Albuquerque is a big small town, as most locals already know. Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it is more like three degrees of Burqueños — if you know one random person, chances are that he or she will know the other person you are trying to contact for something work-related, or in our case, beer-related.
Take last Saturday, when after the Beer Premier, a group of us went to Marble to indulge in some delicious Oni Noodles. We sat up on the skydeck with the new roommate of one of our friends, and started talking about craft beer, as one is wont to do in such a situation. The roommate then informed me that the gentleman sitting next to her was opening his own brewery soon. It took only a second to realize this was the person with whom I had corresponded with via email just a few days earlier.
“Cameron?” I asked.
“Stoutmeister?” he responded.
Over a bowl of ramen and with lagers in hand, that was how the co-owner/brewer of the forthcoming Context Brewing met this here beer writer. With some available free time this week, I trekked over to 816 Third Street to meet with Cameron Frigon and his business partner/brother, Chris Frigon, to talk about their decision to join the crowded Albuquerque brewing scene.
“There are cities that have more breweries per capita,” Cameron said. “Even though Albuquerque feels crowded, go to Portland, Maine, and even if you’ve got a weak arm you can’t throw a stone and not hit a brewery. I think it helps develop the identity of a city, it makes a city a better place. More competition makes all the breweries better. We feel comfortable doing this, especially the way that we’re doing it. We just want to create a place where people really want to be.”
The brothers are originally from Colorado. Cameron went to school to learn brewing and worked at a microbiology lab in his home state before heading east to work at the Bronx Brewery in New York City. The pull to come back west was strong, and now they are working hard to open the brewery that will be tucked on the east side of Third, in between Papa Frank’s to the north and the Sumo Sushi and Square Root Salon to the south.
Cameron will, naturally, handle all the brewing for Context.
“Our mom says you have to do (all the brewing),” Chris said with a laugh.
Context will also make kombucha in addition to beer, which Cameron said he feels is important to have something for those who do not wish to drink alcohol. That will be an aspect of Context that will set it apart from the other breweries in the north downtown/Wells Park area.
“We’ve got a few different things going on that people want that aren’t really here in this town yet,” Cameron said. “Number one is I think kombucha is going to take a little while to heat up. It’s going to be a simmer. But, I think eventually it’s going to be something that people are going to want a little bit more of. We want to introduce that and say it’s all right to drink something non-alcoholic at a brewery, too. I don’t know if you’ve ever ordered a non-alcoholic beverage; it’s fucking weird. I felt super uncomfortable, like I was being judged by the bartender.”
The exact location of Context was another major factor for the brothers.
“I think the other thing is location is so important these days,” Cameron said. “You can’t just open a brewery anywhere. I think downtown is going to keep growing, becoming more of a destination place where people want to live, where people want to work. I think it’s slowly getting there. I’ve lived in a handful of different cities and it feels like it’s the same everywhere, downtown explodes a little bit.
“The north side of downtown, you’ve got Marble a couple blocks away, and Still Spirits, but people who work downtown they’re not going to walk any further than this. This is the limit. I know there’s a lot of breweries up north of us (in Wells Park), but how many people are going to walk that far. I just think the way that I’ve seen cities evolve, people want to live in walkable areas, and this to us is a walkable area.”
There were certainly plenty of people walking in the area with the U.S. District Courthouse right across the street.
“We felt like there’s room for us,” Cameron said. “We felt like there’s room just in this north side of downtown. I don’t think people are overwhelmed with options here. Marble and Still Spirits are fantastic places, wonderful people to call our next door neighbors, but there’s still room here.”
Context will have a 5-barrel brewhouse, with a fair amount of seating inside and outside on the south-facing patio. Cameron said they hope to expand the size of the patio in the future, but what is there for now is good enough to start.
“This building itself is 1,800 square feet, which is kind of what I wanted,” he said. “Coming from a production background, I got really tired of working a production brewery. It was nonstop, kind of overwhelming. Eventually I became detached of what I was doing.
“We wanted the space to feel really intimate. We wanted it to feel a bit cozy. Also, having these bay doors open up, it has a great indoor/outdoor feel, which was another attraction. These were the spaces I spent time at (back east).”
The small parking lot and the crowded street outside would make it hard for a food truck to park there, so Context is already looking to partner with one of its neighbors.
“I think the food component is going to go slow,” Cameron said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped by Papa Frank’s, but they’re right in back. He’s open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. We might end up leasing out his kitchen and put a door in the wall right here. Then we can connect the places and add a restaurant component to this. There aren’t a ton of options in this area to grab a bite to eat.”
As the photos show, there is still a lot of work to do at Context. A late 2019/early 2020 opening is certainly possible, and the brothers said they will keep us up to date on their progress. For now, future patrons can keep track of the brewery on Instagram.
A big thank you to Cameron and Chris for taking the time to chat in the midst of construction. We look forward to going back when the beer is ready, those bay doors are up, and everyone is just chilling out at another excellent neighborhood pub in our big/little town.