Canteen Brewhouse keeps trucking along thanks to the people behind the beer

Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette, left, and general manager Jamie Schwebach have kept things running as smoothly as possible in 2022.

The ultimate saving grace of 2022 for Canteen Brewhouse was in the people, from the staff at both locations to the customers that kept coming in the door.

We caught up with general manager Jamie Schwebach and head brewer Zach Guilmette for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series last week to discuss the challenges that the mid-sized brewery (by New Mexico standards) faced over the past 12 months, plus what is to come in 2023.

“Well, it’s been a year,” Schwebach said. “I think just like everyone else, everybody worked hard, it’s been a hard year, but we did it. We produced great beer. Amazing staff, in both front of house and back of house. We’re still trucking along.

“When I think about 2022, the most prevalent thing is we have such an amazing crew of people that we get to work with and share space with. With that, we’re able to produce some pretty exceptional beer and exceptional events. We’re pretty stinking fortunate.”

“It’s all the same crew in the brewery a year later,” Guilmette added. “All of those guys have been here for the whole ride for about five years now, and Doug (Cochran) has been here for 23 years, I think. It’s a good, reliable crew, which makes good, consistent beer. I think it’s been a good year for our beer. The events have kept everybody coming in. We’ve really grown in the number of people we’ve seen come by for all of these events, and the carryover for creating new customers that way.”

The lingering challenges from 2020-21 remained, affecting everything from event planning to brewing the beer.

“Day to day life is still dealing with everything post-pandemic, everything from fatigue to what is the level of our customers’ comfort,” Schwebach said.

“You’re still seeing an increase in prices, and still issues on supply chain, whether it’s in front of house or back of house. Whether it’s the type of disposable fork you use, or this particular fruit you use in a style of beer, or style of grain, I think the hangover that’s still here is pivoting. We all hated that word in 2020, and (yet) we still have to pivot now.”

Guilmette said the brewing team has been lucky from a health standpoint, leaving it mainly to face the supply chain and inflation-related issues.

“Make sure that things are available, ordering a little earlier,” he said. “The supply chain has definitely had some hiccups. Making sure you have what you need for a beer that you used to order a couple weeks out, now is looking like four-to-six weeks out. Price increases, things like that (too).”

More often than not this year, the patio was buzzing with events, live music, and fundraisers.

Still, despite all of that, Schwebach and Guilmette were both feeling more optimistic than not.

“When we look at this last year, we released a lot of fun beers,” Schwebach said. “We’re still figuring out how to work with our distributor, which we’re super happy with. How do we get in the market and how do we stay in the market? And how do we make sure people are still coming in?

“We’ve got a new brand manager, Kate McConville, and she worked with us through 2018, and then she stepped away because she had some kiddos. She’s come back as a brand rep. She’s been handling all of our off-site events, as well as samplings, and working with different stores. That’s been great, and we’re really excited about getting her more out there in 2023. That’s a great way to be able to work with Premier, our distributor, on all that.”

A big lager fan himself, it was no surprise that Guilmette chose some lagers as his beers of the year.

“I think the Export Lager was really a favorite,” he said. “I was really happy with that one, and the Pop’s Pils. It’s been really nice having the Irish Red on more often.”

“I think we’re seeing the resurgence of pale ales,” Schwebach added. “Pale ales have done really well here. Trail Angel did amazing, so did the Low and Slow. We had quite a few releases of pale ales this year that people were really receptive (for). The Lenetsky did well. It was an interesting shift, we’re seeing the love of lagers, but now we’re seeing the love of pale ales. We try to make sure we have a pale ale in the rotation as well.”

Last year, Schwebach said the big goal for 2022 was to get back to the pre-pandemic level of events that Canteen’s customers had come to expect. They certainly managed to do just that.

“We had a great year for events, both on-site and off-site,” she said. “I think kicking it off, Drink Beer, Save Turtles was killer. We didn’t expect (it to be) that much of a popular thing. It was just great to see how much people wanted to support turtles, people wanted to be out, Baracutanga always brings a great crowd. Working with the New Mexico Bio Park Society as well as the Turtle Survival Alliance was really great and exceptional.”

Another big event early in the year was Day Drinking for a Cause, which raised funds to help Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine.

“I think we’ve actually donated more money this year than we ever have, which was really great to be able to give back to our community,” Schwebach said. “When we think about the pandemic (lockdown), our community really helped keep us around.”

The Canteen staff and the community stepped up this year to help Mike Thrall and his family after his cancer diagnosis.

The charitable events even extended to the staff. Canteen beertender Mike Thrall was diagnosed with throat cancer this past summer. In response, the brewery began to roll out a series of fundraising events to help him and his family, starting with the tapping of multiple breweries’ beers for a mini-festival of a sort.

“That day we raised $12,000, I think,” Schwebach said. “It was a lot that day. Just seeing the other businesses willing to help, whether it was Monsoon Design donating T-shirts, or our friends at Top Golf volunteering to help and cook, or all of the breweries donating beer and coming in and buying beer, it was just exceptional. We did a lot of fun, different things this year, reminding us that it’s about the beer, it’s about the people, but it’s also about the fun.”

Nobody brought green chile stew or a posolé, but the Great Soup Off was another fun event that raised funds for the Thrall family towards the end of the year. It may also have inspired a few similar events for 2023.

“Our staff has requested to do a Pie Off at some point,” Schwebach said. “We think it would be good to do that during the State Fair. I also like the idea of doing a Chili Cook Off. We have the space, we have a parking lot that we can use. All of those things go great with beer. It’s more like let’s have some fun and get the community involved.”

A few of the other aforementioned events will be back this coming year.

“We’re excited for next year,” Schwebach said. “We’re going to bring back some of the same fun events. We’re going to bring back Drink Beer, Save Turtles in May, Day Drinking for a Cause in April. We’re in the works at being able to host a half marathon in April. That’s going to be fun. Plus, all the normal stuff. The chile (roast) is always a hit.”

Guilmette has a to-do list for the brewery, as well.

“To circle back to challenges in the brewery, it’s really just getting a couple more tanks,” Guilmette said. “It’s running smoothly, but we could actually make more beer. Or, we anticipate we’ll be making more beer, so we’re ordering a couple tanks.”

More tanks often means more lagers, though Canteen was doing fairly well on that front in 2022.

“I think we always had two to five lagers on,” Schwebach said. “I think for the Lager Lift Off we had five lagers on tap. Right now we’ve got four on, and that’s just great to have that many variety of lagers. People are drinking them, which I love. I think everyone is seeing that trend.”

Look for even more beer styles appearing in cans in 2023, from new brews to old favorites.

A few other beers, some new, some returning favorites, will be getting canned.

“We’re going to be canning Tuttle (IPA),” Guilmette said. “There’s a new beer called Work of Heart, which is a chocolate milk stout. Which we’ll be releasing in February on draft and in cans for Valentine’s Day.”

“Towards the end of this year into January we’re going to be releasing Wicked Raven, our imperial stout,” Schwebach added.

There will be a barrel-aged version of Wicked Raven, too.

“We’re going to be draining our Raven that we filled barrels with in 2021,” Guilmette said. “And, we’ve got new George Dickel (whiskey) barrels coming. We’re going to be filling (those) with our Raven this year. That will be good.”

Schwebach reported that the Canteen Taproom on Tramway has also been doing well.

“It’s been a long year, it’s been a good year, but it’s been a long year,” she said. “We’re all a little tired, making sure everyone is feeling good, and filling in the gaps where we need to.”

And, that ultimately comes back to the Canteen staff.

“When I think about this past year, the most I think about is what a great staff we had, back of house and front of house,” Schwebach said. “How well everybody works together, and how hopefully we can just keep doing better for them.”

A big thanks to Zach and Jamie for the interview, and to the Canteen staff throughout the year for taking such good care of all of us in the Crew. We’ll be back for that barrel-aged Wicked Raven.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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