For most of us residents of the Albuquerque metro area, Bernalillo has long been considered just another gas stop on the way to Santa Fe. However, if you pay close enough attention, one would quickly find that within a strange blending of commercial, residential, and industrial properties off South Hill Road is a true diamond in the rough — Kaktus Brewing Company.
A destination brewery that fully embraced the neighborhood pub ideals early in its 2013 conception, Kaktus has become a staple for many of the nearby residents. There is an air of peculiarity as you pull into the gravel driveway, where heavily southwestern and vibrant art themes run rampant throughout the property, giving the place just the right amount of quirk in itself to set the theme. Shawna and I both took the adventure (twice, to be precise) to catch up with head brewer Mike Waddy and owner-operator Dana Koller for their brewery’s entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
2017 seemed to be a fantastic year for Kaktus, running the 2-barrel brewhouse often at full capacity, feeling their way through an accelerated tempo, and taking big strides to keep pushing out into the community.
“It was a great year for us,” Dana said. “We had the opportunity to make a ton of improvements, made really good money, and set the tone for going into 2018, for sure.”
Michael also had great news to add.
“We finally got our distribution license, it was very exciting,” he said. “It went into effect November 1. I would say it was one of the biggest highlights.”
One of Kaktus’ first reported keg customers was the Two Fools Tavern on Central.
“One of the big goals as well was visibility, whether it was signs, or marketing, or social media we really went after it,” Michael said.
In terms of competing in 2017, Kaktus was far more busy on getting the work in first, as Dana explained.
“We didn’t do as many (competitions), as we added a lot of festivals and events,” he said. “We did a lot of independent pours off-site. We submitted to the (New Mexico) IPA Challenge, and that was about it.
“Because we don’t distribute yet, it’s not a huge focus for us. We were just slammed. The focus was just keeping up with demand really.”
Looking back on some of the more memorable events, Michael recalled one that stood out.
“The Bernalillo Blues Fest was great for us, it was really fun and reached a lot of new people,” he said. “We had two jockey boxes going, so we had a lot of beer out there.”
Some projects went better than others this past year, as Kaktus had begun playing with some barrel aging and bugs for sour beers.
“So we had a barrel, working on the ‘Ship’s Hull IPA’,” Michael said, “which was hanging out, and managed to get a wild brettanomyces fermentation going, which was awesome. So one day, coming in and the bung is out. So I’m not sure what happened, you know? What had got in, or was still in there? So I ended up having to dump it. Since it was a brett barrel I didn’t want to dump it in the brewery and risk an infection in there so I ended up digging a grave out by the chicken coop. I rolled the barrel out there like a mobster and dumped it all in there.”
A shame indeed, but we hope to see Michael give it another shot.
Recently, Kaktus closed its Nob Hill taproom, seemingly abruptly, though the answers seemed to point in an ongoing theme for business along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. Dana provided some clarity on the subject.
“We were about to renew (the taproom lease), and then they announced that they were going to extend the (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) project another year, we just decided ‘forget that,’” he said. “It was a struggle at times, though for the most part the taproom was at a break-even point. We saw it just wasn’t growing as rapidly as we anticipated it would. It was the end of our three-year lease, so we let it go and have looked for bigger and better things. It was unfortunate however as we had just dumped $6000 of new improvements into the taproom.”
Looking towards the remainder of 2018 and beyond, it sounds as though Kaktus will continue keeping their noses to the grindstone.
“We’re going to put a full focus on Bernalillo, of course due to the Nob Hill closure,” Dana said. “Because we’re already going into the summer soon, we’re not going to look for a secondary spot again until 2019, but part of that also is that I believe we won’t have the production capabilities.
“I think we’re going to be too busy in Bernalillo. We’re adding four more events this year during the summer we will be pouring at. We’re going to have large events just about every weekend.”
It has the makings of an ambitious, but worthwhile move while waiting to re-approach the prospect of real estate again.
“We’ve got a few improvements left aesthetically, but all the majors ones are finally done, so this year is the first year we won’t be having to direct a bunch of revenue,” Dana said.
With the impressive Bosque Brewing production facility going in just across the Rio Grande on 550, Dana said he is optimistic and excited for their new neighbors arrival, recalling when asked about the impacts of neighboring establishments.
“We thought that Freight House was going to affect us when they came in, (but) we didn’t feel them,” he said. “Same goes for Applebee’s; we thought we would lose a few tables to them, but they didn’t even touch us.”
Dana also made an interesting point.
“Honestly, they’re not much closer than they were originally,” he said. “They’re right down (Interstate 25) from us now. If anything, it’s going to improve our business, I think. They will help give Albuquerque residents a bit more of a reason to come down to Bernalillo.”
Like so many other continually growing and changing breweries, it will be interesting and exciting to see exactly where Kaktus Brewing Company will make its mark over the course of 2018 as they ‘Step On In’ to the new year. With summer approaching, Michael was happy to report the return of a crowd favorite, the Cucumber Cream Ale, along with a Basil Lager as a note to their existing fans.
Keep an eye on us here at the Dark Side Brew Crew for the latest updates on Kaktus Brewing and their recently re-branded website to follow all of their events and more.
— Shawna & Jerrad