Steel Bender expands its brewing footprint out of necessity

The metal frame of the future brewery building at Steel Bender, just west of the existing building.

Anyone stopping by Steel Bender Brewyard recently may have noticed a bit of construction going on just west of the brewpub. The Crew certainly noticed, so I swung by to talk to owners Ethan and Shelby Chant and head brewer Bob Haggerty about just what is going on in Los Ranchos.

The brewery, which is not even a year-and-a-half old yet, is already expanding its brewing space to keep up with customer demand.

“It’s honestly because we’re moving a lot quicker than we thought,” Ethan said. “There are some opportunities that we were presented with that we really weren’t able to take advantage of. Bob has just been working, making this work, and it’s just too small (in the brewery), but he’s been doing a heck of a job.”

The new 8,000-square-foot building will serve as the primary brewing area, double the size of the existing brewing space.

“It’s going to have lots of fancy space, lots of square footage,” Ethan said with a smile. “It’s 8,000 square feet, with a section of offices, and the brewer’s office. Then most everything else is just brewing space, canning space, keg washing space.”

It is a bit crowded inside the existing brewery space.

Bob, whose current work space has gotten a bit compact, is all too eager to be able to stretch out again.

“We’re going to move the brewhouse over and we’re going to add a whirlpool vessel and add potentially some extra hot liquor storage,” he said. “The idea is to be able to basically bring that brewhouse up to everything it can produce. … A 15-barrel brewhouse can pump out a lot of beer, if you do it right. With the addition of a whirlpool vessel, we should be able to easily push out three turns in a day, but what I’m hoping for is four.”

To help make that happen, 60-barrel fermenters will also be installed alongside a canning line for Steel Bender.

“We got Mother Road (Mobile Canning) in to do our canning for us,” Bob said. “We have plans for our own canning line to come in very soon and then we’ll be moving it over into the new building when that is complete. That’s projected to be complete early next year.”

At the current rate of progress, things could be done even sooner than that.

“To be conservative I was thinking the first of the year, but the building is moving a lot faster than anticipated,” Ethan said.

As for the current brewing space, that will not go unused.

“The existing brewery space will be populated with barrels, hopefully some foeders, then the production will all take place in the new building,” Bob said.

The trench drain is already in place for the new building.

Things have certainly accelerated for Steel Bender so far in 2018. Six-pack cans of Red Iron Red, Skull Bucket IPA, Lloyd’s 3 O’clock Kolsch, and Steel Bender Lager have all been hitting the shelves. The popularity of Raspberry Dynamite and its cousin, Tangerine Dynamite, have also necessitated canning runs.

“The Tangerine, we got enough to do two batches, so we were always going to do two batches,” Bob said. “It was a question of where those two batches were going to land, whether it was going to be two draft or if we’re going to allocate some to package. As soon we put it out on draft, we immediately got people asking if we could package it. Since we had planned for the second batch anyway, we just allocated a little bit to package. The labeling of the cans allows us to be flexible in what we’re canning. Thanks to no small bit of scrambling on Shelby’s part to get the labels designed, ordered, and in, we were able to get that onto the shelves.”

More packaged beers are on the way in the coming weeks, so Shelby will not be any less busy. With the help of Calindo Creative, the labels will be ready when it comes time to package the beers.

“Being able to be that flexible, it’s still crazy, creative work running at the last minute, but it’s working,” Shelby said. “We’re getting the process down. We just had to crank out one more last week that we’re getting ready to can. We’re canning the Compa (Los Ranchos Lager) a week from tomorrow. Then the following week is our Oktoberfest, which we’re calling Oktoberfiesta. That one it’s a funky label for sure.”

Shelby added that the popular Balloons & Brews event will be repeated this year, where patrons can sit on the patio at Steel Bender during the Balloon Fiesta and watch the mass ascensions while enjoying beer and breakfast.

Even in a crowded brewery, there is room for more new beers set to debut in the coming weeks and months.

Bob also had some additional news on more packaged products coming down the pipeline.

“We’re into the cider game at this point,” he said. “We have our house cider recipe down, Steel Bender Cider #4. We’re working on our sweet cider, which is going to be a Perry. It’s going to be called Perry Maison. That’s in fermentation right now. We are also working with a local orchard. We’ll be putting up as much local cider as we can. Pressing is going to start next Friday. We are going to be pressing and bottling all of those. The draft cider that we’ve got on right now will continue to be as it is, and then the local apples will all go into bottles.”

The more eclectic beers will not be disappearing from the Steel Bender lineup, as more of those are also on the way in bottles.

“We’ve got five different bottle releases to keep an eye out for,” Bob said. “Three mixed culture releases. We’ve got a Flanders-style amber, we’ve got a Belgian single aged in brandy barrels, and then we’ve got the same Flanders-style amber aged with boysenberry. Those are mixed-culture sours. We’re also doing a Grissette with Amarillo and Pearl hops. Then we’re also doing a collaboration with Jubilation, the Belgian-style double aged in fresh Taos Lightning barrels. Those are all conditioning and waiting for release. We’ll be releasing all of those over the next four to six months. Keep your eyes out, those will all be coming out soon.”

With all of those packaged products coming out on top of the regular draft beers, the need for an expanded brewing space is quite apparent. Having all of it come so quickly after opening has left the Steel Bender staff with little time to breathe.

“We don’t have time to be surprised,” Bob said. “Yeah, it is surprising that we opened with such a bang and it has continued to bang. We’re all very grateful.

“We’re pretty ambitious to have the number of draft offerings that we do. So we’re trying to keep up the taproom along with the distribution model. It’s just learning how to do all that.”

It’s blue skies ahead for Steel Bender.

The new brewery building will be the key.

“We’re building this building anyway, so we just decided make it big enough so that we can grow into it,” Ethan said. “We plan to, but we’re not delusional and expect that we’re going to kill it right away. We just want to make sure we have the ability to grow into it. We just want to be prepared.”

Congratulations to everyone at Steel Bender for the amazing job they have done so far. We cannot wait to see what will be in store in the future.


— Stoutmeister

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