The winter months are the traditional slow season at breweries. But, not at every brewery, as the folks at Brew Lab 101 will tell you out in Rio Rancho.
I caught up with co-owner/brewmaster Scott Salvas and head brewer Tevin Gray recently for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series to recap a banner 2022 and preview what they hope will be an even better 2023.
“For us, 2022 was great,” Salvas said. “We did about 15 percent better than the previous year. We continue to grow. The brand is strong. We got our backyard beer garden opened up. So really, we just continued to grow the base, and the brand, and the customers. Tevin has been doing a great job in the brewery, putting out lots of great beers. For us, we have no complaints. A lot of 2022 was just trying to keep up (with demand), and that seems to be where 2023 is going.”
Brew Lab is one of a handful of breweries that also makes its own cider, and that has been a big seller to date.
“Cider has been flying, it’s really taken off, really more than either of us ever expected,” Gray said. “We created a new cider, and one of my assistants and I go, ugh, this is gonna be a (fast) seller.”
“The challenge is you want something to be a rotating (tap), and then skip to something the next month, but everyone wants you to make it a regular,” Salvas said. “We branched out more, we’re on tap at seven more locations. We’re trying to keep up with production, trying to keep up with people’s orders. For us, it’s been great. We’ve been fortunate to be able to get a lot of great staff to keep our service levels really high. Really, just trying to keep up with what’s going on.”
Gray said that light lagers and IPAs are the top-selling beers at Brew Lab, with Salvas adding that the Sexi NuMexi Mexican Lager is accounting for nearly 20 percent of daily beer sales. Those, along with the ciders, are in the driver’s seat, so to speak.
Brew Lab hauled in its first set of competition medals in 2022, at the Great Lakes Cider Competition and at the Great New Mexico Beer Festival. They also picked up best local cider from Albuquerque the Magazine.
“It’s been a good year for some validation,” Gray said.
“Another great thing in 2022 was all the beer fests,” Salvas said. “We didn’t have a chance to do many of those. In the beginning (in 2019), we opened in the middle of the summer. Then all of a sudden the pandemic hits. We did almost everything we could in 2022. It was great, we got into the Albuquerque market. We got our stuff in front of a lot of new people who just don’t make it to Rio Rancho. We got a lot of good validation, a lot of product reinforcement. It was really cool to see.”
Gray said that one product, in particular, has been the star of the show at offsite events.
“I don’t know if it was a huge surprise, but doing all these events, (we found out that) Peach Cider is fire,” he said. “We just plan to bring mostly Peach Cider. We go through all of it at events. It’s crazy.”
Brew Lab has also made the most of its weekly events on site, which keep the crowds coming in, even early in the week.
“We do a lot of events, and we really found that doing events picks up the slower days earlier in the week,” Salvas said. “The staff is happy, because they’re making money. The food trucks are happy, they’re making money. We’re all happy.”
Trivia on Wednesdays has been a big hit, with Salvas saying it typically fills the inside to capacity. Singo, a music bingo, has also become popular on Mondays, along with an open mic night ever other Tuesday. Throw in live music on the weekends, and Brew Lab has definitely found its niche in Rio Rancho.
“There’s always something going on,” Salvas said. “I think that’s what people have come to depend on. We’re not a restaurant, we’re a brewery. We’re a social place where there’s always some action going on, something happening, great beer, great service, and I think people have come to rely upon that.”
Brew Lab has also begun to host some pretty big events on the major holidays, with Salvas reporting that the recent St. Patrick’s Day party was the third-highest-grossing day in company history.
On the beer side of things, Gray said he aims to keep the lagers flowing this year. That will include a special collaboration with a Las Cruces brewery for the upcoming United in Beer Festival at Ex Novo.
“I got to experiment with a bunch of different lagers last year,” Gray said. “I did a classic pilsner that was pretty successful. I did a helles lager, which was pretty awesome. This year, summertime is coming up, so we’re hitting this hard. We got American lager to do a collab with Icebox, that’s pretty cool.”
Salvas mentioned that the dunkel on tap has been another big hit among the Brew Lab faithful.
“Tevin is really big in lagers, and that’s an area I didn’t really deal with a lot even when I was a homebrewer, it’s easier to do ales,” Salvas said. “He’s been working on getting us more lagers (on tap), which is great, I love them. They’re essential, because as he said, they’re a big part of the palate now along with IPAs. Having not just a light Mexican lager, but having a dark lager, I think really complemented our gains.”
With three months already gone in 2023, the Brew Lab staff feels like they have an idea of what they are in for the rest of the year, and are already deep into planning for everything onsite and offsite.
“Based on our sales so far, this has by far been our busiest winter,” Salvas said. “I think we’re definitely going to see a lot of customer base growth and a lot of product development. I’ll let Tevin expand, but we’re going to be investing a lot in the brewery this year, in terms of upping our production capacity — more fermenters, bigger kettles.”
Brew Lab has completed its full onsite expansion, with a seating capacity of 250, including the backyard beer garden and the smaller front patio. Salvas said it makes sense to focus on increasing production to meet the demand, both at home, and potentially offsite.
“And, something we’ve been dabbling with for a while, and just trying to find the right deal, is probably getting into another taproom in Albuquerque, and being able to get into that market,” he said. “We know a lot of people in Albuquerque who like our product, but they’re not going to cross the river and drive up the hill to Rio Rancho. That happens, so let’s get over to them.”
No specific site has been selected as of yet, so odds are if it happens, it might not be until 2024.
“We are working some deals on a potential new taproom,” Salvas said. “I don’t have anything to report, yet, but if something pops up I’ll let you know. If anyone else has a great piece of property out there, hit us up, let us know.”
With a possible future offsite taproom, increased demand at home, and more time at festivals and events, Gray and the brewing team will stay plenty busy.
“We’re expanding on the brewery side,” Gray said. “You can see we’re in the third suite right now. You can see the carpet is somewhat ripped up. We’re clearing out sections at a time. This is all going to become production space, eventually. I think initially it will be a lot of it for cider.
“We are looking at a bigger brewhouse. If this past winter was any indication, we’re just trying to keep up at this point. Having a bigger brewhouse is kind of essential, especially if we’re looking at another taproom. We’re going to be doing a lot of canning. We’re finally able to make our first order of preprinted cans. It’s a pretty exciting thing for a small brewery like us.”
Overall, it points to a bright future for Brew Lab 101.
“We do have more folks who want to order cider and beer, and so trying to be able to do a little more distribution,” Salvas said. “I think we’ll probably look at getting our distribution license. I think we see a lot of growth, just the brand is resonating. My whole philosophy has always been organic growth rather than aggressive growth. I want to meet demand, and right now there’s a lot of demand we’re trying to meet and catch up with.”
A big thanks to Scott and Tevin for the interview, beer samples, and just being patient in general, first for the interview to happen, and now for this story to run.
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One Comment Add yours
Good article on Brew Lab.
I think a natural winner for them would be to find a tap room location new Sandia National Lab~! 😊