The best laid plans do not always come to fruition. We sent one of our writers to Cantero Brewing back in the fall, only to have him then move to California for a new job. After deciding that he was never going to actually send us the story, I trekked over to the brewpub at 3351 Columbia Dr. NE to catch up with brewers David Rosebeary and George Gonzales.
“I think it’s been going really well, actually,” David said. “We’ve been really busy. We hit that normal lull around wintertime. That’s definitely a lesson learned. Other than that, we’ve just been more familiar with our brewhouse. I feel like the quality of the beer is getting better and better.”
Located in the Brewery District just a few blocks from Canteen Brewhouse and La Cumbre, Cantero has managed to find its niche since our first visit thanks in large part to its extensive food menu.
“I think so, and also we’ve been using beer in our recipes,” David said. “Like our chicken and waffles, we use our (red chile) stout in their syrup. We have a pretty close relationship with our kitchen. Whenever (our chef is) choosing stuff, he’s also asking us for pairing ideas.”
That synergy between the kitchen and brewing team has helped. A sizable lunch crowd arrived on a weekday as the interview took place.
Of course, much like the brewery there before it, Cantero has had to deal with its somewhat remote and random location, just south of Aztec and a block east of the I-25 northbound frontage road. So far, though, customers have managed to find their way.
“A lot of people are saying they finally made it in,” George said. “We’ve had people who had us on their to-do list, but they finally tracked us down. We did do a Groupon that got us some exposure. We had a pretty good success with that, it got a lot of people to finally make it in.
“That was a big part of the Groupon that we did was that it featured food as part of the deal. That way they get exposure to the whole product that we offer. Hopefully they come back for the beer.”
David said for the most part, customers are finding Cantero simply through social media and the like.
“Basically, that’s it,” David said. “We’re just really focusing on natural growth. We’re not trying to do too much to coerce people into coming. We want them to come of their own accord. We’ve got a lot of word-of-mouth.”
Like so many breweries that have come before, in that spot and elsewhere around town, finding out what the public wants in the styles of beer has proven to be a bit of a surprising challenge for Cantero.
“That’s how it’s been going; it’s pretty interesting to see what hits and what doesn’t,” David said.
“It’s a tug of war between the serving tanks, we’re trying to log what’s been selling and what’s not, and then all of a sudden we’ll face a lull,” George added.
“It’s really hard to figure out,” David said. “Springtime we’re figuring more sours are going to be working its way out, but even on some of the nicer days it seems the darker beers are working. That’s sort of been a surprise.”
As if they were speaking of me, I ordered a Deaf Dog Brown, which was smooth, creamy, and not-too-sweet.
“The brown is going to stick around, it’s one of our favorites,” George said. “It’s not the fastest seller but it’s definitely steady. That’s the one in the last month or so it went boom. I was thinking warmer weather, we were going to dial in the lagers and some of the lighter offerings, but people are digging the dark.”
David and George do have the advantage of a 1-barrel pilot system alongside their 10-barrel brewhouse, which gives them the chance to play around with some unique beers without ending up with too much left over.
“Definitely keeping things steady is (key),” David said. “We have our pilot system that we like to brew on, so there’s some funky offerings coming from there, some fun stuff coming.”
The duo is looking everywhere and anywhere for what might be the next beer style to hit it big.
“I have friends in other areas,” George said. “I have a friend who works in a beer bar in New York. He’s a genuine geek, working on his doctorate there at NYU, but he’s also a bit of a beer geek. I try to see what’s happening over there. We’re trying to see different trends, if we can get an early jump on something, which would be nice.”
One area where the brewers have seen growth on the national market is with beers with a lower ABV (alcohol by volume).
“I’ve noticed, even as far as national brands, the craft ones, gravitating toward smaller beers with bigger flavors,” George said. “I really like how some substantial some people’s 4-percenters are. I think that might be something we’d like to approach, to give that lighter option, get a few lawnmower beers out there.”
David mentioned he would like to see some hop-forward beers with a substantial amount of flavor, but sticking to the lower ABV trend.
“Not so much toward the session IPA (trend),” George added. “For me that was never really a hit. I wanted to like them, but I never really found one. But, I like the idea.”
Neither David nor George had ever brewed on a commercial scale before, but both said they are a lot more in sync with the main brewhouse and the old-school boiler in the back.
“The boiler has actually been doing” — knocks on wood — “really well the last couple months,” David said. “We’re working with our boiler guys and they’ve got it dialed in pretty well. The brewhouse, I think, has been performing well and we’re definitely getting more comfortable with it and used to it, so brew days have been going a lot more smoothly.”
“Scaling (up) has been a lot less problematic,” George added.
With things settling down internally, Cantero will be participating in more events this year, starting with Albuquerque Beer Week in May.
“We have an event here for Beer Week, we’re going to do a beer release, (but) I’m not comfortable saying what that is going to be quite yet,” David said. “We’re going to be doing a beer release and probably a food pairing as well.”
There is also a potential block party with Canteen, Palmer, and Red Door tentatively scheduled during Beer Week, assuming the City of Albuquerque approves, George said. Cantero will also be part of the biggest event of Beer Week.
“We’ll be at Blues & Brews,” David said. “We’re starting to get out there a little bit more. We don’t want to participate to the detriment of what we have on stock here. We want to participate, (but) we’re just trying to hedge our bets a little bit.”
A big thanks to David and George for taking time out of their brew day to chat. We look forward to what they have coming down the pipeline, particularly that multi-brewery block party if it comes to pass.