There were no more hard hats, no more blueprints, no more sawdust piles. After two jam-packed years of expanding two locations and building a third, Marble Brewery settled down and got back to basics in 2017.
“It’s a very weird stage for me these days because I don’t have a dozen projects all happening at once,” Marble president Ted Rice said. “Back in ’16 we were doubling the Westside taproom, building the fermentation hall at 111, building the rooftop deck at 111, and building the Heights taproom and brewery. I got used to that intense pace of work. So now, I’m kind of reorganizing my daily activities. It’s been a little bit of a … it’s almost like I’m not quite sure what to do. I know what to do and I’m doing things, but it’s not the same as working with contractors and suppliers and adding staff members.”
Over a couple weeks, I managed to corral Ted, brewmaster Josh Trujillo, and marketing director Geraldine Lucero for three separate interviews for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series to cover anything and everything relating to Marble in this year gone by and a big 10th anniversary year that lies ahead.
“We’ve got a really good team in place now, front of house and back of house,” Ted said. “I’m looking forward to having a great taproom experiences, solid beer flowing, and new and exciting flavors always on the horizon.”
Glancing back at 2017, even without the construction projects, it was still a busy year around the three locations.
“2016 was the year of building and 2017 finished filling out the brewery at 111 with fermenters and we’re just finishing commissioning a new keg line as we speak,” Ted said. “So 2017 has been the year of filling inventory for our distributor for New Mexico, NDC (National Distribution Company), and so we did that. We met our goal with NDC for case equivalent depletions. I’m meeting with NDC (this) week to plan for success in 2018.”
With everything in place at the downtown production facility, it has made life easier, though Ted was quick to point out that no one has become complacent.
“We’re never content, but we’re definitely doing better,” he said. “The CFT canning line is just a dream. It’s turning out really high-quality package beer. I love the carton that encloses the six cans. It’s just such a clean face and so much easier than snapping on the other options.
“The layout is far more efficient than what came before. Everyone is enjoying the balanced workload. The production team is working four 10-hour shifts, so they’re enjoying the three-day weekend. The flow is just so much smoother. It’s amazing what things like a loading dock will do for you. Having sufficient BTUs in your chiller to crash your tanks in a timely manner. A lot of those things just flow naturally from that — clarity and carbonation.”
Marble beers are now appearing six-packs, 12-packs, and even 24-packs exclusively at Costco. Distribution is strong throughout the state.
As for the taprooms, Josh has been churning out seasonal after seasonal, experimental beer after experimental beer, at the Heights taproom/brewery, a.k.a. the MavLab.
“I think things have been great up here,” Josh said. “I’ve had some that were better than others, some that were medal winners, right? So that’s been a lot of fun. I learned a lot about lactobacillus and kettle sours and how they react with fruit. We’ve had this big wave of goses that is still trending. People still want a gose in the winter time despite the (low) alcohol content and the sour properties of it. They like the dark beers, too, but the goses are still selling really well.”
The many, many fruited goses were a big hit this summer.
“He was going really hard on the ‘if you pink it they will drink it train,’ ” Ted added. “Not all of them were pink, but he did explore the world of acidity and fruit. He now has a firm understanding of what works. Now we’re going to start blending those fruits together for new flavors.”
Josh has been enjoying the creative freedom in the Heights, but he has kept tabs on what customers want, frequently stepping out of the brewery to chat with the regulars and newcomers.
“Yeah, man, I try to go talk to everybody at the bar, and be inspired by the feedback and what direction am I asked to go, comparatively on different levels,” he said. “One person is going to have a different idea of what’s good and what direction I should go than the other person. It’s really trying to take a little bit away from every personality and balance the spectrum that I’m producing, try to keep a couple lagers and a couple Belgians and a couple stouts and a couple strong beers.”
Josh still keeps an eye on what is happening at brewery downtown, sometimes just by trying all the main beers off the tap.
“Though I’m not down at the production facility I still do pay close attention to the beers that are on tap,” he said. “I taste them all regularly. For the most part, I think everything is very solid. In the end everything could always use some improvement, I strive for perfection. When you work with agricultural products across the board to produce the beer, they’re always going to have a little bit of a (different) flavor to it. You have to listen to your customer who drinks the three-beer limit in Red Ale or Amber Ale or Double White. You have to taste them regularly. I think overall our house beers are consistent, but still expressive. They’re quaffable, you want to drink two or three of them. Or, mix and match, they blend well, too, from what I understand. People do a lot of blending. That’s good.”
For the most part, Josh said that as Marble has grown, it has also had key people step up in different areas has helped out everyone, as now no one has too much on his or her plate.
“(Brewer) John Heine downtown loves beer and that’s the drive people need,” he said. “Geraldine taking over the events area and being super creative and in tune with what’s happening in the scene.
“I think the bigger you get, the bigger the load gets, and the more you need to spread that (around). I always say that the thing I like most about working with Marble and the team that I have here is the confidence in everybody in their job. Geraldine has super confidence in events and Leah (Black) in the social media and Ted is the driver. … All the people that are driving have a ton of confidence in themselves and how they do their job and that brings a lot of the success. It makes it a lot easier on me.”
As for Geraldine, she has managed to wrangle the many, many events held at all three Marble locations. From the standard slate of live music acts booked by Gabriel Tafoya, to charitable events and more, 2017 kept her plenty busy. Amid all of it, a few events or series of events in particular stood out.
“I think that the CRAVE dinners were probably may favorite events to put on here at the fermentation hall,” she said. “We worked with amazing chefs from all over town. … Turning a production facility into a dining room is the most fun that I’ve ever had. Our breweries cleaned everything. Just to see the room really transform is awesome. It’s really special to have a beer dinner in the middle of 150-barrel fermenting tanks, where the beer is being made. That was by far my favorite event to be putting on.”
Another series of events that proved to be popular went beyond the traditional karaoke night that many breweries host. Even some of the staff got into it, including a certain packaging line director.
“Other fun events included the Marble Mouth-Off, the lip-sync battle we put on,” Geraldine said. “It’s always funny to see people get up and not be afraid to put themselves out there and entertain a crowd by lip syncing, everyone wants to be a rock star at some point. Getting up on stage at 111 for the finale, we had eight of the winners from eight rounds, they put on such an amazing show. They had such a blast doing it and we had so much fun watching it. I even lip synced for the first one. Nate (Jackson) did every single Mouth-Off, he opened every single show.”
The strong year for Marble was capped off by two more medals at the Great American Beer Festival in October. Pilsner won its sixth medal overall between GABF and the World Beer Cup, snagging a bronze. The gold-medal winner this year for Marble was a pleasant, if not prophetic surprise.
“It was tradition over the past four years at GABF where before the awards ceremony we go to brunch with our ingredient suppliers,” Ted said. “Part of that tradition of having breakfast with some good friends of ours, we get the day started with tequila shots. It seems to have proven effective, granted everything is decided ahead of time, of course, but it’s fun to think that tradition has an impact. I told Josh at breakfast this year that my fantasy for the day was for him to receive gold for his Cholo (Stout) and go up on stage with his cholo suit on. That fantasy was real, so that was pretty cool.”
More medals are always a good thing.
“We’ve been fortunate to consistently win in recent years,” Ted said. “The Pilsner has won six medals between GABF and World Beer Cup. Walking across the stage for another bronze for Pils, I don’t want to dismiss it, but it’s nice to win for the second time we’ve actually brewed a style. That was only the second time the Cholo was ever produced, but we knew when he first made it that it was a winner and definitely a contender for attention on the shelf and the captivation of the judges’ palates.”
That award for Cholo Stout portends just one of the changes on the horizon for Marble in the coming year.
More distribution and new packaged beers await in 2018
Marble already has plans for adding new beers to its packaged lineup while redoing how some past brands are packaged for the new year.
“I was already planning on designing a can for the Cholo before it won at GABF and that just kind of further reaffirmed how much fun it’s going to be to have that hop-forward American stout in a can,” Ted said. “That design has been approved by the TTB. We’re going to release that in early ’18.
“We’re moving our Double IPA and Imperial Red from 22-ounce bottles to 12-ounce cans. You’ll see those on a regular basis starting in 2018 as well. We’re also transitioning the Stout Americano, our coffee stout, from 22 ounces down to 12 ounces. Then we’re working on a gose can package as well.”
So, yeah, Cholo, DIPA, Imperial Red, Americano, and a gose (fruit infusion TBD) are coming to cans. More choices are always a good thing. There are other moves in the works as well.
“We have redesigned our tap handles, so you’ll see those on the market in ’18,” Ted added. “Then some other POS (Point of Sale) items back there, LED signs for on-premise accounts, for all accounts, basically. We’re starting to spend some more money now that we have the capacity to exercise on flexing the brand.”
There will also be expanded distribution beyond the borders of New Mexico.
“We’re going to reassert ourselves in Arizona and we’re assessing a distribution agreement in El Paso, Texas,” Ted said. “And, we’re potentially considering going back up to the front range of Colorado again. We retracted from that market in ’13 when we couldn’t keep up in New Mexico.”
Josh is already working hard at determining everything from what gose will be packaged to what new styles will be popping up on tap in 2018.
“Like I said before, I learned a lot about goses,” he said. “I ran out a pretty long, strong experiment across many of fruits. I use the same base for everything and for the most part the same weights to see what fruits are the most expressive and which ones have better underlying characters. Now it’s moving on to blends and really focusing on dialing in perfection on things like passion fruit and the Rita we do every year for Cinco de Mayo. I’m pretty confident in my abilities with lactobacillus now and keeping things clean.”
Fear not, hopheads, Josh has you covered as well.
“(I want to) explore more hops, start ranking in those categories,” he said. “I feel like Marble IPA for me is my favorite, most drinkable IPA, but with some of the categories going in the direction that they are it’s nice to have some specialities on, maybe offer one or two IPAs at different hop rates that people can (taste) and learn from for us as well. I’m looking forward to playing with larger weights of hops and different variety combinations and different combinations of varieties, different grain bills (too).”
Josh said he also hopes to continue doing the beer education/beer pairing classes at the Heights location. A barrel-aged beer and cheese tasting is slated for December 27, with similar events on deck in the new year.
“I love to talk about beer, I could talk about beer all day long, different topics,” Josh said. “It’s fun to educate people that are interested, at least. Offering the classes and the curriculum, the people that are showing up are actually interested in learning not only more about beer, but learning more about themselves and how much they actually know about beer or don’t know about beer. I always take away a little something from those classes as well.”
Those events are not all that is on deck for 2018.
“I like to do a lot of beer-and-food pairing events, those are my favorite,” Geraldine said. “We’re going to bring some more of those up to the Heights and Westside, spread the love a little bit. I think those are such fun and we work with a lot of really talented food trucks and we have good relationships with many of the best chefs in town. We are planning a really fun event in February at the Heights. It will involve a battle of the brewers, also, as well as getting two chefs involved. That’s as much as I can tell you about that.”
The biggest event for Geraldine and her team is upcoming 10th anniversary. Circle April 21 on the old calendar now, because Marble is going all out.
“Ten Year Anniversary, we’ve already started brainstorming amongst the minds here,” she said. “We have a Google (document) that we share and anytime we come up with ideas we put them on there. I can’t give you too much information but I will let you know it will probably be the biggest party Marble has ever thrown downtown.”
For anyone who attended the huge Reviva CD release party this year, where Marble Avenue was closed off between 1st and 2nd Streets, it will be like that, but bigger, Geraldine said.
“In the past, we have done days and days of events, like nine different events for nine years leading up to it,” she said. “We’re going to have some events during the week (before), but our main focus is to do one huge 10-year anniversary party on site. This year we did off-site at the El Rey, but we’re bringing back to Marble.”
The next series of awards and competitions will also be kicking off soon, with the National IPA Challenge right around the corner and then the biennial World Beer Cup after that in April.
“For things like the Pilsner that’s won in the past, competing side-by-side with European breweries, that’s pretty special for me,” Ted said. “As Charlie Papazian says, it’s the most prestigious beer competition in the world, and there’s no arguing with Charlie.
“This year we were really hopeful that our Imperial Red Ale at GABF (would medal), but it didn’t move on. It seemed like the judges just had a totally different flavor in mind. They didn’t really choose any Western examples, it seemed like it was all East Coast examples. Hopefully they’ll get the right set of judges at World Beer Cup and we can reassert our standing in the world of imperial reds.”
Josh said he is certainly looking to build off the gold medal for Cholo Stout and go beyond in 2018. He said that the Pilsner, Imperial Red, Cholo Stout, and a barleywine he has been aging since 2016 will all be entered. Some sort of IPA will likely join them, along with possibly a pale ale.
“We just kind of started an email thread on what we’re going to send to World Beer Cup, which is coming up very, very quickly,” he said. “Now with the second brewery license we are able to enter eight beers. We put a little more thought into it. GABF is not an international competition, so the things we felt we do really well it’s a little bit different.”
A big thanks to Josh, Ted, and Geraldine for taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and talk. Marble has been the bedrock of craft brewing in Albuquerque for nearly a decade, and all of us in the Crew look forward to what the next decade will bring.