Beer Creek brews up a little New Mexico history

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Rich Headley (left) and Jami Nordby (right), just part of the great team that makes it all happen.

Last week, I was summoned out to Beer Creek Brewing Company because the guys said they had some news for me. They had done something historic, owner and founder had Rich Headley told me.

I was intrigued, so I took the bait. After a few minutes down Highway 14, I pulled into the empty parking lot and let myself into an empty dining room. It was before June 1 after all, and the brewery was still takeout only, and it was a too early in the day for dinner orders to start rolling in.

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The brewery has kept plenty busy during the shutdown.

I stood at the to-go counter for only a few moments before a masked bandito sauntered out of the back.

Headley issued a warm and hearty greeting, the kind he’s famous for, and led me though the business offices into the brewhouse where the rest of the Beer Creek gang was holed up.

Headley, Jami Nordby, Ryan McArdle, Matt Oler — owners, partners, brewers, meat smokers, hop farmers, and beer lovers alike — and everyone else was out back enjoying a cold one after a hot day in the sun.

COVID-19

Before I got down to the historic news, I couldn’t help but glance around at all the masked or bandana’d men and not address the elephant in the room.

I had been out to Beer Creek a couple weeks before to pick up a to-go barbecue and pizza order. At the time, I had exchanged a few words with another owner and founder, Kelly McGuire, while he filled a couple growlers for me. “Crazy times,” was how this conversation went as well. It was right in the middle of the COVID shutdown, but he was in good spirits. They were very much still in business, but everything was different even out there on the frontier.

Weeks later and after the go ahead from the Governor, the boys were rarin’ to go and anxious to open up the patio on June 1.

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The weather is ready, the patio is, too!

And, it wasn’t just that they were excited to get back to work. They had never stopped, barely even slowed down. No, they wanted their friends and neighbors and smiling faces back on their patio, ASAP. They wanted everyone back in to see and taste what they’d been working on, and it’s been a lot.

“We haven’t slowed down at all,” Headley said.

During the restaurant shutdown and stay-at-home orders, Beer Creek still worked behind the scenes and almost nothing changed.

Beer Creek closed for only one day during the shutdown. They took a “snow day.”

As with all restaurants, they did their best to keep what staff they could realistically afford to keep. But, they kept most everyone aboard. They also kept very near to regular hours, knocking off just one hour at the end of the day. McArdle kept smoking brisket and sharing his barbecue creations, like burnt-ends mac n’ cheese and armadillo eggs (Jalapenos stuffed with barbecue and spiced cream cheese, wrapped in sausage and bacon) with us on special weekends including Mother’s Day. Beer Creek even kept all of their regular beers on tap.

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This is where the smoked magic happens.

COVID couldn’t keep them down. They found ways to be busier than ever.

During this time they kept on keeping on, and all while others around them were closing.

“When the COVID happened, Mineshaft, The Holler, Blackbird, and San Marcos Café all closed. And only in the last couple weeks have re-opened. So there was almost five weeks where we were it between Santa Fe and Cedar Crest. And so, I really want to give a shout-out to our customers, this neighborhood. Basically the Turquoise Trail corridor showed up in force,” Headley said, very appreciative of all the customers’ support.

In fact, Beer Creek had received so much love and support so fast and they felt as though they were surviving well enough to turn around and do their part to support their neighbors as quick as they could think up new ways.

BCBC was one of the first to offer free lunches to children home without school. But, the good Beer Creek was doing didn’t stop there. They also provided discounts and gift cards for surrounding service industry folk to supporting local artists and small businesses before any of the government aid arrived.

And, when they weren’t working on that, they got to doing what they do best, building.

Headley also said that with the guys not having to spend so much in the front-of-house, it gave them a lot more time to work on projects in the back, and one of them was expanding even during the pandemic.

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It’s also filled with cans … Story to come.

Their biggest project was an all-new warehouse space, a former walk-in cooler Beer-Creek-ified for their own uses, nearly 400 square feet of room to play with. Not that these guys are playing around. At the time of the interview the space held two shiny new 10-barrel fermenters ready to fill, but they’re looking to add two more 10-barrel fermenters and brite tanks, and they say, at that point, it wouldn’t make much sense to their business model to expand beyond that.

The only thing the pandemic slowed was how aggressively they were pursuing a new taproom. But, we’ll get that news to you as soon as they’re back on the hunt.

Making history

When they weren’t moving tanks around, they were filling them with their large list of cores. But, there was one beer that Beer Creek really spent time planning (and scheming), and sourcing the right ingredients for something that had never been accomplished before in New Mexico, or in many other states.

2020 may be a lot of things, but it can now be marked as the year Beer Creek Brewing Company built and brewed the state’s first all-New Mexico beer, meaning a beer brewed with 100-percent all New Mexico raised ingredients.

Now, we know that beer is made up of four basic ingredients— water, hops, malted barley, and yeast. Other fruits, spices, herbs, lactose, bacteria, etc., are extra additions or adjuncts.

But, for this special beer, Beer Creek’s Bootlegger Blonde, they sourced everything to make the beer from within 50 miles of the brewery.

Homegrown barley is new to New Mexico.

The water came from their own well, which was conditioned for their brewing needs.

The hops came from Crossed Sabers Hop Company in Cerrillos and La Capilla Hops Farm just a ways away in La Cienega.

The malted barley came from Schwebach Farms just outside of Moriarty.

And the yeast, though was it may have been “born” elsewhere, has now been New Mexican for many generations, before it reached this batch of beer.

It’s pretty amazing that it hasn’t been done before, but local growing conditions haven’t made it possible up until very recently. What’s important about this is that most breweries generally have to source their barley and hops from out of state, but with this brew, we are one step closer to becoming more self-sustainable. And, in the process, these guys have brewed up a little bit of history to be added to the books.

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Bootlegger Blonde at home.

Headley said when he asked Brian Lock, owner of Santa Fe Brewing Company, New Mexico’s oldest craft brewery, if anyone had ever made a 100-percent all-New Mexico beer before, Lock said, “No way.”

A beer like this is special, and it speaks to many on different levels. But, to a farmer, it addresses a need for something that we can produce on, well, in New Mexican soil.

Matt Oler of Crossed Sabers Hop Farm said, “As a hops farmer, this has changed my outlook basically from that perspective. We always figured that our hops were going to be only put into the heavy style of beers that were sold four or five years ago. Now we realize that in order to do what these all New Mexico beers want to do, we actually need a lighter hop. And, that’s one thing that’s lacking.”

But, the possibilities now are many, and just a few harvests away.

Headly, Oler, McArtle, Nordby, and all the rest of the Beer Creek family-crew would like to thank Santa Fe, their neighbors, family, friends, and all of the New Mexico brewing industry for all the continued love and support. They couldn’t do it without you guys.

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Soon, patio, soon!

To making history! And to keeping it local, cheers!

— Luke

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For more @NMDarkSideBC news and #craftbeer shenanigans, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.

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