Whenever I visit Chile Line Brewery, it’s like catching up with an old friend. I forget how fun they are to be around, and I’m always surprised with how much new stuff they’ve got going on.
I recently made the trip to downtown Santa Fe. Whew. I know. Burqueños will laugh when I say it this way, but Santa Feans know that a trip downtown sometimes requires a travel agent. I don’t make the rules. (Actually, we do understand when it comes to finding parking. — S) Anyway, I recently headed out to Chile Line Brewery to meet with owner, founder, and showman Alexander Pertusini to chat about what they were up to in 2022, and to see if they had any big plans for 2023 and beyond.
“2022 was good; it went by really fast,” Pertusini told me with a chuckle one Sunday afternoon.
It was a cold and gloomy kind of Sunday, where you just knew the well-meaning people of Santa Fe would be in for the day, snuggled up in blankets, due to the slightly inclement weather. At first, my assumption seemed correct, as there was only one table occupied around 4 p.m., when I sauntered into the saloon. But, before long, as my half-baked assumptions usually turn out, I would find that I was quite wrong.
For Chile Line Brewery, the space they occupy at 204 N Guadalupe St. has been an ever-evolving entity, an entity that was once one-half of an Italian restaurant and part brewery space. And then, it was its own thing, separate from the pizzeria, and without the brewery space, but shared a patio with the restaurant. And now, it is still its own thing, but with a stage and its own patio (thank you very much).
And, it’s a nice dog-friendly patio, I might add. The brewery is still in a warehouse space attached to the property, but the tanks are no longer on display as they once were.
“It’s always been a kind of a confusing thing,” Pertusini said. “People ask, ‘What’s the brewery? What’s the restaurant?’ Right? So we really focused a lot of energy on separating the two into individual businesses. So essentially, we market to a different demographic here than we do over there. And, we said, ‘Listen, you’re never going to quite mesh. It’s kind of a weird concept. So just separate them out.’ You get the beer over here, and the food over there, and we do different marketing (for both).”
It’s more than fair to say that Chili Line, I mean, Chile Line has adopted a few changes over the years. Remember when they used to be the smoked-beer brewery? Every now and then, I still get asked if all of their beers are smoked. Well, they’re not. They haven’t been trying to fit that niche for a while now. They have a few smoked beers, sure, but mostly because their fans still ask for them. And, they still slip a little of their signature smoked malt into a recipe here and there, because, eh, why not?
With all the changes, one thing has remained unwavering, and it’s their loyal customers, who come for the entertainment, but keep coming back for the beer, as one customer assured me politely during the interview, just before asking for their ‘usual.’
Regarding the beers, Pertusini told us that head brewer Andrew Paulson has really gotten everything dialed in over this past year.
“He’s kind of focusing on some of the classics that we’ve brewed,” Pertusini said.
Four beers you will probably see on tap every visit are the Pinche Guey IPA, the Llorona American lager, Que Picante dark lager with red chile, and Como Pica dark lager with green chile.
But, Paulson hasn’t stopped with the core beers. He has also worked really hard to keep a rotation of fun seasonals on tap like a smoked helles, which will soon be available, if not already so.
At the moment, they have two stouts on draft, a barrel-aged version of their Salty Dog Stout, and an oatmeal stout fighting in a lower weight class, both in body and ABV.
Paulson has also experimented plenty with their sour and fruited beer varieties in 2022, like an Apricot Grisette he did recently, with apricots that he hand-picked and processed from his own backyard.
It sounds as though Paulson has enjoyed a bit of creative freedom in the brewhouse, but he is particularly proud of his Putazo Pilsner, a triple-decocted Czech pilsner, that, if beer sales are any indication of how much people dig it, then it must be a winner, because it was gone shortly after release, Pertusini told us.
By their taproom’s standards, Chile Line’s brewhouse hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, but they have upgraded as needed. While they leaned into cans and to-go orders with their canning line back during the pandemic, they are now focused on keeping their thirsty guests quenched in the taproom.
To do so, they currently have a modified 1-barrel system, with three mashtuns and three brew kettles, perfect for those decoction mashes.
By off-the-top-of-his-head-estimation, Pertusini told us that Chile Line does somewhere in the ballpark of 624 barrels per year, give or take, which has been on a steady upward trajectory from previous years.
“It’s always been increasing,” Pertusini said. “I don’t know what growth rate we’re at currently, but it’s comfortable.”
One change they’ve made in the brewhouse, since we last spoke, was to switch nearly all of their beers to Kveik yeast, a quick-fermenting Norwegian yeast that can handle hot temperatures and high ABV environments.
“Instead of us getting a bigger system, we used a biological approach,” Pertusini explained. “We said how can we get lagers quote-un-quote out in three days? So we started using kveik, and it’s great because it out-competes anything else. You don’t have to worry about it. It’s fermenting at a hot temperature. So we’re fermenting most of our “fake lagers” at 95, 96 degrees. Is it a true lager? No, but it tastes real similar, and it’s nice and clean.”
The brewery side of operations has one 3.5-barrel fermenting vessel and eight 1-barrel vessels, and according to Pertusini, with as fast as the beers are moving at Chile Line, they don’t exactly have the time to tie up a tank with a true lager.
The Wild Goose canning system they purchased around 2020 is still doing well, Pertusini assured us, as it still sends their flagship beers out the door daily.
As far as distribution goes, they tested the waters a bit since the pandemic with a handful of local liquor stores, but as most breweries will tell you, unless you’re already built for distribution, it’s tough to keep up with demand once it’s there.
And so, most of the beer that leaves the property is poured through the taps of their other family owned Santa Fe businesses, Lino’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, and Osteria D’ Assisi.
Pertusini told us that in order to keep up with their current demand, they’re brewing three or four times a week, and oftentimes triple batches, though events like tap takeovers at Ski Santa Fe are still enough to wipe out their supply for a time.
In 2022, running out of beer was only a minor issue. In fact, there weren’t many issues the taproom or brewery faced that were major.
“We’re small enough that the supply chain doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue,” Pertusini said.
Though Chile Line is its own thing, a separate entity from Lino’s Trattoria and Pizzeria next door — as I’ve mentioned before — they are still connected to the restaurant through a menu. Pertusini manages operations on that side, as well, when his father is out of town, so they continue to feel some of the same stings.
“Our food cost has gone up, and labor has gone up through the roof,” he said, “But, we’ve kept it under control as much as possible.”
To do so, they’ve eliminated table service at the taproom and updated their point-of-sale system to support QR ordering, in order to avoid having to expand the current staff as people return to business. And, as far as staffing, they’ve been blessed with good people on both sides, in the taproom, and in the kitchens.
As far as major expansions, Pertusini told us that Chile Line isn’t looking to head down the tracks toward Lamy anytime soon, but a taproom expansion in town, sometime in the future, isn’t completely off the table.
The big highlight for 2022 was just getting the music and entertainment to where Pertusini wanted, and that it was a relatively and reasonably easy year.
“After the previous year, I would rather have no problems, than crazy big achievements,” Pertusini joked.
As we wrapped up the interview, I couldn’t help but notice that the taproom was quite a bit more, bustling than an hour prior. The rooms were now filled with folks, with more shuffling in, taking seats, greeting friends, buying drinks, and smiling away. Jazz musicians had now covered the stage, and their music filled the air, between laughter and chatter, like life returning to the world after the ice age.
And, it was still technically the slow season.
Before long a dapper-looking fellow had just taken a seat at the bar next to me. He seemed to know everybody that walked in the door. I asked him, “What keeps you coming back?”
He replied, “What keeps me coming back? The community this place forms, and the talent that comes through these doors — music, open mic, jazz, comedy, everything in between.”
When I spoke with Pertusini back in 2021, he told me Chile Line was really focusing on building up the venue’s street cred as a cozy entertainment spot.
And, with music or entertainment most nights, open mic nights on Tuesdays, the Wayward Comedy troupe every Wednesday, Karaoke til 1:30 a.m. on Fridays, and regular jazz jam sessions sweetening Sundays, it sounds like they have done just that.
A special thank you to Xander Pertusini for chatting with the Dark Side. It was a pleasure, as always, spending an afternoon in your fun space. To the health and success of your family and business, cheers!
For more @NMDarkSideBC news and stories follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke
One Comment Add yours
I have an acoustic duet (Not Tuna)
We play original Americana and an eclectic mix of grey haired familiarity…
I also have a vast catalog of Singer Songwriter material…..
Would love some love from ya’ll