Scan a Google map of Albuquerque and search for breweries. Take note of the areas of the metro area that are empty. One of those beer-less places is the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque in the North Valley. Come early 2017, that will change.
The Chant brothers (Greg, Bryce, Chris, and Ethan) and brewer Bob Haggerty, formerly of Ponderosa and La Cumbre, are teaming up to create Steel Bender Brewyard. I got the chance to sit down with Ethan Chant, his wife Shelby, and Bob at Boxing Bear last week to learn about their plans, which are three years in the making.
Steel Bender will be located near 2nd Street and Paseo del Norte.
“I talked with someone at work today and they said wow, there’s nothing there (brewery-wise),” Shelby said. “We’re right next to the Rail Runner station. We’re right on the Bosque Trail and Paseo. We want those cyclists to come in on the weekend, the runners, anyone in that area who wants a place to go meet up.”
The entire plan developed from a purchase of property three years ago.
“We bought this chunk of land off Paseo and 2nd, it’s in Los Ranchos,” Ethan said. “The Village of Los Ranchos had been asking us, ‘What would be something you guys would think would be a good idea to bring the village together, sort of a communal gathering place?’ My brother (Chris) said, ‘It would be awesome with a brewery.’ That was three years ago and they were all over it.”
Ethan said the communal nature of breweries was too hard to pass up for his family, that’s been developing properties in Albuquerque for several decades, and for the Village.
“So we were all over it, the Village was all over it,” he said. “It happened to be (one of) the fastest developments in the Village because one, we know what we’re doing. We know how to file all the forms correctly and that kind of stuff. (And two) it’s something they really wanted.”
At one point, through friend and familial connections, the Chants began talking to the owners of Stone in Escondido about possibly having a satellite brewery of the California giant. Ultimately, though, that idea did not come close to happening. Meanwhile, the local brew scene was exploding all around town.
“Way back when, we (had already) loved Chama when Jeff (Erway) was there,” Ethan said. “Then Jeff left and we were sad. Then Justin (Hamilton) took over and we were happy. Then Marble started bottling, and we started to think that we had really good products here. We were really comparable to the Southern California IPAs. I think we can do something here.
“We decided instead of doing out(side the state), we can have the opportunity to open a new brewery that’s going to be good for the Village and good for a brewer who’s an assistant brewer, which was our original thought. It just made sense that we could do it and hire a really good brewer. Once again, it’s three years ago.”
The Chants began to do their research by talking to as many different local breweries as possible. From Bosque to Marble to La Cumbre to Chama River to Canteen to Boxing Bear and so on, they compiled all the information they would need to open a brewery that could live up to the standards of those places. The final step was to find the right brewer.
“It’s been a fun process,” Shelby said. “It really, really has. Coming in here and getting the final stamp of ‘you must get Bob’ from Erway. We were in here late on a Saturday night. We were the last ones in here and Jeff and Laura walked in. Oddly enough, we went to high school with Laura Erway, graduated with her brother. We sat there and we had already talked to so many people about Bob who could not say enough about (him). Jeff said, absolutely, that’s who you need.”
Bob is a certified Cicerone who started out at Oxbow Brewing in his home state of Maine before moving west. He worked at La Cumbre and then became head brewer for a short time at Ponderosa.
“Daniel (Jaramillo) was the one who introduced me to Bob,” Ethan said. “You know Bob’s resume in terms of being a Cicerone. Even beyond that, his character is great, but what everyone was saying was his palate was unbelievable.”
Instead of having a brewmaster in Portland, Oregon, overseeing his every move, Bob will have considerable freedom and some brand-new equipment to play with at Steel Bender.
“The construction is moving at a great pace,” Ethan said. “The brewery equipment is scheduled to come in November. It’s a Premier System. It’s basically what they have here (at Boxing Bear), for all practical purposes.”
Ethan said they project to open the second week of January, after the holiday madness has passed. Then Bob will take the reins and unleash his own creations.
“As much as people will drink,” Bob said of how much beer he plans to make in the first year. “It’s a 15-barrel system that’s coming in. We’re going to start off with three 15-barrel fermenters and a 30-barrel. I think we’re going to open big. There’s already some talk about the location (being) great. So I think it’s going to open big and from there it’s going to go strong.”
Right from the start, Steel Bender will also have a cool feature that should lead to some unique and potentially awesome beers.
“When I was drawing up plans at Chama, it was next to our old office, Zach (Guilmette) was still working there, and he said, ‘You know what would be cool? If you put in a barrel room.’ We’re building a climate-controlled barrel room,” Ethan said.
“You know how most places have windows where you look into the brewery? For us, you’ll have windows looking into the brewery as you approach the building. … Our showpiece will be the barrel room, which will make it look more elegant or rustic.”
Steel Bender will also have a full kitchen in place, though they do not intend to go the route that others have chosen in the past.
“It’s a brewery that serves food, it’s not a restaurant,” Ethan said. “Sometimes with a restaurant menu you start to go a little crazy and then suddenly you’ve got a phone book for a menu. I’ve been really, really trying to make sure what we serve, it’s going be small. We’ll have salads and burgers and brats and appetizers.
“We don’t want to settle for the food. We don’t want to settle for the beer. Albuquerque’s bar is high.”
One of the items they hope to offer will be a cheese plate that will be designed to specifically pair up with the house beers. Ethan said they want to make it more than just a typical brewery/eatery experience, but rather a place where people can learn more about the beer they are drinking.
“We want to make it a playground for the palate,” Bob said.
There will also be a sizeable outdoor patio with some features that were unique until recently.
“What I’m really excited about, the patio is going to be huge,” Ethan said. “We’re actually going to have a bar on the patio.”
“Well, at the time it was novel, but thanks, Marble,” Bob added with a laugh. “I actually went to their (Northeast Heights) taproom, they did a heck of a job.”
There will be a feature, inside and out, that was inspired by places Ethan’s friend has visited in Austin, Texas.
“In terms of emulating Austin, we’re going to have their backyard games,” Ethan said. “We’re going to have cornhole and other stuff on the outdoor patio. Then the tables inside, we’re going to have inset board games. Once again, that’s part of that communal aspect, with people, hanging out.”
Steel Bender already projects to be one of the bigger breweries in the metro area, but do not expect them to shoot for the moon in their first year.
“We’re prepared to be as big as makes sense, if that makes sense,” Ethan said. “I want Bob to be happy, first of all. Also, one of the great pieces of advice that Erway gave me was don’t feel like you have to expand. You can get caught up in that. There’s a lot of fun stuff that we can do but it’s just gotta grow organically. We don’t want this to be a burden. This has been a delight so far. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to have all the aspects of work. (But) we get to create, we get to share this with people.”
And, for anyone who thinks Albuquerque is over-saturated with breweries, the Steel Bender team does not think that is anywhere close to being true.
“We hear this all the time and I know you hear this, is there are a brewery bubble?” Ethan said. “The reality is, if there’s a market for good products, then there’s not a bubble. The rule is it has to be a good product.”
The Crew will keep tabs on the progress of Steel Bender. Then we look forward to stopping in between visits to Bosque and Boxing Bear.
Just keep the barrel room locked. We have been known to try to steal barrels of imperial stout. Allegedly.