Back in May, the Crew learned that brewer Tim Woodward was leaving Turtle Mountain for a job at Bosque. That in turn necessitated a replacement for Tim in the form of Mick Hahn, who had been working as an assistant brewer at Marble.
After letting Mick get his bearings at Turtle Mountain over the last two-plus months, I trekked out to Rio Rancho to finally sit down and get to know the man in charge of one of New Mexico’s oldest breweries.
Mick said he did not come from a craft beer background.
“Let’s start with the fact that I’ve seen my dad drink three beers in his life, 98 percent of which was Miller Lite,” he said with a laugh. “Turning 21 and getting into beer, I was pretty apprehensive. I was down in Socorro at New Mexico Tech, I got my degree in chemical engineering and I minored in partying while I was down there. I found plenty of delicious, off-the-menu beers that I wasn’t aware existed, stuff that tasted a lot better than Miller Lite.”
That led to the inevitable — home brewing.
“I got a home brew kit just before graduation,” Mick said. “I think I did three batches before I realized this was something I could really enjoy, and be good at, and make minimal money doing it! (But) I have a fun job that I enjoy going to every day, that makes a big difference.”
Of course, armed with an engineering degree from Tech, Mick was first looking for something closer to his field of study.
“During the whole course of that (post-college life), I was looking for engineering jobs and the markets were very slim,” he said. “They were looking for three to five years experience, which is hard to do when all you have is a degree.”
That led Mick to try and kick down the door to a brewery, metaphorically, at least.
“I started bugging Ted (Rice) and Jeff (Erway) right around New Year’s of 2012,” Mick said. “I was trying to get in. I bugged them once a month. I went to the Siebel Institute that April for their new crash course of introduction to brewing technology. I met a lot of cool people from all around the place, plus I learned some great lessons.
“I came back and it was still another two months before I ran into Ted at a beer dinner and finally got to meet him face to face. I told him I was still looking to get into the market. He said call me tomorrow and I got an interview and started up cleaning floors and not even running the packaging line, just bottling beer and moved my way up. I had a lot of fun doing it.”
Once he moved up to assistant brewer, Mick’s first beer that he poersnally created at Marble was the popular one-off Mick’s Mac, a Scottish ale. Even though he had plenty of fun being part of the brewing team there, when the chance came to take over at Turtle Mountain, Mick jumped at the chance.
“I had to take it, immediately,” he said. “I didn’t even have Tim’s number, he didn’t have mine. I got a text from Andrew (Krosche) saying, ‘Hey, Tim needs to get a hold of you. You should call him. It would be in your best interest!’
“I called (Tim) like two minutes later. He said, ‘I’m leaving and we need someone good to take this over. You’re my first choice.’ I pretty much said hell yeah right then. I came over, checked it out, met Nico (Ortiz), that’s about it.”
Mick started working alongside Tim on May 9 as they started the transition. Mick officially took over on June 1.
Once that was done, Mick learned the challenge of being a head brewer goes beyond just making all the beer. As Nico, TMBC’s owner, pointed out at a smaller brewpub like theirs, Mick does not have an accounting department or anyone else to fill in the many roles like they do over at Marble.
“It hasn’t been too bad,” Mick said. “The biggest challenge with it is to keep stock of everything. When you’re working at Marble, the one to two areas I was working in each day, I had a limited amount of tasks. Now it’s just me and (assistant brewer) Evan, and everything falls onto our plates. We’ve got a lot to manage all at once and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It’s a lot of keeping your eyes everywhere.”
With almost three months under his belt, Mick has been able to put his stamp on some of the TMBC seasonals, including the current Scottish ale, McSmack.
“I definitely think we’ve had some really delicious specials in the past three months and more to come,” he said. “I’m working bit by bit on the house beers. I had a really good baseline to start with. I had a few tweaks to start with last week. We went through all of them, gauged where we feel each one is at, what we can do with it and where we feel they can go. We’re also figuring if they’re worthy of remaining house beers.”
The first major beer competition of Mick’s career is looming in October as TMBC will be sending entries to the Great American Beer Festival. Rather than just send the usuals, Mick is gambling in some smaller, but still tough categories.
“We’re entering all lagers into it,” he said. “Four different ones — we’ve got our house Helles; Bien Tu Helles Bock, a really tasty maibock that Tim actually brewed a while ago and it’s been sitting back there lagering; Oktoberfest; and what was Hockey Teeth, but we’ve renamed it Wooden Teeth. It’s Tim’s recipe and we’re giving him a little nod in that fashion. I can manipulate Wooden Teeth as I see fit, give it a new start.”
Brandon and I will have to stop by and check on those beers when we provide live coverage of GABF, including the awards ceremony.
Until then, keep up the good work, Mick! We encourage everyone to visit Turtle Mountain and let him know how he’s doing. Just talk in between bites of delicious TMBC pizza, please. We don’t want anyone to choke to death on pepperoni.