The partial federal government shutdown has left many pending breweries in limbo, but that does not mean their owners are giving up the dream of opening in 2019. I trekked out to Rio Rancho on Wednesday afternoon to meet the owner of one of those forthcoming breweries, Brew Lab 101 Beer and Cider Company.
Owner/brewer Scott Salvas is doing everything he can to get ready for when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is reopened, which will put him good position for a possible late May opening.
“It’s coming along,” he said of the space inside two suites in the shopping center at 3301 Southern Blvd., which is just a block or so west of Turtle Mountain. “If the government would get open to help me with the licensing stuff, that would be nice.”
Brew Lab 101 is taking over the former House of Football location for its taproom, while a former nail salon in the adjacent space will be home to the brewhouse and equipment.
“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what (size) space did I want,” Scott said. “I originally wanted 3,000 square feet. We were looking at a space down the street. Unfortunately that deal fell apart literally two days before I was going to sign the lease, which is why I’m not open right now. That was only 3,200 square feet. Then I saw these two spaces up here.”
The current shopping center has everything from a gym to a trampoline center for kids called to Elevate, to the long-established restaurant Joe’s Pasta House. It also has a lot of empty suites, the curse of the modern retail center, but also a boon for prospective business owners looking for a bargain.
That, plus Scott’s desire to see if he can translate his award-winning homebrews into an actual brewery, all combined to make Brew Lab 101 an almost reality.
“I had a passion for beer brewing,” Scott said. “I’ve been brewing for about eight years. I just started brewing beers and then having parties. I have a couple big parties a year. People would come and I think through the years the beer got better. People started giving me really good comments. Folks started encouraging me to think about it.”
Scott lives in Northwest Albuquerque, just on the edge of the Rio Rancho city limits. He said that he believes the area can certainly support more breweries, especially those that make themselves more “neighborhood-centric.”
Of course, anyone can say they want to open a brewery, but as owner existing owner once told us, that takes writing big checks. Rather than take it all on himself, Scott brought on a mix of friends and supporters as investors.
“We have 13 different owners,” he said. “I raised capital by selling off shares of the company. I have my day job, so I pay my bills doing that, so this is purely about the passion of it and creating a great space for people, and not the money side of things.”
It was, after all, a friend who inspired Scott to finally make something happen, rather than just talk about opening a brewery.
“One of my good buddies said, hey, Scott, let’s show us you can produce some good beer, enter some competitions,” he said. “I’ve won nine medals over the past year. All of these things came together. Then all of a sudden one day I said I should do this, I should look at it. As a good engineer I ran all the numbers, asked can this make economic sense. I ran the numbers, the numbers looked really good. Then I had a lot of people offer to buy in.”
At this point, the two suites have essentially been hollowed out for construction to begin in earnest. The taproom will feature two bars, with some cool little lab tables for folks to sit at on one side, acting as community tables for tasting sessions and the like. There will be an area in the back left corner that will include a stage for live music, but also can be utilized as an area for children when bands are not performing.
“A lot of it was the inspiration of the craft beer scene,” Scott said of how he came up with the layout plan. “I’ve been inspired by seeing all these craft breweries come in and really create a cool atmosphere, one that’s very inclusive of families. I’m a parent now, so having a place I can have a beer with my wife and my kid can still be happy, that’s important. Breweries have become this cultural thing that support a lot of people. Being good to the neighborhood and the community is very important.”
The total occupancy of the taproom will be about 80, Scott said, with an additional 30 on the future south-facing patio outside. That will be built out of the existing wide sidewalk, and taking over three parking spaces (there will still be plenty of parking throughout the complex). It will offer up a nice view of the Sandia Mountains to the east, with the curvature of the retail center offering up some additional shade from the setting sun.
“It should be a pretty major change for this place, which is good, they need it,” Scott said. “It has a lot of vacancies, which obviously helped us get a good deal. But, now that Elevate is here, especially on the weekends, this place is packed.”
The brewery suite will be anchored by a 3-barrel brewhouse, as Scott does not intend to start out with a high level of production.
“We’re trying to initially keep it pretty small, hand-crafted, small-batch type of stuff,” Scott said. “We’re going to brew once a week on the weekend. It’s an extension of homebrewing. I haven’t worked at any breweries or anything like that. My friends in the industry will give me guidance. We’ll do some guest taps to help keep the taps full. We’ll see how we grow from there. If we’re going to grow, we’re going to grow organically. I’m not going to get aggressive. I’m not going to force growth. If we always stay a little taproom in the neighborhood, that’s fine. If people want us to grow, we’ll evolve and figure it out.”
Going from homebrewing to making beer at the commercial level is never easy, but Scott said he has made connections throughout the local scene that can help him if necessary. He has traded his knowledge as an engineer for some of that help, and will even participate in the upcoming New Mexico Brewers Guild technical conference in March.
“I’ve been so impressed that a lot of these breweries have done so well, but stayed so humble,” Scott said. “I’ve gotten a lot of good help from several breweries in town. Because I’m in the water business, I’ve bene able to give back to them. They’ve asked me to speak at the Brewers Guild (technical) conference about water. I started doing that talk at the homebrew clubs, and then David Kimbell over at Bombs Away, he asked me to give a guest lecture for his CNM brewers class. Then John (Gozigian) over at the Brewers Guild heard about that. It’s been kind of fun.”
Scott has left room for a future small kitchen, if customer demand is great enough, but otherwise he plans to partner with the existing eateries in the complex, from the aforementioned Joe’s Pasta House to a Vietnamese restaurant and a small Mexican taco stand. Food will be delivered to patrons who can place orders from the brewery.
As for the beer, Scott said customers can expect a fairly wide variety, befitting a homebrewer/engineer sense of experimentation.
“I’m really big into IPAs,” he said. “I spend a lot of time making IPAs and pale ales. This time of year, I starting making a lot of darker beers, like this oatmeal stout. At the end of the day, you’re here to serve customers. People keep asking me about the standards here. I don’t know, exactly. I know what I’m going to have on tap on day one, but I think the customers are going to tell me by sales and the comments they provide. I want to keep the menu rotating. That’s what’s going to keep it interesting, keep it fun.”
Scott said the initial lineup will include an IPA, a hazy IPA, a red or amber, a white ale, and a darker beer like a stout or java porter. There will also be cider on hand, with a regular apple cider and a dry cider likely to be permanent fixtures, plus a rotating series of fruited ciders, like the blueberry pomegranate version he shared during my visit. Guest taps will round out the lineup, likely to fill in the style gaps of what in-house brews are not available at any given time.
“A big aspect of this is to bring that homebrew sort of ideal to this brewery in that we’re going to try go beyond being able to see some shiny fermenters through the glass,” Scott said. “We’ll have some touch-feel type things, be able to touch grain, smell hops, and there’s going to be some wall hangings that will be artistic representations of scientific and engineering concepts that govern (the making of) craft beer. Hopefully we’ll be able to inspire other people to want to brew, and there’s information in here that will help them figure it out.
“I always joke with people that the only reason I’m in New Mexico is for science. I came here to go to school (at New Mexico Tech) for astrophysics. There’s a lot of room to celebrate the scientific history of Albuquerque and New Mexico. That’s what we’re trying to do with Brew Lab.”
Once the TTB is reopened, we look forward to seeing Brew Lab 101 go from concept to functional brewery. It does not hurt that one can walk from the new brewery over to Turtle Mountain, which could make for some fun future nights of a sort of mini-brewpub crawl in the heart of Rio Rancho (fear not, Lyfts will be summoned afterwards).
A big thank you to Scott for the invite, the beer samples, and we wish him all the luck and patience in the world getting through the final steps of opening Brew Lab 101.