Another year has slipped by us, almost too quickly in some circumstances. However, as time continues its merciless march forward, for many the year proved to by a joyous and beneficial one. One of such places to have been able to share this with us is Bernalillo’s own Kaktus Brewing Company.
For those that have kept up over the past couple of years with NMDSBC’s annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, this will come to recognize the warming and fun spirit that the brewery has been putting forth coming into its sixth year of continued operation. A strong theme this year, while not only exclusive to Kaktus, was a transition towards a strong focus on organic growth and getting back to the core of its community ties.
Shawna and I were once again hosted by head brewer Mike Waddy to sit down over a beer and discuss all that has transpired for Kaktus, and also what we all hope will soon start taking place in what has easily become one of Bernalillo’s most charismatic and unique destinations.
With a fresh pour of ‘Thur-vay-tha’ in hand, we set up on the enclosed patio on the front of the brewery, seemingly ever-changing and continually evolving with each visit. To summarize the experience that 2018 had brought for Kaktus, Michael was able to sum it up on a very positive note.
“Things were really good this year, like super good,” he said. “Like, busier than we’ve ever been. We celebrated our five-year anniversary in the middle of this October and looking back, every single year we are continuing to grow.”
From our perspective, this is a great sign, as there was much to consider at the end of 2017 with the impact that was the A.R.T. construction and the closing of Kaktus’ Nob Hill location.
While there was a larger focus on refining things happening in and around the brewery this past year, it certainly did not mean there was no room for fun. Many of us are used to seeing the larger breweries hitting what seems to be becoming what could be called an annual NM beer fest circuit, but it’s always exciting to see smaller operations like Kaktus being able to participate and really get into the spirit of the Craft community.
“We had a great summer,” Michael said. ”(We) had a bunch of beer events and it was fun … we did the (Land of Enchantment) Blues Fest; we were the only vendor there and we also had some guest taps from Steel Bender on as well. This was our first year doing the New Mexico Brewfest, as well. That was fun. We gave a few kegs out and really got our name out there.”
One of the past year’s biggest questions for Kaktus was what the impact of Bosque North could be on its Bernalillo neighbor. Previous predictions and answers by Michael and owner Dana Koeller have seemingly started to come to fruition.
“Bosque (North) opening up, that was a big thing for Bernalillo,” Michael said. “People always ask if they’ve been hurting our business and the answer has always been no, not really. People come here and we do tell them to go check Bosque out. We have not seen a drop in numbers since they have opened, which is awesome, so we are hoping to get some overflow from them. … So really, it’s about two breweries now bringing more people out into the Bernalillo area.”
As a little background to our readers, Kaktus was the first brewery to open in the city of Bernalillo in 2013 (since Milagro Brewing closed in 2005), and remained the sole brewery in the area until the recent Bosque North opening.
As always, part of that progress is change, and the crew of Kaktus have been taking notes and getting to work, and not just on their beer and food.
“We’ve ramped up our entertainment here, especially the live music,” Michael said. “We have a Sunday Blues Jam. It’s freakin’ awesome; this place is always packed. I’ll come in to wash kegs and stuff and there’s no parking left! …
“We’re gonna to up our swag game a little as well, especially as a ‘destination’ brewery everyone always wants to take a little something with them.”
The enclosed patio now boasts a larger performance area with plenty of heating and protection from those cold bitter winter chills to accommodate the growing number of customers and array of entertainment.
While well-managed growth is excellent, it comes with its own growing pains that always make for unique challenges along the way. For those unfamiliar with Kaktus, it is situated among an interesting array of several property types, ranging from near-industrial to homes. Ultimately, this does not bode well for the parking situation at times, as it can be limited and a slight issue. However, good news is on the way.
“From now into 2019, we’re going to be revamping the (parking) areas, making sure everybody has a place to park,” Michael said. “Also, (we are) working on the grading and making sure we get rid of the big puddles when it rains.”
It certainly doesn’t stop there. With sustainability and going green in mind, Michael also mentioned the idea of expanding their solar energy capabilities and pushing for 100-percent renewable energy use where applicable.
For the future of the staple attractions, the food and beer, they have also been putting the creative visions towards not only expanding available space in the brewhouse, but even the potential of adding a field-to-table touch to the kitchen.
“We’re considering buying a shipping container to help make more room here in the building, so we can, like, put more fermenters where the grain is now,” Michael said. “We can squeeze in two more fermenters where it is now. Also, Dana is looking into building a hydroponic system to supplement our kitchen with fresh tomatoes and veggies.”
Finally, with a shift towards something a bit more fun, we challenged Mr. Waddy to pick out his favorite beer over the past year that was produced by Kaktus.
“I can’t even remember what I made this year, I have to go look back in my brew logs,” Michael said. “Oh! One I really liked was my Bourbon Ginger. It was the beer I took to the New Mexico Brewfest. I really wanted to do bourbon aging, but with a lighter beer, as most everyone else uses stouts and porters, and stuff like that. Didn’t use the barrel this time, though. There is a tragic story of a barrel dumped the last time it was used. (This time) I soaked these American and French oak chips in bourbon for about a month and a half, and then threw those chips in the fermenter. It was almost like a ginger pale. It had notes of a whiskey ginger, and I also used a New Zealand hop variety called Motueka which has a real limey flavor to it. Those were the flavors I was going for, as my go-to cocktail is the whiskey ginger.”
With another year in the books, and visions set high, Michael and the Kaktus team are determined to keep bringing their customers the experience of a ‘Balanced Beer, Balanced Life.’
As always, thank you, dear readers, for keeping up with us, the New Mexico Dark Side Brew Crew, for all your local brewery and beer-related news! Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Stoutmeister’s weekly release updates (This Week In Beer) so you don’t miss your favorite winter seasonals!
— Jerrad and Shawna