Every now and again, it feels good to get out of Albuquerque, even if only for a few hours. Our state has so much natural beauty, that even in this heat, it can be fun to explore the places we may not have been in years. Of course, beer makes any trip to the wilderness even better, especially when it is in a nice, air-conditioned brewery right next to one of the hottest places in the state.
Last week, Franz Solo and I ventured out to “Mordor,” also known as El Malpais National Monument, just south of Grants. After hiking in to the Lava Falls and enjoying the sense of near total isolation, we headed back up the road and went one exit further west to find the newest brewery in Grants. Elkins Brewing, which opened only a few weeks ago, is located south of Interstate 40 at Exit 85. It is a thoroughly charming little spot marking the entrance to the Lavaland RV Park, due west of the El Malpais visitor center.
We sat down at the bar and ordered a flight of the four available house beers — Blonde, Gose, Rye Ale, Bad Handle IPA — before brewer/owner Kade Elkins came out to say hello. Kade has to be the first brewer we have ever met sporting an Old West look.
“I’ve always wanted to have a brewery,” he said. “Definitely when I was in college was when I started, but maybe even back in high school. I was always interested in fermentation. I made all sorts of alcohol, moonshine-type stuff. I didn’t drink any, it could have killed someone.”
Eventually Kade got into brewing beer specifically, and he estimated it has been about a 20-year love affair with his favorite hobby. He kept brewing on the back burner, though, because he had a business to run. Actually, he had several, as he and his family own a construction company, several rental properties, three hotels, and the RV park in Grants.
“The reason we decided to put this here, we own the RV park and we’ve had it for three or four years now,” Kade said. “I still think it would be a really good amenity. I think it will improve the RV park a bunch. When we bought this place it was a dump. It was run down. The owner wasn’t even living here, so there was no one taking care of it. We took it over. We’ve cleaned it up quite a bit.”
Kade decided he could combine his dream of owning a brewery with making his RV park a more attractive destination.
“The park has always been more of a long-term deal where people come and stay for months at a time,” he said. “I want to try to convert this park into more of an overnight stop and stay. We can make three times as much money in the park than with the long-term folks. I thought this would help with that. I think once word gets around with the RVers we’ll get a lot more folks. I’ve already seen a little uptick in the people staying overnight with the word getting out that this is here. I think it makes complete sense to have this in an RV park for the RV park’s sake.”
Putting the brewery in an unused building on the RV park property also made sense from a financial perspective.
“The other thing, the location, we own hotels here in town just right here (across I-40),” Kade said. “We could have easily built a new building at the hotels and it would have been way easier to get the hotel crowd in here, but we already had this building. This was all basically unused space. We had the office for the RV park over there, but this was just a clubhouse with a TV and where people could hang out. It was much easier and cheaper to knock all this stuff out and remodel this instead of building new.”
They are still encouraging hotel customers to make the short trek to the brewery.
“My other thought was it’s still right here,” Kade said. “You can walk. But, we’ve had trouble getting the hotel customers here. Yesterday and today I’ve been working on this Untappd app. I’m hoping that the craft beer drinkers using the app will realize there’s one right here. I’ll think they’ll come.
“Just based on our hotels, we’ve got three of them out of six over there, we’re thinking there’s probably 800 rooms right there. You can imagine how many people are staying there. If just 5 percent of them are craft beer drinkers, I would think that would be huge. But when I go to any little town anywhere, I would just go and Google breweries near me. You can do that in almost any little town.”
While the hotel crowd has not shown up, the citizens of Grants have been coming by in force. They had just wiped out the supply of two beers, American Wheat and Imperial Pinon Stout, the day before we arrived.
“We have a lot of support from the local community, which surprised the heck out of me,” Kade said. “All of my friends who live here are Bud Light and Coors Light fans. I was surprised how many people living here like craft. Most of our business has been from people living here. I didn’t do any advertising in town. The most I did was Facebook, all of our local advertising was there.”
Elkins Brewing is certainly an inviting space. It has a bar at the center, with about a half-dozen tables. The interior is bright and a bit more spacious than it appears from outside. There was a food truck parked outside, and Kade said they are working on making sure a truck is nearby almost every night for anyone who gets hungry (otherwise there are a few fast-food restaurants north of I-40 by the hotels).
There are windows where patrons can look into the brewery. Elkins has a 1-barrel system at present, but Kade is aiming to start adding some 2-barrel fermenters soon to help keep some of the most popular beers on tap longer.
We enjoyed the four beers that were on tap. There were no off flavors or any of the flaws you might expect from such a new brewery. The IPA, like most outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, is not a massive hop bomb, but it holds its own and should get better over time as Kade perfects the recipe. As he already said, most of his customers are former macro beer drinkers, so the fact that they are consuming lots of IPA is surprising enough. The Blonde was sweet and light, a good starter for people who are not as into craft. The Rye Ale needed a bit more rye, but otherwise was off to a good start. Franz Solo enjoyed the Gose, which was not overly bitter or too salty.
We missed the aforementioned Imperial Pinon Stout, but that just gives us a reason to return at some point. There was also a Hefeweizen that the locals drank up far faster than Kade said he expected. He had to put in an emergency order of wheat malt after his supply was quickly wiped out.
It was inevitable that the continued growth of craft brewing in New Mexico would move outside of the city and to the smaller towns. In many cases, these breweries have become integral parts of their local communities, a real central gathering point for locals and visitors alike. We are happy to report that it appears as though Elkins Brewing is on the path to being that place for Grants.
A big thanks to Kade for taking the time to chat with us on a busy day. We will return for the stout.