The great neighborhood pub experiment is rolling along in several areas of Albuquerque, perhaps most notably at 529 Adams St. NE, where High and Dry Brewing has gained a loyal following in just one year of operation. While operating the smallest brewing system (1 barrel) in town, brewer/owner Andrew Kalemba and his staff have managed to nonetheless make a name for themselves in a crowded craft beer scene.
I caught up with Andrew on Monday afternoon at the brewery, where he was still hard at work even though it was closed to customers, for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
“2018, it went by fast, that’s for sure,” Andrew said. “We can’t complain. We have what I’d like to call consistent business all year. The neighborhood really showed up and supported us. The bottom line is we hit our year one business case, which is a fantastic thing to celebrate. I’m not sure I got to sit down and enjoy it during the birthday weekend, but that was an absolutely awesome milestone for us to be able to do that in the first year.”
Andrew moved to Albuquerque from Austin, which is filled with small breweries that serve as popular gathering spots in the midst of residential neighborhoods. He took that inspiration into building High and Dry, taking over a former tattoo parlor space just off Lomas Boulevard. It has worked out mostly as planned so far, with plenty of people walking over from their homes, or making a short drive.
“There’s butts in seats, and that’s awesome,” Andrew said. “What’s nice, too, even at our anniversary (party), we still have new people coming in and discovering it, even people who live in the neighborhood. That’s kind of flattering. We kind of like being that. We also have people walking in and hitting on a lot of the things you said. It’s the neighborhood spot, it’s the neighborhood’s living room. Come mosey on over here and hang out. That’s resonating with people and people are getting it without us having to beat the idea into everyone’s head.”
Of course, with the development of such a strong customer base, it also means Andrew has to work hard to keep the beers flowing out of his 1-barrel brewhouse.
“I think the last time we talked I was right in the thick of chaos, when we had some product recalls, and spilled five barrels down the drain, and then we also figured out how to break the sewer line,” he said. “It was rough for a while. Obviously, the guest taps and the collaboration model is really important to sustaining that. One of the awesome things about New Mexico is we have reciprocity, and that’s always been key to our (business) model.”
Rather than just aim for a random assortment of guest taps, High and Dry has adopted a model of having a single brewery man all the guest taps for the month. That has also led to more collaboration beers between High and Dry and other local breweries.
“Me, trying to continue to do my little community thing, looking for my excuses to get out of here every once in a while, I’m seeing who wants to do collaborations with us,” Andrew said. “We’ve got a few more planned this year to keep doing that. That’s kind of taking off for us. The collaborative model was kind of a happy accident when we did the one with Steel Bender last year. That was a little bit of a light bulb for me. It was still early, we were running around with our blinders on. Oh, maybe somebody does want to work with us.”
Upcoming guest breweries will include Second Street in March, with Andrew noting a couple fun things may be in the works for that, plus Palmer Brewery in April, Rio Bravo in June, and tentatively Boxing Bear in July. Andrew said he also hopes to work out a month for Dialogue, and wants to touch base with Bombs Away as well.
Even with the guest taps, High and Dry still works hard to keep at least six of its own beers on tap at all times. That does require a little help from one of the bigger breweries in town on a contract brewing basis.
“I think we’ve hit kind of a stride where maybe there’s a week here or there where we’re scrambling, we work a little bit harder, brew a little bit more,” Andrew said. “We’ve gotten a really consistent churn, and we’re also leveraging surplus capacity here at some of the other, larger breweries here in town. Rio Bravo, they’ve been awesome, they’re absolutely key. We do a couple batches over there every couple months or so. We’re starting to work them (more). When you talked to Austin (Giorgetta) he mentioned we’re going to work on a collab. That’s coming in June. We were over there on Friday, we got that recipe worked out. It’s going to be something fun for the summer.”
High and Dry started out with a constant rotation of beers, but now has settled into more of a standard pattern for its six taps.
“The nice thing is really early on, our model is small batch, it’s all about rotating and trying stuff,” Andrew said. “We tried a lot of stuff last year, landed on a few things that stuck. We keep the Special Shapes IPA on at all time, the Ghost of a Moon Pale, those are the standards.”
Besides those two being on tap at almost all times, Andrew said he has reserved one tap for darker beers (stouts/porters/brown ales), one for American wheat (fruited and non-fruited), one for ambers (sometimes with rye added), and a final tap that he referred to as “the kitchen sink category,” with everything from experimental pale ales to some truly oddball concoctions.
“It seems like we have a ton of beers, but really we’re cycling between two or three types of beers, a barrel at a time,” he said. “It seems really chaotic, but really there’s a lot of calculated parts going on in there.”
Popular beers that will return in the near future should include the Humble coffee stout and chai wheat. Other beers are inspired by the various vendors that High and Dry works with, such as Kimshe Kimchee and Pop Fizz. Look for more of those as summer gets closer, with the possibility of more beer events tied in for ABQ Beer Week in May.
Otherwise, High and Dry has just focused on settling in for everyone, from the staff to the customers.
“It feels consistent enough, (but) I don’t want to say comfortable, that’s absolutely not the right word at all,” Andrew said. “More predictable, a little bit, but it’s still only one year. A lot could change this year. Now we’ve gotten past a lot. Our staff has been awesome, very, very low turnover. I’ve got a lot of the same people with me since day one, which is fantastic. We’ve got regulars who always sit on one side of the bar in regular row.”
It also helps for those regulars to have some consistency in terms of the food trucks parked out front. High and Dry has managed to find a comfort zone in the sometimes unpredictable world of the mobile eateries. That synergy is not easy to come by, but High and Dry and its loyal trucks have made it work.
“We’ve made some really good relationships with food trucks,” Andrew said. “Food is another passion for me. I really like to engage the truck owners and get to know them. We’re better together working on stuff. It’s hard to sell a beer and a meal together in this situation, but we’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve found some good, reliable people. When they treat us well, and we treat each other well, we try to pay back the favor.
“It is fun to rotate food trucks out and try new stuff, because there are so many new, awesome ones coming out. Us being foodies ourselves we want to be a bit selfish about that, too, but we’ve built a solid relationship with a lot of trucks, and that’s fortunate. We bring in new trucks when it makes sense.”
With the beer and food settled in, Andrew said now High and Dry can look at adding other fun elements to the experience.
“Now we’re going to focus more on some of the fun stuff,” he said. “We like music, getting some bands in here. Doing more farmers market kind of stuff. We’ve got a cornhole league starting in April. We’ve got the space out front here. We’ll see how it goes.”
Every third Saturday, High and Dry will feature One-Off Productions, a music and art series featuring artists teaming up, often for the first time.
“The thing I’d like to highlight about that is that we want to make sure they fit within the space,” Andrew said. “I go to plenty of places and I just get blasted out because something doesn’t fit.”
Another popular event is Sunday School, where High and Dry will team up with a local winery and different eateries for a beer/wine/food tasting.
“It’s not about us sitting there and preaching about our products, it’s about showcasing another local business and showing people what they’re doing,” Andrew said. “We want to show how it’s all related and not all that different.”
As for long-term plans, Andrew said a bigger brewing system is something being eyed for managing future growth.
“We’re going to think about a bigger system at some point in time, as budget allows,” he said. “That’s always the next step for us, growing that a little bit. The business plan was always make this thing work, break this thing, be able to afford to pay for something else, and then grow into it. We’re definitely at the point where, not that it always hasn’t been top of mind, so we might do one more small investment and add a little bit of capacity to this one, but that will probably be our next big investment for sure.”
We will avoid any “the sky is the limit” puns about the future, but it has been a positive start for High and Dry. The Albuquerque scene has plenty of room for the smaller neighborhood breweries alongside the big packaging joints. A big thank you to Andrew for meeting up, and for the pint of Shut the Lights Black IPA, and we wish him plenty of luck in the future.