Back before all the holiday madness, I was able to sit down with the owners and brewer of Sidetrack Brewing, ostensibly to time their Look Back/Look Ahead Series article with their upcoming January anniversary party. As I recalled, Sidetrack opened right after New Year’s in 2016, so it was safe to assume the fourth anniversary bash would be right around then in 2020.
Yeah, it is actually going to be January 25, but there is nothing like starting the hype early, right? Right? All the best laid plans …
Anyway, owners Dan Herr and Anne O’Neill, and head brewer David Kimbell were on hand for our December interview, along with one of the cutest puppies in the world who darn well better be their new mascot. We went over how 2019 went, with David coming aboard as the big addition, and what lies in store for 2020.
“Well, we had an interesting year,” Dan said. “The year went great. Our big change was we’ve added David to the team. We’re happy and excited about that.”
“A lot of changes, not just me,” David added.
Many of those changes happened in the brewery building, which is in back of the main taproom off the patio.
“Along with David coming over here, we’ve been focusing this year on doing a lot of infrastructure improvements in the brewery,” Dan said. “So we’ve done a lot of equipment additions and a lot of equipment tweaking. The goal is just to increase our consistency and be able to increase our quantity and our quality. I don’t want to get into a lot of the exact details, but just equipment that David was familiar with, we were able to make the brewery just a bit more accommodating for him.”
“We did it all Franken-brew style, all pieced together, and we did it all ourselves,” David added.
While the brewery might have been a DIY project, fitting David into the staff at Sidetrack was actually quite easy.
“That’s one of the neat things about David and us, we’re really compatible on the mindset of how should a brewery should work,” Dan said. “And, what should the equipment be, and what’s important, and what’s something we can do ourselves our find a different way to do it. We’re just on the same (page) as all of that.”
David was previously the founding brewer at Bombs Away Beer Company in the Southeast Heights, but he opted to change tracks and head downtown last summer.
“They had approached me probably a year-and-a-half ago and asked me if I wanted to come over, and I was definitely wanting to,” David said, deferring on commenting on what happened to cause him to leave Bombs Away. “I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds with the old stuff.”
Dan said the conversation started at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2018. Ten months later, it was all a go.
“We were looking at different options for Anne and I to sort of juggle all the things here, and we just said, well, here’s a really crazy idea, let’s talk to David Kimbell,” Dan said. “It took some time to get familiar with each other and work out the details, but it worked out really well.”
So far, David has stuck with the same theme that Sidetrack has had from the beginning with its beers, even if he has added a few different styles to the rotating taps.
“Dan had focused a lot on the English styles,” David said. “I am not particularly an English brewer, but I’ve tried to keep with some of the styles that we’ve had, but modernize it. My background is much more American styles. I’m the biggest fan of lagers. I’m bringing in a lot of lagers, once again drinkable beer that people can enjoy. I think for the most part people are really enjoying it.”
Dan has had no problems with the changes that David has made to the beers.
“That’s a great thing about David is without replicating the stuff that we had done in the past — things that I had done that were as much from necessity as they were from desirability of different stuffs to create — David’s taken that past library and opened it up into a much bigger variety, but keeping with one of our core intentions is to create beers that are drinkable,” Dan said. “We don’t do stuff that’s really way over the top and big and far out, but we do do things that are interesting and are approachable.”
One thing that has not changed is the presence of the two cask engines behind the bar. In many ways, they are the perfect vessels for David to play around with some of his recipes.
“Having casks allows us a lot of experimentation,” David said. “Every week or two, I’ll try to pull five or 10 gallons of an existing beer and experiment with that. We have a lot of experimentation going on the side.”
With a new brewer on board and the beers on the upswing, Sidetrack has seen an uptick in customers.
“We have a great group of core customers and we are also seeing lots of new faces,” Dan said. “We’ve got a quiet little buzz going about what David is going to be able to pull off.”
“Not just me,” David added. “It’s a team effort and everybody’s (involved). I guess the great thing about me being here is now Dan is able to focus on things besides brewing, it’s hard to juggle everything. Anne handles social media and marketing, she won’t have to handle other things Dan can handle. Everyone can focus on their own roles. It’s going to be a great strong suit for us. This is one of the best brewing environments and taproom environments in town in my opinion.”
The taproom environment has been enhanced as the Sidetrack staff has figured out what works best there from an event perspective.
“This year we did kind of taper back on starting out at the beginning of the year and saying we’re going to do this and this and this,” Dan said. “We just sort of let it happen. As time passed and we kept our awareness up, and found out what was going on, what were people wanting. We found out that the thing that’s working well for us are the pop-up events. We were fortunate to team up with Oni (Noodles) several times this year. I think that crowd that they have and our crowd was a great mix. That was a great thing to have.
“We’ve had a couple of other pop-up retail events. We’re just trying to plug more into community oriented events like that, rather than something like Geeks Who Drink, something that’s just kind of a little bit more pre-programmed, we’re trying to be more responsive to what the community is into.”
Anne, who up until this point of the interview had been handling the very tough task of keeping the puppy entertained, chimed in as well.
“Just kind of what Dan said, it’s kind of the community, that’s what our events are based on,” Anne said. “What the community comes to us with, and what supports the community.”
Things are looking up in the neighborhood.
“I think downtown has a bright future, I really do,” David said. “Especially this part of downtown.”
“We’ve always been proud of our contribution to what we’ve made to the little neighborhood here,” Dan added. “We think that still matters. It’s the same old story, we’re just bringing down to this (corner of) downtown and it’s not as crowded as other bars. Now, whether it’s due to us, or whether it’s just due to circumstances or coincidence, but we’ve got Orpheum did a $2 million renovation to that building. … We’ve got the Sanitary Tortilla Factory that’s been developed into (art) studios. There’s lots of little things that are happening in the neighborhood that are bringing back vitality and usability and just having a community spirit again.”
Sidetrack has certainly managed to cement its status as one of the most successful neighborhood pubs to spring up around Albuquerque in the last four years, so much so that other new ones like it refer to Sidetrack as a model.
“Honestly, we’ve heard that, and we’re proud of that, too,” Dan said. “It’s sort of a blessing and a curse, but, yeah, it’s good. Our hope now for this year is to do what Dave said. All three of us have our roles which we’ve performed. We’re going to team up to combine all three of our expertises to just stay relevant. What we’ve got here is what we’ve got. We’re not getting any bigger. We’re not distributing or canning or anything like that. We’re just going to make this better and better, day by day.”
That has included some changes to the taproom since my visit, with more visible changes potentially on the way as 2020 rolls along.
“We’re going to make a couple more improvements in here before our anniversary party,” Dan said. “We’re going to look towards the patio next year, no commitments or no promises, but that’s sort of our next area of focus, just make that a bit more inviting than it is.”
Yes, that means more shade in the summer, just in case anyone was wondering.
As for the beers, David is keeping things on course for the future. He did tease a couple of collaborations with other breweries that will be tapped soon.
“IPA (sales) have been going crazy, but I can brew lager all day,” David said. “Sometimes just keeping it simple is the best thing you can do. I don’t particularly want to get crazy with my beers. We’ll see.”
Oh, and that fourth anniversary party is coming together.
“For our anniversary party, it’s January 25,” Anne said. “We’re going to keep it pretty quiet, pretty mellow. We’ll have some new beers. My Sweet Basil is coming. We are in talks with music, but not confirmed yet. We’re also doing a beer dinner, beer pairings, with David Gaspar from Oni Noodles and Seth Matlick from Vida Verde Farm. We’re going to collaborate with them.”
Stay tuned to the Sidetrack Facebook and other social media pages for more details.
Finally, a big thanks to Dan, Anne, and David for taking the time out to chat.