Canteen Brewhouse has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the back room of the Il Vicino in Nob Hill in 1994. This year marked some big changes for the oldest brewery in Albuquerque, ranging from the opening of its first taproom to canning its beers and earning another major medal to add to its long list of awards. To recap it all, and to look ahead to what is in store for 2017, I sat down with head brewer Zach Guilmette at the end of last week.
“It’s tough to put it into a little nutshell, but it was a pretty exciting year for us,” Zach said. “Starting right off the bat for me, I arrived (back) here January 4. World Beer Cup (entries) were due one-and-a-half months later, or two months later. We sent the High Plains Pils, which is a Bohemian-style Czech pilsner. Just winning that silver at the World Beer Cup this year was just an amazing way to start the year off.”
That WBC medal was a great start to things for Zach, who had previously worked as an assistant brewer at Canteen before leaving to take over at Chama River. After Brady McKeown departed to open Quarter Celtic last fall, Zach returned to run the show.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of motivation here,” Zach said. “For me, it was just fun to be back, because the culture, the people here were still the same. It’s just a really nice place to brew, a nice place to have a beer, the customers are just really fun to hang out with.”
Even as the dust settled from the WBC, there was more to do for the Canteen staff.
“After the World Beer Cup, of course, the next focus, the next major event is the New Mexico IPA Challenge,” Zach said. “Actually, before that, in April we started our canning run then. We were in cans with Exodus IPA and Dougie Style Amber. That was a big change for us to see our beers in cans around town, and up at the Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest for me, which is fun to drive down the street and buy a six-pack of the beer I made.”
Canteen in cans proved to be a hit, bringing their beer to new customers around the city and state. It also helped further spur the decision to add a second Canteen location on Tramway.
“Following the canning run, opening a taproom in August,” Zach said. “The taproom opened and that’s just been a huge push for us. That part of town with Four Hills and off Tramway, being on the east side has been good for us. That whole market … for me, I almost recognize everybody who drinks here. It’s fun to say hi and talk to them. When I went up there, I didn’t recognize many people. That was nice. It’s a whole new group of people trying out Canteen beers and getting to know us.”
In between the canning launch and the taproom opening, there was that matter of the NMIPAC. The final round was held at Tractor Wells Park in July and featured the closest finish in the history of the event. Boxing Bear won with 81 votes, followed by Canteen with 79 and 3 Rivers with 68.
“That was a big one, I enjoyed that,” Zach said. “We all had fun. We finished second by just a handful of votes. This year I thought it was the best lineup of IPAs from the brewers that we have ever seen. So, much like the competition is getting tougher across the nation, right here at home the competition is getting tougher. It’s just fun to see that all unfold.
“Hopefully we’ll win in 2017. It’s always tough. Finishing second is nice, but nobody remembers who finished second. I really can’t tell you who finished second the previous four years.”
As for the brewery itself, there were no major changes or additions of equipment in the back. Out front, though, two new beer programs started.
“We started a nitro program here in the last year as well,” Zach said. “I’ve been happy with that. That’s been fun trying different beers. People are willing to try anything on nitro. IPAs on nitro are a big hit. It’s been fun to see that. I think a few years ago people didn’t drink anything on nitro besides dark beers. People are trying saisons and all sorts of stuff on nitro.”
December saw the introduction of a new style at Canteen, one that Zach hopes will catch on in popularity.
“The other thing for me is bringing sours here,” Zach said. “We’ve got Social Capital sour, which for me is going to be a revolving sour. The malt bill won’t change. We brought that on at the end of this year. We’ll bring it back every few months, and bring it back with a different version. The beer itself will maintain a similar characteristic. The first one was dry hopped. The one we’re releasing (Friday) will be Social Capital with dark sweet cherries aged on French oak. The third one coming out in the spring, early spring will be orange peel and coriander, brewed with a Belgian yeast strain. For the next year, it will be fun to play around with that one, keep reinventing it.”
That figures to be a major theme in 2017, experimenting with different beer styles and having fun. There are no major construction projects in the works. Zach noted that there has been talk in the past of adding a full kitchen to the original location, but nothing recently, so if it ever happens it will not be for some time. There will be one new piece of equipment coming to the brewery.
“We’re bringing that 30-barrel fermenter in, just to help expand our canning,” Zach said. “I hope that next year we continue to see more IPA and amber in cans selling around the state. Right now we’re talking about introducing a third and maybe a fourth canned beer. Really, that’s just beginning. That conversation is just starting. Some of the ideas we have are spring and summer seasonal cans, then bring out another canned beer for the fall and winter season, or having a third that sells year round. All of us, our owners and managers will get together and decide what works best.”
Let it be known that the Crew will vote for Panama Joe in cans. Or, just having that on tap more regularly. Speaking of regular beers, there are no plans to change anything in the core lineup right now, but Canteen will be adding another semi-regular beer soon.
“We’ll release Canteen Lager in a couple months,” Zach said. “That will be a German pilsner. It will be kind of a pseudo house beer like the Irish Red. It will come out every few months. If we had the fermentation capacity I’d love to have both all the time. Whenever we can fit it in, it will definitely be on.”
Zach noted that “2016 was the big year where everyone decided to push and grow,” but that 2017 looms more as a year to get back to basics and have a little fun. All of us in the Crew have been having fun at Canteen for many years now, and we look forward to a lot more in the coming year.
Oh, and before I forget, today (Monday) marks the arrival of Solstice Blackout, the annual awesomeness of five selected dark beers for just $5. This year the lineup will consist of Dark & Lusty, Smoked Oat Porter, Operation Black Hops IPA, Panama Joe, and the special Mexican Chocolate Panama Joe on nitro. See you all there later today!