Many brewers around town can brew lots of great beers, but if you ask them, there is always one particular style that is a favorite. It may not always be the best seller (e.g. IPA), but it is the one in which they take the most pride. In the case of Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette, that beer is the High Plains Pilsner. Zach has long taken pride in the Bohemian Pilsner style. He was rewarded with a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival for Class VI Golden Lager when he was at Chama River. Now, he can add a silver medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup for High Plains, his take on the same style for Canteen.
I sat down with Zach back on Friday, before a stretch of far too many baseball games in too short of a time, as he was unable to join some of the other WBC-winning brewers prior to that for a gathering to talk about their victories. As with those brewers, I asked for how he found out about the silver medal. Unlike those three, Zach did not actually travel to Philadelphia.
“I’m a nervous wreck during any ceremonies like GABF or the World Beer Cup,” Zach said. “I had really put it out of my mind that that was the day the award ceremony was even going on until I got a phone call from a hop salesman that he was in Philly for the awards. That’s when it hit me, ‘Holy cow, those are tonight?’ Then when I was hanging out with some friends Friday evening, I tried to put it out of my mind.”
That did not last.
“Then I got three text messages from some fellow brewers and that’s when I knew we won something,” Zach said. “The search started to find out what beer it was. We put Dougie Style Amber in the American Amber category, Exodus in American IPA, Dark American Lager in its own category, and then the Bo Pils.
“For me, personally, the Bo Pils was the one I was hoping was the medal winner as I was trying to find out which beer it was. That’s a style that I took under my wing a few years ago. I just love that style. I’ve researched it, read it. To find out it was that beer, I was jacked.”
Winning in that type of category for the WBC goes a little beyond GABF. After all, many of the international breweries that have been brewing Bohemian Pilsners for, well, centuries.
“I did look at the winners from 2014 and there were two Czech breweries that took gold and silver,” Zach said. “When you put it in that perspective, you definitely feel proud and happy to represent the country and New Mexico.”
Zach returned to Canteen, where he was previously an assistant brewer, at the start of this year. He filled the big shoes left behind by Brady McKeown, who left last fall to open Quarter Celtic Brewpub. In a way, this achievement at the WBC helped Zach put his stamp on the long and storied history of Canteen/Il Vicino.
“It really does,” Zach said. “We all know the history of the Canteen or Il Vicino, what Brady McKeown has done for this place. It was really important for me, whether I would say it out loud or not, to make sure I continued the success and the award-winning quality of beer. It’s the first medal for a lager won here. That’s something I’ll be proud to say.”
Zach was also proud to be one of seven winners from New Mexico.
“For the scene it definitely continues to show that New Mexico has the most well-rounded group of brewers in the country, as good as any state in my mind,” he said. “I think we’ve shown with some of my friends like Jeff (Erway) at La Cumbre, John Bullard at Bosque, we’re talented at IPAs. To show the country we can with lagers, we can with stouts, not only that, though, everybody that wins, those are your friends, the people you hang out with. You’re so proud of them. It’s almost like you won seven medals. It’s nice to win something but it feels even better to see your friends have the success as well. It feels like it’s a family, a big group win.”
Do not expect Zach, or any standout brewer, to be satisfied with this achievement. Much like all those baseball players I talk to, there is always room to improve.
“That’s the truth,” Zach said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not growing, you’re not challenging yourself as a brewer … even if you win a gold medal, you should be looking at that beer, thinking can I make it a little better. You’re never done, you’re never finished. Or if you feel like you’ve got that style down, there’s always something new to try.”
Speaking of new styles to try …
“We’ve seen a lot of goses,” Zach said. “That’s a new experience, I just brewed my first gose. I’m looking forward to that. Stan Hieronymus was brewing with wheat. There was a Belgian brewery he mentioned using a hefeweizen yeast for a gose. So, I decided to do that. We’ve seen a lot of goses with neutral yeast strains. Instead of adding fruit, which is nice — you see a lot of grapefruit goses — but this is going to be a gose with orange peel, coriander, sea salt, and brewed at higher fermentation temperatures on a hefe (yeast) strain for more ester character, more phenolics. We’re going for more sweet fruity and citrusy.
“That’s a fun style. I look forward to doing a couple more (new ones) this summer.”
The tap setup at Canteen — six house beers, six specialty taps, a cider tap, and a nitro tap — leads to some fun for Zach and his brewing team.
“I brought in nitro full-time now,” he said. “That’s a fun experiment. We’re just carving off like a little grunion, about 90 gallons. I probably get about five or six kegs of nitro per batch, whichever batch I choose. It doesn’t always work out. It’s fun to try. The Apricot Hefeweizen didn’t work out so well so we didn’t release it. You move on. The IPAs have done really well, it’s an interesting experience on nitro.”
Overall it has been a great start to 2016 for Canteen. They have two of their most popular beers — Dougie Style Amber and Exodus IPA — for sale in cans. Now add in the WBC hardware and it is only getting better.
“I definitely am thrilled with the progress,” Zach said. “I can only see it getting better. We’re getting our beer out there further. We’ll continue to grow with beer on draft around town. I think it’s exactly what I want it to be now, because I can also see where it’s headed. We’re not finished continuing to grow and maintain our (standards).”
Oh, and then there is the forthcoming taproom on Tramway just north of Interstate 40.
“I think they’re moving along quicker than you expect,” Zach said. “You always expect delays. We were looking at the end of May. I think maybe end of June now. I’m hoping end of June. We’re going to work on providing everything we have here up there. It will be like a whole ’nother Canteen up on Tramway. We’ll even have our nitro beers up there as well. I think, right now, fingers crossed, we should see that space open up soon.”
It all sounds good to all of us in the Crew. Make sure to stop by Canteen during American Craft Beer Week and enjoy a High Plains Pilsner. Raise a pint to Zach and all of our great local brewers.