We have been sitting on this Look Back/Look Ahead Series interview that I did with Toltec Brewing’s dynamic duo of head brewer Kaylynn McKnight and general manager Keri Fleming for some time now. With things having (ever so briefly) settled down for now, we thought we would bring a little light and levity back to the site with this final entry in the series for 2019-20. Yes, there are still some breweries that we missed, but we will catch up with them once the pandemic has hopefully passed, that we promise.
In the meantime, the original story, which still applies to some degree since Toltec is still open for to-go orders of food and beer from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, but is closed Monday through Wednesday for the time being.
Anyway, to the interview …
Whenever one meets up with Kaylynn and Keri, be prepared for the fact they are on the same page on just about everything, including how the past year went for Toltec.
“2019 was good,” Keri said. “It was busy, we had a decent amount of growth.”
“I saw a lot of really refining our crew, I think,” Kaylynn added. “We’ve got a really awesome team right now.”
“We’ve really been fine tuning our service,” Keri continued. “I’m really happy with where things are at. We started off the year saying these are where are expectations are at. The staff was very receptive to it. Those who didn’t want to be a part of it didn’t end up being a part of it. Those who are still here now are super excited about this year.
“Kaylynn and I are trying to educate them more on what the beer community is about in Albuquerque. We have a huge amount of youngins. We’re kind of catching them up to speed on what the scene is like in Albuquerque. It’s a lot of getting out there. We want to instill that in our staff so they can understand the passion behind craft beer.”
Kaylynn went on to talk about how she was planning to send staff members down to the Craft Brewers Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in April, but alas, that event was canceled.
“We’re just trying to get people excited about craft beer and the events and camaraderie that is in our scene,” Kaylynn said.
Kaylynn and Keri talked about all the big plans that they had for the coming weeks, from offering patrons $1 off pints for wearing their gear during New Mexico United games, to beer and food specials for St. Patrick’s Day, and more. All of those were canceled by the situation outside their control. Still, when they do reopen fully at some point this year, Kaylynn has some ideas.
“I think that’s a big thing that we’re going to try to focus on for the future is really hosting cool events and making them special,” Kaylynn said. “Tapping new beers for the holidays, doing food pairings, dressing up, making a big party out of it.”
Kaylynn also started giving beer education classes to the public, which also figures to continue when the lockdown ends. All that knowledge creates excitement for beer, which means people drink more beer, and thus the brewer gets to keep churning out new beers.
“It has been getting busier, it’s been definitely keeping me busy,” Kaylynn said. “We’ve not maxed out our capacity yet. We do have room to grow. I think we’re going to start pushing more on distribution, try to get our beers out there.
“I ordered another 15-barrel brite tank to help max out production. My first barrels are back there. I got those finally. That’s exciting.”
Keri seemed particularly delighted with the potential for barrel-aged beers at Toltec.
“That is exciting,” Keri said. “It’s cool, you see people come through and walk past the brewery they stop and go, ‘Are those barrels I see?’”
“They’re Caribbean rum barrels,” Kaylynn explained. “I put part of the collab in that we did with Majin (Garcia), which is a 10-percent beer. It will live there the next nine-plus months.”
One would think, or at least hope, that the crisis is over well before nine months from now.
As for the non-barrel-aged beers, there are plans to keep a few styles on tap as rotating seasonals.
“We’ll probably do more nitro beers,” Kaylynn said. “I want to keep some stronger seasonals around. Not everybody is a brewer and loves the 4- or 5-percent beers all the time. I want to give to the stronger beer people.”
“We’ll probably stick to keeping a gose or sour on pretty consistently, they sell really well,” Keri added. “The Pom-Pina has been pretty good. The Doopy Hoppy DIPA was so good the first time around it sold out so fast we made a second batch of it. Normally, we don’t typically make a second batch of a seasonal, other than the Imperial Agave Wheat, which we’ll do for our anniversary.”
That anniversary was supposed to fall on Cinco de Mayo, which is on a (Taco) Tuesday this year, but that may not get to happen. Still, with luck, Toltec and all the other breweries will be rolling again by summer.
“We’ll see what else happens,” Keri said. “I’m excited to get back into festival season, getting back out into the community, and see what else we can do. With a lot of our events I want to get involved with the customers more and getting them to interact. We definitely have a good amount of regulars that come, obviously, on the regular. It’s good to have something exciting for them.”
Toltec is also hoping to follow up on its most exciting moment of 2019, when Kaylynn brought home a bronze medal for Shaman Stout from the Great American Beer Festival.
“And who knows, maybe we’ll get another medal this year,” Keri said. “That’s the plan!”
No pressure, Kaylynn.
We wish Toltec, and all of our breweries, all the luck that the universe can muster as we all try to get through this pandemic together. A big thanks to Kaylynn and Keri, who have nearly achieved a full-on finishing-each-others-sentences level of camaraderie over there.
The Week Ahead in Beer will return Wednesday, and look for our first preview of the forthcoming Sobremesa Brewing on Thursday.