A big Northwest brewery is coming to a small Southwest town. Ex Novo Brewing of Portland, Oregon, will open a new location in Corrales, which happens to be the hometown of its owner, Joel Gregory.
Joel and I sat down over lunch and brews at Steel Bender a while back. He just got the green light on financing this week, meaning the project is now going ahead in full.
“We’re doing it in phases,” Joel said. “Phase One is going to be a 10,000-square-foot production brewery. There’s going to be a little place that’s like a coffee shop, a little bitty building that we’re going to use as a tasting room. We’ll have a lot of outdoor seating, not a ton of seats inside. That’s Phase One.
“Then, after we get off the ground here and see what’s the market like, Phase Two will include more brewery space, another few thousand square feet in the brewery, and then like a full pub with a giant beer garden, and a barn for barrel aging and events.”
The brewery will be located in the heart of Corrales, specifically at 4895 Corrales Road, just a block north of the Corrales Bistro Brewery (which no longer makes its own beer). Joel founded Ex Novo almost four years ago, and the brewery has made a name for itself in the extremely packed Portland scene. Expanding the operation in Oregon, though, was proving to be more than a bit of a challenge. That led Joel to cast an eye towards his hometown.
“It’s a big, two-part thing,” Joel said. “I’m from here. I’ve been in Portland for 10 years this summer. I love it up there, I really do, but it’s a long way from family and I really like the direction that Albuquerque in general is headed, both in the beer scene and in general. I happen to know a lot of cool people that I grew up with that are part of that movement to continue making Albuquerque awesome.”
Physical space in Portland is at a premium, at least when it comes to expanding a brewing operation. Joel said that the popular Great Notion Brewing recently took over one of the last available buildings to increase its production.
“Portland is great, but there’s only so much you can do that’s awesome,” he added. “In a place like that, most things have been done before. My wife and I have looked for ways to come back here. The brewery is still in its toddler phase, it’s about three-and-a-half years old now.
“About a year ago, it really dawned on me that it would be possible since we’re at capacity. Do we expand in Portland? Look for more production space or try for something out of town? To be able to come home and to bring things that I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, and the brand that we’ve built back with us and relocating here full-time, is kind of like a dream.”
Joel has spent enough time around the Albuquerque beer scene to know that simply copying and pasting what works in Oregon will not work here.
“It’s a great way to come home, not leaving something behind or sell it off or anything, we’re going to continue on what we’re doing,” he said. “It won’t be exactly like Portland, it’s a different town. Some things will be the same, some things will be unique to the Albuquerque area. I’ve been dreaming about it for a couple years what it would be like to do something here. It kept coming back to being from Corrales and spending most of my upbringing in the valley.”
Incorporating the outdoors into the brewery was something that appealed to Joel. He said the new Ex Novo will be built around its patio/beer garden, rather than adding that to a building down the road.
“Obviously Albuquerque has got so much great outdoor experiences to see day-to-day, whether it’s just abundant sunshine or the valley where things grow and it’s beautiful,” Joel said. “I think more breweries should focus on that and bring people into that. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it in the valley somewhere. It’s going to have an oversized lot where people can come (hang out). We’re going to focus on the outdoor aspect of it. Drinking beers outside, you can have the kids along, let them run around and play, not stress out. It’s awesome, I’ve experienced that in some places, but not in Portland, it doesn’t have the space.”
Joel said his family here, particularly his father and sister, helped him find the right location in Corrales. That site was formerly occupied by the Rancho de Corrales, which burned down in 2012. The original building was built in the 1800s and was later the rather infamous Territorial Bar from 1972 to 1987.
“That’s perfect, there’s nothing else, it’s a blank slate, we get to build something,” Joel said. “That’s always been a dream. When you start a new brewery you always end up in a warehouse somewhere. We get to build something and design it. Anyone that’s been in this business (knows), to not have to retrofit, but to build it from the ground up, that’s also a lot of pressure. That’s the gist of it.”
Joel said he has been friends with Bosque Brewing co-owner Jotham Michnovicz long before that brewery started. While we were at Steel Bender, head brewer Bob Haggerty also stopped by to say hello, having met Joel in the past. Those connections will help Ex Novo not only get off the ground here, but help Joel and his staff understand what New Mexicans expect from a craft brewery.
“Way before I thought about opening anything here, it’s good to see what makes different methods work,” he said. “Albuquerque is super unique. I am looking forward to seeing how it changes in the next five years, how it evolves.”
Ex Novo produces a wide range of beers, from Eliot IPA to The Most Interesting Lager in the World to Damon Stoutamire (truly, Bear Down).
“I would say if there’s anything we love to do it’s bringing balanced and drinkable, a lot of session beers,” Joel said. “Our IPAs tend to be less on the bitter side, more on the balanced side. But we do make 13-percent (ABV) imperial stouts.”
Ex Novo will hire a new staff for the Corrales location, rather than simply import folks from Portland.
“We’ll be hiring a head brewer to run the day-to-day in Corrales,” Joel said. “My current head brewer is going to be elevated to director of brewing operations. He’ll be the boss of this head brewer and the head brewer in Portland. He’ll make sure consistency is being maintained. He’ll be living in Portland, but coming down here quite often.”
The setup will be similar to what Ponderosa Brewing has, but Joel said his Corrales brewer will have more freedom, especially with the setup that he or she will have inside the brewery.
“We’re going to have a 20-barrel brewhouse and a 5-barrel brewhouse,” Joel said. “Obviously the 20-barrel will be geared toward production and packaging of our core beers. The 5-barrel will be the pub-only reserve stuff. We’re going to do more R&D, yeast propagation, all the things you want to have. Sometimes it’s a crazy beer, but sometimes it’s mild. Those might not sell that well, either. It’s important to not be constrained having 20 to 60 barrels of it.”
The first two beers that figure to be brewed and packaged here will be the aforementioned Eliot and Mexican-style lager.
“A couple core brands, our Mexican lager in six-packs, and our IPA, Elliot, we’ll probably jump right into those,” Joel said. “First year, we’re not looking at crazy numbers, maybe 2,500 barrels, something like that would be a fine target. We’ll have to feel the market out and the demands for the stuff we have. I think those two beers, obviously the IPA, I think it’s one of the better ones in Oregon in package, but we’ve got to come strong with the IPA game here.”
There will also be a lot of seasonal and specialty brews coming out of the smaller brewhouse that will be available on tap.
“We’ll be doing the cool stuff and doing the seasonal stuff with labels, keeping things fresh and interesting,” Joel said. “We’ve been dabbling in the New England IPA category. I think we did the right thing. We’ve been brewing it for a year. We don’t want to do it too frequently. We’re trying to figure out what we like about it. There’s a lot of examples out there right now, but not all of them are good. We just released our first batch in cans. We have some kettle sour stuff in cans. We brew up a lot of seasonal stuff. In Portland, we’ll probably release 70 new beers a year. We’ll probably do that here, if not more, with the 5-barrel.”
Joel said he hopes to get some of the specialty beers distributed in kegs to bars and restaurants, rather than only offering up the standards. In Portland, he said, breweries almost never distribute their core bands that way, but instead focus on a constant rotation of new and exciting styles.
“It leaves room for brewers to do more experimental stuff in larger volumes and distribute it more,” he said. “I think that’s really fun for beer people to go to any bar or restaurant and find beers they’ve never had before.”
That Phase Two construction of a barrel-aging room will be important in that regard.
“We’re super into barrel-aged beers,” Joel said. “We want to do a lot of mixed cultures, lots of wild and spontaneous. Just doing the gamut of beers. We haven’t had the space to really do that (in Portland). If we were here, we’d have one of the biggest barrel-aging programs in the state, but up there we don’t have nearly as much space as we’d like to have.”
All of that sounds quite good to us in the Crew. Our bicycle enthusiast members love the idea of someday riding the Bosque trails from Bosque North in Bernalillo, to Ex Novo, to Boxing Bear, to Steel Bender, and beyond. We will keep everyone as up to date as possible on the progress of Ex Novo. Until then, if any of you are traveling up to Portland, make sure to stop in and say hello to a New Mexico native at his brewery.