Andy Lane is not a new name in the New Mexico brewing industry. He’s been in the business for a while now. And, though his is not a flashy tale, it is the kind of success story that most brewers can respect, working his way up from humble beginnings as part of Santa Fe Brewing Company’s packaging crew to where he is today.
This year, when brewer Paul Mallory left the former Blue Corn Brewery to pursue a passion project closer to home, Lane was offered the job of brewmaster at Hidden Mountain Brewing Co., or just brewer, as Lane still prefers to calls it. It was as if it was his destiny to return as master, to a place he had once been the student.
I’ve interviewed Lane several times over the years for beer events, Look Back/Look Ahead stories, COVID catch-ups, IPA Challenges, and at least one GABF medal, each time at a new brewery and in a new position. But this time, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my old buddy from Brew Co. to play 20 questions with the new head brewer of Hidden Mountain.
DSBC: When did you officially take over as head brewer at Hidden Mountain?
Lane: The beginning of May. Yeah, I don’t know. This year’s been kind of been a blur, but I want to say April or May.
DSBC: I’ve known you since you moved to New Mexico, can you give us a quick, lightning-round version of how we got here today?
Lane: I’ve always I’ve had a passion for brewing. And, it was something that I thought I really wanted to do. I basically only had homebrewing experience, but I moved here (from Texas) specifically to pursue brewing as a career.
I started at Santa Fe Brewing and 2016, at the beginning of the year, started working there on the canning line, and really tried to get as much as much professional experience in this industry from the ground floor. The plan was to start at the bottom and work my way up.
DSBC: To shift brewer?
Lane: I wanted that, but I had no experience. The thing with this industry is that it doesn’t work the same way most industries do with education; people want to see experience. And, that’s the only way that they’ll trust you to work in this industry, especially as a brewer. So, yeah, I wanted to start at the bottom and move up. I was there for about a year and a half.
DSBC: And that’s when you met Paul (Mallory).
Lane: He was looking for an assistant brewer at the time, and I took on the assistant brewer job here at Blue Corn, and did that for about a year and a half. And, while doing that, I really tried to soak up all the knowledge that Paul had to give, and he was very forthcoming with that. And then, at the same time, I took an online class with the American Brewers Association, which is kind of like their brewing school. The online program is available to people that are already working at a brewery. So it was kind of like a shortcut instead of having to go to Vermont and do that. Right? So I did that, and I got my brewer’s certificate, and that was in 2018.
DSBC: What happened after that? Where did Tumbleroot come in?
Lane: About within six months after that, Paul was kind of like, yeah, man, you can stay here as long as you want, but, ‘I think you’re ready to be a head brewer somewhere.’ So then, I started at Tumblroot in October of 2018, and was the head brewer and distiller there for three and a half years.
DSBC: How was that overall experience for you?
Lane: Yeah, I feel like it was a really good place to kind of throw myself into the fire, but at the same time, have opportunities to learn a lot more than just brewing and really push myself along my career path, as well.
DSBC: So you’ve been professionally brewing since 2017, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
Lane: There are trends that are always changing, but COVID. That was a big change to the industry. Yeah, there’s just no other way to see it, when the entire industry was affected. At least, on our scale of brewpub (size), when we had very limited ability to sell our product, that changed a lot. And at Tumblroot, I mean, we were in that same boat. We had just switched to canning and retail sales, almost immediately. It was a very significant change. Here, we’re still trying to get back to where we were before in sales, and brand recognition, everything.
DSBC: In six years of brewing, what’s stayed the same?
Lane: I think if anything, having a focus on quality, and really trying to have a passion for what you’re making. I think that hasn’t changed at all, and trying to put out cool and innovative stuff, beers that everybody wants to drink, just providing quality products. That hasn’t changed for any brewer. If anything, it might be more important now.
DSBC: From those early days on the canning line, what has kept you on your journey as a brewer?
Lane: At Santa Fe Brewing, not particularly (unique) to that place, but just in that job in general, there were a lot of low points, moments where I really had to decide whether or not this was something I wanted to do. Because being in a new city, and a new career, starting at the bottom, making minimum wage, I think it really was a point where I think I started doubting whether I was doing the right thing.
And then, I got passed over for promotion, and that was kind of the moment. I think, in that moment, I was just like, all right, well, am I putting enough of myself into this? And, I think I kind of realized I could be doing more and working harder. I wasn’t doing enough, obviously. And, it really kind of gave me the motivation to be like, OK, well, I can do more.
DSBC: What’s one big lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Lane: Brewing was a hobby for me, right? At first, but I really was passionate about it. But then, it became my job. So then it was really hard to see it the same way. There was a moment where I realized I had to develop other hobbies, so I wouldn’t lose my love for brewing, just because it was the only thing I was doing. And, I think when you overwork yourself in anything and just do only one thing, it’s just really easy to lose interest, you know? And I know, I’ve had moments where it’s like, OK, well, if this isn’t as enjoyable to me, it’s because I don’t have other things to enjoy.
DSBC: What’s a passion of yours outside of brewing?
Lane: Getting back into cooking food and making really good meals for myself, and not just eating out all the time. I mean eating out is great, too, to enjoy other people’s amazing food. I think having that food passion is also very related to beer, because it’s all about flavors. Doing that, and just getting outside more, running, hiking, enjoying the amazing place we live in.
DSBC: Do you miss anything about Tumbleroot?
Lane: I really enjoyed the distilling. I do miss the distilling. At the same time, the sour beers we were doing over there (Tumbleroot) were really cool. And, the fact that we always had spirit barrels; that gave us plenty of opportunity to age things, and that was really cool. I can’t distill here, but I think that there’s so much more that I can do with creativity, making my own beers.
DSBC: So, now that you’ve been in your new position for a few months, what are you currently working on, whether it be improving processes, or even dialing in your own daily routine?
Lane: A little bit of all those. I think I’ve kind of gotten the daily routine here down. That’s not hard. I’ve gotten very comfortable with this. I’m also trying to find an assistant brewer to train. If you want to say mastery or brewmaster, I think that’s more what that means, being able to teach brewing to someone else. I had someone that started with me, as an assistant for two months before I started here as a brewer. I was able to teach him a lot. He had some decent experience from the get-go, but it was kind of a learning experience for me, too, really getting used to someone, working with someone every day. At Tumbleroot I did some of that, but we had so much stuff and such a little amount of workforce, that a lot of it was just like, OK, I’ll teach you how to do this, and then you got to do this all the time. And then, I’ll go do this all the time. And, you know, it’s not like that here. If I take on an assistant brewer, it’s much more hands-on teaching, more intimate training, and just getting better at that is something that that really matters to me. And, at the end of the day just trying my best to increase the brand of what we’re doing here.
DSBC: Is there a huge difference between working at Blue Corn as an assistant and now running the show at Hidden Mountain?
Lane: The job itself? Yeah, I’m responsible for a lot more things, for the direction of beer production. There are a lot more variables that I have to control, but at the same time, Blue Corn compared to Hidden Mountain, they’re not the same. I mean, it is the same location, but we’re trying to build a brand from scratch again.
DSBC: What was the biggest lesson you learned from Tumbleroot that you brought with you?
Lane: Learning how to schedule a lot of things and deal with all these different moving parts. That made it much easier to come here and do this well.
DSBC: So after college, your career has been mostly the apprentice route with of course the online certification? Do you feel like if you had gone to UC Davis, or CNM first, you might be a different brewer?
Lane: I think there’s a lot of value in those schools and hands-on learning. I mean, honestly, part of me wishes I would have done that, just to even get more experience from other people. My learning experience has been very concentrated in a just a few hands, right? And so, to have (that) because the job is a science, and there’s so many brilliant minds that have really good influence in this or that, so many different schools of thought. And, things are constantly changing, and we’re learning and constantly discovering more as well. So, it’s hard for me to look back and be like, yeah, I regret not doing (brew school). Honestly, though, I’m kind of glad I did what I did.
DSBC: Now for the really tough questions. What are your current favorite beers to make?
Lane: At Tumbleroot, Jason (Kirkman) was really good with his lagers, and I really appreciated that. With this place (Blue Corn), before, it felt like we were hurrying beers. We didn’t really have lagers on tap consistently. It was tough just keeping a lager yeast alive, because we just didn’t have those offerings. In that sense, now we’ve done a complete 180, where my lager yeast is a thing I’m constantly moving back and forth. I always have a Mexican lager on tap, sometimes two, and that gives me the ability to really do some cool lagers and keep them going, and that’s kind of where my interest has been heading.
I just did a doppelbock that I’m pretty excited about. It’s not something I’ve done in forever. You know, I think the last time I brewed one was with Paul here (in) 2017.
DSBC: You can drink one beer style for the rest of your life, your desert island beer. It’s a fun question, but it’s a hard question.
Lane: I mean, part of me was just like Coors Banquet (laughs). But, then again, it’s like, but to never have the option of an IPA? Do I just stick with the thing that I sometimes want because if I don’t pick that I can’t have it?
DSBC: Like asking a New Mexican what their desert island fruit of choice is. They may not always want a green chile every day, but if bananas are the only fruit growing on that island for eternity, and you’ll never have green chile again, chile is going to beat bananas.
Lane: But is that a better option than having a consistent this middle of the road beer every day? You know what I mean? That’s a hard decision.
DSBC: What’s your favorite shift beer?
Lane: The Mexican Lager, (but) I honestly go through the seasons. Last week, I tapped the Whiteout Stout. That was one I drank every day that week. I get bored of the same thing over and over again, so I like going back and forth, trying all the stuff, not really sticking to one particular thing.
DSBC: What can we look forward to in the near future from Andy Lane?
Lane: I think, just really coming into my own here, not just being comfortable with everything. I feel like I’m there now. But, I really look forward to getting an assistant soon, another mind to bounce ideas off of, someone who can give good feedback and help propel the brewery in the sense of not just creative direction, but also quality. We’ll be doing beer dinners, events, all the things that made this place special, you know. And, those all have to be bottled very soon. (Lane points to the Scotch ale in the barrels behind him that was brewed and barreled by his predecessor, Mallory.) Pretty soon I’ll have to do another batch and put them in barrels. And, that’s part of it, keeping the things alive that Paul did that really made this his place, but at the same time, finding the things that make this my place.
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Thank you to Andy Lane, for chatting with the Dark Side as always, and if I haven’t already told him this, I’m proud of you, pal, congratulations on the job! You’ve grown up a ton, and become a great brewer. We can’t wait to see what you produce next. To humble beginnings and hopefully some smooth barrel-aged finishes, cheers!
For more @nmdarksidebc news and unfiiltered Untappd reviews, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.