Things are feeling upbeat over at Thirsty Eye Brewing at Broadway and Gold, as I found out for our latest entry in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series. I caught up with co-owner Kim Arthun, general manager/co-owner Jo Sloan, and head brewer John Kofonow, picking up a more relaxed, positive vibe as the days of the pandemic lockdown slip further into the past.
“I think all in all, pretty damn good, but I’m probably overly optimistic,” Arthun said.
“It felt to me like a very steady year,” Kofonow said. “Going into last winter, where we typically have a drop-off, we didn’t get as robust a drop-off as we usually get, and we didn’t get a spring back up in the spring months. It was steady from winter through summer and into fall, which is nice, it’s a little more reliable for us.”
In terms of production, Kofonow said things were up quite a bit, as Thirsty Eye went from making about 60 barrels of house beers in a year to around 90 barrels this year.
“Is that due to better efficiency, things like that?” Arthun asked before I could.
“We did get better efficiency this year, yeah, some improvements to the brewing process,” Kofonow replied. “We did start getting better yield and better efficiencies in the brewhouse. I think also what helped me was training Arron Vallejos, one of our servers who’s a home brewer. I’ve been training him on cellar work and slowly into the brewing side, too. Having an extra pair of hands has given me more time to focus on specific things that can improve some stuff quality wise, efficiency wise. He’s picking up a lot of stuff fast, which is nice.”
Efficiency was a big them in last year’s Look Back/Look Ahead for Thirsty Eye, so it was good to hear they had achieved many of their goals in that regard. A big move was to improve the house IPA, El Drac, because in Albuquerque, you gotta have your IPA dialed in properly.
“I tried a new hopping regimen for our house IPA, El Drac, that has resulted in more pronounced and appropriate bitterness for that West Coast-style IPA,” Kofonow said. “It was a matter of changing up the hop source that we use. We’re using a more concentrated pellet that I wasn’t expecting to give us more bitterness, but it did and I’m sticking with it because it brings down our costs for the hops and gives us a better outcome. I’m really happy with that one. That was the most notable improvement of the house beers over this year.”
Another popular house beer, the Odin’s Eye, got a little twist from time to time thanks to a suggestion by Vallejos. Timed with the art openings at Exhibit 208, Thirsty Eye now infuses a single sixtel of Odin’s Eye with a different flavored tea to create Odin’s Monocle.
“We’ve partnered with Old Barrel Tea Company, who have been really great and supportive to source different teas from them,” Kofonow said. “The one we’re going to do this week is infused with blueberry tea that’s really delicious. We haven’t done a fruited tea before. It’s a really special thing that’s basically available for one weekend. That’s been a really big hit for those periods.”
A new Odin’s Monocle debuts today (Friday), as a matter of fact.
“On this current one I’m doing, we’re using half as much tea,” Kofonow said. “It’s not as (as much infused) as our first two, but it’s a stronger tea on its own. It’s delicious, we’ve got it on right now, ready to go for (today). I’m really excited about it, it’s nice and clear, it’s got a little pink hue from the blueberries.”
A big moment for Thirsty Eye came back in June when two of their seasonal beers earned some hardware, a first for the brewery.
“We won our first medals this year (at) the Great New Mexico Beer Festival competition,” Kofonow said. “The Citrus Buzz won bronze in the wheat category, and our seasonal, Dude? Dude. Dude! won the gold in the hazy IPA category. That was the most amazing thing. I had to run an errand in the middle of that day, and I was running back to the tent as they announced it.”
“I looked at Arron and (asked) did they just say Thirsty Eye? Where’s John?” Arthun recalled.
Kofonow said they already have the hops to do another batch of the Dude in the spring of 2023. He also noted that customers love ordering it just for the name alone.
“We should have recorded people ordering it,” Arthun added with a laugh. “There was some woman, she said can I have Tres Dudes, please?”
The beer also went into 16-ounce cans, which Thirsty Eye was able to do by slightly modifying the crowler machine. It was their first official canned beer, and the stock went quickly, Sloan said. Kofonow added that it will not be the last time they do a short canning run.
“We’re going to be doing some more of that, hopefully before the end of this calendar year,” Kofonow said. “We’ll have a different beer come out in 16-ounce cans before the holidays. I’m thinking of what ones we can do in the spring. Every few months, do a few cases of something really popular that people can take (home) with them.”
Aside from the beer, Thirsty Eye was able to team up with local musician Bernie King of Hello Darling to create a special new series of events. Think of them as a scaled-down version of Launchpad’s Night of the Living Cover Bands, but with all the participating bands and individual musicians doing covers from one specific artist.
“Those are the tribute nights to Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and Lucinda Williams are the ones we’ve done so far,” Kofonow said. “The house is packed, there’s upward of a dozen local musicians all playing songs by this artist.”
“We’ve got another one scheduled for January (14), I think it’s going to be The Rolling Stones,” Sloan said. “He’s going to continue to do those every couple months for us. It’s nice, you get a nice variety of music, musicians, different people.”
Arthun said the events are a nice way to introduce new bands and artists to Thirsty Eye, and to introduce the brewery to them and their fans.
“It amazes me the new faces continually, that people are finding us,” Arthun said.
He also noted that with the new Hilton Garden Inn now open across Broadway, customers from there have also been finding Thirsty Eye.
“What’s interesting is a guy was in the other night, and he told me that he started to go under the train tracks (along Central), but he decided nah, I don’t know about this,” Arthun said. “He went back to the hotel and (searched) breweries close to me, thought he would get an Uber and go somewhere. Then he realized there was one in 410 feet. I’ve had a number of people tell us something like that.”
The symbiotic relationship between Thirsty Eye and the neighboring Exhibit 208, which Arthun also owns, continues to pay dividends. The art gallery also won an award this year, taking home a Creative Bravo Award from the City of Albuquerque.
“I’ve got art shows for next year all lined up,” Arthun said. “This year, in a 12-month period, including this space, we did 16 shows. That’s not sustainable. I was trying to catch up after COVID.”
Kofonow said a big goal of this year was getting Thirsty Eye out to more festivals, which they achieved, appearing at the aforementioned GNMBF, plus the Enchantment Beer, Wine, and Spirits Festival, and the Cork and Brews at the Rail Yards. There was also one special event that still had everyone buzzing.
“Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even mention Bands of Enchantment, which we sponsored several nights of,” Kofonow said. “That was the coolest experience.”
The event had bands recording a performance on video at the Rail Yards, with a specific brewery or other craft alcohol producer present to act as a sponsor and serve drinks to people attending the recordings.
“We love with what they were doing for highlighting musical arts, and Albuquerque as a destination for that and supporter of that,” Kofonow said. “To be the local brewery sponsor with on each night we partnered with them, it was just amazing getting to know the bands and everything. It felt like a real citywide partnership. The film industry was there, representatives from the city were there. We want to more things like this coming year.”
On the beer front, Kofonow said customers can expect to see a greater variety of brews in 2023.
“I’m also going to be branching out our beer styles from predominantly American styles,” he said. “We’ve had some requests for some more yeast-forward styles, maybe a sour, and more lagers and pilsners. Those seasonals that we do of lagers and pilsners have been hugely popular. We had to triple batch La Llagerona this year.
“I can tell you upcoming we’ve got a Dortmunder planned for early in the year, and a Japanese dry rice lager. I’ve also got where we’re going to venture into some Belgian styles, a Belgian blonde first, and try to just expand the scope of styles that we’ve been offering so far.”
One fun beer release to close out 2022 will happen next week.
“We are in the midst, as we’re doing this interview, of our first collaboration brew with Sidetrack Brewing,” Kofonow said. “I was actually over there right before we recorded this interview, testing that beer out. Cordell (Rincon) and I go back to my apprenticeship at Chama River Brewing in 2017. We’ve been in touch ever since. He’s been a friend and helped us out a lot. When he moved to Sidetrack this year, we immediately talked about let’s finally do a collab. It should be out within a week. We’re really excited. That’s our first, and we couldn’t have picked a better group of people that week know than Dan (Herr), Anne (O’Neill), and Cordell.”
We are all too happy to hear that things are still going well, and even getting better at this fun little pub in East Downtown. A big thanks to Kim, Jo, and John for the interview, and for a sample of the new batch of Bruiser the American Pit Bull Stout. Can’t pass that up, now can I?
Keep supporting local!