It seems like only yesterday that the Crew sat down with Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. At least that is what he told us when we dropped by last week. If anything, it is the result of all the days blurring together as customers are keeping Zach and his brew team awfully busy throughout the year.
“It’s been a great year because we’ve just been busy,” Zach said. “You always want to be busy. We brewed a lot of beer this year, a lot of different varieties, so that keeps it exciting. I thought the year literally flew by. Here we are again already talking about World Beer Cup is back, the National IPA Challenge email is out, and you think to yourself, ‘Has it been a year?’ ”
Last year around this time, Zach spoke about returning to Canteen after a stint at Chama River, plus the opening of the taproom on Tramway, putting two of the house beers in cans, and winning a medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup. This time around, there were no moves of such a big nature to recap, but as Zach said, there was plenty keeping him busy.
“We’ve been doing well,” he said. “What have we been doing? … This summer, I really enjoyed exploring sours, kettle sours. We just recently began some brettanomyces projects, one of which is a Belgian that was fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and then re-fermented with passion fruit using the same yeast strain and then placed in Chardonnay barrels with brettanomyces. That was a fun project that we got started this fall. We’re looking at releasing that this spring. That will help connect 2017 to 2018.”
Of course, a brewery cannot live off kettle sours alone, not with so many hopheads in town.
“I really enjoyed brewing the Hop Baller and the Tuttle IPA,” Zach said. “Having two IPAs, one New England style, and the other Hop Baller is a continuous kind of project that changes. I just dry hopped this one as a test run for the National IPA Challenge, so this will probably be released in two weeks. It’s always exciting.”
Another version of Hop Baller will be debuting soon, now with the added twist of tangerine peel to give it an even more citrus-forward flavor and aroma.
Zach also found some time this year to adjust the recipe on one of the house beers.
“You don’t want to make major changes to core beers as people get used to something and like the way they are, but as a brewer you want to make it better,” he said. “When it comes to core beers, they aren’t typically changed, but for the Dark & Lusty, for that style in general I’m always searching for a nice full and chocolatey stout. I felt like even a year ago, even though there a lot of folks that like it, it wasn’t quite where I liked it. I worked with a lot of other brewers around town, picking their brains.
“That’s what’s great, Albuquerque has one of the best group of brewers just for sharing information and rooting for each other. With that in mind, picking other brewers’ brains for stouts, with brewers I respect like (Marble’s) Josh Trujillo and (Kellys’) Andrew Krosche. Guys like that have been a big help.”
As this writer can attest, the improvements are tangible. Fans of the other house beers should not worry about Zach doing too much tinkering beyond the D&L.
“I feel like our core beers are where they should be,” he said. “You don’t want to play with those too much. But that’s what’s nice about here at the Canteen, we’ve got 17 taps up at the taproom, we’ve got 12 here, (so) we’ve always got room to play. That’s where I can focus my creative energy.”
Things at the taproom on Tramway have been going well in its first full year of operation.
“The taproom is continuing to stay steady; it’s busy,” Zach said. “That part of town has needed something and I think that’s evident with some of the other breweries moving up to that part of town. People up there really want good beer and they don’t want to have to drive too far for it, either. Our location, it’s been a continuous process of making things better, adding music or trivia nights, giving people things to do and I think they’ve responded.
“Every time I get up there it’s been busy. It’s fun to see new faces. There are a lot of people that I hadn’t recognized when typically I recognize almost everyone that comes into the brewery down here. It’s fun to get that new group of beer drinkers checking us out.”
Those new beer drinkers, as well as all of us old ones, will also see a change to a popular annual December beer event.
“Solstice Blackout is going to be here (soon),” Zach said. “Our idea would be for this going forward to take Dark & Lusty, similar to what Hop Kwon Do was when we took Exodus and did five different types, we’re going to take our Dark & Lusty and make five different types. We’re going to get creative with that, probably do a barrel or so of each. In the past Hop Kwon Do and Solstice went on for a couple weeks, but we’re trying to turn those around a little quicker. We’ll take a batch of one beer and create five different things with it.”
Prior to that, Tuesday will mark the arrival of Pop’s Pre-Prohibition Lager, which celebrates the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The beer will be served in commemorative mason jars that customers can purchase and take home.
Speaking of beers on the lighter side, one of the more popular ones, Laid Back Lager, is about to move to the next level.
“(We are) canning our Laid Back Lager,” Zach said. “We’re offering it next to (Exodus) IPA and the (Dougie Style) Amber. The Laid Back Lager just offers that third kind of balance and choices for people who want to bring beer home in a can. I know I want to, I love taking cans camping or anywhere, really.”
The first canning run on will be on December 18, so look for it in stores soon afterward.
Keeping it simple but fun is the theme for 2018
Zach said there are no major plans on deck at the moment for capital projects, though that does not mean it will be same old, same old at the brewery.
“Right now we’re not looking at expanding our taproom, we’re looking more at expanding our current space (here),” he said. “Specifically here we’re looking at rezoning our patio and including some games like cornhole and other activities people enjoy. You see it as beer drinkers and as brewers visiting other breweries, people want things to do. We’d like to try to continue to try to create a space that people want to hang out at and giving them some more space and things to do, it’s on the agenda. That’s about it, I think.”
The majority of Zach’s focus will be on the beers, of course, and he has some plans already for the coming year.
“I’m always trying to dream up new beers,” he said. “I really want to go back over 2017 and focus on some of the beers that were well received. With the kettle sour, the Social Capital, it would be nice to continue play around with that, but I also want to offer maybe three or four of the better sellers, the ones that people enjoy. They’re always tricky. We had a Thai Social Capital that you want to be able to offer because you want to show you can go a little crazy out there, but you also don’t want it to be on tap forever. There are always people that like it, and there are always people that won’t. You try to find some of the ones that were well received.”
One example of resurrecting a popular edition of Social Capital was the batch brewed with dark sweet cherries and aged on French oak. That originally came out in December 2016 and it should return December 15 of this year. Zach said this batch was aged longer to bring out more of the oak characteristics.
As fun as the Social Capital varieties can be, at heart Zach remains a big fan of a certain style.
“For next year, though, I’d like to continue to focus on lagers,” he said. “I love brewing lagers. I want to go beyond the lagers that we’ve created recently, like the Cabana Lager, Laid Back, and High Plains, and the other lagers we’ve created have been within style guidelines of particular styles. It would be fun to try and start creating some lagers that may not fit into the style guidelines.”
Yes, he already has one of these new hybrid lagers in the works.
“I’m looking at an amber lager,” Zach said. “It should be 6.5-to-7 percent. It’s going to have your caramel malt additions (to create) a nice red hint, and I’m going to add a little chocolate malt, too, so it’s going to be a hybrid kind of cross between a brown and an amber on a lager yeast strain with a hop bill that is American IPA (style) — Cascade, Centennial, and some Columbus. Where do you put that?
“I’d like to make beers that maybe you don’t have to put them anywhere. They’re just big, malty; with a lager yeast you’re not going to have that sweetness in the finish like you get from an estery ale yeast with an amber. So I’m looking forward to having that sweet caramel character, but finish dry so it’s crisp, kind of a winter warmer. It’s going to be called Buffo Mundo.”
We dubbed the Canteen brew staff as mad scientists many years ago, so it is good to see that same willingness to experiment and have fun is still present.
A big thanks to Zach for taking the time out of his busy day to chat, and for the pints of Dark Crystal Warrior Black IPA, too.