During the past year, Chili Line Brewing has been busy. I mean, really busy. Between turning their taproom into a downtown nightlife destination, pouring at all the local festivals, and getting their brand-new location ready to open, they’ve been BUSY. Thankfully, brewer Alexander Pertusini was kind enough to sit down and speak with the Dark Side Brew Crew about the year before and what’s coming down the tracks in 2019 for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
It was 6:30 on a Wednesday evening when I walked into an already crowded bar. I felt like I was late to the party. Pertusini greeted me as he poured beer for a good mixture of what sounded like regulars and folks visiting from out of town. After pouring me one of three stouts on the menu, he joined me at an empty table, which was becoming a rare commodity as the minutes passed. It was already a bit of a different vibe from the last time I’d visited “professionally,” I should say.
And then, I tasted the beer. A solid stout, heavy on flavor, delivering on the promised premise of cocoa and lactose (by the name, Tio Coco Milk Stout), great mouthfeel, and very light on the smoke. Hmm.
Pertusini was soon brought a beer by a gentleman I would later recognize from Breaking Bad and other well-known screen roles. And, as soon as I could wrap my brain around all the pleasant changes and tweaks at work around me, I thumbed on both of my recorders and looked over my laundry list of questions. Though I was already getting excited about the direction Chili Line seemed to be heading in, I wanted to know how their year went.
“2018 was good. It was the year we started moving in the right direction,” Pertusini said, taking a sip. According to Pertusini, Chili Line has made quite a few changes and tweaks to their business in both the front of house and back. Among some of their major changes, they’ve garnered new staff, changed their taproom menu, focused heavily on entertainment and service, and moved in a bit of a different direction with their beers and the smoked flavors Chili Line has been known for since the brewery’s inception.
Chili Line began as a small start-up brewery with the food of the delicious Pizzeria Da Lino helping to usher in customers to a yet unproven beer house. A lot has changed since then. Now, Chili Line stands on its own two feet as a business model and a brewpub.
“Our burgers are now our number-one selling item,” Pertusini said. “All-Angus beef, green chile and bacon, and we do smoked mozzarella to kind of go with our smoked beers.”
Since they opened, they’ve been slowly moving away from being 100-percent associated with Pizzeria Da Lino, Pertusini said. They’ve always wanted to fly their own patterns. They now have items like chicken wings, Brussels sprouts, and jalapeno poppers. But, they certainly pay homage to the restaurant and the family name that gave them their wings. Pertusini said they still have excellent Italian food, like Osso Buco, for instance.
“What we’re trying to do is not have the businesses so meshed,” he said. “We want them to be their own separate entities, but also support each other. We still have the full Italian menu of Da Lino’s.”
As far as entertainment went in 2018, the taproom has kept a regular schedule of live music on alternating Mondays and the Stewart-Welles Trio on Thursdays. On Wednesdays, they got down a little differently with stand-up comedy from local joke slingers like the Wayward Comedy troupe, as well as visiting jesters from out of town. And, the other nights, you ask? Well, anything could and may have happened. For instance, a Selena Gomez dance party may or may not have broken out the night before.
Be sure to keep up with their Facebook page for the schedule because in 2019, they aim to do more music, more comedy, and more Selena Gomez.
In the brewhouse, they hired new brewer Andrew Paulson, an opera-singing, former homebrewer who is doing some great things with the beer, even writing his own recipes.
“He brought on our new hazy IPA, and came out with the molé stout. He came out with the Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout,” Pertusini said.
And, not to mention, his (also) opera-singing wife, Abby, who is now one of the favorite bartenders at the taproom. Chili Line also hired on a charming gent named JD Garfield, the aforementioned actor in several movies and shows you’ll be glad to have IMDB’d.
“We have a really great crew right now. I haven’t fired anybody in months,” Pertusini said with a chuckle.
Back in the brewhouse, Chili Line is technically a 3-barrel brewhouse. They have three 1-barrel systems, doing three batches each time, giving them plenty of fresh ideas to serve up in their taproom (and plenty to do on a brew day).
From those fresh ideas came a fresh direction for the brewery.
“Everything still has smoked grain,” Pertusini said. “But, we did kind of move away from all the heavily smoked stuff. We still have favorites like the La Bamba and the Fuego, but we’re moving in a different direction. When I first started, I was looking at how saturated the market was, and said we needed to do something different. But, it became quite evident especially with certain things that have happened in the Santa Fe brewing scene, that if you hyper focus on a certain style, it might not be the best idea. You want to have a solid IPA. You want to have a solid stout. You want to have a solid lager. And, that’s kind of where we went with it. So, all of our base beers are now really low on smoke. They’re all 1 percent.”
And, as Santa Fe’s downtown brewery, they have more need to fill glasses, not niches. As a result, Pertusini’s beers in 2018 certainly became more approachable, while they still experimented with the whole style spectrum.
Chili Line has produced clean beers along the lager track, like the La Llorona, their regular American-style lager, and a Czech-style pilsner.
They’ve taken aim at both coasts with their West Coast inspired Pinche Guey IPA, and their East Coast Hazy IPA, the Brumoso.
Of course, because of their name (and location), Santa Fe visitors basically demanded the brewery make not only a green chile beer, but a red chile beer as well. To my palate, I think both were successful for that market. You still can’t make me crave a chile beer, except for maybe one that I can recall writing about, but I’ve witnessed, with my own eyes, mind you, folks ordering the chile beers by the pint at Chili Line.
One surprise crowd-pleaser has been their Lichtenhainer, Cherry-Poppin’, a smoked-German sour, leaning more towards the fruit tartness end rather than mouth-puckering sours or the funkalicious from the farmhouse side.
Of course, Pertusini still keeps his favorite beer on tap.
“I make the Helles specifically for me. It’s one of our least-selling beers, but I love the Helles’s style, and it’s a smoked Helles,” he said.
To thine own brew be true.
Chili Line also worked on a few barrel-aging projects with barrels from, you’ve guessed it, Santa Fe Spirits, so look for those sud babies to be born sometime in late 2019. Here’s hoping they’re big, burly, and possibly have Russian Imperial names. Pertusini said he plans to have more fun with barrels in 2019.
In 2018, they made a huge push to get their new beers out to the public at beer fests, which, prior to 2018 they’d been unable to support, with just Pertusini running the operations. With their stalwart new crew, they’ve been able to boldly go to more festivals than ever before, from showcasing their Blueberry Lavender Saison and Red Chile beer at Hopfest, to featuring their pizza at WinterBrew. They had a great time at Bueno Fest as well, up at the Santa Fe Ski Basin.
“We love our Santa Fe festivals,” Pertusini said. “Bueno Fest is a lot of fun, because we love our regulars, the people who really come and support this brewery.”
2019 promises to be the biggest year yet for Chili Line.
First, Chili Line has announced plans for distribution. They’ve got their city permits and their state permits. They’re only waiting on their federal license, which was delayed by the government shutdown. In the near future, however, Chili Line plans to keep their distribution operations small.
“We’re not going to be doing too much distribution outside of Santa Fe,” Pertusini said, “because I’m the one who’s driving.” (Laughs)
Chili Line wants to focus mainly on the local restaurant scene, he said.
“Because of our size, we want to be able to customize beers, like the Radish and Rye Beer, or the Maria’s beer, or whatever it may be,” Pertusini said.
2019 will be another big push for getting the beers out to the public. Chili Line is pulling a lot of special events permits for 2019.
“We really like our special events, because it’s an opportunity for us to feature our beer, and show people how far we’ve come,” Pertusini said. “And, we’ll be aiming for a lot of events this year, thanks to the help of Cindylou Jednak and her husband. We couldn’t really do all this without them.”
They’re also in talks about the space above the Osteria D’Assisi (also owned by the Da Lino group), and giving it a taproom feel, and of course pouring Chili Line’s beers, but that’s just speakeasy whispers.
Speaking of taprooms …
The big story for Chili Line this year is their upcoming second taproom in Lamy.
Just as many other taprooms began over a beer or several, Pertusini and Cindylou tossed around the idea of opening up one of Chili Line’s first offsite taprooms under their license. And, at some point, it made perfect sense to put the taproom of a brewery named after a railroad, into an actual depot at a train station. And so they did in the little town east/southeast of Santa Fe.
And, as luck would have it for the Lamy-ites? Lamayans? Lamyees? Anyway, as luck would have it, the Legal Tender, the historic restaurant and saloon will be re-opening basically across the street in April 2019, thus bringing life back to the railyard district of Lamy.
Pertusini said he plans to use the quarter-half-acre park with a stage for future concerts and events.
If you’re wondering about train service, Amtrak still rolls through the station regularly. So, if you’re waiting for your train, why not stop by the taproom and have a beer? But, the best part, Pertusini assured us, is that you can take growlers on the train and drink in your cabin. Done.
The Lamy taproom will have six beers on tap, and feature a local wine. They’ll have other Santa Fe breweries available in cans.
It won’t be a huge space, a bit smaller than their Santa Fe taproom, but it will certainly be serviceable for people stopping and going, and you can bet they’ll stick with the railroad theme. Wouldn’t you?
As for food, there might be something akin to the sandwich cart experience, much like the kind you’ve seen in the old movies with trains, but that’s all still in the talking stages. Most importantly, there will be beer. And, you can take a train to it. Chili Line Brewery’s second taproom should be pulling into Lamy’s station on the 5th of March, just in time for Mardi Gras.
It seems as though opportunity is rolling on down the line, and Pertusini and crew will be ready when the train pulls in. To Chili Line and your continued success, may you keep on chugging along!
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