As 2022 came to an end, Rio Bravo Brewing wrapped up a successful year of fun beer releases, festivals, and outdoor events, and now the staff is looking toward the year ahead feeling optimistic about all that they have accomplished and for what is to come.
I met up with director of brewing operations, Austin Giorgetta, and upon my arrival, he poured me a glass of their newest Russian Imperial Stout.
Having gone through multiple different versions in previous years, Rio Bravo’s Russian Imperial Stout has had names such as Putin’s Mistress (aged four months with rum and coffee, and according to Austin, “not for the faint of heart”) and Menage a Trois (aged with a combination of whiskey and rum). The 2022 edition, Black Sparrow, has been rum-barrel aged since last November. It is dark and thick, but has mellowed out somewhat over 12 months of aging, and goes down surprisingly easy for a barrel aged Imperial Stout.
“I think it’s the best one yet,” Austin said.
The wheels are already in motion for a series of “really fun ideas we’re going to come out with in cans,” said Austin. One of those “fun ideas” — a watermelon Tajin gose brewed with a little bit of red chile — is already on tap as a trial run. The gose can theme will continue into next year with a barrel-aged gose brewed with a little tequila. For flavors, Austin said he is currently leaning toward pineapple and lime, with a target release date around Cinco de Mayo.
The other big can release days that are planned, although not set in stone, are a Double Stuffed Oreo stout in February, and a wine cooler beer in August. The August release will be a blonde, barrel aged in either red or white wine barrels, depending on what Austin gets from his barrel distributor.
All of these can releases will also be on tap at the brewery on their respective release dates, as well as for sale at locations such as Total Wine and Kelly Liquors.
“The whole purpose to have these fun, creative beers is to bring people together,” Austin said.
This will be Rio Bravo’s first attempt at distributing seasonal beers to market on a four-times-per-year schedule. Austin, who is originally from Denver, envisions it being similar to the model used at Denver Beer Company.
Austin said he is also a fan of the beers being released at other local breweries, particularly IPAs, and often uses them as inspiration for his own brews.
Rio Brav also had a couple of collaborations this year, one with Brew Lab 101, and another with their hop company. Next year, Austin said he is hoping for at least two to three more collabs, possibly with Bow and Arrow, since they are so close in proximity to each other. He noted that the tough thing with collabs is brewing schedules and timelines between each brewery, so nothing is certain yet for 2023.
Breweries aren’t the only local collaborators with Rio Bravo. This year, Austin started using Cutbow Coffee in the Coffee Porter, and has received great feedback.
“Seeking out a coffee company I like has helped,” he said. “We symbiotically work together. The more feedback I get, the more I want to stick with it.”
As for everything else on tap, anything goes. A coconut porter is in the works. A winter bock, a strong lager, is currently in the fermenter. A gingerbread brown is currently on tap. And, a Mexican hot chocolate beer with with an 8-percent ABV was also scheduled to be released as of late last week. During that week alone, there were five different brews and a total of 80 barrels brewed.
Austin also reflected on this year’s competitions, and his plans for even better results next year.
Although they did not place in the competition, Austin was “really happy with how (Rio Bravo) did at GABF this year,” and is looking forward to the upcoming World Beer Cup in 2023. Dice Roll Hazy IPA took silver at the previous World Beer Cup. When they sent it to GABF, it had already been aging for 30 days. Next year, he plans to send a fresher batch, aged 7-to-14 days, in the hopes of achieving a better result.
Meanwhile, the Summer Honey Blonde, their number two overall best seller on tap, made it to the final round at GABF, and Austin said he plans to send that again, in addition others that do well at the brewery, and one-offs such as an American Wheat, which is slated for the World Beer Cup.
“We’re testing our whole gamut of brewing capabilities, (and competitions),” Austin said, as those are the “best place to get peer-reviewed feedback.”
Over the past year, Rio Bravo has slowly seen a growth in production, and a pickup in sales, and they are hoping to gain even more traction with can sales. Now, all mainstay brews are offered in 12-ounce cans, and more popular options such as Freak Juice IPA and Coffee Porter sales are up by 250 percent.
“The goal for 2022 was to be more cohesive with our brand,” Austin said. “Now that we’re finally ending 2022, we’re starting to see that cohesion.”
Goals for next year are to continue to improve quality by fine tuning the brewing process and not taking any shortcuts, taking time to clean, watching gravity levels, and implementing lab work.
“This year, I feel like I checked almost all of my boxes,” he said. “So next year just keep that momentum and that ball rolling.”
Thanks so much to Austin for taking some time out of a busy brewing schedule to give us an update on what’s in store for Rio Bravo in 2023!