Bucking trends of super hoppy IPAs or heavy, high ABV beers, the less-than-one-year-old Differential Brewing makes mostly approachable, lower-to-mid ABV styles. As it turned out, this proved to be advantageous for the unexpected crowds that may want to hang out for multiple pints. According to one of the owners, Tony Hanson, they also recently started dedicating one tap for something unique or seasonally applicable that will rotate, and lets the brewer “flex his muscles” a bit.
Full confession: I was doing a two-week cleanse during this interview. I had tasted most of the beers before, but was unable to taste the specialty tap this time. I went back a week later and tried it. It was a holiday-style braggot made to replicate those flavors of those foil-wrapped chocolate oranges available during the holiday season. I expected a dark beer, but it was a light amber color. It also did not taste like the 9-plus-percent ABV that it is!
Differential is located in a former gas station/garage on Yale just south of the UNM Main Campus and near the sports stadiums. Launching just prior to the beginning of soccer season at an under-served location made them more popular than they ever dreamed. The popularity of the New Mexico United soccer team gave them an unimaginable boost.
“These games bring an extra 14,000 people every week or two in to the neighborhood. We did much better than even my best expectations for year one,” Tony said.
Differential is already planning a special launch beer for the first game of this upcoming season in March. The latest info I got from Tony is they are hoping for a blackberry and yellow corn combination for the team’s colors, if that can be worked out. One thing that surprised Tony was how slow the taproom gets during the holidays. Tony previously managed Quarters package liquor, where the holidays are crazy busy.
Speaking of Quarters, Tony noted that Michelada ingredients were always big sellers at Quarters. At the brewery during the summer, customers wanted a Michelada option, and Tony was happy to oblige.
Tony said his favorite beer they make is the Dark Lager. Their most popular beer far and away is their Blue Corn Cream Ale. The second-best seller is the Pale Lager (used to be a pale ale). The third best is not even their beer, it is their hard seltzer.
They started making seltzer a couple of months ago, and that has just sold fantastically. This is another area where they differ. The seltzer they make is not flavored. It is plain, and then you can add one or more of a large array of flavored syrups or one of several juices to it. Also, they can make any of the flavors into a cream style.
This summer, Tony said he plans to add a slushie-type machine so he can make frozen seltzer. He will put the neutral in there and have it going all the time, then add the flavors like they do now. They have a great back patio, so the frozen drinks should add a fun element.
Other upcoming news is that head brewer Peter Moore is working on some upcoming collaborations, Tony said. There are also some more unusual and interesting-sounding beers in the works. (I don’t want to give too much away yet, but stay tuned for news in upcoming editions of our Week Ahead in Beer.)
Tony said they want to get in to the competition game this year as well. Last year, they were just way too busy trying to keep up with the unexpected production requirements. Right now, the big news is their first anniversary is the day after Valentine’s Day — so soon! — and they plan on having a celebration that day.
When I returned to try the braggot and the seltzers (really fun, by the way), Tony was there and he told me he just ordered new glass garage doors. That should brighten the place up and show off the inside to passers-by.
Congrats to Differential for such a successful first year, and for not being afraid to embrace things that are a bit different.