When you’re sitting on the patio at your favorite brewery, do you ever look around at the staff you’ve come to know and love, and wonder, “What brought them here? What did they do before becoming part of my brewery family?”
Us Dark Siders wondered that too, and we’ve decided to start asking. We are visiting breweries around New Mexico to ask our favorite brewers, beertenders and owners a little more about themselves, and then sharing those insights with you.
First up is Ex Novo Brewing in Corrales, where we were lucky enough to chat with Joel Gregory (founder and president), Dave Chichura (brewmaster) and Stevo Jeter (taproom manager). Read on to find out some interesting facts about the past and current lives of these beer gurus.
What was the last job you had before Ex Novo?
Joel: Last paying job I had was as an engineer for Sharp Electronic’s Solar department up in Portland … they closed down the department and we all got laid off. In my “gap year” between then and opening the brewery, I bought an old fixer-upper (house), gutted it and flipped it so we wouldn’t totally go broke.
Dave: I was brewing director at Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming.
Stevo: I was a (radio) morning show co-host for 17 years.
What first inspired your love of craft beer?
Joel: It was a combo of being in Portland during the brewpub-boom in 2008 to 2012, and starting to brew at home with a buddy of mine. Breweries were popping up everywhere, most of them not packaging (maybe some 22-ounce bottles, remember those?), and they became a really important part of the neighborhood culture. I had some friends that were really into it, and soon it became a lot of what we talked about — beer and breweries.
Stevo: Sam Adams, Fat Tire. Locally it would be Marble’s IPA and then La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, which is what really got me into IPAs. Which is funny, because now I don’t really drink hazies or IPAs. I’m way more of a lager, pilsner guy … kölsch is my absolute favorite style of beer.
How did you decide to open the original Ex Novo?
Joel: It was pretty much blind optimism looking back at it. I was brewing decent beer at the time at home, but I never thought my beer was what was missing from the PDX beer scene; it was much more to do with the brewpub environment. I didn’t see a lot of people getting the beer, ambiance, food and service spot-on, and I thought that would be my focus — to get all of that right.
What brought you back to Corrales to open another location?
Joel: That was never part of the long-term plan, but it’s funny how life works. My wife and I have a couple young kids, and the pull to be closer to family got stronger and stronger. I wanted to find some land to really lean into what I love about Corrales and the valley. The almost lush environment in the desert, the agriculture and the slow drive down Corrales Road seemed like the kind of destination brewery that could work, while still being a place for local regulars to feel at home. I have about 20 immediate family members in Corrales, and I feel we’re starting something that matters a lot to the culture here, something that may have a lasting impact — that’s hard to do in a larger city for sure.
What attracted you to working at Ex Novo?
Dave: I had been considering a move from Wyoming for a while and was checking out job posts when I saw the ad for Ex Novo. After working at a couple fairly large craft breweries, the idea of getting involved with a smaller company became very appealing, and moving to a place where it’s not winter five-to-six months of the year had a strong pull on me. I read up a bit on Ex Novo’s Portland location and it sounded like a great thing to be a part of. The sheer variety of beer styles they put out was astounding. The plan for the new brewery in Corrales, as I read in the ad, sounded like something I would be a great fit for, so I contacted Joel.
Stevo: Joel. His vision. The motto, “Drink beer, do good.” To me that means putting your money where your mouth is. Being an active participant in your community, because we need more people who do good in the community that they are in. That’s the only way things are going to get better. (Ex Novo has) an active role in the community and wants to make positive change for the better, and I want to be a part of that.
What is the biggest difference between the brewing community in Portland and the one in Corrales?
Joel: There isn’t a big difference in what is being brewed or enjoyed in both states. IPAs and lagers are still top of the list, and there is a small but enthusiastic group that is ready to jump on a new release that is outside of the traditional beer boundaries. This keeps it really fun for us! Our fans in NM really support the specialty can releases, but oddly we don’t sell a lot of draft for our seasonals. NM has a much higher loyalty to the familiar, core brands at every location other than the brewery, it would seem.
Portland still supports our core brands, but there seems to be a much higher willingness to try something new at a bar or restaurant that is an account of ours. Portland has an abundance of craft beer bars and bottle shops, and you can find great local craft beer at a high end restaurant, bowling alley and dive bar. While it exists and is growing, there is a whole lot less of that in NM, so it drives more business to the breweries themselves if you want a great lineup of beer you can’t get everywhere else.
What grand plans do you have for Ex Novo going forward?
Joel: I keep wanting to be done with new projects, but then I forget the pain and stress of opening something new after a year or so and I start dreaming again. We’re not done yet, I don’t think. For one, we have always had bigger plans for our property in Corrales. We want to really utilize the ~1 acre space in front (east) of the brewery, to create an amazing beer garden and event space — that has always been the long-term dream for this location. There’s also a chance we’ll be looking at a location for an offsite taproom across town in ABQ — we realize it’s a bit of a trek for a lot of folks to drive to Corrales and we’d like to find something that suits us on the other side of town.
Stevo: One of the big reasons I love working for Joel is that he thinks 1, 5, 10 years into the future. Before we invest in extra taprooms, what I see is us continuing to grow our taproom and the community in Corrales because that’s our home and the community we love. It’s not like Starbucks where we want one on every corner, it’s just continuing to brew the best beer in the world and to expand our place in Corrales.
All-time favorite Ex Novo brew?
Dave: That’s not easy to answer, given how many different beers we’ve made in the past year and a half. Of the regular brands we make I’m a big fan of Mass Ascension. On the seasonal end, it’s a toss-up between Easy Come, Easy Go (Bohemian Pilsner) and Krispy’s Kolsch.
Stevo: That’s a really tough question! We have 16 on tap at any given time, they’re all very different and very incredible. We’ve brewed like 70-something styles of beer. If I could only have one for the rest of my life … Coorales Light. That was my favorite beer we’ve ever done. It was so crisp and clean and wonderful.
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Isn’t it nice to know a bit more about our friends at Ex Novo? Now you’ll have something to chat about (with your mask on, of course) next time you sit down to enjoy a fresh seasonal beer or your classic favorite on their gorgeous patio. Trust us, they’re brewing up some amazing things you won’t want to miss!
As always, may the beer be with you.