The concept of a combined brewing/distilling operation was not limited to one location in Albuquerque, as Palmer Brewery opened alongside Left Turn Distilling this year. Unlike Broken Trail, a few blocks to the west, technically Palmer and Left Turn are separate businesses, they just share the same taproom/tasting room. Brewer Rob Palmer and distiller Brian Langwell are good friends, which is how it all got started at 2924 Girard Blvd. NE.
Rob, a professional skateboarder with a home-brewing background, said it all came about in August 2014.
“Brian called me and he had a tenant on the other side of the building,” Rob said. “This used to be a big block wall here. The tasting room was just that tiny room. We decided we wanted to do beer. We had been hanging out a bunch, helping him with his stuff in the distillery. He said how about we do some beer? That’s where it was born.”
Going from concept to operation took time, as the space, formerly occupied by a local artist, had to be renovated and rebuilt for brewing in the back (east) side, while the front (west) side was converted into a full-service taproom, offering up both the spirits and beers.
“We sat down and found a system that we could buy,” Rob said. “We did it without any investors or anything like that. It was me, him, and my girlfriend, Crystal (Sims). We went from there, started buying up equipment, buying what we couldn’t build and building what we couldn’t buy.”
The 7-barrel brewhouse and additional tanks arrived first. Getting everything else proved to be a bit of a challenge.
“We’ve had the equipment for a bit,” Rob said. “Locally, we bought a five-ton glycol unit to chill the fermenters, but the pump was missing. We’ve been fighting the guy for months, trying to get him to pay for the pump. We finally just bought a pump ourselves and put the unit up on the roof, got it ready to go.”
Rob said he also bought a used heat exchanger that he ultimately had to replace after it quite literally fell apart the first time they had to use it. With the main system not fully ready to go, a pilot system was used instead. The problem was that it simply could not produce enough beer to keep up with the customer demand.
“That and we’ve been fighting problems on the big system, so a lot of beer has been coming from the pilot system,” Rob said. “I could brew five days a week and still not have enough beer. We’re brewing the blue corn malt liquor (M.W.A.) on the big system. We should be alleviating our running out of beer problem.”
Rob said he has been brewing since he was 19 years old, living in California. He had a 1-barrel brewing system at home, where he loved to brew up some pretty big beers.
“I find myself having to reel myself in a bunch, because all of my beers have been in the 8-to-10-percent range,” he said. “I’ve always brewed in the higher gravity range and now that I’m offering it to the public, that’s where I came up with the Belgian Wit being 4.6-percent (ABV). Even the session beers I would make were seven percent, at least those were session beers to me.”
The brewery sits in a crowded area for beer, with La Cumbre just across Candelaria, and Canteen and Broken Trail not far away. Rob said his goal is “just try to be a little different” from his neighbors.
“We do blue corn malt liquor, which is a pretty different beer, it’s our flagship beer,” he said. “A lot of people seem to love it. I don’t want to copy anybody else or do what anybody is doing. I haven’t been into doing an IPA. I know they sell really well, and I do enjoy IPAs, but we’ve got a couple of the best IPAs in the world in this city.”
Customers should expect a lot of beers of a certain genre thanks to Rob’s recent travels around the globe.
“I like Belgians,” he said. “I went to Belgium for 10 days a couple years ago, just to hang out, drink beers, experience the culture. It’s (now) one of my favorite places on Earth. I’ve traveled a bunch through skateboarding, but Belgium is definitely one of my favorites. I want to play around with the Belgian strains.”
Rob said his main goal for 2017 is a pretty simple one.
“I just want to be able to stick to a fairly rigid production plan and make sure I’m not running out of any beers at anytime,” he said. “We are still going to run the pilot system all year so we can play with a lot of fun stuff, still make some mistakes, dump some beer if we need to.”
He also has a crowler machine ready to go so customers can take their beer home. There are also some packaging ideas in store in conjunction with Left Turn.
One of the more popular beers at the grand opening was Cockness Monster, a rum-barrel-aged Scotch ale. Obviously, having Left Turn right next door will open the door to a lot of different types of barrel-aging projects in the future.
“We’re going to focus a lot on the barrel program, because we have barrels on hand,” Rob said. “We can pull the spirit out the same day the beer goes in.”
Palmer Brewery is still early in its existence, but so far, so good.
“The feedback on the beers have been pretty good,” Rob said. “The negative feedback we get is that we don’t have all the beers all the time. The biggest hurdle has been getting the beers on consistently, (but) I think we’ve turned that corner.”
All of us in the Crew wish Rob a lot of luck going forward. We are certainly ready for some unique new barrel-aged offerings.