Over the span of the past few months, Nexus Brewery has experienced the transition from head brewer Kaylynn McKnight, who is now with the forthcoming Toltec Brewing, to new head brewer Randy King. I sat down with Randy on a lovely spring evening over a few samples of what he had on tap, including our stalwart favorites and a few new recipes to boot. Irish Red was up first. We also talked about the transition and what else is to come for Nexus in 2018 and beyond in one of our final installments of the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2017-18.
Solo: Yeah, this is nice, crisp with just a hint of sweetness.
Randy: The idea here was to be as traditional as possible, nice and crisp and dry. I think it has turned out pretty well, nice and bright.
Solo: But, you do get that little bit of sweetness there, which is kind of that balancing act of lagers in general is finding that spot between too sweet and too bready or too dry. I think you did quite well with this.
Randy: The second one is New Mexico Snow (IPA), which is supposed to be a more aromatic beer with a good bit of citrus, some melon, and with a really light malt presence and color. On this one I’m really happy with how bright it came out.
Solo: That is super bright, very crisp, and easy drinking.
Randy: This one is the anti-kick-you-in-the-mouth IPA, the smooth IPA where you get all of the florals from the hops.
Solo: It has that resinous character to it rather than the bitter kick.
Randy: Those hop oils are really shining through. That was really the goal, to let the hops shine in this beer instead of having more malt presence, have the malts just in the background.
Solo: Doing later hop additions mostly? (Later additions tend to add less bitterness and more aroma and tropical flavors from hops as the oils are not all boiled out as you would get from a longer boil time.)
Randy: Yeah, a lot of late additions, a lot of Citra in this beer with a significant dry hopping as well. That one was inspired by 3 Floyds’ Arctic Panzer Wolf. (A ludicrous double IPA from the creators of Zombie Dust and Crew favorite Dark Lord.)
Solo: You kind of have to in order to get the aroma you are going for. That’s kind of the name of the game for a lot of these up-and-coming IPAs these days with super-late additions for hops, almost no bitterness. That stylistic shift is somewhat of a precursor you could say to the NEIPA style. This actually kind of reminds me of a beer that Stoutmeister and I had up at Comrade Brewing on the south side of Denver where they had a golden ale hopped with Citra, which gave this same sort of delightful crispness.
Randy: Nice, I know those guys are well known for their IPAs. You ready to try this next one? All right, so this is our Hot Chocolate Porter.
Solo: There is a helluva lot of chocolate in there, nice little kick in the back, too. You were going for something with a little bit of spice in it?
Randy: It’s got 20 pounds of cocoa and 30 pounds of lactose in there, and some cayenne to finish.
Solo: Cayenne does pretty well with spicing. I just did an imperial stout myself with a little cayenne and red chile, and the same thing with this porter, it gets that nice, warming tickle in the back of your throat, but it’s not overpowering in terms of flavor. This tastes just like Mexican hot chocolate, very good.
Randy: It is interesting to find the balance with the cayenne, because you can get too much in there pretty easily. I love New Mexico green chile, but I’ve had a hard time finding a green chile beer that I like.
Solo: It’s kind of funny because every time I meet a new brewer in town I say please give me a good green chile beer.
Randy: So have you found any yet?
Solo: Not anything that is regularly available, unfortunately.
Randy: So I’m actually really pleased with how all three of these seasonal beers turned out; of course the consumer is going to decide ultimately, but I’m really happy with them.
Solo: I can definitely sort of see your take on things in these, your own style coming through with your own nuances that differ a bit from Kaylynn before you. I think you are stamping out on your own pretty quickly which is excellent.
Randy: Kaylynn is awesome, she’s a super cool person. She did a lot of great things here and she’s been really nice to help me with questions and any problems I’ve had over here and really set a good base for me step into. I’m looking forward to trying her stuff out at Toltec Brewing.
We then turned somewhat to Randy’s background as a brewer and a bit about his take on everything from different styles to the Great American Beer Festival.
Randy: I was a hophead for a really long time, and I do love my IPAs, but the longer I’ve been a brewer, I’ve really started to appreciate lagers and pilsners more and more.
Solo: Yep, right there with you. I started off drinking Stone back in the early 2000s, but these days well, the last couple I brewed are a Schwarzbier and a Pilsner.
Randy: Something you can cruise with, rather than the hard and quick end-your-night beer, with those you can just cruise for awhile.
Solo: Yardwork beer is what I call it a lot of the time.
Randy: Like a lawnmower beer. You mentioned Stone. I used to live out there in San Diego, so we would visit Stone and Green Flash back in the day.
Solo: So where are you from originally?
Randy: I grew up in Belen and went to Belen High School, and then went off to college. I’ve been gone for about 20 years and moved back in January. My mom is here and I’ve got a brother and a sister, nieces and nephews that live here.
Solo: You’ve come full circle in a sense, returned to your original home. What brought you to Nexus specifically?
Randy: It was a great opportunity where I would get some creative license. Interviewing with Ken (Carson), he seemed to be a very reasonable person to work with and he’s turned out to be a really fun person to work with. And then, to be blunt, my mom’s health isn’t great, so it was really nice to be able to get back and help her and help the family. I was brewing at Angry Inch Brewing in Lakeville, Minnesota, that is part of the Minneapolis metro area. That was a lot of fun, I love those guys, they are super cool, it’s a little 7-barrel place. I was at a production facility before that at 612 Brewing right by US Bank Stadium (home of the Minnesota Vikings), which was a good experience as well.
I started my commercial brewing in Boise, Idaho, so I’ve really kind of gone around the states a little bit. I’ve got some Pacific Northwest training. Ron Thomas, my head brewer in Boise, was amazing, and then I got some really good experience in Minneapolis, so I have those influences from there. I actually took Tom Hennessy’s course years ago, so I do have some Albuquerque training as well because he was one of the original partners in Il Vicino. That’s my brewing history in a nutshell.
We discussed a bit on the topic of Nexus’s GABF medal-winning Honey Chamomile Wheat and Imperial Cream Ale (not to fear, these recipes will assuredly remain the same great beers you know and love) alongside our Brew Crew experience this past year, and Randy had this to say about GABF.
Randy: Speaking of GABF, I’ve got to say that I’m a veteran of GABF. Last year was my 20th year at GABF.
Solo: That is, well, impressive.
Randy: I know my way around there pretty well, it has been a lot of fun. I’ve got a group of friends that all go up together and we do all of the sessions and I plan on doing it again this year.
Solo: That’s quite the commitment.
Randy: Yeah, I missed one year out of 21 years. I figure I’ve got to be up there as far as attending since it is 36 years old now, so I’ve got to be in the top 10 percent of most attended at this point. I don’t know what that gets me, but hey.
Solo: You’ve gotten to see firsthand the changes over time of this whole industry, community, all of the different trends, coming and going.
As far as the look ahead and what we can expect from Nexus in the coming year, Randy and I covered everything from the upcoming anniversary, anticipated upcoming seasonal beer styles, and expansion.
Randy: So I do have some ideas for beers in the future, (including) a New England IPA. Ken really wants to do a big, nasty IPA, so a big, bitter, kick-you-in-the-mouth kind of IPA.
Solo: Kind of our state standard at this point.
Randy: Our anniversary party is coming up (in May), so we are talking about doing a smoked stout for that.
Solo: We haven’t had a good smoked stout in a while here. We’ve had porters that were good, but a stout would be nice as well.
Randy: The idea of it is kind of for our new location, which is Nexus Blue Smokehouse, which will be a barbecue smokehouse (that) I’m excited about. It is going to make my job harder keeping up with production, but I live down that way so I can eat more barbecue. That’s one of the best perks about working here is that the food is fantastic, so that’s a pretty good deal.
Solo: Yeah, we’ve been coming here for years and enjoyed the chicken and waffles and pretty much everything else that we’ve tried. (We are) definitely excited for the new location as well.
Randy: So those are on the radar, and then I want to do a gose, a lemon wheat beer, and a barleywine. Gose is a style that I have a real personal interest in making because I think it is a really fun style. It’s delicious and on a hot day there’s not much that is better. Your lawnmower beer is great, too, but to have a nice, tart beer on a warm day is fantastic. Those are kind of the ones on my radar right now. The new smokehouse is going to be great as well.
Solo: Is there an official date for the opening?
Randy: It is supposed to be around three months out.
Summertime BBQ and Smokehouse, you say? Count us in! If the standard offerings at both Nexus locations are any indication, we are in for a real treat with the prospects of brisket and ribs from the forthcoming Nexus Blue Smokehouse.
We then tackled the topic of the brewhouse, which Stoutmeister noted in his book, Albuquerque Beer: Duke City History on Tap, has had a long run since its first use at Assets Grille in the 1990s.
Randy: Me stepping here and learning this brewhouse, I’ve been here two months and I’m starting to get in a much better groove now to understand this brewhouse.
Solo: There is always going to be that learning curve. Every system has its own little tweaks, its own little changes, and you ever have to change a piece of equipment you are going to have to go through that same learning process again. You really get to know the ins and outs, the nuance.
Randy: Yeah, for sure, we’ve been talking about upgrading a lot of this (brewhouse equipment) and that could happen in the next year. We might go to 15 barrels instead of all of those 7-barrel fermenters we’ve got back there. Of course if we go to 15s then all of the 7-barrel brite tanks would be outta here, and we’d do 15-barrel brite tanks all around the brewhouse. The brewhouse itself could get upgraded to a 15-barrel as well. That might actually be the first piece, (but) we will see. There’s talk of those upgrades so it will be fun.
* * * * *
It all sounds like fun indeed, from some tasty sounding seasonal brews, a possible brewhouse upgrade, and the upcoming opening of Nexus Blue Smokehouse. We are excited for the delicious offerings that will assuredly be coming our way in all forms of delectable smoked meats and the requisite accoutrements to boot. Rest assured, Nexus is in great hands with Randy and we in the Crew cannot wait to see what he’s got coming our way in the remainder of this year. So dear reader, when the need for soul food and some fine beverages strikes your fancy, you simply cannot go wrong with a day spent in the Nexus.
Live long, and prosper.
— Franz Solo