I recently walked up to the entrance of Monks’ Corner Taproom on Second and Silver in downtown Albuquerque. I was there to talk to them about the year that was and the year that will be, as we do in this series of stories. But, a curious sign was out front; one that would have brought me inside if I had simply been a passer-by. The sign said free cider tasting all day. I thought that was interesting, because I knew Monks’ did not make cider.
As I walked in, I ran into general manager Chris Pacheco, who I had been trying to reach for this story. He is a brand new papa who has been out on paternity leave, and we had not been able to connect. I told him I was there to talk to Thomas (the actual, “in-residence” monk at the taproom). Chris got me samples of the cider. There were two, and they were asking that the patrons pick their favorite. The winner will be chosen as their first house cider, which will be called “Monks’ Original Sin” (as in Adam and Eve, because, you know, it’s made from apples). They are both very light in ABV — one at 2.5 percent and the other at 3.0 percent. The cider is made in partnership with a New Mexico winery. I received my first bit of news before the interview actually started.
Truth be told, I was a little nervous because it’s not every day that I sit down and have a beer and conversation with a Benedictine monk. At the same time, I was quite fascinated. In order to avoid this story becoming a novella, you can read about the history of Abbey Brewing Co. in New Mexico here. The tradition of monks brewing beer, particularly in Europe, is long standing. In fact, relationships between monasteries allowed Monks’ original primary brewer to have access to the traditional brewing processes of other monasteries.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert first discussed brewing beer shortly after the turn of this century. I know that was not that too long ago, but it sounds more impressive to say it that way! They brewed their first beer in 2005. Since they did not open the taproom until 2016, it is rather counter to how many other breweries have opened with guest taps prior to actually serving their own beer. Mass production is handled at Sierra Blanca’s facility in Moriarty, so at the taproom they are able to focus on serving the beer and customer interactions, rather than brewing on site.
As I settled in to my Monks’ IPA #1 (that’s the actual name), my purported “quick” conversation with Thomas turned into a rather lengthy discussion about everything from beer, to questions I had about life at the monastery, and even our shared shopping habits. Thomas informed me that Monks’ IPA #1 was their new best seller immediately after it was introduced. It’s not a super hop bomb because they wanted to brew it in what they would imagine a monastic style would have been, had monasteries brewed IPAs a thousand years ago, which they did not.
Monks’ Corner Taproom celebrated their one-year anniversary on October 5. Thomas said they are proud of how popular the taproom has been in its first year. Thomas said their biggest challenge has been getting people comfortable with the idea of coming downtown. They were mindful of that when they established the taproom, because it is a light and bright space on a corner. One thing that has surprised Thomas this first year is the amount of “beercationers” they get in the taproom, people who are in town just to experience the Albuquerque beer scene.
Although Abbey Brewing does not enter many competitions due to style guidelines and the difficulty it faces fitting their beers in to those guidelines, Monks’ beers performed very well in the 2017 Copa de Cervesa in Chile. This competition has been around since 2011 and is widely considered to be the most important beer competition in Latin America. Thomas said that Monks’ Ale won two golds for best of style and the Dubbel won a bronze. They are now distributing in Santiago (and Taipei!), but other distribution outside of New Mexico is very limited. In the new year, they will brew an IPA #2, which Thomas said will hopefully have a better name. They will also have a Reserve Dubbel.
One of their main goals in 2018 is to increase taproom foot traffic for both themselves and also for the neighborhood. They are also looking to enhance the customer experience, Thomas said. As part of that, they will start serving from a limited food menu. Currently, customers can go to the adjoining restaurant Maya Cuisine to order food to eat in the taproom, but Monks’ plans to serve more typically beer-friendly options such as cheese and charcuterie plates, pretzels, and the like.
Other enhancements in the works include adding more events and entertainment to the taproom calendar. Chris said they will be extending invitations to local non-profit organizations to have functions, and Monks’ will donate a portion of that day’s beer sales to the organization. It’s all a part of the plan to further establish themselves as a place to gather in downtown Albuquerque.
Peace and joy,