Just before the winter winds whipped through New Mexico earlier this week, I trekked west to Lava Rock Brewing at 2220 Unser Blvd. NW to catch up with head brewer Dan Cavin for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
We were the first to arrive in the brewpub that day, so Cavin did not mince words when I asked him about how things went in 2022, when I saw him and the Lava Rock team out at multiple festivals.
“We were trying to get to as many festivals as we can, get our name out there,” he said. “But overall, it was a down year for us, it really was. Much like Lizard Tail, we had really bad kitchen turnover, (and) front of house, as always. Our sales were down considerably. Beer production wasn’t down that much, but sales overall were down.”
The first half of 2022 was particularly brutal.
“We’re a neighborhood place, we can’t just serve beer, we have to have food,” Cavin said. “We had a rocky start to 2022 with kitchen staff. We went through, between the first of the year all the way through May, we went through three kitchens. It was rough. We’re finally settled on one. We’ve been more consistent the last six, seven months.”
When I interviewed Cavin last year, his main brewhouse was off-line due to a malfunctioning burner. Thankfully, that was fixed soon after we talked, and it was fairly smooth sailing in the brewery afterwards.
“Oh yeah, absolutely, it’s been much kinder,” he said. “I haven’t had any big glitches on the brewhouse this year at all. Nothing I can’t work around.”
While the Pinche Cerveza (Mexican Lager) was the talk of the pub last year, another beer has risen up to tie it for first place in sales.
“For us, right now it’s the hazy IPA, the Lava Juice, and the Mexican lager, Pinche Cerveza,” Cavin said. “Those are our two No. 1. The Lava Juice, in 2022, took over, basically doubled the sales of both of our other IPAs.”
Since he does still have his 1-barrel pilot system, Cavin has been able to constantly churn out the small-batch seasonals. He said that typically there are four on tap at any given time, with a wide variety of styles.
“That’s been my goal since I’ve been here, to play around a little bit more with specialties,” he said. “That’s been my real focus here in 2023, let’s have four rotating seasonal 1-barrel batches on (tap).”
One style that has gone by the wayside, somewhat, is sour ales. Cavin said that is likely due to Lava Rock obtaining the New Mexico-only liquor license where it can sell mixed drinks made with spirits from in-state distilleries. Still, he does have one sour in the works that came as a result of a chat with another head brewer on the Westside.
“Now, if I do roll out a sour, which I’m probably going to do in mid-March or so, I’m going to have a kettle sour, a Gatorade kettle sour,” Cavin said. “I was talking to Will (Moorman) at Flix, apparently that’s a thing over in Texas.”
Cavin said he is also sitting on a few higher ABV beers that he brewed in November and December. He said those are tasting a bit young right now, so a little aging will help before they are released in the near future.
Outside the brewpub, Cavin said that Lava Rock will continue to make its way out to festivals in 2023. That still helps the brewery get its name out to the public beyond its Westside home base.
“The number one question we got at the festivals was where are you guys at, are you in town, are you in New Mexico,” he said.
Lava Rock also got back to entering beer competitions in 2022, though Cavin said he will not go overboard and enter every single one in 2023.
“I’ll just skip World Beer Cup, it’s expensive nowadays,” he said. “I figure I’m going to go back to the traditional schedule, do the World Beer Cup every other year. I’ll probably do the North American Beer Awards for sure this year. It’s only like $50 an entry, that’s pretty reasonable, and then I’ll do GABF, also. I probably won’t do the full list, I’ll probably do four max entries.”
Also looking beyond the Westside, Lava Rock was seemingly on the verge of opening a taproom in Moriarty last year, and while that project is still on tap, it has run into its share of bad luck.
“It’s out there, it’s built,” Cavin said. “We got the licensure. We just got our liquor license for the place about two weeks ago. The goal is three to four months, but it’s one of those things like every time we go, hey, let’s do our soft opening, we hit a snag. The walk-in cooler is freezing up, or the HVAC is not working in the building. We’ve run into two or three of those separate instances of now there’s a setback.”
The second half of 2022 did restore some optimism at Lava Rock, and we hope things will continue to roll in the right direction for Cavin and his staff in 2023.
A big thanks to Dan for meeting up early, and I did make sure to let him know that the Crew will be available to help drink up those high ABV seasonals when they’re ready. It’s what we do.
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One Comment Add yours
I hope they do rebound, the location is pretty decent…very few breweries on the westside. Patio is nice with great view of the mountains. However, the service is lacking as well as the food is nothing to write home to mom and pop about, and lastly the beer is drinkable but that’s about it. Living on the westside I would frequent this place if they fixed at least 1 or 2 of the mentioned above. Good Luck!