In case anyone out there was unaware, the newest brewery in the Duke City will open this Saturday at 11 a.m. Cantero Brewing is holding its soft opening after a long, laborious process to get to this point. There will be at least five house beers on tap, the kitchen will be up and running, but as always, please be patient if things are crowded. The staff is still learning, the beers are still young, but there is plenty of optimism that now, finally, everything is going to be all right.
To learn a little more about what has been going on up to this point, I sat down Thursday with brewers David Rosebeary and George Gonzales, and brewery spokesperson Kane Oueis, while his wife, owner Katey Taylor, was busy zipping around making sure everything was ready for a friends-and-family opening that night.
“A lot of people said it’s taken a lot longer than normal for you guys to open, but it was honestly because we were fine-tuning everything,” Kane said. “We’re honestly perfectionists. We’re just not going to do it until we’re ready.”
“Why open your doors one day and shut them down the next day because they noticed one little bugaboo?” George added.
Simply chalking it up to being perfectionists does not tell the whole story. The genesis of the idea of Cantero began back in 2013, when old friends David, George, and Kane started talking about the possibility of opening some sort of establishment.
“We started talking about it and we were actually looking at a property downtown to do a nightclub kind of thing, almost five years ago,” David said. “Kane and I got to talking that I’ve been homebrewing for a really long time we should just do a taproom, do a small 1-barrel system and then we could trade with everybody else. That was the first talk, and then after that we started growing the idea. We decided we might as well go big. We started doing the research then and I would say maybe a year later we started looking at spots.”
Once the group settled on opening a small brewery, the next challenge was to find the right location.
“Initially our first (preferred) location was still going to be downtown,” Kane said. “We were trying to work out a deal with First and Central. Our biggest concerns down there were crime is still not under control, and two, you have the A.R.T. Project going on. Driving downtown was hard.”
Looking away from downtown, the group eyed an available spot near the intersection of Paseo del Norte and San Pedro, which is where the Crew had heard rumors about a brewery some time ago.
“We were in talks there for almost six months,” David said. “That deal fell through at the last minute.”
“We were sitting there getting ready to end the negotiations and the landlord got up and said I’m not putting in any garage doors,” Kane said.
“He just kicked his feet back and the whole room got quiet,” David said.
“No garage doors, no deal, so we got up and left,” Kane said. “That ended that.”
Then came word that a property was available in the Brewery District. The Firkin Brewhouse at 3351 Columbia Dr. NE was shutting down. With the building already zone for a brewery, it made things easier, or so it appeared.
“That was November of 2016,” Kane said. “And then, we signed the lease I want to say April of 2017.”
Cantero planned to put in a full kitchen from the start, to help differentiate it from its more established neighbors, Canteen and La Cumbre. Everything seemed to be set for a renovation of the building and for the group to push forward. Everything except approval from the City of Albuquerque, that is.
“After that our plans were done by May and submitted by June,” Kane said. “We did not get through (the approval process) until November. It took almost five or six months to get approved by the City of Albuquerque, which is understandable. From there in November we started construction, and we’ve been doing construction since then.”
David said most of the brewing equipment arrived before they had approval for construction.
“We got our tanks and everything (in September) before we were approved for construction,” Kane said. “The plans were not approved until November. We got them in September and stood them up and we sat there waiting until the City said yes. We couldn’t take anything off the walls, we couldn’t do anything until the City said yes.”
Kane and David said no one harbored any ill will toward the City for the delay, and once the approval did come in, it was all hands on deck.
“Then it was just construction, construction, construction,” Kane said. “All until about a month ago. We did just about everything in here. We added the patio. We added the doors. We added in a new walk-in cooler/refrigeration system. We did the floors, we did the ceiling, we insulated the room. We did all the plumbing, all the electrical had to be redone. Because our (glycol) chiller is so big and there isn’t any room to put it (out back), we had to put it out front and fence it off.”
“We had to put in an explosion-proof grain room,” George added, though that room is not quite ready for us yet, forcing the brewery to purchase only pre-milled grain so far.
The rest of the equipment is up and running.
“Our boiler, which is in the back, is a 1988 beautiful, classic boiler that needed a little bit of love,” Kane said. “It’s working perfectly. That’s our baby, our boiler is our baby. That’s the longest. I think the State pushed us back with things that I don’t necessarily think needed to be done. In the end, they actually decided it didn’t need to be done, you guys are good to go. That happened, and then we’ve brewed for about a month.”
David and George have been busy working on the initial batches of beers.
“We’re just looking for numbers,” George said. “Seeing what we need to do, what we can offer, what people want, see how much beer we need. Which is hopefully a lot.”
Cantero has two brewing systems, a main 10-barrel brewhouse and a smaller 1-barrel pilot system.
“We do have a pilot system, a 1-barrel just like Lava Rock’s that we’re using for experimenting,” David said. “I’ve gotten to brew a sour on there. We’re playing around with some Kolsches, that kind of thing.”
David and George usually brew double batches to fill the 20-barrel fermenters and brite tanks. The initial lineup of beers has been set, though none really have permanent names attached beyond what describes the styles.
“We’ve got a Southern (English) Brown, nice and dark,” David said. “It’s 7.6 (percent ABV), so it’s a bruiser. I’ve got a red chile stout. I’m doing an amber, a milk amber, and then an IPA. From my experimental system we’ll have a rosemary lemon sour and we’re also doing an American golden ale and we’re putting it on nitro, try to make it like a pub ale. There’s a Kolsch coming, it’s not ready yet.”
I got to try all of those beers, save the sour and the not-yet-ready Kolsch. The brown is creamy and sweet, with just a hint of nuttiness to it. The stout may lack a little body right now, and it is not quite at the pure black color the brewers want, but the flavor is solid, with the chile spice working in concert with the roasted malts, rather than being too overwhelming. The amber is light and good for your friends just transitioning into craft beer.
The IPA is somewhat old-school, though not necessarily by design, as the bittering hop is almost too strong for the more tropical New Zealand hops at the forefront. David said that they are already working on refining that beer for Albuquerque hopheads’ discerning palates. The American golden is a bit different than most of that style and hard to describe. It is almost a bit bready, like you might expect from an English light lager, though overall it is the youngest of the beers and might just need more time to settle in the tank.
“There’s always bugs to be worked out,” David said. “It’s like when you get a new car, it takes a little bit of time to learn how to drive it. We’re still playing with things here and there.
“I think that’s pretty much anybody that’s using a new system for the first time. Luckily, the changes that we need to make are pretty predictable, I think. Once we figured out how the brew system was handling things, we were able to make some adjustments on the fly, and we have some planned adjustments for next time. Nothing crazy, nothing drastic.”
“It was like fun with valves, lots of exciting, burning hot moments,” George added. “It is fun. You’re dealing with a new efficiency, it’s a good thing. There have been some good discoveries.”
Now everyone at Cantero gets to transition from the stress of getting everything ready to open to actually being open. The soft opening will run all day Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. There is a fair amount of parking in the lot out front and parking along Columbia should be open on nights and weekends. For those who need a reminder of how to get to the building, Columbia is one block east of the northbound I-25 frontage road, between Aztec on the north and Cutter to the south.
“I really wish you could describe the soft opening in a way that they know what a soft opening is,” Kane said.
Rather than wait for me to respond, George went ahead and described it.
“We’re going to have the food, we’re going to have beer, there’s just not going to be any pomp and circumstance,” he said. “We’re going to be open, you’re welcome to come. We’re not going to try to put it out there where people are expecting some kind of event.”
Beer and food is generally all we need to come visit a place, but we might be unique in that way.
So to everyone else, just remember, this is a brand-new brewery. The beers may not be on a La Cumbre/Canteen level yet, but no one starts off perfect. The same will go for the food and the service, so just be patient and polite as the staff settles into a working rhythm. The folks at Cantero want to leave a good first impression with the public, and as the craft beer lovers of Albuquerque, we should endeavor to do the same. Let us all stick to constructive criticism to help Cantero, and all of our breweries, keep getting better.