It seems that Danny and Molly O’Brien, the new owners who purchased Casa Vieja last year, are really starting to put their own stamp on the beautiful property located at 4541 Corrales Road in the heart of the village.
For this year’s Look Back/Look Ahead Series feature, I met with head brewer Michael Sharpe to talk about that and more. I was also able to sample a few of the beers that are all now his recipes and brews, and also found out that his brother-in-law William Robertson is helping him with the brewing. I was happy to be having some beer again, after taking off some time for Dry January.
Something Michael said he noticed about January tickled me.
“Yeah, I noticed that all of a sudden one day it was January 21,” he said. “On the exact three-week mark from when everyone made their resolutions, we had a bomb, awesome night … it was like Day 21, it was over. I was like, I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’m just glad to know that this was the place everybody thought about going.”
This is Michael’s first professional brewing gig. He was a home brewer for about four years, lived in the area, and William told him about Gary Socha (founder/previous owner of Casa Vieja). Now, three years into working with Casa Vieja, Michael said is very thankful that the Socha family — Gary, wife Linda, and daughter Maria — got him started. He said the O’Briens have “kept the grease on the wheels” to make the transition as effortless as possible. All he has to really worry about is “keeping the bubbles in the beers.”
The number of taps at Casa Vieja has increased from 10 to 15. I asked Michael if there is any problem keeping up with that much beer. He said not during the winter, and customers are happy to have so many different styles to choose from versus mostly lagers or IPAs, although those are also still available.
“Before, only having 10 taps, that kind of forced everybody to kind of drink one beer or the other,” Michael said. “You know, everybody kind of hits one beer style really hard, because the selection just wasn’t quite up there. But, as soon as we added more taps, we noticed that it’s more of an even draw amongst all of the variety of the styles. So, you’re not pouring heavy one (tap) versus another.”
He also said he noticed that there’s definitely a lot more experimentation with some of the regulars who would typically drink only one beer style every time they visited. Now they’re drinking two or three other different types of beer that they usually wouldn’t have, just because of the selection. And, they always want to keep at least one imperial beer on tap all the time.
Michael said his favorite beer to brew is the blue corn lager.
“It’s been my baby since the beginning, and it’s given me the most trouble,” he said. “But, it’s also been the most rewarding because when it finally did become the recipe that I intended it to be, it was long overdue. The New Mexico blue corn that we try to source can sometimes go up so high in price, and it can be kind of difficult to source, and then sometimes quality isn’t always exactly the same every time. The beer doesn’t come out the same every time because the batches or the product is different.”
Michael said he is proud of their version of a black and tan. They have been offering at least one nitro beer, which right now is a dry stout. To make the black and tan, they pair it with their Ghost Stout (a blonde color) because it’s a much higher gravity beer.
“You know, it’s thicker so it sits on the bottom, right?” he said. “And, the O’Brien Stout sits right on top perfectly, and you can even swirl the beer and that will kind of repair itself like a lava lamp. “
Michael said he is also a big fan of Belgian beers. He said the disappearance of Duel Brewing really hit him hard. He wants to be a place where customers can come get a fix of that style.
One thing people may not know about the O’Briens is that they also make wine. Casa Vieja has started serving their winery’s offerings as well. But, for Michael, that also provides an exciting new opportunity, hopefully soon in 2023, for a barrel program featuring the Viñedo Pájaro Azul wine barrels.
They have new European crystal glassware in the tasting room. There are additional tanks, two extra fermenters for 25- to 30-percent more capacity in the back, plus a new keg washer, filter, more freezer space, and so on and so forth. All of these things, of course, make Michael a very happy brewer.
Casa Vieja is now open seven days a week, and they have a happy hour on Mondays and Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. They are having their official grand opening this Thursday. An email from the O’Briens stated the grand opening will start at 5 p.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by Corrales MainStreet. The festivities will include music by Corrales’ own Justin Nunez and hors d’oeuvres by Perea’s, graciously provided by Corrales MainStreet.
Personal note: Former owner Gary (and his business partner Joe) came in while I was there. I was able to chat with him for a while about life after owning a brewery. He seems to be doing great and confessed he is still homebrewing. It was so great to see him!
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Been my favorite place since the “90”s