Starr Brothers hopes to shine in Northeast Heights

Posted: December 31, 2015 by cjax33 in Interviews, New Brewery Preview, News
Tags: , , ,
Starr Brothers Brewing is moving closer to opening early in 2016.

Starr Brothers Brewing is moving closer to opening early in 2016.

Everything old is new again.

Starr Brothers Brewing is going back to the old school, opening a true brewpub in an era where kitchens have been eschewed in favor of food trucks.

The forthcoming brewery is located on San Antonio east of I-25 in the San Antonio Commons retail center. If you reach San Pedro, you have gone too far, but the bright yellow sign is hard to miss. As I drive up and down San Antonio almost every day, I have been keeping a close eye on Starr Brothers’ progress. Based on what I saw with my own two eyes, plus some pics on Facebook, I contact the brewery about an advance tour. We matched up our schedules Wednesday afternoon.

Owner John Starr, brewer Rob Whitlock, and general manager Derek Minero were all on hand to show me the almost-but-not-quite-ready location. By all accounts, it could be ready in a month, but more likely after that. As any brewery owner can tell you, putting an exact target on opening is something best reserved for as close to that date as possible. The kitchen, in fact, figures to be ready before the brewery is done, so Rob said they will likely open the restaurant with some initial guest taps while his first brews are being prepped.

The star motif is already up on the bar.

The star motif is already up on the bar.

John, a Navy veteran, said his background is in commercial sales. He has done a lot of traveling, all of which inspired him to attempt to launch a true brewpub in a crowded craft market.

“I’ve always wanted to have a place like this,” John said. “It felt like the time was right. It’s just interesting that these things take a long, long time to plan and actually implement. When I started planning people weren’t publishing articles about are there too many (breweries). In all that time it took to make it come to life, people are out there saying that sort of things. If you’ve ever been from a very mature brewing market, you realize that we’re not anywhere near there.”

The full kitchen setup is not one that many of the other new breweries are planning to attempt, though Quarter Celtic will also be going that route.

“We want to have an interesting menu that people will come back for,” John said. “We want to be beer forward, but when you sit down to have a beer, someone will wait on your table and bring you something great to eat.”

Starr Brothers will have a restaurant license, which will also open things up to carry things like wine and champagne that is made outside of New Mexico. John reiterated, though, that they will focus heavily on the beer.

To handle the restaurant aspect and the brewing aspect, Rob and Derek were brought on board. Derek has served as the manager at the Il Vicino in the Northeast Heights for the past eight years.

“I met Derek through going in there all the time,” John said. “We have some other things in common, too. One of my really good friends, he’s kind of a mentor to me, (Derek) went to high school with his daughters. Small town stuff.”

Once that glycol chiller is up on the roof, there will be plenty of room inside the dining area.

Once that glycol chiller is up on the roof, there will be plenty of room inside the dining area.

“These two guys are the core of what’s going on here,” John added. “We do have a cook and a chef consultant who are also really good guys who came to us through another set of incredible circumstances. One is Rob’s neighbor. There’s been a lot of things that have been these big arrows pointing to certain people that we’ve followed.”

Rob is an award-winning home brewer who just retired from a 30-year career as a plumber. He has also assisted on brewing projects at Boxing Bear.

“So, Rob here, who’s our brewer, was recommended to me by a family friend who’s also a small brewer,” John said.

“Charlie Sandoval over at Pi Brewing,” Rob added.

“He’s a close friend of our family through soccer,” John said of Charlie. “His grandson played with my oldest son. Soccer was the connection there. I knew Charlie and he introduced me to Rob.”

Rob and Charlie were old friends with the Wart Hogs home brewing club in Rio Rancho. Rob said he will brew solo to start with at Starr Brothers before thinking about adding an assistant.

“To start off with, yeah,” he said. “I want to get the system dialed in and everything.

“I’ve been brewing with Justin (Hamilton) at Boxing Bear, so his methods have rubbed off on me. He makes really clean beer, really good, clean beer. He’s very meticulous about things. He’s really helped me a lot, him and Kevin (Davis). I’ve known Kevin for a long time through the home brewing store (Southwest Grape and Grain).”

The tanks are in the building and ready to be hooked up.

The tanks are in the building and ready to be hooked up. (And that’s Rob sneaking into the photo.)

Rob plans to have an IPA on tap at all times, with other classic styles available, including a few on tap that are not always available in town.

“Rob is going to have a lot of creative freedom to do what he wants,” John said. “But there are some things we’ve talked about that you know you have to have. I want him to brew stuff that he likes and he enjoys brewing. We’re not going to do some crazy thing where we’re out there to recreate and be the brewery that makes special kinds of beers. We want to make classic styles of beer that are all good. He’s won awards for Dortmunders before. I think that’s a cool style to move forward with.”

Starr Brothers has a 7-barrel Premier brewhouse that is almost ready to go. Rob has four fermenters and serving tanks at his disposal, three of each at 7 barrels and one each at 15 barrels (those will be for the IPA, he later told me). They just received their glycol chiller, which will be installed on the roof, and Rob is handling all of the installation and plumbing in the brewery, since he does have 30 years of experience in that field.

The 7-barrel brewhouse features a state-of-the-art control panel.

The 7-barrel brewhouse features a state-of-the-art control panel.

John said he also wants to have a staff that is knowledgeable about beer, or at least is willing to learn. That will in turn help out the restaurant aspect in terms of helping customers pair the right beer with the right food. That in turn can help keep the staff happy.

“Just to have an intelligent staff about food and drink, to incentivize our people to stay,” John said. “To have a longstanding group of people that work here that the clientele can get to know and feel comfortable around.”

The interior of the building will feature a spacious dining area, plus a sizable bar in the center. There will be TVs present for sports fans; expect a lot of hockey and soccer games, which the staff loves, though they will flick the channel if you ask nicely to watch football or baseball instead. There will also be an outdoor patio for the warmer months ahead.

“We just want to do the things we do and do them really well,” John said. “We want to make people feel like they’re comfortable here and we’re going to take care of them.”

Soon there will be beer here. Soon.

Soon there will be beer here. Soon.

Assuming there are no further delays with the construction or in terms of permits/licensing, Starr Brothers is aiming for a spring opening. They will keep us updated and in turn, the Crew will keep all of you updated on their progress.

We look forward to grabbing a bite to eat and a pint in the near future. I just had to promise the staff we will not let Brandon wear his Chelsea kit. They are Arsenal fans, after all.

Thank you to John, Rob, and Derek for taking time out of their busy day to chat. Good luck to Starr Brothers Brewing, and welcome to the Albuquerque craft beer scene!


— Stoutmeister

  1. James Ruzicka says:

    Looking for a brewpub in which I can hear myself think. I was in ABQ at place made of shipping containers that was so loud it made my ears ring. Absolutely no consideration whatsoever for acoustics. During your construction phase have you given any consideration to noise levels, if so what have you worked into the space to make it a place where on can actually have a conversation at a normal level.

    • cjax33 says:

      Agreed. The volume inside most places has gotten out of control. Might be time to do a post to bring this up as a point of discussion between customers and the breweries.

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