Jemez Springs is a lovely little town in the Jemez Mountains. Despite living in Los Alamos, which is a little less than an hour drive away, I hadn’t visited the place in several years. Sure, you can get to Albuquerque by going “the back way” (coming out on Route 550), but it takes a little longer than the traditional route down I-25. It’s also quite windy, with many tight turns in spots. It can be quite sketchy in the winter, as you might imagine. But, it’s very scenic and full of vistas and natural beauty. I was reminded of this when we finally got around to visiting one of New Mexico’s newer breweries, Second Alarm Brewhouse.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we decided to combine hiking with our beer-seeking. Judging by the number of cars at the various trailheads and campgrounds, half of New Mexico had the same idea. We eventually stopped at Battleship Rock and hiked around a bit, but, ah, less than planned. The pull of lunch was strong. We headed into Jemez Springs and found Second Alarm with no trouble; it’s basically the first thing you see on the right/west side of the road. (Given the town’s size, nothing should give you much trouble, really.) Parking can be tricky on the main street, but there were several free spots in the lot in back.
The building also houses Monica’s Firehouse Grill. “Fire” is a common theme here, since the building is an old firehouse. It’s a symbiotic relationship, with Second Alarm handling the drinks. I had made arrangements to speak with Cody Lewis, one of the owners, but he wasn’t in at the moment. The beer selection was very good, with guest taps from Bosque, La Cumbre, Tractor, and others dominating. They have good taste, at least! Second Alarm had their own kolsch, hefeweizen, and porter on tap; sadly, the IPA was out. An IPA is a good test for a brewery, and it’s also my favorite style, but we’ll have to go back to test that one. The other three were solid brews, I thought.
We ordered from the menu, which features burgers and New Mexican fare. My wife focuses on meat while I’m mostly a vegetarian, so we complement each other in that sense. We both agreed that the burritos were very good. We would stop again even without the beer.
Cody showed up, and we settled down for a brief interview. My first question was how it all got started.
“We’ve been in the works for about 18 months now. My uncle recently retired from Sandoval County Fire Department,” Cody explained. “And, he was kind of wondering what to do in retirement. He’s big into craft beer, loves, loves craft beer and is friends with this guy, who’s now our master brewer. And so, we just decided, why not?”
Why not, indeed? Those are probably the exact words that have started many a brewery. I asked if they felt bad about competing with Los Ojos, the restaurant and bar across the street that’s been around forever. They tend to have more mainstream beers and liquor drinks, so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, Cody said.
“We get people in that want a margarita or whatever, so we send them down the road,” he said. “And, people that want a good beer, they come over here.”
The grand opening was last November. They were originally hoping to open on Memorial Day 2018, but there were issues getting their small brewer license. One thing led to another, and May turned into November, the dead of winter.
“This is the slowest time for tourism in this area,” Cody said. “Oh, yeah, we were nervous. (But), we didn’t have any trouble at all. We opened our doors and it’s been good ever since.”
Initially, plans were to have Monica Tolleson subcontract and handle the food side of things with a food truck in front. It didn’t take long for them to realize that it made more sense to just use the existing kitchen on-site.
“We have a whole commercial kitchen,” Cody said. “We do the beer side, and it’s worked really well. Yeah, it’s a nice relationship we’ve got there.”
The building itself has a long history. As mentioned earlier, Cody’s family has been involved with the fire department, so there’s a lot of sentimental attachment to the place. Much of the interior is preserved, and it still has a firehouse vibe. Some modifications had to be made, of course, and some are still to come. They plan to restore the garage doors so that there will be an open concept layout, with seating outdoors on nice days.
The brewer is Dan Garcia, who is retired from the Army. He’s been homebrewing for about 15 years, and he recently completed the CNM brewing certification program. He clearly has the chops for the job.
Because they’re limited in brewing capacity, Cody said they plan to contract out some of their brewing needs. In particular, they can’t keep up with demand for their IPA. Long-term, they would like to have at least nine of their 16 taps filled with their own brews.
Cody said doesn’t mind hosting other people’s beers, though. It gives his customers access to different things to try. In particular, he’s found that ciders are something new to many locals. I asked about future exotic recipes.
“What I would like to see is gin-and-tonic beer, hopefully, something that we could produce that would kind of be that flavor profile that some of that that gin flavor coming in, without actually having gin in it,”Cody said.
That should be interesting!
A high priority for Cody is working with other small, local breweries. He’s friends with the owners of Cantero Brewing in Albuquerque, and he mentioned that he’d also like to work with Brew Lab 101 and 1933 Brewing, both in Rio Rancho. New Mexico’s brewing scene has always had a lot of camaraderie, and the crew from Second Alarm will fit right in.
Further down the road, Cody said they would like to get into craft distilling. While not nearly as popular as brewing beer, there are a growing number of distilleries in New Mexico. Apparently, though, making that happen has logistical problems all its own.
“There’s a lot of strange requirements as far as the size of your building, how you access the distillery versus the brewery, the equipment if on the same premises has to be completely separated with separate entrances,” Cody said.
To make things easier and minimize changes to the building, they may end up opening a second location for the distilling.
Cody explained how Jemez Springs itself was bigger many years ago. There were more restaurants and things to do.
“It kind of dwindled,” he said. “A lot of the owners of the restaurants have passed on and then their kids didn’t want to run them. So they just shut down. We’ve been able to provide quite a few jobs. And it’s been nice, and I’m excited so far.”
It’s clear that he loves his town and is happy to be a part of its growth.
I want to thank Cody and the rest of the staff for their time and excellent, friendly service. We will look forward to returning soon.