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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

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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

There are so many damn beers at the new Blue Grasshopper Taproom on Coors.

There are so many damn beers at the new Blue Grasshopper Taproom on Coors.

A recent date-day Saturday found us embracing the old cliché of dinner and a movie. Except we did it backwards and watched a movie first, then had dinner. When the movie is a great one (Hidden Figures, I highly recommend it) at the superb theater brewery that is Flix Brewhouse and then dinner is at the brand new Blue Grasshopper taproom practically across the street on Coors, the experience is elevated beyond any formula.

During the movie, I had a solid Holy Mother of Quad and a Rebel Yell Porter, along with my buttery popcorn. It still amazes me how they manage to pick up empty glasses and bring orders without me even noticing the servers. My boyfriend and I probably saw only two or three movies total in theaters in 2016 (prior to the Flix opening), but since they opened, we have already been to Flix four times.

Blue Grasshopper was packed. Despite little advertising, this new location is booming. There are some of the usual hiccups, but they did not diminish our date experience. There are about 80 local beers currently on tap; however, Blue Grasshopper does not have any of theirs on tap at this location right now. The food menu is larger than I remember it being at the original taproom in Rio Rancho.

The number of taps is a good thing, and it is also overwhelming. You have to order by number, because that’s the only way the beertender can find it. If you forget what number your beer is while you wait to have your order taken, it’s pretty difficult to locate it again under pressure. Alas, the beer is not quite cold enough in my opinion. This is an issue I have seen before at other places with that many lines. Also, the patron sitting next to me at the bar complained his food order of a Reuben sandwich and fries was too cold. Our order of nachos came out quickly despite the crowd, but although the cheese (sauce) was warm, the shredded meat was not. Despite that, they were a unique interpretation of a pub staple and quite filling.

We left before the music started, so I do not know if the acoustics in the new, larger space are as good as the original location. I know at the Rio Rancho Blue Grasshopper they take acoustics very seriously. As we walked out just after 7:30, there was a line of people waiting for seating. All tables were occupied and our seats at the bar immediately filled as soon as we stood up. It appears this location is certainly filling a requirement in that part of town.

Hint, hint, all you craft beer fans looking for date ideas!

Love to all,

— AmyO

A name change was arguably the biggest change for the combined brewery/distillery this year.

A name change was arguably the biggest change for the combined brewery/distillery this year.

From Broken Trail’s Website: Broken Trail — A path or trail that has been cut, through snow or deep brush or other obstructions. To break trail is to venture where no one has before. It is to find your own path, hike your own hike, and to Find Your Spirit.

This past year brought two major changes to a local distillery and brewery. In 2016, Distillery 365 changed its name to Broken Trail Spirits + Brew. It must have been a good idea, because according to co-owner and head distiller Matt Simonds, lately the beer part of the business has blazed its own trail, so to speak. We joked about how this worked out so well that maybe they should just change the name every year. Simonds said that breweries often have a theme; this could be theirs and he could hold a contest each year for customers to choose the name. This was, of course, all very tongue-in-cheek, but we had a good laugh over it.

Additionally in 2016, they opened a satellite tasting room for the spirits at Green Jeans Farmery. That effort took up a great deal of the owners’ time. Broken Trail cannot sell beer at the Green Jeans location due to an agreement with the property owners and Santa Fe Brewing, but an advantage to the Green Jeans location is the ability to collaborate with Santa Fe and the relationships that Broken Trail has developed through the collaboration.

The brewing goal from last year going into 2016 was simply to give the beer more exposure. They have “done that and more,” Simonds said.  They took a couple of beers to their distributor, he said. The distributor tried them and said, “How much do you have? We’ll take it.” The beer was never intended to be a focus. Yet, as of this last quarter of 2016, the beer is getting equal billing with the spirits. Now the beer is popping up in local bars and restaurants. Jubilation bought a sixtel of the Otero ESB and it sold out in a week — it was reportedly their best seller. Simonds said it’s been humbling considering the company he keeps in this town. In the past few months, they have been brewing as much as they are distilling. They really have to be on top of their scheduling to keep up, which he said has been challenging, but a lot of fun.

The beer taps have a prominent place at the main location.

The beer taps have a prominent place at the main location.

Simonds said he never thought they would be in bars and restaurants, and even earlier in 2016, he just thought that they would be moving more beer through the distillery site and have more selections. Going through an entire batch in a couple of weeks is new to him. Another good thing about it is that it gives customers more exposure to the overall brand. When they go to a festival and go check Untappd afterward, it’s flattering to hear the positive feedback, Simonds said.

(Note: Simonds told me how much he appreciates the NMDSBC always treating them like a real brewery. Now they are living up to it!.He said it is great that we liked them before they were a “real brewery.” It’s still not the goal to compete with the big guys on beer, but to even be mentioned, ever, in the same breath is remarkable, he said.)

Simonds said that he also enjoys the opportunity that beer gives him to be more creative. He could come up with a new beer recipe every week and put it on tap, whereas with spirits you have to go through all kinds of approvals, formulas, labels, etc. For instance, Simonds said he is very excited about a new beer that he hopes to get out by the end of the year, a Newcastle Brown Ale clone. It’s actually a two-part beer, in that is then blended. He had previously tried numerous times to brew a brown ale to match Newcastle, but eventually found out that was not the way it was originally done. In deference to the namesake, but with a local spin, this beer will be called Old Pueblo.

One difficulty Broken Trail endured in 2016 happened on the spirit side. Broken Trail had planned to begin selling and distributing a craft beverage — a canned mule with house-made ginger beer and vodka. They went through the whole grueling process of product and label approvals, etc., and everything was all lined up. Unfortunately, they incurred issues with getting the can certified; the spirit causes deterioration of the aluminum if it is not exactly the right formula. Simonds is a chemist, so he said he was up for the challenge. He also thought about just using bottles instead, as they have higher tolerance to reactivity. The problem he found is that the feds will not allow you to put spirits in a 12-ounce bottle, although you can do it in a 12-ounce can. Oh, all those lovely regulations!

Genius or madness? Only time will tell.

Genius or madness? Only time will tell.

The process to make Pepe the Mule starts with a corn mash as a base for their vodka. The distillers taste it throughout the process, and the staff laughingly commented at one stage that it tastes like Zima (for all you young people out there, Zima was a clear, carbonated alcoholic beverage that was big in the mid 90’s). This was, for Simonds, an ah-ha moment. At this stage, it’s about 10-percent ABV and it is a malt beverage, not a distilled spirit. He figured that he could treat it like a beer instead; there are just a few regulatory issues required to make it a beer. As a beverage, it tastes the same. Plus, it can be sold/distributed more widely because the retailer does not need a full liquor license. This also makes the distributor very happy, Simonds said. It fits the same type of product category as, say, a cider. But, it’s unlike anything out there.

The hardest part is that when you distill the spirit, it removes the yeast. This type of product will require adding flavoring, which has sugar in it, to a yeasted beverage (because the yeast is not distilled out). That, in turn, can cause some stability issues, like possible additional fermentation. They are in the testing phase of this now. Simonds joked that the plan for 2017 is to show up at a beer challenge with “Craft Zima, bitches! We’ll get laughed out of the room, but it will be great.”

So, of course, I said to him, “And then, you’ll just change your name!”

Looking forward to 2017, Broken Trail is always looking at opportunities to grow. However, there are some concerns about saturation. Simonds noted he has talked to some of the newer taprooms and the sales are not necessarily reaching projections. In 2016, each time a new place opened, it would be reflected in Broken Trail’s sales numbers. In 2017, he says they need to further cement themselves as a player in the game so they do not end up being a casualty.

Other opportunities may exist or present themselves to further the brand. This will likely be more on the distribution side, as it is still a fraction of what they do. They are currently making a push into southern and southeastern New Mexico, because those areas are virtually untapped. There is also an opportunity available to them to add a tasting room that fills a void and a need in the city. However, they are being cautious and are looking at measured growth in 2017, Simonds said. They do not want to outgrow themselves, but rather keep the focus on quality and creativity. That, Simonds said, is the advantage of being a small brewer.

Cheers!

— AmyO

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Click the category tag above to find all the stories.

The beginning of 2016 was a whirlwind for the local beer scene, as five breweries opened within a span of less than three months. One of these was Starr Brothers, and in the short time that has followed, it has already enjoyed tremendous success.

Starr Brothers began construction in late 2015 on San Antonio Drive, east of Interstate 25, but as happens with most new breweries, progress was a bit delayed. With the completion of the kitchen in January 2016, they were ready to make some money, and the crowds began to flock into what was essentially at first just a restaurant that poured other local beers. In April, they were able to put their own beers on tap, and the crowds kept right on coming in a big way. Opening a brewery on a major street in an under-served Albuquerque east side area worked like gangbusters.

Over a seasonal Don’t Fear the RIPA (red IPA, oh, my, yum), I talked to brewer Rob Whitlock about their first year of operations – their “year in beer” as it were – and some exciting plans for 2017.

First and foremost, Rob wanted to share his and the company’s gratitude to local favorite Boxing Bear for the incredible amount of support and training he received from them. Rob was a home brewer and regular customer of Southwest Grape and Grain next door, as well as, of course, The Bear. He told brewers Justin Hamilton and Dylan Davis about an opportunity to brew on a commercial scale for Starr Brothers, and they immediately took him under their wing (or furry bear arm, I suppose). They also still allow Rob to use their keg washer to wash his kegs.

Rob, a retired journeyman plumber, but not a miracle worker, soon discovered that the 7-barrel system was not large enough for their demand; admittedly, it is a good problem to have. He said it’s difficult just to keep the house beers, including the two favorites Starrstruck IPA and L.A. Woman Blonde, on at all times. He said he would love to have the capacity do more seasonals. The recent Oktoberfest sold out in a mere eight days. There is a Dunkelweizen fermenting now, and Rob said that is their first beer made with a weizen yeast. They hope to have a holiday stout available for Thanksgiving, he added.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

I asked Rob about their strip mall location and if they would ever be able to take over some additional space. Coincidentally, Rob said that as a matter of fact that just happened, and construction just started in the space just to the east of the current brewery area. They are going to be able to increase their capacity by 60 barrels with the addition of four more 15-barrel fermenters. There will also be a new walk-in cooler with four 15-barrel bright tanks.

Starr Brothers participated in a few festivals this year, and was one of the breweries to provide a happy hour at the State Fair. I chose their Motorbrreath Smoked Porter as one of my two growler-fills-to-go at the Alibi on Tap event in September.

In another bit of news for the upcoming year, Starr Brothers had to get their zoning adjusted to get a distributor license. When that license is in place and the production capacity is increased, they will be able to put tap handles at other bars and restaurants. Several establishments have already asked if they can put their beer on tap, Rob said. The owners, John and Heather Starr, are mulling over the idea of an additional location, but there are no firm plans as of the printing of this story.

It has been a fantastic first year for Starr Brothers, and the NMDSBC wishes them continued great success in the upcoming year.

Holiday Cheers (wow, it’s here)!

— AmyO