With the holiday hiatus behind us, I managed to corral owner Ken Carson and brewer Kaylynn McKnight over at Nexus on Wednesday afternoon for the next entry in our ongoing Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Before enjoying some more of that delicious Salted Caramel Stout, we talked about a busy 2015 and the big plan for 2016.
Yup, Nexus is finally opening that taproom they have talked about for a couple years now.
Everything that led to that decision came from 2015, which saw the main brewpub get a needed makeover, while the beer continued to improve under Kaylynn’s command.
“We redid our menu, not a whole lot of changes, a few new products,” Ken said. “Kaylynn did some really neat brewing. The Salted Caramel (Stout) did really well. It’s kind of amazing, because both of us were not as happy as we would like as far as the caramel side of it, but it’s a really good beer. It’s actually a very good tasting beer. It’s selling faster than any (beer) we’ve had on, any seasonal we’ve put on in a long time.”
For those who like raw numbers, Kaylynn said she brewed 7.2 barrels of the SCS. A whopping 1.2 barrels, one-sixth of the total, was sold on the day it was released, Dec. 23. There are less than three barrels remaining, so hurry over.
Before that stirring finish to the year, there were plenty of other moves that kicked up sales numbers over 2014.
“This year we remodeled what we call our upstairs,” Ken said of the main dining area. “Now we’ve done our community room. We are just going to play it by ear on how we’re going to use the community room. We’re still renting it out and also offering it to non-profits free of charge. That seems to be working. It was really busy during December.”
The start of the year was actually a bit slow, something Ken said could have been prevented.
“Sales are up from last year,” Ken said. “We kind of learned about marketing. We learned that it’s not good not to put your name out in the market, even if it’s just social media. You need to keep your name out there. We had a period in the beginning of (last) year where we didn’t do any marketing at all and I figured out that’s not good. It was slow during the first half of the year. But, we caught up and passed last year by just letting people know what was going on here and keeping the market informed through social media and Instagram and all that.”
Luckily, the primary front-of-house staff stayed the same for Nexus this year, which is always welcome for customers and ownership alike.
“My emphasis has continued through this year is to try to do as good of a job as we can,” Ken said. “We follow our Yelp ratings and TripAdvisor ratings constantly. I think you have to as a restaurant, more so than even a brewer. Breweries get a bye. I’ve seen some horrific service out there and people really just don’t care. They’ll go get a beer at the bar if the server doesn’t come by. For food, if you skip a beat, they’re on your butt.”
To further help keep customers happy, Nexus decided to become the first local brewery to turn their mug club, called Nexus Neighbor, from a one-year sign-up to a lifetime membership. Even if a past member has failed to renew for a year or more, he or she can now renew for life. In addition to discounts on beer, you can accrue points to get money off food. Once you have spent $100 on food, you get $10 off your next meal.
There were also some improvements in the back. Kaylynn said she got a new 15-barrel fermenter to play with, as well as more serving tanks and other equipment updates.
“We got in our new fermenter, which after all is said and done we can double our capacity right now, from the 600 or so barrels we’re doing right now, we can do 1,200,” Ken added. “Hence, that’s where the taprooms will be coming in. That was done this year and last year. We added storage tanks and fermenters of the last two years to make sure we’re ready.”
While Nexus continued to rake in awards and top five finishes in multiple categories in ABQ the Magazine’s Best of the City Awards, they also pulled in a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for the Honey Chamomile Wheat.
“The silver medal, yeah, that was definitely a highlight, very cool,” Kaylynn said, fulfilling a prediction by Ken that she would be her typical humble self about the reward. (She had more to say, in between multiple Justin Hamilton ramblings, about the silver medal back in October.)
“All I can say is that when I tasted that beer and we were sitting there, going down the list (of beers to send to GABF), I said you gotta put that one in there,” Ken added. “That was my only part, she did everything else.”
Overall, it was a solid year that finished with a flourish, one that portends an even busier 2016.
“2015 was good,” Kaylynn said. “It was busy, very busy at the end of the year. The holidays, we sold A LOT of beer. I hope to keep that going for the new year.
“I’m excited about the new taproom. It will definitely keep me busy. I’ll probably need a little bit of help in the back once we get that rolling. I’ll hire some kind of assistant to wash kegs and help transfer beer, that kind of stuff.”
So, speaking of that new taproom …
Go west to Nexus Silver in 2016
The long-awaited Nexus taproom is set to open sometime this spring on the West Side. The exact location is 2641 Coors Blvd. NW, 87120, which is just north of Interstate 40 on the west side of Coors. Turn on Quail, head into the shopping center, and the taproom will be located in the building just south of Golden Corral, right in between a Wing Stop and a Pizza 9. With all of that food already in the vicinity, that will mark a change from past ideas about the nature of the taproom.
“This is my theory on doing the taproom — the taproom will have no food,” Ken said. “We’re going to call it Nexus Silver. The reason why we’re calling it a different name (is) we want to make sure people start identifying with Nexus versus Nexus Silver. Anytime you go to Nexus Silver that will be a taproom. The primary reason for the name is it’s part of our colors, our corporate colors.”
The taproom will seat about 80 people inside, Ken said, plus they are taking out four parking spaces (fear not, plenty remain) in order to have an outdoor patio. In terms of layout, he said it will be similar to the Marble Westside Taproom.
There is still a lot of work to be done inside, hence the lack of a firm opening date.
“That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t said anything (about the taproom before now),” Ken said. “I know this process is not solid. Once you get past the hurdles from the City, if they decide to do something to you, then if you get past that you have things we didn’t think about the other day. Pulling the wallpaper off the wall is going to damage the drywall. So now it’s not just painting the wall, but that’s what I thought.
“Then we have tile that needs to be taken off. Then we figured out there’s electrical plugs in the middle of the tile. Those plugs, they’re in the wrong place now. We’ve got to take those plugs out. Then guess what? We’ve got a big hole. It’s never easy.”
While Ken has his hands full with getting the taproom ready to go, Kaylynn will get to play around more with the beer.
“We got our hands on some better hop contracts,” Kaylynn said. “We weren’t contracted for anything exciting because our focus really wasn’t on IPAs. The beginning of last year I started looking for Citra and Mosaic and more Simcoe and all the big hops people want. I didn’t get a lot, but I got some.”
Ken said customers can expect a new IPA soon as Nexus aims for better balance in their beer lineup. Rather than just be a malt-forward brewery, they intend to cover the entire spectrum.
“If whatever you’re doing is not hitting the market, you’ve got to change and you’ve got to adapt,” Ken said. “We decided we weren’t going to be an IPA brewery and guess what? We got what we wanted. It’s just like we were going to be malty and stuff like that. I think that you can be both, I think you can have some good malty beers, some in-between beers, some lighter beers, and you can have a good IPA. We’ll work on it.”
“It’s good to have a beer for everybody to drink,” she said. “Hopheads get hoppy beers, malty can get light or dark, strong drinkers can get strong beers.”
Kaylynn has some other ideas as well to keep making things more fun for beer lovers.
“I’m still interested in getting a barrel at some point, maybe a small barrel program,” she said. “I definitely want to get a nitrogen tap handle going, probably at the end of this month or next month. I just need to order the equipment, I’m pretty much ready to go.”
All of us in the Crew look forward to checking out the new taproom when it is close to being ready. The new hop contracts, a nitro tap, and the possibility of some barrel-aged beers are fun sound like additional fun.
Thank you to Ken and Kaylynn for the interview, and the stout, of course.