To say that it has been a struggle to get open for Firkin Brewhouse might count as the biggest understatement of 2016 (to date). The beer is nearly ready, the building is nearly ready, and yet they have dealt with one roadblock after another from the City of Albuquerque, which prides itself on being business friendly, but is often anything but that. Still, with a nearly finished taproom to show off and the hopes that an opening may be within a month or less, the Firkin ownership decided to invite the Crew over for a Saturday afternoon tour of the forthcoming operation.
A good chunk of the Crew — myself, Porter Pounder, AmyO, Laura, Kristin — headed over to 3351 Columbia Dr. NE, which is located the west side of Columbia, just south of Aztec (basically within a brisk walk from Canteen).
Owner Mike Trissell and brewer/owner Aaron Walters were our tour guides. The two of them and their other partners have built the majority of the brewery themselves, and there was still work to do, even on a weekend, as they head toward an eventual opening.
“Well, we don’t know (when we will open),” Mike said. “We’re a little gun-shy of doing any opening (announcements) right now, until we get this planning issue done.”
“As far as the opening goes, we’d like to push toward a (set) date,” Aaron said. “Whether that happens or not depends on the City.”
Mike said they are hopeful for some good news sooner than later.
“If we can get things finalized (this) week, we’ll be doing it in about a month for an opening, a big grand opening,” he said. “Then in between we’ll do a couple soft openings.”
Until then, they will continue to work on the little things, mainly the decor of the taproom. Rather than go with the industrial vibe of the area, Mike, a graphic designer by trade, has been hard at work creating a 1920s Prohibition-era theme. The bar top looks like copper, though it is actually steel (please take note, copper thieves, there is nothing for you to steal here). It stretches around the west and north walls in an L shape. There will be a dedicated growler station, too, for those just stopping in for a fill up.
Otherwise, there are plenty of tables and chairs. There are modern TVs on the walls above the bar, though like most breweries, the Firkin staff encourages actual human conversation over just watching a screen.
As for the beers, Aaron has been working hard on his brewhouse to have six ready for the eventual opening.
“It’s a 5-barrel brewhouse and these are 4-barrel fermenters,” Aaron said. “We have six bright tanks in there. They’re also 4-barrel.”
There will be a mill room, too, though that will be built later on (the cinder blocks are already in the building). The staff will build that, just like they have built almost everything else.
“As Mike may have told you, this place was built by the three of us,” Aaron said. “Everything you see in front of you was built by one of us, including the dry wall. Maybe half the electrical has been done by us.”
The project has come a long way since they started.
“What’s really nice is this building was an empty shell when we moved into this,” Aaron said. “All there was, was two bathrooms up front. We tore one down, kept one for the employee bathroom and built two others (for the public).
“Everything in here was built by us. Except for the framing, that was done by somebody else. The bar out there was pieced together by us. The tables were done by us. All the artwork out there was done by Mike. Our glycol lines, everything else were constructed by us.”
The current set of brewing equipment might seem small compared to others in the neighborhood, but for start-up purposes, it will do fine for now.
“This is the starting space for our brews,” Mike said. “We’ve got a lot of room to put in a bigger system, and we will. We will be expanding.”
Those six initial brews, without further ado:
- Ombibulous IPA
- Palooka Pale Ale
- Capo’s Java Stout
- Bootleggers Vanilla Nut Brown
- Pomegranate Ale
- Giggle Water Wheat
They did not have any carbonated batches ready for us to sample (they are smartly waiting on any of that until they have a firm opening date etched in stone), though I did get to try the Java Stout, IPA, and Wheat way, way back at Blues & Brews in May. No surprise, the Java Stout was my favorite of the three. The best part about it was that it does not taste anything like Santa Fe’s Java Stout, but much milder and creamier. It is good to have variety in coffee stouts, not just in coffee.
Firkin will also have a special small batch of Sillitoe Scotch Ale, which was aged in 10-year-old Laphroaig Scotch in French oak barrels. Needless to say, you will all have to hope there is still some left after we come back for a soft opening.
Mike said he also has plans for a patio out front, which will feature a full-size grill. Until then, they will serve hot dogs, specialty sausages, and sandwiches, plus some appetizers.
“All of us have put in hundreds and hundreds of hours,” Mike said. “Now we’re ready to open and serve.”
Here is hoping the City will finally grant the last approval and Firkin Brewhouse will be open soon. They will keep us up to date on that process and we in turn will share it with the rest of you.
Wish them luck!