When we began our Unsung Heroes Series, we sent out feelers to all of the breweries, asking them to submit an employee who they feel goes above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. When John Rowley of Rowley Farmhouse Ales replied to me, he sent me not one, but two heroes he felt were deserving of the title, though he was careful to mention that it’s not only the two candidates that bust their butts every day to make RFA happen, it’s all the employees, friends, family, and the amazing community that come out to support this fine brewery. But, to Rowley, these two individuals, are 100 (percent) proof that not all heroes wear capes. And, don’t think I didn’t angle for that photo-op. So, before anyone runs into a phone booth, this is an ode to two hard-working guys with home-brewing roots, living out a dream of many of ours, but certainly not taking it for granted.
Jami Nordby (head brewer)
Rowley Farmhouse Ales brought Nordby on board in October 2016. Before that, Jami had been home brewing since 1994. In Santa Fe, we all knew him well for running the only local home-brew supply shop in town. He had recently sold the shop around the time he was approached about commercial brewing full-time at Rowley Farmhouse Ales (not that the two are exactly related). Since then, he’s proved quite an asset to the team.
Besides the usual, everyday brewing operations (which is not a blanket statement at all at a brewery), Nordby takes on anything that the brewery and restaurant needs to have done.
“I’ve been on the roof; I’ve been in the basement,” Jami said.
He’s done it all, top to bottom, everything from electrical to construction and plumbing. And, as a bartender, who just happened to walk by during the interview, put it quite well: “He gets all the jobs that nobody else wants.” I’m sure it’s true.
On a typical day, Nordby rolls into work about 8:30 a.m. or so. He puts in a good eight hours Monday through Friday, with Saturday as needed. If it’s a brew day, he plans to spend about 10 to 12 hours at work. Though he puts a lot of time and effort into RFA, he doesn’t let it completely take over his family life. Either he picks up his son from school, or he makes arrangements with his wife. His kiddo has always been a priority, as we Santa Fe home brewers knew that the home-brew supply shop would be closed for an hour at peak pick-up times during the school year. (We never minded.)
At RFA, Jami has just followed his passion for home brewing. You can see his eyes light up as he talks about all the new equipment they have in the space now, from the keg washer he hand-built, to the new barrels, and the brand new/used walk-in cooler.
“It’s a homebrewer’s dream,” he said.
Maybe that was me who said that, but he didn’t disagree. I asked him what his favorite style of beer to brew was.
“Whatever the next one is, I think,” he said with a laugh.
Rowley said of his head brewer: “Jami has been a force since he came on. He’s able to do much more than just the brewing tasks. Just as one small example, let’s talk about the keg washer. Our plan, to start, was to rely on Santa Fe Brewing to contract clean and sanitize kegs as they do this for local smaller guys like ourselves. They have a state-of-the-art keg-washing system. Jami took the initiative to build his own keg washer, as he felt it would be more effective to do it in-house, as opposed to lugging kegs back and forth. And, it works great! Having Jami there while I am off at the lab working has been a huge plus for us. He’s able to work independently without direct supervision. He gets the job done, and I don’t have to second-guess his decisions at all. He’s a great guy and has proven to be one of our most valuable team members. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Rowley also named their other brewer, Tyler King, as one of their Unsung Heroes, noting that he definitely deserves credit for all he’s done for RFA.
Tyler King (brewer)
Tyler is originally from Loveland, Colorado, and moved to Santa Fe about 14 years ago. After judging the Enchanted Brewing Challenge in 2016, Tyler spoke to John Rowley about a job. It proved to be pretty good timing, as he was looking to get into commercial brewing, and Rowley was just starting to talk about the brewery publicly. Even before construction started (which Tyler volunteered a lot of his time for), they’d had a bit of a verbal agreement. Prior to that, King had home brewed for seven years. He had a rocky start in college, like many of us have, but his interest was rekindled while having a conversation over a home brew at former Governor Gary Johnson’s son-in-law’s house. (True story!)
King’s big entrance into the NM brewing scene, however, came by way of the annual home-brew competition in 2014, the Santa Fe Open, put on by the Sangre de Cristo Craftbrewers home-brew club. The Dark Side has covered several of these great local home-brewing competitions, because we know for a fact that these kind of competitions yield future professional brewers. Come to think of it, that first competition is actually where I met King. He was volunteering a lot of his time then, too, as I recall.
Aside from brewing, King also does I.T. for a local art university in Santa Fe, as well as owning an independent film company. On occasion, he does freelance post-production audio work for independent film workers as well, because, as he put it, “You’ve got to stay busy!”
And, busy he stays. When he’s not at his 9-to-5 weekday job, for which he’s also on-call nightly, he works Saturdays and occasionally Sundays at the brewery, doing anything and everything that is needed on those days, much like Nordby. His primary focus at RFA is the 1-barrel small-batch system, where he gets to try out new recipes and make more of the fun one-off beers served in the taproom. Of course, he also helps Jami and John on the 7-barrel system when they need to fill barrels with new stuff, or make more of the core beers.
When I asked if King had much input in the recipes they brew at RFA, he replied, “The great thing about our size is we all work together. John usually makes up the actual recipes in the software and has final say. He is the brewmaster and it is his name on the wall. I wouldn’t expect anything less. That said, if I want to make a recipe, use a home-brew one, or improvise on the spot to fix a problem, I can. Colonel Citra was a scaled-up version of my award-winning home-brew DIPA by the same name. It seemed well received commercially! Who doesn’t like a well-balanced 9-percent, all-Citra hop IPA? I’ve been thinking of a funky brettanomyces version, too. On top of just recipes, I can give input on equipment we need, fruits to use, (and) if a beer is ready or not, et cetera. Best recent example I can think of is tasting the four chardonnay barrels we just bottled. Four of us got together to decide what fruits would go in what barrel. I pushed the group to swap the fruit choice in two barrels. Hopefully everyone will agree with me when they are for sale! 1,000-plus bottles are conditioning now.”
Rowley had this to say about King: “Tyler was instrumental in getting our small batches off, and running when we first started brewing after getting our licenses all lined up. He and I brewed every Saturday for the first five months or so. It was taxing, but he runs with it and doesn’t complain. He’s come a long way as a brewer and is a vital part of our team. Tyler played a big role in us getting the doors opened as well. He was there, every weekend, in 2016 while we worked on getting the taproom and patio ready for service. We were fortunate to have a lot of help from our friends, but Tyler was there every step of the way. I know my name is on the wall, but there really isn’t Rowley Farmhouse Ales without Jami and Tyler working hard to bring New Mexico the best possible beer we can. I can’t speak highly enough of the team we have in place right now. Over time, we hope to grow the brewery up, but we definitely have a great core now.”
I asked Rowley what took them above and beyond the call of duty.
“I really think that these guys are looking at what we are doing as less of a job, and more of a mission,” he said. “Anyone can have a job that they may or may not like going to daily. But, my feeling is both Jami and Tyler are passionate about our mission to create the best beer we can, and that translates to passion instead of a feeling of this just being a job. Sure, we all have days that we don’t want to do some less desirable work (washing kegs, cleaning tanks, whatever that might be), but I don’t feel any hesitation with these guys. They have the attitude that those things are necessary and they embrace these less than ideal parts of the job and charge at them, not away from them. That’s how I know we have the right people, and Jami and Tyler are those guys.”
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There are many different kinds of heroes that work at our breweries. They come in all shapes, sizes, beard-lengths, boot-colors, and genders. They work at all different positions from bartender, to lab tech, to office manager, and brewer. There really are no small fires that these gals and guys put out on a daily basis. Everything they do, tweak, build, or fix, no matter how seemingly minute, makes or breaks the solid reputations of our great New Mexico breweries.
Truth be told, if it were not for Jami’s patience and unassuming nature, and his store, of course, I may not have lasted through my first hop selection and recipe creation. I may not have brewed a few batches, joined the local club, and soon after leapt at the opportunity to write for the Dark Side. So, to all of you heroes, sung and unsung, whether your name is on the posters or simply on a pay stub, we in the Dark Side Brew Crew, salute you.
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