Our last visit to Beer Creek Brewing found its brewing operation underway at last. Things are still humming along at 3810 Highway 14, south of Santa Fe, as I found out when I made the drive out for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
The biggest change from October to now is offsite keg distribution, which had the likes of co-owner Rich Headley and head brewer/co-owner Jami Nordby scrambling to keep up in terms of production.
“Our outreach has grown,” Rich said. “The beer aficionados know where we are. We’ve been open, come June, two years. When we decided to move along with offsite taps, it pushed us into a corner with our production abilities for our flagships. So the creative side was fairly limited based on economics. If you’re selling this beer and everybody wants it, you gotta make it. And then, to get batches in between to start making different one-offs …”
“We’ve started with a 5-barrel brewhouse with 15 barrels of fermentation and 25 barrels of bright tanks back there,” Jami added.
“That makes us need to make the same beer a lot,” Rich continued. “The cool part about it is, it’s really working. We’re creating that consistency right out of the gate. I think a lot of breweries might struggle with that, being able to make a beer more than once exactly the same on a small scale. It may be tough for some guys. It seems to be working for us.”
Beer Creek distributes to the Hollar and Mineshaft Tavern in Madrid, as well as to Fire & Hops, Ranch House, Violet Crown, and Greenside Cafe in Santa Fe, and Totemoff’s at the SF ski basin.
“It’s pretty cool to see how fast these move,” Rich said, noting that the beer moves quickly at Violet Crown and at the ski basin.
Beer Creek originally opened with just guest taps, and will be repaying that favor to its friends who are opening The Nuckolls Brewing at the Santa Fe Railyard later this year.
“As a result of the production crunch, we did increase capacity,” Jami said.
“Because we realized people like our beer,” Rich said. “We are expanding. We just poured a slab today that’s going to house two 10-barrel fermenters that are here. They just landed. This will allow us more expansion, too. There’s only so far that we can go on this little system, but we definitely can have more production now with these two new fermenters.”
Rich also said a current walled-in patio on the east side of the building will soon be covered over to help expand the building’s interior seating. It will have its own bar separate from the main bar by the kitchen and the current external bar on the west side patio.
“The restaurant has been strong,” Rich said. “Last winter, we weren’t very well known. We aren’t heavy advertisers. We just rely on that word-of-mouth side. This winter has been pretty amazing on the restaurant side. It’s holding its own. With us reaching out offsite with the beers, it’s helped bring people down.”
“Having a presence in other restaurants ends up being a draw,” Jami added. “We’re not mad marketing people.”
Warmer weather will also be a boon.
“We’re really itching for the patio,” Rich said. “This patio, it’s already happening. We’ve already had people sitting out there for most of the last month.”
On the beer front, the 5-barrel brewhouse has churned out a solid lineup of five year-round beers, plus one seasonal and two collaborations. The house beers are Bootlegger Blonde, Tres Amigos Pale Ale, IP-Ay!, Rowe Mesa Red, and Picture Rock Porter, which is now produced entirely onsite after having started off as a collaboration with Red Door. The two remaining collaborations when I visited were Lizard Queen, an imperial blonde made with Tumbleroot that should continue in the future, and Red Creek DIPA, made with Red Door. There is also the winter seasonal San Marcos Stout.
All of the beers are more traditional than most of the current modern variations. The Rowe Mesa straddles a line between a sweet Irish red and a hoppy red. The IP-Ay! and Tres Amigos are more reminiscent of hop-forward beers of 10 years ago than anything else.
“Some folks in the beer industry might have said it was a little bit of a risk to go after the traditional styles, instead of trying to be that cutting edge guy, but so far it’s panned out,” Rich said. “If you talk to anybody in the brewing industry that’s been here, they truly appreciate it. It’s become good for them, too.”
Or, as Jami put it best, “The whole idea of beer exploded in so many different directions.”
The next seasonal will be along shortly to take the spot of the Red Creek DIPA.
“We’ve also got the American Wit coming soon,” Jami said. “(And) we’re going to be at the cask fest at Blue Corn on the 21st.”
Rich also got some new toys for Jami to play with from some friends up the road.
“We’re also going to pick up some barrels and we’re going to play, some small barrel-aged stuff, nothing major,” Rich said. “(Santa Fe Brewing owner) Brian Lock sold us some racks and we found a source for some good whiskey barrels out of Colorado.”
Twenty months into operation, Beer Creek is still expanding its current footprint.
“Whatever it is that we did, it’s about serious consistency,” Rich said. “Even with our staff, as an example. Everyone is still friendly. All the partners are still agreeing with each other. We’ve made all this progress. Every time we’ve put a laundry list of shit in front of us that we have to accomplish, it gets done. There was a little bit of a delay in January, because the weather was shitty, but we were all kind of ill. There was a little bit of progress kind of delayed. The last few weeks we’ve been right back into it. We see a window of no more construction on this property definitely by summer. We’ll be dialed in.”
The others looked at Rich and shook their heads after he seemingly jinxed them on being done with construction so soon from now.
“I want to put the tools away, I’ve started taking tools home!” he replied.
Future construction will happen beyond the current location, which was the big news of the day.
“We would like to have something to work on to have the same feel that Beer Creek has here,” Rich said. “We would like to have something started before the end of this year. 2020’s goal is to start, if not open, a taproom this year. We feel like we can handle it especially after we get the fermentation situation going, get used to double batches, those are long days. There’s a slight possibility that Kelly and I will convince Matt and Ryan to upgrade to a 10-barrel (brewhouse) right away. If we do that, we won’t think about much after that. We’ll be looking for more fermenters. Just kind of go on that route.”
If a new brewhouse is in the cards, it may also come with a larger production facility at a different location.
“Our long-term (vision), if you look back at our original business plan, we’re not two years, but financially we’re probably sitting at the three-to-four-year mark,” Rich said. “At the five-year (mark) on the original plan we planned to build a larger facility. That will be in Santa Fe, probably. (But) as long as we have sewer water and gas, we can consider lots of places. There’s no doubt we’re going that route, because people do love our beer already.”
The progress at Beer Creek has been impressive, all thanks to a great group of people who are running the show there. We foresee great things to come, and someday that may even include Rich getting to take all of his tools home.
Until the patio beckons us to return, I thank Rich and Jami for the beers, the tour, and the interview.