Author Archive

The New Mexico Distillers Guild continues to grow alongside its brewing brethren.

Editor’s note: As we have documented many times before, real life often gets in the way of all of our stories being published in a timely manner, and sometimes breaking news like the La Cumbre taproom opening can further delay an article. That happened here (the event below was August 11), but we still felt like there was some important information to share, so away we go. — S

The weather was not looking particularly great, as Shawna and I set out for Downtown Albuquerque. What looked to be a storm front was pushing up from the south along the Rio Grande. We took a bit of solace in the idea that we were going to be inside for the second annual NM Distillers Guild Festival, but we were wrong, very wrong. As we reached the Banque Lofts along Central and Second Street, we were greeted at the door, collected our commemorative tasting glasses, and proceeded into an elevator, with the instructions simply to press the “R”. Up we went, nine floors and onto the landing for the massive rooftop patio which was to host the event.

The diffused and setting sun and the views overlooking Albuquerque quickly left a memorable impression, as by a stroke of luck the weather held off, despite some heavy gusts in the beginning. It was reminiscent in form to the beer-focused festivals, with each distillery setting up their unique tables and tents, eagerly waiting to educate and lend a sample.

With but a modest understanding of the styles and production methods at hand, this made for an exciting and eye-opening adventure in terms of flavors and possibilities with distilled spirits and liquors. Participants included Left Turn, Tractor, Broken Trail, Hollow Spirits, Little Toad Creek, Algodones Distillery, Santa Fe Spirits, and Still Spirits. There was certainly no bad, or even mediocre, cocktails or samples to be had. Each distillery had certainly brought out the big guns innovation-wise, and were ready to impress.

Hollow Spirits owner Frank Holloway, right, is a familiar face to folks in the beer scene.

Among all of this is where we met with Frank Holloway and chef Tristin Rogers with Hollow Spirits, which will soon be opening in the Wells Park neighborhood (1324 First Street NW). Frank’s name may sound familiar from his previous endeavors with Red Door Brewing. With a warm reception, and the crowd still building, we took the opportunity to talk about the festival and his current project.

“Luckily we are still small enough that we could pull off this venue, it’s a beautiful view,” Frank said. “Last year’s (Spirits Festival) was up here, too. There haven’t been too many changes. I would say we are getting better at the process. The setups are getting a little bit better, everyone is starting to bring out their tents; all the setups are a little bit better.”

The upturn in interest and founding of more distilleries definitely added to the overall participation this year, Frank said.

“There are more people than last year,” he said. “Tractor is here now, too. That has been huge to the scene, especially when you understand them from the beer side.”

The drinks were poured into the evening.

While still dwarfed by the beer community in terms of numbers, the Spirits Festival was a testament to the growing traction of the distilling side of beverage production here in New Mexico. (Stay tuned to the NMDSBC for a follow-up on the NM Distillers Guild itself.)

Taking the opportunity before the wind decided to almost take off with some tents again, we further discussed the progress of Hollow Spirits and what seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of projects.

“It seems like we’re about a month out,” Frank said. “We’re painting, about to do the floors, pretty much all the plumbing and electrical is done.”

Frank said he was cautiously optimistic, but determined to finish.

“I’ve been in the bar industry serving, distributing, opened Red Door, since I was 19,” he said. “No matter if your job is the coolest job in the world, you get tired of doing the same thing over and over and over again. So personally, I don’t want to do the same thing over for myself or my staff. So for the most part, we’re going to try and rotate (our selections) as much as possible and do seasonal drinks.”

Hollow Spirits will be working with local growers to acquire some fresh ingredients to help in bursting out of the norm.

Moving onto the topic of food, we were excited to hear there is a kitchen in the works.

“We’re not opening with food, (with the) reason being we were not sure we had the finances to initially start the kitchen, but wound up getting everything we needed for the kitchen,” Frank said. “Now we just don’t want to delay the City in terms of paperwork.”

A reasonable decision, especially when trying to keep the estimated one-month-until opening time frame.

Not all the food at Hollow Spirits will be solely for the purposes of garnishing the cocktails.

“We definitely want to do some pairing dinners, I want him (Tristin) to come to me and be like, ‘Hey, can you make this liquor, I want to do this food,’” Frank said.

While spirits are not as ‘famously’ paired with food as wine or even beer yet, they do have their place among some very satisfying dishes. Tristin added an interesting perspective to the situation.

“The idea is to kind of reprogram New Mexico diners’ minds … even if they’re not hungry, just stop by for some good drinks, enjoy, and treat it more like art,” he said. “So we want to educate you in good food.”

For those of you not as keen to spirits, Hollow Spirits will also be serving beer and wine from across the state.

As the wind finally settled down and no more human anchors were required to keep the tents from taking a 10-story plunge, it was time to try the wares. We met up with some familiar faces, downed a few excellent samples (in my humble opinion most notably Hollow Spirits’ Wheat Vodka, Little Toad Creek’s Te-Guy-La, and Algodones Distillery’s Gin). While this was certainly out of the usual for myself and Shawna, it proved to be a memorable and entertaining evening worth recommending next years Spirits Festival.

Cheers!

— Jerrad & Shawna

We have no idea why Kaktus brewer Michael Waddy wanted to take a picture atop his equipment, but hey, it works, right?

For most of us residents of the Albuquerque metro area, Bernalillo has long been considered just another gas stop on the way to Santa Fe. However, if you pay close enough attention, one would quickly find that within a strange blending of commercial, residential, and industrial properties off South Hill Road is a true diamond in the rough — Kaktus Brewing Company.

A destination brewery that fully embraced the neighborhood pub ideals early in its 2013 conception, Kaktus has become a staple for many of the nearby residents. There is an air of peculiarity as you pull into the gravel driveway, where heavily southwestern and vibrant art themes run rampant throughout the property, giving the place just the right amount of quirk in itself to set the theme. Shawna and I both took the adventure (twice, to be precise) to catch up with head brewer Mike Waddy and owner-operator Dana Koller for their brewery’s entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.

Kaktus owner Dana Koller keeps his brewery buzzing.

2017 seemed to be a fantastic year for Kaktus, running the 2-barrel brewhouse often at full capacity, feeling their way through an accelerated tempo, and taking big strides to keep pushing out into the community.

“It was a great year for us,” Dana said. “We had the opportunity to make a ton of improvements, made really good money, and set the tone for going into 2018, for sure.”

Michael also had great news to add.

“We finally got our distribution license, it was very exciting,” he said. “It went into effect November 1. I would say it was one of the biggest highlights.”

One of Kaktus’ first reported keg customers was the Two Fools Tavern on Central.

“One of the big goals as well was visibility, whether it was signs, or marketing, or social media we really went after it,” Michael said.

The little brewhouse got a big workout in 2017 and that will continue this year.

In terms of competing in 2017, Kaktus was far more busy on getting the work in first, as Dana explained.

“We didn’t do as many (competitions), as we added a lot of festivals and events,” he said. “We did a lot of independent pours off-site. We submitted to the (New Mexico) IPA Challenge, and that was about it. 

“Because we don’t distribute yet, it’s not a huge focus for us. We were just slammed. The focus was just keeping up with demand really.”

Looking back on some of the more memorable events, Michael recalled one that stood out. 

“The Bernalillo Blues Fest was great for us, it was really fun and reached a lot of new people,” he said. “We had two jockey boxes going, so we had a lot of beer out there.”

The patio at Kaktus remains one of the most unique spots around to enjoy a beer.

Some projects went better than others this past year, as Kaktus had begun playing with some barrel aging and bugs for sour beers.

“So we had a barrel, working on the ‘Ship’s Hull IPA’,” Michael said, “which was hanging out, and managed to get a wild brettanomyces fermentation going, which was awesome. So one day, coming in and the bung is out. So I’m not sure what happened, you know? What had got in, or was still in there? So I ended up having to dump it. Since it was a brett barrel I didn’t want to dump it in the brewery and risk an infection in there so I ended up digging a grave out by the chicken coop. I rolled the barrel out there like a mobster and dumped it all in there.”

A shame indeed, but we hope to see Michael give it another shot.

Recently, Kaktus closed its Nob Hill taproom, seemingly abruptly, though the answers seemed to point in an ongoing theme for business along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. Dana provided some clarity on the subject.

“We were about to renew (the taproom lease), and then they announced that they were going to extend the (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) project another year, we just decided ‘forget that,’” he said. “It was a struggle at times, though for the most part the taproom was at a break-even point. We saw it just wasn’t growing as rapidly as we anticipated it would. It was the end of our three-year lease, so we let it go and have looked for bigger and better things. It was unfortunate however as we had just dumped $6000 of new improvements into the taproom.”

Kaktus bid farewell to its recently renovated Nob Hill taproom due to more problems with A.R.T.

Looking towards the remainder of 2018 and beyond, it sounds as though Kaktus will continue keeping their noses to the grindstone. 

“We’re going to put a full focus on Bernalillo, of course due to the Nob Hill closure,” Dana said. “Because we’re already going into the summer soon, we’re not going to look for a secondary spot again until 2019, but part of that also is that I believe we won’t have the production capabilities. 

“I think we’re going to be too busy in Bernalillo. We’re adding four more events this year during the summer we will be pouring at. We’re going to have large events just about every weekend.”

It has the makings of an ambitious, but worthwhile move while waiting to re-approach the prospect of real estate again.

“We’ve got a few improvements left aesthetically, but all the majors ones are finally done, so this year is the first year we won’t be having to direct a bunch of revenue,” Dana said.

With the impressive Bosque Brewing production facility going in just across the Rio Grande on 550, Dana said he is optimistic and excited for their new neighbors arrival, recalling when asked about the impacts of neighboring establishments.

“We thought that Freight House was going to affect us when they came in, (but) we didn’t feel them,” he said. “Same goes for Applebee’s; we thought we would lose a few tables to them, but they didn’t even touch us.”

Even with some new neighbors in Bernalillo, the pints will keep flowing at Kaktus.

Dana also made an interesting point.

“Honestly, they’re not much closer than they were originally,” he said. “They’re right down (Interstate 25) from us now. If anything, it’s going to improve our business, I think. They will help give Albuquerque residents a bit more of a reason to come down to Bernalillo.”

Like so many other continually growing and changing breweries, it will be interesting and exciting to see exactly where Kaktus Brewing Company will make its mark over the course of 2018 as they ‘Step On In’ to the new year. With summer approaching, Michael was happy to report the return of a crowd favorite, the Cucumber Cream Ale, along with a Basil Lager as a note to their existing fans.

Keep an eye on us here at the Dark Side Brew Crew for the latest updates on Kaktus Brewing and their recently re-branded website to follow all of their events and more.

Cheers!

— Shawna & Jerrad

Dialogue has made plenty of beers worth talking about.

If there is one thing that a venue can have that really sets itself apart, it’s embracing a deeper cultural aspect and its part in the local scene. The massive steel and rebar giants that loom over Dialogue Brewing on the corner of Kinley and First Street make a massive statement to the dedication and focus that has been so proudly heralded by owner/operator Elliot Salgado, head brewer Ian Graham, and their passionate team.

Dialogue Brewing had just hit its 15th month of operation this January, all while already cutting its teeth in competitions with the larger breweries. I had the gracious and humble opportunity to sit down with Mr. Salgado and Mr. Graham against the backdrop of the brewhouse and fermenters to discuss how their past year has gone for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, and where they will be directing their ambitions for 2018. Fellow owner Daniel Gorman was unable to join us, but he was there in spirit.

Head brewer Ian Graham and owner Elliot Salgado welcome everyone with a smile.

2017 proved to be a challenge, but not impossible for the new brewery to overcome, as Ian summed it up best.

“It was definitely a proof of concept of what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Kind of a direction of where the company will go and what we needed to survive in a great market like Albuquerque. One of the big things that we did was to change and bring in our food service program with wood-fired pizzas.”

This step certainly seems crucial as the trend continues to move towards the pub concept around Albuquerque.

“I think it’s kind of funny since we’ve come around full circle, starting out in the 90’s you needed to have a restaurant with it, which then transitioned to the taproom model,” Ian said.

The evolution of our local beer industry is definitely a fast-paced and ever-changing subject, often a case of trial and error with some interesting phenomena in between.

“The menu should also be paired well, as with food trucks and all,” Ian said. “It’s not easy, and there is still a stigma, sadly, with some of the older customers and the food trucks.”

The brewery opened its doors just 15 months ago.

Even for the brewery’s relatively young age, Elliot said he remains confident looking back over their accomplishments throughout 2017.

“We are barely 15 months now; it was eye-opening, challenge, and satisfying to look back to see what other people are putting and doing and where we sit in that,” he said.

While it’s certainly looking optimistic, Dialogue still had its difficult times as well, as we discussed the obstacles that the staff had faced.

“One of our partners left in this last year, and that was a challenge to meet that increased workload and loss of creativity, (a) different set of eyes, and an extra set of hands to help,” Elliot said.

The team also met with sudden tragedy this year, lending a more stark tone to the conversation.

“One of our first team members passing away was really tough on everyone,” Ian said. “We’re a small crew, so everyone works and hangs out together. He passed away in a car accident, so that hit everyone really hard.”

One can only imagine the impact of such loss among family, friends, and coworkers.

Those familiar towers have become a beacon for thirsty people.

While the Albuquerque market continues to thrive and expand, Elliot said he didn’t seem too worried about carving their niche.

“I think that some of the personal conflicts and personal strife’s that we’ve had have been more challenging than finding a foothold in the market,” he said. “We are coming in as a unique space, as a new unique brewery with a different approach of how we’re operating. We’re bringing some different and quality beers; we feel we’re definitely making quality product. And so we’re finding a foothold in the market, which is a super challenging market right now.”

The steady improvements seen around the brewery and property are certainly a good indicator of the warm welcome into the neighborhood.

“We saw some steady growth up to this January which is good; we have something to grow on and we’re getting some new ideas,” Elliot said.

Come on in, have a beer, strike up a conversation.

The past year has not only focused on the settling in and overall growth, the team has also made a the community itself a major focus point of their operations. It’s hard to miss the bevy of charity and fundraiser events held at the brewery, very much in keeping with their philosophy of encouraging humanistic interactions and good will with their patrons.

“When we opened, one of our charges, one of our goals when we talked about opening this place was how we can improve Albuquerque either through the physical representation of the brewery, how could we create a space that challenges people’s perceptions,” Elliot said. “There are no TVs in a taproom; you don’t need ’em. We’re called Dialogue; some (come) in and talk about the art, talk about the beer, or just talk to somebody new.”

If one were to look closely around the property, nearly every available inch of surface has been carefully considered and integrated into what could be considered a massive, living art project. Even behind the bar, almost opposite the growing collection of dinosaur figurines hiding above on the rafters, etched in the concrete, reads a simple sentence that perhaps sums it up well: ‘If you are a dreamer, come in.’

“As for us, a big focus of ours was that we wanted to have a philanthropic backbone. I’m pretty happy, and would like to do more this year,” Ian said. “Even with the Anne Heche (and John Tupper) fundraiser for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief we raised just under $50,000.”

Elliot and Ian made it clear that they are proud of their efforts, but also recognized everyone who played a part in making those fundraisers successful, ranging from the community leaders to the everyday customer who just wants to reach out and help even in the smallest of ways.

Look for more off-beat, funky beers in 2018.

I inquired about any major changes in the beer philosophy or lineup they have planned for 2018 in contrast to their previous year and experiences.

“Starting off, we had a pretty sour beer focused menu,” Ian said. “Also in the beginning, we were heavier on the Belgian (styles), but have started to push more lagers. We have a new flagship for our lagers, the 505 Lager, which is a Mexican-style lager which we will always be keeping on. I think it will help round out our portfolio since we have two sours, a Belgian IPA, and now a light lager.”

The marketing aspect of the light lager was not missed as well.

“It’s for someone who maybe doesn’t want to be as adventurous,” Ian added.

For those who have come to appreciate the interesting qualities brought on by brettanomyces and its bacterial counterparts, Ian had great news.

“One of the exciting steps we are taking forward is that we designated a spate space for some brett and wild beers,” he said. “We’ve been wanting to do that from the start, but being a bootstrapping company we were not able to do it right from the start. Now we’re really going to dive into it. You will be seeing some really nice, barrel-aged stuff, and you know, some brett beers and sours that are little bit different that our traditional clean (kettle) sours.”

The science behind the beers will be pushed to the limit this year.

With January now in the rear view mirror, Dialogue has some big plans coming up for the rest of the year.

“Our wild and mixed fermentation (lineup) will be a big goal for us,” Elliot said. “We just received our approval for distribution from the state. It’s a big goal for us, getting out and you know, leading into the community with some kettle sours that other people aren’t focusing on that we have been. I think we’re doing well with that.

“We are always looking to improve our (facilities and equipment) in the taproom itself. How do we update? How do we make it more of a representation of who the brewery is? For the most part it’s custom, but addressing how can it be better than it is.”

Dialogue Brewing has not shied away from the competition front, either, as we originally reported back in March 2017. For such a young brewery, it has already begun to set itself apart. As for what they are looking forward to, Ian broke it down.

“As of right now, the National IPA Challenge (is underway), we kind of have a view of entering only a couple of the competitions,” he said. “We’re fortunate that every competition we’ve been in we have at least placed in, except for GABF (Great American Beer Festival). In terms for victories for 2017, we got a bronze for our Berliner and a silver for our Bier De Garde at the NABA (North American Brewers Association), our B.C. IPA took second in the specialty IPA category (at NIPAC), and for the Global Warming Challenge we got into the final four out of a 128-man bracket facing some really quality breweries. We’re doing something right, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Dialogue will choose carefully which competitions to enter in 2018.

Progressive change has commonly been a hallmark of successful breweries. Dialogue will leave no stones unturned in terms of planning and creativity to help improve the entire property.

“Increasing the size of our patio and stage, making it more of a fixture leading into the spring and summer so it will be easy for bands to come plug and play, and for patrons to know that they can come and watch something cool,” Elliot said.

It sounds like the wheels are turning for Dialogue Brewing and its team, creating even more opportunities for its downtown patrons to relax and enjoy while streamlining the back-end process. While it does sound as though Dialogue Brewing’s event schedule is going to be packed, the playbook is still under wraps. If you are interested in keeping up with Dialogue’s events in the near future, keep tuned to the Dark Side Brew Crew and the brewery’s Facebook page and website. Elliot did leave this little note for our readers: “Keep an eye out for Chicken-Shit Bingo, it’s coming to Dialogue.”

Without a doubt, the first year for Dialogue Brewing met the spectrum of emotions, from tragedy and sadness, to elation, happiness, and the sense of victory. By the end of 2017, the brewery came out stronger, more experienced, and ready for the future to be the catalyst for your next human connection. Thanks to Elliot and Ian for taking the time to chat about all of it.

Cheers!

— Jerrad

Drafty Kilt started to find its niche in its first full year of operation.

Editor’s note: Yes, we added another writer to the Brew Crew Bullpen. Please welcome Jerrad to the team. — S

As is the going tradition, and for my first contribution as part of the Dark Side Brew Crew, we continue the yearly Look Back/Look Ahead Series examining the hustling and bustling breweries across the Albuquerque metro area.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting what I would call a wonderful but slightly hidden brewing gem, Drafty Kilt Brewing Company. Don’t let the off-the-beaten track location fool you. To get there, take a quick westbound turn onto McLeod Road from San Mateo, and then a left on Hardware Drive will land you right out front of the well-branded building. The taproom is warm and inviting with its heavy use of wood and bold tones, lofted ceilings, some modern artistic touches, and an incredible drinkware and can collection that adorns just about every wall. All of this is the pride and joy of Mike Campbell, a veteran brewer and long-time man of influence in the Albuquerque beer scene.

After a tour of the taproom and brewhouse, we sat down and had a chance to start our discussion with how things have been going for the business in its first year. Drafty Kilt officially opened its doors last November and just celebrated its first anniversary. This anniversary certainly didn’t come without its fair share of hard work.

“The highlights, for one was St. Patrick’s Day, it was a busy, crazy fun day,” Mike said. “Each of the festivals this year, too, were great. You have to take every chance to get out there in front of people and be seen. There’s enough festivals where it can be a real burden to give away that much beer. At least I can make enough at one time, where’s it’s not so bad as dealing with it on (other breweries’) 2- or 3-barrel systems. That’s a lot of free beer to be giving away, but that’s just how it is, pay it out in the front and hope to collect it (when it) comes back.”

Brewer/owner Mike Campbell stayed plenty busy this year.

Making an observation from his standpoint as the brewer and owner over the past year, Mike shared the obstacles the brewery has faced and is still facing.

“One of the biggest hurdles, I guess, is that now there’s 30-plus breweries and taprooms and another 50 (locations) to get craft beer in town,” he said. “We’re sharing customers, but you know a lot of people like to drink close to their home, and if there’s a taproom they may stop there instead of here. Finding the place the first time can be difficult, but then once you’re here you realize you have four exits out, highway access, and returns back onto San Mateo.”

I asked Mike about his current and previous selections on tap and what fates they may hold in the near future.

“The beer names are probably going to stay the same,” Mike said. “The Groundskeeper Willie, our cream ale, is a real hit. It’s our biggest seller. We use the hot rocks in brewing that. It’s an old technique they would have to use in old wooden mash tuns; it’s definitely not the cream ale your dad drank. Another beer that jumps out is my IPA; it’s a more balanced beer. I’d never depredate some of the others that are, you know, 100 IBUs plus. It’s got every flavor you look for in an IPA, I just find it’s not as drying.”

The old brewhouse did its part this year, but more equipment is needed.

In terms of the future for the Drafty Kilt, Mike said he has his eyes set on upping his production capacity in terms of the cold side brewing materials.

“We just want to be able to produce more beer faster to help get kegs out to some more locations and restaurants and get some more handles out there,” he said. “Right now it’s just a logistics thing. I’m not looking to build an empire, I just want to sell fresh beer to Albuquerque and the surrounding areas … I’m looking to double production. Once we can buy some more tanks that will be entirely possible.”

They will also continue to host their weekly events — Geeks Who Drink on Tuesdays, Open Mic Night on Wednesdays, and the Blues Jam on Thursdays, all starting at 7 p.m.

“We are excited for several other things as well,” Mike said. “We have the Highland Games coming up, along with several other festivals. It’s always nice to be out in front of people.”

The name of the brewery will change in 2018, but the best-selling beers will remain the same.

The biggest change coming to Drafty Kilt in the new year will be the name of the brewery itself. The brewery received a cease-and-desist order from a brewery in Atlanta, which trademarked the name Drafty Kilt for one of its packaged beers. The Brew Crew offered its readers a chance to submit name suggestions, and coupled with those from friends, family, and patrons, Mike ended up with a list that was seven pages long. Mike said he has narrowed it down to a final page and an announcement will be forthcoming.

Hopefully year two will great the soon-to-be “Formerly Known as Draft Kilt Brewing Company” with some positive news. With the lessons and progress over the last year, Mike and his dedicated team are sure to be bringing even more awesome experiences to your glass.

Cheers!

— Jerrad