Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery grows organically into 2020

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Head brewer Andy Lane, left, and brewmaster Jason Kirkman have been steering the ship this year at Tumbleroot.

Tumbleroot has recently become a regular haunt of mine. On Mondays, it’s a chill joint, quiet enough, easy on the atmospheric pressure, and there’s dumplings. But, not dumplings like the ones we’re used to ordering on the side of an entrée. No, these are Chef Brent Jung’s dumplings, which started as a fun sometimes pop-up and are now feeling more like a permanent-fixture-with-a-cult-following. They are nothing less than pillows of hope that you can dip in miracle sauce so good I’ve already had to un-dare someone to drink it straight from the sauce cup, just so I could get one last fix.

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Dumplings from heaven? Close.

I know, I know. We’re Dark Side, and this story is about beer, but Tumbleroot just has so much going on for it at the moment after a busy growth year in 2019, that sometimes what brings you in now is the beer. Sometimes, though, you come in for the cocktails, sometimes for the music, and sometimes you’ll just find yourself strolling in for whatever’s cookin’. Either way, Tumbleroot has a lot to offer at the moment, no matter what’s on the menu. That’s something that they’d been working very hard on in 2019.

I recently met with head brewer Andy Lane and brewmaster Jason Kirkman after work to speak with them about how their 2019 went, their GABF win, their new mysterious menu, and see if they’d give me any hints as to what Tumbleroot is planning in 2020 and beyond.

For Tumbleroot, 2019 was a smooth, but productive year.

“I was most proud of the fact that we had stability,” Kirkman said. “And, the fact that Andy was there for the entire year. And, I felt like we were growing as a team and as a company.”

They were also excited to have a lot more for assistant brewer Michael Chavez to do around the brewery, as well as having more time and opportunity to train him.

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Spirit bottles have been the primary distribution for Tumbleroot.

Tumbleroot grew quite a bit in 2019. In terms of distribution, it was no different, but it was “mostly spirits,” Kirkman informed us.

“We’re in New Mexico, and New Mexico’s got, per capita, some of the best beer out there, period,” he said. “It’s a really competitive environment. For us to widely distribute our draft beers, honestly when the margins aren’t as high, and we have a pretty limited capacity, too, so we have some good relationships out there with craft beer, but I think we’ve been able to expand our spirits a lot more.”

Back in 2018, Tumbleroot was more cautious and choosy with their distribution accounts. Operating on a smaller scale and at a slower rate than some other breweries, they planted their spirits around town in few hand-picked locations, and now in 2019, their accounts seemed to have sprouted up all over. Pardon all the puns.

Take hotels, for instance …

“We have great relationships with hotels,” Kirkman said. “Because oftentimes they have a restaurant and a bar. They’ve got multiple bars within the venue, but once they decide to feature our product and say hey, we’re going to have a Tumbleroot margarita ‘on tap’, then it becomes a way to have a conversation about broader Santa Fe.”

Some places you can already find Tumbleroot products are La Fonda, Hotel Santa Fe, the Inn of the Anasazi, sometimes the Eldorado, and even up in Taos at the Old Taos Inn.

As far as beer distribution, growth has been slow, but it’s been steady business.

“Honestly the area of greatest growth has been spirits, but we have some fantastic accounts who are really loyal to us in both in draft beer and bottle beer,” Kirkman said. “Like, I love Luke at Anodyne (Albuquerque). I think he’s killer. They want our specialty stuff, but they are really digging our sour program. When I told him we were running out of our sours, they ordered them. (Luke) was like, I don’t want to be without them.”

Tumbleroot has poured the highest percentage of beer at both home base locations, but Tumbleroot’s bottles have found their way to specialty bottle shops like Susan’s and Jubilation, and various other liquor stores around town and in Albuquerque as well. And, you’ll see Tumbleroot beer on draft at select restaurants and bars around Santa Fe, but whether you’ll see one of Tumbleroot’s core beers or something ‘extra’ special, well, that remains a happy surprise.

In 2019, Tumbleroot reached a point where they can satisfy their needs at the taprooms for beer, and now have a bit more room to play around with fresh ideas in 2020.

“I think that’s just an advantage of being small,” Lane said. “We have the ability to be that way. We’re not this giant production facility. Having this kind of control over things is key.”

This past year Tumbleroot worked on plenty of special projects, like doing a collaboration with Jubilation, brewing a 9-percent ABV stout to put into a special Maker’s Mark barrel, and naming it Mark of Midnight. They had so much beer leftover that they did a few more one-off projects with the stout that made it into 7 barrels worth of specialized kegs and bottles.

One such project was putting it in a tequila barrel and making a Molé Stout with chocolate, red chile, and cinnamon, and releasing it on nitro at the Agua Fria taproom.

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Imperial Molé Stout is just one of several epic dark beers of recent weeks.

Tumbleroot’s beer accounts have grown to trust them, and seem ever more eager to take a chance on whatever Tumbleroot attempts next.

“I think, if anything, that over the last year and a half or so, we’ve really just kind of created these really good relationships with bars, restaurants, and liquor stores,” Lane said. “It’s kind of cool to have those specialty products, especially for those places where they’re all about that.”

Southwest meets East Root

When I interviewed Tumbleroot back in 2018, we spoke about an ongoing evolution of their food menu. The menu evolution certainly hasn’t stopped or even slowed. Tumbleroot hasn’t yet abandoned the sandwich and bratwurst offerings, or favorite snacks like the soft buttered pretzel and Farmer’s Board, but it has added a whole new continent to the menu’s contents.

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New chef equals new menu.

East Root is Tumbleroot’s first major expansion of their menu, part of a much larger idea, with East Root being one part of the menu and, West Root being another. However, that is still only in drawing board form.

But, with the purchase of a brand-new, permanent food truck, and under strict guidance of new chef Melissa Dominguez, Asian fusion is now a permanent part of the branching brewery.

Dominguez joined Tumbleroot back in September 2019, and having worked with the likes of Mudu Noodles and La Boca, she brings in a ton of fresh ideas and a wealth of experience cooking cultural fusion for Capital City culinarians.

“We wanted to put together a menu based on pub food classics,” Kirkman said, “but our versions of that out there in the world, particularly Asia. Like, let’s do Fish & Chips, but let’s do a tempura fish & chips, and replace the chips with tempura vegetables.”

The new East Root menu features items like samosas, poke bowls, chicken satay skewers, sushi rolls, Teriyaki sliders, and more.

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The sheer variety of food is impressive.

Lane has now been with Tumbleroot for just about two years. While Kirkman was away ordering us some items off the new menu, I got to talk with him a bit one-on-one.

DSBC: Regulars get used to having certain styles on the menu, and from what I’ve seen at some breweries, they don’t like change. Have you guys reached the point where you have regulars that get upset if they don’t find a particular beer on the menu?

Lane: Um, I think our crowd is very understanding of us. I think there are a few people that are really comfortable with certain styles. And, even if we change them though, they realize that the beer’s good in general. They’re willing to try something else.

DSBC: What were some of your favorite creations this past year?

Lane: I really liked being able to do my own beer for the IPA Challenge.

DSBC: The Keymaster, a stonefruit IPA.

Lane: The idea of doing that and going with it, and getting some good feedback from that, and the fact that we made it into the competition was great. There were some other beers I was excited to do (like) the Double Brown, obviously.

DSBC: Your GABF award-winning beer.

Lane: Yeah.

DSBC: Tell me about that.

Lane: For this recipe, Jason (Kirkman) had an idea for a really strong brown ale. Well, because we’re a really small brewery, we don’t have hop contracts, and we couldn’t get the regular Amarillo hops that we used in previous batches. But, we could get these weird variations of Amarillo. The expressions were like stonefruit, fruit punch, and citrus-forward flavor profiles. And, so we were like, well, let’s try one of those, so we went with the stonefruit.

DSBC: For the win.

Lane: (Laughs) Yeah. So the basic recipe was the same, but we changed the hops, and we really liked how the hops came out, and it really gave it a good flavor. And, the malt balanced with the hops, making it just a really unique, drinkable beer.

At this point Kirkman returned with food and bubble-headed beverages.

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The lineup is strong right now.

DSBC: Tell us a little about the Double Brown that won at GABF.

Kirkman: There were a lot of recipes that I tried at scale at Bathtub Row. I didn’t want to do that one. It was kind of one that was really special to me. When we did it here, our first one was Amarillo heavy. We brewed it again, but changed the hop, like Andy said, and everything just sort of came together at the right time.

DSBC: So how did it feel?

Lane: It was one of those things that didn’t register at first. We were like, oh wait, that’s us! (laughs) It felt really good. I think we’ve been pretty comfortable with what we’ve been doing for a while, but just to have someone else acknowledge it, that’s awesome. And, we got the notes back, and there were three that went on to the next round, one of which was Double Brown. For me, it says hey, you’re doing these things right. Obviously there’s room for improvement, you have a firm foundation for this business, so keep doing it.

DSBC: You’ve won awards before for brewing, and homebrewing. How was this one for you?

Kirkman: Like Andy said, it’s validation. I think the one thing about our vision, just being a brewery and distillery, I think people can look at it and think you don’t know who and what you are. Like one takes away from the other. But, we have these great resources. We can ferment our spirits. We have so many advantages on the fermentation side of our spirits process. It’s a plus, right? And, on the barrel-aging side of our beers, I feel like they just feed into one another. But, I still feel like there’s a little bit of a chip on our shoulder — brewery/distillery, “we do too many different things.” And, people may feel like we’re not giving enough to each, but we are.

* * * * *

For 2020, Lane said that Tumbleroot is just aiming to get more out in the market than they’ve been.

Kirkman informed us that they’re working on putting out more canned cocktails after the success of their mojitos, and to add to that, they are getting their organic certification, meaning all of Tumbleroot’s spirits and canned cocktails will be organic certified.

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Pretty soon all of Tumbleroot’s spirits and canned cocktails will be organic certified.

Dominguez will continue to shape the new menu, and Tumbleroot will be taking East Root on the road to events and festivals near you.

Beer-wise, there are some heavy things in the works that we aren’t yet at liberty to write about, but the Dark Side has been promised updates as everything shapes up. So, we’ll keep you posted.

Beers on the horizon that you should absolutely go check out at either taproom soon are their Munich Dunkel, Belgian Wit, and a Brett Farmhouse Ale which is already tasting pretty nice. But, no matter the time of year, Tumbleroot is always thinking about the next big thing.

“We’re always thinking about what’s the next barrel-aged project, what’s the next barrel-aged strong beer,” Kirkman said. “And, who can we collaborate on that with?”

“Just growing our brand,” Lane said of Tumbleroot’s biggest goal for 2020.

“We have this place that’s really rooted in the community,” Kirkman said. “Very local. Our draft beer accounts are very local, really intimate. I love that. Our draft beer accounts give such commitment to each other. We’re not looking to expand that way. We see a lot of opportunities to see our spirits to go even beyond the state, so we’d love to be able to do that in conjunction with keeping our beer program really intimate at home.”

Question from a fan: “What do you foresee for the Agua Fria space for 2020 and beyond?” — J. Handelsman

Kirkman: “For this space, our hope is to be a really versatile space that can be what it needs to be from night to night. And so, it’s awesome when sometimes we’re hosting private parties, or when we have grandma’s 70th birthday back here, and outside, we had two gatherings of people and they know each other and it suddenly feels like a block party. And yet, there’s something booked for later that night that may not even be a traditional music act, like REI, or people traveling through town on their bikes. We want to be able to accommodate all of that.”

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As soon as I was done taking pictures, it was right back to work on scheduling.

Last year, through the Santa Fe Reporter, Tumbleroot was voted top three in both best family-friendly venues and best date spots. Talk about versatility.

Tumbleroot is currently producing less than a 1,000 barrels per year. As for spirits, they’re producing around 123 proof gallons per month.

To all the great reasons we like heading over to Tumbleroot, and to many more ways to find their beer and spirits in the future, cheers!

— Luke

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