Casa Vieja, located at 4541 Corrales Road, decidedly does not want to be like the other breweries you know. This beautiful, historic building has had several lives. But, most recently, the Socha family purchased the site in 2016 and opened it as an event center, followed by the addition of a brewery. To read some more about the history, click on the link for last year’s story. Casa Vieja hosts both private and public events. So, first I spoke with Maria Socha, co-owner and special events manager about the past year of blending events with a small brewery.
According to Maria, the type of public events they often have, specifically art shows, may bring people in who would not be focused on the beer. She enjoys how each art event changes how the building feels. The addition of the beer and wine option is a bonus for the art patrons. This coming year they will be involved in a juried national show for the Pastel Society.
But, then they also host events specifically related to beer. Maria said she really enjoyed being a part of this year’s ABQ Beer Week. She would like to participate in more of those special larger local events. They have started doing pairing events where they pair desserts or cheeses with their beers. Those events bring together different crowds. Maria said that some area residents will come to an event, even a beer event, though they are not typically brewery patrons. It’s because it is something special for them.
Owner/brewer Gary Socha asked me to come by recently and try one of their latest beer and cheese parings. Well, gee, beer and cheese — yeah, I’m there. Gary even drove all the way up to the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe because he wanted very specific types of cheese. There were four house beers paired with four cheeses.
The first paring was probably the biggest surprise. Gary’s Blue Corn Cream Ale was paired with a Camembert. I thought for sure the funk of a Camembert would completely overpower the cream ale, but that was not the case! The super-rich creaminess brought out the creamy texture of the beer, and the funk acted a bit like a saltiness, like when you add sea salt to a dessert, and it completely highlighted the sweet corn flavor. It was as if suddenly the amount of blue corn tripled in the beer recipe.
The next pairing was a semi-sharp cheddar paired with the Gold Medal Hefe. The sharpness of the cheddar against the spicy fruitiness of the beer made me feel like I was tasting the cheese with actual fruit. I thought both of the first two were perfect pairings.
The last two pairings were good, but I told Gary that this is where people’s palates and perceptions can differ, because I would have preferred swapping the two cheeses around. A pimento goat cheese was paired with the Coyote Brown ale. It was a very nice combination, but I “cheated” and tried the final cheese, a blue cheese, with the brown. For me, the blue cheese more fully accented the caramel notes of the brown. In fact, I tried a bit of all the cheeses with the brown ale, and told Maria and Gary that this beer was good with all of them (blue cheese being best for me, though). The brown felt sort of like a universal beer that I compared to drinking a dry rose wine with many different kinds of food.
Lastly, the blue cheese was paired with the Hazy Joe’s IPA. I preferred the pimento goat cheese with this beer instead. The blue cheese with the IPA’s hoppiness kind of overwhelmed my palate. The softer pimento goat still had enough going on to stand up to the IPA.
As I finished my beautiful cheese and beer, I asked Gary about what is coming up for the brewery. One notable thing is Gary said he has increased the number of taps, and now he is up to 10. He has also climbed aboard the seltzer train and has seltzer available for his customers. Some people are also looking for a session beer, so Gary wants them to have that option. They have such a diverse audience that they would really like to accommodate all types of patrons.
That being said, he is not chasing the same model as the bigger breweries. He wants to serve his neighborhood, and that’s why their art shows and pairing events work for them. Corrales residents feel a strong connection to both New Mexico, and even more locally to the village itself. His customers want to have a conversation with their beer. In fact, “Hazy Joe’s IPA” is newly named for Casa Vieja’s best IPA customer, who buys kegs of it to drink at home. There’s a pretty good story about how it all happened. Ask Gary about it the next time you stop in!
A big change this year is that Gary started training an assistant brewer, Michael Sharpe. Michael has been convincing Gary to open up his mind to more specialty malts, and doing test batches, so that obviously produces some more unusual beers. Another interesting thing that Gary discovered when going from home brewing to a small brewery is how much the yeast matters. His new yeast supplier is providing really active yeast, so it speeds up the fermentation process.
I asked what new beers will be coming out soon. What Gary is most excited about, he said, is a spruce tip ale in honor of New Mexico supplying this year’s national Christmas tree. Actual spruce tips from the tree are used. This beer will be on tap as soon as one of his taps opens up. Personally, I am hoping for a release on Small Brewery Sunday this coming Sunday, which also happens to fall on this month’s Arts Alive! in Corrales. There will also be a double bock out soon.
And, speaking again of local, Gary is bottling imperial stout bombers for the holidays with a local artist’s label, which will be hand-signed. These will make for very special holiday gifts.
Business-wise, the goal for next year is to straighten out some website issues they have been having. They hired a consultant because they started as an event center and still do not come up in searches as a brewery in Corrales. But, the consultant outsourced the work, and they found they were not able get the specific things done that they had asked for. Now they are back to square one with the website. For now, it’s just one more reason people who come into Casa Vieja feel that they have found a special hidden treasure. And, as a customer of Casa Vieja, the Sochas will make you will feel as if you are treasured, as well.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!