal?

EM: So we actually have four seasonals that rotate with the seasons: springtime it’s our Belgian Style Pale Ale. For summertime its our Thai Style White IPA. For falltime it’s our Blood Orange Saison. (2015) is the first year it’s come out and for it’s first time it sold incredibly.

PP:  That actually sounds amazing.

EM: And wintertime (it’s) Oatmeal Stout. Kinda into that fact that we have our core, but also understand the seasons.

PP: And oatmeal stout is kinda like winter comfort food.

EM: Yeah, we know our market, and we know in winter people want stouts! This allows us to supplement that.

PP: Darker the better …

EM: Exactly!

PP: What about the Thai IPA? That sounds really interesting.

EM: Thai Style IPA is pretty interesting … It uses a lot of Asian-inspired spices — coriander, basil, ginger, black pepper, all at once. It hits you on the very front end, and then kinda trickles off on the back end. It’s really nice! It may take a little while to get used to cause it’s different, but now it’s pretty much my go to beer in summertime. Second, of course, is the Craft Lager!

PP: Are there any other specialties? Cause obviously the Christmas Ale isn’t a regular offering of winter like the Oatmeal Stout is. Any other stand-alone specialties like this one?

EM: Yes, the Christmas Ale really is only for Christmas; we try to sell completely out of it after Christmas obviously, and out of pumpkin beer. Our pumpkin beer is made out of real pumpkins, and when they’re harvested we roast them in-house, and it’s always a little bit later than when most pumpkins are available …

PP: Because you have to wait for the actual crop. When I do my yearly pumpkin it’s the same reason, cause I have to wait for ample pumpkins to be ready, so that puts mine out a little later.

EM: Exactly! You have to wait for the real thing, you can’t just throw in some pumpkin spice and that’s it.

SM: Thanks for that. I remember last time looking around thinking ‘well what haven’t I had from you guys?’ and I’d had the Belgian Pale in the spring, Imperial IPA …

EM: Well we came into the (New Mexico) market in the springtime, and Belgian Style Pale Ale was still out and about.

SM: Then I had the (Ozo) coffee brown.

EM: You did?

SM: It was GOOD!

EM: That was great, right?

SM: Oh, man …

EM: So that coffee roaster (Ozo) is actually right next door to our manufacturing facility.

SM: I think I heard that story actually, that at the start of the day the brewers go in and get their coffee. At the end of the day, the coffee staff walks next door and gets their beers.

EM: Yeah, we’ve had a working relationship for the longest time. It was awesome. Our brewer got to roast the beans with them, and then from there they came over and helped brew the beer with us, too, so it was cool. We kinda try to create that symbiotic relationship, not just within the beer industry but within other craft fields, too.

PP: So what else are you guys doing? Any other specialties or single type beers like the pumpkin or … ?

EM: That list … is always rotating. The ideas are always constantly floating, both for in-can and in-house at the brewery. We did have an ex-head brewer that wanted to create the highest ABV beer ever.

PP: Just in general!?

EM: Just in general. He said screw it, I’m gonna give it a try. He thought that a barleywine would be the right start, and yeah, what ended up happening, was the sugars pretty much started eating themselves, and later we pretty much ended up having to dump that beer. But, that pretty much just goes to show that the ideas that we bring up to our founders, they don’t care. They don’t care how many batches we dump, it’s that when you make something perfect, that that’s worth it to keep in circulation. It’s that one idea you’re trying to obtain constantly.

SM: For the longest time everything (craft) was bottled. Did you guys start off right away with cans? Did Oskar Blues inspire that?

EM: They didn’t inspire it, but they were pretty much like our big brother. We used to hand can all of our beers, and it wasn’t until we started getting to ‘People actually like our beer. We want to actually start selling this beer a little bit faster, and don’t wanna spend eight minutes on one can,’ so, we went to Oskar Blues. They were selling their canner line at the time. And we were the only ones in the entire state of Colorado aside of Oskar Blues that was canning their beer. And they totally came out and showed as much love as possible. We always had questions, because the damn thing was in Chinese, I kid you not. It was a bitch sometimes, too. But, yeah, they’d always come out, they’re literally just like a town over from us in Lyons, and would come out and help us. It just kinda shows that camaraderie between breweries. It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration really.

SM: It’s probably been the craziest year so far for other breweries heading into New Mexico at once — Founders, Ballast Point, Mother Road came in. What sort of feedback are you getting from people down here right now?

EM: Surprisingly, a lot of love! A lot of people have been pretty appreciative of the fact we make more of a well-balanced beer, as opposed to something overly hoppy or overly malty. It’s kind of what we go for. We all go for that well-balanced beer. It’s nice to see you guys share that same affinity for it. We were really worried about our IPA down here, because we understand New Mexico is a very hop-heavy state.

PP: And as you said, there are a lot of very die-hard followers here for their breweries.

EM: Absolutely! Like, (La Cumbre’s) Elevated … I mean, it’s … it’s almost impossible to compare, but all I can say is, give it a try. This is a much maltier, less hoppy, about 65 IBUs.

PP: That’s great for me. I personally prefer a maltier, less hoppy IPA in the end.

EM: Right, so we try and show those well-balanced characteristics.

SM: And a lot of people just want to try something different. I mean, how many breweries have a brown in a can? It’s like it becomes a throwaway seasonal or keep it on tap cause eventually someone wants a brown or an amber. ‘It pairs well with the BBQ!’ It’s good to be varied up, including in the canning business, as a lot of places don’t let you bring glass. People love to go camping, and it’s a lot easier than bringing a bunch of glass bottles.

PP: And it floats better when you’re going down the river.

SM: Not the beer! Paddle! Before it hits the rocks!

EM: Absolutely! A lot of people forget glass isn’t allowed in national parks, but you can bring cans in. And we’re pretty big purveyors of pack it in, pack it out philosophy. Plus, that’s a bonus of brightly colored cans, you can never lose your beer if you wander away in the dark!

PP: So, have you been canning since the beginning? Or was there blowback from trying to adjust all you needed for in-house compared to now needing to sell and ship out?

EM: Of course, I mean it was always in the plan, too. It seems like the push back from only doing canning hasn’t been enough to stop it. In fact, I feel now a lot of other breweries are feeling a lot of after effects of that there are a lot of breweries canning. Like, when New Belgium started canning, or when Odell did with their IPA.

PP: So do you every participate in any local beer weeks or Great American Beer Festival or anything like that?

EM: We absolutely participate in GABF. This last year, we had a 10-by-10 booth end cap, which was pretty sweet. That was our first year doing it, and unfortunately we didn’t get to celebrate any awards this year, but there have been a lot more breweries added to the docket, so …

PP: Well, that’s it, just gotta go back again next year, a little better, a little tighter …

EM: Well, yeah, one of the things we really appreciate from our brewery is that from all the beers we input, the majority are handpicked from our canning line. Not a specialty brew or something that someone can’t just come in and get after hearing about it or tasting it. That’s why we look so highly of our Brown Ale, you can get the exact same recipe that’s been to GABF and won awards as you can in the brewery or in can.

PP: So what’s the prime goal of the coming year? What do you guys hope to accomplish? More expansion or focusing on new beers or raising awareness or … ?

EM: We’re still trying to focus on Albuquerque, Santa Fe, pretty much Northern New Mexico.  Starting next year, we’re going to bringing a lot more emphasis onto Southern New Mexico, Las Cruces, and pretty much the same reason we wanted to is because people look at it as a flyover state, and we realized there is a good flowing of craft beer coming into it. We want to get into it, too. I feel like the southern cities in New Mexico kinda fall into that same thing, where people feel like ‘oh, Las Cruces, it’s way down there, whatever’ and we want to establish ourselves in a town like that and bring more quality new beer to them.

PP: Well, it is a college town, my college town, and it is only the last few years really that craft brewing is really opening up down there with new establishments. There hasn’t even been much of a bar scene there at all until recently. And craft brewing is to thank for that more than just general bars. It’s a great market right now for more to open up, show the students there’s more to beer than they had available.

EM: I can’t even imagine leaving a bad class and not being able to get a good craft beer.

PP: I know, due to the lack of it when I was there, I honestly didn’t even drink very often at all!  Wish these places and craft beers were around when I was a student! Luckily now there’s some great options, but it’s still prime, as is a lot of Southern NM like Carlsbad or Roswell, being open to more to come.

EM: There’s a big shift coming through New Mexico, though, and craft beer is being heavily embraced. Especially the pride in what is locally made.

SM: Totally, people are saying ‘Hey, we make our own wine, we make our own liquor, we make our own beer …’

PP: There’s a lot of do-it-yourself attitude here.

EM: There’s a lot of people around 30 years old in this, but it’s also becoming an even younger crowd, which is great. The shifting of the market. Even using local ingredients, like pecans in Las Cruces. It’s taking what’s here, and the local pride, but it still leaves open for quality craft beer to join. Camaraderie again. What do you guys think about the beer scene here compared to the beer scene in Colorado?

PP: Well there’s a lot more (breweries) there. It’s also been going longer for a craft beer selection.

SM: I think Albuquerque wants to be more like Denver. There won’t be as many mass distribution locations as there, but it shows the amount of people want quality beer.

EM: And that’s whats great about working together and expanding here, everyone loves their locals, but it also shows with the amount of places opening up, or expanding like, again, Ballast Point, that outside great beer will still sell and be desired, and we’re happy to be part of that! It’s collaborative, still to this day, we can even still go to Avery for something simple as pallets, but you can go to the nearest place for anything. Craft beer is a great way to share the world.

* * * * *

Thank you for Eddy for stopping by to chat with us at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, where you can almost always find a number of Upslope beers on tap.

Upslope is available all over the state, and in Albuquerque you can find four-, six-, and 12-packs for sale at Kelley’s, Whole Foods, Total Wine, and Jubilation, among other places. Their plans for expanding are even looking at hitting the southern end of the state, namely Las Cruces among other options, so throughout the next year keep your eyes open for some quality new Colorado beer being available here!


— Porter Pounder

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