Sometimes, to get what you want, it really is all about who you know. In our case, we just needed long-time friend-of-the-Crew Carlos Contreras’ help to land an interview with Mayor Tim Keller. After a careful negotiation of our schedules (mainly his), we were able to sit down with our Metal Mayor over a pint of Munich Dunkel at Dialogue Brewing to discuss all things craft beer in Albuquerque.
“Well, I think at a very surface level, it’s something we’re very good at,” Keller said of our craft brewing industry. “This is a pride thing for us. I forget the exact publication or ranking, but we’re top 10 or top 25 in all of them. I think in one we’re top five. That’s just a great thing for our city in general.
“I think there’s a lot of things that people take for granted, like our open space, our outdoors, and our culture. And, in some ways now, it’s our brewing scene. I think we’ve come to expect it (to always be there) and we don’t realize it’s actually something special.”
Craft brewing has also brought hundreds of jobs to Albuquerque as the breweries have expanded.
“There’s certainly things like tax revenue and employment, and a wide range of employment options from working the bar, to also getting into the chemistry/brewing side of it, getting into the marketing side of it, and some ways even the real estate side of it,” Keller said. “There’s wonderful, diverse economic benefits to it.”
Beyond simple financial numbers, though, breweries and taprooms can also mean something else to the people they serve.
“I think there’s actually something much more powerful about it than what’s on the surface,” Keller said. “To me, I was born and raised here, but I was fortunate enough to also be gone for 10 years and see the world. I do think there is an analogy, it’s a loose one, but it’s there about the function of pubs in other countries.
“It’s not just — people think of Germany, England, and Ireland — but I’ve spent a lot of time in developing countries and they have the same concept of the word ‘pub.’ For example, in Cambodia and Vietnam there’s pool halls that serve alcohol in every single neighborhood. I bring this up because I think they serve a community function of bringing people together in an era in American where we’re losing those places.”
Keller cited the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam to illustrate what he means by the American loss of places for people to gather.
“The thesis is there are no more bowling leagues, no more Kiwanis Club, all of the stuff that used to bring us together,” Keller said. “All that’s left is school, but that’s only for people with kids. Where do we connect with each other? The answer for many, many countries is your neighborhood bar and grill. But, neighborhood literally meaning walkable and bikeable. Obviously, that’s important (here) for safety reasons, but I think that’s also (where) you’re connecting with people you wouldn’t normally, so that’s bringing people together.
“I have no issue with the fact that, in fact I hope that there’s a brewery New Mexico-style in every neighborhood. And so, when people say the market is saturated or things like this, I don’t buy that at all when you’re looking at it based on an international model. I think it’s good for community building. It’s good for building a public dialogue, to reference Dialogue Brewing.”
That connection to the community goes beyond four walls, a roof, and a strong tap list, too.
“Then there’s the corollary with the art scene, because now the artists are selling in (the taprooms),” Keller said. “Then, of course, the music scene, too. The brewery scene has been a windfall for arts and music. That’s a whole other creative economy piece that, again, is something that in Albuquerque is surprisingly good. People still complain it’s not Austin, but hold on, there are hundreds of cities that can’t even touch us on local music.”
Keller said he has also been impressed how many local charities have utilized the breweries as fundraising sites.
“If you look at the Bees and Seeds Festival, then you consider if that was not at a brewery, if it was at a park, not their own fault, but I think it’s half the attendance,” he said of the recent event at Tractor Wells Park. “It’s also conducive for people to stay longer, buy more, learn more if they’re enjoying a hand-crafted ale. They’re much more engaged with these kinds of festivals.”
The brewing industry in Albuquerque can also serve as a sort of model for other small businesses, in more ways than one, Keller said. Breweries employ many people in very different roles, from the servers and bartenders out front, to the brewers and technical staff in the back, to the marketing and sales people in the office. That ability to seamlessly blend many blue collar and white collar roles together is a good example for other multi-faceted businesses.
“The other thing is, it’s teaching people how to run a small business,” Keller said. “That in general helps our economy.”
The other way that helps the economy is how breweries tend to pop up in neighborhoods that need a boost.
“The last thing I want to mention is the brewing industry is there’s a physical revitalization of underinvested neighborhoods,” Keller said. “So it’s actually saying how do I bring value to where we are right now, or even random places like Steel Bender. This is oddly sort of a real estate development angle that seems very white collar, but breweries are showing you know what, we can actually add value even to our uninvested sites. That’s huge, because it brings up the neighborhood around you, too.”
Of course, getting a brewery, or any business, open in Albuquerque can be a bit of a chore, to put it mildly. Keller said he is quite aware of the issues that small businesses are facing.
“We are, but it’s unfortunately more than just breweries,” he said. “I would argue for decades the city has always been a challenge when it comes to permitting. Many mayors have failed to make tracks, from all (political) parties. I’m still going to try again.
“We’re actually starting this summer to experiment with a lot of alternative permitting, and fire inspection, and also health inspection methods. We’re also going in with eyes wide open that this has been a problem for a long time. A lot of it is unfortunately tied into, and this sounds like a bureaucratic answer, but the root cause is there’s like nine overlapping entities.”
Any attempt at a quick fix will not work, Keller said.
“Every mayor has (tried to) set up a one-stop shop,” he said. “It makes for a good press release, looks good on a sign post, but it changes nothing. We are kind of spending a little bit of a summer project to see if we can change things. We’re aware of it, we want to make another run at it, so hopefully we’ll be able to make some progress.
“But, I will say this, as difficult as it is, it can’t be that difficult because there are 66 breweries (and taprooms) in Albuquerque. I don’t want it to be such a pain in the butt, but it might not be quite as bad as it feels.”
Before I let the mayor off the hook, there were still a few extra questions I had to ask for fun, starting with what was the first local craft beer that he tried.
“I can get there … it was Marble,” he said after thinking for a bit. “I think it was Marble IPA.”
Well, the first local beer I had after moving back to Albuquerque in late 2008 was Marble Red, so that was not a big surprise.
The next question was the tough one: What is/are your favorite local beer(s)?
“I know most politicians avoid answering questions like that, but I’m a believer in calling like it is,” Keller said. “So my favorites are the Boxing Bear (Standing 8) Stout, so yeah, I love that. If it’s available, I get it. At the other end of the spectrum, I love La Cumbre Beer. Typically, I would get those over anything in any given situation.”
All right, Justin Hamilton, time to put Standing 8 back on the year-round menu!
“Then, Red Door, they’re so kind and I’ve known them for a while, they let me mix (beers),” Keller added. “Before sours were cool, I would make sours with some of their (beers). I would do a third and a third and a third. For a long time, I liked Red Door because I could craft my own. I think those (breweries) would be tops. I do love to try to force myself to try new ones here and there.”
But wait, he had one more to add to the list.
“I’m also really partial to Nexus, because again, not to pick favorites, but their food is just incredible,” Keller said. “I like their Chocolate (Porter), I think, and their Broadway store, too, is just a good example of I believe in the long term. It’s next to one of our (APD) substations. I think it’s part of a key revitalization of that neighborhood by an entrepreneur who’s from that neighborhood. That’s amazing.
“We have a lot of meetings at Nexus because we can get a beer and food and it’s close to the office.”
Anyone else want to attend a lunch meeting with the mayor?
Of course, being that he is the Metal Mayor, I had to ask what upcoming metal concert was at the top of his list.
“I’m in town for (Iron) Maiden, so I have to go to Maiden,” Keller said of the September 19 concert at Isleta Pavilion. “I haven’t seen them in a while, since maybe 2009, so it’s been 10 years. I’m excited about that. I’m also excited about I think Volbeat is with Slipknot. And, isn’t Alice in Chains coming in with Korn? They’re all bands I’ve seen before, but I hope I can actually sit back and enjoy the show.”
Noticing his excellent Amon Amarth shirt, I also let him know that the band was performing in Denver during the Great American Beer Festival in October. Keller said he missed Amon Amarth opening for the final Slayer show due to a conference in Seattle that was happening at the same time.
“I refuse to believe it’s Slayer’s last tour,” he said. “I decided to run for mayor at their show in Las Vegas, like halfway through, I said I’m definitely going to do this.”
Slayer inspired Tim Keller to run for mayor? Well then, for that, we can definitely raise the horns!
A huge thank you to everyone involved in helping us to set this up, from our old friend Carlos, to Jessie Damazyn, to Claudia J. Gallardo De Campbell, to Brandon Padilla, and finally to Mayor Keller himself.