A first visit to a new brewery often includes meeting a lot of new faces. My visit to the forthcoming Toltec Brewing this week, on the other hand, included a couple of familiar faces in key roles.
This was by design for Toltec owners Robert and Diana Navarrette, who sought plenty of advice from other brewery owners, which included hiring the most experienced staff possible.
“Very important,” Diana said. “We don’t know anything about (making beer). We know good beer when we taste it and good food when we taste it.”
To that end, they hired former Nexus head brewer Kaylynn McKnight to run the brewhouse, while also picking up former Turtle Mountain/Marble/Bosque manager Adam Galarneau to oversee the front-of-house staff. Throw in chef David Ruiz, formerly of the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, and Toltec has a strong team to lead it right from the start.
The brewery is located at the corner of Cottonwood and Old Airport Road on the west side of Albuquerque. That puts it close to Boxing Bear, Desert Valley, and Matanza in what is becoming a crowded area for craft beer. Having an experienced staff was essential.
“We’ve had consultants that have helped us and kind of showed us the way,” Robert said. “We pursued them knowing that they knew what they were doing and they were proving. We started with Kaylynn and we knew that she won awards. We wanted someone just like that, because we didn’t want to be some run-of-the-mill place. We want some place that’s a favorite place to come.
“With David, we felt the same way. He’s going to try to outdo the beer because he’s very self-motivated. Adam came highly recommended, and of course having done this (before), most specifically at Turtle Mountain, we needed that experience. It was imperative that we put together a good team because as owners, we’re here to provide what is needed, but we need the input of these three individuals to make this place go. That’s our goal, to basically showcase the service, the food, and of course the beer.”
The commitment of the owners made each of the staff members eager to sign on board.
“I really liked the idea of working with Robert and Diana,” Kaylynn said. “You guys are awesome people. It’s always a huge perk to work with good people. When they told me all the equipment was going to be brand-spanking new and shiny and awesome, so that was a definite draw. It seemed like a good move, the next step (in my career).”
Getting back to the west side was important for Adam, but not the only factor.
“Being close to home was key,” Adam said. “I looked in the windows and saw the space and thought this would be a lot of fun. And then I got a phone call from Robert and we met and (they’re) two of the nicest people I’ve met. I was pretty stoked at the opportunity to come over here, and then I heard Kaylynn was working here and I was happy for that, too.”
The lure of starting something new appealed to David as well.
“I think especially after meeting with Robert, kind of hearing what his plan was for this place, having a brand-new kitchen,” David said. “I did some research on Adam and Kaylynn and heard nothing but great things about them. Cooking here (in Albuquerque) for five years now, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that you can go to a place that has really great beer, but sometimes the food really doesn’t match. My goal was to get into this beer market by having excellent food to match great beer.”
David said his menu is taking shape.
“The style that we’re definitely going to be doing is more of a gastropub,” he said. “Basically bar food that’s been elevated. One of the dishes I’m excited about is green eggs and ham. You’re taking things from our childhood and things that are whimsical but actually making it functional for the restaurant. We’ll of course be doing some amazing burgers. All the beef will be pulled out of New Mexico. We’re going to be working with some farmers in the co-op as well. We’ll be doing wings, burgers, a couple sandwiches, and a couple elevated salads as well. I’m really, really excited to be able to showcase a livelier menu, I guess you could say, for a brewery.”
As for Kaylynn, she is also eager to get started on creating her beer menu.
“I’ve got a couple ideas,” said Kaylynn, who will be working on a brand-new, 7-barrel brewhouse. “I definitely want to do an amazing IPA. That’s mandatory in New Mexico and Albuquerque. It’s the owners’ favorite (style), so it’s got to be a bad-ass IPA. I’ll probably do a house altbier; I love altbiers. A rye lager, I’m going to try that out, see if it works, just a light lager with some rye spice in it. We’ll see if people like that, and if they don’t, we can change it. What else? Agave wheat, stout, and pale ale, I think. That’s the lineup, plus four rotating seasonals.”
David and Kaylynn said they are planning out some beer dinners in the future. “I’m soooo excited to be doing beer dinners,” she said.
The buzz has been building about Toltec for a while now, not just among the public but among the other breweries. As for when the brewery will open, well, that is still up in the air as the final inspections have to take place. The hope is for an early May opening, Robert said.
“We’ve been trying to be patient about putting word out simply because we’ve been delayed a few times in opening,” Robert said. “So now that we’re getting a little closer, we’ll push a little harder. From the brewing community especially, from the brewpubs that we visit, they’re (asking) when are you opening. They’re really excited for us to be open. It’s exciting to have their backing.”
Having a gold medal-winning brewer like Kaylynn at the helm has certainly helped in getting that support from the industry.
“Lots of the other brewers in town have offered help,” Kaylynn said. “If you need a bag of grain or yeast or anything, come on over. We have it, you can borrow it. They’ve been really supportive. They want us to open, they want us to start making good beer for the community.”
The Crew will keep everyone up to date on just when Toltec gets that final green light to open. Until then, we will wait patiently for what should be another standout addition to our local scene.
A big thanks to Robert, Diana, Kaylynn, Adam, and David for taking the time to sit down for a chat.