Quarter Celtic and the Hopster wrestle their way into year two

Posted: December 18, 2017 by Franz Solo in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2017-18
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These are festive times at Quarter Celtic!

A year and a half under their belts, the mad scientists behind Quarter Celtic continue to refine their beers and business alike, with an eye to more possibilities as the new year comes upon us. Stoutmeister and I sat down with the trio of David Facey, and Brady and Ror McKeown, to see what shenanigans they might be up to in 2018.

David: It’s kind of nice that business is doing what we expected the business to do, and now it’s time for us to start building again.

Ror: So today we were sitting down, looking forward as a group, but we will start with the look back. For us, life has been good, business has been great. The neighborhood has adopted us as their hangout, which is perfect because we’re a public house. We are really appreciative of that. We’ve got a ton of regulars now, which is really fun. Just over the past year we were kind of letting our personalities shape our pub’s atmosphere, so when you come in it just feels right, at least to me. We have a great staff, we enjoy everybody that works here, and everyone has a nice role here. From the front of the house to bartender (and) the waitstaff, and we credit those guys for helping us to build a business, and we’ve got a great group around us, we are very fortunate.

We also have fantastic beers, delicious food, (and) we just came out with a new revision to the menu a couple of weeks ago. These are all things that we just keep tweaking, which is nice, and then for us we need to keep it interesting for us to just want to come back every day and enjoy what we’re doing.

David: We have been doing this so long that we know it has to evolve, and it can’t evolve every five years, it’s got to be a constant evolution. With new menu items and new beers, our algorithm is pretty simple — just look at what people want.

Ror: Now that we’re not the new brewery in town, rather the old grizzled year and a half, we’ve got a ton of regulars and it was all word of mouth, which is fantastic. It still leaves us with plenty of opportunities and obstacles ahead of us, but things have kind of slowed down. In the beginning everything is a mad rush and you are just trying to figure it out on the fly and now it is just about fine tuning all of it, which makes it a little more fun. We feel that our hard work and consistency allows us to be successful; the beer has consistent quality, which is true to style. Food falls right with the beer, put us up against any other restaurant on the food side of things. Service is always the one that takes the longest, but I think since we got an established crew (now). When we started we kind of cut some of that learning curve down a little bit. Life’s been great.

Back to just the past year, in my mind we’ve already (created) some new signature beers that we’ve done like Clark. Brady’s actually the first one in New Mexico, or at least Albuquerque that we know of, to do the New England-style IPA.

Solo: Yeah as far as we know.

Ror: And, we’ve had a good time with those because we’ve done some spinoffs on Clark. Clark was so popular that we did a fresh-hopped Clark, which was fantastic, we got the hops just juiced. Then we did Clark Juiced*, which was a top-three finisher in this year’s IPA Challenge, which was great for a well-balanced beer because it wasn’t a hop forward, in-your-face kind of a thing. We were a bit disappointed we didn’t win with that one, because if we had one we had the asterisk at the end of it and we wanted to go “it was juiced!” That was a whole premise of the thing.

David: Yeah, it was totally a play on the whole baseball thing.

Solo: We definitely caught the whole sports reference there.

Ror: Right now we’ve got the Imperial Clark on draft and so having a good time with the New England style, it has become one of our customers’ favorites, and that’s one that will consistently show up on the beer board.

Mangose, we did the mango gose, and it was really kind of beginner’s luck on that first one. Our very first batch we entered in the Global Warming Open for the world’s most refreshing beer. We just watched the bracket all summer long, basically because instead of the March Madness 64 it was 128 different beers. So marching on through, we got to the finals, we finished in second place, but that’s really good out of 128 beers and that was the first time these guys did a gose so fantastic. We brewed it again since then and it has become a crowd favorite.

Brady: Yeah it was at GABF, and you know what we didn’t enter into the competition …

Ror: We had judges coming up and saying, “Yeah, this is definitely a medal contender,” and we had to say no, no it’s not. Unfortunately we didn’t enter that one, but we brought it to pour. We got great feedback on it, which was nice, and that’s the whole reason we go to GABF is to get that feedback, how you can get better. We were also talking to a few other breweries and we were talking about doing a collaboration called Competition Tears or something where all of the losing breweries get together and make a beer together.

Solo: That definitely sounds fun.

Brady: So this next year we are looking to expand something, we have three or four avenues that we are pursuing.

If there is to be an off-site taproom in the future, it will have a tough task of living up to the character of the main location.

David: So like Ror was saying, there’s a certain time period when you first open where it is just crazy. You’re putting out fires and dealing with the craziness while you are trying to brew beer and run a shift and you are trying to do it all while the chaos is happening all around you. Now, the wheels are turning and everything is pretty smooth. It has given all of us an opportunity to find out what other people are doing both around town and around the country. So we have some ideas on beer-related things that we can do in house, and that we don’t really see anybody else doing too much. Not only in town, but across the country.

Ror: On that note, some of the beers that our customers find as favorites and some of the things that we’d like to go forward with and expand upon (include) Irish Handcuffs. So our imperial stout, we were able to barrel age it, we are trying to find maybe some space where we could do more barrel aging because that’s always fun. Very pleased with how that one turned out. …

A couple of other beers that we really enjoyed this year was the Kill or be Kilt Scotch Ale, that one will be a frequent visitor to our draft system. GFF (Grapefruit Forever), or a GFFish beer, will be back as well. I’m not really a big IPA drinker, but I was really enjoying that imperial IPA.

Brady: We will be brewing a variation on that for the National IPA Challenge since they have the specialty IPA section for that competition.

Ror: A couple of house favorites including the Pedro O’Flannigan’s and our Crimson Lass. Those are two big ones on our wholesale side for the accounts we have, they are some of our top sellers.

Solo: This town wanted a Mexican Lager and an Irish Red.

Brady: Yeah, and all of a sudden there were seven.

Solo: You were trendsetters with those.

Ror: For expansion either it will be a taproom, but also on the wholesale side of things it leaves a lot of opportunities maybe a little different than you would expect out of what you think when you say wholesale. So we are looking at that. Some new spaces potentially in the near future. A lot of exciting opportunities going forward, we are excited how the past year and a half exceeded our expectations. Going into a market that’s heavily saturated, (we asked) so what’s out there business-wise for everyone. So the nice thing about us is that we are a neighborhood pub, we make fantastic beer, (and) we are very friendly with a lot of the other breweries.

Solo: Yeah, the camaraderie is strong.

Ror: That part is still there, even though people are fighting a little more for a share now since it is getting diluted a bit, but for us life’s been good. We really can’t complain (about) we are doing (and) what we like. We didn’t go into this to retire tomorrow, we are doing this because that is what we want to do, and we enjoy working with each other. The nice thing about being open for a while, coming up on our two-year anniversary on St. Patrick’s day, at least people know who we are now. They may not know where we are, but at least they know who we are.

(For those who still don’t know, the brewpub is located at the corner of Lomas and San Mateo at the Northeast end of the underground parking lot beneath ACE Hardware.)

Ror: Early in the year we did the Australian International (Beer) competition, so we got quite a few medals out of that one, so Brady’s beers are definitely popular Down Under. But, we also entered this year’s Beer Wars, strictly for the belt. So I don’t know if you guys saw our video with Macho Man and the Hopster (it is on YouTube, and it is amazing). In the Beer Wars you get medals and it’s a real competition, but if you win the overall thing, you get this big WWE-style gold plated belt. If we don’t win it I think we are going to have to buy one, because I need that for my Hopster costume with Macho Man and Nature Boy. Brady didn’t make it (to filming) that day. But, that would be a fun one where if we happen to win a competition or pull some medals there’s going to be a recurring skit just because it was fun.

Brady: So we still have not received word back from Mr. Full Nelson, because we were going to have Blue Demon go against the Hopster.

Ror: When (La Cumbre) released Full Nelson they did a YouTube video, so we challenged Blue Demon against the Hopster. So one of these days when they are getting ready to release Full Nelson we said let us know and we’ll brew our IPA and we’ll throw them in the ring and then we can do something great.

Solo: I think that’s fantastic.

Ror: Jeff (Erway), bring it. Hopster’s calling out Blue Demon. Our two IPAs in the death ring, the cage.

Solo: Two men enter, one man leaves.

Ror: Thunderdome! So yeah, hopefully that happens because we posted something on that and didn’t get a response, oddly enough. But, check that video out, it’s pretty funny.

Stoutmeister: So what was your reaction to the Australian awards, and what was the important thing about doing that? I know you guys wanted to start to understand where your beers fit best style wise, what categories, and that kind of thing. What did you get out of doing that?

Brady: Well, you enter competitions just to get feedback from somebody, so you look at Australia, I’m assuming, not from being there, from the history books right? It’s a lot of English influence, so a lot of the English and Irish beers are prevalent there, and I think that’s why ours did well because they sort of walk the same line that’s already there.

Solo: Kind of the culture that’s already there.

Brady: Yeah, exactly, but hops are just taking off down there. So I think they are softer, more stylistically correct for that population. We just did well because it is something that they are used to. Although our IPA did OK, too.

Ror: Yeah, we got a silver, actually.

Brady: The only American beer that got a medal in the Australian style (IPA).

Stoutmeister: Yeah, Bosque got the bronze in the Australian style at World Beer Cup in ’16, they got it for their IPA in that competition and that’s why they shifted into that category for GABF as well.

Ror: And, now we are getting ready for World Beer Cup, and you get four styles (to enter), but as the partners go we all like different types of beer and so we are all kind of vying for what we’d like to see go. All good ones, but inevitably you don’t send that one and then you wish you would have. There’s always that second guessing.

Stoutmeister: You always see that beer that wins and say to yourself “we could have beat that one!”

Solo: Well, any parting words?

David: We are making beer in 2018; you got that? That’s all I’ve got.

Solo: Sweet.

Stoutmeister: Actually I would ask is there anything new that you have conceived beer wise?

Solo: Any interesting things that you’re going to be doing this year, like the stoplight Berliner Weisse trio, or something like that?

Ror: Yeah, stoplight was great and that was actually the brainchild of Matt Angel, who has worked for us for quite a long time. He was pushing to do that for years.

Solo: So it finally happened.

Ror: He was having a great time pouring it and all of that.

Solo: I was having a good time because he was having so much fun with it.

Ror: With beer styles, we might have some fun with our Celtic heritage and have some things that are leaning a little bit more towards that, but maybe bigger (higher ABV) styles.

Solo: Splendid.

David: And, I think hopefully our overall portfolio, whether it’s Pedro or MorBuck or whatever else, will improve somewhat significantly. Not that these are bad or anything, but there is always room for improvement, so it is nice that the brewery is kind of evolving because now we are not only (using) different techniques, but we are experimenting with different techniques for certain beers. So our brewing style changes from beer to beer to beer to beer to beer to beer. And, that’s super exciting, and it’s all on the coattails of making better beer, not only research and study. If it adds half and hour, an hour, two hours to your day, it is still time well spent.

Solo: It is evident in the success of your Clark as you were telling us last year. You put in all of that time, all of that research, and you created a beer that was top three in the IPA Challenge. A totally different style from what we are typically used to and that’s saying something, to pull that off in the first year.

David: So I think on the nerd side of things, that is what’s exciting about that for 2018. I read this and you read that, and you put it together and lo and behold that works, that one’s great. We should implement this technique in this beer.

More equipment is on deck for 2018.

Ror: We are also getting little bits and pieces to add to the brewery. When we first opened we had to wait to do some business and save a little bit. We started with a basic brewery and I think we’ve made exceptional beer for having this basic brewery. There are things that you don’t necessarily need, but if you would like to keep evolving then you just keep your eye out and get the pieces when you can.

Solo: So a few minor, well, not minor in terms of your quality of life, but minor in terms of overall cost pieces that you added to your brewery setup to make your lives a little easier.

David: Yeah, make our lives a little easier, or better beer, or hopefully with the right piece of equipment, sometimes it does both.

Ror: Whether it’s a technique or a style or a piece of equipment or some new technology.

David: Like Ror said, you operate in the basic brewery for a while, and it’s totally OK, and then you do get that one piece of equipment for Brady and then it is so much easier. I think we can all agree that we want it tomorrow, but we realize that there’s a great deal of patience that goes into it, so on the business aspect of it there is balancing those two.

Ror: And, for us, return on investment isn’t always in terms of dollars. You buy something and people say (about the beer), “It’s so clean, so crisp; how did you do it?” and if it was that thing we bought, that’s money well spent. In conclusion, if you really want to see what it’s like to run a brewery, check out our videos on YouTube. It’s rough.

* * * * *

My sentiments exactly. True characters to a man, it shows in everything they do, with the lust of the Celts and the dedication that comes of years of experience. Can’t wait to see what they might be up to in their second year, whether a new beer up their sleeves in the vein of the Clark line of IPAs, or what glorious machinations they might put up in video form for a good laugh or three.

Sláinte!

— Franz Solo

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