It was the middle of the afternoon when I strolled into Second Street Brewery’s newest (third) location at 2920 Rufina Street. I had already done a preview article, but since they opened back on August 18, I had only been back a couple times — once, for the very well-run IPA Challenge, and a second time for a small Brew Crew meet up. It was high time for a follow-up story. I wanted to see how the new place was doing and talk about Second Street having just celebrated its 21st year in the industry. What better way to do that than with the Look Back/Look Ahead Series? I grabbed a quick taster of their new (old) 1000 IPA, and caught up with President/Brewmaster, and friend, Rod Tweet.
For the original location, a.k.a. “The Oldery” to Santa Feans in the know, and the Railyard location or “The Newery,” it’s been business as usual, and business has been good.
“We had a great year,” Tweet said. “And, our sales at the other two locations have been really good. When you have three locations in a fairly small geographic area, you kind of worry about cannibalization. But happily, the numbers have been great, and this place has been doing well, and I kind of take that as proof of concept.”
The major highlight for Second Street this year was getting their third taproom (and second brewing facility) up and running.
“It’s sort of the dominating thing. It’s hard to even think about much else,” Tweet said.
The staff began brewing on the new 20-barrel system on October 4. The first beer was the Breaking Plaid, a super heavyweight 9.1-percent ABV Scotch Ale. It was made with almost exclusively Golden Promise malt, packed to the kilt with flavor. Certainly it was one of my favorite brews of the year from anywhere.
“It’s big,” Tweet said. “The next step is getting that beer into barrels. That beer is just made for barrels.”
I was assured that will be coming soon. Since the first beer on the new system, the staff has brewed about a dozen times, and though they are extremely pleased with the finished products, they’re still working on small adjustments like hop utilization when compared to the old system. They’re definitely through the learning curve at this point, Tweet said.
Also, something else that was very important this year was staffing all three locations with the right people. In 2017, Second Street expanded their employees from between 60 to 70 to about 110.
Getting a new location running is never without its challenges.
“With Rufina here, from an engineering point of view, it was fairly complicated,” Tweet said. “This building had zero infrastructure. We literally took over a shell.”
They needed plumbing. They needed power. They needed new sewer lines.
“It was definitely a big project,” Tweet said.
There were timing setbacks. And, with the brewing operations, full kitchen, the silo outside, and outdoor patio seating, just getting through inspections proved to be a lot of hoops for one location to jump through within Santa Fe city limits. But, within the city limits was the point. Though they might have been about six months off of their original projected opening date (what brewery hasn’t?), it was all worth it in the end. Second Street now has a huge space that it can continue to grow into for the next 20 years, still in town.
“The reason we’re in this location is because we can get the square footage we need at a reasonable price, and it’s a busy part of town. I knew we could run a taproom here,” Tweet said.
Being in the center of town between some major streets like Cerillos and Agua Fria doesn’t hurt. It also doesn’t hurt at all that the taproom is directly AROUND THE CORNER from Meow Wolf. Has anyone heard of that little place yet? Tweet said people like to come get dinner and a beer at Rufina before heading into a show. That sounds like a game plan to me.
It also doesn’t hurt that the taproom is easy on the eyes.
“We worked hard on it,” Tweet said. “Myself and several other people here made a lot of contributions of their own talents and skills. Mariah (Scee), the front-of-house manager (at Rufina) did the mural, which is amazing. A lot of us put a lot of heart and soul into the physical finished product.”
Having been to the third location, it certainly doesn’t feel like Second Street Part III. It’s very different, and that was also Tweet’s intent. It is indeed ambitious, and intended to be so.
“This part of town is just coming into its own,” Tweet said. “And, we shot long. We’ve got lots of room for growth (20,000 square feet in total).”
Rufina was major, but it wasn’t the only accomplishment of the year. Second Street turned 21 years old this autumn. I won’t make the overused legal-to-drink joke, as I made clear to Tweet. Instead, I asked him what being in the industry (and being successful in Santa Fe) for 21 years has meant to him and the brewery. He took a pull from his beer and thought for a moment before replying, “I’m really pleased with how successful we’ve been. The people of Santa Fe have been pretty good to us. We take that responsibility very seriously, and we try hard with all of our operations, front-of-house to back. The time goes fast. It’s hard for me to even believe we’ve been in the business for 21 years.”
Second Street is one of the oldest breweries in New Mexico at this point. (Only Santa Fe Brewing, Eske’s, Canteen, Kellys, and High Desert are older, though only Eske’s and High Desert have been in the same original building for that entire time. — S)
“Which is also, kind of amazing to me,” Tweet said. “This was a big step for us, but we’ve never stood still. We’ve got three properties and two brewhouses. We were always working on some big project, but we’re in a good situation now. Being open 21 years, if there’s any reward in it, part of it is being able to grow and have a chance to expand your abilities, grow your employees, and give them more opportunities. And, it takes a while to do that, (especially) in Santa Fe.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Twenty-one years ago Second Street did something pretty unique. Tweet opened up a brewpub at a special time, in a small town, and all before the big craft-beer boom. Back then, banks wouldn’t talk about a loan. Family worried that saying you wanted to be a brewer was like saying you wanted to be a rock star or run away and join the circus. Second Street did it back when people were still calling every little place with its own beer a microbrewery. And, they did it with the ingredients the staff could get, and they did it Rod’s way, with the styles of beer he wanted to brew.
The industry has changed over the years, but Second Street has changed with the times as well. The beer has continued to evolve. Classics have remained, but new series have popped up to satisfy a new discerning crowd who demand hops, barrel-aged goodness, and sours.
“The consumer, now, is a different animal than when we began,” Tweet said. “They’re much more sophisticated and they seek out certain styles. They’re more demanding, more informed, more exposed to what’s out there. The days of novelty are over.”
What seemed like an off-beat career choice back in those early days of craft beer has become a real industry. Becoming a real industry has forced good competitions, which in turn has forced brewers to brew better.
“And, the consumer wins,” Tweet said.
Currently, Second Street is doing what it does best — providing great food, beer, and live entertainment at all three locations. Much of the growth and continued success could not come without the help of the entire staff, who work hard every day to keep the daily operations running smoothly, whether it’s from the production side on the brewhouses, to the front-of-house staff and the kitchens, social media, marketing, and accounting.
Chef Milton Villarrubia and sous chef Tony have continued to keep the menus interesting and food delicious, as well as their major efforts in getting the Rufina kitchen in operation. Mariah Scee has been an integral part of launching, as well as maintaining, the great atmosphere in the Rufina location, including hand painting the big mural that can be seen from every table.
Of course, the Rufina project wouldn’t have been able to get off the ground, let alone break ground, without much of Tweet’s devoted staff keeping the older two locations running like clockwork. As it is, there are so many staff members now, that if I were to list them all, it would read like a well-prepared Oscar speech. But, it should be noted that John Walker, the former head brewer who was loved by all, left for a job across the country. As a result, Tom Ludzia has stepped up to not only handle the day-to-day management of the 10-barrel brewhouse at the Oldery, but is achieving some great new things, and filling some quite hard-to-fill shoes.
Second Street would have had to change its business model a long time ago if it didn’t have the beer to back up the other operations. The staff has made beer people wanted to drink; just ask the droves of folks that fill up each location after 5 p.m. Over the years, the staff has also pleased quite a few judges at GABF. Most recently, Second Street brought home bronze for Rod’s Steam Bitter, a tremendous turn-in from both Walker and Ludzia. It previously took home gold in 2013.
Some of Rod’s favorite beers to work on now include the 2920 series of flagships for the new location. Most of those that the staff experimented with made the cut, with the 2920 IPA leading the charge, and a hoppy Pilsner having just joined the ranks, which will be called the Agua Fria Pilsner. Tweet said he is still excited about his IPA series that he developed with John Walker. Of the three (Fulcrum, Pivotal, and the former Trebuchet), Pivotal was my favorite beer in a can from anywhere, a bold statement for a bold beer.
Looking ahead to 2018, Second Street aims to really get its barrel program running, as it has the tanks and the space for something on a larger scale, Tweet said. As I mentioned before, Breaking Plaid will be going into barrels soon. Second Street will also test the new equipment with a big Barleywine (its first in six years). Some of that will be barrel-aged, divided into three different kinds of barrels — scotch, bourbon, and something Tweet said he is still figuring out. Finally, the staff will also bring back Preacher’s Share, the St. Paddy’s Day Imperial Stout, which will be aged in a Colkegan Whiskey barrel from Santa Fe Spirits. (HAILS! — S) These will all happen within the next couple of months, and there will be about 15 to 20 barrels of, OK, I will make this joke — barrels of fun.
Once those beers are established, the staff will get into more esoteric beers, using brett, lacto, and more. Yet, the staff has already puckered some mouths with the enjoyable Summer Rain Sour, of which Ludzia and Tweet just made a winter version. The winter version will have a little more color, body, and cherries! And, it will be out in about a week from this article’s posting. Look for that at Winter Brew.
Also, as part of the ongoing 21-year celebration, Second Street will be pouring 21 beers from the archives, at 1996 prices ($3.50) on the 21st of every month. I’m ecstatic to say that one of my favorite Second Street brews is back on the list, the Winter Warmer. Oh, how I’ve missed it! The staff has kicked off the celebration with the IPA 1000, a 15-yr old recipe, before we had such familiar hops as Simcoe, Citra, or Mosaic. You’ll have to thank Tom Ludzia for this great idea.
In 2018, Second Street will be anything but business as usual. There will be so much room to play with new beers, unlike the staff has ever had before. Physical expansion is mostly finished for the time being, although, I have it on good authority that there will absolutely be Second Street beer on draft around both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. This can be considered the precursor to packaging. So expect the first can, the 2920 IPA, sometime in the second quarter. That is, if I haven’t drank that one dry, first. Other cans (beer styles yet to be determined) will soon follow.
Status Quo is the name of the game at the older locations, because, why fix what ain’t been broke in 21 years? Rufina, on the other hand, will continue to push new boundaries to establish itself as a go-to location for a completely new crowd. With a much larger stage and Eliza Lutz (of Matron Records) behind the talent booking, anything from punk, indy, reggae, to even metal shows will help fill a void in Santa Fe that really needs some fillin’ right now. Most of those will be ticketed shows.
Luke: Going back to 21 years in the business, what have you learned? What’s some advice that you would give to, say, some of the younger breweries, or breweries about to start out?
Tweet: It’s a complicated business, especially if you’re running a restaurant. It’s easy to get distracted. Maintaining focus is everything. It’s easy to get off track, and it’s inevitable, but basically, in the end, if you focus on what you know is important, it will keep you on track. That works. You have to remember that quality is always important. You have to pay attention to your clientele, for example, being responsive when something doesn’t work out quite the way we wanted, to everyone’s satisfaction, or when you get some feedback from customers – once you have that information, you shift gears and you respond. You have to pay attention to what works, but still always be open to new information, and willing to adjust and evolve. And, don’t neglect the nuts and bolts, and don’t neglect advertising. That can take up a whole lot of headspace if you don’t know what you’re doing. Pay attention to business. If you can’t pay attention to business, yourself, then get help with it. At the end of the day, though, if you got into this because you were passionate about good beer, don’t ever forget about that. That works.
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The Rufina location has been open since August, and it has already survived a good part of the Santa Fe winter. It’ll be some time before it is established in the minds of Santa Feans, but as Tweet and the whole hard-working crew of Second Street Brewery has proved, time and again — they are not going anywhere. They are just getting better with age, and they are just getting started. So, my thirsty friends, to 21 years, and to many, many more, cheers!
Fun fact: My first story with the Dark Side Brew Crew was the first leg of the IPA Challenge at Second Street Brewery on July 14th, 2014. You can read it HERE, just for fun.
Check back soon for stories on Chili Line, Duel, Santa Fe Brewing, and two secret articles in the works.