If there is one thing that a venue can have that really sets itself apart, it’s embracing a deeper cultural aspect and its part in the local scene. The massive steel and rebar giants that loom over Dialogue Brewing on the corner of Kinley and First Street make a massive statement to the dedication and focus that has been so proudly heralded by owner/operator Elliot Salgado, head brewer Ian Graham, and their passionate team.
Dialogue Brewing had just hit its 15th month of operation this January, all while already cutting its teeth in competitions with the larger breweries. I had the gracious and humble opportunity to sit down with Mr. Salgado and Mr. Graham against the backdrop of the brewhouse and fermenters to discuss how their past year has gone for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, and where they will be directing their ambitions for 2018. Fellow owner Daniel Gorman was unable to join us, but he was there in spirit.
2017 proved to be a challenge, but not impossible for the new brewery to overcome, as Ian summed it up best.
“It was definitely a proof of concept of what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Kind of a direction of where the company will go and what we needed to survive in a great market like Albuquerque. One of the big things that we did was to change and bring in our food service program with wood-fired pizzas.”
This step certainly seems crucial as the trend continues to move towards the pub concept around Albuquerque.
“I think it’s kind of funny since we’ve come around full circle, starting out in the 90’s you needed to have a restaurant with it, which then transitioned to the taproom model,” Ian said.
The evolution of our local beer industry is definitely a fast-paced and ever-changing subject, often a case of trial and error with some interesting phenomena in between.
“The menu should also be paired well, as with food trucks and all,” Ian said. “It’s not easy, and there is still a stigma, sadly, with some of the older customers and the food trucks.”
Even for the brewery’s relatively young age, Elliot said he remains confident looking back over their accomplishments throughout 2017.
“We are barely 15 months now; it was eye-opening, challenge, and satisfying to look back to see what other people are putting and doing and where we sit in that,” he said.
While it’s certainly looking optimistic, Dialogue still had its difficult times as well, as we discussed the obstacles that the staff had faced.
“One of our partners left in this last year, and that was a challenge to meet that increased workload and loss of creativity, (a) different set of eyes, and an extra set of hands to help,” Elliot said.
The team also met with sudden tragedy this year, lending a more stark tone to the conversation.
“One of our first team members passing away was really tough on everyone,” Ian said. “We’re a small crew, so everyone works and hangs out together. He passed away in a car accident, so that hit everyone really hard.”
One can only imagine the impact of such loss among family, friends, and coworkers.
While the Albuquerque market continues to thrive and expand, Elliot said he didn’t seem too worried about carving their niche.
“I think that some of the personal conflicts and personal strife’s that we’ve had have been more challenging than finding a foothold in the market,” he said. “We are coming in as a unique space, as a new unique brewery with a different approach of how we’re operating. We’re bringing some different and quality beers; we feel we’re definitely making quality product. And so we’re finding a foothold in the market, which is a super challenging market right now.”
The steady improvements seen around the brewery and property are certainly a good indicator of the warm welcome into the neighborhood.
“We saw some steady growth up to this January which is good; we have something to grow on and we’re getting some new ideas,” Elliot said.
The past year has not only focused on the settling in and overall growth, the team has also made a the community itself a major focus point of their operations. It’s hard to miss the bevy of charity and fundraiser events held at the brewery, very much in keeping with their philosophy of encouraging humanistic interactions and good will with their patrons.
“When we opened, one of our charges, one of our goals when we talked about opening this place was how we can improve Albuquerque either through the physical representation of the brewery, how could we create a space that challenges people’s perceptions,” Elliot said. “There are no TVs in a taproom; you don’t need ’em. We’re called Dialogue; some (come) in and talk about the art, talk about the beer, or just talk to somebody new.”
If one were to look closely around the property, nearly every available inch of surface has been carefully considered and integrated into what could be considered a massive, living art project. Even behind the bar, almost opposite the growing collection of dinosaur figurines hiding above on the rafters, etched in the concrete, reads a simple sentence that perhaps sums it up well: ‘If you are a dreamer, come in.’
“As for us, a big focus of ours was that we wanted to have a philanthropic backbone. I’m pretty happy, and would like to do more this year,” Ian said. “Even with the Anne Heche (and John Tupper) fundraiser for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief we raised just under $50,000.”
Elliot and Ian made it clear that they are proud of their efforts, but also recognized everyone who played a part in making those fundraisers successful, ranging from the community leaders to the everyday customer who just wants to reach out and help even in the smallest of ways.
I inquired about any major changes in the beer philosophy or lineup they have planned for 2018 in contrast to their previous year and experiences.
“Starting off, we had a pretty sour beer focused menu,” Ian said. “Also in the beginning, we were heavier on the Belgian (styles), but have started to push more lagers. We have a new flagship for our lagers, the 505 Lager, which is a Mexican-style lager which we will always be keeping on. I think it will help round out our portfolio since we have two sours, a Belgian IPA, and now a light lager.”
The marketing aspect of the light lager was not missed as well.
“It’s for someone who maybe doesn’t want to be as adventurous,” Ian added.
For those who have come to appreciate the interesting qualities brought on by brettanomyces and its bacterial counterparts, Ian had great news.
“One of the exciting steps we are taking forward is that we designated a spate space for some brett and wild beers,” he said. “We’ve been wanting to do that from the start, but being a bootstrapping company we were not able to do it right from the start. Now we’re really going to dive into it. You will be seeing some really nice, barrel-aged stuff, and you know, some brett beers and sours that are little bit different that our traditional clean (kettle) sours.”
With January now in the rear view mirror, Dialogue has some big plans coming up for the rest of the year.
“Our wild and mixed fermentation (lineup) will be a big goal for us,” Elliot said. “We just received our approval for distribution from the state. It’s a big goal for us, getting out and you know, leading into the community with some kettle sours that other people aren’t focusing on that we have been. I think we’re doing well with that.
“We are always looking to improve our (facilities and equipment) in the taproom itself. How do we update? How do we make it more of a representation of who the brewery is? For the most part it’s custom, but addressing how can it be better than it is.”
Dialogue Brewing has not shied away from the competition front, either, as we originally reported back in March 2017. For such a young brewery, it has already begun to set itself apart. As for what they are looking forward to, Ian broke it down.
“As of right now, the National IPA Challenge (is underway), we kind of have a view of entering only a couple of the competitions,” he said. “We’re fortunate that every competition we’ve been in we have at least placed in, except for GABF (Great American Beer Festival). In terms for victories for 2017, we got a bronze for our Berliner and a silver for our Bier De Garde at the NABA (North American Brewers Association), our B.C. IPA took second in the specialty IPA category (at NIPAC), and for the Global Warming Challenge we got into the final four out of a 128-man bracket facing some really quality breweries. We’re doing something right, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Progressive change has commonly been a hallmark of successful breweries. Dialogue will leave no stones unturned in terms of planning and creativity to help improve the entire property.
“Increasing the size of our patio and stage, making it more of a fixture leading into the spring and summer so it will be easy for bands to come plug and play, and for patrons to know that they can come and watch something cool,” Elliot said.
It sounds like the wheels are turning for Dialogue Brewing and its team, creating even more opportunities for its downtown patrons to relax and enjoy while streamlining the back-end process. While it does sound as though Dialogue Brewing’s event schedule is going to be packed, the playbook is still under wraps. If you are interested in keeping up with Dialogue’s events in the near future, keep tuned to the Dark Side Brew Crew and the brewery’s Facebook page and website. Elliot did leave this little note for our readers: “Keep an eye out for Chicken-Shit Bingo, it’s coming to Dialogue.”
Without a doubt, the first year for Dialogue Brewing met the spectrum of emotions, from tragedy and sadness, to elation, happiness, and the sense of victory. By the end of 2017, the brewery came out stronger, more experienced, and ready for the future to be the catalyst for your next human connection. Thanks to Elliot and Ian for taking the time to chat about all of it.