If there was ever a brewery that fit the definition of cozy, Kaktus Brewery would be at the forefront of all the candidates from New Mexico. That will not be changing anytime soon for this hometown pub for all the residents of Bernalillo, as we found out in our latest Look Back/Look Ahead Series interview.
“It was awesome, man, numbers are up, hired new people, have a strong employment group because we’re growing,” owner Dana Koller said. “Beers are better than ever, keep getting better and better, we’re extremely happy. We’re gearing up for a much stronger 2020 because of it.”
Kaktus also did more and more for its community, sponsoring the local Kiwanis Club, while donating to more than 50 nonprofits in the Bernalillo area in 2019, Dana said. The ability to do much of that ties back into the ever-expanding front patio and the events it hosts.
“We expanded our front patio,” Dana said. “It’s much bigger. That just happened at the end of 2019.”
“It will look really sweet once we get the (winter covers) rolled up,” head brewer Michael Waddy added.
Kaktus has settled into a good weekly pattern with its events, much to the benefit of its customers.
“It has been good, we’ve been consistent with the entertainment,” Dana said. “We always have the flamenco dancers, the bellydancers, the blues music, and then we kind of rotate bands that come in from out of town every Friday. It has been a little bit better on that, which has been good. We still have the most talented (and varied) entertainment in town.”
The Sunday Blues Jam has attracted performers from as far away as Farmington, and was a big reason for the patio expansion.
“Yeah, because our Sunday Blues Jam has grown so much it forced us to expand the patio,” Dana said. “Just right at the end of the summer we had people bringing lawn chairs and basically blocking the driveway. It was cool to see them do that, it was like a Woodstock concert here.”
The changes out front mean change is coming to the back patio, too.
“We need more parking, so we’re recreating the back,” Dana said. “Since we were able to expand the front patio we moved all our seating up here, and the games up here. Then the back patio is going to be a full grass field focused on private events and new parking.”
As for the brewery, a new piece of equipment has made Michael’s job easier.
“We got a new glycol chiller, which is awesome because our other one was undersized,” he said. “So we’ve updated, it can keep up with our fermenters, which is really good, so I don’t have breakers tripping off and beer getting warm. We had that nice, warm helles. It’s made things a lot easier.”
As per tradition, Kaktus has kept up with its usual wide variety of beers, with only the Puddle Stomper IPA and Helles Lager remaining on tap almost year-round. From old favorites like the Basil Lager to the new Lava IPA and Whiskey Ginger Ale, Michael has kept it all varied and fun. For 2020, he will expand the menu beyond just beer.
“We’re going to start experimenting into the world of seltzer,” Michael said. “We’ll see how that turns out. We’ll see if there is a market out here for it in Bernalillo.”
Kaktus will also have a third year-round beer this year, though it will be on tap on the other side of the Rio Grande.
“One of the most exciting things that Michael and I have been working on that we can finally officially announce it is that we have build a relationship with the Hyatt Tamaya Resort,” Dana said. “We’re going to be brewing a specific, specialty beer for them, and they’re going to be able to name it. It’s going to be a nice collaborative that they’ll be able to keep on year-round.”
Kaktus has resisted the draw of distributing kegs in the past, but this was a deal too good to pass up.
“We don’t do distribution, but relationships like that, we will make an exception for, for sure,” Dana said. “That’s going to build a lot of synergy. Mike came up with an incredible concept that because it’s on the pueblo, we’re going to be buying blue corn that’s grown on the pueblo and implementing it softly into the brew.”
Kaktus will also be taking the lead on a local festival for the second straight year.
“June 13 is going to be our biggest event of the year, which is the Farmhouse Ale event again,” Dana said. “We have partnered with the Town of Bernalillo for that and others. It supports multiple nonprofits. That will definitely be our biggest event.”
The 2019 edition drew about 500 patrons, Dana said, and he hopes to double that attendance this year. That is, of course, if Mother Nature cooperates.
“Hopefully with a lot better weather,” Michael said. “It was basically a dust storm the entire day. We had tents blowing in towards the classic car show. It was scary.”
“It was still a great turnout and such a great event,” Dana said.
Overall, Kaktus is still going strong, with no more lingering effects from the closure of its Nob Hill taproom in 2018. There are no plans to try an offsite location again, as beer production is virtually maxed out for Kaktus.
“It worked in our favor,” Dana said. “It was a really challenging time for sure. We’re maxed out. We’d have to build another building. We always go through that conversation of how is that going to change Kaktus Brewing, is it worth adjusting the atmosphere. Our next step is truly to build another building. That’s it. There’s not going to be a whole lot of other opportunity.
“But, we’re happy with where we’re at. We’re maxing out, virtually maxing out, we find ways to grow enough to supply the demand for in-house or relationships like the Tamaya. But, we’re really not encouraged to go all warehouse style.”
A big thanks to Dana and Michael for the interview, and the pint of Black IPA. Good luck to Kaktus making the most out of its Bernalillo home.