The first of two finish lines is in sight at Lava Rock Brewing. After enduring many a delay, the newest brewery on the West Side will open, sans its own beers, this month. That second finish line, the one with its beers on tap, well, that is still obscured by the sluggish bureaucracy of the City of Albuquerque.
I met with brewer Aaron Walters for a quick tour of the nearly finished space last week at 2220 Unser Blvd. NW, just north of Ladera. The taproom, with guest taps installed, and kitchen are ready to go, and the doors should be open to the public before February ends. Look for an official announcement on the Lava Rock Facebook page soon.
The brewery, well, that will take longer.
“The brewhouse, which may or may not be,” Aaron said, pointing to the equipment that is set up, but not actively in use. “The whole boiler situation is what we’re having. We got close to installing a new one. Then we thought the cost to install one and to buy the equipment, it’s almost cheaper to buy a new system here in the States and have that installed. We may just risk that and bring a new one in, but it’s not 100 percent, yet.”
It all stems from a change in how the City of Albuquerque operates. In the past, the City has allowed breweries to send over all the information on their systems before installing them, to make sure everything is up to code in advance. This time, though, the City inspectors said the system had to be installed and in place before they could inspect it.
“We wasted tons of money just waiting and waiting, not doing anything,” Aaron said. “That’s the sad thing, with stuff like this, they tell you to get your license … it changes, since last time it was just send us a picture of your equipment. This one they said, no, we want it set up, we want to see it in the physical location where it’s supposed to be. Wait a minute, now we have to order it, so what if it doesn’t pass inspection? Which it didn’t, so now we’re screwed.”
The problem, according to the City, is with the electrical system.
“This has been a thorn in our side dealing with the City and stuff,” Aaron said. “When we got this thing, I specified some things as UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed, which is this, the main (control) cabinet. Years ago, they said you only need to have the main cabinet UL listed, we don’t care about anything else. Anything but that can be CE-listed. Now they’ve changed it, all of a sudden, nope, we want everything has to be UL-listed. Anything with electronic parts has to be UL listed.”
With all of that still up in the air, and money going only in one direction, the ownership team at Lava Rock decided it was time to open, even without the brewery operational.
Aaron said he was still hopeful that he can brew some small batches of his own beer and have those available.
“We’re maybe, possibly doing our beers on the small batch, small scale until we get our system situated,” he said. “Of course that’s up in the air. I hope so, so I can at least get some of ours out there.”
When the beers are ready, big or small batch, Aaron has most of his recipes ready to go.
“I’m thinking right now, I’ll do what everyone is doing with the two IPAs, have one IPA that’s going to be regular and one that’s going to be rotating on a seasonal tap,” he said. “I’m thinking about doing a porter, a red, an amber, a wheat, and a variation of the stout I did before, the java stout. Eventually I’d like to get into putting a lager on tap, but I want to see how our flow is running. I don’t want to tie up a fermenter.”
Aaron and his father, Bill, who is part of the ownership team, were previously part of the short-lived Firkin Brewhouse in the Brewery District. That operation failed due to a combination of a fallout between the partners, as well as the fact the location was barely visible to the public. Lava Rock, on the other hand, sits on a busy north-south street, close to Interstate 40 and near several growing neighborhoods.
The closest craft beer establishment is the Nexus Silver taproom, 2.4 miles away to the east on Coors. The next closest breweries are Flix Brewhouse (5.3 miles) to the north and Ponderosa Brewing (5.2 miles) to the southeast, on the other side of the Rio Grande. That leaves Lava Rock on a virtual island as a potential neighborhood pub.
“We’ve had a really big response, people driving by, walking in to ask if we’re open,” Aaron said. “At minimum, we’re getting three or four phone calls a day asking if we’re open. It’s been really responsive, which is great.”
The building in total is nearly 6,000 square feet. It can hold 150 people inside and another 80 on the patio, which is still under construction. Considering all the desert sand outside, that should be fine while Albuquerque gets through its windiest months.
On the food side, the full menu includes brewery staples like a Bavarian pretzel, nachos, and wings for appetizers. The entrees include multiple sandwiches and hamburgers, including the option to build your own burger from a long list of ingredients.
The food and guest taps will start things off for Lava Rock this week. Then it is just a matter of being as patient as possible while the rest of the process works out with the City.
“It’s been up and down, man, like it always is,” Aaron said. “Everybody tells stories about what they’ve gone through (trying to get open). It sucks.”
We wish Aaron and the Lava Rock team nothing but good luck from here on out.