Rumors of a craft beer taproom coming to the heart of Old Town began circulating early this year, then died down, then revved back up, went quiet, and finally came to fruition back during the Balloon Fiesta when Outpost 1706 opened briefly.
Now the taproom is fully open, and after making a stealth visit with visiting family earlier this month, I made arrangements to meet with co-owner Pete Kassetas for a formal sit-down interview this week.
So what is Outpost 1706? Located at 301 Romero St. NW in the Plaza Don Luis on the west side of the Old Town Plaza, it is technically an offsite taproom of the forthcoming Downshift Brewing in Ruidoso.
Kassetas traced the history of how he went from retired to slinging beers behind the bar.
“I retired about three years from the State Police, I was the chief,” he said. “I spent about a year or so mountain biking and drinking whiskey, just doing the retirement thing of nothing. The owners of this plaza — Jasper Riddle, who owns Noisy Water (Winery) downstairs, and Luke Schneider, who’s out of Tucson, he’s a developer/businessman — they approached me (and asked) why don’t you manage the plaza for us. I said yeah, sure, it will give me something to do. It was in February this year, so I guess I spent a little longer (than a year) mountain biking and drinking whiskey.”
While he was technically managing the entire Plaza Don Luis complex, Kassetas soon turned his eye to an open suite on the second floor that faced the main Old Town Plaza.
“My nephew, Cody Huffmon, he’s in the medical industry, and he came up to see this space,” Kassetas said. “His idea was to do a little snack/restaurant type set-up back here, because the owner, Jasper, said a brewery is going in here. We’re going to get somebody, they were talking to other established breweries to see who wanted it. Cody and I were talking, and I said I really didn’t want to do the restaurant business. So him and I decided let’s do a taproom. We didn’t have any brewing experience between the both of us.”
Setting up the taproom proved to be a lot more challenging than Kassetas and Huffmon expected, even with the former having past experience working with what was then the Alcohol and Gaming Division.
“I’m a former state police chief, I oversaw SID and SIU, alcohol enforcement, so I thought I knew a little about (this),” Kassetas said. “I knew about five percent.”
The Albuquerque city council had approved liquor licenses for places along the plaza, and with a waiver in hand from the church across the street, Kassetas and the rest of the team thought it would be easy. Instead, they spent eight months working their way through all of the various city and state regulations. There was also remaking what had once been a jewelry store into a functional taproom.
“We started from ground zero, gutted the place,” Kassetas said. “We have an Edgewood bar, we sourced it out of the Gila, and hand crafted the bar and all of the aesthetics. My partner’s wife, Cody’s wife, did all the design. I was summarily fired from that early because I’m not good at that. We designed it to be a really relaxing place to come out and look at the views and enjoy a beer.”
Just having a beer bar was not going to work in terms of licensing, so with Riddle’s help, they reached out to breweries in southern New Mexico to see about partnering up. After an initial agreement with Bonito Valley Brewing of Lincoln fell through, mainly due to concerns about the small brewery’s ability to produce enough for two locations, it was Huffmon who led them to an old friend with a long history in the craft beer world.
“We really weren’t comfortable just doing a taproom, so we ultimately joined forces with a guy named Eddie Gutierrez,” Kassetas said. “He was the head brewer/production manager for Saint Arnold Brewing out of Houston. I think it’s the 47th largest brewery in the nation. Eddie’s a Silver City kid who (then) grew up in Ruidoso. He knows my nephew, the whole family is from there. He decided to move to New Mexico and downshift his life.”
Kassetas said they assumed the name Downshift was a car reference, but that was not the case, as he said above.
“(Gutierrez) doesn’t want to do mass brewing,” Kassetas said. “He wanted to do something more creative, and he wanted to come back to his roots, which is New Mexico. It should be open by March, we’re hoping, and we should be serving our own beer by March of next year. He’s got the brew lab in place, he’s just going through some last-minute issues with the plumbing and dealing with the village. He’s brewing out of Ruidoso out of what was called the Hidden Tap, which is now Downshift Brewing at the Hidden Tap. That is the plan.”
With Noisy Water operating a tasting room downstairs of Outpost 1706, the beers will be trucked up with its wine and cider from Ruidoso. For now, the taproom will carry guest taps from other local breweries.
“Right now we’re proud and happy to serve Marble, and we have Steel Bender in here, and we’re exploring other breweries to give them a couple taps and round out what we’re doing while we’re brewing our beer,” Kassetas said. “Honestly, we like a variety, we’re beer enthusiasts and whiskey enthusiasts, so I think we’re always going to have some guest taps. We have 16 handles. We’re going to have a mixture of our own plus others.”
Outpost 1706 also has wine, cider, and spirits from Noisy Water and Safe House Distilling available. It is also quickly becoming a go-to spot for large-scale gatherings ranging from other nearby businesses to packs of social media influencers (yes, they exist in Albuquerque now, too).
“What’s unique to us is we’re right on the plaza,” Kassetas said. “We’re the only brewery/taproom with these views. We’re getting in a way where we want to complement the other businesses. We’re not a bar, we get the brewery crowd. We close at 8 on weekdays and 10 on the weekends. We really like people to come in here and grab a corner like this. It’s working out well, a lot of the local businesses are reserving a table for 10. The word is getting out. We’re happy to do that. It’s really cool.”
Outpost 1706 does not have food, but customers can bring it in from other places in Old Town, or even order from UberEats or other delivery services. There a couple of TVs that will sometimes have live sports, but Kassetas said he does not want to turn the place into a sports bar on the weekends or anything like that. For now, he is happy to welcome in the mix of tourists and locals that frequent Old Town.
“That’s the biggest thing with Cody and I, we just want to be in the business of making people happy,” Kassetas said. “We want people to be sitting around, responsibly drinking a couple of beers, is what we’re all about, having a good conversation and enjoying what Albuquerque has to offer.”
Combined with Palmer Brewery/Left Turn Distilling’s Taproom at Old Town nearby, Outpost 1706 should make Old Town more of a craft destination for everyone. We welcome its addition to our scene and look forward to trying the Downshift beers when they become available in the spring.
A big thanks to Pete for taking the time to chat, too.
Keep supporting local!