Ever since Luke, and later Julie, joined the Crew, we have had them handle just about all the stories on the breweries in Santa Fe. Every now and again, though, some of us Albuquerque-based folks still have to step up and fill in, as I did with the Santa Fe Brewing entry for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Well, OK, fine, it was not that big of a deal, as brewmaster Bert Boyce actually lives down here in ABQ, so it was pretty easy for us to meet up at the Green Jeans taproom last week.
To say it was a busy year at the largest brewery in New Mexico would be a bit of an understatement. Bert even brought a notebook along to try to make sure we hit every key point of the year that was and what to expect this year. We did our best to cover all of it, even as the taproom was flooded with patrons on a windy night outside, causing the interior decibel level to go through the roof. From the combination of my chicken-scratch notes and what I could hear from the digital recorder, I was luckily able to still paste this story together.
The biggest development of 2016, quite literally, was the completion of the massive new packaging warehouse. As noted back in April, the huge structure along Highway 14, and the new state-of-the-art canning line within, would enable the brewery to go from 400 cases per run to up to 5,500.
“I think the biggest thing was we completed the major expansion project,” Bert said. “We got a new canning line. That’s huge, that took so much stress off of everyone. We obviously finished the warehouse and got the canning line running. That’s made our lives significantly easier.
“We did a lot of fun, cool stuff (too). That was like the watershed moment, though. When that finally happened, everything else fell into place.”
On the beer front, SFBC worked to expand their list of offerings, while also completing the shift from bottles to cans for their core styles, including Nut Brown and State Pen Porter.
“We’ve totally transitioned to the canning lines,” Bert said. “No more bottles. Instead of two marginal packaging lines, we have one excellent packaging line. Cans are great, man. The Nut Brown and Porter, they’re exceeding expectations, it’s awesome.”
In addition to the ongoing Ever Changing Series, they added another seasonal series.
“We have fully launched our In-and-Out Series, which is a series of seasonal IPAs,” Bert said while enjoying a goblet of the current offering, Snowflake IPA. “We reserve the right to modify it. That’s been fun and successful. Those are the kind of beers I like to make and drink, so that’s OK for me.”
While not about the beer, necessarily, Bert also said he was quite proud to see SFBC open The Bridge, the music and entertainment venue next door to the brewery.
“The Bridge opened up, which is great,” Bert said. “We’ve got the outdoor events in mid-summer, we’ve got the indoor events throughout the fall. We should continue to have some great shows. I’m personally pumped on that, the brewery is pumped on that.”
Bert agreed that having a full-sized concert area can only help to bring in more customers. He noted that there were more people there to see the group Atmosphere perform than at any point he can recall for the brewery.
All of those customers, new and old, meant SFBC had to produce a heck of a lot of beer. Overall, Bert said they produced an estimated 23,500 barrels of beer in 2016, a 13.5-percent increase from 2015. With more room to grow, expect those figures to continue to rise in 2017.
As with just about any growing company, there will always be staff changes. SFBC has added a new marketing and sales director, Jarrett Babincsak, who will take some of the pressure off Bert and the brewing staff.
“He was running a distributorship in Arizona for Two Brothers,” Bert said. “Before that he was with Big Sky. He’s kind of been there and done that in the sense of where we want to go. He knows how to talk to distributors, he knows how to put together a branding portfolio, basic things that you have to do well in order to survive in this world. He knows the business, he knows beer, I’m glad to have him around. He’s filled in a few gaps already.”
SFBC has also hired a new brewing manager, whose name should be quite familiar to those that follow the beer scene in the Santa Fe area.
“James Warren will be joining Santa Fe Brewing Company in the role of brewing manager,” Bert said. “We’re sad to see him go, but our current brewing manager (Noah Tuttle) will be moving back to Colorado. We were fortunate to talk to James at the right place and right time.”
James has been the director of brewing operations for all of the Santa Fe Dining breweries for a while now after being promoted from head brewer at Blue Corn. The chance to move to SFBC was one he could not turn down, much to Bert’s delight.
“I’m super excited to have James come on board,” he said. “He has such an infectious attitude, he’s always in such a great mood. I’m always in such a shitty mood. We’re going to balance each other out really well.”
The additions of Jarrett and James to the SFBC staff are a big way to kick off the new year. They will hardly be the last big moves of 2017.
Phase III begins in 2017
While the new employees are taking up their positions, no one else will be putting their hard hats away. The next major phase of construction is about to begin at SFBC.
“We are going to begin construction on the third phase, which is the new taproom/event space at the brewery,” Bert said. “The two buildings kind of make an angle of 90 degrees. We’re going to fill that in with a taproom, event space, beer garden, it’s going to be amazing.
“It’s hard to imagine, but we’re halfway there. We’re going to be breaking ground this spring. I have no idea how long it’s going to take. I no longer feel comfortable telling anyone how long (construction) is going to take, because no one ever knows.”
Technically, though, Phase II is not yet complete.
“We still have to fully move into the new warehouse,” Bert said. “We moved the packaging line over there. We have a huge cold box coming in here. We’ve got to move the keg line over. Then, we’ll start the brewhouse. We may add a couple more tanks this summer, but we haven’t done the math on that yet.”
One big piece of new equipment will not actually arrive in 2017, but will have to wait until 2018.
“I know I said this last year, but we did not buy a brewhouse for this year, but we will for next year,” Bert said. “We’re going to be able to survive on our (30-barrel) brewhouse for one more year. We will put the brewhouse in as part of the same construction project in the first quarter of 2018. It’s going to be 70 barrels. It should be fun, because as a brewer, you don’t get to design brewhouses very often, especially sweet ones.”
There will be other developments with the SFBC beer lineup in 2017, including a move to having many of their seasonal entries being on-draft only.
“We are no longer bottling ECS,” Bert said. “ECS is just going to be draft only now. That’s going to be something that I think we can roll out a little more quickly. We don’t have to wait for bottle conditioning to come around. I’m excited to just be able to have a lot more different offerings.”
Many of those new beers and their development will be overseen by the new research-and-development brewer, Dave Merkin, who has been promoted from lead cellarman. Bert said there will still be a fair amount of experimentation and innovation.
“We really started playing around with a bunch of really small-batch, fun stuff for the 12 Beers of Christmas,” he said. “I think we’re going to continue with that mentality where if we make two kegs of something fun by tweaking something here or there, we can get that into the taprooms on much more ongoing basis.”
One big change in the future, after the new brewhouse arrives, will be to keep the current brewhouse and do all the experimental beers and special one-offs there.
“Our original plan was to sell it, but we’re now going to keep the 30,” Bert said. “We can make batches as small as 20 barrels on that. Our pilot system is going to go from 10 gallons to 20 to 30 barrels, so it had better be good.”
Bert said he would like to someday look into doing specialty beers in 16-ounce cans, but that is another one of those projects for further down the line when more things are in place.
Overall, Bert said he is excited for 2017, while already looking ahead to 2018 and beyond.
“We drink local beer because we know the difference between fresh beer and old beer,” he said. “As a brewery that sends it to other markets, it’s really important that we focus all of our operations and processes that we aren’t that brewery that’s sitting on six-month old kegs, or even three-month-old beer that tastes like nine-month-old beer, out in the market. I would say for me, personally, my mission, that which is really important to me — and is important to James who can help fill in the gaps and get creative and have fun — (is that) I don’t mind doing the dirty work. It’s just focusing on processes and beating that drum about quality and doing it right.”
We wish everyone up at SFBC plenty of luck with their many, many upcoming endeavors. Until then, raise those Java Stouts high and toast another great year for the oldest and biggest brewery in New Mexico!