There are occasions where we can actually properly time the release of one of our Look Back/Look Series articles with a major event at the subject brewery. Sometimes, though, we almost miss the opportunity, and a mad scramble ensues to get the story done in time. That was almost the case this week, but the good folks in charge at Starr Brothers Brewing made it easy for us to get this article up before their third anniversary party kicks off Saturday.
Co-owner Heather Starr, head brewer (and now part-owner) Rob Whitlock, and general manager Derek Minero were able to join me for a quick interview on Wednesday afternoon, going over the entirety of 2018 and what is to come in 2019.
First up, Saturday’s anniversary bash will run all day, with plenty of fun on deck.
“We haven’t done the bands before, this is kind of our first time doing that,” Heather said. “But, I think it will add to the celebratory atmosphere. We’ve got (souvenir) cups, we’ve got merch, we’re doing a live screen print.”
The participating bands are Rise of Seekalae (2 to 4 p.m.), RoyalHills (5 to 8), and Kevin Herig (8:30-10:30).
“Our beer release, we’re going to do the Lost Cities of Gold (Hazy IPA) that I had up at WinterBrew,” Rob said.
“Then some raffles and stuff, just an all-day party,” Derek added.
Heather also noted that the west parking lot has been expanded, with crushed gravel instead of dirt. Any time a brewery can add more parking, it is a good thing.
The party celebrates another productive year for Starr Brothers. Rob was able to take full advantage of his expanded brewery in the back.
“It went good, we got the expansion going full-blast back there,” Rob said. “We managed to get a few more (tap) handles around town. Beer-wise, we kept the regulars going. Our regular beers are really popular (so) we have to turn and burn on most of those. We started with the kettle sours this year, and then just these last couple months we started with the hazy IPAs.”
The biggest beer moment of the year was the bronze medal for Lampshade Porter at the Great American Beer Festival.
“We also won Best in the City (from Albuquerque the Magazine) for the food and three other top-five finalists, so we’re proud to every year have won (outright) or won numerous top-five awards,” Heather said. “But, I think we’re most proud of that medal. It kind of established us.”
“It opened the door now,” Derek added.
“It raised the expectations,” Rob concluded.
Starr Brothers has been selling plenty of porter, along with its other beers as Rob noted (770 barrels total), especially on the weekends, when the brewery gets taken over by legions of fans of the beautiful game.
“I think our intention when we opened, we saw a need for something could accommodate families and sports fans, and multipurpose,” Heather said. “But, we love soccer. We felt our whole life was kind of soccer, (because) all three Starr brothers play competitive soccer. We wanted to have something where we could bring our kids and share it with the community.
“We feel like we sponsor the soccer community and they help us. I think 2018 really kind of defined us as that soccer bar, and that’s what we wanted.”
In particular, the 505 Reds, a local supporter group for Liverpool FC, has made Starr Brothers their home.
“We actually got named an official supporters bar by Liverpool,” Derek said.
“Through the 505 Reds,” Rob added.
“That’s not something that (anyone in) New Mexico gives out, that’s the actual Liverpool club,” Derek said.
A little recognition from England never hurts. Now, Starr Brothers will give back to those fans.
“We’ve actually got a special beer we’re brewing for them,” Rob said. “We’re brewing it tomorrow, calling it the 505 Red. We’re brewing it for them. It’s going to be sort of a hybrid English-style red.”
One of the biggest days of the year proved to be the day of the Champions League final last May, when Liverpool played Real Madrid.
“I think one of our biggest events was the (Champions League) final, just a killer turnout,” Heather said. “It just kind of showed us what really this soccer community can do. It was awesome.”
Starr Brothers has also become a sponsor of New Mexico United, the USL team that will begin play at Isotopes Park in March. The brewery will host the team and its supporters club, Curse NM, this Tuesday for a special event open to the public.
Keeping those soccer fans properly fed, along with everyone else, has also been a big challenge for the staff.
“Our biggest headache has been our kitchen,” Derek said. “We were not necessarily struggling back there, but it was tough working with what we had. We revamped that and it’s kind of been a blessing now. The guys I have back there (now) have been killing it.”
Starr Brothers has also been blessed with minimal turnover among the front-of-house staff.
“Serving staff, a lot of these guys have been here since day one with me,” Derek said. “We’ve had a few here and there that turn over.”
Staff consistency will help with some of the projects coming up this year. The staff could not go into too many details yet.
“We’ve got a couple things coming,” Derek said.
“One is way too much up in the air to say anything about right now,” Rob said.
“And, one is pretty definite, it will happen in the next couple weeks, depending on licensing,” Heather said. “It’s almost like a merger, not with another brewery, but it’s dealing with soccer. We’ll probably know in the next 30 days what that’s going to look like.”
One thing that will not happen in 2019 is the opening of an off-site taproom. Starr Brothers withdrew its application for a license.
“We decided that wasn’t right for us,” Heather said. “I think we’ve always wanted to make sure that we’ve gotten this totally right first before we do anything, no matter what the size (of a project) was. We’re still learning, every day. This isn’t perfect. There’s always room to do better.”
One focus to make the experience better will have to do with the patio.
“I think we’re looking to expand that patio to make it more of a recreation area that has cornhole and just has more outside area for animal lovers and others,” Heather said.
Rob said he has a couple more fermenters on order as brewery production increases.
All in all, Derek put it best: “Expand and grow, that’s the goal.”
A big thanks to Heather, Rob, and Derek for the interview, and the pint of Zombies in the Manger. Congrats on three years, and here is to many more!