After a quarter century of making beer, one might think that Canteen Brewhouse would take it easy this year. Taking it easy, however, has never been part of the plan at the oldest brewery in Albuquerque, so why start now?
I caught up with Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette and general manager Jamie Schwebach to reflect on that big anniversary and more for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
“We’re stoked to have been around for 25 years,” Jamie said. “We’re excited to be here for 26. We feel fortunate that we work for a place where our owners have been around for 25 years. It’s the same guys. We still have connections to the original place (Il Vicino in Nob Hill), where we brewed beer, and how many people we got to see for our anniversary party that have been drinking with us for so long on this crazy tour. We met all these people who were drinking at the original taproom, talking to all those folks about Flashback IPA, which was then Wet Mountain, and how many of them fell in love with it from the original location. And, hearing so many stories about falling in love with craft, which is pretty cool.
“It was fun to be able to celebrate 25 years as a company, as an organization, with all the people who have been enjoying beers with us for that long. And, with all of our friends, it was such a great turnout from brewery friends, friends of the owners, and just our regulars. It was such a great day to celebrate.”
“That was the highlight of 2019, that big party in June,” Zach added. “It was great.”
It will be a little while before another party of that size will take over the Canteen parking lot.
“We also decided that we’re only doing anniversary (parties) every five years,” Jamie said. “We’re not going to be like celebrating 26 or 27. We’ll start planning for 30.”
The event was big, but the heart of any brewery is the beer itself. Zach and his brew team kept up with customer demand for the favorites, while also working on some of the more innovative seasonals. Canteen also began canning seasonals in 2019.
“One of my favorites last year was putting Panama Joe in a nitro can, which while it was at the tail end of 2018, it was really released for 2019,” Zach said. “That beer on nitro was so smooth. It just took Panama Joe to the next level. We continued changes with Social Capital (kettle sour), which was a lot of fun.”
“You did so many of the Social Capital (variants),” Jamie added. “From the vanilla to the cherries to the key lime.”
Like many other brewers, Zach’s passion is with one particular genre.
“I really enjoyed doing the lagers last year, and look forward to doing more this year,” he said. “The Helles we sent to (Great American Beer Festival) and it made it to the final table. It was fun dialing in Laid Back Lager. I tried a few different pilsner malts from across the country. I settled on Proximity pilsner malt out of Southern Colorado. Really clean, just nice and neutral. It was a great malt and it made that beer really fun.”
Zach passed the credit along to his staff in the brewery.
“In the brewery, the team I have is just exceptional,” he said. “It’s been a great two years just having the guys that work for me, really bouncing ideas off each other. Each one has strengths that complements the rest of us. The four of us are a really tight-knit group. I really haven’t had that ever in my career. And, because it takes a special combination of personalities and people. It’s rare and it won’t last forever, but I do appreciate (them). I want to say last year was one of the most enjoyable that I’ve had working with the guys in the back.”
Canning remains in the cards for seasonals this year, too.
“I think that was something that was cool last year was the special (can) releases,” Jamie said. “Which was fun for us to figure out how to do a special release, do releases here and at the taproom, and just kind of bring people in and create buzz about that. We’re still learning about that as well, everything from what kind of can graphic works, what doesn’t work. Clear labels, who knew they were that hard to put on a can? They were terrible (to apply), but they looked cool.”
“I forgot about that, it was a challenge,” Zach added.
Canteen also canned a special German-style pilsner as the official beer of the New Mexico State Fair this past year.
The first limited beer run of 2020 was a small batch of barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout that appeared last Friday and disappeared soon after. Another version will be released later this year.
“Our second anniversary beer was the Belgian Dark Strong, and then we used those barrels for the Russian Imperial Stout, and that’s going to be available later this year,” Zach said. “We’re going to let that age for a while. We brought out some of the same beer that was in the Maker’s Mark barrels, but it was only in those barrels for about seven weeks. It was nice, it added quite a complexity to it, (but) a little more time would have been nice. Of course we brought it out because Two Fools’ anniversary was (in late January). The rest of it is sitting in the Willet Rye Whiskey barrels until later this year.”
There is one new product on deck for this year.
“We’re going to be making a hard cider this year,” Zach said.
“Once the permit comes in,” Jamie added.
“All of our house beers are gluten reduced,” Zach said. “A hard cider is just that extra effort for people who need gluten free, as well as gluten reduced.”
“It will be nice to have our own,” Jamie added. “It’s been great selling Tractor’s cider here, and we have Sandia Cider at the taproom, but it will be nice to have our own. It will be a good challenge for the guys in the back.”
Speaking of the Taproom on Tramway, things are going well up there, too.
“They’re doing great,” Jamie said. “It’s such a great spot. The staff is killer. They have such strong support from the neighborhood. People have really made that as their (second) home. There’s a great group of people who hang out there from Sandia (National Labs), and people who are coming from the other side of the mountains.”
When Canteen opened its taproom, it was the only craft beer option in that area of town. Now there is the Tractor Four Hills Taproom just to the south, and the new Boxing Bear taproom will soon open to the north.
“Even with the increased competition up there, we’ve still done really well,” Zach said. “We’ve maintained the growth. I think the people, the customers, that have been enjoying it keep coming.”
Canteen has also become more active with charitable causes, which will continue this year.
“We’re continuing to work with a lot of various groups, non-profit-wise, and within the community,” Jamie said. “This year we’ll have a lot of focus on cycling groups.”
Teaming up with other breweries on some of those efforts will continue as well.
“We had a lot of fun partnering with High and Dry and Steel Bender,” Jamie said. “We partnered with them in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month for the nonprofit Pink Warrior House. That was awesome to be able to do 5Ks from each location. Then we came together again and did the collaboration beer for mental health for Agora Crisis Center and suicide prevention. It was really great to work with Andrew (Kalemba), Shelby (Chant), and Morgan (Wilt). It was fun in a different capacity where it’s like brewing together but also fundraising together and supporting our community together.”
On the immediate horizon in terms of events is a bit of New Orleans-style festive fun.
“We’re doing a Mardi Gras celebration with Le Chat (Lunatique) on the 22nd of this month,” Jamie said. “If I can figure out how to have a parade, we’ll have a parade.”
The beer, though, will always remain the primary focus.
“I think just overall with the beers and stuff, Zach did a good job with the lagers,” Jamie said. “I still think he has such a strong game with that. Now he’s tackled the hazies. We just used to do Tuttle. Now we brought on Hustle and Glow, which was pretty popular and delicious. Now we brought on Vamonos (Jugos). It’s been fun. We’re still seeing a trend up at the taproom where Flashback is our number one seller, whereas here our house pilsner (High Plains) is, followed by the IPAs. It’s nice seeing the different markets.”
Canteen will aim for a quiet, steady, successful 2020.
“I just read the Red Door (Look Back/Look Ahead article) and they hoped for a quiet 2019, and then they had such a crazy year,” Jamie said. “I kind of hope that we continue growth and (stay) steady in the market and continue to build community relationships. Continue to learn, as well, and give better service and continue to provide great beer to our guests.”
A big thanks to Zach and Jamie for the interview. We all look forward to what the next quarter century will bring for Canteen.