The Village of Los Ranchos is my first home. I grew up biking along the ditches, enjoying the wildlife and the omnipresent old school vibes from the historic farming/ranching culture which pervades the area to this day. When Steel Bender opened their quite modern and cutting-edge brewery, it filled a niche that was certainly lacking in the valley. We had very few, if any options for procuring beer and good food without driving across town. Having something in our back yard has just been incredible. The past year has seen an amazing reception for the brewery from the local community and from commuters of 2nd Street, going from one side of the river to the other for work.
They were an excellent host for this year’s IPA Challenge (I thoroughly enjoyed biking down there for the event along the river and some of the old acequias of my youth), and also held the wonderful Balloons and Brews week on their patio during the Balloon Fiesta, which I’m sure will be even more of a success this coming year. As with any new venture, there are always unforeseen challenges that present themselves, and the ownership and staff of Steel Bender have had their share, rolling with the punches to where they are today — a pub with some tasty brews and good food options to boot, with ample indoor and outdoor spaces to imbibe in some of the finer things in life. I sat down briefly with the very busy Bob Haggerty, head brewer for Steel Bender, and this is what we discussed.
Solo: So what were your successes, what were your challenges this past year, what are you looking forward to doing in this next year?
Bob: I would say the greatest challenge was keeping up with the unexpected rush of business that we have gotten from the beginning. We were a lot busier than we thought we would be straight from the start and that continues right on to the present. All of which has been great. So that’s kind of been the biggest success and the biggest challenge for us is just that we’ve had such a great response from the community. We’ve had a lot of fun pushing the envelope on some of the different beers that we’ve done, some of the different barrel-aged beers that we’ve done. I’ve got a brett beer on tap now which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve got some barrel beers coming out very shortly before the end of the year. I’ve got a La Cumbre collaboration coming out on, I believe, it’s the 22nd of December called Edith. That’s a barrel-aged kettle sour saison brewed with peaches and spiked with brett. So that should be a lot of fun.
Solo: And then you’ve got your four barrels for Christmas or something like that?
Bob: Four casks of Christmas. So I brewed an American stout, a little bit stronger, it comes in at about 8.5-percent ABV, and I flavored four different casks in four different ways. First one I melted down candy canes and used that as the priming sugar. I got some powdered peanut butter and I made a chocolate peanut butter stout, a peanut butter cup if you will. I did one where I steeped sweet orange peel and cocoa nibs in the priming sugar solution for a couple of hours and then I added that in to flavor a chocolate orange. And then, I did one with cinnamon, chiles, all sorts of other things went into that one so I’m calling that one the cinnamon spice.
Solo: I love when people do different kinds of stouts, especially during this holiday season and so forth, it is always fantastic.
Bob: Each one of those stouts is going to be served with a little complimentary cookie, so on each Saturday when you come in and get your pint of stout you will get a cookie that one of the guys in the kitchen is going to make. So that should be a lot of fun.
So in the new year we are going to be looking at more packaging, a little bit vague at the moment so no definitive dates at present. We are putting quality first, so we are going to make sure that we are good and ready before anything goes into a can. But, we’re planning on launching maybe three, maybe four different varieties in a can in this coming year. Keep your eye out. We are going to be doing lots of cool stuff, more barrel stuff. I’ve got my mixed culture room and that stuff will be ready to barrel probably mid-year, so look for that probably around Christmas of next year. I want to give that a few good months to really come around. But, we’ll have lots of mixed culture stuff and sours coming. Also, a lot more nitro stuff, getting some tanks in to do some more nitro stuff. Currently I do nitro keg by keg.
Solo: That’s a bit of a bear for sure.
Bob: Yeah, so I’ve got some nitro tanks coming in for nitro. I’ve got some bigger tanks coming in within the next couple of weeks, so moving and shaking.
Solo: Anything else you’d like to add?
Bob: Well, just thanks to everybody for all of the support and thanks for coming in, drinking the beer. Just a shout out to everybody who has made us this successful, thank you and Merry Christmas!
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Clearly, there is a lot to look forward to at Steel Bender, from sours to nitro to barrel-aged beer of various varieties, as well as canning and distribution, and more fun events throughout the coming year. Cheers to a successful 2017 Steel Bender, we cannot wait to see what your 2018 brings!
— Franz Solo