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Stoutmeister gazes upon the glory of Bosque’s Rio Vallecitos. Or he’s reacting to Arizona’s football season already going down the drain, wondering if the hops can save him.

The advent of fall is near upon us, and the time of the harvest for all things green and good has begun in earnest. The season of the malt draws ever closer, but we are in the best days for some of the juiciest and most sought after IPAs in the land. For those of you who have not yet tried a “wet hopped” beer to date, and are of the IPA proclivity, then you are in for a treat over the coming weeks.

There are a number of different ways in which hops are added to our beers. Primarily you will have dry hop pellets as your main hop source in most beers, while occasionally, during harvest season in particular, you will have the opportunity to add fresh picked hops for an entirely distinct experience. Three breweries here in the Duke city currently have wet-hopped IPAs available, but they will assuredly not last very long in this land of hops and green chile.

Bosque has a good history with these types of IPAs, owing to the success of Acequia IPA at the Great American Beer Festival (three medals total, including a gold in 2015), and this year they have gone all out with a series of four wet-hopped IPAs slated to come out over the next few weeks. Rio Vallecitos DIPA is their first entry in the series and clocks in at a sessional 8.8-percent ABV and 95 IBUs. The aroma is of sweet lemon and caracara orange, with a hint of peppery thyme that is simply lovely. Flavor-wise, we begin with a clean, peppery bitter start, juicy citrus with a bit of melon, tangerine, and pine spice to finish.

Get it on tap, or get it to go!

La Cumbre has released a wet-hopped version of our beloved Elevated, which is available both on draft and in bombers. Wet Hopped Elevated clocks in at 7.2-percent ABV and 100-plus IBUs. This one is pure dank, like the cannabis cousin of the hop, which shares in the same harvest time. The aroma is pure weed, while the flavor matches the aroma perfectly with that sweet golden elixir and juicy cannabis with a clean sweet finish.

Quarter Celtic has also just entered the fray with a wet-hopped version of Clark containing barely two-day-old freshly harvested hops from Colorado. This hazy variant clocks in at an immensely quaffable 6-percent ABV and 60 IBUs, which is on the slightly sweeter side of the IPA style. The aroma is of orange and kush straight out of the mountains. Flavor-wise, this one goes all the way back with orange and lemon kush resins flying from the devil’s fingertips … er, something.

All that haze on the left is Fresh Hop Clark, while the original version is available for comparison.

Go forth and procure these quickly as they will be gone like the last days of summer in but an instant!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

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Get your hands on TKO Triple IPA before it disappears from Boxing Bear!

Editor’s note: In honor of National IPA Day, we present a two-for-one IPA review from our resident chief hophead. Both beers are still on tap at the Bear, along with Tropic Thunder IPA, Eastern Standard IPA, and of course Uppercut IPA. — Stoutmeister

On a couple of recent forays to Boxing Bear, I had the pleasure of indulging in two of the full five IPAs they currently have on tap. TKO Triple IPA is their third-anniversary ale available on draft and in bombers, and this version of Bear Knuckle IPA is the 2017 IPA Challenge winner and has previously made the final four of the National IPA Challenge. What follows is my own take on both of these lovely offerings in the prime season of the great hop in our fair land.

TKO Triple IPA

A pure and solid knockout whether by hop blast, or by the subtle and somewhat insidious assault of strong malts of this 11’er most certainly live up to its name. We begin with an aroma of sweet orange, kush, pine, tropical fruits, and a hint of oak on the nose of this one with a small wash of warm honey malt alcohol. Sweet, slightly overripe mango, lemon, kush, and berry notes punctuate the flavor, with dry, semi-bitter grapefruit at the ultimate threshold between sips.

This is a summer sipper which to my palate will go down as one of the more memorable anniversary brews to grace my lips in some time. One could argue that we haven’t had a true triple IPA burst onto the scene in our town since the advent of the Nelsons at La Cumbre several years back.

This is a wholly different spectrum from your typical New Mexican-style IPA. Far more malt presence is here to balance with and accentuate the wonderful hops it possesses. Primarily, this is encompassed by American pale malts and some of the mid-range caramel malts which lend some sweet honey character, as though taken fresh from the hive and added to this creation. Citra, Ekuanot, and Mosaic, among others (just a wee few hop additions into well nigh bat country levels), provide quite the melange of delightful flavors and bitters as the case may be.

A deep golden ale which hearkens to the golden roof of the golden hall of Odin, and to the great golden horde of Smaug the Terrible, stolen from the people of Thorin Oakenshield, our senses are transported to the realm of imagination nigh paradise. Whether by fire pit or by hearth, TKO would well deserve a place in a good drinking horn, shared among the best of company with the metal turned as high as the sparks of the stars in the heavens above. Procure this gem of a beer as quick as you can, as it will probably not last long (at least if I have any say in the matter).

While I was enjoying TKO, I also happened to try a pint of this year’s Bear Knuckle IPA, which deserved some words of writ on its own merit.

Bear Knuckle IPA

Your two-time NM IPA Challenge winner.

This version begins with an absolute killer aroma, akin to cannabis, loads of golden resin, and skunk will clear your sinuses on the scent alone. There are hints of mango and a strong presence of orange in there as well, but mostly just the dankest, stickiest … er, beer! Right! On only a few occasions has a beer lived up to such a grandiose aroma (I could smell my pint at home, which was in the living room while I was across the room in the kitchen), and this is absolutely bonafide.

The recent NABA bronze-medal-winning batch of Uppercut IPA, to my mind, was part of the inspiration for this iteration of Bear Knuckle, namely loads and loads of Simcoe among other hops giving that skunk as none other. But, that is where Uppercut and Bear Knuckle diverge, as there are many folds of blanketed orange, tropical fruits, and blueberry hints enveloped in this light amber-colored ale. Quite a measure of sweet mango and caracara orange comes out as this hop lover’s delight warms, so do give it some chance to sit while you imbibe. Part of the surprise of this beer (how well the aroma and flavor match is one surprise) is just how well the malts hold up after such an assault from damn well plaid (faster than ludicrous speed) hopping. The finish tastes like grapefruit and golden resin, fit for a golden hall that leaves you like a good firery salsa, demanding more and more.

Procure these quickly my friends, ere the hops fade and the season of the malt draws nigh!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

A summer jaunt to Quarter Celtic

Posted: July 24, 2017 by Franz Solo in Beer Review
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Clark is back and juicier than ever.

Editor’s note: Somebody was supposed to finish his Hops Brewery article the other night. Instead, he ended up reviewing the beers he was drinking while not really working on that. I guess I’ll let it slide. — S

I suppose it was just to be, as I headed to Quarter Celtic on rumors of an even more “Juiced” version of Clark IPA, and happened upon a lovely Berliner Weiße as well.

Clark Juiced* IPA

Grapefruit and tangerine aroma with sweet orange. Wonderful full flavor elements of juicy Valencia orange, sweet lemon, and grapefruit pith. Hints of fresh pine from the hops takes my palate to the frosted forests of the northern realms, with a soundtrack of Wintersun and Wolfheart. This is an incredibly quaffable IPA of the eastern slant, with the local 505 high explosives of hops very much present to carry your palate beyond the bitter realms to the warm lands of the Desert Vipers and Dornish … er, Granada, Spain. The gardens of the Alhambra with oranges dripping from the trees, and rows of roses of every color and scent you could imagine. That is where I am transported to in this moment with this last pint of the dying day. Ride forth in numbers and storm the gates, er, doors and procure this gem of a beer before it fades like summer into autumn.

It’s a stoplight of deliciousness!

While you bathe your tastebuds and olfactory senses in the hops of the Clark, or perhaps before, try a lovely Berliner Weiße with classic flavorings and quaff your thirst in the heat of July. This traditional German-style sour of light alcohol, and thus immensely quaffable proportions, is just the ticket at the end of a good, honest day toiling in the sun. A cool, crisp concoction with two flavoring options (raspberry and woodruff) is sure to please your parched palate in these days of the unpredictable monsoon and spectacular sunsets. A quintessential post-yard-work beer, this Berliner Weiße finishes quite crisp on its own, clearing the throats of the dusty dryness of our desert home after a hard day in the sun. We have two distinct variations with the pair of flavor additions, so try one of each and discover what you like best.

There are more of these seasonal brews which beg trying, but the time of this day is spent, so I entreat you to go forth and enjoy what your heart desires of any of these, be it the Berliner, the Juiced* Clark, or another. May your beers ne’er empty, nor your mirth ever fade.

Until we meet again,

Skål!

— Franz Solo

El Jugo, a beer so good even Stoutmeister’s hop-fearing relatives were enjoying it!

As this is the season of the zenith in hop dominance in our fair land, Brandon and I, Franz Solo, took it upon ourselves to seek out new hops and new hopilizations. We boldly went … (cue Beastie Boys’ Sabotage while tooling along in a fire apple red Trans Am circa 1970 with T-Tops) to the edge of hops and back, and what follows is our tale — The Tale of Sir Hopsilot.

We began our quest in the fair lands of La Cumbre, where we found the juices flowing with the freshest of batches of El Jugo and the hop maidens well …

La Cumbre El Jugo

Franz Solo: Aroma of orange and citrus juice, with a hair of Simcoe. Tastes just like the name says, Jugo, juice. That makes me think about breakfast, and well, this is an excellent breakfast beer. Light mouthfeel and quite tart. Floral and refreshing. Name a common tropical or semi-tropical fruit and you could quite well make the argument for finding a little of this flavor, a little of that flavor, and so on and so forth. This isn’t quite one style nor another established style, we’ve gone out on our own, pure gonzo hops, er … maybe you could just shove me into … Madness. Well, crisp fresh as hell hop madness that is.

I dig it, not really New England not really NM, doing what it wants according to the whims of the great magnet.

These come in four packs, so I had a second chance, and third, and fourth to pontificate the luscious and well juicy …

Second go-round: Still juicy, sweet then tart as the name and label suggest. Even after a Stone Ruinten, I can still taste the layers of pithy citrus flesh hops of this magnificent fresh offering to the hop gods. Somewhere between the Elevated and the Dank and the Nelson twins (Father and Full) is where the theme of this beer lies. Fresh and filled with life like a summer morning, the color of the marigolds on my back patio, both French and African varieties transfigured from the apprehension of color into the sense of taste, with vigorous young and a lively passion. That is what this tastes like to me.

Brandon’s notes: El Good-o … er, El Jugo, is a beer that could convert my previous bias against this style. Pleasantly fragrant, citrus notes of lemon and a mild floral bouquet, not dank or pungent, but still lets you know it has hops. The palate is, as Franz said and the name implies, juicy. A fresh squeezed glass o’ goodness. Could be part of a balanced breakfast in my house. Drinks easily, light malt base makes for an easy drinking and surprisingly clean finishing beer for this variety of beer.

From the fair lands of La Cumbre we headed north to the mountains of old Santa Fe, where we found an IPA on the very peaks of old Baldy where the elk do dwell. Of the 7k, this is our summation.

Santa Fe 7k

Just looking at 7K you can almost smell that beautiful aroma through your screen.

Franz Solo: On to being so high right now … er, 7k to be precise. Sweet orange tangerine with some dank overtones, and undertones/throughtones/betweentones, and so on and so forth. A little berry and a hint of pine to finish the aroma and flavor both. Flavor is crisp and carries back with a hair of sweet orange grapefruit, mid to front, that permeates the onslaught. A bit of lemon or some sourish lemongrass punctuate this splendid new unique addition to the ranks of such venerated offerings as (in no particular order) La Cumbre’s Elevated, Tractor’s Almanac, and Marble’s IPA as year-round hop offerings readily accessible to us in the Duke City. Initial aroma is like a mango peach, second can in. There are some very nice cannabis-esque notes smack in the middle of this delight. Very bright beer that has an abundance of hop character, yet remains quite quaffable. This takes me back to the summertime in the mountains around Santa Fe, circa the early 2000s, quaffing some of those first groundbreaking IPAs after a hard day of work. Grab a sixer of this and climb up Mount Atalaya or Santa Fe Baldy and take some 7k even higher.

Brandon’s notes: Let’s get down to brass tacks — how much for all of the 7k available? Because I wish to drink it all. This has to win a special award just for its aromatics, because those slight lemongrass, pineapple, and floral notes are outstanding. The body is pure grapefruit, pineapple, and some mango punch as well. Finishes extra clean, crisp, and a subtle malt base gives a good backing. SFBC crafted an excellent IPA here.

From the mountains of old Santa Fe, our quest took us east to the haven of the Dogfish, where strange brewings are known to occur.

Dogfish Head Romantic Chemistry

Weird? Well, yeah, it’s a Dogfish Head beer.

Franz Solo: Like 60-minute with an apricot nose, peach, and just a hint of ginger. For a sessionable East Coast variant, this ain’t half bad. At least the fruit is not cloying, but I’d like a more prominent showing from some of my favorite things. Fond memories from childhood of my maternal grandfather’s apricot trees in the summer, when we’d run around in the sprinklers, which were fed off the well he dug himself in the North Valley. The mango does blend extremely well with the apricot, I must say, and the light kick of ginger finishes with a nice bright flourish. It’s no doubt the Burqueno in me wants to take this beer and increase basically every flavor present by a factor of three or more. Overall, an interesting and tasty experience.

From the Atlantic, we headed to the Pacific to find the great Gargoyle of Stone Brewing, legendary beast of the grand mosh pit of hops, to see what offering he had in store for us.

Stone Ruinten with Orange Peel and Vanilla Bean

Zing! Pow! Stone, you have done it again.

Franz Solo: Smells like a sweet, hoppy dreamsicle. Loads of slightly bitter orange rind gives way to the veritable mosh pit of good old bitter hops that are the signature of the behemoth, and are wrapped in sweet vanilla, which punctuates the afterburners. I do mean afterburners like the afterglow … er … a plethora of tangy citrus and pine woven in a tapestry of sweet black vanilla. As one who enjoyed first Stone IPA, then Ruination, and at last Ruinten in the early 2000s, this is somewhat of a curveball, which I’m entirely sure will be a delight to some and a dreadful letdown to others. When they added orange and vanilla they went full on Crime and Punishment status (some of my favorite spicy-as-hell ales, check the archives if you want a more detailed description of the experience of each) and, well, I definitely enjoy a dreamsicle, always have. As I delve deeper and slake my thirst on this scorcher of a day, ye olde mosh pit of hops starts to begin to resemble what I know lurks in these golden depths. The deception of this beer when cold and after a half hour or so quite amuses me, actually. We have our old friend in what at first taste is a nice, sweet vanilla-hopped ale, but what emerges is a delightful and brutal bitter twist, like showing up for a blues band and getting some full on black metal blasted in your face in hop form. I dig this spicy, almost peppery orange pine odd fellow. Now for the rub. I as a person love strange and bold variations on a theme. Now, would I take this over a straight on Ruinten? Well, depends on the day, really. Some will agree, some disagree, but hell, variety maketh life worth living, and I’m maybe a little inspired to make some damn crazy sounding and tasting beers of my own, drinking in the vein of this year’s locally available Ruinten. If you want something familiar, have a 505 staple local IPA. You want to buy the ticket, take the ride, and go on a taste adventure, then have at you!

Brandon’s notes: I’ve become acclimated to the past editions of Ruinten, so having a variant with orange peel and vanilla bean was slightly jarring. At first, the aroma is all zest, pine, and subtle grapefruit … not bad so far. But, upon the first few sips, I felt the need to punch drywall; all I got initially was heavy, bitter orange peel, some Northwestern earthy/pine notes, and a touch of lime zest as well. This has always been a beer that punches you hard with a ton of IBUs, but my initial impressions weren’t favorable. But, good things take time; as it opened up over about 10 to 15 minutes, the orange citrus and vanilla bean notes popped a lot more. At this point, you will get more of an orange soda/vanilla float with an overload of hops experience. Doesn’t sound good? It actually is. Just remember to let it open in your glass and you will have a solid triple IPA experience.

* * * * *

We returned, at long last, to our homeland, where we found the following challengers to the throne of pure hops, the very Graal of hops for us, as it were.

Current local offerings are as follows:

Challenge IPA 3, Bosque

Don’t Call it a Comeback IPA, Bosque

Bear Knuckle IPA, Boxing Bear

(Forthcoming) TKO Triple IPA, Boxing Bear

Lucha Lupulin IPA, Canteen

Juiced Gondola Party, Quarter Celtic

Project El CuCuy DIPA, The 377 Brewery

Up north in Santa Fe:

Gatekeeper IPA, Blue Corn

#19 IPA, Second Street

We suggest you go out and enjoy these listed, and all the rest of the advancing IPAs from the grand duel of the IPA Challenge, for this foul year of our dark lord, 2017, and dance with the fair green hop dragon!

I entreat you all to relish in this time of the great jousting of hop-laden warhorses and explore not only our fair New Mexico, but the hops of the great beyond. May your palates be never overcome with bitterness, and your hop aromas ever divine, for this is the season of the great Graal of the Lupulin, and we the Knights of the Venerated Hops. Drink well of the hop bombs, and I’ll see you all at the finals of this year’s New Mexico IPA Challenge!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

KBS 2017: All your coffees are belong to us

Posted: June 30, 2017 by Franz Solo in Beer Review
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Oh, wonderful darkness, we have been enjoying the hell out of you these last three glorious years.

Editor’s note: This little mini-tasting event that we had actually took place a while back. Somebody just didn’t get around to typing it up until now. Why run it? Because it’s Friday, and sometimes we just like sharing how much goofy stuff we get to do. Haven’t you always wondered what sort of rambling discussions we have about beer? Well, here you go. — Stoutmeister

We in the Crew recently had the opportunity to sample and review the ’17 version of the much-beloved-among-us KBS from Founders. What follows is our rather fun adventure into the darkest of stout depths in which we did a mini vertical tasting of the ’15, ’16, and ’17 iterations of KBS.

We began as you might, talking up the finer points of the new offerings from Isotopes Park, including a helmet filled with three full, glorious pounds of nachos and Philly cheesesteaks, courtesy of Filling Phillys, which I heartily recommend.

Solo: Alright, you do want three pounds of nachos and Philly cheese?

Brandon: I do want three pounds of nachos and Philly cheese!

Solo: And we’re back. 2017 KBS first impressions are coffee!

The chorus of our host Brandon and Stoutmeister agreed with this sentiment.

Solo: Huge coffee and then whiskey as f*ck.

Stoutmeister: Honestly, it’s gotta be a cold brew, it’s so intense.

Brandon: It’s a really concentrated and the coffee is intense and focused. Definitely roasty. The bitterness of the coffee almost makes the chocolate kind of just blend in, sort of a dark chocolate kind of a way.

Solo: Yeah, it’s kind of a mocha.

Stoutmeister: It’s a little drier. It’s not like some of those barrel-aged stouts that pick up so much of that vanilla character from the barrels and it becomes so sweet.

Solo: This is just straight, burly, coffee chocolate barrel.

Brandon: You get a little heat in the back from the whiskey there.

Stoutmeister: I will say that the coffee sticks around the longest. Even though you get that rush of the whiskey, it does smoothly fade out, but the coffee just remains. All of your coffees belong to us.

Solo: And, damn good coffee at that, nice earthy tones, none of the acidic nature of coffee, really.

Brandon: Not astringent.

Solo: Nope, clearly strong, but that’s a good, uh, whatever blend they used.

Stoutmeister: Give it a swish and smell the aroma.

Swishes commence all round.

Stoutmeister: That’s just lovely.

Solo: And, it just burns with a tad bit of whiskey at the end.

Brandon: I think more so than the last year’s that I’ve had this one’s a little more bourbon-barrel forward initially. I’d be curious to see what this tastes like aged, just because I think that would mellow out a little bit.

Stoutmeister: Yeah, it’s definitely going to be an interesting aged beer, need to procure more and find someplace to put it, outta room!

Solo: Well, actually, now that I’ve drank one of them, I might have room for one more! Although, I still have a large quantity of the last one, and then there’s my home-brew ESB and the Mead …

Brandon: Front is a little chocolate, and then there are slight, roasty notes in there with a little bit of toasted caramel in there, with dark roasted malts and a little bit of molasses in there at the front, but then it just gives way to all the coffee.

Solo: It’s not overly, but a slight bit of raisin or black currant near the back.

Stoutmeister: Yeah, it’s definitely more black currant.

Brandon: And, the coffee is just all over in there and matches with that oakiness.

Solo: Bathe me in dark oakiness.

Stoutmeister: We need to name a new beer that.

Solo and Brandon agree. Various nom nom nom noises ensue.

Solo: A little bit of caramel, toffee aroma notes come forward as it warms, just a hair, coming through the coffee.

Brandon: To quote Jason Mewes in the (movie) Zach and Miri Make a Porno, “That’s some damn fine coffee!”

Solo: The stout’s starting to come through just a little bit.

Brandon: Even for imperial standards I think this is one that works better a little warmer than average, maybe because it’s definitely more complex as it is warming here, and a small pour definitely helps.

Solo: For malts nothing in particular stands out. It’s a melange, but I’d expect no less from a well-crafted and blended coffee barrel-aged chocolate monstrosity. It really sticks to the tongue; sticky black bourbon of death.

Brandon: I think you could drink a four-pack of this.

Stoutmeister: I totally think you could, although the next day I’d be like (unintelligible wailing).

Brandon: It would be like that one day I decided to drink a KBS and then I had two Uncle Jacobs. (One of the very best from Avery Brewing for those uninitiated.)

Solo: The other night I had two Pivos, and then I had Frootwood, and then I had one of those Olde School barleywines from Dogfish Head, that was, I was coherent, I just had a mild headache but …

Rambling ensued.

Stoutmeister: Back to KBS.

Brandon: Yeah, this is freaking amazing as it warms, now I want some french toast. Every time I have KBS, I just want french toast.

Solo: Bring us chicken and waffles!

Rambling on the topic of Nexus Brewing and our obsession with their amazing chicken and waffles commenced, followed by us returning to the topic of the new food offerings at Isotopes Park, including the wondrous Orbit Dog in all of its artery-clogging glory, and then the baseball helmet filled with three pounds of nachos returned, and finally we were back on topic.

That is not the Eye of Sauron in our KBS. We swear.

Solo: Now, oddly enough, even though this is not CBS, it does have somewhat of that maple quality to it.

Brandon: I think what we are getting there is a lot of different composition that is creating like a more almost maple flavor. It’s not just a strictly maple flavor.

Solo: Nah, like a maple toffee coffee something.

Brandon: So, overall impressions of it?

Solo: Delicious.

Stoutmeister: Rather amazing, to be this good this fresh, that’s a rare thing these days where there are so many barrel-aged beers these days that really are made to be aged an extra year in the bottle.

Solo: And this was aged, perfectly.

Brandon: I’m picking up actually a little more chocolate as it goes on. Overall, I think it’s a little more coffee forward definitely than the past years, which is fine by me.

Solo: Not going to complain one iota.

Brandon: Oh no, twist my arm, it’s wonderful. The coffee just doesn’t completely overwhelm, but it kind of supports those other flavors, possibly even supporting the whole beer, but as it does warm you get more of the stout base which comes through, too.

Solo: I’ll go on a limb and agree with the brewer that brewed this beer who said well, you can age these things but this one’s meant to drink fresh, we’ve already aged it and it’s right where we want it to be. I will still age some but yeah I’ll drink this fresh any day of the week.

* * * * *

We then proceeded to break out bottles of the ’16 and ’15 KBS offerings, and our consensus was that the ’17 was more coffee forward, the ’16 was more chocolate forward, and the ’15 was very much barrel forward. We could all understand why people like one year better than another, owing to the prominence of one’s favorite aspect of the delightful amalgam of flavors which is KBS.

We of the Dark Side Brew Crew, being the coffee- and stout-fueled demons that we are, thoroughly enjoyed this year’s variation and are certainly pleased with how it turned out. It will be of some interest to see what next year’s batch has as far as prominence, and we await the offering with the hope that our supply from this and last year will last us long enough!

All hail KBS, mighty breakfast beer deserving of a full spread of candied bacon, fried chicken of the best quality, and some damn fine waffles. There is still an ample supply of both bombers and four packs here in the Duke City (well, we hope so) so grab em before we in the Crew consume them all. Thanks again to Founders for sending us a couple of these delights to sample and review, we heartily enjoyed every last drop and completely enjoyed this delicious review.

Until next time,

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Southwest Grape and Grain has been reorganized by its new owner.

As the member of the Crew who does quite a lot of consistent home brewing, I was intrigued when I heard that ownership of Southwest Grape and Grain, my main local source for brewing supplies and ingredients, had changed hands. It turns out I already knew the gentleman who took over for the previous owner, Kevin Davis of Boxing Bear.

Donavan Lane may be known to some of you as the former co-owner/brewer at the since-closed Broken Bottle Brewing. As he told me when we met, he had an interest from the beginning in opening a home-brewing supply store, but at the time Grape and Grain had just opened and there was also Victor’s Grape Arbor in the metro area as well, making a third shop likely unsustainable.

Fast forward to the early stages of this year and Kevin approached Donavan about taking over Grape and Grain, due to the increasing demands on his time due to the success of Boxing Bear. Kevin said he knew that Donavan had the interest and knowledge to continue the success he had started. From my initial and subsequent visits to Grape and Grain, this has been a productive transition. On to our conversation.

Donavan: So, initially we were going through the product mix of what we had and we’ve got our clearance rack. We’ve been trying to go through and clear out stuff that doesn’t sell or that we had for awhile, or that we had multiple similar items of. We’ve been slowly pulling items that we know we don’t want to keep anymore, or maybe we can get a better quality item from a different vendor. Prior to Broken Bottle, I spent nine years in retail management, so stepping into here the scale of things is different, but a lot of the things you learn in corporate retail management apply here. Simple things like consistent signage where we went through the whole store and replaced every sign so it has the same font and the same style, little things like that.

Solo: The devil’s in the details.

Getting everything organized was a major goal inside the store.

Donavan: It’s kind of been a process of shifting things around where before you move one thing, you’ve got to move something else. Over the years, as different products came in and different vendors, well it got to the point that everything in the store was fairly disorganized.

Solo: It was a bit of clutter somewhat and kind of an adventure walking around trying to pick out this or that.

Donavan: Yeah, you had this piece for kegging over here, this piece over there, so we wanted to get draft equipment in one area, beer-brewing equipment in one area, wine-making equipment in one area, beer ingredients in one area, so that you’re not having to go back and forth all over the store. That’s been a little bit of a process to get it all moved around, but we’re finally pretty much there where we’re not going to be shifting much more.

Solo: At least for awhile.

Donavan: The other things were getting displays out, trying to have every single item have a display model where people can actually see it. And, it’s a simple thing, like put up a bottle tree and put some bottles on it so people can see what its actually used for. It makes a big difference, especially for beginning home brewers who don’t necessarily know what all of the equipment is.

Solo: Yeah, if you can actually see it out you get sort of a sense in your head of, oh, this might be what I need to do this, and you can start to build a picture of how the whole process goes and that’s, well, what a good store should be.

Donavan: We are starting to get there with moving everything around, and we’ve already been bringing in quite a few new products, but there’s more and more that we’re looking to bring in. We just recently got in kombucha-making kits.

Solo: I saw your Facebook post about that. I’ve seen a lot more of a media presence as well.

Donavan: Well, exactly. Kevin, what with time constraints, just got to point where he wasn’t able to dedicate the time here that he was in the first couple years that it was open. So, a lot of that stuff went to the wayside. We’re working on using Facebook, social media, getting our email list back up and running, where we’ll start sending out monthly newsletters. The basic stuff that Kevin did initially, but then kind of got away from with time constraints on him.

Solo: Definitely, well with Boxing Bear doing so well that they had to expand over that whole building.

That grain is just waiting to become beer.

Donavan: We’re also looking at things like kegerators and things like that, so we started looking at actually making them and selling them to customers where previously we would have the parts and Kevin would show how to do it, but we didn’t sell the units put together.

Solo: Yeah, they’re not too bad to build.

Donavan: A lot of home brewers want to build things themselves. That’s part of the hobby, but there are quite a few home brewers, too, that either don’t have the tools or don’t have the mechanical ability to build something like that. In the latter case, they’d rather just say can I simply buy it?

Solo: There’s an extent to which people want to go this far, some people want to go that far, it just really depends person to person. Do I want to build a kegerator or do I want to just buy this thing outright? Do I want to make a wort chiller or is this something I’d rather procure pre-made so that it’s streamlined instead of my own crazy wire contraption? (Which works quite well I might add, though she many not be the prettiest.)

Donavan: On that account, we are starting to make some of our own products here in the store. That’s part of my long-term goal is to start manufacturing some different home-brewing equipment ourselves, like for example wort chillers. We are buying wort chillers pre-made and these ones here (available in store) we made. We designed a jig and comparing these to the ones we were buying, they look identical, and we just made a jig to be able to wrap it really tightly and neatly and do all of the bends properly and such. Little things like that, where we want to start getting our own line of some different equipment, which allows us to offer some of our different ideas on design and on a basic thing like this (wort chiller), save cost and offer it for a little bit less cheaper than what we had.

The other thing we just started doing and we are still in the process, we haven’t gotten it completely stocked yet, but we are starting to do our own ingredients kits.

Solo: Nice, that’s awesome.

Donavan: The brewer’s best ones, they have quite a bit of variety, but we’ve been trying to pick different styles that they don’t necessarily have available.

Solo: So you’ll get to throw in some more creativity into the recipes.

Add a few barrel chips to give your home brew a new dimension of flavor.

Donavan: Yeah, so we’re just starting to put those together we got them out on the shelf in this last week. I’ve started reaching out to all of the breweries, because with doing our own kits I want to do a line of clone kits of New Mexico breweries. So, I’ve started talking to several of the breweries and there are several that are on board already. They’re going to give us one or two of their recipes where we’ll do a clone kit there and it will be branded with XYZ brewery. So, it gives them a little promotion and we are looking to get that going in the next few weeks.

Solo: That’s a great idea.

Donavan: You know that the brewery industry, the people outside of it think they’re all in competition, and to people who work in it realize that they all work together, they all help each other out.

Solo: Yeah, there is competition, but there is also a desire to build something better in this community and in our state. Every time I interview someone from a different place they will tell me, ‘Yeah I lent a bag of grain over here, they lent us a keg washer while we were doing this.’ Everyone helps everyone else out and the industry as grown because of it and is better for it.

Donavan: We really want to work on building relationships, too, with the breweries. I mean, we’re not necessarily in the same industry, but a lot of their customers are our customers and our customers are their customers. A lot of the brewers started out as home brewers, built their knowledge, and worked their way up to that. We’ve been doing classes and for every class I’ve tried to get a brewery to sponsor it, so they will bring some beer in for people to sample and send one of their brewers to hang out during the class, and give themselves a little plug and chime in on a question or two. The customers like it because it’s not just me giving a class, it’s a professional brewer doing it and reiterating what I’m saying. So, we’ve been trying to build those relationships and do those as well.

Solo: Yeah, I always thought it would be fun to have more variety, because it’s fine, I started off on kits as most of us do, but having more variety there, that gives you more ideas and starts your creative juices flowing and leads to better things.

Donavan: That’s our goal to maybe fill in some of these spots and try different stuff. All of these are extract kits. We are also going to start to do all-grain kits, too. Customers make that jump from extract to an all grain, and sometimes some of that hesitation is well, OK, now I understand the all-grain process and I’ve created my equipment and have what I need, but finding the recipe of what they want to do is a little daunting.

Solo: Getting a good recipe and then getting to know the actual grains well enough to where you feel comfortable enough to say, oh, I’m going to take this grain that grain and this other grain in roughly these quantities and come up with something on my own. Having an all-grain kit and recipe definitely helps to bridge that gap.

Everything a home brewer needs to make his or her own kit.

Donavan: So yeah, those all-grain kits we will be putting together will make it easy for those customers that are just now making that jump to all grain, and so for their first few all-grain batches they can do just like I did with extract brewing, and just buy a kit for a certain recipe.

Long term, ideally we want to find a more centralized locationm since at present we’re in one corner of the city here, so when our lease is up here we will look at the possibility of finding something more centralized. We are looking to get out to events as well, we did the Science of Beer event at Explora, and we’ve definitely gotten a lot of good feedback on events like that. (Editor’s note: SWGG was at BearFest this past weekend.) Customers who don’t even necessarily know that we are here might go to an event like that and over the summer we are looking at maybe trying to get out to farmer’s markets.

Solo: You are (part of our) local community, so you should be a part of something like that.

Donavan: A lot of the people who are going to farmer’s markets are the same type of people who make their own beer or kombucha or wine, et cetera.

Solo: Yeah, you get a person who wants to have more control over their food, their drink, and own that whole process as much as they can.

Donavan: We do have some other long-term goals as well. At some point, we might look at getting a (small) brewer’s license here in the store, not to necessarily try to be a brewery, but if someone walks in and they want to have a beer, then you could have a beer while you are shopping. Bring in local beer on tap, and if we have a clone from a certain brewery we can say hey, we have that on tap here if you’d like to try it. (Then) here’s the recipe right here, you can try to make that beer at home. Things like that are kind of long-term goals, a few years down the road, probably. Here, obviously, space-wise we don’t have room to add something like that. But, it’s something we will definitely be looking at in the future when we look at new locations.

Solo: That would be awesome, to be able to have a pint while you are thinking up a recipe would be just amazing.

Donavan: Just a matter of taking all of the steps to actually get there.

Solo: Yeah, organization being first and expanding your base, (then) looking for a place that’s going to accommodate that and grow those ideas and so forth.

Donavan: The other things we’ve talked about doing is having a corner that’s just all schwag from all of the local breweries, where if we end up doing the brewer’s license and have a bunch of local beer on tap, that would just localize it to where you can just buy it all in one place, rather than going from brewery to brewery. That’s something we might look at talking to the breweries about as well. We might look at doing a section of the store that’s just man-cave stuff as well.

Solo: Totally, the two things absolutely go together. I mean, I have a room that’s just all my stuff, and then the closet’s just filled with my home brewery (equipment).

Donavan: Whether it’s brewery signs or bottle openers or different things like that.

Solo: Cool stuff that all ties in together. These are good ideas, I like all of them.

Donavan: It’s a matter of just taking the steps and slowly working our way from one step to another and getting it all in place. Other than that, it’s just the day-to-day running the store and helping people make beer and wine and enjoying it.

* * * * *

The results speak for themselves, as Donavan has the time to dedicate and the knowledge needed to make Grape and Grain successful now and in the years to come.

“It wasn’t like we had to come in and reinvent the wheel or anything,” he added. “I came in and said let’s tweak this and put my own touch on that and refine that and take it to the next level.”

There are frequent events on brewing and such for all different levels which are offered at the store typically on weekends so check out their website or check them out on Facebook for details. Above all, if you have an interest in beginning to brew or learn more about your craft, I heartily recommend heading down to Grape and Grain. Happy brewing!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

A delicious crowler of liquid gold hops. The book in the background is also worth checking out, Albuquerque Beer, written by our own Stoutmeister.

As we watch the last embers of spring fade and the blazing heat of the summer solstice approach, three beer-related themes come to my mind. The season of hops approaches with our local NM IPA Challenge, but it is still a month away and there are some opportunities to sample some of what might grace our palates at that particular hop battle over the next few weeks.

Secondly, this is the season of what I have liked to call “yard work beer,” or hoppy but light pilsners, lagers, session IPAs of around 5-percent ABV or so, and simple light farmhouse saison ales.

Thirdly, it is the time of year that I bottle my annual batch of mead sourced from a local beekeeper, and ponder what I might do with this year’s batch. I heartily recommend an ice cold mead at the end of a day spent working in the yard with a few “yard work beers” to boot. I will be detailing more on the subject of mead in a later writ, as at present my focus is on the season of hops and a brew that has blasted my palate into nigh the oblivion next door.

We are blessed in New Mexico to have multiple “challenge caliber” IPA seasons, owing to the occurrences of the National IPA Challenge in the spring, the New Mexico IPA Challenge in the summer, and of course the Great American Beer Festival in the fall. As we in the 505 are known to be of some merit in the alchemy of hops, owing to the seemingly ever-growing list of awards and accolades from festivals for our local brewed IPAs, the competition at the local level is quite heated and we, the connoisseurs of hops, are glad beneficiaries.

It has been some time since I found a brew of singular merit and uniqueness possessing of the “wha-tang!” factor as far as hop presence, and felt like I needed to share my enjoyment of it with you, dear reader. I present Dragline IPA from Canteen Brewing.

This is not the first brewing of an IPA under this moniker as we had a version which appeared in May of last year, and my Untappd feed reminded me how much I enjoyed that particular iteration. The present vintage has ascended, in my opinion, to something greater still and I will henceforth describe for you what wonders I daresay it holds.

The initial aroma is of orange candy grapefruit, with a sweet pine finish almost minty and soft in character. We have the traditional dank hop character one would expect from a New Mexico IPA, but melded with layers of different and distinct, sometimes subtle citrus, mango, and peach. The mouthfeel is wonderfully full, yet balanced and with somewhat of a chewy character owing to a strong liquid gold-colored malt backbone pushing 8-percent ABV. The head is perfectly white, which contrasts well with the deep golden amber ocean enveloping a plethora of hops within.

Hops upon hops upon hops grace this glorious elixir!

Were I to classify this as a newer or older style of IPA, I would say that is is certainly both, taken to 11, and then given the best mixing and mastering job that any metal record has had. Wait, were we talking metal or beer? But, I digress. With stronger IPAs as well as with any barrel aged beer of merit, I will always delineate between the initial flavors which appear and those which rise to prominence as the beer warms over time. The best brews will stand up to this test and open up with some increased temperature, while any imperfections or imbalances will show their true colors in the same vein.

For the initial flavor impressions I get a blast of tart grapefruit, then pine, then a lemon-orange candy mid-palate, with a strong and crisp pine finish likely owing to the presence of African Queen hops as one of four in the brew. As it warms, I get a tad more sweet pine on the forefront, with a blood orange and grapefruit finish.

In short, I adore this brew, from fore hop to back hop to blue line hop to, er … let’s go Penguins! A splendid season it was for hockey, and thank the gods for hop bombs as we are in the dry season for sporting and other entertainment indoors, away from the delightful dry heat of summer in ‘Burque.

This beer makes me want to see Goatwhore again and mosh till the end of days, down another pint, and do it all over once more. I would also recommend an early morning or late evening hike in the mountains, or by the Rio Grande, or perhaps a jaunt into El Malpais, aka “Mordor” itself, appended by a quaffing of this delectable hop leviathan. But ,don’t take my word for it, go out and try a pint on its own or side-by-side with Exodus IPA or Flashback IPA, and see what you think.

Or, better yet, continue your hop-devastated palate destruction by trying the numerous other extreme hopped offerings around our fair abode, for there are many worth a draught or 11. Of note, I would recommend (in no particular order) Dragline and Exodus from Canteen, the Mother Road/Tractor Brewing collaboration DIPA, Challenge IPA 2.0 from Bosque, Uppercut IPA from Boxing Bear Brewing (this latest batch is Simcoe-tastic!), Flora Colossus DIPA from Flix Brewhouse, Project Dank (as always and NIPAC 2017 champion) from La Cumbre, and I’ve heard splendid things about this Mosaic IPA from Marble, but need to make my way over there stat!

So, go forth and enjoy the bounty of the summer of hops, and crack open a yard work brew or two while you’re at it. Until we meet again, keep the metal loud, the hops extreme, and the sun blazing. See you all at the 2017 IPA Challenge!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

This writ is dedicated in part to our recently fallen dear friend Justin Shearer who was a marvelous human being and fellow lover of metal and all things hopped to the extreme. Eternal Hails!

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