For this next installment of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I talked to brewer/owner Rich Weber of Sierra Blanca/Rio Grande Brewing Company in their (newly re-branded) brewpub location in the Uptown Mall in Albuquerque. He told us of a 2015 with much behind the scenes growth, and a 2016 with more beers and events to come.
Dark Side: What were the big hits for 2015?
Rich: We started branching out into more of the fun stuff. We’ve always done a large variety of beer; I think we’re packaging 20 beers right now, but then we did get into this sour program, we’re continuing that. Our 20th anniversary is this year, so that’s going to be a release in heritage bottle 4-packs, our Imperial Stout aged in whiskey barrels. That’ll be the first time we’ve packaged something from the newer, more extreme beers. We’ll continue with packaged seasonals; we have a new barleywine lined up, for one.
2015 was also a year of upgrades at the brewery itself, with a new bottling line going into place with great improvements to the shelf-life of the packaged product.
R: In this industry, with this many products on the market, shelf-life is going to be key. We’ve really (been) focusing on quality, not quantity. In fact, we’re not looking at quantity at all. We’re at a level of production where we’re growing at a very controlled rate. We opened a micro to be a micro. I opened a micro because I don’t like big breweries. (laughs) I like fresh beer, and free beer! We have 13 fermenters right now. We’ll probably bring in a couple more before the spring to keep up with the crazy variety we have right now.
Another big addition was the new beer garden at the brewery in Moriarty. It opened last July and has been a boon for the business.
R: We’ve closed the back in, added greenhouse panels. You go out there on a sunny day and it’s 75 degrees at the bar and the sun just feels great. Those weekends are packed. Our grand opening was around 550 people. We’ve booked some weddings there, some private parties, a couple of corporate team-building events. There’s bocci ball, horseshoes, cornhole on the lawn. We always keep charcoal and grills there for folks to use, so you can come, grill a steak, and have a beer.
The brewery’s pub and restaurant in Ruidoso, Rio Grande Grill and Taproom, in its second year and also did well.
R: If you go to the ski websites now it’s rated as the best place in town. My brother is the chef and as far as brewpubs go, it’s second to none. Good sandwiches, but then you can go in and get a filet mignon with an imperial stout reduction with raspberries, balsamic, and honey. Every Friday/Saturday night there’s three options like that, as well as the regular menu. He’s a New York trained chef. He’s really glad the market is growing with the beer, and those options are being well received. We’re actually looking at expanding that concept and taking it to another city in the area.
In addition to all that, their Albuquerque location was re-branded to become the Alien Brew Pub, along with a suitably outer-space-named range of beers.
R: This was something! We spoke with Amy from Dark Side when we first got started with this process, and she didn’t think we could get it done. (grins) I showed up on the Saturday at the brewery at 5 a.m. to work on the sour beer for opening. Three hours later I got to the pub and was working until 1 a.m. It was one of these things, we’re shut down for three or four days and have to get everything done. These big city markets are tough; everything has to be dialed in right away.”
DS: So, besides finishing up the re-brand of the pub, what else do you have planned for 2016?
R: We’re looking at another location, certainly. Our 20th anniversary party at the brewery (will be) in the month of June, to allow for the weather. In a bit of a departure from the micro, we’re going to be releasing a green chile red beer in the spring. We already have four whiskey barrels going with cranberries for the sours coming out in a couple of months. We’re hoping to get a little more press and attention to the sours, bring some folks down outside of the regulars in the pub.
On the seasonal (front), we’re looking at the red beer, the 4-packs of the heritage whiskey stout. Then we’ll work on a holiday seasonal, something we’ve brewed in the past, a doppelbock called Bock Holiday. In addition to that, we’re looking at some fun times at the brewery. The music program, maybe some movie nights, have folks back their truck into the beer garden and watch a movie. Should be a good time.
The Alien Brew Pub had its grand reopening last night (March 3rd). Here’s a few more pictures to give you all a taste of what is in store.