Traveling over a mountain pass can create the illusion of having crossed into a different world. Opposite sides often display vast differences in culture, landscape, and energy. Maybe it’s just evidence of growing up in a place without mountains, but I confirm this magic every time I travel over the Sandias. My recent visit to Ale Republic in Cedar Crest was no exception. I was hosted by business partners Patrick Johnson and Zach Gould. We jumped right into discussing their opening this past year and the work that led up to it. Opening a business is no cakewalk, and breweries are not an exception.
Patrick: Well, we opened. That was the challenge … it took us two years to get through permitting with (Bernalillo) County. We’re the first brewery in the county outside of the city jurisdiction, so we had to talk to the county people, not the city people. The city practically has like a pre-filled-out form of here’s the start-a-brewery packet. So, it was a big pain and it was very expensive. We spent almost half our money just getting through the permitting process. We were paying a year and a half of rent and with no income.
Zach: And, we had to have like equipment … it would have been one thing if you’re just paying for the space and you didn’t have to have it finished out. But, for a lot of the things they wanted to see something fully finished. So, it’s basically the system that they have set up is do all the hard work, do everything, and then we see.
In spite of the less than ideal permitting journey, Ale Republic opened its doors in the fall.
Patrick: We opened with bare minimum. We had one beer on tap. Some of the complaints on our online reviews are, “Oh, they only have one beer on tap. Another one of those breweries.” But, my response to that is well at least we did it! I remember when La Cumbre only had a couple back in the early days.
Zach: This is a very much handmade deal. I don’t think I have ever seen a brewery open with as little as we did. We really just put our souls into it and got it up and running.
Patrick: Yeah, we did everything. We made all the light fixtures. We did all the work.
Patrick and Zach’s personal touch gives Ale Republic a local craft feel which, when combined with the tranquility of its East Mountains location, provides a cool and relaxed setting. With such a great vibe it is no surprise that they have been embraced by the brewing community.
Patrick: The other breweries have been really supportive. It’s a really cool community. Tractor sent us a grand opening welcome. Nexus sent us flowers. People were really friendly.
The Ale Republic also has connections outside of the local community.
Patrick: And, we’re going to be doing some collaborations this year, too. We have a partner brewery in Long Beach called Beachwood Brewery. So, we are going to go out there and brew with them in the next couple months, and they are going to come out here and brew with us. So, this West Coast IPA has roots on the West Coast, actually.
I shared the excitement that I feel about camaraderie between breweries around the country and how common it seems to be. Zach was quick to remind me why this shouldn’t be surprising.
Zach: Well, it’s a craft. I think people forget that, especially on the larger scale, because it gets so technical. But, it’s still very much a craft. People have been doing this for a very long time. Sometimes there’s things that people do that there’s not a reason, but they just do it because they do it. And, it’s a community and you learn off other people.
And when it comes to being a craft, Ale Republic is not cutting any corners. They are making every effort to be both local and unique.
Patrick: Our brand is really specialty products. The IPA we have (is) because everybody loves IPAs, so you kind of have to have one. We both really like West Coast style … not super in-your-face hoppy, but pretty sticky and balanced. The interesting thing about our IPA has to do with our water. Almost all breweries use treated water. We’re just pulling it out of the ground. It’s well water, so it’s really minerally, and I think that interacts with the hops. It’s a pretty hoppy beer and it gives it a very interesting character. I think our water works really well with the Belgians, particularly the Golden Strong, I think it’s spot on. All the traditional beer styles are defined by the water that came from that spot. They never purified it or anything. From an environmental perspective that’s pretty sweet … just use what we have. We’re trying to get as much local stuff as we can … local ingredients. One of our goals is to make a 100-percent local beer. So, we’ve got the water down pat, straight out of the ground. The trickiest one is going to be malt, finding a local malt supplier. Not necessarily local in the east mountains, but local to the surrounding area. Hops we can get from Taos Hops. And then, yeast, we’ve got a local wild strain. But, that’s one of our goals in the next year or two.
All in all, it has been a year of establishing a solid foundation for continued growth. Zach and Patrick both seem content with the progress, and optimistic about what lies ahead after a recent expansion of the seating area that includes a free pool table.
Zach: It’s been a learning experience. It’s been a growing experience. But, I think we’re well on our way. What we were focused on first was just getting doors open and having everything be modular. We weren’t overextending, ever. We’re not a team of investors. Really this is just a straight up handmade brewery of people that are pretty passionate and willing, and probably pretty crazy, but willing to devote the time to make it happen.
Patrick: So, going into the year I think we’re pretty set. We have done our expansion, just finished that. Our brewhouse is pretty much at capacity, and whenever we can afford it, we’ll get more conditioning tanks, but for now we’re in steady-state.
Looking ahead into the rest of 2017, there seems to be a common theme in many of Patrick and Zach’s plans — leveraging the beautiful location that is close to ABQ, but at the same time feels so removed.
Patrick: I’m hoping for a really strong spring, and I think summer is going to be a blast up here. We’re going to have a big beer garden, put bands outside, do like a blue grass festival. It’s warm and it’s quiet, and it’s nice to get out of the city.
Zach: We have a really great outdoor space. It’s away from Albuquerque, which I think some people are like, “Oooh, it’s away from Albuquerque.” But, that’s the thing, is that that’s one of the best things, because you get out of Albuquerque. In the summertime, when Albuquerque is sweltering hot, and you feel just dried out, and you want to escape the concrete, and it’s just too much … you come here and it’s like perfect temperatures, there’s a cool breeze, you got a beer in your hands … it’s like camping without any of the work.
Patrick: We should put a tent in the back and AirBnB it.
With the extensive amount of outdoor space at their fingertips it is not actually that farfetched to think that camping would be a possibility at Ale Republic. Frankly the possibilities are endless. Patrick and Zach have an open canvas with which to create an outdoor space that ABQ breweries and taprooms could not match.
Patrick: This property goes all the way back to that hill. We have a lot of opportunities to do some really fun stuff with the property. So especially, we are talking about outdoors, having a really sweet beer garden, a landscaped beer garden with a fountain that’s like actually in the woods.
Zach: Imagine a park that you went to where you could drink, you could listen to music, you could play games, and that was open late … and there’s dogs running around, kids running around.
Patrick: People ride their horses down and get beers. The trail system connects to a bunch of residences back there, and yeah, they’ll ride their horses down.
The trails aren’t just for horseback riding, but hiking, too. Ale Republic is conveniently located next to a parking lot that serves these trails.
Patrick: We had no idea who our customer base would be, but as you would guess it’s mostly locals. On the weekends, you get people from Albuquerque coming up to go skiing and go hiking on the trail. There’s really great trails back there. It’s really cool it’s right there. So, we’re really pushing that. Like the outdoor brewery … be in touch with nature for a while and grab a beer.
A couple other goals for this upcoming year include setting up some regular events.
Zach: So, when we originally were a beer club we would do first Thursday events, where every first Thursday we would have like a big party and do a whole thing. So, we want to continue that. We just don’t know exactly how it’s going to look. We’ve been really occupied just getting this thing open, but at this point we’ve expanded, our beer’s kind of more settled down. I would not say we’re anywhere close to being finished. This is a process. It’s not a destination. So, at this point, things like that we’re definitely interested in. We’re trying to do as many events as possible. We would really like to partner with … I don’t know, anybody really, to do races, and stuff like that, in the open space. There’s a snow shoe race coming up that we’re going to try and be involved in, where people do a snow shoe race up at the peak and then after that will come down and hang out.
Ale Republic is also beginning some small-scale distribution into the ABQ market.
Patrick: I really want to find a bar in Albuquerque that we can supply our beer, at least one handle at all times, where if you want our beer that you can go to. So, we’re looking for a place. I think starting in March or April we’ll be able to do that.
* * * * *
If you have yet to visit Ale Republic, then do yourself a favor and at least pick a Saturday to make the drive up and relax for a couple hours enjoying lunch and a beer or two, not to mention the scenery. Better yet, plan to stop in after a day on the trails or at the ski area. The work continues at Ale Republic, but Patrick and Zach should hold their heads high with pride after the progress they have made. The Brew Crew wishes the best of luck to Ale Republic in 2017.