Things are going good at Nexus Brewery. How good, one might ask? Owner Ken Carson is already planning a third location, even though he only opened his second this past June. For this edition of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I sat down with Ken and head brewer Kaylynn McKnight to recap the year that was and preview what all is to come this year. The biggest revelation, clearly, was the one above.
To get there, one has to recap what has happened in the prior 12 months. Nexus had another busy, bountiful year, one that even included the opening of its second location, the Nexus Silver Taproom, on the west side of town. There were many smaller, but equally important, developments going on as well.
“The World Beer Cup, that was nice,” Kaylynn said of the gold medal for Honey Chamomile Wheat, awarded back in April. “I got an assistant last year. It’s pretty nice to have some help back there. He’s doing pretty good back there, three days a week, and then he’s doing other stuff for the company. … It’s fun teaching someone else to brew, someone else that’s passionate about a craft-brewing industry job. That’s pretty exciting.”
Kaylynn said Nexus saw an increase of 200 barrels of production from 2015 to 2016, in part due to the new taproom, but demand was also up at the mothership.
“With the influx of all the breweries and everything, we still increased, just off this operation alone, we increased 15 percent,” Ken said. “I don’t mean to brag or anything, but we’re really pleased we carved out a niche in this (crowded) market.”
The hit beers in 2016 included old favorites like Beam Me Up Scotty, plus new ones such as the Bird of Prey IPA.
“As far as the beer goes, I think we talked about shifting the normal IPA that we have to the Bird of Prey IPA,” Kaylynn said. “The reason being, we can do that because I have better hop contracts this year. I have more fun, good, crazy hops to play with. The Bird of Prey sold really well.”
The introduction of Nexus Silver also meant new customers. Ken said they were a bit surprised by the different palates of folks on the west side of town.
“On the west side, those guys are not hopheads over there,” Ken said. “We’re selling a ton of Imperial Cream; high-alcohol beers are (doing) amazing over there.”
Other twists with the crowd at Silver include more 20-ounce pours being served than the standard 16-ounce, plus growler sales are higher there. In addition to the differences in how people consume the beer, the taproom also went through an interior renovation.
“We started off, no one was happy with the interior,” Ken said. “So we went back and redid the interior, changed it substantially.”
The lineup of guest beers has also evolved over time, Ken added. The goal is to bring in different and unique beers that can either complement the Nexus lineup, or fill in the gaps.
As for this year, there are plans for more events and the like at Nexus Silver. Ken said fans can expect live music on Sundays, while the house party theme will continue Saturday night. They will also bring food dishes from the main location to the taproom every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., selling them as sort of a food hour, in lieu of a happy hour. As always, Nexus will listen to its customers and ultimately settle on what they want from the location.
Of course, even with Nexus Silver so new, plans are already afoot to put a third location just south of downtown.
“I guess the big news is, and you guys get to break the news again, is I bought a building off Bridge right (south on) Broadway,” Ken said. “It’s an old nightclub. I’m working on the financing right now. We’re going to go in and we’re going to call it our smokehouse. It’s going to be barbecue, but we’re also going to have a real, live smokehouse where we actually smoke meat, the old-fashioned stuff.”
OK, more delicious food is coming, but what about the beer?
“In addition to that, in half of our building, we’re going to add another brewery to it, probably around 15 barrels,” Ken said. “We’re going to keep this brewery here. This is all subject to financing. Things do change, fortunately and unfortunately, as you go along, but I think we’re full capable of doing this. And then, at that point, we’re going to go retail and start distributing our beer. We feel like we have a couple beers to put to market that will fill a space.”
More food, more beer, beer being distributed … this is all good news. Very good.
“The building is 9,000 square feet,” Ken said. “It has a stage. We planning on having a patio. The food, we’re going to do it in such a way it’s going to kind of be a takeout restaurant with a taproom. So, you can go get your food and take it home, or you can walk it down to the taproom. We’re not going to have a full-service restaurant.”
Ken said he hopes for those who do not go for the food, they will have a more interactive experience with one another at the taproom. It is an atmosphere he has always looked for in his locations.
Food is still important, however.
“I’ll still probably serve the fried chicken down there, but we’ll probably put more emphasis on the gumbo and Cajun food,” Ken said. “I’m looking forward to it. I see us making our own sausage, or own bacon, I see us doing all of those things.”
Start exercising now, people. The pounds are coming.
As for the original location, Ken said they are experimenting with some new dishes, as well as working with their customers to determine if some of the existing dishes need some tweaking here or there.
“What we have in plans for (this) year is we’re re-looking at our menu,” Ken said. “We’re going to go through a process talking with our customers to see what they like, what they’d like to see changed, any suggestion they have. I’m going to work that through a survey and then through a blog, get their opinions, see what they say.”
Go on …
“We’re working on a soul food egg roll which is collared green, green chile, and chicken,” Ken said. “We have a cinnamon waffle that’s going to be drenched with icing. Then we’ve got a lot of other things. Then I’m going to fire up the barbecue pit and we’re going to every Saturday we’re going to have barbecue starting in the spring. It’ll be a Saturday special with barbecue. Everything will be using a New Mexican twist, like the red chile ribs.”
Look for some new beers from Kaylynn this year, as well as the return of some old favorites. She also promised to be back at festivals this year after taking 2016 off.
Overall, the promise of a new location, with more food options, and more beer, is more than enough to get us excited for Nexus in 2017 and beyond. We are thankful for them carving out a niche in our brewing scene, even if we have to carve an extra notch in our belts after some of our meals there.
Thank you to Ken and Kaylynn for taking the time to chat, and to let us break the big news again.