All things being equal, it was a pretty darn good year for both locations at Nexus Brewery. There were some medals earned, the expansion of the Blue Smokehouse was completed, and the support has been great from the community.
Of course, in this day and age, nothing went totally as planned, but overall owner Ken Carson and head brewer Randy King are feeling good about the direction of the brewpubs, as we learned for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
“It’s been interesting the last few years, but we’ll weather the storm,” Carson said. “At least sales are back here solid. We don’t have anything to complain about in regards to continued support from the community.”
The biggest project of the year was finishing the new bar and stage area at Blue. There were delays, however, that kept it from opening until just before summer.
“That kind of set us behind and we had to finish the work, but we got it done and got it open,” Carson said. “Over the last seven months or so of this year, we’ve basically doubled sales during that time period. And, it’s also given us the ability to provide entertainment, because there’s a stage. There’s a really nice bar area.
“We’ve added a Class B restaurant license, which gives us the ability to sell name-brand spirits from out of state. So it’s effectively a full bar. We’re slowly growing with sales on the bar. Things are going pretty successfully in that department.”
While beer sales are up, King said it has not been a big adjustment yet for the brewery team. That is mainly due to the fact that before the pandemic lockdown, Nexus was operating three locations.
“It hasn’t been that big of an adaptation, since we’re still below where we were pre-pandemic,” he said. “We expect that to ramp up quite a bit more.”
It does not hurt that Nexus piled up some awards and medals in 2022, drawing even more people to the beer.
“The big things that we had in the brewery that we’re really proud of were all the awards we won this year,” King said. “At the local level, the (Great New Mexico) Beer Fest, our Marzen took home a medal. At the North American Beer Awards, the Marzen medaled there as well, as did Beam Me Up Scotty. And then, of course, the big one was winning at the World Beer Cup for Beam Me Up (Higher) Scotty. We were also fourth in voting for the New Mexico IPA Challenge, which is a pretty good showing.”
We still love the story of how King found out he won silver at WBC.
“I was literally having a beer with Jamie Schwebach from Canteen, and I told her I had to go use the restroom and they were going to call my name while I was in there,” King recalled. “And, they did.”
King said he has been proud of a number of beers on tap, even those that did not bring home any hardware.
“I think we had some really excellent beers (this year),” he said. “The Lush (Imperial) Stout is delicious, especially on a cool day like today. We made some slight changes to it, and I think it’s better than ever. The Snowstorm has obviously done really well in the IPA Challenge two years in a row. It’s fantastic. The beer that I’ve recently realized is really good, one of the top beers maybe in Albuquerque, is Oralé Mexican Lager. That beer is really good, I’m definitely proud of that one.”
While the brewery is doing well, the restaurant side of the business is still enduring some ups and downs.
“There still are (challenges),” Carson said. “We’re weathering the storm with still a heavier turnover than we would like in the kitchen. We seem to have reached a good point for the servers, front of the house, turnover is not quite as bad there anymore at both stores, both locations. The kitchen still seems to be a challenge for keeping staff.”
Carson said he rehired a former kitchen manager who had left about five years ago to start his own place, but decided to come back. That should help stabilize the kitchen at the original location, Carson said.
“It does seem like we are getting some people who really care about food,” he added. “We’re looking forward to solidifying things and maybe getting a little bit closer to normal. It seems to be the thing everybody is looking for is to try to get back to normal.”
There will be some changes, with old menu favorites returning like the pork steak, and new dishes and sides being added as well.
“Last year was retooling the kitchen as much as we could without a major renovation,” Carson said. “We’re hoping to also launch a new menu at the beginning of the year that may include some new things like candied yams, black-eyed peas, some more soulful items. We’re still working on that.”
A new employee was also added to help keep improving things at Blue.
“On the barbecue side, we have a new chef that joined our organization as a consultant,” Carson said. “He’s been working on the barbecue to try to put it to what we’re shooting for, to be the best barbecue in New Mexico. We’re close, but we’re not quite there yet.
“The goal there is (also) to improve customer service as much as possible. The large building makes it difficult to navigate, and so we’re learning how to adapt to that.”
As much as we hear from brewers all over New Mexico about never being completed satisfied with their beers, Carson said continual improvement at both Nexus locations is always the goal.
“The other thing is that we’re working on each one of our recipes from the barbecue sauce to everything, making sure that we can tweak it a little bit and make it better than it was the day before,” he said. “So that’s the main emphasis, and we’ll continue on that path throughout the year, work on the fundamentals and keep improving until we have two of the best food concepts in New Mexico in our categories.”
There are no big projects on deck for 2023, as Nexus barrels toward its 12th anniversary celebration in late May, but a few small things to get excited about. On the beer front, King said he has a few ideas percolating, starting with his next new recipe on deck.
“The cold IPA, I think that will be a fun beer,” he said. “We’re going to use the same yeast strain that I use for the Oralé Mexican Lager. I think that will give it a little crispness. It will be featuring a lot of Strata hops, some Citra and some El Dorado. It should be a really fun beer.”
King also promised that Trampled by Tangerines will return when the weather warms up in the spring, and a few other old favorites and new beers will roll out as well over the course of the coming months.
There will still be all the unexpected challenges to overcome, too. In the last few weeks, Nexus has dealt with everything from a water line break at Blue, to the catalytic converter being stolen from the delivery fan, to a component in the brewery’s glycol chiller failing. It’s all fairly frustrating, but both Carson and King said it will not distract them too much, and they will keep pushing forward.
“We’re having our all-staff meeting next Monday,” Carson said. “We’re going to close both restaurants down, and we’re going to do a strategic planning session for about three hours or so, show them our goals and objectives for next year, and then after we’re going to party right after the meeting is over.”
That sounds like a good way to close out 2022. A big thanks to Ken and Randy for the interview, and for lunch, since no one can resist the beautiful food aromas coming out of the Nexus kitchen for too long.
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