When a new brewery opens up in Albuquerque, it’s only a matter of time before the Dark Side is there on the scene to report our findings back to you good folks. Well, as it turned out, this particular brewery opened up a couple weeks ago, while our editor was on the road for a wedding. Franz Solo and I were more than happy to step in and get the story on the brand new space to open up in Nob Hill, Hops Brewery.
While I waited for Franz to finish up his own brew day, I took the opportunity to chat with head brewer Ken Wimmer about himself, his beers, and the direction in which he hopes to help Hops along. But, before I get to my brief interview, I’ll start with a dad joke. “Mayan: Hey, wanna beer? Other Mayan: I’m working on this calendar, but I guess if I don’t finish it won’t be the end of the world.”
DSBC: How long have you been brewing?
Wimmer: I’ve been brewing off and on since the mid-80s. And, until I took this position, like most of us, I started out as a homebrewer. I brewed in my kitchen and in my garage.
DSBC: How’d you get the gig?
Wimmer: Actually, it’s funny, someone told me this place was opening, and said, “Ken, it’s right up your alley.” I said, “Who wants to hire me?” A couple weeks later he said, “Ken, I’m not kidding. Get in there and talk to these people.” And, I said, “OK, what’s the worst that could happen? I make some good friends, and find a new place to drink some beer.” And, I brought in a bunch of my homebrews. We talked beer. I said, “This is an audition. Try my beers.”
DSBC: Before Hops, where did you work?
Wimmer: I’m a retired school teacher.
DSBC: So, you wouldn’t have a problem teaching your ways to an assistant brewer, if need be?
Wimmer: Not at all. In fact, I’ve taught several folks, here in Albuquerque, how to brew.
DSBC: Homebrewers are no strangers to inspiration. What inspired the beer list?
Wimmer: It started with the honey wheat. The owner’s wife asked for something light, easy drinking. They’re light lager drinkers. So, I developed that recipe strictly for them. And, they loved it. And, it turned out that a lot of others loved it, as well.
The Warm Scottish Nights, my Scotch Ale (was second), because I work on a pilot system. (So) before we go to a big system, I wanted to see how it would handle a big beer.
As mentioned in our preview article, Hops crafts their recipes on their pilot system, and they contract brew through Rio Bravo Brewing. Also, please take note that after Summerfest, Hops was reduced to just two of the six beers we talk about below, Honey Wheat and Chica.
DSBC: You have six of your beers on tap. What inspired the others?
Wimmer: My Chica (Pale Ale), I enjoy the aroma of hops, but I’m not big on the real high bitterness. So, I wanted to make a pale ale that had a great aroma, but wasn’t over the top on the bitterness. So, I developed Chica. And, the two main hops in that (are) Chinook and Cascade, so Chi-Ca.
“Dad Joke” is actually from a buddy of mine who brews with me quite often. He wanted to try a beer from pre-Prohibition era, and so the Dad Joke is a Kentucky Rye Common. And, so we tweaked that until we got it where we wanted it. I changed it again. I need to change it back. It’s still a good beer. It’s just not where I want it, just yet.
DSBC: Why “Dad Joke?”
Wimmer: Because it’s rye and corny of course. (Laughs)
DSBC: Ha. And what about your milk stout, The Tipsy Cow?
Wimmer: A buddy of mine was having a party. He’s a big stout fan. And, we thought, well, what can we come up with here? So, I thought, you know, I’ve been wanting to do a real milk stout, something similar to Mackeson’s. So, I really overloaded it with the lactose, and realized, you know what? That kind of worked. I thought I could always tone that back in future generations of it, but it was one of those beers that just worked on the first round.
DSBC: Let’s see, we (also) have the English bitter, The Irish Tan.
Wimmer: I’m a big British beer fan. I like the ordinary bitters. And, basically here, the closest you can get is the ESBs. A lot of the ordinary bitters that you find in this part of the world, they’re still closer to an IPA than an English bitter. So, I specifically wanted something a little more malty. Still had a nice little hop balance to it, was easy drinking, light in color, so I came up with this. I was looking at it, and said, you know, this has a nice little orange color to it … and, oooh! It’s not an Irish red, but maybe it’s a nice Irish tan.
DSBC: Which is your favorite house beer?
Wimmer: The one I just ordered.
DSBC: My favorite is the first one after a long shift. That and the next one. So, Ken, what do you have planned for Hops as you go forward?
Wimmer: Seeing what the customers want. Number one is customer service.
DSBC: Now, I know people are going to start coming in and asking for an IPA. This is Albuquerque, and this brewery is called “Hops.”
Wimmer: Oh yeah, and I will develop one, but I’m not going to compete with the big beers that you see at La Cumbre and Bosque. If I do an IPA, it’s going to be more of an East Coast style, or even a British style.
As for seasonals, we’ll have three or four standard beers, and everything else will be rotating. And, you know, some people are going to love one beer, and if it’s a great beer, it’ll stay. If it’s not, maybe it’ll disappear forever, or maybe it’ll be a seasonal that comes back only once a season.
DSBC: What did you think sets Hops apart from other ABQ breweries? Or, what niche does Hops fill?
Wimmer: I think the niche we fill is that we’re in Nob Hill, and we’ve got the whole Nob Hill vibe going. And, the bar is gorgeous.
DSBC: Not to mention a 40-tap list.
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Franz joined just as I was wrapping up the interview, and both of us were ready to try the beer. Franz, having the better palate than I, will walk you through the experience.
So, this past Monday, after a lovely brew day making an oatmeal stout in honor of my wife’s upcoming graduation, the chance came that Luke and I were both free of commitments, and we took advantage of such a rarity and headed over to the newly opened Hops Brewery. Our luck was even better than expected as we ran into Hops Brewery’s brewer, Ken Wimmer who joined us as we enjoyed a flight of his creations. We began with their Honey Wheat, which had a light, crisp mouthfee,l and to my estimation a good gateway brew with a tasty malt base.
We ventured onward to the Chica (pale ale), which has quite nicely balanced malts, but does need a bit more whirlpool and more aroma from the hops to up the ante to the next level. In the current form it is more akin to a British pale than to an American pale ale, in my opinion. That may well change with further iterations.
Dad Joke (the name is part of a penchant for humor in this abode, which I found to be quite catching and excellent) begins sweet with rye and corn making for a solid California common, though it needs a tad more work on the finish, but a good solid start. We tend to see far too few of the California common beer style in Albuquerque, so I was pleased to find it on the initial rotation at Hops.
Next up we had the Irish Tan, an English bitter. This was spot on style, with a nice light bitter helping of hops with a sweet middle and a warm, bready finish. I’d certainly enjoy a few of these watching EPL or Bundesliga on the numerous large televisions throughout the establishment.
My personal favorite was Tipsy Cow milk stout. A blast of lactose with good, toasty aroma and flavor fills the mouth with dark goodness. Good dark roasted malts pervade and this is damn tasty all around. For 4.5-percent (ABV), this tastes closer to a 6-percent stout.
This town needs more milk stouts of this caliber, and that is a great start for Hops Brewing. Our final beer of the flight was Warm Scottish Nights Scottish ale. It begins with a sweet aroma and peated malt in the back. The flavor is sweet, then bready, then lingering notes of the crust of a Creme brûlée and smoked dark fruits. I wholeheartedly recommend a pint if this one, as well, and let it warm up a hair to release a plethora of different and distinct malty notes.
The guiding principle for the beers at Hops is British bases, and then mixing malts to achieve certain types of flavor combinations. I love that the name of the brewery is Hops and yet it’s a malt-forward brewery at least from these initial house beers. This is to Burque what Second Street is to Santa Fe, a true bit of English malty brews swimming in a sea of hop havens. This is not to say that there are no hoppy beers on tap here; quite the opposite with many local taps of quite a few of our favorite year-round hop bombs.
Two plus years of construction were needed to completely redo the space. This was two years very well spent, as there is a modern, yet cozy vibe to the joint. I bid you all to head over and enjoy a pint or two, and maybe catch a game or hang out on the front patio.
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Well, Albuquerque, Hops Brewery has opened at long last, a true labor of love for owner Jim Shull, general manager Lauren Shull, head brewer Ken Wimmer, and manager Mario Ruiz. Ruiz, having spoken to us during the visit, told us exactly how much work went in before the brewery and bar space were up and running. It took two-plus years of construction, from ceiling to floor and wall-to-wall, as Franz mentioned above. These folks worked around the clock and built the place by hand and hard labor. Keep that in mind as you admire the well-thought-out atmosphere, which perfectly fits within the Nob Hill area. Think of the consideration that went into each detail as you enjoy one of the frothy house brews. With 40 taps, 12 or so food items planned, 10 TVs, and plenty of seating, Hops is well-equipped to become a favorite hang, a great go-to to just grab a beer. And, parking was not a problem at all, despite A.R.T. It may be a place named “Hops,” currently without an IPA, but it certainly fills a niche too often overlooked, and serves as proof that we are more than a hop across the pond away from an oversaturation point. Welcome to ABQ, Hops. To your continued success, we raise our glasses.
— Luke and Franz
Luke is from Santa Fe, NM, currently living in Albuquerque. If it’s about beer in New Mexico, he, along with the rest of the Dark Side Brew Crew, will get the story.