Santa Fe Brewing Company had its busiest year yet. But, for a brewery known to spend a great deal of its efforts on expanding the empire outward, 2019 found New Mexico’s oldest operating brewery crafting closer to home and building upward.
Not too long ago, I met with owner Brian Lock on my lunch break to talk about how 2019 went for SFBC, what plans they have for 2020, and of course, I got the details on their shiny new brewhouse that was recently put into operation, and the multi-story taproom that will be opening to the public soon at HQ (35 Fire Pl, Santa Fe, NM 87508).
“2019 has been another great year for SFBC. Currently we are 20 percent up over last year on beer shipments,” Lock said.
For SFBC, growth certainly seemed to be the theme for 2019. With the installation of the new Krones/Steinecker brewhouse, and nearing completion of the huge new taproom, Santa Fe Brewing has vastly increased its production, and is about to actualize one of Lock’s biggest dreams for his company — the destination taproom.
2019 came with a few major changes as well.
“The biggest change was the passing of the torch at brewmaster,” Lock said.
Former brewmaster Bert Boyce is moving on to open his own brewery in El Paso. We’ll have the story on that soon enough. Brian Shaeffer, formerly of Oskar Blues Brewery, has adeptly stepped into the role and is already in the captain’s chair.
In 2019, SFBC definitely felt a shift in the market as well.
“The landscape is getting more and more crowded, and thus the market is super competitive these days,” Lock said.
But, no stranger to shifting markets, SFBC has continued to push its winners, while introducing new players to keep up with the ever-changing flavor game.
“7K IPA continues to grow!” Lock said. “We launched 7K IPA in July of 2017, and the brand is still growing. We have never released a beer that has been as successful. Social Hour (released in January 2019) is currently our fastest growing beer and Pepe Loco (creation, and weekend alter ego of R&Demon, Dave Ahern-Seronde) is just behind in growth.”
Santa Fe Brewing’s current taproom and event space continued to see success in 2019. Lock told us that the Bridge hosted roughly 10 large concerts over the summer and has started to book up for 2020 with plenty of wedding rentals.
I asked Lock what the biggest lesson learned in 2019 was. He replied, “Biggest lesson learned? Don’t try to do too much in one year ever again. New brewhouse, new taproom, and new brewmaster, all in one year, is a lot!”
Heading into 2020, SFBC’s strategy is to continue to dig deeper in New Mexico. They aim to focus on their backyard, Lock said. SFBC plans to release two varieties of cider in the can, and two varieties of hard seltzer as well, which will factor into their whole overarching goal of filling taps and filling the state with new taprooms. As for the beer, the direction isn’t going to change for SFBC. Lock says the beer is headed in the same direction as always, with quality being the top priority.
The new 70-barrel brewhouse, Lock assured me, will allow SFBC to offer more one-off small batch beers than ever before.
Speaking of which …
Papa Lock’s got a brand new brewhouse
SFBC understands the struggles of being a regional brewery, especially with the market, as it is today. It’s getting much harder and harder to spread the empire across the US, even by a state here and a state there. When you’re hot, you have to be able to fulfill orders. In 2019, Lock told me they ran into some capacity issues, where they couldn’t supply enough beer as fast as it was needed. They ended up making the decision to pull out of Kansas and Missouri, and instead focus on the homefront.
In 2020, SFBC hopes to become experts at what they’ve done so well since ’88, which is getting their beers onto shelves and tables across New Mexico. How do they plan to achieve this?
With a big new brewhouse.
In 2019, SFBC upgraded from a 30- to a 70-barrel brewhouse.
The Krones/Steinecker brewhouse was 100-percent built in Germany. SFBC aimed to have it up and running by the summer, but there was a minor setback even before the steel hit Highway 14. It turns out, when the boat reached the port in Houston, the USDA inspector found a beetle infestation in the shipping crate. He quarantined the entire shipment, and sent it back to Germany. Krones then repacked everything and sent it back, delaying the whole build by three months. The equipment finally arrived in August, and after a two-month installation with a bit of outside help, the system is belling and whistling away.
SFBC’s new five-vessel system has the usual vessels — the lauter tun, mash tun, whirlpool, brew kettle — but adds a new wort receiver to the process for more throughput capacity. With that, Santa Fe Brewing is spec’d to do eight brews in a 24-hour cycle, meaning a whole lot more beer than they were producing before. About five times more.
“We’ve (moved away) from overnight brewing, where we were brewing Monday morning, 24 hours a day, until Friday night,” Lock said. “We were doing 25 30-barrel batches per week. We can now do four 70-barrel batches, essentially filling two 150-barrel tanks in one day. So we might be brewing only two or three times a week, two batches, to get us to where we were, so it eliminates a lot of the overnight brewing.”
“Once you start brewing, it’s a close-loop system,” Lock said. “So you don’t have to open up any more hutches in the kettle to dump your hops in. There’s an automatic hop-dosing vessel that shoots the hops into the kettle, automated, so there’s no chance of getting burned by wort. So, from a liability standpoint, it’s a big upgrade, too.”
Their other major upgrade is their milling system.
SFBC first started brewing on the new system about a month ago on October 7.
They added four more new 150-barrel fermenters as part of the new install.
Tank Space Specs:
- 13 150-barrel tanks
- 4 120-barrel tanks
- 3 30-barrel tanks for half batches
As for distribution, this means that SFBC won’t have to allocate any beer to any distributors.
“It’ll give us the ability to go after sales in the states that we’re in, but most of our energy is focused on New Mexico first and foremost,” Lock said. “And, we don’t have any plans to go after any new markets, at least for 2020.”
With the new brewhouse, SFBC will go from around 35,000 barrels a year to over 200,000.
But, even though they’re not making any huge moves distribution-wise, as mentioned above, it doesn’t mean they’ve been sitting still. You’ve probably already seen the video posted to their social media channels. If you have, then you got a good visual of the BIG brand new taproom that’s going up at their headquarters location, wedged neatly between their canning hall and the new brewhouse building.
If you haven’t, let’s take a walk, shall we?
The New Taproom
As you walk up to the taproom from the parking lot, you’re crossing a huge open beer garden space. On a concrete-paved path, you wind your way around what’s going to be a large sunken natural gas fire pit. All around you is going to be grass, other green landscaping, and mature trees sourced from SFBC’s hop farm.
On your left, you’ll notice a 40-foot shipping container that will house a full kitchen and staff. You’ll place your orders and eat on a raised deck that runs the length of its side. Chef Evan Doughty, formerly of the Eldorado Hotel, will spearhead the efforts to keep all those making the pilgrimage to this New Mexico beervana fed and happy.
Before reaching the tall custom wood doors, you’ll have to take notice of the large (planned) 10-foot rock waterfall feature between the two entrances.
As you walk in, you’ll immediately understand the grand sense of scope as the huge staircase appears before you, crowned by a giant iron chandelier, which you might recognize from Bishops Lodge. With windows on either side of the taproom looking out on either the canning line, or brewhouse, you can almost feel the energy of 30 years worth of history buzzing around you.
As I moved into the yet-unfinished space, I could see the potential for the epic grandness of what SFBC was trying to achieve, and it gave me goosebumps, like the first time I walked through the old brewhouse seven years earlier for a homebrew club meeting, six-pack in hand.
When you look around at all the brick and steel and reclaimed hardwood, you’ll know that they’ve been building something great for a very long time. It took a lot of hard work, and a lot of good people to get them to where they are now.
Downstairs you might glance at the giant serving room while ordering a beer. Or, you might walk past the gift shop on the way to the bathrooms, complete with urinals made from old kegs. Ah, the details.
Upstairs, you might join your buddies in the private party room ordering off one of the three taps of the private bar.
And, you might head out onto the balcony overlooking the entirety of the beer garden for some fresh air. It will be a big, beautiful space to drink a beer, and with 32 taps (at the main bar), for core offerings, seasonals, guest beers, ciders, and kombucha, you’ll have plenty of options to fill your glass at the new HQ watering hole.
The third floor plays host to plenty of office space, with couches for lounging, plug-ins for visiting sales-reps, and a couple fridges, for … pickles? And, their conference room? Oh, man! Their conference room boasts one of the best vistas in the county, with a heart-palpitating, panoramic view of La Cienaga and beyond.
“Our new taproom opening at HQ is scheduled for just before the Christmas/New Year,” Lock said confidently.
Beyond that, Santa Fe Brewing has two new taprooms set to open in 2020. One close to the beginning of the year in Albuquerque, and one in Las Cruces towards the last quarter.
Lock said that the new taproom located at Tin Can Alley (Alameda and San Pedro) in Albuquerque is also on schedule to open around March 2020.
“City council has already approved the license,” he said. “Alcohol and Gaming is just waiting on me to send them pictures of the patio and issue the license.”
All that’s left is the buildout.
A recent article in the Albuquerque Journal was the first I had heard of a Las Cruces taproom in the works. So, I sent Lock a few follow-up questions about it.
DSBC: And what’s the story on the Las Cruces taproom?
Lock: We’re shooting to finish construction thirdrd quarter 2020 and open by year end or early 2021.
DSBC: Where will it be located?
Lock: Almost directly across the street from the Pan American Center and within walking distance to the University.
DSBC: Have you already broken ground?
Lock: No. We’re working with the architect now on the design.
DSBC: What’s the broad scope plan for taps, food, entertainment?
Lock: Plan to have 32 taps with rotating ciders, beers, and seltzers with food and a LARGE ROOFTOP PATIO with room for live music and great views of the Organ mountains.
* * * * *
To Santa Fe Brewing Company’s continued success, and to the destination brewery we’ve been waiting for in Santa Fe, cheers!
For more #CraftBeer info and more @NMDarksideBC News, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke