Welcome back to our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, where we recap the year that was and preview the year to come for all of our local breweries. To follow the series, simply click the category link above.
Back before the holiday madness set in, I ventured over to Tractor Brewing to talk to co-owner Skye Devore, co-owner/brewmaster David Hargis, and marketing director Jeremy Kinter. While enjoying a little Turkey Drool (what else?), they summed up a productive 2016.
“From the brewery perspective, we have three new 60-barrel fermenters that were installed in 2016, (and) a 60-barrel bright that was installed in 2016,” David said. “The boiler was installed finally in late 2015 and we really didn’t wrap our arms around its efficiency until 2016. Those 60-barrel (fermenters) almost doubled our fermentation capacity. A big win in the brewery in 2016 was we took a 20-hour double shift to a 12-hour double shift. We picked up eight hours of efficiency with the new boiler. From a time perspective, just a huge impact.”
In addition to happier, less stressed employees, Tractor also added two more full-time staffers to the brewery. Part of that came with the arrival of their own canning line, courtesy of another local brewery. Prior to that, Tractor had relied on Mother Road Mobile Canning to roll in and roll out to keep six-packs of Almanac IPA, Farmer’s Tan Red, Milk Musatchio Stout, and Apple Cider in stores.
“Also in 2016, the canner from Marble arrived,” David said. “We purchased very close to 1,000 new kegs this year, which is (still) not enough. We’ll not quite double the barrels produced in 2015, but we’re going to get pretty close.”
Skye said that Tractor did more than double its cider production. Considering how many other breweries now carry Tractor’s cider, that should not come as a surprise. The cider ended up in a virtual tie for Tractor’s top seller for 2016.
“Also in 2016, we got crop year 2015 Simcoe, so that was a huge impact to our revisiting our Almanac recipe, which we worked on January and February, and then in March got what we’ve stuck with for now as our new Almanac recipe,” David said. “We’ve seen our Almanac production, that may have quadrupled, honestly. Was it the recipe? Was it the availability of more production? We’re not sure, but it has grown exponentially. Almanac and Cider are our two big growth stories this year.”
Specialty beers remain a big draw at Tractor. Their two barrel programs both saw an increase in capacity.
“We brought more barrels into the sour production, about 16 now,” David said. “We also have more bourbon-barrel-aged (barrels). Because the year’s not over, so the (remaining) things that happen will be our first bomber release outside of the taproom. We’ll be hitting the market in early to mid-December with about 1,000 bombers of bourbon-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout.”
A mass distribution of Luna De Los Muertos? Sign us up!
David added that Tractor now has a full-time lab employee and has increased the overall amount of equipment back there.
“It’s been pretty exciting back in the brewery,” David said. “Lots of new toys, new efficiencies, which has helped morale, which has helped getting stuff done without everybody working (too much).”
Tractor is also a major site for local events, ranging from music to art to poetry and a whole lot more. Needless to say, it was another busy year on that front.
“Once again, we basically did as many events as there are days in the year,” Jeremy said. “We’ve done some new and cool things. I know for a fact we booked more touring acts than any brewery here, and that’s something I’ve been trying to enact.”
Skye was a little hesitant to make that claim about touring acts, lest it provoke a challenge by any of their counterparts, but Jeremy said he checked the math and it was true.
“Last month alone we had eight touring acts,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been trying to do in terms of expanding our music and entertainment palate and providing something new for our beer drinkers. Other new stuff that we’ve done this year, we did open mic, we tried that out. We also did the first metal show at a brewery, Hails and Ales. We also have a monthly drag queen show now.”
Jeremy has been overseeing events for a little over half the year now. It has been a positive change in the eyes of his superiors.
“So much of what Jeremy is talking about comes from in May we made a change in who was in change of our events,” Skye said. “Carlos (Contreras) left Tractor and Jeremy took over that position. I’m extremely happy with the diversity and depth of the kind of shows we’re seeing with that kind of change. I feel like it’s been really good for us as far as reaching different demographics of people and appealing to larger audiences.
“I’ve always felt a brewery’s patronage is representative of its ownership and staff. I feel like any time you make a change in one of those positions, it changes your culture a little bit, it changes the people that you appeal to. I feel like we (still) make an effort to reach the same audience we had before, we didn’t say we’re not going to do that anymore, but it’s definitely a broader spectrum of things that we’re doing. Jeremy has this really awesome can-do attitude.”
In addition to supporting a mix of local performers, artists, musicians, and those touring acts, Tractor also started doing more events related to the beer.
“We did a lot more stuff that caters to the beer side of what we do,” Skye said. “We do a lot of events, but wait, let’s bring it back to the beer. For our co-op members we do a lot of pre-tastings, a lot of food pairings. We’re putting some focus there. I held a certified Cicerone study group class every Sunday from March through November. We had five candidates from that class take the exam who will have their results back by the end of the year. They all felt they did really well. It was a really great honor to be able to lead that, to let them know we know stuff about the serious (side of) beer.
“We also guest lectured two classes here for CNM’s program. They learned about draft systems and did a brew day with us, which was super cool. We made really great friends and connections there. Those are the new things we’ve done this year.”
Another new wrinkle is having local artists design the glassware for each major seasonal/specialty beer release, with those then going on sale to the public. Reyes Padilla created the glasses for Turkey Drool, while Louis Wilcox will unveil his glasses for Luna De Los Muertos in December.
More beer, heck, more of just about everything is coming in 2017
Like most other local breweries, Tractor is aiming for steady growth in all sectors, while not ruling out any major developments for the coming year, but not guaranteeing them, either.
“Well, 2017 from the brewery perspective will hopefully be to grow,” David said. “We haven’t thrown a big target out yet. We’d like to be at 50-percent growth, which is what we’re planning for right now. We are continuing to look potentially for a new taproom. We’re not 100-percent committed for that as things change in the market, but it’s something we keep in mind. Then we are looking to go into Texas in 2017, with draft, actually. Skye’s working on that process.”
The plan is to get Tractor on tap at bars and restaurants in El Paso, with an eventual eye to distributing cans to different places around the state.
“There’s like really fun parts of Texas that most people don’t even think about,” Skye said. “We make some really great light beers and I think they’d enjoy them. It’s a big state, once you’re approved, you can go anywhere in it.”
Those plans in turn could keep the canning line even busier.
“There is the potential of adding another package to the line,” David said. “We’re considering that right now as we’re heading south. It would be something on the lighter side.”
As for tap handles around town, Tractor is looking to expand upon their offerings beyond the current four canned and distributed beers (including the cider).
“We’re going to look at a lot more seasonal releases in the market outside our taprooms,” David said. “We’re looking at creating a menu which we think will be arranged seasonally. For example, Turkey Drool will likely be available hopefully in a lot of places. Then on that same front, to sort of coordinate with that, there could be bomber releases with those tap handle releases on the market.”
In addition to seasonal beers, also look for seasonal cider releases. For all of you who keep asking about it, look for the popular Berry Cider to become a year-round release, David said.
“Seasonal cider releases is something that we’re definitely working on more this year because of the growth we’ve seen in the cider area,” Skye said. “And, we have our sour barrel program that we keep hanging out with. Maybe, eventually we’ll decide that David and I won’t drink it all and we’ll put it out there for other people to enjoy. We also have barrel-aged cider back there.”
As always, Tractor will be aiming to continue with its innovative approach to advertising everything from beer to events.
“Marketing-wise I just want to get a little bit more radical with our advertising, try some different stuff in the future,” Jeremy said.
“I think with events and marketing, if you come out big and you push the envelope with what people are doing, and other people see that you’re doing really successful stuff,” Skye added. “Lots of places start doing it (too), not just breweries. I think it’s a constant evolution. You can’t always make typewriters. At some point you’ve got to go do something else before everything becomes a typewriter. Your events don’t stay fresh.”
Skye said that Tractor will take its cues from other cities whose breweries are pushing that envelope, while adapting those ideas for the local market. She also wants to tie more events into supporting non-profit companies around the city and state. Folks outside of Albuquerque could also potentially start seeing Tractor-hosted events popping up far from Wells Park and Nob Hill.
“I think we’re going to try in our marketing department and our events department to branch out beyond our four walls,” Skye said. “Have a focus on where our beer is available, can we do Tractor-type events there. Our beer is up at Taos Ski Valley now, so we’re going to take Tractor-type shows and do them there. There’s a (correlation) between our beer and our brand, but also between our beer and our events.”
The Crew will continue to work with Tractor in making sure all the information about its beer and events is shared across the digital landscape. We will also drink up a lot of the Luna De Los Muertos when it comes out, so please, get your bombers quickly before they all end up in our possession.
Of course, we will also be having our five-year anniversary celebration at Wells Park on Saturday, January 21 at 8 p.m. It will be combined with the latest edition of Hails and Ales, featuring some of our finest local heavy metal bands (ear plugs will be provided), plus the release of a special new beer. We will have more info on the event after the New Year.