Ever since our visit to what was then a construction site back in March, the Crew has been looking forward to seeing the finished product at Sobremesa Restaurant and Brewery over on the West Side. Well, after hearing that a small friends-and-family gathering took place over the weekend, I popped into the now-fully-open brewpub at 3421 Coors Blvd. NW to talk with head brewer David Facey earlier this week.
For Facey and his fellow owners Nicolas Giron and Ryan Strilich, the opening just brings a certain sense of comfort.
“Normal, it feels normal to come in and understand what time we open our doors, when people are going to come into your doors, meet your staff, have a somewhat set schedule,” Facey said. “And just do what myself, Nick, and Ryan know what to do. That’s the best part, after a year of what we’ve gone through over the last year of uncertainty, all of it, it’s nice to get back to something that we feel is a normal sort of mindset.”
That does not mean that everything went according to plan to get to this point, however. As with pretty much every single brewery before them, the Sobremesa team had to endure quite a lot just to open their doors, pandemic or no pandemic.
“We were slotted to open some time in May, if everything went the way it needed to go,” Facey said. “Then the pandemic happened, and everyone had to navigate that, whether that was on the construction side, the restaurant shutdown side, so everyone had to navigate it. It didn’t go by plan, but on the flip side it kind of did go by plan. What I mean by that is we learned very, very quickly to fly by the seat of our pants, to adjust, to adapt. It didn’t happen exactly like we thought it would happen, but I don’t think any opening happens that way anyways.”
Now that they are open, the team can focus on the beer, food, and customer experience. Facey has a lineup of five house beers that will be on tap year round — Hilltop Helles Lager, East Meets West IPA, Fruit Beer (Peach), Amber, Siesta Stout — already on draft.
“On the brew stand, it’s like clockwork, it’s muscle memory,” he said. “It’s very, very comforting to come in and mash in and understand the seven, eight, nine, 20 steps that you have to do in the order of operations. That is glorious, in my mind. The other things, in regards to make sure you have all the small parts, make sure your grain order is being delivered on time, and make sure if you’re getting yeast propagated you give it enough time, those things have not necessarily been a struggle, but definitely been a learning curve. At the end it feels really, really good.”
For Facey, becoming a head brewer is the culmination of a career that saw him start out in the front of house at Canteen, and then work as an assistant brewer at Chama River with Zach Guilmette, at Quarter Celtic with Brady McKeown, and at Steel Bender with Bob Haggerty. Like those that he learned from, Facey said he was happy with how his first beers turned out, but by no means will he rest on his laurels.
“(There is) room for improvement, absolutely,” Facey said. “I think a lot of brewers don’t like to rest on their first batches, especially if we’ve been doing it as long as we have. But, a batch is a batch, new valves, new equipment, new everything. In regards to the quality of beer, (I’m) very happy, and I’m very happy with the response I’ve gotten, not just from industry people, but from the general public. If I had the luxury of giving every beer a little more time to clarify and to visually look the way I would like them, that would be my only critique about the beers. Once we started brewing, Nick gave us a date to open. We were never going to open without our beer, so Nick gave us that date.”
I only had time to try the Helles, which was crisp and well-balanced, though it lacked the clarity you might see in most lagers. That relates to the compressed time schedule between brew date and opening date, as Facey had explained.
Of course, no brewery can live on lagers and IPAs alone these days. While Facey certainly received quite the education in those styles from the likes of Guilmette and McKeown, he also seized the opportunity to bring another brewer on board at Sobremesa with a wealth of experience in different styles.
“I brought Ian on board pretty much almost two weeks before we opened,” Facey said of Ian Graham, the former head brewer at Dialogue. “We had small conversations. He was taking some time off. I asked him if he wanted to get back in the game. I gave him a small tour of the brewhouse. It was an easy sell.”
Selling Graham to the staff was fairly easy, as well.
“It’s unbelievable; I’ve expressed it pretty emphatically to the staff that Ian is not an assistant brewer, Ian is the other brewer,” Facey said. “We wanted to bring him along because both he and I understand that at a point where we get up and running to the max, we’re going to be doing the job of four people. It’s nice to be able to do the job of four people with two people. Not to mention all of the wealth of knowledge he’s had throughout his career.”
Graham got his start on the East Coast, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to complement Facey.
“That’s exactly it,” Facey said. “Hilltop Helles was the first beer we brewed. One of his responses to me was, well, you know your lagers, and I’m not going to give you any direction on your IPAs because you worked with Brady. That mindset in regards to being very prominent in styles, we did an orientation with our staff, and right away we got questions, are we going to do any sours. I said we’ve got Ian Graham, we’ll do a sour or two.”
The duo already has the first seasonal in a fermenter, a Brewer’s Pale, with plenty more recipes in the works. For now, it is all about finding that rhythm and harmony for the staff and customers.
“I think, pandemic or not, that rings true,” Facey said. “I think we were fortunate enough to be able to open up in this timeline when our city is starting to get a little more, for lack of a better word, comfortable. Not having six months of anything to do, the new thing is even more desirable than it was before.
“To go with a business owner mindset, it is really, really beneficial to have as many people that are (excited) with us. It’s pretty much how fortunate we feel. We did create jobs. That was very near and dear to myself, and Nick, and Ryan. We wanted to open up something on the West Side, you not only create jobs for the West Side, but you create jobs in general. The pandemic only amplified that.”
There should be plenty of space on the patio that wraps around the east and south sides of the building, and in the spacious interior, for some good crowds this weekend. Head on over to Sobremesa and let us and the staff there know how things have turned out, and any creative suggestions for how to make it even better are always welcome.
A big thanks to David for the interview, the tour, and the Helles. It was good to see him and some other familiar faces (albeit behind masks) once again.
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