My latest story for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series took me to two different towns. That is what happens when Kaktus Brewing moves out of just their cozy space in Bernalillo and opens a taproom in Nob Hill. That alone was the big move of 2015 for Kaktus, but it was far from the only story they had to tell. I sat down with owner Dana Koller at the taproom and then met with brewer Michael Waddy at the original location to discuss the crazy finish to last year and what they have planned here in 2016.
“Oh, man, 2015 was great,” Dana said. “It was basically our second year doing business. It was our year to actually make some incredible improvements, both food-wise and beer-wise, since we serve both.”
Even before the Nob Hill taproom opened, Kaktus was expanding their brewing capacity.
“We upped our brewing system,” Dana said. “We started getting prepared for a 5-barrel system instead of a 2-barrel system, starting with (more) fermenters. As most people know, all of our equipment came from Germany, but we found a company that’s basically mimicking the German equipment out of Texas. So it’s a lot more affordable to find pretty much the same equipment made by another company in Texas.”
Even with increased production, Kaktus has not changed their overall philosophy.
“With the improvements, our style is the same,” Dana said. “We haven’t had to make any sacrifices so far now that the system is bigger. What we are finding is we want to stay within our 5-barrel system with our two locations and probably not grow further than that. One of the reasons is because the way we brew our beer, we might have to make sacrifices if we (expand further). But we’re excited about that. That’s kind of our business model, to have two locations. Everyone else is going into bottling, but we’re not encouraged to do that. We want to stay focused where it’s all in house, all on tap, and stay there.”
For Bernalillo, that meant an extended, improved patio cover for the winter months that has been well received by customers (and staff, one would imagine). Kaktus has also continued to churn out some interesting, innovative beers.
“We are excited about 2016,” Dana said. “We did do some fun experiments in 2015. We did the smoked chipotle porter. We did the Villa Miriyam collaboration with the coffee schwarzbier. We did the basil lager again.”
Dana also said that 2016 will mark the first time Kaktus will dive into sour beers. With barrels from a local cooperage set to be delivered on Feb. 1, they will begin production in the coming months.
“We’ve been wanting to do, mostly Dana and Mark (Matheson), have been wanting to do sours for a while,” Michael said. “Out here in Bernalillo, I don’t know if there’s a huge market for that really. Now that we have the Nob Hill location, I’m thinking there might be more of an opportunity to get out into those types of beers. It just kind of worked out that the new local cooperage (is here) and we’re looking to have fun with those types of beers.”
Michael said he will move cautiously with what can be a tricky style.
“The first one we’ll do will have a basic, maybe like a Flanders Red,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to jump too crazy into it right away. Nothing really, really weird. We will be getting the barrels Feb. 1. Pretty much as soon as we get the barrels, maybe even before that we’ll brew one and start the primary fermentation. Several months (until release); it’s going to be a while.”
Dana said fans should continue to expect Kaktus to have multiple unique styles on tap, though Michael said there could be a few more constants on tap.
“I think we are going to maybe move into kind of an area where we’re starting to have more standards, more staples,” Michael said. “Right now, we’re just like whatever. We always have something lighter, something malty, something hoppy. Within those categories, I’ve been switching it around. Now that we have the second location I think we might move into where we have this is our IPA, this is that, and have rotating taps along with that. We’ve never really had that.”
Some beers, like the Helles Lager and London Porter, are already on tap almost all the time. As for IPAs, those have always been fairly experimental for Kaktus. In many ways, the Nob Hill taproom will now be the ground where Kaktus will truly see how their IPAs are received.
“That’s what’s going to be interesting to see, how our IPAs are going to be received (in Nob Hill),” Michael said. “Eighty IBUs is the highest we do, except for our competition one, that was over 100. But, our normal IPA is 80 IBUs, and so most everybody else in that area is doing big IPAs and things. So far, it’s been good, but we’ve only been open a week. If we start seeing a decline in IPA sales, we might have to play with the big boys.”
So far, Dana said the reception in Nob Hill has been a warm one.
“It’s been very positive,” he said. “We have had the feedback we’re not hoppy enough, but it’s only been a few people. The majority of people have been very positive. Usually we hear people like two or three beers out of the lineup; the majority of responses here have been ‘I’ll drink any of these.’ So, we’re excited about that. We were bringing kind of a different style and we were curious, too, about how it would be received by the younger crowd. So far they’re excited to see the lower alcohol content. They’re excited to see a maltier style and than a hoppier style.”
Kaktus has started to find their niche in their new location.
“We do set ourselves apart,” Dana said. “I think we’ve become a quick starting point for people in their evening. Then they move on to other places that they’re used to. Our spot, one of the things that defines us, is just the fact that we have a place that’s really unique and our spot has the rooftop patio. It appears everyone is happy since we’ve opened and we’re just an addition to the scene; we’re not a threat to anybody, that’s for sure.”
The Nob Hill taproom opened with a hugely popular party on New Year’s Eve, something that will surely be repeated in 2016.
“We get to celebrate this anniversary every New Year’s Eve,” Dana said. “We did the Chile Drop, which looks to me to be a big Nob Hill favorite. People are already looking to have reserved spots for next year. You can rely on the fact we’re going to be doing that every year.”
Beyond that, Michael said he has a Czech pale ale due out soon as the next beer on the docket. Kaktus will also continue to do their popular beer and truffle pairings, now at both locations. They will have a three-course beer dinner for Valentine’s Day (more info on that as we get closer to the event). Nob Hill will also have a college night every Monday, where anyone with a college ID (student or staff) can get 25 percent off food, plus special events from 7 to 9 p.m. and maybe some free appetizers.
All told, it looks like smooth sailing ahead for Kaktus. The more beer, the merrier, right?