Other than the occasional pickup of a takeout order of food and/or beer, it had been a while since any of the Crew had set foot inside (well, on the patio) at Steel Bender. I rectified that Wednesday with a quick trip over for lunch, photos, and interviews with head brewer Bob Haggerty and co-owner Shelby Chant.
The main reason for my visit was to preview the Thursday release of OktoberFiesta, but there was also the upcoming release of Black is Beautiful, and a recap of a recent collaboration with Second Street. Basically, there is a lot going on down in Los Ranchos.
First up, a wee little Marzen arrives in August.
“We blew through spring, now we’re blowing through another season,” Chant said. “On the other hand, fall is my favorite time of the year. I’m very happy and people are very excited about it. It’s a fantastic beer. Between that and an imperial stout, fine, I’ll start running my fireplace earlier.”
Haggerty said this batch of OktoberFiesta hit all the right notes, not too dry, not too sweet. The majority was canned, which one would expect with tap sales limited to the patio. If you do want to get it on draft, go this weekend.
There will be no release party like last year with music and food specials, but after a suggestion from yours truly, Steel Bender may do a German-themed weekend family meal in September. Stay tuned for details on that potentially delicious delight.
As for Black is Beautiful, Steel Bender will become the third local brewery to join in this national collaboration created by Weathered Souls Brewing, following High and Dry and La Cumbre. Like the latter, it will be canned, and comes with no adjuncts added.
“No adjuncts or anything, we just brewed it,” Chant said. “It’s a good beer. We held back some of it and put it in bourbon barrels. That I can’t wait for. It will be outstanding. We bought those barrels (specifically) for this beer.”
Yeah, bourbon-barrel-aged Black is Beautiful is definitely something to look forward to as the year comes to a close. The regular canned version will be released Thursday, August 13, in 12-ounce four-pack cans. It checks in at 11.3-percent ABV, so it should be a nice stay-at-home treat.
Like the other breweries that made Black is Beautiful, proceeds will go to a charitable cause. The Chants are friends with former UNM basketball star Hunter Greene, and he pointed them in the direction of what group to partner up with on this beer.
“We’ve been friends with Hunter for decades,” Chant said. “We told him we’re going to brew this beer, but we want proceeds to stay local, and we really want it to go to an organization that’s about building, has some stamina behind it. He said oddly enough, I’m having a meeting tomorrow with the Black Leadership Council. We did a Zoom call with Cathy McGill a few days later and she’s just a wonderful person. It was just a no-brainer. Everything that they’re doing over there, it’s almost like a hub for financial help, mental health, fiscal policy, civil rebuilding, cultural vibrancy, all of that in the black community in New Mexico.”
On the heels of that charitable beer will be the 2020 version of One for Five, a partnership between breweries and Albertsons that benefits The Storehouse. Last year, Steel Bender teamed up with Bosque and Sierra Blanca to create a pale ale. This year, a different brewery replaced Bosque, and the beer will be different, too.
“The One for Five collaboration this year, we collaborated with Sierra Blanca and Second Street,” Haggerty said. “This is my first collaboration with Second Street and I’ve been loving every minute of it. They are fantastic people, both personally and professionally they have been a joy.
“(Sierra Blanca’s) Rich (Weber), of course, is always good to work with, he’s just so damn busy. It’s hard to connect with him sometimes, but I always enjoy brewing with Rich.”
The brew date was last week, and the expectation is to can and release One for Five about two weeks from now, though the date has not been formally set in stone. The big hope is that the change in styles this year will also see the beer move faster.
“The recipe this year was an IPA,” Haggerty said. “We wanted to do something, well, it’s New Mexicans, they love IPA, so we wanted to do something that people would buy into. The grist was made up of equal proportions of Two Row and Pilsner, and we used some Dextrin and Vienna in there as well. It’s fermented out with a London Ale strain. It’s going to be a clear, not a hazy IPA. We’re hopping it with Cascade, Citra, Styrian Gold, and Nelson. We don’t pull any punches this year. We’re putting the good stuff in there. This is definitely something that we’re proud of. I’m really happy with the way it’s coming along.”
None of us will object to a West Coast-style IPA.
“We wanted to keep it accessible, so we cut the IBUs down a bit, it’s not 100 IBUs,” Haggerty said. “Also, we wanted to keep the ABV under 7, so folks can have more than one.”
Other beers on the horizon will include Steel Bender’s entry in the upcoming New Mexico IPA Challenge, which will have a very different format this year (we promise, more info is coming as soon as we get the green light from the NM Brewers Guild). Chant added that another fall favorite is also on its way.
“Ale Witch will be on the heels of that,” she said. “We’re being conservative and not doing a lot of seasonal (canned) stuff right now.”
However, we can report that Haggerty has a new toy, a 7-barrel pilot brewhouse. He has been busy taking it apart and putting it back together, and has brewed an experimental beer using Kveik yeast. It may never see the light of day, but there is something about that little glow in the eyes of a brewer when he has something new to play with in the brewery.
It should be an exciting few weeks coming up at Steel Bender, with some great causes mixed in with the new beers and all the food specials. Thanks to Bob and Shelby for taking time out of their busy schedules and, of course, for the beer samples. That OktoberFiesta is tasting mighty good.
Keep supporting local!