I dipped into Santa Fe’s Pizzeria da Lino last week to catch up with Alexander Pertusini, head brewer of Chili Line Brewing, to get the story on what’s really happening with the brewery. Let’s set the record straight — they’re not closed and there are no plans to close.
A recent social media post kicked up rumors of this nature, but what really happened was a change in ownership that aims to solve problems that are typical when family members try to partner up in business. A difference in vision, management styles, and blurry lines between the brewery and the restaurant side of the business led to Alexander’s father, Lino, folding the brewery under his sole ownership.
Soon, Alexander’s only role will be head brewer. He plans to resign his position as restaurant manager to someone who he will promote from within, in order to focus on his brewing. He’s also going to be working alongside the brewers at Duel part time. This is good news for Chili Line, because Alexander is inquisitive and preaches a compelling sermon on smoked grains, but as a young brewer there is still a huge opportunity for growth. After graduating from New Mexico State last year, he brewed a little at High Desert and Spotted Dog in Las Cruces and Mesilla, respectively.
“I just want to brew,” Alexander said. So, let’s get to the heart of what we’re here for, the beer. The backstory is that he joined his father on a trip to see the family in Italy, before he headed to Vietnam for a brewing job. Bored one day, he got in the family’s tiny car and drove to Bamberg, Germany, where his love affair with smoked grains proved enough to lead him to drop the job in Vietnam and decide to open a brewery in the spare room of the pizzeria in Santa Fe.
Smoked Beer 2.0
“Bamberg’s the heart of smoked beer. That’s where I discovered smoked hefeweizen,” he said as he set a bottle on the bar that he brought back with him. “I found it incredibly smoky and well-balanced, and knew I wanted to try to make it.”
Alexander noted that people familiar with the German smoked beers are often disappointed in his brews, which have been toned down for the market.
“They expect a campfire in their mouth,” he joked.
He went on to explain that Bamberg beers generally have a 50/50 ratio of smoked to non-smoked grain, and his top out about 20 points less than that.
Chili Line’s version of the smoked hefeweizen, “El Jefe” (5.6% ABV; 33% smoked grain) was the most heavily smoked on the tap list. The slightly smoky mouthfeel and aftertaste was more balanced with this style than some of the others, I found. It’s a cloudy, mid-toned hefeweizen that paired well with the tre manzini — cheese and dates wrapped in prosciutto with balsamic greens — that Alexander brought out from the kitchen. (It should be noted that he overhauled the majority of the restaurant’s menu with his grandfather’s recipes when he assumed management last year, moving away from frozen pasta and opting for fresh ingredients.)
“We’re trying to complement the smoky quality of the wood-fired oven pizza we make here,” he explained.
That made sense to me, and so I asked what other pairings Alexander usually suggests to his customers. “Parmesan and balsamic vinegar also pair well with smoked beers, and we obviously have a lot of that on our menu,” he said.
Alexander said they are focusing on lagers, and will migrate away from stouts. He finds that bitter lagers and IPLs blend well with the food they’re serving up. There was a stout on the tap list (6.8% ABV; 2% smoked grain) that was the least smoked beer available, and boasted chocolate and roasted coffee flavors. Another nod to popular tastes included a Cascada Lager (5.0% ABV; 8% smoked grain). It uses all cascade hops, but the big citrus profile was darkened by the smoky flavor.
One customer further down the bar was enjoying the Pineapple sIPApu (8.6% ABV; 10% smoked grain), billed with “smoked IPA German Polaris, Sazz and Azacca hops with notes of pineapple, mint and a touch of smoke.” Another customer chose the Imperial Pilz (10% ABV; 10% smoked grain) as his pint of choice. I tended to agree, and thought the bitterness was a better offset to the smoke. The hefeweizen and dunkelweizen (5.6% ABV; 25% smoked grain) carried the smoky flavors better than the IPA styles, I thought. The dunkelweizen needed a bit more effervescence, but the banana and clove notes found in both the hefeweizen and dunkelweizen styles were surprisingly pleasant complements to the smoked grain.
A taproom celebrating Santa Fe beers
So, what’s next for Chili Line other than the shifts in management? Alexander said they want to expand the tap offerings and make their patio space a proper beer garden. “It’s the perfect hole-in-the-wall location, and there are a lot of interesting things happening with Santa Fe beers. We want to celebrate that,” he said. Aside from their own brews, they’ll have a rotating selection of local beer occupying four to six guest taps. Currently, the only other location that you can find Chili Line beer is at the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom in the Luna Building in Santa Fe. One of their ciders was also on offer at the pizzeria.
If you’re looking to try Chili Line, the best place to do it right now is at their home base, Pizzeria da Lino. They’ll be hosting special events for the holidays, and also after parties in the new beer garden/taproom for Cinefesta Italia next summer.