By the time I arrived for the interview at Dialogue Brewing, it was bustling with projects and work, both getting ready for the day and continuing to push forward on recent ambitions. Luckily, the crew at Dialogue put few minutes of their time aside for us so we could get caught up and see how one of ABQ’s particularly unique breweries had fared in 2018, and for their ideas and thoughts going into 2019.
This is another chapter of the Dark Side Brew Crew’s annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, covering New Mexico’s breweries big and small through the years. For those that have yet to make the trip, Dialogue sits amidst warehouses and machine shops at First Street and Kinley. At first, this may seem somewhat peculiar, but it has created an incredibly one-of-a-kind experience for those looking to satiate both their love of craft beer and their taste for some incredible local art. Just look for the massive metal trees that tower above the building in the large patio and performance area.
Before getting into the story however, just a quick correction on our part for previous stories in which we titled then-manager Eliot Salgado as owner/operator.
Taking in the busy atmosphere and settling in behind a pour of the Dry Stout, I was greeted by owner/operator Daniel Gorman and head brewer Ian Graham. Before getting into the interview, I was given a quick tour and introduction of some of the workspace that their current projects are focusing on. It was a behind-closed-doors tour that one wouldn’t have assumed existed when looking at it from the outside, such as the very impressive, professional quality sound booth that operates the equally impressive sound system, which is actually mounted onto the large tree sculptures outside.
It was clear by everything that was going on in the back rooms of Dialogue that they are on the cusp of making some big moves. With our quick tour done (and giving Ian a chance to get to a good point to step away from the brewhouse, as he had just finished mashing out), we got down to business, recorder on and our minds afloat with beer, art, music, and the future.
“For me, it’s just been about growing,” Daniel said, when asked about reflecting over the past year, “to understand the business, understanding what our identity is, and how we want to engage our customers while also being better for them. There is definitely a learning curve, lots of hard work, but, (it is) definitely gratifying. About 10 months ago, maybe, I wouldn’t have said gratifying, but right now I feel pretty good about moving forward. We’ve got some good symmetry and moving forward in the right direction.”
Like other breweries starting to mature into their positions, Dialogue focused heavily on working on refining their processes from the ground up.
“We’re working out the kinks with staff, crew, what we’re doing, (and) how to work together effectively. We’re getting to our cruising altitude, so to speak,” Daniel said.
Compared to previous years, Daniel affirmed that while there have been some changes, they are staying committed to the core values that the Brewery was founded on.
“Some of it has changed, but the original vision was to have a unique brewery experience where people came together to talk and have a dialogue with each other, as opposed to being more of a sports venue, or somewhere to watch TV,” Daniel said.
The aesthetics, big and small, around the brewery and venue certainly can attest to this, creating a calm, somewhat rustic and relaxing atmosphere.
“Like in the breweries and pubs of yore, in the olden days, and just have the opportunity to share that face time, especially in a time of social media, Facebook, and whatever else,” Daniel said. “I think it’s good for people to be able to talk to their neighbor and be able to walk away from the table with maybe a different perspective than when they came to the table … the other part of this brewery is that it is a gallery space, too, so we can’t work or make it without artists coming and putting their kind of touches on the space as well. Craft beer is art, we wanted the environment to be art, and the people to be able to embrace the art as well. If you just want to come and have fun, that’s fine, too, but that’s really the spirit of it.”
Another shift in their current course comes full circle back to the patio and stage, and a new surprise as well.
“We have to laugh at ourselves a little bit; our sound stage is the temporary stage we made for our first opening party and it’s been here since,” Daniel said. “So we are going to get our new stage up and built hopefully by March/April in time for the next outdoor season, and we are just finishing up drawings for our cafe and will be serving food again. It’ll be pizza and traditional pub food. We hope to make it interesting, not lowest common denominator pub fare, but comfortable food. All things (are) pending with the City and permits around that same time (as completing the sound stage).”
Given the amount of available space on the premises, there is a a large potential for this project to really turn their hidden gem of a venue into a much bigger player in the entertainment game.
In terms of beer and the brewing side of the house, Ian was able to catch us up on the happenings in and around the brewhouse and the tap lineup.
“We added a new flagship in this last year with the 505 Lager,” Ian said. “That’s been doing really well. With getting into the groove of things, (I) was being able to do more lagers, which was really nice.”
For those wondering, typical lager productions require a longer fermentation and maturation period when keeping with traditional lagering. While at first this may not sound like an immediate obstacle, it is often the case that brewers find themselves playing a juggling game of space availability, while keeping up with customer demands for other brews.
Ian continued, harkening back to even their first opening menu.
“Having a blend of all different things, when we first started out we kind of had a reputation of like, a brewery that did mostly sours,” Ian said. “But, if you came here and looked at the tap list you would see it had a mixture of, or at least had an equal number of sours, lagers, Belgians, and the lower end (of the ratio) being hop-forward beers. And, that was kind of our original thing coming out. Being here in Albuquerque, we have people having (their) IPA game down so well that we were not really focusing on it. Thinking, I guess (in terms of) moving forward, is trying to do a little more hop-forward beers, just because that is what the people want. So we are going to give them our take on it. (It will be) kind of the East Coast style where I’m from brewing.”
Ian also is going back to his roots in terms of bringing a new touch of style to the ABQ area, or at least refining and making it his own.
“Maybe coming out with some New England IPAs and stuff like that, which you know are big,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big they were going to get years ago, but now they’ve made it all the way out here. Running into the people at industry events, that were like with Trillium and Treehouse, they would talk about them. We weren’t really doing them then, but we were able to glean on the exact processes they were doing, so we are going try to do some (NEIPAs) and West Coast styles as well. We’re gonna maybe fill in the gaps that are in the IPA styles.”
With the ever-evolving category of IPA, it will be interesting to see what Ian is going to bring to the table in an already incredibly competitive market.
Moving into the future that is 2019, fans of Dialogue may be seeing some old favorites returning to the lineup.
“We have one that we are bringing back here soon that we first did in our very first year of opening, the Belgian Dark Strong with cherries,” Ian said. “So we are going to have that for this winter season. That was a fan favorite. We also started out pretty strongly with a Vienna lager, which is what kind of morphed into the 505 Lager. We realized it fit better as a flagship, but we are bringing the Vienna as a seasonal. Having our sours that we bring in as our schedule dictates, or how we feel, we’ll bring in our ODB and boysenberry sour as well.”
Speaking of sours, we took a moment to reflect back on the plans going forward since the last annual piece, particularly the proposed stillage area for getting some traditional sours into the mix, though Ian’s expression told the story before he could even speak,
“That’s one of some things that did not materialize (in 2018),” he said. “We were never able to get the space for the barrel aging. Originally, we were hoping for a room with a couple different racks … but, in that space it wouldn’t have worked out with the other business to have a spontaneous fermentation and ale storage and things like that (in the same space). That’s something we still want in the future, but is still too soon to say.”
So while we may have to wait for some more barrel-aged and bug goodness, we have been assured it hasn’t fallen off the list, as Daniel said.
“We still haven’t lost hope, though, (but) running an operation like this can be difficult and sometimes things get pushed aside,” he said. “But, I’d love to get back to it.”
A large part in growing is always looking back and reflecting on the big things that have happened, and as for 2018 and any big events that came to mind, it seemed like it was fairly good sailing for a brewery, Ian said.
“Luckily, I mean there’s always lessons learned,” he said. “Brewing is one of those things where if you think you’ve reached the epitome and don’t need to learn more, you will probably be passed by in short order. Personally for me, continually looking at the MBAA podcasts, always referencing your Kunze book and what not, scouring whatever stuff that you can translate from German to English that you can find. The biggest hiccup was we had our glycol chiller went out for like two days. We were able to luckily get it back up, so we didn’t accidentally spike a bunch of lagers up into the 70’s and what not. But, everything (else) went as smooth as it could in a brewery.”
Moving into 2019, along with the expansions and refinement, the crew of Dialogue is set to continue making a name for themselves here.
“Well, Ian’s done an incredible job with (our) beer, so now we need to get our food program back out and rounded out so people will have the opportunity to eat here,” Daniel said.
As the trending goes, and wisdom goes, a customer will be happier and stay longer if food is readily on hand.
“We started with a resident food truck and the food was excellent,” Daniel said. ” Then (we) moved to wood-fired pizzas, which was excellent as well. Now, we’re taking a step back, doing it all right, building it all out with the cafe and making sure its all well rounded. This time we’ll get it perfect. From coffee to late-night pizza, people will be able to stay here and have more beer.”
While it certainly seems to be a big and expensive move, Daniel said he draws a deeper inspiration from his customers and their potential, or at least becoming a relaxing and productive catalyst to such and reaching into history as his proof.
”At the beginning, what I hoped is you know (that) Amazon was started in a Starbucks, and going back a long time ago I think everything happened in pub houses and ale houses from politics, to gossip, to readings, to poetry, to what have you,” Daniel said. “So I’m hoping that when we bring coffee to the program, people will be able to come, do work, use the place as a meeting spot, or a place to use the high-speed internet and get things done.”
Switching gears and focusing on entertainment events, it was clear from Daniel that Dialogue had its focus on getting the big work and projects done, but had not lost sight of the brewery’s reputation and future of having good beer.
“Too far in the future to think, though honestly it’s gonna be big enough getting the stage and the cafe up and running, that’s really our primary goal,” he said. “But, I know that the non-brewing side of the house knows that Ian’s brewing is so good (that) we want to get into some more contests this year, without putting too much more pressure on him. We’ve done (well) with medals so far, and would I think we can continue that.”
Adding to this, Ian said he had some pretty solid reasoning to this past year’s lack of competition medals.
“We came out so strong, but we entered zero contests this year as we are using that money to reinvest in other things,” he said. “One of the reasons I like to think of why we didn’t get any medals this year is because we didn’t enter any!”
In an honest remark, Daniel added, “As a small business (this last year), we triaged resources and it went away from contests.”
Further investing the coming year in terms of lineup and menu, Ian seemed to have his gameplan laid out, and is taking account of the local enthusiasts’ preferences while sticking to the brewery’s ideals.
“We’re definitely going to continue to have a nice balanced menu,” Ian said. “I would say (that) one of the different parts of our menu is that we have a lot of lower ABV ales that people can get, so when they can come in and have a couple and not get sloshed. This is a bigger ABV state, I’ve noticed. Those are all well and good, but there’s a tool for every situation.”
And we here at NMDSBC remind you to drink responsibly as well.
“Sometimes the barleywine isn’t the best choice for lunchtime, and that sort of thing,” Ian said. “As for trends, here eventually we’re jumping on the pastry stout wagon. I’ve got it planned out for what I want to do. For the internal process, it’s going to be a lot of messing with water profiles and stuff, but we’re gonna crunch out some more IPAs (and) doing the pastry stout. A lot of our sours are still on the dry side.”
With recent examples of the pastry stout coming out from other locals such as Bow & Arrow, this style is drawing a good deal of intrigue. In terms of innovation, Dialogue has not fallen behind, either, Ian noted.
“We were one of the first few breweries to get a Brut IPA out in Albuquerque (in collaboration) with High and Dry,” Ian said. “I’d like to do another one of those. They seem like a great warm day beer. I like them because they’re bone dry, (and) anything dry which is right up my alley.”
At the end of the day, brewing, just like many other industries, is still a business, and it’s always exciting to see black-and-white concepts approached in new, exciting, and imaginative ways, while still appreciating those around you and their impact.
“You know, Ian’s experience at least daily is a little different than mine,” Daniel said. “He’s back there, he’s the heart and soul of this brewery. I’m focusing on the shock of getting your ass kicked building something that isn’t just kind of a traditional fill-in-the-blank brewery space. From technology to our programs, what we are really getting into this coming year is starting with all the artists we invite to hang (their work). Those artists, we’re going to make a small 3-to-5-minute film with them and then a 50-second Instagram piece. They are gonna do a print, so every two months or so we’ll have a special edition crowler label signed by the artist with their print on it.
“We also want to bring the voice of more artists into the brewery, so we are going to bring more artists’ designs into our clothing line. So that’s my side of it, while Ian’s making incredible beer I’ll be doing my best to support that.”
Take that as a hint, our more artistic readers, that now may the time to start seeing if you can get your art on an awesome crowler.
With just about all of our bases covered, both Ian and Daniel wanted to leave our readers with a thanks and a message:
Ian: “I just wanted to say thank you to all the people in the industry, all the fellow breweries that help us out when we’re in jams, you know, and also to our customers who come out to support us. Even if you don’t buy from us, buy local and buy independent.”
Daniel: “The brewing community here is incredible. Very giving, willing to help out, and it feels good. It’s nice, in 2018, to have a community that’s helping you out. You’re in direct competition, but it never feels like it.’
Again, I would like to thank the crew of Dialogue Brewing, especially Ian and Daniel, and their amazing staff, for their hospitality and continued efforts as we all trudge through the near end of this decade.