Toltec Brewing brings its new head brewer full circle

Brewer Brandon Venaglia has taken the reins at Toltec Brewing after a long stint at Bathtub Row in Los Alamos.

Brandon Venaglia is back in his old neighborhood.

The well-traveled brewer, who went from Back Alley Drafthouse to Cazuela’s to Bathtub Row, has taken the open job at Toltec Brewing on the West Side of Albuquerque.

“I went to Cibola High School,” he said, shaking his head. “I went all around the United States and I ended up a thousand feet from where I went to high school. It’s kind of cool. I like the feeling of being back in my hometown.”

Venaglia said it was the pandemic that ultimately pushed him to leave Bathtub Row and take over at Toltec for Kaylynn McKnight, who stepped down last September.

“We moved down (to Albuquerque) actually right before the pandemic happened,” Venaglia said. “That week after Stout Invitational (last February). We thought we were only going to be down for a little while, and then the pandemic hit and we got stuck. I just kept commuting. I was taking the train, then the train shut off. Then I started driving back and forth for a year.”

A father of two small children, Venaglia did admit that he enjoyed the quiet of his three-hour daily commute, but ultimately it was beginning to wear on him, and his car.

“Then there was an opportunity here,” he said. “I put in my application. I got the interrogation from John (Bullard) and Gabe (Jensen). Apparently they were secretly drinking my beer, judging me, and apparently they judged me worthy, so here I am.”

Bosque Brewing had been assisting Toltec since McKnight left, hence the interview with Bullard and Jensen.

“Having John as a resource for the move, because I could only be here one day a week while I was doing my 30 days, it was awesome,” Venaglia said. “He’s a very busy man to take that time.”

Venaglia has now been full-time at Toltec for about a week. He already made one change to the year-round beer lineup, turning Sacred ALTbier into Sacred Amber.

“This is the first beer I brewed,” Venaglia said. “John was with me. You get used to (brewing) one way after three-and-a-half years. It was good I had him here. The second time I brewed he just sat there. He’s all, ‘You got this. I’m only here in case you blow the place up.’ I survived, and that’s it. I’ve already brewed six beers here.”

Venaglia said he was working on two more beers, trying to catch up to the point of where he can start playing around with some new beers.

“If that ever happens, I definitely want to put more lagers on the board, which requires catching up on all the ales first,” he said. “That’s mainly what I want to do. I want to brew a Vienna lager and a couple other things that I think will go over well, kind of go into the spirit of Toltec.”

Now that he is back working at a brewpub, Venaglia said he would like to take advantage of having a kitchen in the room next to his brewhouse.

“What I’m really excited about is collaborating with Emma (Gibson), the chef, she’s just phenomenal,” he said. “She does a fantastic job here, and I really look forward to working with her and doing a lot of collaborations with her. We’re already working on one. I already bent her ear on something that’s going to be fun.”

The award-winning Shaman Stout is still tasting great.

Venaglia said that the demand for beer at Toltec is similar to Bathtub Row, which initially surprised him.

“I was pretty floored by it, considering that half the time I tell people outside of Albuquerque about Toltec, and they go, ‘Where?’ You come in here even on a Thursday or Friday and the place is just packed, even in yellow,” he said.

Another change for Venaglia is the fact he does not have a full-time assistant. One of the staff, Cory Marsh, has been helping one day a week for now.

“Kaylynn wrote a lot of stuff down, but she left a lot of stuff off, which is typical (for a brewer),” Venaglia said. “Because I had an assistant (at Bathtub Row), I always had him keep me honest. If I don’t write something down, (tell me) hey, dumb ass, write that shit down. You’re not going to be here forever. When you work alone, you can keep it in your head.”

Venaglia said that he expects to be writing plenty of things down in the coming months, as Toltec has some big plans in the works.

“There may or may not be expansion in the near future, so we’re definitely going to be taking on a lot more,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m breaking news on that.”

When pressed further, Venaglia said it will be an offsite taproom, but he did not have any additional details.

“Right now, we’re really trying to focus on here, build this place up so we can be ready for the expansion in the very near future,” he said.

New brewer, new taproom, new era for Toltec. We look forward to all of it, and a big thanks to Brandon for the interview and the beer.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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