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Bombs Away has attracted a diverse crowd to the Southeast Heights.

Bombs Away Beer Company was the last new brewery to open in 2017, but it has quickly made an impact on the local craft scene.

I recently visited the brewery in the Southeast Heights to add it to our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. I was lucky enough to sit down with all three owners, John and Hilary Degnaro, and David Kimbell, who is also the head brewer. John jumped right into reflecting on the work of the past year, which saw Bombs Away go from a concept to a fully functional brewery.

“A year ago we were working on this tap room portion of the building. That’s where we spent the majority of our focus when it came to renovations here,” he said. “On the brewery side of the building, we basically did whatever we had to over there, mainly mechanical. But, over here we made it look like it is. It wasn’t anything like this. Literally the three of us built all of the stuff in here — we painted the tables, we did the framing, all the floors. This was a shell of a room. If you look at the ceilings you can see that metal frame of the building. That’s what the whole thing was taken back to, all four walls and the ceiling.”

The look and feel of Bombs Away is a direct result of the vision and work of the ownership team. It has a trendy, modern industrial feel that is warm and comfortable. Hilary explained some of the thought behind the design.

“We’ve frequented a lot of breweries around the country, and I think that you get kind of a lot of ideas of what you like and what you don’t like,” she said. “So there were some things that we specifically wanted to stick with, as far as materials. We really wanted concrete tables and we really wanted wood somewhere, but we really wanted to also put metal in places to keep it industrial. But, what was really important to us was that all of the materials we were going to use were not reflective of sound, so that we could try and keep this place as quiet as possible so that conversations could be easily carried on.”

Keeping the brewery cozy, and dampening the noise, was the most important part of its design.

John added that creating the right vibe was of key importance.

“As far as the design, the building, and the atmosphere, that was the number one,” he said. “And, it will always be my number one (priority), is making sure that the place sounds right, because that sets the stage for people to have a good time and enjoy themselves.”

Aside from the areas that are visible to the public in the taproom, assembling the brewery also was a very hands-on affair, with many brewing elements being collected over the years, including the bad-ass horizontal mash tun that was featured in Stoutmeister’s pre-opening story.

Of course, the owners still had to procure some of their equipment, which became a grim situation when their original supplier didn’t deliver. Fortunately, there was somebody else out there to fill in.

“That was and still is a nightmare, but we found a different supplier for the equipment we did need and they were awesome to work with,” John said. “They had the stuff on a truck and coming to us before we even paid for it. They were on the ball.”

Head brewer David Kimbell has kept plenty busy in churning out many, many beers.

David was not about to be slowed down by an equipment delay.

“We were pilot brewing the whole time, once every week to two weeks, I’d say. I had a pretty good idea on how to dial everything in,” he said.

It helped that the Degnaros already had that system.

“We have a 1-barrel pilot system that used to be John’s homebrew setup, and so when we couldn’t use the big setup, a lot of recipes were being made on their so that we could prepare,” Hilary said. “We could split the batch and then share it with people for tasting and giving us feedback on it. David could take half and we could take half to our house so that we could kinda critique it ourselves as well.”

In spite of the challenges, and as a result of the effort and determination for quality brews, Bombs Away opened with one of the more impressive beer showings in recent memory, as AmyO noted when she visited during the soft opening phase.

“We put so much work into the place,” John said. “Why rush to open the doors when in another three or four weeks of brewing would give us the comfort to brew and have the beers the way we want them, and have a good variety to put out? Honestly, if it was not up to our standards, it wouldn’t have come out of the tap.”

It’s hard to pick among all the beers just for a flight of six.

Bombs Away’s beer selection has brought in a diverse group of customers, including people from the southeast neighborhoods, active-duty military, veterans, and beer geeks alike.

“I feel like our clientele is pretty well versed on the craft beer scene,” David said. “I would say we have a pretty good two or three different drinkable beers that a person who is maybe not well versed on craft beer can drink. That’s important to us, to have drinkable beer.”

One clear indication of the beer quality is that restaurants are already trying to setup pairings.

“We have had two restaurants basically say to us, ‘Hey, your beer is great, if you ever want to do something let us know,’” John said. “Honestly, for us, we’re still figuring out how to make the taproom work. With time we can get into (keg distribution). We’re definitely making sure that we take things at a pace where we can do it right, hopefully as close to the first time as possible.”

The owners seemed a bit hesitant to share too much and/or over-commit for what will be coming down the pipe in the first full year of operation; however, they said they definitely have their minds in the right place.

Could some of those kegs be headed off-site in 2018? It’s possible.

“We may do some barrel aging,” David said. “I’m probably going to do IPA Challenge … we’ll do IPA Challenge, I don’t see why not.”

There could be some limited bottle releases in the future as well.

“We are just starting to lay down the plans for what we want to do for bottling,” John said. “We would like to do very special releases, things that will only be available here for purchase, things that will be very limited. We gotta look at that and establish a budget for it.”

The upcoming project that the team is most enthusiastic about is the patio.

“I mean, really, the big plans for the winter are really the patio, (and) like everything else we will build that ourselves,” John said. “It’s not going to be too complicated, but it will still take a lot of time.”

By all accounts, Bombs Away Beer Company has had a stellar debut and laid a foundation for high expectations as we look ahead into 2018.

The Crew wishes Bombs Away the best of luck going forward, and I thank John, Hilary, and David for taking the time to chat with me.


— Deezbeers

Three Rivers is going all-out for its 20th anniversary party!

During a road trip through Southwest Colorado at the end of June, I was fortunate enough to stop in and say hello to our friends at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington.

It had been about five months since I had previously visited as part of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. This time, I spent the night in Farmington, which allowed me to really get the full Three Rivers experience. It was the first night of my three-night road trip, and I did not hold back. As a matter of fact, I have to give a shout out to Lou Go’s Taxi Service in Farmington for providing me with a safe and dependable transportation option. I was disappointed to see that neither Uber nor Lyft were available in the area, but Lou Go’s filled the void well with 24-hour service, clean vehicles, and friendly drivers.

I started at the Three Rivers Brewery Restaurant on the corner of the block. It was a Friday night and the place was packed, but I was able to find a spot at the bar, conveniently located next to the taps. It was my third time eating dinner at this bar, and I was returning with a high expectations for food quality after the previous visits. I ordered the dinner special for the week, which was Rock Shrimp & Andouille Jambalaya. It was excellent. Each element tasted fresh and savory, and was tied together with a flavorful, but not overpowering level of spiciness.

Take flight with this, um, flight!

Of course, my food was accompanied by a flight of beers, which carried the same high standards as the food, again as expected. My personal favorites on the flight were The Black (stout) and the Arroyo Amber. I also sampled others that were not in my flight. The Raspberry Wheat was exceptionally refreshing, and one of the most well-balanced fruity wheat beers I have had in recent memory. Personally, I would pick this beer on a hot summer day over most of the Gose options that seem to have exploded in ABQ this summer.

It resembles Franz Solo’s beer fridge!

After finishing dinner, I walked further down the block (past the Tap Room and Pizzeria, both of which were also a buzzing with activity) to the Three Rivers Brewstillery, which had been under construction during my previous visit. It was exciting to see the finished product.

I sat at the bar, examined the menu, and was drawn to the ‘Beer Geek Bottle List,’ as well as the fridge containing said bottles … some even in boxes… yeah, I definitely nerded out on this. It was at this point that head brewer (really, we can call him head of beverage operations, with the addition of the distillery), Brandon Beard joined me. I hadn’t given him much notice on my visit, so it was great that Brandon was able to meet up. Unfortunately, assistant brewer (now really head brewer), Patrick Liessmann, was out of town.

After popping a bottle of Kasteel Barista, a Belgian quad with chocolate and coffee, Brandon and I discussed the upcoming 20th anniversary of Three Rivers Brewery, which will be celebrated with a party this Friday, starting at 5:30 p.m.

They’re saving the Crew at least one bottle. We hope!

Let me be clear, if I was not going to be at a wedding event in Chicago on that day … I would be attending this anniversary party (He is not the only one missing this for a wedding. — S). Just hearing about the treats that will be available is enough to make any true beer lover salivate. If there are two things (in my mind) that set Three Rivers apart, it has been their success in, 1) incorporating exciting and rich ingredients such as peanut butter and coconut, and 2) barrel aging. Building on what they do best, Three Rivers will be releasing their 20th anniversary limited edition Black Lily Barrel Aged Stout in four variations — Bourbon Barrel, Bourbon Barrel & Peanut Butter, Rum Barrel, and Rum Barrel & Coconut.

Assistant Brewer Austin Jacobs brought out some samples of the Rum Barrel & Coconut, and I was in heaven. I won’t attempt to describe it in too much detail, aside from saying it’s an easy-to-drink barrel-aged beer; you can taste the alcohol content, but nothing like, say, a Marble Reserve (not hating on Marble Reserve, it has its place, too). The coconut is unabashedly present and delicious. It complements the beer in the same way a scoop of vanilla ice cream complements a mug of root beer.

Don’t take my word for it; try it while it lasts. Only a 100-count of 750mL bottles of each variation will be available.

Sorry, Andrew, we didn’t warn you that this job will include copious amounts of delicious foods.

Just when I thought that I had seen and tasted it all, executive chef Jay brought out three of the tapas dishes that are on the menu in the Brewstillery. After I was done complimenting him on the jambalaya that I had for dinner, I happily munched on what he had set in front of me. My pictures do not do this food justice. It’s much easier to take a good picture of a glass of beer then a platter of food.

Please go to the Three Rivers website to see the menu and specific descriptions. It was the perfect food to snack on after a night of beer drinking. Along with the tapas, I sampled a few of the craft cocktails that are available and they, too, were top notch. The Brewstillery drink menu could satisfy any preference at the highest level of quality.

Much thanks to Three Rivers Brewery staff for their continued hard work and success at providing high-quality, local products to the community — the food, the beer, the spirits, the whole package. The passion is visible in the people, and you can taste it in the products. On a more personal note, thanks to Brandon and Austin for hanging out with me and showing me a fun time.

A huge thanks to brewmaster Brandon Beard, on the right.

I encourage all NM craft beer lovers to plan a visit to Three Rivers Brewery, and enjoy what they have to offer. The upcoming anniversary party would be a great opportunity, but any time is a good time.

Furthermore, Three Rivers is a great place to grab a meal, or a drink, or just hang out, for anyone who might be spending a night near Farmington, or traveling through.

On behalf of the NM Dark Side Brew Crew, I want to say congratulations to Three Rivers Brewery on their upcoming 20th anniversary, and we look forward to another 20 years!


— Deezbeers

The “coming soon” part of the sign will be removed July 1!

I’m happy to say that I have an update on what may be one of the longest anticipated brewery openings in the Albuquerque area for some time. Hops Brewery has been a project in the making for years, with a prominent location on Central Ave. in Nob Hill.

I’ll confess that I have been regularly driving by, hoping to see a sign with an opening date. This past Saturday, I was heading to lunch in Nob Hill and noticed that the front overhead door on Hops Brewery was open and there appeared to be some activity inside. After further investigation I met Austin Shull, son of Hops Brewery owner Jim Shull. Austin was kind enough to allow me to take a look around the inside of the nearly finished brewpub. I walked back past Hops again after I finished lunch down the street, and this time father and son were both at work inside. I interrupted what they were doing just long enough to get the inside scoop. I started by asking Jim to share the story of Hops Brewery to this point.   

The work is ongoing, but the finish line is in sight.

“It’s been an idea we have had for a while since the last 5 or 6 years and I had been in the restaurant business before and got out of that about a little over 15 years ago but decided that a brewery-slash-brewpub, looked like a pretty good idea,” Jim said. “So, we actually started with a location and got our brewers permit down in the village of Los Ranchos, and got through zoning and got to the point of the village trustees (telling me that) I was 285 feet away from Taft Middle School, but they had done variances before in the past. One of the trustees had a problem with it and so that ended that, which put us, of course, back to square one. You have to amend all your plans and find another place. And, at about that time this building came on the market, so we bought this building and went through the whole permitting process and planning process.”

Jim was quick to acknowledge that he can’t complain about the Central location that he ended up with, but his challenges were not yet over.

“And then we had some opposition from the neighbors, mostly the neighbors across the street,” Jim said. “That appealed our zoning decision way back when, so that stalled us for a while. We had to go through a few appeal processes and legal costs and stuff like that. And, then we finally got over that hump and then just standard building codes and that kind of stuff. So, it’s been a long haul but we are getting close. We can see daylight at the end of the tunnel for sure.”

All the equipment will be out of the way for the grand opening.

Aside from all of the legal/zoning/code challenges, the father-son team has also taken on a very labor-intensive, hands-on involvement in the building of their business.

“We’ve had some trades like dry wall guys and an electrician and that kind of stuff, but as far as we helped them do everything and then of course we would dig the trenches for the plumbing and took the plaster off the ceiling,” Jim said.

Austin interrupted, “How many tons?”  

“Ten tons, (that’s) 20,000 pounds,” Jim quickly responded.

“20,000 pounds of plaster, insulation, wiring … from the ceilings,” Austin clarified.  

OK, so then let’s get to it — what about the beer?

“We hired Ken Wimmer,” Jim said. “He’s a retired school teacher who has been brewing beer for over 25 years and really, really knowledgeable. In fact, he just got back from Scotland for three weeks, and so he’s made us six real good beers, four of which we made in-house, and then two where he went down and actually used Rio Bravo’s system along with their brewers John (Seabrooks) and Ty (Levis), and came up with something we could make a little bit bigger volume and a little bit more economical then a barrel at a time.”

Will there be food?

“We are going to have a limited food menu, 10-12 items, some appetizers, a few sandwiches,” Jim said. “I think we’re going to try opening for lunch.”

The bar will have 40 taps, 32 of which will be guest beers from other New Mexico breweries.

Drum roll please — is there an expected opening date?

“July 1 to the public, and hopefully soft openings a week to 10 days before that,” Jim said. “And, I know Ken wanted to invite you guys like before we open, just without the public here, just you guys so he can talk beer to you guys. That was one of his deals right from the get-go that we gotta do that before we open, and he’s just waiting for me to pull the trigger on when it’s time.”

Well, you don’t need to ask me twice. I didn’t think I could be any more eager to see Hops Brewing open, but after seeing the inside and talking to Jim and Austin Shull, my anticipation has only grown. Even though work inside is ongoing, the place already looks beautiful. I would describe it as being sleek, modern, and clean enough to be a trendy new bar in Nob Hill, but at the same time having the warm and inviting environment that one would expect in a neighborhood pub. The bar itself is very impressive, so impressive that it’s almost the only thing I remembered to get pictures of while I was there, with an eye-popping 40 taps.

“So, we will have 32 guest beers,” Jim said. “Of course, we will have a few New Mexico wines as well.”

I asked Jim if there was anything else he wanted to make sure he said before I let him and his son get back to work, and I think he very effectively summarized what he had spent the previous 10 minutes explaining.

“I want to apologize for the long delay,” Jim said. “It’s just it’s probably more work than anybody can imagine, and when you are trying to do 90 percent of it yourself, it even becomes longer than that. But, we haven’t skimped on anything, and we had to kind of rebuild a building even before we started.”

Thank you to Jim and Austin Shull for taking the time to talk to me, and for all of the effort they have put into Hops Brewery. The Crew wishes them the best of luck on finishing up the final touches this month. Can’t wait for more updates and, as always, we will keep you in the loop.


— deezbeers

Manager Skip Galarneau is the man who keeps the original Blue Grasshopper location hopping.

Editor’s note: With ABQ Beer Week in the rear view mirror, we are finally getting back to our Unsung Heroes Series. We asked each of the breweries around town to nominate one or more employees who go above and beyond, but don’t necessarily get the recognition of the owners and head brewers/brewmasters. Today, we meet up with the man the owners of The Blue Grasshopper said saved their Rio Rancho location while they were busy opening up their new taproom near Coors and Montano. — Stoutmeister

Kenneth ‘Skip’ Galarneau is currently the bar manager at The Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho, and when I sat down with him, I had one goal in mind (OK, aside from drinking a good beer), and that was to understand what defines an unsung hero. What is the essence of being an unsung hero? I started by asking Skip about his past and how he had found his way to the present.

“In ’99 I started working at Turtle (Mountain Brewery), April of ’99, it was like a couple of weeks after it opened. I was just about to turn 21 and it was a good time to get a job at a brewery,” Skip said.

At this point I interrupted Skip with a bunch of questions about the early days of Turtle Mountain. I won’t bore you with that, but rather skip (no pun intended) ahead.

“I took a break over there and went to the coast in Newport, Oregon,” Skip said. “I worked at the Rogue Brewery out there … cooking again over there at the bayfront taproom. It was cool … just thousands of fish and chips and they had pizza over there, too, (plus) burgers, just a huge variety of food. That was awesome.

“Came back to town when my little brother was getting out of school and he actually got a job at Turtle, also, as did my older brother, Adam. He’s now a regional manager over at Bosque. We’re beer nerds, sort of, we just love the restaurant industry. It kind of puts us in touch with the people. I like Rio Rancho and working at Turtle helped me get to know most of the community out here and I grew up here, too.”

It was during Skip’s 11 years at Turtle Mountain that he realized what he enjoyed most about working in a restaurant was getting to know his guests and taking care of them. This became the focus of his career and he carried it with him to his next job, which was at yet another local institution.

“I worked over at The Range for five years after that, shaking drinks over at the Bernalillo location,” Skip said. “How I kinda got pulled from The Range over here was (I wasn’t living here at the time), it’s close to my family and close to where I wanted to live. I like Rio Rancho and I like the people out here. I feel really comfortable. And, you pretty much got a great view of everything. Live music six nights a week, though. That was pretty much the pull for me. And, a bunch of great beer on tap. The guest beers were the key to this place, I think. Because, you can totally advertise everybody that’s New Mexico. Now that I have a little bit more pull in the beer order I can get exactly what people want. I listen and then I deliver. We just try to pull the best stuff.”

The vibe of Blue Grasshopper is what drew Skip to seek a job there.

Just as he did at Turtle Mountain, Skip started in the kitchen and quickly proved himself before finding his way out to the customers.

“They were open for a year when I got here in April of last year,” Skip said. “I started off as the kitchen manager. They were looking for some kitchen help. I walked in here and it looked like a baby old Turtle (Mountain), and I was like damn, I might have to work here. I came in here, I saw the setup — lots of beer on tap. It was an open mic night that night. I played a few songs. Everything was like a really good vibe, so a couple weeks later I started, and my second day they made me kitchen manager.”

One way to describe Skip’s migration from the back of the house to the front of the house is to say that his passion for food is far too great to be contained in the kitchen, and therefore he must be able to take it out to the guests. Skip has his own philosophy when it comes to the role of food at a taproom, and it’s hard to disagree with him.

“As a server it makes me feel nervous about serving alcohol when you don’t have a lot of food on-hand that really kicks ass and makes people compelled to order, not because they need something to eat, but because it’s delicious,” Skip said. “You’ve taken care of a human need, you know. That’s part of hospitality is taking care of all the human needs — food, drink, shelter, love.”

I took a cue from AmyO (thanks!) and asked Skip why he thought he had been chosen as the unsung hero. It almost seems like this question should be a requirement for this series.

“Basically I just like the work,” he said. “I’ll work hard wherever I’m working, I just hope it’s worth it, and it’s worth it because of the Rio Rancho people. Why was I picked? I just work hard.”

Skip has a big say in what beers are selected as guest taps.

Of course, Skip didn’t give himself enough credit. Being an unsung hero is more than hard work. It’s the intangibles. It’s the passion that he has for what he does, how it inspires his coworkers, and how it translates to a better experience for his customers. Like the way he is always eager to work with the staff on improving their skills, yet is never afraid to be shown up.

“I’m not in the kitchen anymore, but I’m always ready to get down there and show people some method and how to just do some little tweaks and get a little faster,” Skip said. “I love watching other people maybe that aren’t even from the industry do something that I think is amazing, and stealing their shortcuts, and put it in my pocket, and be like, thank you, you don’t even know what you did for me. You know? Because, you never know where you’re going to get that extra knowledge … and then you’re like, we’re going to do it that way from now on.”

Stop in at Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub sometime for a beer and maybe some music, or just to say hi to Skip. If you are lucky you might catch him on stage.

“I love musicians,” Skip said. “I play and sing. Occasionally, I’ll sit in and play on somebody’s break or I’ll sit in with a band and sing some songs or something like that.”

The Brew Crew thanks Skip for his work in our local craft brew industry and wishes him the best of luck going forward in his career.


— deezbeers

It’s celebration time in Aztec!

A few weeks back I shared my experience visiting Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington, and as it turns out they are not alone in northwest New Mexico. I took another weekend trip to Durango at the beginning of April and found myself visiting yet another brewery before crossing into Colorado.

The new 550 Brewing Taproom opened at the beginning of 2017 in the historic district of Aztec, right off of its namesake, U.S. Highway 550. The father and son ownership team of Mike and Sean Paschall had been operating 550 Brewing out of a different location for about five years. They brewed exclusively for pleasure and serving at local events, but this Saturday their business will officially be in the next stage of its evolution when the taproom celebrates its grand opening.

The Paschall family has deep family roots in Aztec, and a direct involvement in several local businesses. The local community has already shown support for the taproom and will, without a doubt, be at the grand opening in full force.

The unique exterior of 550 Brewing.

The first thing I noticed when approaching the taproom was the great outdoor space. A nice tent with shaded seating was setup between the parking lot and the front door, along with plenty of other outdoor tables and seats in the larger part of the yard. The inside was quaint, yet adequate, and more importantly both clean and comfortable. I sat at the bar, which had eight tap handles, with six house beers and two guest taps from Marble.

The tap handles, old oilfield designs, followed the retro style of the bar, along with the antique cash register being used. However, the focal point behind the bar was (appropriately) the beer list.

“These are our staples … got a pretty good segment covered … you know what I mean,” said bartender and junior brewer Terry Martin. “We’ve only been open for about three months and we’ve had great business, but we’re trying to scale our brewing to that. Because, previous to that we’ve only done special events and now we have a permanent location.

“So, after we get a few back-order kegs of these, we’ll start experimenting, getting weird. Probably going to do a darker porter or double bock or something like that, and then probably hop something up, too.”

The tap handles and the beer board inside.

I was content with all six of the house beers (and actually a seventh on the way back from Durango after the Dry Irish Stout was replaced with Ginormous Stout), but I would say my favorite was definitely the apple cider. It satisfied my definition of a good hard cider — clean, refreshing, with a slight fruit taste, but not super sweet so that I have a stomachache after one. After the cider, I would say that I enjoyed both stouts and am excited to return and check on them as well as the upcoming “weird” stuff.

As always, we hope that 550 Brewing will be supported not only by their local community, but we also encourage the beer lovers across New Mexico to stop by at some point in 2017. There is no better time to show that support than at the grand opening this Saturday, but there is no bad time, either. Stop by next time you pass through town (and there are plenty of good reasons to pass through town). It’s also worth pointing out that 550 Brewing has a great website if you need it.

Yeah, they have a “Buy a Friend a Beer” board at 550.

The Brew Crew wishes 550 Brewing the best of luck at their grand opening and going forward!


— Deezbeers

Three Rivers is upping its game along Main Street in Farmington.

As we bask in the splendor that is the glorious New Mexico beer scene, it can be easy to forget about the great breweries that exist outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Oh, there are many others out there. MANY. Do yourself a favor and grab a brewery map from the NM Brewers Guild so that you can find a new place to stop in during your next day trip or weekend away. I did just that a few weeks ago, back at the end of January when I spent some time at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington on my way to Durango. I got the chance to sit down with head brewer Brandon Beard, and assistant brewers Patrick Liessmann and Austin Jacobs.

First of all, for those who are not familiar with Three Rivers, its website tells the story of how it all started as a corner brewery and restaurant in 1997, and has grown to consume almost an entire block of Main Street in downtown Farmington. It now includes a taproom, game room, pizzeria, and soon a tasting room (don’t worry we will get to that). All of the locations offer delicious Three Rivers brews. Being somewhat isolated in the northwest part of the state has made it challenging for Three Rivers to project their name out into the statewide scene but they have been working diligently to evolve.

The brewhouse is constantly churning.

“The last like year and a half we’ve been doing a lot of changes like doing different yeast,” Patrick said. “We started messing a lot more with the water, and really dialing in our water chemistry. And then, we started messing with barrels and souring, so over the last year and a half we have really been trying to push what the place has been doing.

“All of our standard beers, we have been trying to slowly tweak those down. We changed the IPA entirely. We scrapped the old IPA because we just felt it wasn’t up to today’s standards of IPAs, so we completely re-did that one.”

The hard work seems to be paying off as the re-engineered IPA (IPAC Nugs) took third place in the New Mexico IPA Challenge this past summer.

Three Rivers also recently scored some great feedback from their showing at WinterBrew in Santa Fe. I was not present in SF, however I was fortunate that they had saved some of the Double Stuffed Truffle Butter that was all the rage. It was good stuff. (Decadent stuff. — S) It boasts an in-your-face peanut butter aroma and flavor without being overpowering. It is still a beer, and an easy-to-drink beer at that. Patrick described how they took their standard Truffle Butter (as he handed me a bottle of it) and turned it into the double-stuffed variant.

Those are a lot of lines going from the brewery to all the different rooms.

“So here’s the Truffle Butter right here,” Patrick said. “We took the base beer for that and pretty much just went crazy with the peanut butter. Because we didn’t really get the peanut butter that we wanted out of this one, but we thought it was OK. It’s definitely more on the stout side with all the peanut butter. But, it really … we wanted to go over the top, and we took some of the leftovers that we had and went over the top and took it to Santa Fe.”

Beyond that they also had their Framboise, a sour blonde that is oak-barrel-aged with raspberries, Cerberus, an imperial stout aged in Malbec wine barrels, and a malt liquor aged in a cabernet sauvignon barrel called Brass Monkey. To top it all off, they also brought El Coco Negro, which required the use of the pizzeria.

“We hand toast coconut at the pizzeria, in the big ovens over there, and then we hand add it to the beer and then as it’s done fermenting we will let it sit on the beer,” Austin said. “It’s a really amazing beer. It’s one of my favorites.”

I was happy to hear that WinterBrew was just as much fun for the guys at Three Rivers as it was for the guests at the event. Brandon suggested that they want to make the trip south more often.

“We are so far north that we have really never gone down south to show to people what we’re making, so that has kind of … we are kind of being oriented this year with that,” Brandon said. “We are going to try to do as many festivals down there (in Central New Mexico) as possible.”

The swanky new tasting room at Three Rivers.

In the midst of all of this, the upcoming addition to the Three Rivers block should help carry the momentum, if any additional help is even needed. Included in my tour was a walk-through of the as-yet-unopened tasting room, which was already quite impressive in every little detail, a true display of craftsmanship and creativity but with a genuine feel of sophistication and class.

“A construction supply went out of business, so (we picked up) a lot of old lumber from there and another old lumber yard,” Austin said. “All of that stuff is made out of old military ammunition crates and stuff like that, like the seats, and some of the chairs, and the lining of the bar, and all of the metal they found, and it’s all recycled … like the only thing new in there is the floor.”

The plan is to have plenty of Three Rivers’ beer flowing, along with many other top-notch beer options, but the crown jewel will be the offering of cocktails crafted from Three Rivers’ own in-house products from their new on-site distillery. Patrick gave me the lowdown on when we can expect everything to happen.

The distillery is going to be running soon.

“We’re hoping March and it’s going to be just in-house pretty much, there will be bottles to go,” Patrick said. “There’s going to be spiced rum, regular rum, (and) white whisky for now, until we start aging in barrels to make bourbon. We’ll have gin and we’re going to be making our own tonic and our own sodas, and hand-making everything for the cocktails.”

The tasting room will have its own menu, too.

“We’re really trying to up the game here to really try and draw (customers) in and draw a different crowd is the whole idea,” Patrick said. “And offer things that aren’t available (in the eatery) or the taproom or the pizzeria.”

“They are going to have their own artisan dishes,” Austin added. “And they’ll pair maybe some beer pairings and some cocktail pairings.”

If that wasn’t enough, Three Rivers is looking ahead to its 20th anniversary party this summer. Preparations are already underway. Austin struggled not to grin while explaining what is already in the works.

So … many … barrels …

“We have our 20th anniversary, which will be in July of this year, and what we are going to release there is imperial stout aged in Woodford Reserve double oak barrels, and that is kind of the higher end Woodford Reserve,” Austin said, “and then we have two Mount Gay Rum barrels that we are also aging the same base stout beer in, and then one of each of those barrels is going to be aged with coconut as well. So, in a sense there’s going to be four different variants of that beer. We’ll release those (in) bottle only. Then, we have a hopscotch ale aged in a Malbec wine barrel that we’re aging right now, and another stout that we’re aging in … I believe a (Cabernet Sauvignon) barrel … and I’m not sure what’s in the other one … it’s a surprise I guess.”

I had to wipe the drool off of my chin after he finished talking.

The Brew Crew looks forward to hearing and seeing more of Three Rivers Brewery. We also encourage our followers to stop in. Whether it is on the way to Durango, or elsewhere in the region, it is well worth your time. The truth is that Farmington would make a very good base camp for visiting some great sites. Places to check out nearby that I have enjoyed include Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Salmon Ruins, and Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. Others that Austin insisted are great include Canyon de Chelle National Monument and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

Head brewer Brandon Beard also has his hands full with this little angel.

Lastly, I can’t forget to mention that the food in the eatery was excellent, and that the same quality can be expected on the whole block as all of the food programs are managed by the same chef.

We wish Three Rivers Brewing the best of luck with the opening of their tasting room and congratulate them on their upcoming 20th anniversary.


— Deezbeers

Thomas Baxter, an actual monk from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, is often serving beers at Monks' Corner downtown.

Thomas Baxter, an actual monk from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, is often serving beers at Monks’ Corner downtown.

I recently visited Monks’ Corner Taproom for my final contribution to this year’s Look Back/Look Ahead Series. It seemed fitting to finish at the new taproom location for Abbey Brewing, which likely is tied more closely to centuries old brewing traditions than any other New Mexico brewery. General manager Chris Pacheco was kind enough to sit down with me on a late Friday afternoon and do two of my favorite things — talk about beer and drink beer.

“We did a soft opening on September 29, and then our first day of business was October 5,” Chris said. “So it was kind of a lot just trying to put everything together and make sure that everything was in order. But, it was fun.

“I came on about a month before. I gave my month notice at Chama River, and in the interim time I was kinda spending time both at Chama doing my shifts, and coming (here) trying to hire staff, order cleaning supplies, organize glassware, as well as making sure all of the permits were in hand. It wasn’t just me, though. Thomas Baxter was on a little bit before me. He’s a monk from the Monastery (of Christ in the Desert), actually. He took a year sabbatical to come work with us.”

Wait, what? Is there really a monk working at the taproom?

“A lot of first timers will come in and one of their first question’s is, ‘Are their real monks?’ and a lot of the time Tom is here and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m one of the monks from the monastery,’ and that kinda throws them off,” Chris said. “So, there are real monks. Even on the packaging of the beer they are all real monks. If you look at the box it will say the monk’s (actual) name. It brings the story back up front. We get a lot of questions about that. It’s kind of cool. It’s definitely very different … a different kind of model to work with. It makes it interesting and fun but that was also part of the reason why it was easy to buy into it … because of the story.”

It was only a few minutes into our discussion that I sensed Chris’ genuine respect for the tradition that is the foundation of Abbey Brewing. It runs deeper than the name and the brand, and it doesn’t just represent something, it is something. It’s not something that can be described in writing, but rather something that is felt, experienced, lived. Chris described visiting the monastery, near Abiquiu, as a part of employee training.

“It’s definitely an eye-opening thing for a lot of us,” he said. “You have a preconceived notion of what a monastery is going to be. You have some great people with great senses of humor. It’s definitely a reverent place, but they are normal people. We did a day trip. It’s really, really cool. Everyone seemed to kind of get a better sense of what the business is about. It’s not just a taproom. There was something behind it … that was bigger. It went back to a tradition of monastic brewing, and European-style monastic brewing. Not necessarily location-wise here, but with our beer and what we are doing. It definitely taps into that culture of your tradition.”

The Monks’ touch extends beyond the monastery and directly into the taproom, but in more ways than just the beer. It’s part of the expectations for the staff.

“Some of our employee handbook goes back and forth with the Benedictine traditions,” Chris said. “Hospitality is one of the most important things to them and we try to bring that into our environment. Hospitality, quality, and treating everybody fairly is one of the biggest things. We are as accommodating as we can be with everyone until it becomes an issue of safety.”

There was also an effort to incorporate the visible features of the Abiquiu area into the taproom.

“The design of the taproom really has that in mind in terms of the color scheme,” Chris said. “It’s all based on one of the photographs that’s in the back, which is the Chama River Canyon, and it was a nice thing to learn that the color scheme was built around a photo that was taken on the way to the monastery. It’s all trying to tie in to going back to the monastery where it started from.”

Chris reminded me that some of the beer uses hops from the monastery.

“They grow their own hops … and we’re working on a Tripel Reserve right now,” Chris said. “And, if we do any brew that has a reserve title that means they use our local hops. We have to go to the open market like everyone else for most of the other hops.”

There will be a special release party today (Tuesday) at the taproom for the Tripel Reserve. It will run from 6 to 10 p.m. and also feature live art, music, and food specials.

Well, that looks just heavenly. Hello, Monks' Corner, welcome to the party.

Monks’ Corner has found its niche downtown.

Beyond the long history of monastic brewing, it’s also important to point out that Abbey Brewing is a relatively long-established brewery in New Mexico.

“We have been distributing since 2005,” Chris said. “It hasn’t been at a huge scale, but it’s been out-of-state, too, so we have some sort of a reach. It was kinda interesting that they did it that way. That they did the distribution first and then this is the first taproom.”

One of the biggest challenges of new breweries/taprooms seems to be filling taps with enough beer, though Monks’ clearly had a distinct advantage in that aspect. However, opening is never an easy task.

“We had our final inspection on the day of our soft opening,” Chris said. “After that it was almost like a restaurant impossible episode where we had, for the next three hours, all hands on deck to make sure that it looked presentable for opening. We got it done for the soft opening.”

One aspect of Monks’ Corner Taproom that is truly unique is its partnership with the business right next door.

“This is one of the coolest partnerships, just having a restaurant attached within walking distance and you can bring your beer in here,” Chris said. “It’s two different companies, two different staffs, two different owners.”

That’s correct. You can walk about 15 feet from the bar at Monks’ Corner to the ordering counter at Maya, which offers great New Mexican cuisine, salads, and sandwiches. The fish tacos I had were top notch.

“One of the coolest things is that you can, if you felt like you just wanted to have lunch or dinner outside of the taproom, you could come into this side and have a meal away from the taproom ambience, and you can still bring your beer in here,” Chris said. “For me that was one of the most interesting things that I’ve seen from us so far.”

You can order your food from Maya and have it delivered to your table at Monks' Corner.

You can order your food from Maya and have it delivered to your table at Monks’ Corner.

It has been just over four months since opening and Chris still has his game face on.

“Even to this day it still feels like we’re opening,” he said. “It’s a work-in-process. I was really surprised with the neighborhood. With the new building and the neighborhood and all the breweries around here … this community really supports its local breweries. A lot of our business … the bulk of our business comes from people in this neighborhood. You never know what to expect, but this neighborhood has been really good to us so far. I didn’t know what to expect with downtown Albuquerque, honestly, but it’s nice. You see bartenders and such from some of the other breweries that come in and talk.

“One of the cool things that I have noticed is that all these taprooms in this area are extremely different, like aesthetically, (and) like beer style-wise, too. It’s like we all have something to offer the neighborhood and the residents of the neighborhood, which I think is great because it gives us, as consumers, a better choice. It gives you more of an option and it creates a real scene in downtown Albuquerque.”

Looking forward, Chris said he hopes to further embrace the neighborhood by planning some events.

“We really want to do a lot more events, and give the customer something to do along with have a beer, events that make sense for the brand as well as make sense for the neighborhood,” he said. “We want to do live music and incorporate more live music. We are flirting with the ideas of things like Geeks Who Drink or some other sort of trivia, maybe live art installations. Almost, at this point, throw things at the wall and see what sticks.

“I know that at some point we’d like to do a firkin release when it makes sense, and do some releases around some of the reserve beers that are going to be coming shortly. The first one that we will have out is the Tripel Reserve, which will be made with the local hops. So, we want to build an event around that, but it’s still kind of in the planning process.”

Even a brewery rooted in monastic tradition looks to mix things up a bit every now and again.

“There’s been talks of an American style pale ale that kind of leans towards an IPA, which is very unusual for a Belgian brewery to do, but it’s not 100 percent,” Chris said. “There might be a (sort) of a pale ale from us. We are also looking at starting working on some ciders, a sweet and a dry cider. Hopefully we can start expanding our selection. When we opened the doors I think we started with five beers and now we have seven on tap of our own. They’re working on other ones to bring in too.

“One thing I do like, also that I keep on forgetting because it’s almost like an afterthought to me, but we do have 20 taps. We typically have 10 to 15 guest taps on at a time. It’s going to be ever-changing. We have some favorites that will probably not leave the tap, but for the most part it’s an experiment and what we’re going to bring in seasonally will change.”

In addition to the food next door, Chris said he was also enthusiastic about having some smaller, snackier options available in the taproom, options that would pair well with the beer.

“We’re planning on bringing cheese and charcuterie plates also and pairing that with some of the beers that we have,” Chris said. “That’s a project that we are currently working on right now. We always want to have a couple of snack options — some chocolate options that will pair well with some of our dark beers, (or) nuts, almonds, things of that nature. We want it to be something you can eat while you are sitting down, but also want to go in with the thought that it will compliment the beer and vice versa … as well as some of the wine, too.”

Considering the progress made by Monks’ Corner so far this year, and the plans for next year, there is no reason not to be believe that the location is destined to become a staple of the community.

“All and all, I think our beer scene statewide is fantastic,” Chris said. “It’s exciting because as a state we’re still young at making beer, but we’re doing so well. We’re fortunate to be where we’re at after three months of business, but still you always kind of want to look forward and thrive in a thriving community. So, there’s opportunity for all of us and I think the good things is that there is a niche for everyone. There’s room for everybody in this environment as long as the quality is there.”

Be sure and get over to Monks’ Corner next time you are in downtown ABQ to check on the progress and drink some delicious beer. Don’t forget the tasty food options. The Brew Crew wishes Monks’ Corner and Abbey Brewing the best of luck in 2017.


— Deezbeers

Ale Republic has found its niche as a mountain brewery.

Ale Republic has found its niche as a mountain brewery.

Traveling over a mountain pass can create the illusion of having crossed into a different world. Opposite sides often display vast differences in culture, landscape, and energy. Maybe it’s just evidence of growing up in a place without mountains, but I confirm this magic every time I travel over the Sandias. My recent visit to Ale Republic in Cedar Crest was no exception. I was hosted by business partners Patrick Johnson and Zach Gould. We jumped right into discussing their opening this past year and the work that led up to it. Opening a business is no cakewalk, and breweries are not an exception.

Patrick: Well, we opened. That was the challenge … it took us two years to get through permitting with (Bernalillo) County. We’re the first brewery in the county outside of the city jurisdiction, so we had to talk to the county people, not the city people. The city practically has like a pre-filled-out form of here’s the start-a-brewery packet. So, it was a big pain and it was very expensive. We spent almost half our money just getting through the permitting process. We were paying a year and a half of rent and with no income.

Zach: And, we had to have like equipment … it would have been one thing if you’re just paying for the space and you didn’t have to have it finished out. But, for a lot of the things they wanted to see something fully finished. So, it’s basically the system that they have set up is do all the hard work, do everything, and then we see.

Yes, they have more than one beer on tap now.

Yes, they have more than one beer on tap now.

In spite of the less than ideal permitting journey, Ale Republic opened its doors in the fall.  

Patrick: We opened with bare minimum. We had one beer on tap. Some of the complaints on our online reviews are, “Oh, they only have one beer on tap. Another one of those breweries.” But, my response to that is well at least we did it! I remember when La Cumbre only had a couple back in the early days.

Zach: This is a very much handmade deal. I don’t think I have ever seen a brewery open with as little as we did. We really just put our souls into it and got it up and running.

Patrick: Yeah, we did everything. We made all the light fixtures. We did all the work.

Patrick and Zach’s personal touch gives Ale Republic a local craft feel which, when combined with the tranquility of its East Mountains location, provides a cool and relaxed setting. With such a great vibe it is no surprise that they have been embraced by the brewing community.

Patrick: The other breweries have been really supportive. It’s a really cool community. Tractor sent us a grand opening welcome. Nexus sent us flowers. People were really friendly.

The Ale Republic also has connections outside of the local community.

Patrick: And, we’re going to be doing some collaborations this year, too. We have a partner brewery in Long Beach called Beachwood Brewery. So, we are going to go out there and brew with them in the next couple months, and they are going to come out here and brew with us. So, this West Coast IPA has roots on the West Coast, actually.

Zach, left, and Patrick have been keeping their small brewing system humming.

Zach, left, and Patrick have been keeping their small brewing system humming.

I shared the excitement that I feel about camaraderie between breweries around the country and how common it seems to be. Zach was quick to remind me why this shouldn’t be surprising.

Zach: Well, it’s a craft. I think people forget that, especially on the larger scale, because it gets so technical. But, it’s still very much a craft. People have been doing this for a very long time. Sometimes there’s things that people do that there’s not a reason, but they just do it because they do it. And, it’s a community and you learn off other people.

And when it comes to being a craft, Ale Republic is not cutting any corners. They are making every effort to be both local and unique.

Patrick: Our brand is really specialty products. The IPA we have (is) because everybody loves IPAs, so you kind of have to have one. We both really like West Coast style … not super in-your-face hoppy, but pretty sticky and balanced. The interesting thing about our IPA has to do with our water. Almost all breweries use treated water. We’re just pulling it out of the ground. It’s well water, so it’s really minerally, and I think that interacts with the hops. It’s a pretty hoppy beer and it gives it a very interesting character. I think our water works really well with the Belgians, particularly the Golden Strong, I think it’s spot on. All the traditional beer styles are defined by the water that came from that spot. They never purified it or anything. From an environmental perspective that’s pretty sweet … just use what we have. We’re trying to get as much local stuff as we can … local ingredients. One of our goals is to make a 100-percent local beer. So, we’ve got the water down pat, straight out of the ground. The trickiest one is going to be malt, finding a local malt supplier. Not necessarily local in the east mountains, but local to the surrounding area. Hops we can get from Taos Hops. And then, yeast, we’ve got a local wild strain. But, that’s one of our goals in the next year or two.

All in all, it has been a year of establishing a solid foundation for continued growth. Zach and Patrick both seem content with the progress, and optimistic about what lies ahead after a recent expansion of the seating area that includes a free pool table.

Zach: It’s been a learning experience. It’s been a growing experience. But, I think we’re well on our way. What we were focused on first was just getting doors open and having everything be modular. We weren’t overextending, ever. We’re not a team of investors. Really this is just a straight up handmade brewery of people that are pretty passionate and willing, and probably pretty crazy, but willing to devote the time to make it happen.

Patrick: So, going into the year I think we’re pretty set. We have done our expansion, just finished that. Our brewhouse is pretty much at capacity, and whenever we can afford it, we’ll get more conditioning tanks, but for now we’re in steady-state.

Game room? Genius!

Game room? Genius!

Looking ahead into the rest of 2017, there seems to be a common theme in many of Patrick and Zach’s plans — leveraging the beautiful location that is close to ABQ, but at the same time feels so removed.

Patrick: I’m hoping for a really strong spring, and I think summer is going to be a blast up here. We’re going to have a big beer garden, put bands outside, do like a blue grass festival. It’s warm and it’s quiet, and it’s nice to get out of the city.

Zach: We have a really great outdoor space. It’s away from Albuquerque, which I think some people are like, “Oooh, it’s away from Albuquerque.” But, that’s the thing, is that that’s one of the best things, because you get out of Albuquerque. In the summertime, when Albuquerque is sweltering hot, and you feel just dried out, and you want to escape the concrete, and it’s just too much … you come here and it’s like perfect temperatures, there’s a cool breeze, you got a beer in your hands … it’s like camping without any of the work.

Patrick: We should put a tent in the back and AirBnB it.

With the extensive amount of outdoor space at their fingertips it is not actually that farfetched to think that camping would be a possibility at Ale Republic. Frankly the possibilities are endless. Patrick and Zach have an open canvas with which to create an outdoor space that ABQ breweries and taprooms could not match.

Patrick: This property goes all the way back to that hill. We have a lot of opportunities to do some really fun stuff with the property. So especially, we are talking about outdoors, having a really sweet beer garden, a landscaped beer garden with a fountain that’s like actually in the woods.

Zach: Imagine a park that you went to where you could drink, you could listen to music, you could play games, and that was open late … and there’s dogs running around, kids running around.

Patrick: People ride their horses down and get beers. The trail system connects to a bunch of residences back there, and yeah, they’ll ride their horses down.

Again, it's in the mountains! Hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, and drink beer.

Again, it’s in the mountains! Hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, and drink beer.

The trails aren’t just for horseback riding, but hiking, too. Ale Republic is conveniently located next to a parking lot that serves these trails.

Patrick: We had no idea who our customer base would be, but as you would guess it’s mostly locals. On the weekends, you get people from Albuquerque coming up to go skiing and go hiking on the trail. There’s really great trails back there. It’s really cool it’s right there. So, we’re really pushing that. Like the outdoor brewery … be in touch with nature for a while and grab a beer.

A couple other goals for this upcoming year include setting up some regular events.

Zach: So, when we originally were a beer club we would do first Thursday events, where every first Thursday we would have like a big party and do a whole thing. So, we want to continue that. We just don’t know exactly how it’s going to look. We’ve been really occupied just getting this thing open, but at this point we’ve expanded, our beer’s kind of more settled down. I would not say we’re anywhere close to being finished. This is a process. It’s not a destination. So, at this point, things like that we’re definitely interested in. We’re trying to do as many events as possible. We would really like to partner with … I don’t know, anybody really, to do races, and stuff like that, in the open space. There’s a snow shoe race coming up that we’re going to try and be involved in, where people do a snow shoe race up at the peak and then after that will come down and hang out.

Ale Republic is also beginning some small-scale distribution into the ABQ market.

Patrick: I really want to find a bar in Albuquerque that we can supply our beer, at least one handle at all times, where if you want our beer that you can go to. So, we’re looking for a place. I think starting in March or April we’ll be able to do that.

* * * * *

If you have yet to visit Ale Republic, then do yourself a favor and at least pick a Saturday to make the drive up and relax for a couple hours enjoying lunch and a beer or two, not to mention the scenery. Better yet, plan to stop in after a day on the trails or at the ski area. The work continues at Ale Republic, but Patrick and Zach should hold their heads high with pride after the progress they have made. The Brew Crew wishes the best of luck to Ale Republic in 2017.


— Deezbeers

The full re-branding of Nicky V's into Pi Brewing is now complete. (Photo courtesy of Pi Brewing)

The biggest change of the year was re-branding Nicky V’s into Pi Brewing. (Photo courtesy of Pi Brewing)

Editor’s note: We sent Andrew to Pi Brewing for its Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry a while back. Pardon the delay. Let him know how he did in his first Brew Crew Bullpen story in the comments. — S

Tuesday, November 8 was a day that will likely go down in history as the Election Day that marked the end of one of the most divisive presidential campaign seasons …. not to mention one of the most unprecedented election results in American history. I confess that it was also a day where I was glad to have a distraction from the political process (after voting earlier in the day, of course). That distraction was Pi Brewing on Albuquerque’s West Side. I had suggested the date to Greg Villareal, head brewer and co-owner with his wife, Nicole, a week or two prior. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that we had picked Election Day. If Election Day 2016 becomes one of those days that you will always remember what you were doing, even years later. I will remember hanging out with Greg and Stoutmeister at a table just far enough away from the TVs in the bar area that the “Trump this, Trump that” and “Hillary this, Hillary that” blended together into a spectacular white noise.

Greg was gracious enough to host me on my first interview since becoming a contributor to the NMDSBC, and I was also fortunate to have Stoutmeister providing moral support. As it turned out, distracting me really wasn’t difficult at all. Apparently, the trick is feeding me pizza and pouring various delicious beers down my throat. Somebody must have tipped off Greg, because this is exactly what he did. He also discussed this past year’s challenges and successes at Pi and provided some insight as to what the future might hold.

Regular readers might recall that Greg and Nicole’s business started as Nicky V’s Pizzeria before adding the brewery next door a couple years ago, followed by a complete re-branding and combination of the two under the name Pi Brewing. Greg explained the further evolution of the business over the past year since the re-branding in February of this year.

“I think we’ve kind of become a brewpub over time,” Greg said. “Breweries are very dynamic and they tend to kind of change to meet demand, whatever that demand might be, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing as well. Over time our demographics have just changed a little bit, and we’re just kind of changing with the people that are coming through the door. This year’s been a year of just kind of putting the feelers out there and trying some new things. I want to try something new, so I have been doing, as you know, a lot of sours this year … and, we’re getting some decent traction with the sours. … That’s kind of what we seem to be having decent success with right now.”

The beer board at Pi greets you right as you walk in the front door.

The beer board at Pi greets you right as you walk in the front door.

Greg jumped right into describing some of the sour beers that he has been passionate about this past year.

“The first one we did was a gose, a key lime gose, and that was more of a kettle sour then like a traditional multiple bacteria yeast fermentation, so that was just a really clean kettle sour and it was popular,” Greg said. “After that I was like, ‘You know what? This is kind of cool, why don’t we try actually doing some barrel aging and see what happens?’ That’s when we kind of went down the path of doing a more, you know, traditional sour in barrels.

“Time frames obviously went up. They take forever. So, we started filling barrels, and we just harvested everything out of those barrels over the last few weeks to a month, and refilled the barrels and put them down for the winter, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

The Pi customer base has been receptive to the sours.

“So, some of the sours you have tried … Manhattan Project already is gone,” Greg said. “That was on for a month and it’s out of here. Right now we’ve got Sleepy Hollow on, which is not necessarily a sour, more of a pumpkin farmhouse is what we’re calling it. We also have the Trinity on, that’s kind of a cool one, it’s got some fruity qualities to it that’s organic white peaches and apricots. Zinister Dichotomy … it was a red sour. It spent about 40 days on raspberries.”

Greg’s passion for brewing was palpable early in our conversation and it was equally balanced with his awareness of the challenges that are inherent in running a small brewery.

“Breweries take up a lot of room… it’s just the nature of the beast,” Greg said. “You need room. I just need space just to brew, to bring in additional fermenters. We’re kind of stuck in this little space next door. So, I need to figure something out in the coming year.”

While space might be a limitation for any small brewery (or even a big brewery, just ask Marble), it seems that sour beer further amplifies the challenge by introducing additional considerations related to cross-contamination and barrel storage. Greg suggested that, while he has no intent of focusing solely on sour beer, he is considering the possibility of isolating the sour brewing in a separate facility.

“Something comes down the pipe that works perfect, like maybe somewhere down in an industrial area where we could just do nothing but our sour beers, that would be really cool,” Greg said. “Plus it would maybe also give us the taproom potential.”

Taproom potential, all right, now we are talking. That’s right, Pi Brewing is not shying away from expansion. Why not take it a step further and get Pi’s beer in bottles this upcoming year?

“We’re looking at, especially with the sour beers, I’m trying to figure out now how to do some limited bottling runs because that beer just ages so well,” Greg said. “It really ages well. Just to let it bottle condition for time, I think, would really be a benefit to the product.”

There is a second beer board above the taps.

There is a second beer board above the taps.

Sour beers are still being produced only in limited quantities around Albuquerque. They remain a sort of final frontier for local brewers.

“This year I’ve spent a lot of time working on sour beers,” Greg said. “I had to talk to a lot of people about sour beer … a lot. Not a lot of guys here in this state are doing sours. There’s not a big pool of reference here in this state when it comes to sour beers. It takes travel. You gotta travel and you gotta go hit places like San Diego, Portland, (and) San Francisco. You gotta move.”

Greg made it very clear that, in spite of the challenges, he does not intend to put anything on tap that is not up to snuff. He also has a lot of respect for the quality of brewing in ABQ, which seems to further elevate his standards.

“If we make bad beer I’m going to dump it,” Greg said. “I’m not going to try and butter it up with like blueberries or something and try and make it palatable for somebody. If it’s bad, it’s bad. If it’s not palatable, it’s not going to get served, obviously.”

Greg’s standards and expectations were also evident in his comments about working this past year to ensure that Pi was putting out enough beer.

“One of the things I wanted to commit to, coming into the brewhouse, is keeping eight beers on our handles and that took a lot of time,” Greg said. “At one point we were down to one handle of our beer and seven guest taps, and it drove me insane. Having a brewery that doesn’t have beer of its own (was unacceptable). So, we fixed the glitch. Obviously, we have eight handles on now and we’ve got beer behind it.”

Furthermore, it’s good to see that Greg isn’t just a passionate brewer but a passionate supporter of our local craft brew scene.

“If there is one bright spot out of like just the sheer number of breweries that are out there right now, I think the quality … it’s just … it’s getting really good in this city,” Greg said. “You know I’ve been drinking beer in this town for a long long time. These days, man, just about everybody’s got pretty decent beer. It’s cool to see that we’re kinda getting some national traction. I think it’s good. It’s good for the state.”

So ... many ... samples ...

So … many … samples …

During our conversation, a couple specific goals were mentioned for this coming year. The first was a result of my prodding about the possibility of an in-house Pi Brewing beer dinner. Greg’s wife Nicole is a step ahead of both of us on this one.

“Nicole and I have spoke about trying to put together a beer dinner now that we have like a really broad range of beers on our draft handles,” Greg said. “I think now would be a good time to kind of go into that as we get through the holiday season. And, it’s something were trying to … Nicole just had this idea like two or three weeks ago. For us it’s something new. We’ve done a lot of wine dinners out of this space. We’ve never really done a beer dinner, per se, and I think it’s about time to kind of do one. Kind of see what the kitchen can do, and kind of see what they can do to match up with some of the beers on draft. So, I think it’s something that’s going to be happening … my guess would be in January or February.”

The other specific goal, which Greg brought up himself, is the effort to enter Pi’s beer into more competitions.

“If there’s one thing I want to do more of going forward, it’s actually getting our beer entered into competitions,” Greg said. “I miss dates all the time because I’m stuck dealing with stuff. Life happens and I turn around like I have forgot all these different dates. I need to start getting our beer into more competitions. That’s one goal I have for this year.”

Last, but not least, a significant Pi success from this past year that demonstrated their effort to be involved in the community, and a source of pride for Greg, was the founding of a meetup group.

“Actually one thing we did put together this year is we put together a meetup group called Albuquerque gears and beers,” Greg said. “It’s been big. We’ve got like 325 people in our meetup now. We took a number of our riders to Santa Fe century this year. A number of our other riders did Enchanted Circle, which is a really hard century. It’s no joke. It’s 100 miles and it’s at like 8,000 (to) 9,000 feet. It’s hard.”

Those of you who have not had a chance to make it out to Pi Brewery, make it happen and give Greg some feedback on his beer. He will appreciate any constructive criticism. If you are a sour lover, then you might find a new favorite. If you have yet to find a sour that you liked, this might be the place where your luck changes.

Either way, you are bound to find something you like from the eight house beers on tap, plus do not forget about the selection of Italian entrees. We didn’t have much time to discuss the food, but I would be surprised to find someone who couldn’t pick out a pizza or pasta dish on the menu that fails to satisfy, or doesn’t match up well with a beer.

Thanks again to Greg for being a great host and we wish him, his wife Nicole, and Pi Brewing the best of luck in this upcoming year.


— Deezbeers