The answer to the question of what is the oldest brewery in Albuquerque is apparent the moment anyone walks into Canteen Brewhouse, what with the 25th anniversary signs plastered everywhere.
It has been a long road from the early days brewing in the back of the Il Vicino location in Nob Hill to the current brewery, so to take stock of it all, I sat down with head brewer Zach Guilmette and general manager Jamie Schwebach in one of our last Look Back/Look Ahead Series interviews for 2018-19.
“We saw continued growth last year,” Jamie said. “Having the patio redone was a huge help. We were able to showcase the beers Zach was making. I think we’ve had a lot of fun with a lot of different styles of beer.”
“The beer is the beer, but you can’t succeed without good service, someone who is connecting with the community,” Zach added.
Zach and Jamie spent most of the interview heaping praise upon one another, and both are quite right that things have gotten a lot better over the last year at Canteen.
“What I’ve noticed after being here three years is the last year has really seen a much bigger outreach to the community with different, diversified events that Jamie has put on,” Zach said. “Such as weightlifting competitions, drag queen bingo, and at least one other fun event.”
“I think we’ve created some great partnerships with the community,” Jamie said. “We’re making sure we’re giving back to the community, whether it’s hosting nonprofit night and giving 20 percent sales back, to partnering to run 5Ks, to the Valle De Oro partnership with the development of their space in the South Valley. It’s been good opportunities to give back. … I really feel our owners have really encouraged that, really encouraged community partnerships. It’s been fun.”
The old-guard breweries can often fade into the background with all the new up-and-comers in the industry, but Canteen has been able to carve out its niche with its two locations.
“I’ve seen growth at both our taproom as well as here,” Jamie said. “Which I’m really excited in general with the beer market to see growth, which is really crazy with all these new breweries popping up.”
“More than a thousand breweries opened up in the country last year, but 200 closed,” Zach said. “There was 4-percent growth, so we’re still seeing craft beer growing, though it’s not the double-digit liquid gold rush of 2010 to 2014. We’re still seeing that growth, and it surprises me at times. I think that we want to see strength in numbers. I think craft beer, as long as it’s good, you can always have a place to drink beer.”
Jamie credited the efforts of Zach and his brewing team for keeping that growth going at Canteen.
“I really think your beer is consistently getting better,” Jamie said. “You have really consistent beer, but the new stuff you’re putting out is awesome.”
“I want to take a break, but people keep pushing me,” Zach replied. “There are other great breweries that keep pushing you. I guess if you aren’t trying to get better you’d get boring.”
One new move for Canteen that started at the end of 2018 was putting some of the specialty beers in cans alongside the Exodus IPA, Dougie Style Amber, and Laid Back Lager.
“We are canning (more styles) this year and we ended last year with Panama Joe, a special canning series that was leading into this year’s canning series of our specials every other month,” Zach said. “We just released the Irish Red. Then we’ll be canning for Cinco de Mayo the Cabana Lager. Following the Cabana Lager in June we’ll have a 25th anniversary summer release.”
With more beer coming out in more formats, Canteen exceeded its production goal for 2018.
“Our goal was to hit 2,500 barrels last year and we hit 2,515,” Jamie said. “We’ve seen an increase in our barrelage. Our main goals are to increase our taproom sales. We see more people coming in, so we want to create a true pub feeling, good beer, good conversation, a place that everybody’s welcome.”
Increasing sales at the brewery on Aztec and the taproom on Tramway is dependent on a strong front-of-house staff.
“We think last year we brought in a lot of great staff and that’s been such a great part to continue building on that,” Jamie said. “They’ve become such an integral part of our team. Our GM up at the taproom, Katie Capener, she’s killing it. I love what’s happening up there.”
Another partnership that Canteen is participating in is the One Albuquerque T-shirt launches. The different colored shirts represent different City departments.
“We’re doing One Albuquerque launches, we’re partnering with the City,” Jamie said. “Which is really great to be behind and support the One Albuquerque movement, even just offering a space where people can meet the city staff. It’s great to put a face to the name of the people running our city. We just did Solid Waste, and they are just the nicest guys. I forget how much little kids idolize the trash man, just as much as old men idolize Zach.”
All joking aside, much of the planning efforts for the next two months will be aimed at the ever-expanding list of events and special beers coming out for the official anniversary month of June.
“For 25, we’re doing a bunch of stuff throughout June,” Jamie said. “June 15 we’re going to throw a party. Five years ago, we did 20 Years of Beer, now we’re doing 25 Years of Beer. So we’ll be utilizing the whole parking lot, doing food trucks, vendors, live music from 2 to 11 on an outdoor stage. … We’re excited to just throw a big party and celebrate everybody.”
The hope is to have the parking lot at the business on the south side of Aztec available, though that property is changing hands. It might just be best to really on a taxi/ride share/designated driver, since the beers are gonna be flowing from the archives as well as some new additions.
“We’re releasing Citranova,” Zach said. “We’re doing a juiced oatmeal lager for summer. A 25th anniversary beer you’d think would be barrel-aged or something really special, but releasing one of those in June is kind of tough. It’s 25 years, why not release two anniversary beers? That will be our summer release, and then in the fall we’ll be releasing a Belgian dark strong aged in rye whiskey barrels.”
There will be other events at the brewery, as well as some at other places around town.
“We’re also going to do some other fun stuff throughout that time frame,” Jamie said. “We’re going to be doing a partnership with Il Vicino, doing a beer dinner, kind of taking it back to our roots. We talked about that for (ABQ) Beer Week, but I think we’re going to push that back to June.
“We started (brewing) in Nob Hill, and we want to make sure we’re celebrating that. We have such a great history. How many people started drinking IPAs in New Mexico with our Flashback, which used to be Wet Mountain? We’re going to be celebrating that.”
This comes even as Flashback has been dethroned as the best-selling beer at Canteen.
“We’ve always seen our IPA is our number one seller and we’ve seen a switch, our High Plains Pilsner is our number one seller,” Jamie said. “Is that indicative of a market trend? I mean, our numbers two through four sellers are all IPAs.”
Zach has talked for years about High Plains as his personal favorite beer to make and drink. He won a silver medal for it at the 2016 World Beer Cup.
“I’m excited about that,” Zach said. “It’s a little personal goal to make the pilsner the best-selling beer because IPAs rule the market. This year it’s crushing all the other beers, it’s outselling all the other beers we make. It certainly bodes that the market and people are trending towards lagers and lighter beers. People are looking for that as far as a good beer, I guess.”
Some other upcoming events include ABQ Beer Week releases of a brut IPA and a key lime Social Capital, Zach said. He may also be brewing something besides beer later this year.
“For us we’re still waiting on licensing, but we’re going to do a cider this year,” Jamie said. “It just makes sense. It’s great, we sell Tractor’s Red Delicious Cider and Sandia’s up at the taproom, but it would be nice to have our own.”
Adding cider to the menu is not merely capitalizing on a current trend, but just meeting customer demand, Zach said.
“We’re not talking about canning it now, but certainly for me, fermenting stuff is fun,” Zach said. “Everything has its challenges, pH levels, gravities, and cider gives you different challenges. I tend to think that, as a brewer, you certainly want to brew as much beer as possible, but ciders, seltzers, whatever it is, is what the market’s looking for. That’s what we feel. I think the days of being the brewer who says you’re going to drink this because this is what I make, is not really respecting the growth of craft beer drinkers and what they want, and that we’re here to do a job. If you want to make something crazy, you can do that as a special or you can do that in your garage at home. You do have to balance that desire of what you want to make versus what the market is asking you to make, because you’re here to make the business succeed.”
Onward and upwards is the goal at every brewery, whether turning 25 this year, or just starting out.
“It’s been a fun little journey in the past year,” Jamie said. “It’s nice to see growth and change and exciting things that are still to come that we can’t say until it actually happens.”
A big thanks to Zach and Jamie for being so patient with us getting over to do this story, but we are glad that they have reached the point where things are set and they can share the information about the June celebration and events.
Here is to the start of the next 25 years of beers at Canteen!