Normally, when one of us gets a text from a brewer, it pertains to a beer release, or perhaps a question about something related to his/her brewery. On Thursday afternoon, it was a text from eagle-eyed Ponderosa head brewer Antonio Fernandez that let us know about a surprising Facebook post from another brewery here in town.
Four years after it opened on the Westside, Toltec Brewing is shutting its doors for good. Owners Robert and Diana Navarrette posted a letter sharing the reason they are bowing out of the local beer scene, which we are sharing in full below.
Toltec opened in the spring of 2018 with award-winning brewer Kaylynn McKnight, formerly of Nexus, at the helm of its brewing operations. While having such an accomplished brewer from the start certainly helped put it on the map — including winning bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival for Shaman Stout (2019) and Cactus Warrior (2020) — Toltec did have its issues. It went through multiple chefs and general managers, and eventually McKnight left before the end of 2020, departing the brewing industry all together to take a job at Safe House Distilling downtown.
Brandon Venaglia, who had most recently run the ship at Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos, came down to take over in April of this year, following a stint where guest brewers from Bosque helped keep Toltec from running out of beer. Venaglia recently left Toltec to join the staff at Flix Brewhouse, as it became more and more apparent that the little brewpub was struggling.
Now Toltec is gone, cast to the annals of New Mexico beer history. Perhaps it was the pandemic and its lingering effects, but it just never seemed to truly find its foothold in the local scene. The location was never great, tucked away from the two main roads in the area, Coors and Coors Bypass, but ultimately there was just too much staff turnover, pre- and post-pandemic, for it to find stability.
To all the Toltec employees out of work, our condolences. To all the folks who were loyal patrons right up until the end, we certainly feel for you in losing your favorite spot. Whether it was around for 25 years or just four, losing a brewery that is like a home away from home is never easy.
We have heard the same rumors as many of you that another, larger brewery was possibly looking to take over the Toltec space. Without naming names, we will reach out and see if there is any comment at this time, and update this story or publish a follow-up article when appropriate.