The brewers may change, but the quality beer remains the same over at Chama River Brewing. At least, that has been the case throughout the history of the popular brewpub. From Ted Rice to Jeff Erway to Justin Hamilton to Zach Guilmette, Chama has served as a finishing school for many a great brewer to go onto his own operation. With Zach heading back to Canteen as head brewer there, it now falls to Andrew Krosche to keep up the tradition.
Chama is coming off a solid, steady 2015. While he did not pick up another GABF medal, Zach was still able to produce a long line of excellent seasonal beers, while some of his house beers (thinking of Sleeping Dog Stout, for one) continued to improve.
“Chama, that was an exciting year,” Zach said. “The two years went by so fast. The whole thing was a great experience because the entire time I was able to experiment, play around with recipes, and they really supported the brewing of good beer.”
In terms of specific highlights, Zach picked out one beer that is near and dear to the hearts of the Crew.
“Brewing a little Obey the Darkside was a highlight,” Zach said. “Doing some sour yogurt, kettle sour was. That was a lot of fun. Just trying to push the envelope for me as a brewer, to see what I could do that was different, that I hadn’t tried before. And then waiting to see what the customers, the beer drinkers said.”
The feedback that Zach received was, not surprisingly, quite positive.
“Luckily, yeah, the people that liked it, they’re the ones that talked to me,” Zach said. “If they didn’t, I never really saw them. Every beer had mixed reviews. Everybody has different interests in styles. As a brewer you’re trying to brew something that challenges you, that you know you’re going to like, but you also have to try to figure out what everyone else is going to be willing to drink and try to meet everybody in the middle.”
It is that type of attitude and approach that Chama’s new brewer will take into the job for this year. The last time we checked in with Andrew, he was taking over Ponderosa Brewing for his first gig as a head brewer after having worked on the brewing staff at Marble. Seven months later, and now he has some big shoes to fill.
“I’ve been in here many, many times,” Andrew said. “I’ve been friends with the brewers in here for the last four or five years. As far as walking in here, expectations, I already knew what I was coming into, the history here. One of the things that was kind of exciting is the best way I can describe my first day was like coming into an archaeological dig. You just look at layers, you can see elements of each brewer here. Everyone has been putting it on top and on top. It’s like excavating an old, abandoned building and realizing, oh, there was another building here and they just piled on top of it. There’s really cool elements, just layers you can find.”
Chama has plenty of history, from all the medals at GABF and other competitions, as well as how many of their brewers have gone on to run other places, a group that currently includes Ted (Marble), Jeff (La Cumbre), Justin (Boxing Bear), Zach (Canteen), and former assistant brewers John Bullard and Tim Woodward, who now hold the title of head brewer at Bosque and Turtle Mountain, respectively. It could add up to a lot of weight on a new brewer’s shoulders.
“I wouldn’t say I have a lot of pressure,” Andrew said. “Yes, would getting a medal be awesome? Absolutely. Do I feel that I have to do be able to set my place here as one of the brewers? No. If I make a product that the public enjoys, the industry enjoys, that I enjoy, that’s enough for me.”
Once the history lesson was over, it was quickly time to get to work.
“When I came in, I just needed to organize, find out what was here because I had no transitional period of working with Zach,” Andrew said. “I just wandered around and figured out what to do we have, what do I need to order. My first two days here were really just organizing. And then for the last three have been paperwork and things like that. Honestly, Cordell (Rincon, assistant brewer) is the only reason this transition has gone smooth, because I could focus on that management, paperwork side of everything, and not have to work about needing (to worry about) beer as well.”
Chama may not be looking to do something as big as opening a taproom or canning or anything of that nature, but Andrew said he plans to keep being innovative with his seasonal and specialty beer offerings to help keep things fresh.
“I’m going to tweak a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been playing around with the idea of bringing a new yeast strain into Chama. It’s a yeast strain I worked with at Ponderosa that I really enjoyed the versatility with (it). That’s one. I absolutely have to continue brewing the IPK (India Pale Kolsch), it was just too funny to make. I have to do it again. I will definitely be bringing that here.”
The core lineup at Chama will not change significantly.
“The core beers are fun in themselves as well,” Andrew said. “I don’t look at them as being like, oh, I have to brew that again. Working on being consistent, which is huge. Another one is you always get to put a little bit of flair onto them anyhow. Every brewer has changed, tweaked them a little bit. No one has just regurgitated the same recipe over and over.
“They’re also nice because you have to keep making them, there’s a little bit of a buffer, so you don’t get burnt out trying to think of new recipes all the time. You have those core (beers), then it gives you time to develop the new, exciting special you want to make.”
Andrew has some ideas about the fun beers he wants to make, though as of last Friday, it was too soon to start going into any of those.
“Right now, just five days in, I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said. “I know I definitely want to bring back the IPK like I mentioned, but I’ll wait till spring, because it’s more of a spring beer. I would love to get some barrels in here, so that’s a project I’m going to push and work towards, especially if I can get the beer in the barrels now for next winter.”
More barrel-aged beers, more fun beers, more innovate beers. That all adds up to quality recipe for Chama River. One of our brewing institutions is in good hands.
Thank you to Andrew and Zach for the respective interviews. And the beers during the interviews, of course. Those never hurt.