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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

Self-serve craft beer can be quite graceful

Posted: November 10, 2016 by amyotravel in Beercation Destinations
A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that's intriguing.

A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that’s intriguing.

Have you ever wished you could choose your own size of a beer poured at a taproom? Maybe you don’t want a full pint, but you also don’t want just a sample. I recently visited a new place called Grace in Growlers in Kailua, on the east side of Oahu, that lets you do just that. The place gets the grace part of its name from the fact that they donate their proceeds to local charities. The day we were there was a fundraiser for a baby in need of heart surgery. The growler portion is coming soon as they are still awaiting that license. Sadly, we were not able to stay as long as we wanted to because we found out about the place just before closing time.

Here is how it works: You show your ID, sign in at the door, and start a tab. The staff member places an electronic bracelet on your wrist and explains the process to you. You are shown to a wall with different sizes of glasses. After you choose your glass, you proceed to the beer taps. All the beer taps were local, except for a hilarious Heineken tap that is labeled and pours H2O. Turn the glass over and rinse your glass with a bar top rinser; yes, they have them to make pouring easier.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That's what keeps track of your beer pours.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That’s what keeps track of your beer pours.

Each tap has an electronic screen. Press the name of the beer on the screen and a description comes up, helping you decide if this beer is right for you. Hold your bracelet to the top of the screen, wait for the green light, and then open the tap and pour. You can pour a very small amount if you are still unsure about the beer, because you are charged by the ounce. When you shut off the tap, the screen displays how many ounces you poured. You are asked to use a new glass each time. When you are ready to leave, you go to the register, return your bracelet, and sign your receipt.

I was proud of myself because I chose small glasses to try several different beers, and the first couple of times I managed to hit exactly 4.0 ounces. But, the last time, I only got 3.9. So much for perfect pours. I suppose it could be that it gets a little more difficult after a few (motor skills and all).

Our group of travelers had a discussion about this concept, and if it could possibly ever work here in New Mexico. I would like to ask our readers that question. Let us know by posting your comments.

Aloha!

— AmyO

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Ponderosa Brewing is about to celebrate their second anniversary with a party on Saturday. The festivities include a special release, a 2014 barley wine that has been aging for 18 months. The impressive, or at least unique, fact is that beer was made four brewers ago. Ponderosa has seen a lot of change in two years, so on a recent, spectacularly beautiful fall day in Burque, I met the new head brewer, Antonio Fernandez.

In these two years, Ponderosa has had four brewers. But, to be fair, initial brewer Matt Kollaja was basically meant to be on a short-term loan, if you will, to get things started up, Fernandez said. His successor, Andrew Krosche, could not pass up the head brewer job at Chama River, and the most recent brewer, Bob Haggerty, has moved on to the massive Steel Bender project, which aims to open in early 2017.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa's short history.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa’s short history.

Readers may ask, “Who is this Antonio guy?” Fernandez is a newcomer to the Albuquerque brewing scene, and in this writer’s opinion he arrived in a really cool and unique way. I did not expect the answer I got when I asked what his background was.

Fernandez was born and raised in Albuquerque and has had several careers. His first was actually in music as a trained classical guitarist, but playing all different types of music. Hopefully, someday he will have time to play at Ponderosa, but as a head brewer with no assistant brewers, he said it might be a while before that happens.

Following that, he was a sous chef at Trombino’s in Albuquerque for seven years. (Developing a strong palate, no doubt.) The restaurant cut back on staff when they stopped doing lunch, and Fernandez was laid off. He was a home brewer for a lot of years and was really interested in beer — he is also a certified BJCP beer judge — so he decided to apply to the American Brewer’s Guild. The program started right after he got laid off, so the timing was right. After completing the program, he was working at a home brew shop in Rio Rancho, the Grain Hopper out by Intel. It closed in April. Fernandez decided that was the impetus he needed to go out and get a serious brewing job.

“I was applying for a bunch of things and I figured I was going to be an assistant, go and wash kegs, and things like that for a while,” Fernandez said. “I had the degree and all that and experience in restaurants and everything. You know, I applied for a bunch of jobs and then I got the call over here and they were like, ‘Yeah, we would like to interview you.’ I was like, cool. I had met Bob quite a few times, actually, and he’s a nice guy, good brewer.”

I asked Fernandez if he knew he was interviewing for head brewer or if he thought he was interviewing as an assistant.

“You know, I kind of thought I was interviewing for assistant, actually, because they just had … the posting was for brewer, that’s all it said,” Fernandez said. “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that would happen … Bob was here, and Alan, one of the owners, was in town.”

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

During the interview, Fernandez found out that Haggerty was leaving. The interview ended up going on for about four hours, Fernandez said. It clearly went well.

At this point, it was time to taste some of Fernandez’s beer. Because Ponderosa has quite a few beers on tap, I decided to limit the tasting to one of the regular beers, and each of the seasonals. Overall, I was impressed. Fernandez said he actually enjoys brewing the more involved beers with bigger malt bills and more hop additions.

I wanted to try his version of the Ghost Train IPA (6.2% ABV, 70 IBU), since that is the style that locals favor. It has been a while since I had the Ghost Train. It’s still not an over-the-top hop bomb, which is perfectly OK with me, but the malt bill seems to have been mellowed, allowing the hops to shine a little more.

Fans of lighter styles will enjoy the Belgian Pale Ale (5.2% ABV, 30 IBU), which Fernandez said is probably his favorite to drink right now, and the Oktoberfest (5.8 % ABV, 30 IBU), a traditional, lighter, Munich-style beer brewed according to the German Purity Law. The Oatmeal Stout (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU) was flat out delicious, with an abundance of coffee, cocoa, and caramel notes, next to no bitterness, and only subtle sweetness. The carefully managed sweetness continued in the Imperial Black IPA (8.2% ABV, 110 IBU). Their version of a fall pumpkin beer is the Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (5.6% ABV, 30 IBU). Fernandez said he is not a fan of heavily-spiced beers, so this is a rich, only slightly spicy offering.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

Quality control is one of his biggest concerns, Fernandez said. He said he is a fanatic about it. He said he likes the fact that without any assistants, from grain-to-glass, he has absolute control.

Fernandez said he soon plans to brew a single-hop Mosaic Pale Ale. He also said he thinks it is kind of strange that Ponderosa has never had a regular Amber, so there are plans for that as well. There is a sour Belgian Brown in the works, too. And, what I am most looking forward to is an upcoming Smoked Imperial Baltic Porter in late winter.

Fernandez said also hopes to increase the frequency of the bottle releases. There are tentative plans to collaborate with the forthcoming Hotel Chaco down the street, perhaps providing them with their own beer and having other Ponderosa beers on tap.

Ponderosa will be hosting a beer dinner in mid-November. Fernandez promised more details on that event soon.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Beer festival “season” is in full swing, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and suffer from fest overload. And yet, Albuquerque welcomed another festival to the late summer/fall lineup back on Saturday. The new Alibi on Tap at the Albuquerque Rail Yards featured some new breweries in attendance, so I really didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. Plus, although I know there is much contention surrounding brew fests held at the Rail Yards, I personally love the venue as an event space.

Because we took the noon Rail Runner train from Los Ranchos, we had about four hours of time to kill before the festival started. First, we trekked over to the open house for the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society. This event was conveniently located near Bow & Arrow, so of course we stopped in for a pint. We had one of their seasonal beers, and it was fantastic, perhaps my favorite of all the beers I have tried at Bow & Arrow. It was Bury My Heart Belgian Pale Ale, number four in a four-part pale ale series. This day was already starting off well.

We still had some time before the event, so prior to walking over to the Rail Yards, we headed over to Duel on Central. While enjoying a goblet of Fantin (apparently there was an unintentional Belgian Pale Ale theme for the day), we were approached by a visitor from Las Vegas, Nevada. It was his first trip to Albuquerque and he was in town for a week-long convention at the Hyatt. He asked for advice about things to do nearby. We told him about Alibi on Tap and he seemed interested.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

The weather was absolutely perfect, so there was no overheating (this can be an issue in that space). I enjoyed the reasonable entry fee and the limited amount of sampling tickets with a longer time to sample. The older I get, the more I tend to shy away from the free-for-all mentality at some beer fests. If attendees were so inclined it was possible to purchase additional samples as well as full pints of their favorite beers.

Because it was a new event, and I think perhaps because there are so many festivals this time of year, the crowd was particularly manageable. We arrived near the beginning and did not have to wait in any lines for entry or sampling. I was most interested in sampling the offerings from the two newest vendors, Palmer and Dialogue. It was both surprising and promising that Dialogue was in attendance on their opening weekend.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes after we arrived at the festival, we spotted “Vegas Bill.” We spent our entire remaining time there showing him around the different vendors and explaining the breweries and beers to him. It was actually quite a refreshing experience, because he had no prior knowledge, so there was no, “Them again? Been there, done that” attitude or preconceived notions. We were able to gain new perspective, as well, through his eyes and he really seemed to appreciate the experience. We left feeling quite proud of our stint as unofficial beer ambassadors.

Those of us lucky enough to be part of the first 100 tickets sold received a 32-ounce growler to “fill with your favorite beer.” You did have to purchase the actual beer to fill it, which was not explained in the promos, but it was sold at a reasonable price. If the indicator for our favorites was what we chose for our two growler fills, here were our choices — Pumpkin Pi from Pi Brewing, and Motorbrreath Smoked Porter from Starr Brothers.

Enjoy fest season, everyone! And, please, remember to take advantage of alternative transportation.

Cheers!

— AmyO