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Twas a mighty spirited anniversary soiree at Palmer last year!

After a few missed attempts with other staff members, I finally sat down with head brewer and co-owner Rob Palmer for a very brief interview about the year in review for the first full year of Palmer Brewery. It is easy to see why it was difficult for us to find a time to meet — the place is totally slammed.

I was ushered into the back, where I found Rob furiously mopping while listening to Willie Nelson cranked up on a tablet plugged in to an old Technics receiver, just like one that I had growing up. It was a fun and humorous way to start things off. Rob immediately went and grabbed me a delicious pint of stout and we began to talk about the last year.

The biggest Palmer news for 2017 was the one year-anniversary in November. It seems like so much longer than a year to me, mostly because it was also the four-year anniversary of Left Turn Distillery, which shares the same space. I was able to attend the anniversary party and it was quite the crowd and experience. They had karaoke on a makeshift patio out front, and everyone, staff included, joined in on the fun. In fact, Rob said they have decided to do karaoke and open mic on Wednesday nights now.

I asked Rob about the first year and he seemed pretty blown away by the brewery’s popularity. He said it gets better every day, every week. The staff sets numbers they think they need to achieve; they hit that number and it seems like it is at capacity. Then a couple of weeks later, it feels like they double that number.

Since co-owner and distiller Brian Langwell is a machinist, they recently built a kitchen and now have a space available if or when they want to make food. They have been getting great feedback on their Taco Tuesday nights. They always have five-plus types of tacos. Rob said people were wary of the Spam and pineapple tacos, but they always sell out first. Unfortunately, Rob is way too busy and does not want to run a kitchen, so they still rely mostly on the fantastic local food trucks.

The other big push from last year is that they attended many festivals. I told Rob it seemed like I did see them everywhere. Rob said he enjoys the festivals and getting out in the sunlight instead of being stuck inside the brewery or bar all day.

Rob’s focus over the past year was to keep consistent beers on tap and keep up with demand, he said. I told Rob I was a big fan of the double IPA — the “Bro” — but it has been out the past couple of visits. He said that it’s because he cannot get the hop supply for the hop they were using in the Bro. It was made using Nelson Sauvin hops, and they are very hard to get; now they need to try again with a different hop.

As for what’s new at Palmer, last week the brewery launched their first production lager called Lowcard Lager in collaboration with Lowcard skateboard magazine. On the launch day, Palmer had some skateboarding pros in house and premiered their tour video.

Also, they are working on building an outdoor patio, which they really need because seating inside their building is often at a premium these days. As usual, the stumbling block is dealing with the City. The City wanted them to open in that part of town, and now says parking is a problem. But, the majority of Palmer’s operating hours (evenings and weekends) are outside the hours of the other area businesses. There is plenty of street parking. Hopefully it is settled quickly, because prime patio season is approaching fast.

For my off-the-wall question, I asked Rob if a pile of money landed on him and he was not allowed to keep it, only to use it in the brewery, what would be the first thing he would do with it? He immediately responded, “More equipment.” This week he is getting a couple of grundy tanks from a colleague, so that will help him keep up with some of the demand. The other thing, he said, is he would build a rooftop patio. The current building would not be able to support it, so they would have to do something like Marble did.

Look for more and different ciders from Palmer in the near future. They have some cider barrel aging right now. They hope to expand their barrel aging — after all, they co-exist with a distillery, so it’s a natural fit.

Congrats to Palmer on one hell of a first year, and to Left Turn Distilling for turning four as well.

Since it is March now (wow, already!), I will sign off with …

Slainte!

— AmyO

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Tap That is now open off Montgomery west of Louisiana.

In November 2016, I shared a story about a new place I visited in Hawaii that allowed you to try many different local beers in one location through a fun, serve yourself concept. Recently, Albuquerque got its own version of an electronic pour tap room located at 6910 Montgomery NE, Suite F. At Tap That Local Craft Beer Wall/Kitchen you cannot serve yourself (a bartender does the actual pouring), but many other aspects are very similar to the taproom in Hawaii. In fact, the bracelets used to access and track the beer purchase here look and work the very same way; they just have a different logo on them.

Here’s a quick run-through of how this concept works: First, park behind the strip mall to get into the main entrance. You can park in front and enter if they have the gate open, but entering behind the building gets you directly to the starting point. At the entrance, provide your ID and a credit card at the register to open the tab. You can put more than one person on the same credit card tab. You will receive a glass and an electronic bracelet issued to your name and the credit card used.

No, you don’t get bonus points with your wristband for more arm hair, but you should. (Thanks for modeling, Dave!)

Put on your bracelet and make your way to the right of the register. The long wall of beer taps awaits you. There are 36 beer taps (all local) to choose from, although a few were labeled “out,” leaving about 31 or 32 available on Saturday (it may be up to 36 by the time you read this). Multiple bartenders were working the taps on Saturday. The beers were arranged from left to right in ascending order of darkness, i.e. ciders and lagers on the left and stouts on the farthest right.

Choose your first beer. Decide if you want a full pint or tell the bartender the approximate amount of ounces you want to try. The bartender even suggested you can combine beers if you are that adventurous. Hand the bartender your glass, hold the bracelet up to the “Tap That” logo on the bottom of the wooden frame in front of you. This frame also has an electronic label and description of the beer on it. When the light at the top of the frame turns green, the bartender will pour the beer. The screen will change to show your name, how many ounces were just poured for you, and the remaining ounces you have available of your three-beer limit. That’s it! When you are finished, return the bracelet and sign for your tab. We kept our charges on the credit card, but I think I heard someone say you could pay in cash as well.

The kitchen also opened Saturday. As it was 4:15 and we were not looking for food, we did not try anything. However, the food seemed to be moving well, especially for the first day of food service, and it looked very good. I saw multiple orders of fish and chips, fried shrimp po’ boys, and fries generously covered in Korean bulgogi. The menu is limited, but this should work very well for them.

It was a lot more crowded inside as the night went on.

By the time we left around 5:30 p.m., almost all the tables were occupied. The patio will provide great additional seating when the weather is nice. There are already a few games set up out there, such as Jenga and Connect Four. The hours are now set, with Tap That opening every day at noon, closing at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

If anyone has tried the food or would like to otherwise remark on this new-to-Albuquerque concept, please add a comment or send us a message.

Cheers to beer technology!

— AmyO

The simply named Monks’ IPA #1 has become the best-selling beer at the taproom.

I recently walked up to the entrance of Monks’ Corner Taproom on Second and Silver in downtown Albuquerque. I was there to talk to them about the year that was and the year that will be, as we do in this series of stories. But, a curious sign was out front; one that would have brought me inside if I had simply been a passer-by. The sign said free cider tasting all day. I thought that was interesting, because I knew Monks’ did not make cider.

As I walked in, I ran into general manager Chris Pacheco, who I had been trying to reach for this story. He is a brand new papa who has been out on paternity leave, and we had not been able to connect. I told him I was there to talk to Thomas (the actual, “in-residence” monk at the taproom). Chris got me samples of the cider. There were two, and they were asking that the patrons pick their favorite. The winner will be chosen as their first house cider, which will be called “Monks’ Original Sin” (as in Adam and Eve, because, you know, it’s made from apples). They are both very light in ABV — one at 2.5 percent and the other at 3.0 percent. The cider is made in partnership with a New Mexico winery. I received my first bit of news before the interview actually started.

Brother Thomas, left, and general manager Chris Pacheco keep Monks’ Corner humming along.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous because it’s not every day that I sit down and have a beer and conversation with a Benedictine monk. At the same time, I was quite fascinated. In order to avoid this story becoming a novella, you can read about the history of Abbey Brewing Co. in New Mexico here. The tradition of monks brewing beer, particularly in Europe, is long standing. In fact, relationships between monasteries allowed Monks’ original primary brewer to have access to the traditional brewing processes of other monasteries.

The Monastery of Christ in the Desert first discussed brewing beer shortly after the turn of this century. I know that was not that too long ago, but it sounds more impressive to say it that way! They brewed their first beer in 2005. Since they did not open the taproom until 2016, it is rather counter to how many other breweries have opened with guest taps prior to actually serving their own beer. Mass production is handled at Sierra Blanca’s facility in Moriarty, so at the taproom they are able to focus on serving the beer and customer interactions, rather than brewing on site.

As I settled in to my Monks’ IPA #1 (that’s the actual name), my purported “quick” conversation with Thomas turned into a rather lengthy discussion about everything from beer, to questions I had about life at the monastery, and even our shared shopping habits. Thomas informed me that Monks’ IPA #1 was their new best seller immediately after it was introduced. It’s not a super hop bomb because they wanted to brew it in what they would imagine a monastic style would have been, had monasteries brewed IPAs a thousand years ago, which they did not.

Beer tourists have been frequent visitors to the cozy confines of Monks’ Corner.

Monks’ Corner Taproom celebrated their one-year anniversary on October 5. Thomas said they are proud of how popular the taproom has been in its first year. Thomas said their biggest challenge has been getting people comfortable with the idea of coming downtown. They were mindful of that when they established the taproom, because it is a light and bright space on a corner. One thing that has surprised Thomas this first year is the amount of “beercationers” they get in the taproom, people who are in town just to experience the Albuquerque beer scene.

Although Abbey Brewing does not enter many competitions due to style guidelines and the difficulty it faces fitting their beers in to those guidelines, Monks’ beers performed very well in the 2017 Copa de Cervesa in Chile. This competition has been around since 2011 and is widely considered to be the most important beer competition in Latin America. Thomas said that Monks’ Ale won two golds for best of style and the Dubbel won a bronze. They are now distributing in Santiago (and Taipei!), but other distribution outside of New Mexico is very limited. In the new year, they will brew an IPA #2, which Thomas said will hopefully have a better name. They will also have a Reserve Dubbel.

One of their main goals in 2018 is to increase taproom foot traffic for both themselves and also for the neighborhood. They are also looking to enhance the customer experience, Thomas said. As part of that, they will start serving from a limited food menu. Currently, customers can go to the adjoining restaurant Maya Cuisine to order food to eat in the taproom, but Monks’ plans to serve more typically beer-friendly options such as cheese and charcuterie plates, pretzels, and the like.

Other enhancements in the works include adding more events and entertainment to the taproom calendar. Chris said they will be extending invitations to local non-profit organizations to have functions, and Monks’ will donate a portion of that day’s beer sales to the organization. It’s all a part of the plan to further establish themselves as a place to gather in downtown Albuquerque.

Peace and joy,

— AmyO

The finished interior of Bombs Away Beer Company looks great.

I recently took a peek at the website for Bombs Away Beer Company for clues as to when they would open. I was shocked to find out they already had. Apparently, they just had a soft opening a few days prior. Although I already had plans right after work that day, curiosity and impatience got the best of me. I decided I had to stop by there, even if it was just for a few minutes, and at least try a couple of beers. It turns out they don’t sell the sampler pours individually, and I didn’t want to ask for a few free samples and leave without buying any beer, so I took on the challenge of consuming a full sampler of six beers in just over 10 minutes. (I was not driving, FYI.)

I am very glad I did. Unlike with many new breweries, the beer did not suffer from a lack of carbonation. This was not “thin” beer. There are also an impressive number of house-brewed beer styles on tap for a new operation.

I briefly spoke with brewer David Kimbell and told him that I was impressed by the quantity of beer out of the gate, as well as the carbonation levels. Kimbell, who is a first-time head brewer (although he has brewing experience at La Cumbre, Santa Fe, and Kellys), said he did go through multiple batches before he decided the beers were ready for public consumption. I guess I chose my samples well, despite being pressed on time, because Kimbell said that their amber is a little under-carbonated, but that it works fine for the style. I didn’t try the amber, so I cannot compare it to the others. He also said he is still trying to dial in the lager. I did not choose the lager, either.

The beers I did sample were: Willie Pete Wit, Short Fuse Blonde, Wild Card Spiced Ale, Brisance Bitter, B.A.B.C. IPA, and Low Order Porter. Descriptions of their current beers can be found on their website. My favorites were the Bitter and the Porter. The Bitter was very true to style and very easy-drinking. It’s not overly complex, but highly satisfying. The Porter was all roasty goodness with coffee and tobacco notes (in my opinion).

A delightful first flight of six of the eight available beers.

It was hard to choose favorites because all six were beers I could see myself ordering again. Perhaps the only minor letdown for me was I would have liked more spice on the Spiced Ale. It’s a good beer, I just expected more of a fall seasonal taste. The IPA is a New England-style, hazy IPA. For those looking for over-the-top hops, this is not that kind of IPA. It worked for me because I like a lighter IPA style.

The space is inspiring and they did a wonderful job with the décor. Kimbell said they built everything themselves (tables, bar, etc.). The location, at 9801 Acoma near Moon and Central, is very convenient for beer lovers who work at Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Labs. Until I looked at their website, I had no idea there was a Skyline Heights neighborhood of Albuquerque.

Despite the lack of formal announcements that they are open, there were about 15 to 20 patrons in there when I stopped by early on a Tuesday evening. I have a feeling that those people looking for a Southeast Heights brewery hangout have fully acquired their target.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Chris Medina, right, helps out everyone at Palmer Brewery, including his head bartender.

I made my way through a weeknight happy hour crowd in the expanded bar seating area at Palmer Brewery/Left Turn Distillery to interview Chris Medina, assistant distiller and sales manager. Chris started on the distilling side at Left Turn about two and a half years ago. When the brewery opened in November, he began helping out there as well.

Prior to his employment with Left Turn/Palmer, Chris worked at a profit management firm for bars. He would calculate pour costs and help with the accounting and inventory, as well as loss prevention and marketing strategies for local establishments. He said this really helps him with the sales side of this job. I have to say that Chris does not seem like a typical sales person. In fact, when I asked him why he thought Rob Palmer nominated him, he said, “Because he knows I’m shy.”

I jokingly asked him if Rob was trying to get him more exposure or just yanking his chain. Chris said probably a little of both. We indulged in a couple of pints of Cockness Monster, a superb new Palmer seasonal Scottish ale brewed in collaboration with CockFight Skateboards. And then, magically, shy guy Chris began to open up. Ah, the mighty power of beer!

In the back-of-the-house production side, it is really just three of them for the most part — owners Brian Langwell (head distiller) and Rob (head brewer), with Chris working between the two of them. They are swamped (hey, business is good!), so his nomination might have something to do with all the hard work that comes with this unique type of setup. Between the festivals they attend, the increased demand on site in the expanded bar, and distribution, this small staff has a lot on their plate; or is it in their bottle?

The Cockness Monster there in the center tends to go quickly once poured.

Speaking of Brian, he is a very hands-on kind of guy. With his experience as a machinist in his “former life,” he builds all his own equipment himself. If something breaks or they want to change how it works, they don’t have to wait because they can take care of it in house. In a true example of build it and they will come, they expanded what was originally an extremely intimate (read: tiny) tasting area into a wholly inviting full bar with much more ample seating. Since then, their customer base seems to have grown exponentially.

Chris said it was hard building it out because they did everything themselves by hand. Although Chris attended Eastern New Mexico University on a baseball scholarship, he was also a welding program student at CNM, so it all sort of fell into place. Because he said he has more of a passion for the bar industry than welding work, this makes for a good mix.

As I have in previous stories in this series, I asked Chris who (besides the owners) at Left Turn/Palmer he would nominate if he was asked to do so. Chris said it would be the head bartender, Ray. He is personable, makes awesome cocktails, and he goes the extra mile all the time, Chris said. Ray has been working there about a year and a half.

I have been trying to ask the “hero” a different question each time as well. I asked Chris to tell me about his best day and worst day. He said his best day is coming up with new spirits like the limoncello that he just made. He gave me a sample. He did an outstanding job (and peeled each and every lemon by hand himself!). It was not too thick or syrupy, or too bitter from pith. It was light and lemony and perfect on a hot day. Chris also helps with infusions, and said there is free run on ideas. Eventually, they would like to make all the mixers and liqueurs, and market their ginger beer. Chris makes the ginger beer for Left Turn/Palmer, but said he does not aspire to become a head brewer.

As for his bad day, it was about two months after he started working there. They were making rum and left a big barrel drum of molasses out in the sun to get it softened up to make it much easier to work with. Chris tilted it to open the lid, but it had expanded under pressure and it exploded like an oil gusher — as tall as the ceiling. It was everywhere. It took five hours to clean that day and when he left it was finally spotless. Then, when he came back the next day, molasses was crawling up the walls and coming out of the ceiling. It took a week for that to stop happening. To this day, he can occasionally see a spot. It makes me wonder if he has nightmares about it. It’s not the Cockness Monster, it’s the Molasses Monster you need to worry about!

The bar area at Palmer/Left Turn is an inviting place.

Since he grew up in a small town in northwest New Mexico, I asked Chris what his favorite part about living here is. He said it’s the locals. I would not have expected that answer, but his explanation makes sense. He said the sense of community here in Albuquerque was unexpected. Yet, it’s a big enough place that people don’t stay in your business. It’s a good balance, he said.

I asked Chris to tell me his current favorite beers from other breweries around town. He lives downtown, so in his rare time off work, this is where he spends most of his time. Right now he is into Boese’s lager. He said that he likes all beer styles, but usually leans toward clean, crisp beers.

“The staff members go to La Cumbre a lot because it’s close by,” Chris said. “And Quarter Celtic is awesome. The community is so great — you walk in anywhere and they recognize you.”

I asked if that’s hard for a “shy guy” and he replied, “Those guys aren’t strangers anymore, and, well, there’s beer to loosen you up!” There’s that magic again.

I wanted to know if Chris had to leave this bar industry and could do anything else, what would that be. He said he loves the outdoors and would like to be a fishing and/or rafting guide. However, Chris told me he is building a pizza oven that is similar to a horno. He likes making bread and might someday have a food truck, if not a brick and mortar establishment. I joked about going from one yeast to another.

Following the interview, I pinned down Rob and asked him his actual reason for nominating Chris.

“Chris wears all the hats in the brewery/distillery,” Rob said. “There is nothing that he doesn’t do or won’t do. I am the one making the beer. Brian is the one making the sprits. And Chris is the one helping us do everything. Without Chris, we couldn’t do it. And everywhere he goes, he’s fighting for us.”

Rob also let me know that coming up in the fermenters is an imperial pale ale. Also, they may soon have a barrel-aged MWA (malt liquor). Seriously, if that happens, where else in the world could you get that?

I would like to thank Chris for letting me interview him, even though it was well outside of his comfort zone. Also, thanks to Rob and Ray for being so welcoming and gracious. It is no wonder the people have come to Palmer/Left Turn, and even more importantly have stayed. Congratulations, and we wish you continued success.

Cheers!

— AmyO

The beers at Helton Brewing were on point once again!

Editor’s note: AmyO submitted this one a while ago, we’ve just had so many other stories with a time element leapfrog it in the queue. We decided it was time, especially as we get toward autumn, when it is no longer as hot as Hades in Scottsdale. — Stoutmeister

Faced with a serendipitous four-day holiday weekend (my employer unexpectedly decided to give us Monday before July 4 off!), my honey and I got in the car and drove to Scottsdale. Yes, we are pretty much nuts. We were complaining about the heat here and then went somewhere 10 degrees hotter. However, the hotel rates at the nice resorts there can’t be beat in the height of summer. A large suite with great air conditioning at a property with two pools, free breakfast buffet, and custom-made eggs or omelets, and a nightly reception with free drinks and snacks didn’t actually sound bad at all. And it wasn’t; it was great. In fact, on a couple of nights, the free beer on tap was an Uncle Bear IPA. It was great and we had two lovely hours to drink it at no cost.

We limited the time we were outdoors at all, even getting in and out of the car, so it wasn’t a very brewery-heavy trip. We did visit a couple of our favorites. We also went to a new taproom from a previously-visited brewery, one new brewery, and one that is fairly new and new to us. I wanted to share a little bit of information on them as well as a few pictures.

The new “play room” at Helton Brewing will be great in less scorching times.

On our last visit, I discovered Helton Brewing Company on Indian School Road and proclaimed it my favorite Phoenix-area brewery. It’s still doing very well, and the place was pretty busy for a Sunday midday when we stopped by for a pint. To our surprise, they added what can be described as a “play room” on the east side of the building. It’s covered, but open-air, so there was no way I was spending any time out there in July. Some folks did venture out there for a while. Oh, those crazy Phoenicians!

No trip to Scottsdale is complete for us without a visit to McFate. (I still have a hard time adding the “Mc” to Fate, because it will always be Fate to me.) As always, we had good beer and good times here. On Mondays, the pizzas are all half-price, too, and their pizza is really good.

The only tough part about visiting McFate Brewing is remembering the Mc on the front end.

Phoenix Ale Brewery recently opened Central Kitchen on North Seventh Street which was good news for us because the actual brewery location was really way too hot to enjoy the last time we visited. The Central Kitchen taproom is a very comfy spot and they have some great daily beer and food combination specials.

As for new places, we stopped by The Shop Beer Company on West First Street in Tempe. It’s an adorable place with a great patio, just maybe not in July, as it was getting full sun while we were there, and thus it was empty. Their beers tended to be on the hoppier side compared to many in this metro area, which was a welcome surprise. The staff was wonderful and knowledgeable. Groupon did offer a fun deal here, but we did not purchase it because we just wanted a couple of pints, and it was a package with flights, pints, and takeaway beer.

The sheer variety at Mother Bunch was impressive.

Also new to us, and fairly new on the whole, was Mother Bunch Brewing. They are in an old brick building, also on North Seventh Street in Phoenix. This brewery had the most styles on tap. The place is pretty funky and some of the beers reflected that. We had one that was pink because it was made from beets and rutabaga. That sounded awful to me because I hate beets, but it was so weird I had to try it, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. I then chose a sampler and all of the more standard beers were pretty good, in particular their milk stout.

I also have to add some information about something really fun that does not directly have to do with beer. But, there is a tie-in, and the news was just literally and figuratively too cool not to share. We had previously been to the Scottsdale Road location of Sip Coffee and Beer because they have some good beers on tap. I found out that they opened a new location not far from Helton on Indian School. (By the way, among a great lineup of beers, they currently have a Marble beer on tap.) And, I had read a special secret about it. It is called Sip Coffee and Beer Garage because it took over an old oil change business. So, it has the garage bay doors and everything. But, what makes it amazing is they re-purposed the underground portion — you know, where the mechanics stand under the cars to work on them.

Secret underground tiki bar? Heck yeah!

Underground spots are great places to beat the heat. It’s only open in the late afternoon and at night. We got there 15 minutes before they opened and waited. I was like a kid on Christmas, all antsy and ready to tear into it. The small underground area has been redecorated with a ship theme and turned into a full on tiki bar. It is completely incredible. I didn’t even really care that the drinks are super expensive — and they are, but they are very well made. There were even portholes on the walls that showed pictures of other ships in them as if we were docked in a harbor somewhere. Then, when we got up to leave, we looked out again and the pictures had changed to “open water.” It’s a must-do for any tiki bar fanatic.

By now, if you made it this far into this story, you must be wondering about the title. I wanted to highlight something I found unusual compared to experiences we have had on our previous trips to the area. It seems to be the beginning of an awakening of sorts. Coming from Albuquerque and visiting places like Portland and San Diego as often as we do, Phoenix never has felt like it was “into beer” as much, especially when you consider number of breweries per capita and general conversations we have had or overheard in bars. This time felt different. Not only are there some more new and interesting breweries opening, but there was also something else.

The Shop is one of many great new beer stops in the Phoenix metro area.

Driving into town, as usual we stopped by our favorite café in Payson for a snack. A nice guy who works there who has waited on us before started up a conversation that along the way landed on beer. We said we were driving in from Albuquerque and he practically begged us to let him know the next time we will be coming through and he will pay us to bring him some good ABQ beer. Most specifically, he wanted La Cumbre.

Then, when we were leaving Helton, we saw someone outside in the parking lot that we thought might be the owner/brewer. So, I asked and he said he was. I told him how much I enjoy his beer and his facility. He was very humble and grateful to hear it. He asked where we were from. When we told him, he said we should bring growlers from Albuquerque next time, and he would do a two-for-one growler exchange with his beer. Oh, you bet! We told him we would likely be back either in the fall or in December. Now, I am looking forward to it more than ever.

Cheers!

— AmyO

The lovely interior of the Grant Brewing Taproom in Carnuel.

There are days where we just get an “itch” to make a run over to the east side of the mountains, especially in the summer when our Jeep has its doors off and the bikini top on. Now, there’s a great place to stop for a tasty beverage on the way through the canyon. The Grant Brewery Co. Taproom just opened on June 28. It is located on the east end of Carnuel, on the south side of Route 66, just before Tijeras.

The actual brewery opened in September 2015 and is in Chama. This is an offsite taproom for the brewery. However, because of the time and expense involved in remodeling the 100-year-old building in Chama, owner/brewer Robbie Gonzales said he has not actually started brewing on his own yet. Robbie was an air traffic controller here in Albuquerque for 31 years before he retired to start The Brew House in Chama. We’re guessing he’s pretty good at handling stress. And, he told us if he serves someone the wrong beer or he runs out of his extremely popular cider or something, hey, at least no lives are on the line.

The lemon cider, on the left, is rather popular with customers.

He has his equipment now and hopes to start brewing soon, with his beers becoming available this fall. Right now, he does have two collaboration beers brewed with Sierra Blanca. There is an IPA (pretty malty for those of you looking for less of a hop bomb), and a super smooth stout. His two ciders he has on now are unique — one is apple with lavender, and the other is lemon. I had the lemon because it was so refreshing on a sticky, hot day. It reminded me of a cider version of a hard lemonade. The place was pretty quiet when we walked in, but at least 20-to-25 more people came in during the hour we were there, and it seemed at least one person in each group ordered the lemon cider. Some already knew about it, and some ordered it immediately after tasting it.

They are having a hard time keeping up with the demand on that cider. Robbie said they started making cider first, because his daughter (who was working there with him when we visited) has a wheat allergy and cannot drink the beers. However, there are also plenty of guest taps to choose from.

No, really, there is a taproom here.

The place itself is unassuming from the outside. When you walk up, it is a little difficult to find the right entrance, as it is connected to an event center. For over-21 events, they are able to open up a pass through window and sell beer directly to patrons inside the other space. Inside, the taproom is gorgeous. When they get better signage and maybe dress up the front a little, it will really start to get busy on the weekends, I am sure. There is a nice little patio on the north side. Robbie said they eventually want to start getting more food trucks. They had a food truck come out recently, and it worked out well as there is plenty of space.

Take a break from the horrid heat this month and head into the mountains for some cold beer and cider. Since they are new and settling in to what the best schedule will be, you might want to check their Facebook page for updates on current hours. Perhaps you may want to make it a little ale trail with visits to the Canteen Taproom on Tramway, The Grant Brewing Co. Taproom in Carnuel, and Ale Republic in Cedar Crest (plus the new Tractor taproom when it opens). Just stay safe and keep it cool out there. Jeep not required.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Broken Trail operations manager Devan Colston is a veteran of the local beer scene.

When our editor asked for Unsung Hero nominations, Broken Trail Spirits + Brew’s co-owner and head distiller Matt Simonds nominated his operations manager, Devan Colston. Originally, Matt gave me a three-word response when I asked him why he chose Devan: “Because he’s awesome?” Then Matt immediately expanded on that by saying, “No, more to the point. Devan has been a source of stability around here. I’m stretched pretty thin, and Devan more or less begged for the opportunity (to) help out when I needed it the most. He’s a guy that’s been around the craft brewing scene for a while now — he’s bartended, he’s slung beer. He brought that experience over to us and really helped take Broken Trail up to the next level. And, he’d be the first to say, we haven’t even gotten started!”

Luckily, I thought to bring my Dark Side shirt with me to work and hastily threw it on before I met with Devan at lunchtime in Nob Hill to interview him for this series. Because, despite his being in the industry for quite a long time, we strangely had not met, and neither of us would have known who to look for. It turns out he is an interesting guy who has pretty much seen all sides of this business of breweries.

Devan began his career in the industry working for Nico Ortiz as a server at Turtle Mountain. He then started bartending there, became a manger, and in total worked there for almost a decade. Devan moved on to La Cumbre, where he worked as a taproom manager for just under three years. He then worked at Ponderosa for about eight months, and has now been at Broken Trail about a year and a half. He started out there bartending a couple of nights a week while working another full-time job. Working at Broken Trail afforded him the opportunity to work with both beer and cocktails. He feels that, first and foremost, he is a beer guy, but the spirits side allows him to be more artistic.

Broken Trail started growing quickly, and there is also the added business from distributing, including the new and very popular Pepe the Mule malt beverage. With this growth, Devan saw an opportunity to assist Matt on the operations side. He now manages operations at both the Green Jeans taproom and main location.

As I did in my first story in this series, I asked Devan why he thought he was nominated. He said he likes to go about his job in a humble fashion, just show up and get things done. Between what he said and what Matt said, if I can read between the lines, I am guessing the crux of it is this — it seems Devan has the ability to see a bigger picture and envision what needs to be done. And then he does it. It may sound simplistic, but in actuality, this is not an innate trait in most employees.

Also, as I am wont to do, I threw out a couple of silly questions. I asked Devan — before he ever got involved in this industry — what he originally wanted to “be when he grew up.” (I obviously couldn’t answer that question if I was asked, because I never did grow up!) Devan said from the time he started high school he wanted to be involved in academia. He always wanted to teach, to be a professor. I told him he should teach craft cocktail classes.

I suddenly decided I wanted to know the weirdest thing he has seen working in this business. Devan thought for a bit and then said, “Humans are just weird.” He then told me a recent story about a couple who were “being gross” at the bar. He said the words public display of affection didn’t even cover it. Because it happened at the Green Jeans location, the micro-bar size of the space made it impossible for him to get away from it. He actually turned the incident into a Facebook post, comparing it to a Dave Chappelle skit from Saturday Night Live.

I asked Devan who he as operations director would nominate at Broken Trail for this series. Without hesitation, he said, “Obviously Matt.” Devan said he loves Matt’s products and “Matt’s the one that makes the show go.” I teased him about how this series is not really about owners or long-time head brewers, but more about the hardworking employees who don’t usually get the credit. I gave him a hard time about a mutual admiration society. All kidding aside, though, Matt is great fun, and wouldn’t we all like to have such a fantastic relationship with our boss?

Then, Devan went a step further by saying he wanted to note one more thing about who he would nominate if he could nominate anyone else (outside of Broken Trail). He wanted me to know how much respect and admiration he has for Zach Guilmette at Canteen Brewhouse. Devan feels Zach is making some of the best beer in town and does not get the same recognition as the “top guns.”

As for upcoming news for Broken Trail, collaborations like the Sancho Saison they did with Jubilation, will continue. Devan said to look for a couple more hop-forward beers soon.

Event-wise, there’s a special one coming up, hopefully at the end of July. Devan literally provided information that could be called a smoking gun. Because Matt bought one — a smoking gun, that is! They are planning a night of smoked cocktails at the main Broken Trail location in collaboration with Nob Hill Bar & Grill, Scalo, Farina Alto, and others. I wish he had some kind of sign-up sheet right there with him, because I would have signed up on the spot.

And, there just might be another, much bigger surprise in the works. Stay tuned, everyone …

Cheers!

— AmyO

Look for a different beer-and-tapas pairing at Ponderosa for each day of ABQ Beer Week.

Antonio Fernandez is gearing up for his first ABQ Beer Week as head brewer at Ponderosa, and it looks like he is jumping into it in a big way. Every night during Beer Week (except for one, their usual Taco Tuesday night), Ponderosa will provide a certain pint of beer paired with a special tapas for just $7. It’s a fun way to get people to step outside of their norm and maybe try beers they would not normally gravitate toward.

According to the Beer Week website, the special will be from 4 to 6 p.m. each night. But, Antonio said he wants everyone to know it will probably go as long as the food lasts. So, it could end before 6, but they will keep it on special each night until that item runs out. Antonio said they have a new chef and kitchen crew, so they can also use this event as a way to try out some new food items. My advice — come early, come often!

There are a couple more items to note for them as well that did not get included in time for the printing of the Beer Week information. First, on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., Ponderosa is going to have a car show. By the by, Antonio said they will also have their all-day Sunday happy hour. That’s a bonus! That same day, they will also have a booth at ABQ Blues and Brews at Sandia Resort & Casino.

Antonio said he hopes to have a new seasonal for Beer Week, an experimental “hop burst” ale. This beer has no hops added during the boil stage, so it comes out more fruity and floral than bitter. He will give the NMDSBC a heads up a day or two before he presents another very special beer as well (so we all know when to immediately head over there), a cask of barrel-aged pumpkin porter. He used oak spirals soaked in rum for this one, folks. He knows it is weird timing and might sound strange to have a pumpkin beer this time of year, but he figured, hey, it’s Beer Week, go for it!

The current seasonal lineup at Ponderosa should get some new additions during Beer Week.

When I set up the meeting with Antonio, I told him it would be really quick. I feel a little bad that I ended up taking up almost an hour of his time. But, he is always so fun to talk to, and, well, there were some new seasonals to drink and discuss. One is a single-hop (Ella) pale ale that is the third in a series (in what will probably be at least six) of single-hop pales. The first two were Mosaic and Simcoe. I asked Antonio what he thought the customers’ favorite was so far. He said probably the Simcoe, and at the end of the series he will ask for a vote. The one that wins can become at least a semi-regular beer.

Also, Antonio said they think they have settled on a new house amber. Back in October, Antonio told me he wanted to come up with an amber to keep on as a house beer year round. I was able to try it and it is super clean, toasty, and refreshing. It’s the perfect beer for the upcoming summer season.

As for the other current seasonals, the New England East Coast-style IPA was somehow soft, yet bright, at the same time. My favorite was the Baltic Porter (shocking, I know!) that Antonio made to celebrate their 200th brew. It was very smooth and chocolatey.

Since it had been a while since I checked in with Antonio, we talked about a lot of things, like the neighborhood development, including the New Hotel Chaco. The best new development, though, is the progress on Ponderosa’s El Vado taproom. He said it’s really coming along, and it’s exciting because as he understands it, the license/bonding should allow patrons to walk around the El Vado complex with their beers, and not be relegated to just the small taproom area where it will be sold.

Now, get out there and responsibly enjoy Beer Week. Just be sure to keep checking this website for more previews, news and updates.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Flix Brewhouse bartender Misha Lockamy has stepped in a big way.

Editor’s note: The Crew is kicking off the new Unsung Heroes Series, an ongoing catalogue of articles that will focus on the folks who work extra hard to make our local breweries great, but maybe don’t get the recognition of the owners and head brewers/brewmasters we all know and love. We asked all the breweries to nominate one or two members of their staffs. To start us off, AmyO went to the west side to meet with the unsung hero(ine) of Flix Brewhouse. — Stoutmeister

I had no idea what to expect as I arrived at Flix Brewhouse early one Sunday morning in order to interview Misha Lockamy, the day shift bartender. I know I did not expect to be interviewing someone who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, who has a degree in astrophysics, and was a mechanic in the Air Force. Oh, and she’s also the proud mother of two children.

Misha’s heroism might be “unsung” outside the walls of Flix, but internally the staff is quick to sing her praises. Her diverse background and knowledge, and her willingness to jump in and do whatever needs to be done, is what makes her such a valuable employee. And, it is why Will Moorman, Flix Brewhouse’s head brewer, nominated Misha to be profiled for this series.

“Misha’s passion for Flix Brewhouse’s beers is second to none, and shows our new employees what being a team member at Flix is all about,” Will said.

Flix Brewhouse also has locations in Texas, Iowa, and Indiana. It is the first theater in the country to brew beer on site. The Albuquerque location is unique in several ways. One is that it does not have a full bar due to state regulations. This has its drawbacks, but also aids in keeping the focus more on the beer. Because Albuquerque is quite the beer town, another unique aspect is that sometimes people come just to sit at the bar and have a beer, rather than go see a movie. Misha said that really does not happen at the other locations.

Misha said Flix has the most rigorous training she has been through other than the military. She had nine days of training on every aspect of the operation (short of the actual brewing), starting as a runner. On her days off, Misha sometimes helps out in the brewery, and having been a mechanic in the Air Force lends itself well to being around the brewhouse.

The day was just starting for the staff at Flix.

This is a new series for the DSBC, so I pondered where to start the conversation about being an unsung hero. I decided to ask Misha if she might know why she was nominated. She said that was a good question, because she feels like everybody works really hard at Flix. There are about 200 employees, which she thinks makes it even more flattering that Will nominated her.

“Maybe because I’m a little universal here?” Misha said. “I teach the brew class (to other employees) … I guess they got good feedback. They did an anonymous survey and more than half of new employees said that the brew class was the most useful and enjoyable aspect of training.”

That was it — she got it on the first try. In fact, her training has been so successful, they want to roll it out to all of the Flix locations. I asked her how the class originally came to be. She replied that her general manager came to her one day to ask a favor. He said every time he overheard her speaking to a guest, he learned something. He wanted to know if she could please share that knowledge with all the other bartenders. So, Misha designed an agenda for the class — which he was not expecting — and the manager was very impressed, she said. Although Misha had not written the agenda with the intention of anyone else seeing it, this information was ultimately shared with the other locations.

In the brew class, Misha said she talks about the brewing process, the ingredients in beer, and the difference between lagers and ales. She gives a brewery tour and lectures attendees on the enemies of beer, and how to avoid introduction of off-flavors. She describes the history of each of the core Flix beers and what they should taste like. She has the employees taste the beers, and asks them to branch off from saying “like” and “dislike” to include the use of more descriptive adjectives. It varies, but a class is usually about an hour and a half long, and has three or four people. A recent class, however, lasted two and a half hours and had 12 people, Misha said. Some employees have asked to come back multiple times.

Misha knows all about the beers in the bright tanks above the bar.

Prior to joining the Flix staff full time, Misha worked at Ponderosa. She said she started there when it first opened. In fact, Misha credited her beer history fascination and quest for knowledge to Bob Haggerty, Ponderosa’s previous head brewer who is now at Steel Bender Brewyard. He would tell her facts about the beer and her eyes would light up, she said. She soaked up all the information like a sponge.

Misha was recently was a guest judge at a Dukes of Ale local home brewing competition. She is a Cicerone certified beer server and said she is nearly ready to take the test for level two. Because of her vast knowledge, her science background, and her mechanical skills, I asked Misha if she would like to be a brewer herself one day. Misha said that she would love to, but also cannot see herself giving up bartending. She has a real desire to work with the public and is hesitant to switch fully out of customer service, because she learns something every day from interacting with other people.

When I inquired as to what she feels is the best thing about this particular job, Misha said it is the people she works with. While this may seem like some sort of typical or canned response, Misha said that in any competitive environment there is actually healthy, productive competition. The staff is very much there for each other, inside and outside of work. She called them genuinely positive people, who are not, “fake happy.” Misha said she makes a conscious effort to know and address each employee (remember, there are a lot of them) by name.

Using that information, and in order to come full circle with the interview, I turned the tables and asked Misha who would she nominate for this title of unsung hero if she were asked to make the decision. She was slightly hesitant to commit to an answer at first, but relented and said it would be twin sisters Marin and Jena. They mainly work in the box office, but jump in to help wherever needed. They come in on days off and after school. Marin and Jena call themselves “mirror twins,” because one is left handed and the other right. But, Misha said they are very much alike in that they are super smart, kind, and intuitive people who are willing to work any shift, any time.

Thank you to Misha for taking time out of her Sunday to chat with us.

Following the interview, I got a behind the scenes tour, some of which I cannot share in photos. I will say, though, that it’s quite interesting. Unfortunately, no one there on Sunday morning had the key to enter the brewing area. I stood there peering through the glass at all the equipment and thinking how it would be nice if I could take Misha’s class. But, I had already taken up more than enough of her valuable time. She was heading off to go pull apart the front end of her car to replace her own cracked radiator. Yes, by herself. That, friends, is pretty damn heroic.

Cheers!

— AmyO