Over the years, the Brew Crew has met many people we consider friends throughout the brewing industry. Most of those folks become a sort of friendly acquaintance, someone we will sit and have a beer with, bump into at concerts, or join in cheering on New Mexico United and/or the Isotopes.
Sometimes, though, we find an honest-to-goodness real friend among all the wonderful people in the brewing industry. We all know that we found a true friend when that person says it is time to move on, and we all endure that simultaneous sense of being happy for them and their career, but we are also sad to know that we will not see them regularly anymore.
The brewer in question here is Wes Burbank, whom we all first met at Rowley Farmhouse Ales in Santa Fe, and then got to truly know during his time at Ex Novo Brewing in Corrales. Today (Friday) is his last day at Ex Novo, before he moves on to steer the ship at a brewery in San Antonio, Texas.
It was Luke who first got to know Wes up in Santa Fe, and the two quickly became friends outside of “work.” Wes has told us as much on multiple occasions, calling Luke his best friend just up the road. Over time, Wes also became a friend to all of us down here, too, cementing those friendships after moving here to take the position of lead brewer at Ex Novo, after he led RFA to its Small Brewpub and Brewer of the Year awards at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.
Whether we were just sitting around over pints, talking about metal bands, or movies, or whatever, he became part of our extended crew, a motley family of sorts bonded through music, beer, sports, and pop culture.
For some insane reason, Wes decided it was a good idea to join myself, Erin, and Brandon for a trip to Colorado at the end of May. First, Wes is not a huge sports fan like some of the rest of us, and the timing of our trek north was to first see New Mexico United play at Colorado Springs. Wes borrowed a jersey from his co-worker, Stevo Jeter, and off we went on the long drive up I-25.
After enduring the general chaos that we found at a United road game — nowhere to park, owner Peter Trevisani buying us all pregame shots, discovering the brewery taproom after the game didn’t serve particularly good beer, getting stuck in the drive-thru line from hell, and then having to go back and get a certain someone who said she didn’t need a ride — we made it to Denver the next day, where Wes was truly in his element.
We ended up meeting more Denver beer industry folks than we could possibly count, bouncing from one spot to the next. For a time, we were on separate tracks, but all roads eventually led us to Falling Rock Taproom. To be honest, we had never seen Wes happier than when he was eating his favorite chicken tenders with a glass of freshly kegged Blind Pig IPA from Russian River (save for perhaps later when we all witnessed a 20-minute battle between Erin and the curtains at the hotel). Falling Rock was his happy place, the joint where he grew up as a fan of craft beer, where he dedicated himself to becoming the best brewer he could possibly be, so that his beers could someday take their place inside the historic taproom.
Wes introduced us to the owner of Falling Rock, and between the two of them we heard many stories, and enjoyed many a laugh. At the time, we had no idea that Falling Rock would close just a few weeks later, but as far as final memories of a craft beer institution goes, those were some of the best.
The next day, Wes took us “home” to Crooked Stave, where he truly honed his skills as a brewer. What was new for us was nostalgia for him, and it made for a better time for all, despite our lack of sleep and general state of being really, really hungover.
Today, we and everyone at Ex Novo bid farewell to a brewer of tremendous skill and creativity, but more than that we say good-bye to a good friend. It is not forever, as we all now have a good excuse to visit San Antonio, but our little corner of the craft beer world will be down a good man.
Raise your glasses to Wes Burbank today. That, and this article, will surely leave him looking to hide in a dark corner and listen to some proggy metal.
Thanks for being a great friend, Wes. We will see you again down the road.