Santa Fe Brewing Company made some noise in 2015 and aims to be larger and louder in 2016

Posted: February 1, 2016 by Luke in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2015-16
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Why yes, owner Brian Lock did fuse thousands of bottle caps into the concrete on the wall of the interior staircase. Because why not?

After another busy, productive year for Santa Fe Brewing, there is more in store for 2016.

A lot can happen in a year. Much can change for us, personally and professionally in just 12 months. This is especially true in the ever-changing, rapidly-growing craft beer industry. That’s why the Dark Side Brew Crew does these Look Back/Look Ahead Series articles. It’s hard to predict all that will happen in one year, and sometimes it’s unbelievable how much just happened, unless someone finds the time to recap it all for the record.

This year, a whole lot has changed for New Mexico’s oldest brewery, Santa Fe Brewing, just as it has for me, one of their more recent hires. A year ago, when I wrote the last Look Back/Look Ahead article for Santa Fe Brewing, I wasn’t working for them. I had a job at a desk, surrounded by files. The general manager had only one cool kid. There wasn’t such a thing as a brewmaster at SFBC, nor was there a brewing manager position, for that matter. There was only one large warehouse building that served as the brewery, only two taprooms, and zero space for live music. Albuquerque hadn’t yet had the great SFBC beer experiences that I was writing about then, and no one anywhere had tried Santa Fe Gold, Adobe Igloo, or a totally new style of IPA from Santa Fe Brewing. A lot has changed.

As one example of the bigger changes at the brewery, I sat down with the new brewmaster, Bert Boyce, a man who probably knows better than most exactly what SFBC’s year looked like and the direction the brewery is headed. After work, Bert and I grabbed a beer and headed up into one of the offices on the mezzanine. A year ago, I’d never even known that they existed; now I pass by them every time I gather equipment for events. Over a couple of Adobe Igloos, I became the Dark Side Brew Crew’s Santa Fe correspondent, and Bert was just talking to me about a brewery in Santa Fe.

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Brewmaster Bert Boyce enjoying a brew after work.

DSBC: To say that Santa Fe Brewing Company had a big year is an understatement. SFBC released two new beers in cans. You began a new series of rotating IPAs. Construction began on the new packaging hall. SFBC hired a new brewmaster, new brewing manager, tons of new staff, including a new social media guy/event coordinator … Albuquerque Taproom opened in September, and you took over the indoor/outdoor concert venue next to the brewery, the space formerly known as Santa Fe Sol. A big year. Did I forget anything?

Boyce: It was a big year. I think you got it all.

DSBC: Let’s talk about 2015. How did it go, with all the changes, growth, and expansion?

Boyce: It went great! It went as well as can be expected. It’s obviously hard. If you’re just trying to maintain and do the same thing, that’s one thing. But, when you’re doing all this crazy new stuff, it takes a totally different mindset, and you’re going to run into problems, and you’re also going to find happy rewards. So, I think it went great.

DSBC: In the midst of such a large expansion, were there any growing pains?

Boyce: Yeah, every day. Yeah. I’d say we’re kind of transitioning. There was kind of a pre-expansion that happened where we’re trying to transition away from some of the old equipment that has gotten us this far, but is kind of on its last legs. So, I’d say growing pains here are simple things that you take for granted like your boiler, your chiller, your air compressor, all those things that you need to run in order to make beer, just like really basics. But, we’ve also improved a lot of other things, so I’d say in light of all that, we’ve had a good year.

DSBC: Excellent. Bert, you started here at Santa Fe Brewing this year as brewmaster. Personally and professionally, what were some of the highlights for you in your first year?

Boyce: That I live to be here. So, the success of the brewery is what makes me happy. I’d say you kind of touched on this earlier. We released a bunch of new beers, and that’s always fun. Some of them were successes, some of them not, and we learned from it. I like hoppy beers, so I’m excited about the rotating IPA seasonal that seems to be doing pretty well, very well-received. People in New Mexico like their hoppy beer, so I’m fully behind that. I’d say the quality of our beer just in general, every day, has gotten better. I feel like every day is better than the day before. And, that’s something to get excited about. So, between the new seasonals, between the launch of Santa Fe Gold, and then the Albuquerque Taproom …

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Tap handles at the Albuquerque Taproom.

The Albuquerque Taproom just blew the doors open for us, for us to finally be able to experiment and make 30-barrel batches of stuff that we were frankly a little concerned about selling before. It would kind of sit around a little too long. This opens the doors for us to be able to have a lot more fun. So, thank you, Albuquerque, for drinking a lot of beer!

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General manager Alana Jones, back at WinterBrew with baby Bruce, and Adobe Igloo in stroller. Classic!

For our look back, I also spoke with general manager Alana Jones.

DSBC: Alana, you were out for a little while with your new son, Bruce, the newest member of the SFBC family. Was it hard being away from the brewery?

Jones: It was! It is such a special thing to be able to spend time just focused on my newborn and my family and I really treasured it. But, I also missed my work family. It was the best Christmas party yet for me this year, because I was so happy to see everyone. It has also been nice coming back to work feeling refreshed and inspired rather than completely exhausted (although there is a little of that too!).

DSBC: Away for part of the year, I’m sure you still saw some struggles and challenges SFBC faced. What were some of those?

Jones: We continued to feel the impact of having older, used equipment around the brewery with several mechanical breakdowns that threatened our production. The good news is that the quality of the beer continued to grow by leaps and bounds, but the equipment failures made it hard for us to keep up with the level of production we had planned for. It was also a challenging year for us in terms of staff turnover. We said good-bye to some people who were really special to our SFBC family, but it is also exciting to watch people grow and move on to different things.

(She’s looking at you, Boese Brothers…)

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One of the folks SFBC said goodbye to this year was lead brewer Gabe Toth.

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Another great SFBC employee to leave was Colleen Rafferty (left). She was a rock star. Still is.

DSBC: There were a few struggles here and there, but it seems like SFBC really came together and rose to face them. What were some of the things you were personally proud of this year?

Jones: I am really proud of getting Bert Boyce on our team and of all the steps we have taken together to make our beer and our brewery straight up better. I’m proud of our investment in the quality of our beer that really shows in the lab Monica (Mondragon) and Bert have built, and with all the production staff who roll with the punches and creatively solve problems. I’m also so impressed with our front-of-house team, especially our bar managers Carrie, Colleen, and Lindsay who have added the Albuquerque Taphouse and made all of our taprooms reflect our company values so well. I could keep going on …

DSBC: What are your biggest hopes for 2016?

Jones: Oh, boy! First, I hope that more people get to taste what we are working so hard on here. We’re really coming out with some special beers that I know will become fast favorites for many. That is our company vision right there — to share our beer experience with as many people as possible. Second, I’m excited to see our brewery become a real Santa Fe destination. SFBC has always operated a small taproom that is almost a well-kept secret for those in the know, but I look forward to getting more on the map with our operations at The Bridge and our upcoming tasting room expansion. Eventually, we’ll have created a magical beer compound that will go far in achieving that company vision!

DSBC: Can’t wait until Santa Fe has it’s craft beer and music oasis!

Santa Fe Brewing Company’s beer compound is well underway with the licensing and construction. That image we saw in last year’s article is soon becoming a thing of reality. One thing that wasn’t included in that image was the indoor/outdoor concert venue, but I’ll get to that soon.

DSBC: Bert, let’s take a look at 2016. What’s in-store for fans of the beer?

Boyce: From the very basics, we constantly look at everything we do at the lowest level of detail. Every beer is constantly being examined and trialed to see if it can be made better. No recipe is safe. So, I would say from as simple as improving our stand-bys, which have been around forever. Really investing a lot in the lab this year in terms of equipment and how we’re approaching things. We’re really starting to collect enough data now to be able to allow us to really control our process, not just by what we taste, but also by what we can measure, and I think that’s really important to allow us to be consistent every day.

I think we’re done with seasonals and can releases for the year for new beers, anyways. So, I don’t expect another Adobe Igloo or Santa Fe Gold to come out this year. I think we’re going to put a renewed focus behind the ECS (Ever Changing) series, kind of get our act together. As it goes with ECS, I can’t say exactly what it’s going to look like right now because it’s always changing. That’s the whole point. It’s hard to sell it that way, but for the people who are into it, that’s what they’re looking for, and that’s why we’re doing it. We’re taking a renewed focus to make the ECS more interesting and make those beers what they’re supposed to be and could be. They’ll continue to be our maltier and more esoteric styles. The one we’re brewing this week is our chai porter. It’s a heavily spiced imperial chai porter. That will be coming out, I don’t know, about a month or two.

DSBC: And, who’s inspiration was that?

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Cellarman Dave Merkin, with his imperial chai porter, now known as Chaiway to Hell!

Boyce: That would be David Merkin, (his) recipe there. It grew up in the small-batch program. So, yes, we still do this (small batch). That system or that process is no longer the same as it once was, where someone is brewing every Saturday, regardless. It’s now, if you have an idea, you have a recipe, and you want to bring it forward, let’s brew it, and let’s get it tested and figured out. And, Merkin has the next two because he put in the work, and he developed and perfected these recipes, and they’re ready to go. So, chai porter followed by a super citrusy saison with a yeast we haven’t used before, so I’m excited about that.

So, we’ve got the next two ECSes lined up, and then we’ve also got the next rotating IPA. I’ve been blown away by the response in how quickly that’s selling out, so we need to make it more than just a one-off, kind of keep them around, and keep them going, so that’s fun. We have the hops, so it’s great that we’re not dying like other people are to get their hands on hops. And, we’ll change that up. Right now the Snowflake is kind of a wintery IPA. Go try it. I would say that Sierra Celebration is one of my favorite beers in the world. This isn’t a Celebration copy by any means, but just kind of took some pointers from that beer. And, we also have this experimental ESB that should be out in a few weeks, (with) whole hops in the lauter tun, because we don’t have a hop-back right now. So, you know, just cool shit like that. I’d say the doors are finally open to be able to have more fun. The foundation is set. We’re taking care of the details. The beer is coming out better. It allows us to sleep at night knowing that we’re not leaving one baby to tend to another.

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Looking snazzy, SFBC.

DSBC: Everyone in Santa Fe can see that expansion is happening. When will the packaging begin in the new hall?

Boyce: That’s the million dollar question. We’re commissioning the new canning line March/April. I hope we’re fully operation by April or May.

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Inside the new packaging hall.

DSBC: What about the existing hall? More space for brewing?

Boyce: So, right where we’re sitting, we’ll have all kinds of room obviously at that point. We’re moving all the bright tanks over to here and making a dedicated bright tank cellar. We’ll have all that room over there, plus all that room by the mezzanine. We’ve got two new fermenters coming in at the end of February that we need to find a home for. So, we’ve got a lot of Tetris to play over the next couple months, to make room for those tanks. Then eventually we’ll cut the mezz back. We’ll have all this space here for more tanks, basically. More tanks!

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A view from the mezzanine offices.

DSBC: More tanks means more brewing. Will that mean more brewers?

Boyce: As of right now, we’re running flat out. We’re already brewing 24 hours a day. We’re fully staffed in the cellar. Hopefully they’re not running 24 hours a day. We just hired Noah Tuttle. I’m so excited to have Noah here. Noah Tuttle is our new brewing manager. He came to us from Oskar Blues. He’s learning his way around the brewery right now, but will be ultimately in charge of all brewing and cellar operations. He’s been there before. He’s done this before. Thanks and god bless everyone who’s ever worked here, who’s helped to make this place what it is. We’re at that point where we’re busting at the seams, and we need some other people who have been here and done this before. So, super excited to have that leadership and guidance and plan to help us get to the next level. So, that’s fantastic. We’re almost ready to put money down on a new brewhouse. That’s about a year out from now.

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Meet the brewers! From left, Noah Tuttle, Kevin Stubblefield, and brothers Matt and Michael Lovato.

DSBC: So, 2017.

Boyce: Yeah, it’s a very long planning process. By the time you give those guys money, you don’t see a brewhouse for nine to 10 months after that, and then you give them about a month or two to install it, and get it commissioned.

DSBC: With more brewing and packaging, is Santa Fe Brewing looking to further distribution?

Boyce: In my opinion, we’re already in 10 states, and we should be focused on selling more beer in our markets we’re already in. It’s not like we don’t already have a large enough footprint, we just don’t have very deep water.

DSBC: What kind of time frame are we looking at for the new two-story tasting room?

Boyce: We’re calling that Phase 3. Phase 1 is what we’re doing right now, trying to get ready. I guess, although, you could say that the building is Phase 1, and then that would be Phase 2 and Phase 3 is the tasting room and the brewhouse.

DSBC: Do we have any idea of which will be ready first?

Boyce: I’m not sure how that’s going to play out. We’re going to be out of brewhouse capacity by this summer. This summer is really going to be tough on the brewers. If it was tough on the packaging guys before, the new can line is now going to be tough on the brewers. We’re going to need a new brewhouse. Roughly speaking, they’re going to come at the same time — the brewhouse and the tasting room. They’re both a year away from starting and installing, and so maybe looking at 12 to 16 months from now.

DSBC: What about the buried cellar room? In the near future, what are SFBC’s plans for that? Former head cellarman Leif has now inherited that area, and he’s working there full-time right?

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There’s beer stored under there.

Boyce: Yep, I’d say that that’s step one. We’re super excited to be able to give Leif the reins to that cellar and let him take off with that. It needed the dedication to really grow into what it needs to be. It is full of barrels right now. We get heat and power down there, but we start to fill barrels probably middle of February, and it’ll be extremely intensive to try and schedule all those starter fermentations, to get that room filled, and then Leif can go on vacation, and we’ll be looking at having a much more robust and mature barrel program. Maybe we can start rolling out some fast sours nine months from now, and really mature awesome Single Barrel and Kriek and whatever else we decide to come out with. Plus, I expect Leif will come out with a bunch of other small-batch stuff in a much more controlled environment and a safer way to produce it. Probably about a year from now. So, I’d say 2016 releases are still going to be just minuscule, and demand is going to be greater than we could ever hope to supply. But, by 2017, when that room is full and maturing, we’re going to be in great shape.

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Age away, you beautiful barrels.

DSBC: We talked a bit about new beers with the rotating IPA, a renewed focus on the Ever Changing Series, but SFBC has some new packaged options coming down the line, is that right?

Boyce: Right, 12-packs of Happy Camper, 18-packs of Gold.

DSBC: And those will be available in most stores.

Boyce: They should be.

DSBC: Any beer recipes you’d like to experiment with in 2016?

Boyce: I have some things that I’d like to work on with Leif in the barrel room, once he gets comfortable and up and rolling. I have some things that I was never able to pull off in Boston the way I wanted to, ideas just kind of filed away. Hopefully I can drop those suggestions in his suggestion box and get some things rolling. I’m drinking Brown Coyote, right now, which is just a session brown dry-hopped to the hilt with Simcoe and Citra, just because. And, now that we have the Albuquerque Taproom, we’re just going to do a lot of things just because we can now.

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The brewers working with experimental hops from Hop Union for the upcoming EXP-ESB.

This year, Santa Fe Brewing recently took back the space formerly known as Santa Fe Sol, an indoor/outdoor concert venue right across the parking lot from Santa Fe Brewing’s main taproom. For concerts, the space can accommodate 300 indoors and 1,000 for outdoor concerts. With two 25-foot-long stages, it’ll be a great space to see live music in Santa Fe, again. It’s called The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing, and I spoke to owner Brian Lock about it.

DSBC: Brian, can you tell us a little about the new concert space SFBC recently took back?

Lock: SFBC has always owned the space, but had leased it to other venues. Now, it’s back in the control of SFBC and will be a perfect fit for any private event, concert, or wedding. The great outdoor patio concerts of the past will now be a reality once again. Hooray for live music in Santa Fe!

DSBC: What is SFBC’s hopes for the space?

Lock: To produce concerts both on the indoor and outdoor stages and rent the space for private functions such as weddings, birthday parties, et cetera.

DSBC: Do you know when the first shows will begin?

Lock: After a few small renovations, we’re targeting a late March launch.

DSBC: How will bands and music lovers be able to find out about shows and signing up to play? Will there be a website dedicated to the concert schedule or will that be on the current Santa Fe Brewing website?

Lock: Bands will contact Jamie Minotti, as he will be the concert organizer and scheduler. Our new website (due to launch this week) will have a calendar with all of the events happening at Santa Fe Brewing Co., including which food trucks will be here, what bands are playing and when at The Bridge, and tasting events that may be happening at retail accounts.

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The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing (before new renovations)

DSBC: And, rumor has it that one of the legs of the New Mexico IPA Challenge will be held at the new event space at Santa Fe Brewing.

Boyce: Next door? Oh, sick!

DSBC: IPA Challenge will be here and will probably be the first leg of the competition. Last year SFBC took Autonomous Collective, a great double IPA, but it didn’t pour. That was unfortunate. It was such a great beer. Do you think SFBC will be brewing a special beer just for the Challenge? I know that’s not exactly how things are done here. I’m guessing the summer IPA will be the one entered?

Boyce: Yes and no. As of right now, we have Snowflake, winterish. I have some ideas for a spring IPA that we haven’t brewed yet. Well, we have brewed it; it just hasn’t seen the light of day. The summer IPA will be Autonomous. So, Autonomous won’t be a one-off. The goal is to have one of these available at all times.

DSBC: Will it be altered at all?

Boyce: Oh, yeah! None of these are set in stone. They’re all just whatever the best hops we have that are the best for that beer at that time.

DSBC: Bert, I think we’re about done. Do you have anything else you’d like to add for the craft beer lovers of New Mexico?

Boyce: I guess my feeling right now, today, is we’ve spent a good amount of time taking care of the foundation, patching the cracks and holes in the walls, and I feel really good about beer quality and where we are going forward, and I think it’s really allowing us to stretch and play. And, I think when the brewery’s having fun and playing, and they feel good at night, that’s when the beer’s at its best. And, I think I feel great. We’re in a good spot. Beer’s as good as it’s been, and it’s only going to get better. We’re having more fun doing it, and that means more fun for beer drinkers. 2016’s going to be awesome.

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Brand new storage space at SFBC.

* * * * *

It’s been a big year for Santa Fe Brewing. A lot has happened. There have been a lot of changes, in-house restructuring, a lot of shifting of responsibilities and ambitions, but one thing has remained the same, which is Santa Fe Brewing Company’s focus on steady increase in beer quality. The expansion will be completed, in due time, but there’s plenty to look forward to in the meantime. Big concerts will be a reason for Santa Feans (and everyone else) to get out this summer, and thanks to some great visionaries in the brewhouse and the Albuquerque Taproom, of course, as the brewery plays with recipes and tries new things, we’ll be tasting more delicious beers, beyond the solid regular lineup.

I’ve seen a lot happen this year during my first year in the industry, and sure I have my subjective biases because even though I don’t love everything I do, I love why I do it, and all the people I do it for. But, from what I’ve witnessed at the brewery, I can objectively say that everyone works their asses off, comes together as a team when something goes wrong, and has a passion for the beer they design, make, filter, package, sell, and pour. From the back of the house to the front, everyone wants the next year to be more successful than the last. I now have a much larger respect for how hard it is to work in the industry.

Cheers!

— Luke

For more #CraftBeer info and more @NMDarkSideBC info follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.

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