Editor’s note: It is time for us to resume our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. We only knocked out 13 of the 40 or so breweries in November and December, so now it is time to start with all that remain, beginning with Shawna’s trip to Ponderosa from a couple weeks back. — S
For this installment of the Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I had a chance to sit down with the head brewer of Ponderosa Brewing, Antonio Fernandez, who has had quite the remarkable year. Antonio took over as head brewer in July, coming into the commercial brewing industry for the first time. He is on a mission to create nothing less than great quality beer. As you can imagine, it has been an interesting and exciting ride for Fernandez, who has been busy experimenting with flavors and fine tuning the existing brews.
Dark Side: “What would you say was your biggest challenge taking over this position?”
Fernandez: “The most challenging thing for me was getting used to the schedule, and adapting to the customer’s needs. For instance, Ghost Train (IPA) is our biggest seller. I end up brewing a batch of that every couple weeks just to keep up with demand.”
Dark Side: “Is there a beer that you are particularly proud of?”
Fernandez: “As far as beer is concerned, I think I’m the most proud of the Oktoberfest. It’s the first beer we’ve had that has sold as well or better than the IPA, which I thought was really impressive for this town. The brown has become really popular, as well. I made some tweaks to the malt bill on that one. People really seem to be liking it. I’ve been trying to tweak the recipes here and there to make them a little more my own.
“I’ve been really impressed with some of the seasonals we’ve had. The Oktoberfest, the Belgian Pale Ale, and the Oatmeal Stout all went over really well. We currently have a single-hop Mosaic Pale Ale, and the reception has been really nice, so I think we’re going to keep that going as a steady series. We also just debuted our gingerbread spice lager called Nikolaus. That will be available through December, too.”
Dark Side: “What would you say were the biggest highlights of 2016?”
Fernandez: “Well, for me, getting the job here was definitely the highlight of my year! I got to take over from Bob Haggerty, who is starting his own project over at Steel Bender (Brewyard). Everyone here has been really supportive. It’s a great crew to work with and the community has been very supportive. We have a strong set of regulars here. I really enjoy that. And, it’s only getting better. The neighborhood around here is really picking up with all the new construction, which includes shops and more places to eat and fun stuff like that. We have the new hotel going in down the street. And, in the area across from us is going to be a nice little recreation area. They’re going to put a park and pond in there, which we are really looking forward to.
“We’ve done the bottle releases before, but now we are offering those as a holiday gift pack. So, you can get all three of the beers plus one of our local pint glasses for $25. They’re available here or at Jubilation right now.
“We’ve actually added quite a bit to our distribution lineup. Last I counted, I think we were at 22 other places around the Albuquerque metro that are carrying our beer on tap. So, that’s really exciting.
“Business has really been picking up this year, which is really awesome. That just means I get to brew more beer and make more specials!”
Dark Side: “What can we look forward to in 2017?”
Fernandez: “We’re going to keep bottle releases going. We have a new sour brown that is about to go out. (Editor’s note: It so happens that beer is being released today.) We plan to make the pricing a lot more affordable, as well.
“Personally, one of my big goals is to participate in as many beer festivals as possible. I’ve only been here for five months, but I want to be a really active member of the brewing community. I want to meet more brewers and maybe discuss the idea of collaborating. I want to get involved in more competitions both locally and nationally. GABF and World Beer Cup are definitely on my radar for 2017 (and 2018). So, going forward, hopefully you will start seeing us at more festivals.
“For me, it’s mostly about brewing beer. We have a lot fun beers that we plan to release! We have an Amber, an Imperial Pale Lager, an Imperial Smoked Baltic Porter, and an Imperial Brown Ale coming up early in the year.
“One thing that we have coming up immediately is a beer pairing dinner we will be having here on January 10 at 6 p.m. That will be the standard five-course meal with beers and other fun surprises. I hope we can do beer pairings on a regular basis.”
All of us in the Crew look forward to what Ponderosa has to offer this year.