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These were some seriously happy brewery staffers after they brought home a fairly major award.

The Boxing Bear team came home from the 2016 Great American Beer Festival with two gold medals and one major award, Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year!

At long last, our Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry for Boxing Bear is complete. Stoutmeister and I sat down with head brewer Justin Hamilton a while back to discuss the Year of the Bear, when the beers and the medals and the awards flowed endlessly. We then looked forward to all that is to come in 2017.

Solo: We’re here again, how is this a year?

Justin: Oh, man, where do I start?

Solo: Well, I remember where we left off.

Justin: Well, it’s obviously been an absolutely insane year for us. Starting early in the year with the North American Beer Awards, moving into the National IPA challenge, then moving into World Beer Cup, then moving into (the New Mexico) IPA Challenge and to GABF. It’s been great. Obviously it’s been pretty crazy and we’ve just been happy with our ability to keep up, not only locally, but nationally with what’s been going on in the beer scene for a while. First of all, to do well, that’s what every brewery wants is to get some accolades, but the fact that we were able to do it in our second year of being open, I mean we just had our second anniversary in July and turned around and got Mid-Sized Brewers and Brewpub of the Year in October. We couldn’t be happier with our run over the last couple of years.

And, when we left off talking last year we were saying that we had that silver medal from GABF for the Chocolate Milk Stout and we wanted to continue progressing. Well, we turned around and won gold for that at World Beer Cup, and then turned around and won another gold for that at GABF. It’s pretty awesome, that beer alone has done us really well, but the fact that we were able to show people that we weren’t just this one-trick pony, that’s one of the best things that we gained out of 2016. That people know that you make a great sweet stout, but you also know we can make an awesome IPA and you also know that we can make a double red ale now, and that they are worth coming out to drink. I think that’s been something that has done wonders for our image and our business in general. It’s been awesome for us. So, we’ve had a pretty good time, it’s been good to show people what we’ve been amping up for and totally keeping our nose to the grind. Our staff is really committed to quality and I think we kind of showed Albuquerque and the world that. That is our goal.

Solo: Quality, responsible growth, and all of those things paying dividends on the groundwork that you laid. All of the equipment additions and all of the logistics.

Justin: Yeah, I think the thing that’s made 2016 interesting for Boxing Bear is that we’ve been growing accolades, but it’s interesting to (still) see us as a young brewery. We’re kind of doing this weird thing where we are growing as a pub and as a presence at the same time. We did a lot of improvements on our pub and our patio this year. Since we opened, gaining the money for five new TVs, gaining the money to work on our patio, it’s nice to get the pub and everything else up to par where we originally wanted it to be. Not to mention, we are still working on that stuff, we are constantly reinvesting all of our money into either pub or brewery equipment.

It’s interesting to see that varied on if you compare us to someone maybe like Marble, who (won) Small Brewery of the Year two years ago. They were pretty established by the time they got that. Maybe it is a pretty similar kind of thing, progress not only in the beer but offering something to the community. It would be different if we opened our doors and people knew we had good beer, but we really didn’t put much into the front of house or the experience we are offering our customers. It’s kind of been a weird thing to try and grow those at the same time. I think that’s something that’s always on everybody’s mind. For the fact that we were so successful as far as accolades go, it kind of increases the pressure on us needing to make sure that the pub is to par with what people expect out of a craft brewery and out of a brewpub. That’s been one of the hardest parts for us is finding the money to make the improvements that you would expect from someone who has the caliber of beer that we do. But, dealing with a large pub, dealing with the money issue, trying to get the money to make the pub look nice and all of that stuff, it’s like these little steps. So, a big part of 2016 has been that growth on both ends. It’s like burning a candle at both ends and trying to meet in the middle somewhere.

Amid a sea of people taking pics on their cell phones, the Boxing Bear brewing team holds their NMIPAC trophy aloft!

Boxing Bear claimed its first New Mexico IPA Challenge trophy back in July.

Stoutmeister: I know when you guys first opened you had some issues with the front of house staff, this year Albuquerque the Magazine gave you, sharing with Marble, staff of the year. That has to also be a bit gratifying.

Justin: It’s a big thing for us knowing that we are looking at issues between management, staff, and ownership. What can we do better? What are the parts that are going to make us (better)? We know we’ve got good beer, that’s for me and my brew staff to worry about continuing with and growing. But, we also know that we have had issues with serving like everybody has, or just education of staff or getting everyone on the same page. So, it’s definitely been good to reaffirm that our hard work that we’ve been doing, like we said, front and back of house has been paying off a little bit. People have been noticing that when we try to give excellent service that even our cooks are talking to the customers about beer and it’s stuff that we try to take pride in.

We try to make sure that everyone on staff is willing to go that extra mile, and that’s definitely something that is not easy. It’s hard finding competent staff, and also people that are willing to work very hard and have the same passions for beer that you do even when they’re not making the beer like you do, they are just serving it. But, I think that we’ve hopefully found that balance point and that’s what we want to continue to do is to be educating our staff who will educate the public that will come back to us. We want to continue having the best staff we possibly can.

That’s constantly on our mind, how the pub is doing, what’s going on in the pub, how are people seeing us. We take reviews on Facebook and Yelp and all of that stuff really seriously. Unfortunately, a lot of people that do reviews do it only if they have a bad experience, but when that happens we try to address it. We try to talk to people, we try to let them know, hey, give us another chance, what the issue was, we can fix that. That’s always an important part of any business is customer relations.

Solo: I’ve noticed a definite uptick in bicyclists coming here over the summer, myself included, and it’s nice to see that initial vision coming to fruition.

Justin: Yeah, and that goes back to making improvements, that’s something we’ve always wanted to do and you’ll probably see that in the spring or summer (this) year is working on increasing that local traffic. And, we get so much from bike traffic. Every day I see a team of bicyclists riding through our parking lot and half of the time they stop here. Those are all things that we are aware of. We need more bike racks, we need more of an ability to chain your bike up, because we do get a lot of lot of that traffic. We have a horse hitch back there, which is great for some people. We knew when we opened that we were going to have to appease the bike crowd and that is something that we are still working on, actually. Putting it all together, then finding the funds to do that when you’re trying to find the funds to grow your brewery.

It’s this wild game of chess; it’s like playing chess with 30-some odd people all involved. It’s like a weird, terrible game of Risk where you’re moving these pieces and looking at what everybody else is doing, where you make one wrong move and you could just get wiped off the board, regardless of product. We are constantly analyzing the market and trying to figure out what’s our niche, what’s our next move, and it gets a little tiring, honestly. It’s hard to stay relevant in a world of huge craft brewing dominance. We’ve had a great year, but we don’t want to sit back and be comfortable and relax at this point. We want to progress even farther, whatever that means. Whether it means not winning medals, but knowing that our quality products are out there and people are enjoying them, that means almost as much as any medal does. So, it’s trying to find that fine line, but we definitely are making those adjustments, I think.

The second annual BearFest was a big hit.

The second annual BearFest was a big hit.

Solo: So, this year’s BearFest versus last year’s BearFest.

Justin: We had similar issues with volume where we got a little bit better. We expanded it enough to where we were able to grow a bunch. We added more vendors, more food trucks, so it worked out really well. I think last year’s BearFest, being that it was our first year, we had little issues like bathrooms, where we didn’t know how many we should have. Going into this year we said let’s triple that amount and I never saw a line this year. I think we’re getting better at understanding the little things. I’ve been doing beer festivals for the last 10 years of my life and I have an idea of how they should go, but it’s the little things like that that you don’t really understand. Do we have enough food trucks? Do we have enough bathrooms? Do we have enough tent space or enough tables to sit at so that people can enjoy their food? That’s all stuff that we had a better idea of and it was a little bit more work, but I think it paid off.

It was again one of those events where we pulled (in) a lot of people here from all over the city, people that wouldn’t even necessarily come to the brewery if they had the time. So, it’s nice to swing that crowd over on this side of town. I saw a lot of people that I’d seen here maybe once before if that. So, it’s always a good opportunity to bring people over here. I think we did a pretty good job this year. It was bigger, and we’ll see what happens with next year and how we decide to proceed with that.

Stoutmeister: In terms of the back, how many pieces of equipment did you guys upgrade this year?

Justin: Oh, man, so we added this last 20-barrel fermenter and a 20-barrel server that we just got. For reference, we’ve never had equipment that we’ve put in right into use that quickly. I mean we literally turned around, we’re brewing right into that thing the very next week, which is fine, but it’s not a position we’ve been put into before. We’re already looking into where our next purchases will be because we know that we are in our slow season right now and come March, April, May of (this) year it’s going to be another game of where we are going to be placing those investments. More than likely you’re going to see more brewing equipment and front of house renovations, all stuff that hopefully we will have the cash for to procure.

Stoutmeister: Of course the other big development that’s still ongoing is back there (the space formerly occupied by Southwest Grape and Grain). So, what all is going on back there?

Justin: We are going to be doing a few things. Our front of house kitchen, which is pretty small, we are going to be moving a lot of that stuff to the back. This is going to allow us a little more room up front and we might be putting a small cooler for bomber sales (it is now in place) and things like that in there. One of the best things that’s going to happen back there is having more cold storage space. That’s what we are putting together now is that we will have an extra cold room back there, which is mainly going to be a wholesaling cold room so that we can start stocking regularly. Once that’s built, we will have the ability to do bombers on the regular.

Right now, the storage issue is the biggest thing for us because if we produce a pallet of bombers, that’s going in our cold room next to all of our beer, next to our servers and hops and stuff. It’ll be nice to be able to have a variety of bombers, maybe one or two different styles at any given point, and also have plenty of kegs for our wholesale guys to move and the extra storage for hops and everything else we need to store cold will be a huge step for us in 2017. So, the kitchen back there, some cold room space, we’ve already got some offices back there, so that’s pretty much what’s going to happen with that. That’s our goal for next year is to try to put out bombers on the regular at least once a month if we can, of a variety that people will hopefully like.

The triple punch of Chocolate Milk Stout, left, Bear Knuckle IPA, and The Red Glove.

The triple punch of Chocolate Milk Stout, left, Bear Knuckle IPA, and The Red Glove.

Stoutmeister: A major question I’m always getting for you guys, especially since GABF, is when are you going to open a taproom on the east side?

Justin: That’s something we’re definitely looking into. Like I said, it’s this game of chess. We want to open a taproom, but we want it to be a proper taproom. We don’t want to just settle for a space, we want to make sure that it’s got everything we need, that it’s got parking, seating, and a good location preferably on that side of town. That being said, where do we find this place, how do we find the money to capitalize on that? We also know that once that happens our production is going to go way up. So, it’s preparation for all of that stuff, going back to that cold room, that’s going to really help with that. I think it’s all stuff that our customers and patrons (and) fans will see.

I can’t necessarily say it’s going to be 2017, but it is definitely something that we are constantly looking at, when to make that move. It’s more of a matter of when, as opposed to if. We look to the other breweries that have been in similar positions to see what their moves are. I’m not necessarily saying that we will follow them, but it’s interesting to see Bosque’s taproom’s evolution to a production facility. Similar? That’s potential. Who knows? Maybe we open a production facility before a taproom, or it’s both, I don’t know. We want to be sure that we’re making the right move. I don’t want to be stuck in a building that won’t move traffic, or we can’t get parking. We got really lucky when we found this building and we really liked it and it’s an amazing spot, so we want to do the same thing with a taproom.

Stoutmeister: Anything else that’s coming up on the schedule for 2017?

Justin: There’s so much going on, honestly. We want to show people that, yeah, we had a great year in 2016, but we don’t want to just sit back and be complacent. We want to continue securing our spot locally, nationally, internationally as some of the best beer there is out there. That’s my goal, that’s the goal of the back of house and the front of house to educate and to really hone in on what Boxing Bear is. 2017 is going to bring some interesting changes. I think you’re going to see a lot of the newer breweries getting settled a little better. Places like Quarter Celtic are going to start shining and finding their spot. I think a lot of people that weren’t wholesaling are going to start wholesaling, so the fight for tap handles out on the market is going to be fierce.

So, that’s something we are going to be addressing in 2017 is how do we continue to gain tap handles in such a fierce market. It’s probably going to entail seeing a lot more of our award-winning beers on the regular. You’re probably going to see more Chocolate Milk Stout, more Red Glove in production. That’s something we want to gear towards is that we’ve got these great award winners, and now we have just got to keep them out on the market as much as possible. Normally we would try to fit Chocolate Milk Stout or Red Glove in where we could, but we are going to start scheduling it (and) saying we need to have a batch a month or every other month at the least. Those beers that people really want, that we’ve done well with, will be more readily available. The people that are coming in from out of town looking for our taproom or our handles will be able to try the beers that we’ve done well with.

Stoutmeister: So, if you like this, well, try this kind of mentality.

Justin: It’s been one of those plays with supply and demand that we’ve been working on and we want to stay relevant, but we also need to give people what they want. Trying to play the market man, it’s a wild game out there. Our ability to put out the beers that we are known for and keep us relevant in people’s eyes and keep accounts active and happy too, that’s a lot of it, is making people happy.

Solo: Feed them beer, they will be relatively happy.

You had one job for this photo, Jeff. One job! At least it was safe at the brewery.

Boxing Bear’s Justin Hamilton, center, shows off his gold medal from the World Beer Cup with Nexus’ Kaylynn McKnight, while poor Jeff Erway left his back at La Cumbre.

Justin: We’re not going to have World Beer Cup again this year because it’s every two years. We’ll be back entering North American Beer Awards and the IPA Challenges again and the local IPA Challenge and GABF again. We’ll be keeping our hands full. Sometimes when I look into the future I can see January and then February kind of fades off, so we will figure out February in January. Then again, when I see people like La Cumbre and Marble who are like, 2017? Here’s our lineup of our beers and what we’re going to have. But, then again, we don’t have that solid of a reputation to put out a rotation beers like that. Those guys have their repertoire and their ability to put out specials and know that people are waiting to buy those specials as well.

That’s something that I myself want to work on in the coming years, is having that ability to look (ahead) six months, almost a year ahead of yourself. What styles are people looking for? What do they want to see as far as a packaged product? What do they want to see as far as specials that we have on tap or what your pub’s doing, what events are going on? I can do beer every day of my life, and I can get better at it, and I can hone in on that stuff. But, the front of house stuff, and the marketing and the ability to pull (in) a customer on the regular and make them happy regardless of quality of product, that’s really hard.

I give props to Marble, Bosque, La Cumbre, and those other guys that are able to kind of handle that, and it seems seamless with them. That’s all stuff that we look towards and are wanting to hone in on that, the ability to get that. It’s really hard, the marketing aspect of it, the advertising aspect of it. That’s stuff that people dedicate their lives to. And I just make beer. We are really happy with where we are now. It’s a matter of keeping that relevance and keeping our nose to the grindstone.

* * * * *

‘Twas indeed an excellent Year of the Bear all around, and we certainly look forward to increased availability of bombers, and the prospect of constant innovation of what wonders might appear on the Bear’s taps this coming year. Another BearFest on the horizon certainly whets my appetite on my birthday weekend, and the prospect of a taproom whenever that happens will certainly be a boon to the growing rumblings of the Bear. We hope for an equally productive year ahead as behind, and I would say this to those who may not have tried the brews at Boxing Bear: You simply don’t know what you’re missing!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

We have to say, we are excited for this place to open.

It has been quite the wild ride in Quarter Celtic’s first year of operation.

At long last I’ve managed to get to this delightful Look Back/Look Ahead Series article with Ror McKeown, David Facey, and Brady McKeown of the nearly one-year-old Quarter Celtic Brewpub. Stoutmeister and I were in attendance on a fine day earlier this winter for a lengthy interview.

(Editor’s note: It was a fun time, but in the end the interview was more than 40 minutes long, and the first draft was 6,700 words, so parts of the interview were trimmed out for the sake of brevity. We left the good stuff in, though. — S)

Solo: So, Look Back/Look Ahead gentlemen, good things, bad things, year behind, and what to look forward to this year?

Ror: Well, one of the good things was being open and things have been going really well. The trick was to get this neighborhood to realize that there was something in this mall again. When we first opened we existed off of all of the people who have been following Brady along, so we had all of the beer connoisseurs, and then finally got the neighborhood to buy in to that there’s something here. So now we’ve got a lot of new regular faces that just live in the neighborhood, which is perfect. That was kind of what we were shooting for was trying to cultivate new craft beer drinkers, because you can’t just keep going to the well with the other guys or you are going to saturate the market. We’ve got a ton of people that started coming in drinking Pedro O’Flannigan (Lager), or sometimes we get them on IPA and they never go back, so we’re doing our part to grow the craft beer drinkers. Since we are a pub and we have food, a lot of people are coming in just because they are grabbing something to eat, but it’s 50/50 everyone that’s coming in to eat is getting something to drink. We are getting a lot of beer out the door for one spot. How many barrels are we at now?

(Discussion between the three ensued)

David: Well, so about 700 barrels for the year so far, we could get to 900 barrels for the year possibly. So, that’s a representation that people are definitely drinking your beer.

Solo: Never a bad thing to be ahead of your expectations.

David: I think that’s, as we get more into the look back, the goal of the company.

Ror: And, the other part (was) just making our own identity. We came over from where we’d been with a company (Canteen/Il Vicino) for our whole entire adult life pretty much, and you’re just associated with that place. Now it’s not that place and so some people like it and some people don’t. But, that’s okay. Now after the first couple of months of being compared, now we’re actually just having people come here because they like this place, and that’s kind of what the goal was the whole time.

Solo: That’s always a hard split, especially with a longstanding location.

Ror: It is. We still love those guys, obviously we’re still friendly, but we’re not with them anymore. It was kind of an ambiguous beginning, everyone just kind of assumed that a new Il Vicino opened. But, it was nice because we had been in the industry long enough to where we got to pretty much cherry pick who came over (with us). We didn’t solicit anybody from anywhere, but a lot of people knew that we were opening, so they came and it was nice to hire somebody with whom you have a rapport, versus just X off the application. So, I think that we had a great crew to start with, (we are) super pleased with the kitchen. I knew the beer was going to be great, but the food was a complete question mark and I think these guys did a great job, so I’m very pleased with that.

Because a couple somebodies forgot to take new pictures, we're just borrow ones like this of David, left, and Brady. (Courtesy of Quarter Celtic)

Because a couple somebodies forgot to take new pictures, we’re just borrow ones like this of David, left, and Brady. (Courtesy of Quarter Celtic)

Solo: And, I know that that was something that you were interested in the past, so it’s cool to see that come to fruition, and I for one am definitely happy with the results.

David: It was nice because I think with what we all have under our belts, when we opened I think we had to be responsible for, and had a lot of input for the staff that we did hire. We kind of gave them the ball and said hey, run with it. If it doesn’t work then we’ll halt you, but if it works, we’re going to ride that wave. So for us, I think, it was really kind of cool to see the direct correlation between empowering people, empowering your staff and saying hey, you’re a part of this, and seeing it come to fruition. Pretty rewarding, not only do we feel that we have pretty good food, but you’re selling a lot of it as well so it’s not just us.

Solo: It’s always good to just be able to give that rein, within reason of course, but give that rein to employees or anyone under you and say hey, do what you think is right, make it happen and the result shows.

Ror: And, besides us starting a new venture it’s almost like we’re also instantly ingrained in the neighborhood, which is what we wanted to do, and we’re also bringing back a pretty much dead property, bringing it back to life. They’ve already signed four leases since we’ve opened and they’ve got two more pending, and I think this thing will be full probably by summer.

So at the corner there (of Lomas and San Mateo) they are tearing down that old pigeon coop and it looks like the digital sign that they promised is coming in, because we are hidden in plain sight. So, thank god for word of mouth and social media, that’s been great for us because we walked out in the neighborhood and hung door handle hangers, 2,500 of them in the four corners and we were expecting a 2-percent return, like 50 households know that we’re here and that’s a great start. We had over 650 of them back and so we were able to track it, and that kind of got the neighborhood on board, which is great. The word is getting out because, kind of the look back look forward, the look forward with the group we picked, they also wanted to grow with the company.

So, a lot of people that started with the company, (and) we are going to be tasking them with growing the company so we have our meeting probably in a week or two with the city to start doing our wholesaling. We’ve already got the lease, got our spot, and the reason we did it was because we have a clipboard in the office that’s like three pages deep of just people who have come to us that said when you get it, we want it or if you ever do it we want it so those will be the ones we go to first. But, there were enough names on there that we were like let’s just do it. We don’t even need to go sell ourselves, we just have to call and say we’re ready.

Solo: You’ve already got the brand established.

Ror: Yeah, which is kind of nice, and the great thing about the way it is set up now where breweries can sell to (other) breweries and wineries is that we’re at 12 accounts just brewery to brewery, which is kind of nice. (It was) completely unexpected, because it’s not what we were planning on doing. Our model was not to take over the state one can at a time, we just wanted to open a neighborhood brewpub. This (brewhouse) has more capacity than we are using it (for), so it is time to at least get out there in the keg market. So, we’re going to be selling kegs to anyone who has a restaurant license. It is nice that places like right down the street here (Jubilation) might pick up some crowler cans or some quarter cans. Since we’ve been in the business so long, we know so many people.

Why use this photo of Brady

Why use this photo of Brady “eating” a fake fish taco? Why not? (Courtesy of QC)

David: The other cool thing is that so many people that are opening new breweries right now, they know the reputation of Brady, so they may open and they have three or four of their own beers, but they need some guest taps, so they don’t hesitate to come and say, ‘Hey, for the first couple of weeks or months, can we have your beer on tap?’ Which is a nice correlation between that.

Solo: One hand washes the other.

David: And, like every craft beer enthusiast, you check out the new place and it’s nice for us to have that enthusiast go to brewery X that’s new and a consistent thing, Quarter Celtic is on (at) all of these new places. We are definitely doing our part to help out the industry, but also putting our brand out there.

Ror: Yeah, we finally got some (logo) tap handles. The guys at the Craftroom, people thought it was theirs because it just said Pedro O’Flannigan and we just gave them a silver knob, so now we can actually claim that beer. That’s been nice. Looking forward, we are definitely looking on the wholesale distribution thing. That location has potential for a taproom in it, and it’s a taproom where we don’t really need to have a ton of sales in it. As long as we can cover our fixed costs over there, then that’s really all we are looking for. So, it can be something like we used to be at (Il Vicino) way back in the day that just had a generic name and it was a little hole in the wall. And, we are fine with that because that was actually really fun.

David: The identity of it is still kind of up in the air. I mean, we’ve talked around the idea of doing kind of a growler filling station with limited seats or very specialty, only local, bottle shop. But, we don’t know, we really don’t know what the potential for that small location will be.

Ror: We are going to let that one take its own direction. Right now we are just focused on getting beer in and out of there to different places. It’s got a nice spot to work with. It’s also fun looking at other properties where if we do want to exercise a couple more taproom licenses we could do it. So, life is good. We’re like successful poor — things we wanted to do in year four we are doing in month nine, (even though) we only have nine months of revenue to fund those things. So, we’re still just a couple of guys that put a heel lock on a house, you know. We’re not backed by anyone who has a trust fund, but we are doing what we like and having a good time doing it.

David: I think that’s super important to us. I don’t know if anybody talks about that enough, (but) what we do is pretty fun. At the end of the day, I think we all can go home with stresses and staff stuff and running out of beer. I think at least once a week we can look at each other and say man, we have got one of the best jobs in the world, if not the best.

Ror: When you’re coming in, high fiving each other and texting funny things back and forth from work, to the guy who is sitting at home wishing he was at work because, ah, I missed what? So, I think it accomplished what we wanted. We wanted to work in a place we wanted to hang out at and it’s becoming that, which is nice.

Solo: And, you have the autonomy to run it the way you want it and all the rest of that.

David: I can’t speak for everybody else, but for me that was not necessarily a struggle, but something that I had to learn to apply, so to speak. Once we gained that perspective, it’s awesome. It’s just great to do what’s best for the company, because it directly correlates to your partners. It’s not just for this faceless brand, it’s for the people that you see on a daily basis and their families and your staff and that kind of thing. Complete autonomy is nice. (Aside to Brady) Why’d it take you so long?

Stoutmeister: So, on the beer front with the Pedro coming in to replace the Knotted Blonde, that was one change that happened. But, changes are inevitable the first year that you are open. I mean, your customers can tell you, this should be house, this should be special, and that sort of thing. From the beer perspective, what were you guys able to do this year? What were you proud of and what were the things where you were like, if I had a chance I’d go back and do that over again and I will?

Ror: Well, I didn’t brew it, but it was part of these guys (at) GABF, they had three that made it past the first round and had great comments. Two we put in the wrong category, but still had good comments. If you think about it, as soon as you had to send those beers in, we had only been brewing for five months before we had to send those in. We had some recipes we just started with.

David: We had to register for August. One of the beers we entered we had never brewed before with, the (McLomas) dry stout, which was really good. But, yeah, as far as on the beer front is concerned, I think we opened with the idea of let’s just get as many beers as we can possibly get on in the time allotted when we were allowed to brew, and when we could put it on tap. So, that’s kind of where the blonde came into because it was an ale, which we knew we could turn around pretty quickly.

Ror: And, we also waited on opening a couple of weeks because we didn’t want to open without any beer.

David: And then, we brought a Mexican lager strain in house. We brewed Pedro O’Flannigan for the first time, and the actual first batch which we produced we entered in the North American beer awards and it won a silver. So, from there it kind of when it started growing, manipulating house beer versus the fact that it is one of our biggest sellers. A nice light Mexican lager is one of our biggest sellers, so for us in the business mindset was that the blonde sold really, really well, but we also wanted to always have a lager strain in house.

Brady shows off his silver medal from the North American Beer Awards for that there Pedro O'Flanagan. (Courtesy of QC)

Brady shows off his silver medal from the North American Beer Awards for that there Pedro O’Flanagan. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror: And, we’re also not in brewery row or anything. We are in a neighborhood, so you need your gateway beer. So, that is an easy, non-offensive, easy drinking beer, so it just made sense to move it over. We were brewing backwards, so we were brewing by not planning what we want and brewing it we were like okay, we have a tank open now. So, it was a storage issue which was dictating how we were growing. We got a new cooler upstairs, so we have more storage up there, and then we are going to have another cooler at the Bogen spot, so now that we have more storage, now we can do it right. We can say we are going to brew this, this, this, and this, and have a place to put it. Where before we were going backwards like, hey, tank is almost empty, are we ready to brew another batch? It was totally backwards out of necessity. This has a lot of space and the kitchen is way bigger than we need, but even by picking up space upstairs there’s just no storage space. So, we are working on that.

David: So that (upstairs cooler) just opens up space for Brady and I.

Ror: Well, it’s going to open up this side of the board (for seasonals). Our real struggle was don’t run out of a house beer. But, now that we’ve got this cooler going that should start to change.

David: And, that’s the funny thing kind of like checks and balances kind of a thing with our company is, don’t give Brady and I too much time to start talking and getting excited about things and we will just push (other) things off to the side. This (house beers) is really important to us. What people come in and they know and understand and are familiar with, let’s keep that consistent. Then, when we have time, then get the creative juices flowing.

Ror: Now that we have storage space here comes the fun stuff. We’re an Irish place and when you think of Irish coffee, we are going to do an Irish coffee stout.

David: An imperial milk stout that we will infuse with coffee that we will actually barrel age in our whiskey barrels. Everyone does a coffee stout, especially around this town, and a lot of people do it really well. But, to fit in our theme we figured an Irish coffee stout would be the way to go.

Ror: We were even thinking about getting like a cool …

Brady: Irish coffee mugs.

Ror: Yeah, a nice glass.

Brady: 10-percent-plus alcohol, so a smaller glass.

Solo: Yeah, we will still drink you dry on that one.

David: So, that’s just one of the things and now that we have a better grasp on the demand for house beers and what we can do as far as seasonals and specialties. I think towards the end of this year Brady and I have really been kind of toying around with techniques more than really (doing) crazy recipe developments or crazy one-off beers. We’ve been really focusing on different brewing techniques on how to bring different characteristics towards beers.

Ror: Well, I think Clark was a good example of that because the Clark was more technique than …

David: Anything else. And, there was also an element of something new. What’s not happening in this town is happening in other parts of the country that are beer meccas? The New England IPA was one of the things that we heard people who had attempted it, but never really advertised it as so, and never really went full bore with both feet in the deep end, so to speak. So, we spent probably three weeks, almost a month just kind of doing research and hop utilization and different techniques. Then we brewed it and then we figured, well, let’s advertise it and it was better received than we thought. We had really high hopes for it, and we knew that it was a really good quality beer. But, the reception on it had kind of been inspiring, so to speak. We should toy around with things more.

Brady: Well, it’s been split. Quite a few people really liked it, but, well it’s not New England so, what’s more New England? Clam chowder?

Ror: We are still trying to find what we are going to hang our hat on. Because now that we are a new place, I know Brady left a hundred different recipes over there (at Canteen) you know, intellectual property, and that’s fine. But, how do you do great beer again without someone saying, oh, you copied? You just come up with it. When we were doing construction, it was funny because we were saying, Brady, so you learned one way and that’s the way you do it. So, I told Brady, but you’ve got no recipes and he says up here (points to his head) I’ve got it, and slams his head against that pole, and I’m saying, oh no, it’s all gone! (Everyone laughs) Starting fresh is refreshing, but it is difficult, because you’ve done a lot of things well and you just don’t want to copy yourself. So, we are trying not to copy ourselves, which is really weird

Quarter Celtic will be hopping come St. Patrick's Day. (Courtesy of QC)

Quarter Celtic will be hopping come St. Patrick’s Day. (Courtesy of QC)

We eventually steered the conversation toward this year. Lots of wild and crazy new beer ideas are being bandied about.

David: I think Ror is absolutely right about (how) 2017 is concerned. We have a whiteboard upstairs and when Brady and I are working up in the cold room, any cold room work you get kind of a little crazy going on, and then you start talking and listening to loud music. So, we have a whiteboard of just interesting beer styles that we want to bring on and different techniques that we want to use and then go from there. That’s kind of the best thing about being a pub brewer, and we will say this all day every day.

Stoutmeister: You’re not beholden to your distributor coming to you and saying we need more of this.

David: Yeah, that’s the best, and there are times where we come to the guys and say, hey, we are thinking about this really outside of the box beer and pretty much 10 times out of 10 they are like, hey, let’s see how it works.

Ror: The fun part is you can walk upstairs where Brady bought a Bose Soundsystem, so he’s got 5-foot big ol’ speakers up there, (and) he’s got 2-foot speakers in the cold room. You’ll walk up and see these guys doing like kids at play and you’re like, this is awesome.

David: The funny thing I think about this group, whether it’s from Canteen or Quarter Celtic, is as you guys know, we have a good time. There’s no reason not to do that, there’s really not because what we do is pretty fun.

Solo: And, you bring a lot of fun to everyone else.

David: Yeah, and it’s really not going to stop.

Ror: We’re working on an event for St. Patty’s Day weekend where we are going to have all our patio space and have a two-day event where we have some special beers and food, music, and so on. And, just have a good time and embrace our Quarter Celtic-ness and have some fun with it. So, that will be our kind of our thing. Hopefully it will be an annual thing for us.

David: Looking forward, we opened on the 24th of February, but it’s so close to St Patrick’s Day, it’s so close to our theme that definitely the debut of some brand new barrel-aged beers is going to happen, and that day or that weekend, one of which we’ve already told you about (Irish coffee stout). Maybe two or three are possible, we will let you know.

Ror: We are also going to, we like to have fun with facial hair so we will be all shaved, we are thinking about a time, X amount of time out from St Paddy’s Day and everyone will grow out the … it’s the one where you’re missing this piece and …

Stoutmeister: That’s like the mutton chops.

David: Yeah, kind of, it’s very Irish.

Ror: We’re just trying to think of a bunch of things that get people to come in, and we’re also trying to make some beer events out of thin air, which I think are some of the most fun ones. Because we have a little list going in the office of just, oh that’s pretty fun. How can we spin that? So, we’re going to have some fun things going on.

David: There’s (still) a lot of serious stuff that happens in any business, I would think.

Ror: And, I didn’t even realize until a couple of days ago when I was messing around on Untappd. Well, it says we have 25 beers, but there’s like 20-something different styles we’ve done in the past year. #GFF was really good, I was pleased with how GFF came out. I’m not a really big IPA drinker and I was drinking that.

David: Then the beer that we did for the Brewers Association for American Craft Beer Week, the Biggest Small Beer, that imperial porter.

Ror: And then, we brewed Mile High for our neighborhood association. They renamed Fair Heights to Mile High. We said we would name a beer after them, so we are really happy with that and we love the neighborhood so we definitely wanted to give back.

Solo: That’s awesome, because it’s not always so easy.

David: I think that was a big driving force of why we moved in to this spot that was abandoned, that was, so to speak, run down, is to be a part of that neighborhood.

Ror shows off the popular Quarter Cans. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror shows off the popular Quarter Cans. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror: But as I was looking through that (Untappd) people were already saying, when are you going to brew this beer again? When we had Single Action Kolsch, we really enjoyed that one. County Down Brown was another one where people asked for that back. Looking back at the board there’s only seven beers, but we’ve done a bunch.

The other fun thing about looking forward, looking back is that when we opened, we didn’t open with everything we wanted. We didn’t have that Quarter Can machine, but now we have (it) and we’re having a good time with it. Another one, everyone wants live music here, so do we, but we have no elbow room. So, we’re going to go up and so we are going to put a stage on top of this (wall where the beer boards currently reside), and we are going to put a little trap door there so they can come up.

One (other) thing that we wanted was a cover outside. That’s not going to happen this year, so we are trying to figure out how we can get a little heat out there because we are dog friendly. So, if we maybe put a temporary tent or sort of wall this in a little bit, but by probably this time next year we expect to have this whole thing covered with radiant heating, lights, and everything. … I think it’s really cool that we have a patio, but the improvements are getting pushed out a little bit.

David: Being part of the (New Mexico Brewers) Guild and being part of the community and being part of the industry, I think as a company there’s a few thank you’s that we need to do — La Cumbre is a really big one for helping us out letting us wash our kegs there for awhile. Boxing Bear, Bosque, Canteen, Nexus, Chama (also) really helped us. Whether it’s one bag of grain here or letting us wash our kegs or anything like that, we are super humble to be a part of the Guild, and when we did our own thing to really maintain that representation of being part of the Guild.

Ror: And, we still enjoy the personal connection to all of those breweries, too, so that’s part of the fun of doing this is that you’ve got some friends that are kindred spirits doing the same thing.

David: So, all of those places, they’ve really helped us out and we’ve worked with them, and Brady in turn has helped them out in the past. So, I don’t know if it’s a pay-it-forward or pay-it-back kind of situation, but that’s super humbling. We are blessed to have that sense that we know and we understand that we are part of something bigger.

* * * * *

So, for somewhat of a conclusion for the brave and the adventuresome who have dared to delve all the way to the end of this grand encounter, in short, it was a great first year for the lads and lasses at Quarter Celtic. The beer was good, the food was good, and the venue itself was good, with a tall ceiling for possibilities and a boon for the community around it. The foundation for strong distribution has been made with the procurement of a space dedicated to that purpose. Taprooms may well be on the horizon and one thing is for sure, the delightfully boisterous shenanigans we have all come to know and love are certainly here to stay. One good year under the belt (nearly to the day), and many bright years lie ripe for the taking.

Skål!

— Franz Solo

After being stuck in place for the last three years, Turtle Mountain has big plans for 2017.

After being stuck in place for the last three years, Turtle Mountain has big plans for 2017.

Franz Solo here. At long last, I’ve had a chance to actually get to my remaining Look Back/Look Ahead Series articles. Life sometimes has other plans for you than you desire and that’s definitely a good bit of what kept these on the backburner. Without further ado, I was able to hang out with both head brewer Mick Hahn and owner Nico Ortiz for Turtle Mountain’s entry in the series for 2016-17. This is a bit of a tale of purgatorio and, with a bit of luck, the first steps towards a bit of paradiso in the year to come. I ended up doing this in two sessions, so first we will have my conversation with Mick and thereafter my time with Nico.

We began over a tray of most of the brews on tap, as I had not had many of them in a while. I wanted to get my feet wet with some of the possible differences in the beers stemming from the 2016 change in brewers at Turtle, when Mick came over from Marble to replace Tim Woodward, who is now with Bosque.

(Editor’s note: This interview was trimmed due to its length and because much of it relates to events in December. — S)

Solo: So, look back, look ahead, you were here for half of this past year?

Mick: Yeah, I was here for about half the year.

Solo: Are you making any big changes?

Mick: I don’t know if I’m making any big changes. There’s a couple beer lineup changes that are happening. We did get rid of the Oku Amber as a regular, and we’re bringing in the Red Rye Redux as a throwback nod to a classic style that was a staple of our house for a long time, and it was good to bring it back. We had one batch that sold out way too quickly, so I’ve got a double batch that I brewed last week and hopefully it stays on tap for a month or so. Since the Oku was our only gluten-reduced beer, the Red Rye is taking place of that. We’ve also stepped that up and have our cream ale, which is (now) gluten reduced. Right now we have two gluten-reduced beers and we’re looking to have at least three of them on at any given time.

Solo: Yeah, I can’t say that gluten-free beers have been my favorite in the past, but these are quite palatable and taste spot-on to the style.

Mick: So, really with the White Labs enzyme it doesn’t do much to the flavor of the beer, it just makes it palatable for those people who can’t handle the gluten. It’s worthwhile especially for a couple of beers or so.

Solo: So, I don’t actually know much about your brewing background at this point.

Mick: I worked at Marble for about three years prior to getting pulled up here. I started on the packaging line sorting bottles, and I was on the brewhouse for the last year and a half there. The one beer I got out while I was there under my own volition was the (Mick’s Mack), and so I brought that up here and have the McSmack as a nice secondary take on it.

Solo: Any particular stylistic things you want to do or are kind of your forte?

Mick: I’d say I haven’t been brewing long enough to have a forte. So, I’m really just going for everything that I do know how to brew, and have a few things that I’ve wanted to brew and haven’t yet had a chance to. I’m going to do a double-batch barleywine (He means Depravity, which is still on tap.) so that’ll be pretty good.

Since somebody forgot to take a picture with the interview, Mick was kind enough to send us a brewery selfie, which is really the only acceptable kind of selfie.

Head brewer Mick Hahn has not had too much of a hair-raising experience at TMBC.

After discussing other beers that are now available at TMBC, including the two red ales, we spoke about the Cocomilia Robur, the first brett beer that Mick has brewed.

Mick: Right now we’ve got a bit of a backup on specials. We’re not going to have anything go offline for four weeks, so this will be what we have for awhile. The first that will probably go out is the Cocomilia Robur, which is our brettanomyces plum cream ale that was aged nine months in our barrels, with the second generation of brett that those barrels have had. We then filled up those barrels each with something different, so they’re running two different projects right now. Hopefully this summer we will have two different beers that turn out and have some more funky brett.

Solo: (after a taste of the plum brett) I like that it’s actually a little milder than other sours I’ve had.

Mick: Yeah, it’s got a good bit of brett on the nose, but it’s not overly tart, it’s soft, it’s fruity, and you get a little bit of honey (and) a little bit of vanilla from wood. It’s a good beer. I’m really happy with how that turned out, even though I didn’t have a damn thing to do with the production of it. All I said was all right, it’s time to come out.

Another seasonal no longer on tap that I tried was the Rise of Fall, which was made with butternut squash instead of traditional pumpkin. If Mick goes through with some tweaks to the recipe this fall, he may enter it at the Great American Beer Festival.

Mick: Yeah, actually we did 50 pounds of butternut squash and roasted it in the wood-fired oven, and then threw that in the mash, and then did one pound of pumpkin spice. I’m pretty happy with that, but next year I want to up the butternut squash, and try and cut out the spice and see if we can get away with just a nice squash beer.

Solo: Sounds good to me.

Mick: They had the squash and yam beer category at GABF and they had just 10 entries into it.

Solo: So, is that something you’re aiming for?

Mick: If it’s that small of a category, why not? Especially given that they didn’t award a gold or a silver, they only awarded the bronze for it because other people put pumpkin spice in it. If we can get away with just doing butternut squash and have a solid beer that has a little creamy field flavor to it, I’d be happy with that. I’m happy with how that beer turned out. I was reluctant to do a pumpkin beer, but for an autumnal seasonal I think it’s a good one.

Solo: I like the change-up with the squash instead of pumpkin.

Mick: Yeah a lot of people use butternut squash in their pumpkin pies as a filler, which is good because pumpkin is a very overwhelming flavor. How many breweries have a wood fired oven so we have that opportunity to do it and why the hell would we not? The last two (samples) on the tray are our Hopshell (IPA) and our Cargill IPA. We tried some malt from a new distributor in Denver called Cargill, so that’s where that comes from. We gave an entirely different hop build to it. I’m really happy with where the Hopshell is at right now.

Solo: Agreed, this honestly has come a ways in the past couple of years. I know you pulled some better hop contracts in the past year so that is definitely paying off.

Mick: Tim left me with a lot of good hops. Hopshell has been selling out the past two batches, and I’ve gone from like three or four days from having it on tap between batches and they just keep selling faster and faster, which is an excellent problem to have.

Solo: What hops are you using in that one?

Mick: So, that one has got Columbus, Summit, Mosaic, Southern Cross, Comet, and Simcoe. And then, the dry hop is Simcoe, Mosaic, Comet.

Solo: Yeah definitely got that wonderful Simcoe/Mosaic balance going on there.

Mick: Most of the time I really feel that those two, especially Mosaic needs Simcoe (to) balance it. I think Simcoe can stand alone by itself pretty well, but Mosaic is such an intense hop and it leaves so much behind. And then this one (Cargill) has got Azacca, Mosaic, Equinox, Simcoe, and Citra. And then, dry hopped with Azacca, Simcoe, Citra.

Solo: “Kang” (yes that was my reaction, typical of a cornucopia of hops assaulting my pallet), good stuff man.

The winter beer lineup at Turtle Mountain has been strong. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

The winter beer lineup at Turtle Mountain has been strong. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Mick: Yeah, I like it a lot, it just came out Friday. That’ll probably be the first one to go offline.

Solo: Yeah, I would say so. Spicy, piney, grapefruit, pineapple …

Mick: That one’s good. I think Cargill is really tasty. 7.3 percent on that one and 7.1 percent on our house IPA.

Solo: Which is right where you want to be.

Mick: Yeah I don’t want to have a house IPA that’s lower than 6.7 percent. Seven percent is a great place to keep it at.

Solo: Especially since you want to have a base that will hold up to massive amounts of hopping. Are you guys still looking to do more distribution?

Mick: We are still looking into it. It’s been a fun transition since me coming in here, but one of my plans is hopefully at the first of the year to get our beer pouring at at least half-a-dozen other places in town. I know there was a lot in the past that held that up, but I don’t see any reason for that to be the truth now.

Solo: Yeah, I kind of figured this would be a little bit of a slower year, just recovering from the fiasco that was the parking lot and the fire suppression system.

Mick: Yeah, so I’m ready to start pushing my beer. One of the things I wanted was to wait to get a solid lineup so that I know I can take this beer to a bar and say, hey this is what we have, this is what we’re going to be having, this is what you can expect from us without having to worry about having a significant change down the road. I wanted to make sure that the beers were something that I was proud of and would be happy taking door to door.

Solo: Did a bit of tweaking, I’m sure.

Mick: Yeah, for most of them. I really think the cream ale I haven’t really done anything with except for making it gluten free. The Helles I haven’t done anything with, but it’s actually leaving our lineup, this is its last batch for a while. I’ll probably do something next spring with it. We are bringing the Wooden Teeth up into a full time position. Yeah, I like the Wooden Teeth, it’s a good lager.

Solo: Yeah, it’s interesting seeing the shift now that craft lager is a thing.

Mick: I’m going to have an amber lager, a copper lager coming out in about a month. (Can’t Catch Me is now available.) I’ll be brewing that one this week, too. That’s the Cargill malt as well. That one got a fun all-German hopping, I got some Taurus off the spot market, so that was the base and then Hallertau Blanc and then Mittelfruh.

Solo: Do you think you are going to do anything a la the bottling you did a couple of years back at some point?

Mick: Absolutely, the (only) question is when. So, I would like to get to the point where we are bottling like twice, or three times a year, and doing some 22-(ounce bottles). Really the hard thing is we don’t have the space in here to do that most of the time. So, yeah, I’d really like to get some bottles out there, the question is what style as well. We need to make sure that we have something that’s worth putting into bottles. I mean, we also still have a case or case and a half left of the Wilde Jagd. Nico keeps talking about starting up canning as well, which we currently do not have a space for. But, that would take some changes to the set-up, but I have some ideas about how we might make that work. If we want to start pushing more beer outside these walls we need to step up our game.

Solo: So, about the same place we were last year around this time, we’re just one removed and aimed for the same goals?

Mick: Yeah, thankfully the switch over didn’t include too many steps backwards. I got to work with Tim for three weeks before he went to Bosque, so it was a good transition. I’m happy with it and I’m pretty sure he’s happy with it.

Now that this is done, it's time to move on to bigger and better things! (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

The parking lot was a drain on time and resources, but now the brewery can move forward. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

With that we ended our conversation and I returned the following week to talk with Nico.

Solo: All righty, another Look Back/Look Ahead, here we are.

Nico: Look back, man, 2016 was a good year in some respects, not as good as Boxing Bear’s year, but the good year had nothing to do with the brewery, so to speak. We didn’t win any awards, we did a lot of major upgrades to the brewery that were sort of delayed maintenance projects that will enable Nick and Evan to more easily make better beer. So, that was positive. It’s not glamorous, it didn’t win any medals, there’s no accolades for that, and it’s going to cost money instead of make money. The big thing for 2016 was our parking lot. That was just a ridiculously large project. It was $350,000 that I could have spent any number of ways that would have made me happier and would have actually generated money. I did not have a choice in this matter so that’s sort of, while everyone else here was opening taprooms, that hobbled me and did not allow me to open up a taproom.

So, looking back, I’m glad it got done, but I’m also pretty upset that Turtle has not had the ability to utilize any of its taproom licenses thus far. But, in 2017, we’re hoping that’s going to change. So, looking back is not so important as the looking forwards. Looking forwards to 2017, I’m going to put in for our wholesaler’s license. We fought so hard two years ago to get that distributor’s license for restaurant breweries, you know for Rod (Tweet of Second Street), for me, for anybody that has that beer and wine license attached to their business. And, we got that through and I had thought about putting in for the license right away, but then Tim told me, well, it’s not just the license, it’s the cooperage, it’s a delivery vehicle, it’s another staffed person. If you want to actually, honestly distribute beer, it’s expensive, and so that obviously got back-burnered while we had that parking lot issue.

I want to at least be able to take our beer in draft form to local accounts. I’m not talking about citywide distribution or anything, well, maybe Rio Rancho citywide, but not metro city wide. At least be able to have the license, that way I get it and all I have to do is renew it, because everybody and their brother is distributing now, so I need to be able to stay on even par. It’s going to mean some minimal cooperage. I don’t know if we’re going to justify a delivery vehicle, but that’s definitely on the plans for 2017 as well as a taproom, utilizing one of our taproom licenses. We haven’t figured out where, we have a few ideas in mind, but we have three of them (licenses), and for restaurant breweries that’s the way you generate money.

Beer is the highest margin product that we sell. (In) the restaurant business, the food service is only getting more expensive and more complicated. The beer business continues to be actually more fun to be a part of, so that’s kind of where we’re looking is none of this restaurant stuff small footprint, probably going to have a pizza oven because Turtle, just like Nexus, is tied to its food. So, the curse of having been a restaurant brewery for 18 years is that everybody associates the pizza and the beer. They don’t look at either without the other. I actually don’t have a problem with putting in a pizza oven, but we’re not going to be doing any kind of a massive footprint place like this. I’ve been to most of the taprooms, the little Canteen taproom up in the heights, I like something like that — small, maybe (room for) 50 or 60 people, 70 people, something modest. It isn’t a big deal to stick a pizza oven in the back, something modest, and just do that. It’s where you start talking about massive coolers and hoods and things like that. Probably most of the prep work for this will be the first half of 2017, sometime in the second half of 2017 we may start to see a lot of this stuff come to fruition.

Solo: Amen to all of the above. If anyone deserves to have a streak of success and good luck it is assuredly Turtle. I, for one, am stoked at the prospect of a Turtle taproom/pizza oven combination, combined with distribution and the delicious results of good hop contracts and good house beer changes and creations.

Nico: I hated to be on the sidelines for the last three years. The whole parking lot started in 2014 and now we’re at the end of 2016. So, for all of 2014, 15 and 16 I’ve had to be on the sidelines. And, that has not made me happy. However, it certainly has enabled me to take a closer look at the market and everything that has been going on, and seeing where people are looking, and seeing what quality of beer is out there. It’s enabled me to gather a lot of intel, I’d rather benefit from other people’s successes and or failures than actually the first one who’s out the gate. For that reason, we’re somewhat happy. Things haven’t changed that much.

Getting Turtle Mountain tap handles at other locations is a priority for 2017. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Getting Turtle Mountain tap handles at other locations is a priority for 2017. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Solo: Overall, the market has not changed much and this is about what I had figured, considering what you have gone through in the last several years.

Nico: If you look at Second Street, too, Second Street turned 20 (in December) and Rod, they opened up the taproom downtown, which was four or five years ago. But, it took them, they’re 20 years old and they’re now just getting ready to expand. Whereas if you look at somebody like Marble and La Cumbre, six years old they’re already where Rod is 20 years down the road. So, the first 10 years of our life was spent in a market that was not like it is now. The last 10 years, well, probably since Marble came around really (in 2008), that right there is probably the resurgence and the point zero of the current beer market. When Marble opened up, that was point zero, so you have to look at everything since that time.

The fact that we’re still open after 18 years come March is great, but we need to leverage that and we need to make sure that people come out here. There’s still a lot of people here in Albuquerque, I saw there’s a trolley doing a tour of breweries downtown, there’s a lot of breweries downtown, but no trolley is ever going to come out to Rio Rancho. Even Justin (Hamilton of Boxing Bear) down the hill, he’s in Albuquerque so you could hit Alameda and do Boxing Bear and Bosque, but you don’t just come bend up the hill to come to Rio Rancho. So, we’re still after 18 years kind of the hinterlands, the outpost. Which is fine, we do well out here and if you want to come out here, you’ll find a way. We’re not that far away from Albuquerque.

Solo: Not a far drive at all given what we Burqueñas and Burqueños are used to, and well worth it, in my humble opinion. Turtle is a great joint for a pint, a pint and a pizza, hockey (only if the Pens are playing, ha!), soccer, and all the other good sports. The addition of the parking lot has made a world of a difference. Gone are the days of worrying about backing up into that blasted circular wall or finding that cherished striped spot. In the lap of luxury we house our steeled steeds, and drink we will of Mick’s fine brews.

Nico: I’m happy to see Flix Brewhouse opening up. The west side has always been sort of dry. I mean there’s 250,000 people that live on this side of town and there’s precious few breweries on this side of the river, so that’s where we’re looking. So, we’re not looking on the other side of the river for expansion just yet. I mean, we still have a few people from the (northeast) heights coming over here, but just as much as I don’t like crossing the river to their side, they don’t like crossing over here to my side. It’s that psychological barrier. So, we’re going to stick to our side of town. We have a few ideas as far as where we’re going to go. Definitely look for Turtle Mountain to do something in the second half of 2017.

Mick and Evan have been having fun with the beers in the back. Our minimal barrel aging program still (continues); we have our brett plum ale on now. We will be continuing on with that. He’s crafting new recipes and I kind of give him wide latitude to do what he wants back there. The other impetus for some minimal distribution and a taproom is that it gets frustrating with having 13 serving tanks in the back, but we only have one place to sell the beer.

Look for more new and innovative seasonals this year. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Look for more new and innovative seasonals this year. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Solo: Yeah, and he (Mick) was explaining the same thing — I might have all this stuff ready to go, but until something kicks, I have no space to put it.

Nico: We have 13 taps and if a beer is really really good, but doesn’t sell all that quickly, it sits back there and takes up a tank from a beer that would otherwise be able to sell really quickly. If we can keg it down and take it offsite, then we could actually put it on tap either at an offsite account or at a taproom. It would enable more throughput of the beer and more throughput generates more money, which enables us to add more infrastructure into the brewery, and anybody that has taprooms understands that. The brewery itself is a lot of fun in terms of Mick gets to order grain and hops, Tim got them (hop contracts) in place, and now Mick is benefiting from it.

Solo: Definitely, and I remember exactly talking to Tim and saying, OK, so you’ve got this on line, this on line, this on line, and then that’s going into your Hopshell, your other specialties, and it’s fantastic.

Nico: We got the Mosaic, we got the Citra, we got some of the hard-to-find hops and the contracts are solid. So, Mick now actually has … you know the tough thing about tweaking recipes is that well Tim was constantly having to modify recipes based on the hops we had available. It’s a little hard though once you find a sweet spot, if your hop contract runs out, and you don’t have that kind of hop, well then, you’ve got to modify the recipe. In a brewpub environment it’s not that bad because certain minimal changes to recipes are expected, but if you’re going to can it and put it out on the market you need to have that consistency. We’ve definitely benefited from consistency as a restaurant-brewery. We never really had house beers before Tim came on, so we’ve modified them a little bit, but five of the six beers that Tim developed are still here. We are still tweaking and we will continue to have those. At some point in the future I would consider canning, but it is getting awfully crowded out there, and New Mexico still does not have that many people, and the shelves are getting crowded with beers.

Solo: Left and right, you know, people are coming in every day. We’ve got Great Divide coming down, we’ve got everything else coming in. Shelf space is at a premium and getting filled with lots of really good offerings and a fair number of equally subpar offerings.

Nico: Oh, yeah, there’s going to be some sort of shakeout where you have a whole bunch of beer vying for the same spaces. I’d rather do taprooms, max out my taprooms, and get the $5 pint type of a thing than I would invest in a $100,000 canning line and a big ol’ facility. It is nice, but a lot of it is glory and ego. There is a lot of marketing to it, but I also don’t have a 30-barrel brewhouse.

You get that catch-22 of you need to have the money to invest in the infrastructure in order to make the beer, but the sale of the beer is the stuff that generates the money to invest in the infrastructure, but you can’t sell the beer unless you have the infrastructure you need to make the beer to sell the beer. And, you start chasing your tail like this. That’s the curse of this business is you have to have a ready source of capital and if you have to wait until it comes from operations it takes you time.

As far as 2017 goes we got a lot of the burden off of our shoulders (already). We’re busy paying off some stuff, capital will free up during the year, so that we can finally actually make some strides. We are looking forward to it. Finally, after what amounted to being in orbit without doing anything for three years, we’re finally going to leave orbit and take off and continue our 18-year mission to explore strange new business adventures and such. We were in orbit for three years and it broke my heart to see all of these people doing all of this expansion, and all of this stuff, and my hands were tied and it was frustrating. But, it also meant that I couldn’t make any mistakes or rash decisions.

This has been well thought out over three years. I think we certainly have all of the raw materials we need. We have the excess capacity in the system. We (still) have to get some new cooperage. We have to do a little more work in the brewery, but we have the ability to easily service one taproom, probably two, with the given system that we’ve got. I know Mick would love to have more throughput on the beer so he can make more beer. We’re bottlenecked by how quickly the beer sells, and if we weren’t necessarily bottlenecked by that we could have more styles on tap. Mick could go in new and different directions. It’s finally just exciting to not be stuck and not have to worry about watching from the sidelines, to be able to be back in the game.

* * * * *

With that we end another edition of Look Back/Look Ahead for Turtle Mountain. Here’s to a successful mission to explore new potential taprooms, and hopefully the subsequent advent of even more delightful brews by extension. May the coming months ring true for these well thought out plans as we west-side beer aficionados would love to see more successful ventures in our neck of the woods.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

If they can stuff that many bicycles under the grain silo, surely they can find more room inside for barrels. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

It was another solid year for one of the oldest breweries in town. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

Editor’s note: Franz Solo did a slew of interviews in recent weeks for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Then it was just a matter of finding the time to transcribe and type them up. With the briefest of openings in his schedule, he was able to complete Chama River’s entry. Look for his stories on Boxing Bear, Quarter Celtic, and Turtle Mountain in January. — S

A simply delectable Monday afternoon brought me back to old haunts just east of the northern Rio Grande valley, which nurtured and crystallized this entity which am I here and now. Chama River was, in fact, the first craft brewery I ever ordered a flight from back in the day when Chama was under the Blue Corn label and I was a student up in Santa Fe. How much has changed in what seems like a heartbeat? I was privileged to enjoy a pint of dunkelweisen in the company of head brewer Andrew Krosche.

Andrew: So, to look back, I’d say we had a really awesome year. We updated and changed our facility to try and bring our beers up to a modern market. Most of my time has been spent in rebuilding the facility one piece at a time, upgrading parts. So, that’s been really fun. It is nice to see where we were and compare it to now. We have gone leaps and bounds. I’m at just a few really large purchase items, all the little upkeep and the parts and the upgrades are there. I’ve pretty much handled all of them. It will just take a few months to get the few big-ticket items, which will be great.

Solo: What are you looking to get as far as big-ticket items?

Andrew: I’d like to upgrade our chiller (wort chiller for the uninitiated – Solo) and I want to redo our draft system.

Solo: All of the above would definitely help. How long has the draft system been in?

Andrew: Honestly, I don’t know. So, we are waiting for the funds and the proper timing and I’m hoping we can do it. It’s getting very positive feedback from corporate, so I feel that it is something in the immediate future.

Solo: It is nice to see a bit of a turnaround from the past, having these same beers (with only minor discernible changes) on tap, when now you have a bit more freedom.

Andrew: It’s awesome, it is almost 100-percent mine. Unless I want to literally take a beer off of the house menu, I really don’t need approval for the changes. Which (the house beers) I don’t mind, I like the group of six. So, all I really did was, on the other side of looking back, I kind of re-formatted the recipes to bring them to a more competitive modern market. So, I kept the styles, kept the names, I just made them a lot more aggressive and with bigger flavors.

Solo: Which is exactly what a lot of us are wanting these days.

Andrew: So, it’s especially one of those things looking back when people say, ‘Well, you only have two specials on? No! Try the house beers! Those are my specials!’ You know, that’s a year’s worth of a project. And, I’m really happy with them. There’s one or two that I’m still tweaking here and there, but there’s four for sure that are locked down and I love the way they are coming along.

Solo: That’s good to hear, it’s been a while coming for sure.

Andrew: Yeah, and like I said, corporate has been very happy, likes the results that I’ve been pulling. The relationship is awesome. I know there has been some history (with other brewers), but I have nothing but good things to say about the relationship I’m having with them.

Brewer Andrew Krosche has taken the reins at Chama River.

Andrew has spent much of this year upgrading the equipment around the brewery.

Solo: Plans for the coming year?

Andrew: The coming year there are two immediate ones, something I did work on some months back but, they’re aging. In January, I will be releasing our big winter release, it’s going to be an imperial Baltic porter on oak. It’s been probably aged on oak spirals for four months now.

Solo: That should impart some good flavor, for sure.

Andrew: Yeah, 10-percent (ABV), solid, it’s really good and I’m loving it. It has already happened.

Solo: Nice and smooth?

Andrew: It is incredibly creamy, black as night. It is very fudge-y, and then it’s got this nice, sharp, black cherry to it on the back. And, obviously you are going to have that warming feeling from the alcohol, and then the oak is going to bring in some vanilla. It’s actually kind of funny, you know, I wanted to do an imperial stout and I said, ‘You know what? Everyone has got a winter imperial stout, so maybe I’ll do an imperial porter.’ And then, everyone is doing a porter this year, so it’s like, ah, you know, whatever. It is my first Baltic porter as well, so it was very exciting to see it come to fruition in a very positive way.

Solo: Yeah, it’s the Russian imperial of lagers. So, what else did you have in barrels?

Andrew: So, in February, which is the other project, that one will have been eight months in the barrels. I will have the heavy cream ale in tequila barrels. I tasted them a few months behind and I said I want to put this out, but you know what, let’s give this that extra four, that’s going to be twice as good. So, that’s turning out really nice too.

Solo: Any other major plans for the year?

Andrew: For the year brew-wise, mainly working towards improving some of the house beers. I’m looking to definitely improve my results from the IPA Challenge, which was not the best (Chama did not qualify for the final rounds). I wasn’t really happy what had come out, but you know, hey, I thought the beer was solid, but I obviously wasn’t aggressive enough. So, I’ve taken that and I’ve put a lot of effort into creating a really big, competitive, double IPA. I will probably be brewing my next version since the IPA Challenge maybe the end of this month. So, it should be something to come out maybe in February, end of (January), we will see. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve learned a lot since then from changing the Jackalope, so I’m feeling very confident about this new whack at the double IPA.

Solo: Always improving, that’s all you can do.

Andrew: I was really happy with some of our lager specials this past year, so once we get further into the year, your traditional maibocks and your Oktoberfests, that kind of stuff, I’m really enjoying those, so I will absolutely continue with those.

Solo: I for one love having these craft lagers everywhere, it’s amazing.

Andrew: I’m one of the few who has the facility to do it, so I’m going to do a lot of them. That’s one of my focuses, actually. I love lagers and they are fun, and so we will absolutely do it. We will also bring back a winter kettle sour. I’ve heard a lot of people asking and we just haven’t had time, because we were like mad men trying to keep up with the demand of our Draft Stations. And, with Kellys also pulling, it’s also another big account, so I want to take care of us before I start trying to push the envelope. But, after this week we are going to be so incredibly caught up and routine is solid that I’ll be able to do a kettle sour and sacrifice the two days to make sure that it is done right. I think there will definitely be a winter style göse, and then maybe some sort of winter warmer kind of thing.

Solo: Anything else for this year?

Andrew: You know, I’m not sure. We’ve done so much this past year, so I don’t know what we have planned for the future.

Solo: Kind of keeping on keeping on?

Andrew: I’d like to expand distribution. I’ve got new tap handles, not the old ones, brand new with a totally new design, (which is) something else I’ve been working on. So, when those come in is when I’ll start hitting more of the market, hoping to have Chama as a competitor, something people can see in bars, and I’d like that. So, I’ll definitely be focusing there. I think that’s really my big one for the future is increase in market, increase in distribution, and, uh, grab that double IPA.

The stouts at Chama were top-notch in 2015.

The more dark, heavy, winter beers, the merrier the Crew will be!

Solo: And then, we have our Stout Challenge again this year. (Chama River won the last one.)

Andrew: I love brewing stouts and it’s one of my favorites. And, the stout that’s on right now is just ridiculous. (Agreed, get Sleeping Dog either on nitro or standard, it is excellent all around. – Solo) So, that’s one of our dialed in recipes that I hit just after we came back from GABF. So, this is the brew right after I submitted and I went ah, I wish.

Solo: So, try it again next time.

Andrew: Yeah, no big deal.

Solo: Throw in some lagers that you have and ah.

Andrew: I did compete with a rye maibock, I sent that one in aged six months, went on to the final round, but there were better examples. Honestly, after drinking it because I kept a whole bunch of spares to taste it, I looked at the notes and across the board I know exactly where we fell short. So, I feel incredibly positive and confident about it for next year.

Solo: That’s awesome. If you can’t learn something from your batches, then you’re doing something wrong.

* * * * *

For Chama this was a year of overall improvement of house beers across the board, married to upgrades and improvements aimed at thrusting Chama River back into the current fray, so to speak. I urge you, my beer-drinking, blog-reading aficionados, to head out and give these brews a fresh tasting, which I hope will be as worth your while as it has been mine. I for one look forward to the coming year for Chama, from the forthcoming Baltic porter to the double IPA to the tequila cream ale, something surely for each and every discerning palate. I’m definitely a lover of all things lager when done right, and so far Andrew has hit the mark far more often than not. So, when you chance to head out to see the latest glorious entry into the Star Wars saga or by whatever winter wind may draw you Chama’s way, enjoy the fruits of a long and hard year’s work, for the proof is in the pint.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem, to be born

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born

On the recommendation of Stoutmeister, who managed to grab a taste of this one before me, I was struck with love at first pint by the glory of Boxing Bear’s Vantablack Russian Imperial Stout.

We begin with a roasted, sweet aroma, and a hint of hops. A mighty roar smashes mid-palate with toasty malty goodness, and burns just a hair at the finish. Balance is key here, neither too much, nor too little bite or alcohol burn. Incredibly smooth for a Russian Imperial.

Unlike some other Russian Imperials, Vantablack does not overextend on flavor, nor try to fill too many flavors in one go. The mouthfeel is, simply put, spectacular, just as one would hope from this style. As it warms we are presented with bourbon and vanilla notes, with a tad of raisin and black licorice, but just a hair. Mellow and smooth, unlike any other Russian Imperial Stout I have ever had. The finish is both smooth and bitter, yet clean, with a delightful bit of dark roast at the uttermost end.

To put this in something of boxing terms, Vantablack is an instant knockout punch. That killer blow sends you reeling onto a veritable storm of malts and does not cease. This is the great black whale to your Moby Dick, a denizen of dark currents and places unexplored.

I am told that some of this batch is to be barrel-aged, and that excites me heartily. My pint complete, I awoke as though from a vision of wonders in the abyss. I had drunk of their table and it was blessed, dark and sweet. I wandered through groves of ice and snow unending while the wind froze my limbs, but for the fire bestowed of this mighty draught. I returned an-hungered from my frozen dreams, and dreamed of rivers obsidian and the great beast, Vantablack.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

Boxing Bear opened their doors back in July and made an immediate impact on the local brewing scene.

Boxing Bear came out swinging in 2015 and hopes to go a few more rounds in 2016.

As I am one of two members of the Brew Crew who reside on the west side of Rio Grande, I have a certain love of breweries nestled on the riverbank or atop the western mesa of my dear ‘Burque. I was living within a short walk of the former bar space that is now Boxing Bear when the Dark Side Brew Crew was in its infancy, and I was but a babe in the land of hops and malts. I grew up in the river valley as a child and my family owned land on both sides of the river when the west side was not much more than a handful of houses. It stands to account that I hold the river lands very dear and it is a wondrous gift to be able to procure my home brewing equipment and supplies alongside a pint (or a few) from Boxing Bear. On to the narrative and a damn fine conversation with Boxing Bear head brewer Justin Hamilton.

Justin: As far as the look back, this year was a pretty crazy year for us. It was our first full year of completion for Boxing Bear. So, 2015 was pretty nuts, very busy throughout the year, not only brewing, but planning, expanding, (and) dealing with Bearfest.

Franz Solo: Boxing Bear grew as I grew into brewing my own beer, a year of growth that for me was quite incremental, for the Bear was substantially more pronounced.  A good year on both accounts I might add.

Justin: We’ve had a lot of fun completing our first year and kind of being able to get a better grip. Being that I’ve been head brewer at Chama, I’ve worked at places like Marble and other places before, (so) I kind of have an idea of what people are expecting as far as specials. I’m still trying to get a grasp on how to get them out to people in time, so that’s one of the things that I’m definitely going to be working on in 2016. Our pumpkin ale is going to be available in September as opposed to October. I think that’s becoming more of a trend you see in brewing is seasonal specials come out months ahead of time of when they are supposed to be so we are going to try to be ahead of that.

But, because of course our house beers, we have to keep that going. That’s always something that’s going to be on the docket, making sure that we always are having those house beers available. Plugging in specials wherever we can, that’s kind of what we are working on, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. We have the ability to almost double our production this year with the current equipment we have, so that’s another big plan of ours.

Our wholesale was a big thing for 2015. Being able to wholesale for us was something that we’ve had the idea from the get-go, but we’ve kind of gotten run through the ringer for the last year and a half. It was a little over a year trying to make sure we obtained a wholesaler’s license just by zoning variances and all this stuff that we weren’t aware of we needed immediately. But, we grow, we live, and we learn, so that’s something we had to put up some money for, we had to do time for. We’ve just barely gotten our ability to do wholesale back in October, so being that we’ve only had not even three full months of wholesaling, our distribution is ramping up, our sales are ramping up, and we’re starting to get in some handles across the city, so we are trying to continue that.

So, that is something that happened in 2015 that is going to set the precedent and pace, I think, for the following years, and we want to continue to use wholesaling as an ability to draw in customers to our pub, and also to get our name out there to the city, to other locations. Right now, we’ve got a few handles in Santa Fe (and) Los Alamos, so we are continuing to expand throughout the state. That’s our goal to continue to do that. That’s one of our main goals is to continue that wholesale with the current equipment that we have.

The new serving tanks are nearly ready for use.

It was rare for the serving tanks to be empty in 2015.

Solo: And, what a year it was. A first-year championship in our annual Stout Challenge for Standing 8 Stout, and a continually impressive lineup, including personal favorites such as Sucker Punch Double IPA and Body Slam Imperial Pilsner among others.

Justin: This year we’ve purchased another 20-barrel fermenter, two more 20-barrel servers, and a 20-barrel bright tank, and also our bottling equipment. All of it is kind of working together. I see us getting into this where we are about to tip over on that teeter-totter, and that’s going to snowball (as) we are going to continue to roll into 2016. As long as we continue to make a good product, I think that everyone is going to be happy with what we are doing here. We are just going to continue to try and make the pub as good of a staple for any place in Albuquerque for people to come and drink beer, continue making it better, working on making it an actual livable place. That’s one thing that’s always on our mind is reinvesting, making it something that is not only livable for drinkers, but a place to be sought out to go to.

Solo: Certainly a great reason to head to the other side of the river for a relaxing pint nestled on the edge of the Bosque whether by two wheels or four.

Justin: I think if we can progress and keep our products good, our name going (then) I think that it’s going to be something that people will actually come and see us, make the trip over the river, and it’s something that’s going to be worth their time.

Solo: A sentiment I have embraced from the very start, being blessed to live a short drive from the Bear. I encourage anyone who had not made it over to make that happen, you will not be disappointed.

Justin: We are trying to grow at a healthy pace.

Chocolate Milk Stout was Boxing Bear's first bottle release.

Chocolate Milk Stout was Boxing Bear’s first bottle release. (Photo courtesy of Boxing Bear)

Solo: Are you looking to do more bottle releases?

Justin: Yeah, that’s going to be a big thing in 2016 for us as well. We want to try to bottle something probably about every month, maybe every two months at the most. So, if we can keep up having as many beers as we do on tap, but also doing special releases in bombers, or maybe having both at the same time (it could work). Our next beer should be a double IPA as long as everything goes well, and then after that we are looking to do a Baltic porter in February.

It appears things are going well since we have enjoyed the subsequent release of Sucker Punch Double IPA, and the release of the GABF medal-winning Chocolate Milk Stout in the time after this interview was done. If you know the true nature of the Crew, we were quite excited to hear of a possible Baltic porter and await its arrival with palates at the ready!

Justin: So, we have that stuff kind of rolling, so it’s always on the back of our minds what we are going to produce and brew next for a bomber. But, we are also planning to expand our draft selection here, so we are looking hopefully at the beginning of the year hopefully expanding from 12 to 16 taps. That is going to be something to keep up with is that we want to keep our cider on tap all the time, so that is another purchase that we made is a tank that is devoted to cider. With having 16 taps available, you want to have at least cider and a nitro on tap at any time with our 12-tap selection, and then if we have the ability to fill those extra two taps at any given point, if it’s another nitro (or) if it’s two other specials, we’re going to do that as well. It’s just going to give us options to have more consistency with ciders, our nitro beers, and everything else.

Solo: The possibility of a nitro and a pair of specials on at any time are a delightful thought and potential experience to be sure.

They may be serious about brewing, but when they're off the clock Justin and Kaylynn are anything but overly serious.

Brewer Justin Hamilton, with Nexus’ Kaylynn McKnight, was a happy guy in 2015.

Justin: I see 2016 as being a big growing year for us. 2015 was as well, but being that we only had less than half of 2014 to see how we were going to get into things, and we did really well for our first year, year and a half. But, the fact that we are getting into our second year is really exciting. We are going to do Bearfest again and we want to make it even bigger this year. We are going to have more room, we are going to have possibly some more breweries, and we’re going to keep the layout that we did with samples and sales of pints as well. The patrons enjoyed it (and) the brewers enjoyed it. Everybody seemed to have a really good time, and it’s a festival that we want to make a staple, an annual event.

Solo: The desire is for it to be an annual event where the best breweries are showcased. As an attendee for what amounted to my birthday weekend, the first Bearfest was an excellent event all around. I certainly look forward to spending many more at this event in the years to come.

Justin: Expansion will probably continue a little bit this year, but not nearly as much as last year. This year we are going to finish under 1,000 barrels, and by next year it would be nice if we could get to 2,000. Realistically growing, I could see us getting to 1,600 to 1,800, hopefully. It’s all going to be about our wholesale, our name getting out there a little bit more. We are starting to gain more popularity as far as what people will think of as like the best breweries in the city. My goal for 2016 is to get less and less people to say, who are you and where are you from, at every beer festival.

Franz and Mrs. Solo basked in the warm glow of the inaugural BearFest.

Franz and Mrs. Solo basked in the warm glow of the inaugural BearFest.

Solo: Boxing Bear wants to be part of that core set of breweries in New Mexico and the foundation for such a marriage is certainly set. Boxing Bear will be joining as many beer-centric festivals throughout the coming year as part of showing people who they are and what they are about — good craft beer.

Justin: Any festival here in the city known for craft beer attendance, we are going to be there.

Solo: No matter what brewer I’ve asked, I don’t know how to do this or whatever, they will almost always say well, I don’t know half of what I want to know (about said subject).

Justin: Brewing is always going to be somewhat of a mystical beast, which is what makes it fun. Things happen for good and bad; you never know why sometimes. Someone might be able to explain it to you, but even that person that can explain it to you may not even really know. John Palmer (author of Brewing Classic Styles, among other well-worthy publications) was here a few weeks ago and I had asked him a question about oxygen intake of yeast. He was like, honestly it’s hard for us to even know that, because who knows how much oxygen one cell of yeast is taking in, what it needs to kick up its metabolism. This is John Palmer. If anyone is going to know the science behind beer, it is going to be that guy, and for the fact that even those guys will say, I don’t know sometimes, that’s something that I have to remember as well. I work with beer, and beer works with me, or against me.

Solo: The lessons learned by Justin in his journey through several breweries prior to the Bear, has helped him to maintain the consistency of the beers at Boxing Bear, which is a goal of course for every year.

Justin: Quality and consistency are always going to be something that we strive for. As we grow, and we are brewing more and more batches every year, that is where it becomes harder and harder. It is something we are going to have to consider that once we start brewing a lot more, there are going to be things that we run into that we have to be able to figure out on the fly. So, that is another thing that we are always talking about, is with growth, we want to do it properly, we want to do it at the right speed, but we don’t mind growing as fast as we can as long as it doesn’t affect the quality.

Other stuff for 2015 that was good for us, we had the IPA Challenge here, that was a great event. We had people saying that we needed more seating and it’s hot outside, and those are concerns that we are trying to work on, but it’s hard with an event like that. All you can say to that is that at least we have places to sit. I see IPA Challenge turning into something where it is almost going to have to be at a neutral location; it’s getting harder and harder.

Solo: And bigger and bigger.

The Boxing Bear team, minus head brewer Justin Hamilton (home with his new baby), picked up their first medal.

The Boxing Bear team picked up their first GABF medal back in September.

Justin: But, that being said you know I wouldn’t mind hosting it again. IPA Challenge was great. Of course, you know GABF was awesome for us being one of the four breweries in the state to take home a medal (silver for the Chocolate Milk Stout). We were super excited about that, something that is going to increase our clout, I guess. We weren’t necessarily expecting anything, because it’s such a crapshoot every year, but being that we won was really exciting. It was one of the best things that could have happened to us, other than a gold, which, I’ll take a silver any day. It was great to bring home a medal in our very first year of competition.

Solo: Certainly an auspicious start to garner one of the awards, to which an ever increasing pool of breweries strive to attain.

Justin: I think 2016 is going to be a year of growth, a kind of culmination, and not necessarily a regroup, but kind of a re-strategize on how we want to move forward. I think we are also looking into the possibility of doing bigger and better things. Do we want to expand more of our brewery? Do we want to open a taproom in the future? Those are all things we are going to explore in 2016.

* * * * *

The second year for the Bear certainly looks bright from where I sit. A year to continue doing what they are doing quite well, in my opinion. A year to grow at what they are doing, with a focus on maintaining quality. It is clear that Boxing Bear is pushing to be on par with the best in ‘Burque, whether it be festival attendance, GABF presence, marketing, wholesaling, or packaging. So, until next time, I bid you all a hearty pint and a fond fare-thee-well. End communication.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

TMBC is hoping new legislation will enable them to distribute their beers beyond the confines of the restaurant.

Turtle Mountain survived a sometimes rough 2015, with big plans ahead for 2016.

Time and work have a way of dominating my creative juices at times. I have sat on this and another of our year-end articles for too long by my reckoning, and to the consternation of my editor to be sure. (Yeah, just a bit. — S) A while back I had the utmost pleasure of sitting down with brewer Tim Woodward and owner Nico Ortiz of Turtle Mountain on a lovely winter afternoon to discuss the triumphs and hardships of our last solar revolution, and the hopes and dreams for this one. Without further ado.

Tim: 2015 was a hell of a year for Turtle Mountain, specifically regarding getting that parking lot development going and getting the fire suppression installed in the building.

The project went quite over what was initially budgeted and unfortunately took up many of the resources that had been planned for other endeavors.

Tim: So, for the readers who don’t know, the City of Rio Rancho came in and told Nico that he needed to improve the parking situation. The parking lot had to be contiguous, joined to the current parking lot. So, we purchased the plot of land just to the north/northwest of us. We bought that from the City of Rio Rancho and then we had to develop it. But, the other thing that they required from us was that we had to install fire suppression in the building to meet code.  Nico contracted a fire suppression company to do the installation and they ended up conning us, and another company, out of a huge amount of work installations. There’s actually a news article about it (that) KOB ran. These guys went in, they go in and install the heads behind the walls, but then they never connected the heads to it and then they fled to Colorado. So, we lost a big chunk of change on that and then we had to fix that up and so that all took a lot of time.

But, now we have a beautiful new parking lot. We have, I believe, 79 new spaces now, probably more parking than any other brewery in town. So, it’s great, I think the customers are much happier that they don’t have to walk down from the post office or down the block. It’s definitely a safer situation all the way through and it’s private property, so I think everyone is much happier now that the project is done.

Tis’ a gorgeous lot, indeed, with loads of spaces and certainly an enormous step taken from where Turtle Mountain was previously. And, now for a blast from the past, we go back to my personally much beloved Wilde Jagd.

The Wilde Jagd is still available at Turtle Mountain.

The first TMBC beer to be bottled was quite the beast.

Tim: Rewinding a bit, in March we released Wilde Jagd, which was pretty fun. That was the first bottle release ever (for TMBC) and the first barrel-aged project in a very long time. And, we had some popular IPAs, a few weird beers — we had a kettle sour — odds and ends, so we had a lot of fun. Evan (assistant brewer) and I had a lot of fun trying to create some esoteric styles and some of them sold really well.

We most definitely look forward to sampling some of these “odds and ends” in 2016. Onward to Hops!

Tim: Behind the scenes things that I think people are probably curious about is that we’ve totally solidified some much better hop contracts for the next few years. The hops that I’ve been using since I got here 19 months ago were residuals from when Matt was contracted. They were a little bit older varieties of hops that people aren’t really as excited about anymore, and I’m happy to say that now we have some exciting new varieties to play with. We got Citra, Mosaic, we got our classic staples. Simcoe is on the books for us (and) we’ve got Azacca coming up. We have some Southern Hemisphere stuff as well.

Franz Solo: Amen to all of these. As the main hophead of the Brew Crew, who has done his best to infect his brethren with the most dangerous dank hops, this is happy news indeed!

Tim: We’re hoping to really work on our house beers this next year, not dramatically changing our beers, but I definitely have some ideas on where I want the specific brands to be. I’d like to see Hopshell (IPA) become a little bit danker and a little bit more citrusy, and kind of drop off on the floral pine, while we boost up the citrus and the pine in the White IPA to separate those two brands out to make them more distinct.

Solo: You can do that with those hops you listed.

Tim: I have a great selection of hops and I have a few fun varieties of European hops (and) German hops. We’re hoping to do a little bit more in the way of German lagers. I want to brew an India pale lager featuring classic German hops, and give it a nice big hop bite to it in the vein of Pivo (a wondrous pilsner from Firestone Walker for those who may not have enjoyed such a brew) or something similar. We have a lot of things we’re definitely going to bring back. I’ll bring back the Kolsch like we do every year, (but) no promises on whether or not we’ll have a cucumber batch. That was a challenge, a lot of fun, and very popular, but definitely a challenge.

Solo: All of the above certainly whet my German blood as one who loves a good lager, or nigh, any brew hearkening from my heritage.

While seasonals like O Tannenbaum are popular, Tim wants to hone in the regular beers. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

While seasonals like O Tannenbaum are popular, Tim wants to hone in the regular beers. (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Tim: I think 2016 is mostly going to be me really refining the brands, making sure that I’m very happy with where the house beers will be, and focus a little bit more on some competitions. We have the World Beer Cup competition coming up and I’m anxious to see how my entries do. And, we’re going to jump into the National IPA Challenge this year that we missed out on last year, so hopefully we can do something good with that.

Solo: With the hops secured for this year, I for one cannot wait to see what will be conjured for the national challenge and so forth.

Tim: In terms of any dramatic things for 2016, Nico and I have talked a little bit and we’re anxious and interested in trying to find a taproom location. But, there’s nothing solid, nothing specific. We’re hopeful that by the end of 2016 we’ll have a second location, and is that a full restaurant (or) is that a taproom, I’m not really sure.

Solo: You’ve got to love the legislation that’s allowing everyone to do this.

Tim: Absolutely, and in order for us to do that we have to build some infrastructure in back, of course, as always. We need cooperage, we need a new keg washer, we need a vehicle to move kegs about. The good news, though, is that if we build that infrastructure for the taproom, we will also have that infrastructure in place to develop a small distribution center on a limited basis. We would like to be in our neighbors’ bars. I’d like to see maybe 100 barrels in distribution; that’s not a lot, obviously, but that’s something that I think we could do. With the tanks and our servers we have the capacity to increase production by 50 to 70 percent. Looking long term (things are) very hopeful.

Solo: Amen to all of the above.

Tim, left, always enjoys collaborating with his fellow brewers.

Tim, left, always enjoys collaborating with his fellow brewers.

Tim: On deck, we are going to do a collaboration with Second Street in Santa Fe. Rod (Tweet) and Nico go way back, and I always enjoy sitting and talking with Rod. He’s got an engineer brain, and for better or worse, I do, too, and when we talk it’s fun to talk about what we could do together. Zach (Guilmette), formerly of Chama, now of Canteen, has expressed some interest in doing a collaboration in the spring as well. I’ve always said that one of the funnest things in the industry is the people, all the people in it. And, I figure what better way to celebrate the brothers and sisters in beer than to work with them on some special collaborations?

Solo: Exactly, and it can’t do anything but good for the community.

Tim: So, we’ve got those two tentatively on (deck), and there might be a few more that pop up throughout the year to celebrate the community.

Friendship and brotherhood among breweries can do nothing but good for our dear ‘Burque. With my time with Tim at an end, I also had the chance to sit down with Nico as well, and the following is his take on the year that was and the year that is.

Nico: We’ve been working on this parking lot for five years and it sucks, especially now, because now is the time to strike. Breweries are hot and we just got the ability to have that third taproom. Breweries are going into every single area of town that has an opening and the time is now. Unfortunately, I would have much rather spent that money on two taprooms than I would have on a parking lot. Unfortunately, that was not our decision to make. Moving forward we are going to put in for our wholesalers license since we now have the fix in place. Tim has already warned me about the costs of wholesale. It’s not the license, it’s the cooperage, and the extra employee and the delivery vehicle and all of the other kind of stuff.

Solo: Fortunately the boulder, a la Dante’s purgatorio, of the parking lot and fire suppression system has been successfully pushed over the mountain. Onward to this year!

Now that this is done, it's time to move on to bigger and better things! (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Now that this is done, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things! (Photo courtesy of TMBC)

Nico: I’d like to get a taproom open. I’m not sure where it’s going to be, but it will be on this side of the river, because this side of the river still seems to be rather barren. A lot of the breweries and the new ones are still on the other side of the river.

We (who live) on the west side, for one, would love for a few more options in our pockets. On the subject of the barrels that were used to create the lovely Wilde Jagd, Nico had the following notes to add.

Nico: We have those two pinot barrels that a brett lambicus stout just came out of, which is going to be blended through for our 17th anniversary beer in March. They are going to put in a bugged plum cream. Evan and Tim were like, let’s do something off the wall, so let’s throw some plum and some cream into these barrels and let’s see what happens. They’re doing some Franken-brewing back there.

Solo: Amen to Franken-brewing, when one has solid ground to work from. As an art, beer cannot stay stagnant, but must of essence push the envelope of possibility and the breadth of our taste buds to maintain life and vigor through the end of this decade.

Nico: I’m looking at 2016 as sort of (a) point zero, where I’m now looking at a five- or a seven-year plan where after five or seven years from now sitting at the bar I will be saying, I have three taprooms, I’m expanding, (and) we have an offsite production facility with a canning line.

For all of these hopes, we wish Turtle Mountain the best of tidings. So endeth this glimpse into time both before and behind, and to either side to quote our Gilgamesh, see you all on the next episode!

— Franz Solo

A brace of Baltic Porters for Oktober

Posted: October 30, 2015 by Franz Solo in Beer Review
Tags: ,
Unleash the glory of the Baltic Porter!

Unleash the glory of the Baltic Porter!

Maltheads rejoice for your season is at hand! From brutal Russian imperial stouts to delectable porters, doppelbocks, winter warmers, and beyond, ’tis the season of the malt. We in the Brew Crew are no strangers to the Baltic Porter, style having brewed one of our own in collaboration with Canteen Brewing last winter. As those of you who have read my reviews in the past well know, I am certainly enamored of bold, strong ales. The Baltic Porters which are currently available from Bosque Brewing and La Cumbre certainly flow in that vein and the following are my thoughts on both of these delectable dark brews.

Bring the La Llorona home with you.

Bring the La Llorona home with you.

La Llorona (La Cumbre) — Roast chocolate and a light, crisp, hop aroma begins the journey. First taste begins with a malt roast bite on the front, which fades to a smooth, sweet finish with no alcohol burn at all. A very nice, burly porter brethren to Malpais Stout.

Burly is in fact a very good way to describe the flavor, the mouthfeel and the finish overall.

As this was aged a year, it has a nice, creamy finish in the early going. Definitely worthy of the namesake, La Llorona, sorrow and woe for the depths of Oktober. When warmed, the hops and roast malt linger for a long finish which keeps returning again and again. A shade of licorice and subtle smoked flavor gives us a good presence at the end of the pint.

A happy anniversary to us all.

A happy anniversary to us all.

Year Three Anniversary Baltic Porter (Bosque) — The aroma is of sweet malt with honey and dark fruit. Nice hop bite with a little burn, and a silky smooth fade to black at the back. Far silkier than your comparable imperial stout. Nice bitter middle with pine and spruce notes, conjuring thoughts of winter. Incredibly drinkable owing in part to the lagering this went through and really balances out the beer. Chocolate and honeyed dates punctuate the latter half of the offering and the warmth of roast malts warms the body from head to toe. A bit of strong coffee emanates from the last pour of this marvelously crafted porter.

Both of these Baltic Porters are as unique as they are delicious and I heartily recommend you enjoy a pint of each for yourselves before they disappear. Pair with fire under the stars, a roaring blaze at your side as the nights grow cold.

To the honored dead, prost!

— Franz Solo

The Wilde Jagd is still available at Turtle Mountain.

The Wilde Jagd is still available at Turtle Mountain.

Editor’s note: As anyone walking their dog could tell you this morning (or at least those of us dogsitting), the temperatures are dropping and the weather is becoming perfect for many variations of darker beers. Timing it just right, Franz Solo has a review of a locally-made, perfectly seasonal beer that is still for sale in bombers. — Stoutmeister

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company: Wilde Jagd

As the seasons turn from the dog days of summer to autumn with a kiss of winter, we come to that greatest of seasons for beer for those of us who love bold malty offerings and eclectic varietals. Wilde Jagd (Wild Hunt for those whose German may not be so good) hearkens to the tradition of the huntsman in the forest with hints of Odin and glory.

The beer is a winter warmer, which has a melange of spices including orange peel, clove, fresh ginger root, nutmeg, and molasses. Wilde Jagd was then lagered in the traditional German style before entering French oak pinot noir barrels for aging. The labels were designed in house at Turtle, and applied to all of the bottles by hand in the cold room, quite apropos to my mind. The bottles were then hand dipped in gold wax, creating a bottle as striking to the eye as to the palate.

The beer itself has a deep, brown amber color, much like the skins a hunter might wear. Initial aroma has a slightly sour grape tone with notes of nutmeg and wonderful dark molasses. As with most well-crafted ales, the profile changes typically for the better as the beer is allowed to warm. Initial flavor is a smooth, malty start like my grandmother’s pumpkin pie. Mid-palate the spice and ginger bite hit well and the finish is of crisp oak and red wine. A multi-layered profile, to be sure, derived from the lagering, the added spices and molasses, and certainly the oak barrels.

This is quite smooth and complex and as the beer warms, an increase of the spice and a delightful burn with a hint of sour grape enter the fray, which is a lovely counterpoint to the sweet malts and molasses. It drinks like a wine or a doppelbock, and is sure to warm cold toes in winter. I am struck by the thought of snow-tipped groves of spruce and tales of the Norse gods from the Edda as my horn is emptied. This is a beer that hearkens both to the sweet kiss of spring in the mountains, as well as the clutch of winter’s darkest days. It is suited to any time of year when one’s heart hears the call of the wild places of the world, and I heartily suggest consumption in glades of pine next to a roaring fire from a proper drinking horn.

A proper pour for this time of year.

A proper pour for this time of year.

So if you, too, hear the call of autumn and demand a taste of the wilderness, the call of the mountains, then head up the hill to Turtle Mountain and procure this magical elixir for a truly unique beer you will not soon forget. By Odin’s grey beard!

Prost!

— Franz Solo

Denver called. Franz Solo and Stoutmeister answered.

Denver called. Franz Solo and Stoutmeister answered.

We were somewhere around Wagon Mound, on the edge of the northern plains, when the bugs began to take hold. No seriously, these were a veritable swarm of all sorts of insectoids smashing and crashing against the car. Wait until you see the goddamn locusts! But I digress, it was a warm sunny day when Stoutmeister and I set out to the grand city of Denver to seek our fortunes in the plethora of outstanding brews to be found there and bang our heads to some absolutely amazing Finnish melodic death metal.

They have a sense of old-school humor at Trinity in Colorado Springs.

They have a sense of old-school humor at Trinity in Colorado Springs.

We stopped in Colorado Springs to get some much needed sustenance and sample a brew or two at Trinity Brewing for some delicious sliders and epic mac n cheese while sipping on an outstanding coffee stout. Those who love sours and saison would have a field day at this joint, for those of us who had just drove five hours at top speed, we needed sustenance and coffee-infused beer to finish the drive to Denver!

Once we arrived in the city proper, our accommodations were stupendous, and we were whisked away to the Atomic Cowboy, a top-notch beer bar on Colfax, where we imbibed several local brews, some as a preview of what was to come and others which were welcome new beers to our palates.

Lunch at Wynkoop. Don't panic, we had food, too.

Lunch at Wynkoop. Don’t panic, we had food, too.

The architecture of the Wynkoop building was rather impressive.

The architecture of the Wynkoop building was rather impressive.

The following morning we trekked to Wynkoop Brewing for an early lunch. The brews were average, but we were there for the food and the ambiance, which were excellent. I took a bit of a walk through the basement and was greeted with the requisite aging and barrel room.

The mothership that is Great Divide.

The mothership that is Great Divide.

The elusive Yeti, and friends.

The elusive Yeti, and friends.

We then trekked our way over to Great Divide in search of the elusive Yeti. Our arrival was badly timed, at least musically, for we were wearing our Pantera and Iron Maiden shirts and the tune playing in the joint was anything but metal. The bartender jokingly greeted us with “the metal brewery is just down the road,” referring of course to TRVE Brewing, which incidentally enough was on the list for the day’s adventures. We settled in for a veritable smorgasbord of delightful samples including Claymore, Hercules (which I have previously reviewed and was just wonderful on tap), as well as of course the inimitable Yeti.

A little slice of Germany in the heart of Denver.

A little slice of Germany in the heart of Denver.

Now that is a sampler tray.

Now that is a sampler tray.

Our palates whetted, our coffers filled we made our way to a little slice of Deutschland in the heart of Denver. Ever since my wife made her way to Prost, she raved at how I would adore them and she was not wrong in the slightest. Prost is as damn near to drinking German brews as one can get outside of being in Germany itself, as far as I’m concerned (one day that holy pilgrimage to Munich must be made), and we absolutely loved their beer and everything else about the place. Particular favorites of mine were the now GABF gold medal-winning Weißbier and the exceptional Keller Pils. Were I a resident of fair Denver it would be safe to call this an often frequented joint for the beer and the atmosphere alike.

All we got is \m/ \m/

All we got is \m/ \m/

Our German palates whetted, our loot of barrel-aged Doppelbock stowed, we set off to black metal heaven in the aforementioned TRVE Brewing. Our arrival, as it turns out, was badly timed. Or at least we had a bit of time to kill before the joint opened for the day so we went for a short stroll down the block and back. The shops around TRVE are a testament to the intriguing melange of culture growing in Denver and Colorado proper. You have high-end retail and fine dining next to dispensaries, cross fit, yoga, and adult shops. What to make of this blend? Time will tell.

Oh, glorious flight of TRVE brews.

Oh, glorious flight of TRVE brews.

We were the first inside TRVE as the doors opened and this brewery was everything we had been told it would be. A medieval long table commands the hall, the walls bedecked with black metal inspired art, and the altar of Baphomet, which also houses the taps, is stunning to say the least. Of all the places to prepare for a Finnish melodic death metal show this was TRVEly the ticket! The beer was as excellent as the metal music filling the place was well, metal. Our particular favorites were Tunnel of Trees IPA and the delightful Stout O))). This really felt like home to me and I would love to have a metal-themed brewery closer to home, although it is likely I would never want to leave.

We want to come back for some Saturday footy on the telly.

We want to come back for some Saturday footy on the telly.

We did, however, have a show to get to and required sustenance prior to the event. The Three Lions proved to be an excellent choice indeed and we would be quite lucky to catch a game or two of English Premier League, or most any other sport in the joint on a busy weekend.

The glory of metal was bestowed upon us.

The glory of metal was bestowed upon us.

Our show at the Bluebird Theater was a night to remember. The local openers Solar Flare set the tone and Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium put on a pair of stunning sets that set our hearts aflame with some rousingly grand metal.

This isn't heaven, but it's close.

This isn’t heaven, but it’s close.

The upstairs taproom. Jeebus.

The upstairs taproom. Jeebus.

The downstairs taproom.

The downstairs taproom.

We awoke the following day and set out for the great Avery in search of glory, and glory found us as well. For those of us who had been up all night head-banging to metal, we were in no mood for coffee and doughnuts, we needed strong drink, or at least a little slice of Valhalla to tide us over. The new Avery headquarters is simply jaw dropping. An enormous building, for starters, with a pair of taprooms and a modern brewing facility that would make many in the industry quite jealous. We were like a couple of giddy kids making our way to wonderland and the anticipation was met with some of the hands-down best beers I have ever had the pleasure of tasting from the source. Having enjoyed many of Avery’s offerings over the past decade or so, we stuck to some of the brewery exclusive options with such delectable choices as Gored (a splendid pumpkin beer), Out of Mind coffee stout, and Raja IPA (here’s hoping we get a few of these in Albuquerque!).

The ridiculous lineup of Avery beers, many only on tap at the brewery.

The ridiculous lineup of Avery beers, many only on tap at the brewery.

The food offerings were definitely on par with the quality of the beer, a menu fit for a king to be sure. Being that we are indeed the Dark Side Brew Crew, we were well prepared for such powerful brews as the Reverend (standard and barrel aged), Samael’s, The Beast (a particular favorite of mine from the days when you could procure bombers of the behemoth), and of course Uncle Jacob’s and Tweak. To say our palates were in heaven is the truth, nothing less, nothing more.

We were properly prepared for our self-guided brewery tour.

We were properly prepared for our self-guided brewery tour.

Represent properly.

Represent properly.

A snifter of Jacobs and Tweak in hand, we wandered through the sections of the brewery proper that were open to us and basked in the glory of being at the source for so many wonderful creations.

A packaging line for the ages.

A packaging line for the ages.

Tanks as far as the eye could see.

Tanks as far as the eye could see.

Dear lord, now that is a brewhouse.

Dear lord, now that is a brewhouse.

Alas, all good things … well we brought just a few souvenirs home … must eventually come to an end. We made the grueling drive through rush hour hell to the high speed burn from Raton to the edge of Santa Fe (our insectoid friends returned, with rain to boot) and found our way back to safety and security in our homes at last, just another couple of freaks in the freak kingdom of fair ‘Burque.

That should tide us over for a little while, right?

That should tide us over for a little while, right?

Until next time, Colorado.

Until next time, Colorado.

Until the next grand adventure we bid you keep the metal loud and the beer exceptional.

Prost!

— Franz Solo