Icebox Brewing might just be the most modern, and yet the most historic brewery in Las Cruces. While the brewery has only been open since January, the building it occupies has been around for more than 50 years.
General manager and co-founder Brian Weidauer said that the former home of Sierra Ice and Water at 2825 W. Picacho Ave. seemed to be a natural fit for a brewery.
“We obviously, first and foremost, enjoy beer,” Brian said. “We like the community that craft beer represents, and especially the camaraderie between all the businesses and all the breweries. The owner (John Wright) had an industrial supply business for a long time, a family business, and he recently sold that. I’ve known him for a long time, so we were working together. We paired up with (brewer) Garrett Denmark and started throwing around ideas of what we could build and what we wanted to do.”
The connections that Wright had to the industrial community led them to a building with a long history.
“We found this building, it used to be an old ice (making) plant,” Brian said. “That’s where the name Icebox comes from. Since Miller has Icehouse, we didn’t want a cease-and-desist letter from them.“
The first major brewery in Albuquerque was the Southwestern Brewery and Ice Company, which lasted from 1889 to 1917, and combined both brewing and ice-making. It remained open as an ice plant until the 1970s, though brewing never resumed after Prohibition.
Sierra Ice and Water was never a brewery before, and it certainly does not have a history dating back to the 19th Century, but it does make for a unique setting for a modern brewery.
“We worked hard over the past year or two to repurpose at least this front warehouse and get our brewhouse built, get all the equipment in place, get some recipes developed,” Brian said. “I think our approach to the beers is we kind of make sure most of the styles are very approachable to the general public, but also good enough for the real beer connoisseur.”
That approach fits the bulk of the local customers, as well as visitors from nearby El Paso, who are not as well versed in the more eclectic beer styles like people in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are used to these days.
“With the beers that we have, (I) just try to have the styles that are classic and basic, and we can continue to teach people what craft beer is,” said Garrett, who came from nearby Spotted Dog Brewing. “We want to throw some new stuff in there and start working on some kettle sours, and some of the trending beers that are out there, but we also really want to focus on what craft beer is and educate people on that.”
Icebox has an open brewing area, visible to the entire seating area for its customers. There is a sizable patio out front, facing north toward Picacho Avenue. The bar inside is quite large, but there are plenty of tables as well. There is a small stage for music, and the SoHo food truck is permanently parked outside.
“There’s lots of room for expansion if we need it,” Brian said. “I can show you our walk-in cooler and what we did with that. We had to put everything in (ourselves). We put the sprinkler system in so we could keep the brewing equipment open (for viewing), just separated by the railing. That was very important to us. The investment was made to bring all of that in. Pretty much all of the electrical had to be redone, all the HVAC work is brand new, there wasn’t anything in here. It was kind of a shell of a warehouse.”
There were a few businesses that occupied the building in between the closing of Sierra Ice and Water, but none of them did much to modernize the building.
“We tried to keep the warehouse feel for sure, but make it feel comfortable enough with some little touches,” Brian said. “The big bar was part of our plan, the design from the beginning. We wanted it to be a place where people could sit and talk, make new friends.
“We have two more TVs when we originally even thought we were going to have. There was debate whether we were even going to have TVs for a long time. But, we kind of caved to the fact there’s events on from time-to-time that people are going to want to see. We put four on, but we’re tapped out.”
Brian said the process of opening Icebox was not all that difficult in terms of dealing with the City of Las Cruces or the State of New Mexico, but he did not have a way to compare it to the struggles that many new breweries face in Albuquerque.
“I can’t relate it to Albuquerque, but I’d say the process overall was fairly smooth,” he said. “There were things we had to change to meet codes, obviously. We had a unique deal where we’re taking a pretty old building and when you repurpose it like that, you have to bring everything up to code. A lot of the things we ran into before we got our final inspection approval had to do with this particular building. It’s just the process, it takes long to come down from Santa Fe and then back to the city.”
The immediate success for Icebox has already led the staff to make the decision to open an offsite taproom.
“We were hoping to really be into some remodeling projects and stuff by June, but it looks we’ll be July,” Brian said. “It’s public knowledge. It’s a Burger Time location up on North Main, 3231 North Main, it’s across from the Lowe’s Home Improvement, right by the I-25/Main Street exchange there.
“Over the years there used to be several neighborhood bars around that area. The liquor license laws and everything over the last 10 to 15 years, it’s disappeared. Right now you have a bar-restaurant up on Sonoma Ranch that’s pretty high up on Highway 70, (and from there to) all the way down to downtown, there’s nothing on Main Street anymore. We feel like it’s a great location for a neighborhood taproom/restaurant, just that local place to go and serve that side of town.”
The Shivering Scotsman (6.4% ABV, 24 IBU) and Black Ice Lager (5.1% ABV, 20 IBU) were both solid malt-forward beers. There are still many more to try, so rest assured that the Crew will return to Icebox on our next trip to Las Cruces.
A big thanks to Brian and Garrett for the beer and the interview on a busy day (Blazin’ Brewfest was just five hours away when we sat down).