Marble mellows out after a manic 2016

Cheers, Marble staff, and thanks for the fresh Imperial Red!
Cheers to another Marbleous year for the biggest brewery in town!

There is something oddly tranquil about Marble these days. There are no major construction projects, no hard hats, no architects wandering about. As far as Marble president Ted Rice is concerned, that is a good thing. From January through August, there was just one major project after another. It all added up to a rather incredible 2016 for the largest brewery in Albuquerque.

It took Ted a minute to even put it all in order.

“The timeline for Marble 2016, based upon my recollection, went like this,” he said.

  1. January: “Our Westside taproom underwent an expansion that doubled the square footage inside, and also increased the patio space,” Ted said. “We added a new walk-in cooler over there, an additional bar, a bar outdoors, our stage indoors, and at our lounge bar we have the ability for 20 beers on tap. It’s nice to have the Heights operating now, we can fill those lines and have a lot of interesting flavors. There’s a really strong sense of community over at the Westside taproom. Those folks feel, as they should, very tied to the brewery. I want to make sure that they have all the beers that we’re serving, if not more. That was a nice addition over there. It was well justified and I appreciate all the great clientele over there. That was the first accomplishment of 2016 on the expansion side.”
  2. February: “We moved into our fermentation hall here at 111 Marble Avenue,” Ted said of the 7,000 square-foot expansion. “We broke ground on this space in June 2015 and moved in February of 2016. Then we started rearranging the whole brewery, moving the fermentation out of the original space. We sold off some of the smaller tanks to some guys in town, some guys out of town. We added the 150s (fermenters) in here (and) commissioned the new CFT 100-can-a-minute canning line this May, which is a nice upgrade.”
  3. April: “We started turning out more beer in April of this year,” Ted said. “We introduced the Double White can. We tuned up our can packaging at the same time. We installed a switchback cartoner, so now our 12-ounce six packs are packaged in cartons, so we have that clean box that’s basically a billboard on the shelf. It’s good for us, our customers, and our distributors for handling the beer. We added a second grain silo for our Rahr Two-Row base malts, so now we don’t have to juggle the timing of deliveries as tight as we had to in the past. Also, on the grain-handling front, we installed a spent-grain silo, which we’re still in the process of plumbing that in. … That means to alleviate the management of 55-gallon drums, which, with five brews a day at 30 barrels a clip, eight barrels per brew, that’s a lot of barrels, a lot of space (taken up) out there.”
  4. July: The rooftop deck opened on July 1. “The rooftop deck opened up and it’s been a smashing success,” Ted said. “But, it’s definitely hot during the day, so we want to make it as hospitable as possible.” Scroll down to the 2017 section to see what Marble has planned for the deck.
  5. August (and before): “All of 2016, we were working on the Heights taproom and brewery,” Ted said. “We did a soft opening on the Heights taproom space on August 17. We started brewing right after GABF, early October up there. A 10-barrel brewhouse up there with four 10-barrel fermenters, four 20s and the goal is to have a constant stream of specials that are fun, innovative, and creative. We want to have 15 beers on tap at all times at all locations, that’s currently where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of fun flavors and it’s nice to see a full board. People continually showing up for what’s new and also still showing up for the classics that they love, whether it’s Pilsner, IPA, Red, or Double White.”
The Crew checked out the fermentation hall back in February. It’s a bit more crowded in there now with even more 150-barrel fermenters. (Photo by Mario Caldwell)

In addition to all of that, the Pilsner picked up two bronze medals at the major beer competitions of the year, the World Beer Cup in April and the Great American Beer Festival in October.

“The story I’ve been telling these days is that the Pilsner has medaled five times between GABF and the World Beer Cup,” Ted said. “It’s a world-class example of the style. It’s fun to continuously win. You see some beers that win for a little bit and then fall out of favor with judges’ palates. It’s been really stable.”

Of course, keeping up with demand for the beer, which takes longer to ferment than the ales on tap, has been a challenge.

“I wish we could make more of it,” Ted said. “We’ve dedicated a couple of tanks for it. One of the main components of that beer is the distilled water chemistry that we’ve designed for it. It really allows the European malt character and the blend of hops to shine through in a refined format. We’re going to be upgrading our water treatment system in early 2017 and take Pilsner production into account with that upgrade, so hopefully we can make more Pils.”

Congrats to Josh Trujillo on becoming a dad and moving up to brewmaster.
Congrats to Josh Trujillo on becoming a dad, and also moving up to brewmaster. (Photo by Mario Caldwell)

There was also a change in October, as Josh Trujillo moved up from head brewer to brewmaster. It was the second biggest thing that happened to him in the fall after the birth of his daughter.

“Josh expressed a desire to be the lead brewer up at the Heights,” Ted said. “I’ve always gone by the title, which is too much for me, of president, owner, and brewmaster, so I considered Josh and I co-brewmasters. Him coming back (from paternity leave) with this revised role where he’s focused on the Heights and focused on flavors for the company overall, so we revised his title from head brewer to brewmaster so he has more of a general oversight on recipe development and consistency and quality. Thinking at that higher level of flavor of beer, not down in the trenches dragging hoses.”

That second brewhouse is opening up new doors, not just for the Marble brewing staff, but potentially for others around town.

“We’re using the Heights flavor facility, I call it, as a training area for our team of brewers to rotate through from 111 to up there,” Ted said. “Have the opportunity to work on their recipe-design skills, and also to use the facility as a collaboration center. We’re inviting brewers in to share their ideas, collaborate, and build camaraderie in the local brewing scene.”

The Heights taproom has been a major hit with customers, but the second brewhouse in the back is an even bigger hit with the brewing staff.

There is nothing we in the Crew like to see more than our brewers around town coming together to create exciting new beers. Of course, not all collaborations are confined to having to be here in Albuquerque.

“Also, speaking of collaborations, in July of 2016 we were invited to go brew at Stone Brewing Company in Escondido (Calif.) alongside Odell,” Ted said. “We had some direction from the Stone sales team, they said they wanted something hop forward, something about 8-percent (ABV). We steered that recipe design conversation via email. We flew out to Escondido, had a great time hanging out with the Stone crew, toured many other well-known breweries while we were out there, and also loved the opportunity to team build while surfing on the coast.”

We are pretty sure that Leah Black put everyone else to shame on a surfboard. But, back to the beer.

“It was a 130-barrel batch pilot run, and based up on the success of the pilot run, that’s the determining factor for a nationwide release in 2017, and that is the case, so it’s called Mega Wheat,” Ted said. “It’s an 8-percent, pale wheat beer featuring three ‘M’ hops — Motueka, which is a Southern Hemisphere hop, Mandarina Bavaria, which is a German hop, and Mosaic. A lot of brewers have really flexed with the ‘C’ hops, so we took the direction of let’s do something with the ‘M’ hops. Not a ton of hops were used, but a ton of hop flavor, and a nice haze from the wheat to allow the hops to shine through and support all those hop flavors in the beer.”

Mega Wheat will arrive quite soon.

“That’s going to be released in mid-January nationwide,” Ted said. “I’m looking forward to supporting that collaboration at bars and restaurants around town. Per our brewers license, we can’t serve beer brewed out of state, so we’ll have some events around town with Karl LaVine from Stone.”

Enhancing the Marble experience will define 2017

The rooftop deck at Marble downtown opens Friday.
The rooftop deck will see some improvements for 2017.

As of right now, Marble has no major construction projects in sight. In a way, 2017 looms as a quieter year for the brewery (if any year can be considered quiet when making thousands of barrels of beer).

“2017 is going to be a year of tuning up the existing elements, enhancing things such as the rooftop deck,” Ted said. “I think we have one more open space in the fermentation hall here at 111 for another 150. We’re going to get a high-pressure vessel for the heights so we can nitrogenate beers. All the infrastructure is here, so we’re going to tune up the business across all fronts, whether it’s recipe design, front-of-house service.”

Ah, yes, the deck. While most people came to love it, it was not without its share of detractors. Marble has heard the calls for improvements and those are now about to get underway.

“This (was) our initial layout of that space,” Ted said. “We just met with our contractor, Modulus Design, (Wednesday) on elaborating the space over the course of the winter. We’re going to build a shade structure, build a bar. We’re going to install taps up there that are plumbed from the serving vessels off a trunk line so we don’t have to haul kegs up there. We’re going to have four fire pits and at the same time we’re going to have a roof over the stage on the patio, so that way there will be more of an angle where you can see the band better from the rooftop view, and also we’ll fly an in-house PA system so bands can walk up, plug in. It will be a nice shaded area from the top, better view, and protection from the elements down below on the stage, and a fuller, richer, more balanced sound.”

More shade, more beer on tap so you do not have to carry your pints up and down the stairs, spots to stay warm in the winter, better sound coming from down below, and more ways to keep the musicians happy. Yeah, that just about fixes everything on those fronts.

More beer is coming! Rejoice!
More beer is coming! Rejoice!

Back to the beer, yes, there will be a lot more of it in 2017.

“In 2014 we sold 14,800 barrels,” Ted said. “We’re probably going to be around 17,000 barrels for 2016. My goal for 2017 is around 25,000 barrels. We have the capacity. The only real bottleneck in production right now is kegging. We keg seven days a week, so a new kegging line, we’re about to initiate the order on. We met with our distributor, NDC (National Distribution Company), here in New Mexico, to develop a list of priorities and plan for distribution in 2017. We’re looking forward to achieving that goal there and supplying New Mexicans with the beers that they’ve been craving.”

Ted said he did not anticipate expanding distribution in Colorado, which is mainly in the southwest part of the state through Ska Brewing’s distribution arm. Another neighboring state, however, could see more Marble beer appearing on shelves.

“We are starting to focus a little bit more with our distributor in Arizona,” Ted said. “That’s a fairly mature, dense market, and we’ll see what we can do there. The priority is selling in our home state. There’s still a lot more opportunity to do that, so that’s really where our focus is. That’s where the freshness is and where the margins are.”

The current edition of Reserve Ale is downright sacrilicious.
The current edition of Reserve Ale is downright sacrilicious.

Marble will be sticking to the same schedule for specialty beer releases in bombers in 2017, with the one beer that they missed in 2016 rejoining the lineup.

“Our 22-ounce bottle release schedule is all mapped out for 2017,” Ted said. “We haven’t added anything new from the previous years. In 2016, we did not release Cuvee Rouge because we were tight on production, tight on barrel space, and we couldn’t get the beer into wood for that Flanders Red-style release.”

The ability to get Cuvee Rouge back out there is already in place.

“One addition I neglected to mention here at 111, we have a storage area across the street and we built a climate-controlled barrel room for our funkified beers,” Ted said. “We do have Cuvee Rouge in wood, with all the bugs, all the good stuff, so you’ll see that this year. We’re planning on executing everything from Brett IPA through to Imperial Stout.”

Ah, yes, Imperial Stout, arguably our favorite Marble beer of all. The 2016 edition will be arriving before Christmas.

“Imperial Stout is coming out here December 21,” Ted said. “We’re also able to cold condition our barrel-aged beers, instead of just ambient temperature, and that’s definitely proven to be a positive in terms of flavor. I think that’s evident in our Reserve Ale release this year. I’m looking forward to the Imperial Stout release, and all of our spirit-forward beers and all of our bug beers, resting in proper climate for exceptional flavor development.”

Ted is not exaggerating about this improvement. Anyone who has had the 2016 Reserve Ale should attest to that. It is a truly epic batch this year.

As for more packaged beer, yes, two more possibilities for cans are in the works, though neither will come along right away in 2017.

More cans are coming? It sure looks that way!
More cans are coming? It sure looks that way! (Photo by Mario Caldwell)

“As far as new cans, I really want to focus on the four existing styles we have in cans currently — Pilsner, IPA, Double White, and Red,” Ted said. “I want to make sure we have appropriate placement for those cans in New Mexico. Then, if I see we have additional capacity after that point, then we have two other can designs that are completed and I can pull the trigger on those at will. One is the Dang Pale Ale. Dang is a medium IBU, 5ish-percent pale ale accented with New Mexico wildflower honey, so it’s really floral and bright. The flavoring uses some fun varieties (of hops). A lot of people are jumping on the session IPA bandwagon. Session beers are great, but we’ve decided to kind of take a classic style and twist it around a little bit.

“The other beer the canning label is complete for is the White Out, which is the 9-percent play on Double White with Mosaic and Citra whirlpool addition. I think that should satisfy a broad range of flavors and the capacity we have here at Marble.”

There will be one construction project, though far smaller than anything Marble did in 2016.

“In 2016, we signed on as a tenant, leasing the space at the Heights brewery,” Ted said. “We decided it was in our interest to purchase the building, so now we’re the owner, and landlord of Slice Parlor. There’s a 2,000 square-foot space in between Slice Parlor and Marble. There will be some construction. We’re planning on developing that middle space for ourselves as an event space, as a space you can have releases, tastings, private events. There will be a little construction, but nothing to the extent of building a 7,000 square-foot fermentation hall. It should be fairly manageable.”

Marble now has 110 employees, from bar backs to brewers to everything in between. It has cemented its place as the biggest and most successful brewery in Albuquerque. We cannot wait to see what they can do now that all those big projects are complete.

Brace yourselves, beer releases are coming!


— Stoutmeister

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