Author Archive

Michael Waddy does more than just make the beer over at Kaktus Brewing.

When we got the news that Dana Koller nominated his head brewer, Michael Waddy, as an Unsung Hero at Kaktus Brewery, I jumped at the opportunity to write his interview. I have a fondness for the particularly eccentric and creative methodology and themes the business has become known for. I drove out to Bernalillo’s neighborhood brewery, sitting quietly along South Hill Road, to sit down with Michael and try a few new beers. After settling in on the outside patio, with its intimate view of the Sandias in the evening, we began to sample the libations and start our conversation.

When asked why he thought he may have been nominated as an unsung hero, Waddy humbly replied, “I don’t know. I certainly don’t feel unsung. I feel like people appreciate what I do and they let me know. I brew beer. I guess that’s kind of a big deal. But, I also do other things. I’m the keg delivery guy. I also do random side jobs around here. I’m a bit of a handyman. Currently, I’m putting together new furniture for the brewery (new tables were being placed in the taproom dining area). I try to help out wherever I can.”

To turn the question around this time, I asked what he believed were the most valuable qualities he brings to the brewery.

“Well, I think I’m a pretty good brewer,” Waddy said with a chuckle. “But, I’m also very emotionally invested in this place. I try to help out as much as I can, and I try to do the best job that I can.”

The dedication certainly showed as we further discussed ongoing projects within the brewery, to include the expansion of their Kombucha line, and ideas hinting towards further building on a true sour-style barrel program.

Michael started brewing beer at a young age, displaying a mischievous resourcefulness and fondness for the art of brewing.

“I started brewing beer before I could legally drink beer,” he said. “I purchased a 5-gallon pilot system and started experimenting with it in high school. I mostly just started doing it to throw parties and have beer. I really started getting into the science of it when I went to UNM. I started apprenticing under Mark Matheson of (then) Turtle Mountain, and that hands-on experience taught me more than anything else I had done so far, including my own trial and errors.”

It’s clear to me why Waddy was nominated as an unsung hero. He is a man of my talents, from brewing, to cooking, to building furniture, but Waddy had a couple other nominations in mind for unsung heroes.

“While we’re talking about unsung heroes, a couple of our regulars here feel like the true unsung heroes to me,” he said. “There’s a guy named Stu. He builds stuff here. Like right now, he’s working on a stage on our patio. He’s coming in on his own time to build this stage. There’s another guy named Reid. Reid helps us book musicians. We had blues player(s) come through. He also booked a girl that was on The Voice. Both shows brought in huge crowds to the brewery. We have patrons that love this place so much that they want to help us out. Those guys are the true unsung heroes of Kaktus Brewery.”

Patrons as unsung heroes? At a neighborhood pub like Kaktus, we can see that.

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat, and to Dana for setting it up.

Cheers!

— Shawna

The sky has been the limit for Dialogue since it opened a few months ago.

The sky has been the limit for Dialogue since it opened a few months ago.

It can be very easy to miss Dialogue, a uniquely designed and presented brewery, as it sits nestled between older warehouses and industrial complexes on the corner of 1st Street and Kinley Ave. Once you have found the entrance, however, your senses are in for quite the artistic treat, as local works cover the walls in contrast to the modern and classic steel work that make up the revitalized warehouse/now-brewery and bar space.

I had a chance to sit down with Eliot Salgado, managing partner of Dialogue Brewing, to discuss how things have gone to date. Dialogue opened its doors to the public last September, and though the business itself is still relatively new, the brimming ambition and pride for excellence was noticeable in this interview for the Look Back/Look Ahead Series.

“2016 was exciting, challenging, and emotional,” Salgado said. “We went from conception to hiring Ian (Graham, head brewer), to building the brewery and building the taproom at a very rapid pace. It was one of the hardest things most of us have ever done. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For me, personally, I’m very lucky to have a supportive family who was able to deal with 13-to-14-hour days for quite a while. All in all, I think we had a challenging start, but it’s definitely something we can be proud of. Dialogue is continuing to change from the artwork to the floor plan. We are still finding who we are, and we continue to change and evolve.”

The brewing equipment has been put to work quite often.

The brewing equipment has been put to work quite often.

Salgado also shared some of the obstacles Dialogue has faced since opening.

“We have the same challenges every brewery does,” he said. “No brew day is eight hours. Nothing is ever easy or convenient. We certainly didn’t expect it to be either. So far, I would say that we are meeting our expectations. Our sales slowed down during the winter, as we had anticipated them to. As it’s been warming up, our sales have been trending upwards very quickly.”

The Berliner Weisse, in particular, was noted as a fan favorite.

“Our brewer, Ian, loves brewing lagers,” Salgado said. “So during the winter, when we knew business would slow down a bit, we ended up lagering a bunch of beers.”

Those lagers have included the Helles Good and Dark Helmet, hitting the lager spectrum from pale to black.

Variety has been the spice of life when it comes to the beer styles at Dialogue.

Variety has been the spice of life when it comes to the beer styles at Dialogue.

On top of getting prepared for the coming spring and summer months, Dialogue has been busy competing nationally as well.

“We are super excited!” Salgado said. “Our Belgian Citrus IPA (reached) the Elite Eight in the Specialty Category in the National IPA Challenge, so we’ll know more soon about how we do and if we will continue to move on.”

After the interview, Dialogue finished as runner-up, which is still a big win for a young brewery.

“We pride ourselves on brewing unique and original beers,” Salgado said. “We want to continue to push the trend and be a part of the current beer crowd. We never want to detract from the high quality standards that we have for ourselves and that our consumers have.”

Though it may only be a couple months into 2017, we continued on with our interview in regards to the coming months and year ahead, starting with a summary of general goals for Dialogue Brewing as a whole.

“Our goals: less crying. Is that a goal?” Salgado said with a chuckle. “We definitely want to win some awards. We want a solid year making customers happy, and brewing high quality, unique beers.”

Expect plenty more art and more beer in 2017.

Expect plenty more art and more beer in 2017.

In addition to focusing on getting further established, the Dialogue crew has a few more ideas cooked up.

“We will be in as many local festivals as we can,” Salgado said. “We are trying to be a part of the (New Mexico) Brewers Guild stuff, although we do recognize that space can sometimes be limited. We are going to be at Tart at Heart on the 15th of April. We are also in the early planning stages of planning our own festival here. We want to do a tacos and tarts idea, where we have a bunch of taco trucks out here, and ask some of  the local breweries to bring a sour beer.”

More big moves are also in the works, holding true to the concept formed during the beginnings of the business. There will be a focus on customer favorites, and also large-scale work with Brett and wild ale styles, with the implementation of new fermenters aimed toward facilitating the additional bacteria.

“We don’t want a beer drinker to come in here for the first time ever and be unimpressed by the selection,” Salgado said. “So, we have a variety of beer styles from our golden all the way to a dubbel.”

In line with that concept, Dialogue continues striving forward with customer service through education.

“All of our bartenders are certified beer servers through the cicerone program, and they are all trained to educate customers on beer styles and taste to try to find the perfect beer for each person,” Salgado said.

Cheers to a great start for Dialogue! (And get some Scarlet Beh-Gose while you can.)

Cheers to a great start for Dialogue! (And get some Scarlet Beh-Gose while you can.)

The customer is a strong influence behind much of Dialogue Brewing’s focus in regards to new ideas that are soon to come to fruition this year. One such idea is Hop Education, which is focused on educating and testing customers on their knowledge of common hop profiles, accomplished through the substitution of the hops in a single-hop recipe used for the base in each brew.

“One of the things we really want to do is engage with our customers,” Salgado said.

One of the things they plan to do this summer is to throw more events on their patio.

“We want to have more bands this year,” Salgado said. “We have a stage outside, and a patio to accommodate live bands, so we want to get as much use out of it as possible during the warmer months.”

2016 was certainly a noteworthy year for Dialogue Brewing. From its grand opening in September, to fulfilling their goals by providing unique brews to their growing customer base, Dialogue has continued to confidently strive forward. We look forward to seeing what 2017 has in store for Dialogue. One thing is for sure, this young brewery is already making its mark on the local beer scene. If you have not stopped by Dialogue Brewing, we suggest you do!

Cheers!

— Shawna

It was a happy holiday, and a happy year, at Ponderosa.

It was a happy holiday, and a happy year, at Ponderosa.

Editor’s note: It is time for us to resume our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. We only knocked out 13 of the 40 or so breweries in November and December, so now it is time to start with all that remain, beginning with Shawna’s trip to Ponderosa from a couple weeks back. — S

For this installment of the Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I had a chance to sit down with the head brewer of Ponderosa Brewing, Antonio Fernandez, who has had quite the remarkable year. Antonio took over as head brewer in July, coming into the commercial brewing industry for the first time. He is on a mission to create nothing less than great quality beer. As you can imagine, it has been an interesting and exciting ride for Fernandez, who has been busy experimenting with flavors and fine tuning the existing brews.

Dark Side: “What would you say was your biggest challenge taking over this position?”

Fernandez: “The most challenging thing for me was getting used to the schedule, and adapting to the customer’s needs. For instance, Ghost Train (IPA) is our biggest seller. I end up brewing a batch of that every couple weeks just to keep up with demand.”

Dark Side: “Is there a beer that you are particularly proud of?”

Fernandez: “As far as beer is concerned, I think I’m the most proud of the Oktoberfest. It’s the first beer we’ve had that has sold as well or better than the IPA, which I thought was really impressive for this town. The brown has become really popular, as well. I made some tweaks to the malt bill on that one. People really seem to be liking it. I’ve been trying to tweak the recipes here and there to make them a little more my own.

“I’ve been really impressed with some of the seasonals we’ve had. The Oktoberfest, the Belgian Pale Ale, and the Oatmeal Stout all went over really well. We currently have a single-hop Mosaic Pale Ale, and the reception has been really nice, so I think we’re going to keep that going as a steady series. We also just debuted our gingerbread spice lager called Nikolaus. That will be available through December, too.”

Brewer Antonio Fernandez has kept a positive outlook for Ponderosa.

Brewer Antonio Fernandez has kept a positive outlook for Ponderosa.

Dark Side: “What would you say were the biggest highlights of 2016?”

Fernandez: “Well, for me, getting the job here was definitely the highlight of my year! I got to take over from Bob Haggerty, who is starting his own project over at Steel Bender (Brewyard). Everyone here has been really supportive. It’s a great crew to work with and the community has been very supportive. We have a strong set of regulars here. I really enjoy that. And, it’s only getting better. The neighborhood around here is really picking up with all the new construction, which includes shops and more places to eat and fun stuff like that. We have the new hotel going in down the street. And, in the area across from us is going to be a nice little recreation area. They’re going to put a park and pond in there, which we are really looking forward to.

“We’ve done the bottle releases before, but now we are offering those as a holiday gift pack. So, you can get all three of the beers plus one of our local pint glasses for $25. They’re available here or at Jubilation right now.

“We’ve actually added quite a bit to our distribution lineup. Last I counted, I think we were at 22 other places around the Albuquerque metro that are carrying our beer on tap. So, that’s really exciting.

“Business has really been picking up this year, which is really awesome. That just means I get to brew more beer and make more specials!”

The crowds are still coming in at Ponderosa.

The crowds are still coming in at Ponderosa.

Dark Side: “What can we look forward to in 2017?”

Fernandez: “We’re going to keep bottle releases going. We have a new sour brown that is about to go out. (Editor’s note: It so happens that beer is being released today.) We plan to make the pricing a lot more affordable, as well.

“Personally, one of my big goals is to participate in as many beer festivals as possible. I’ve only been here for five months, but I want to be a really active member of the brewing community. I want to meet more brewers and maybe discuss the idea of collaborating. I want to get involved in more competitions both locally and nationally. GABF and World Beer Cup are definitely on my radar for 2017 (and 2018). So, going forward, hopefully you will start seeing us at more festivals.

“For me, it’s mostly about brewing beer. We have a lot fun beers that we plan to release! We have an Amber, an Imperial Pale Lager, an Imperial Smoked Baltic Porter, and an Imperial Brown Ale coming up early in the year.

“One thing that we have coming up immediately is a beer pairing dinner we will be having here on January 10 at 6 p.m. That will be the standard five-course meal with beers and other fun surprises. I hope we can do beer pairings on a regular basis.”

All of us in the Crew look forward to what Ponderosa has to offer this year.

Cheers!

— Shawna

The grand opening of the Nob Hill taproom was one of the biggest moments of 2016 for Kaktus.

The grand opening of the Nob Hill taproom was one of the biggest moments of 2016 for Kaktus.

Editor’s note: Another new Bullpen member makes her debut with the Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry on Bernalillo’s only brewery. Let her know how she did in the comments. — S

It was a big year for Kaktus Brewery, as 2016 started with the grand opening of their taproom in Nob Hill, and they don’t plan to slow down in 2017. I had the chance to sit down with owner Dana Koller and head brewer Mike Waddy to discuss the excitement of the year gone by, and what we can expect from them in the coming year.

“Opening a taproom has definitely been my proudest moment of 2016,” Koller said. “You know, we expanded to one of the busiest areas of Albuquerque. It’s been challenging in many ways. Our company is self funded, so we do everything organically. It’s really nice, but it limits us in ways because we can’t grow as fast as some of the other breweries. Moving to the new location has allowed us the opportunity to stay competitive, and prove that there’s still an opportunity for smaller companies to grow.”

The colorful interior of the Kaktus taproom.

The colorful interior of the Kaktus taproom.

The new taproom isn’t the only change that 2016 has brought Kaktus. They started experimenting more with beers, ciders, and kombucha. For those of you unaware (you’re not alone, I googled it on my way to the Bernalillo taproom), kombucha is a fermented sweet tea with an active culture of (good) bacteria and yeast. This particular brew is less than 0.5-percent ABV, but it’s more commonly consumed for the tea’s suggested health benefits. It is said to help increase your immune system, lower cholesterol, and strengthen your digestive system.

“I used to hate kombucha, but my girlfriend loves it,” Waddy said. “Actually, she drinks it like a fish. Our kombucha bill was off the charts! So, I started making it at home. That turned out so well, I decided to do it full scale at the brewery. It’s fun and it’s funky, but I’ve developed a taste for it. The public loves it! It’s actually been hard to keep it in stock.”

Waddy has also gotten to play more with his specialty beers.

“One of my favorite projects that we started this year was a small barrel-aging project,” he said. “We started it with a beer called the Ship’s Hull IPA, and that was awesome! It went really, really quickly. We originally bought these barrels because we were going to start a sour program, and we just kind of started doing IPAs into them and never really got into the sours. So, this barrel (with the Ship’s Hull) is slowly, just naturally propagating brettanomyces, so we’re gonna have a Brett IPA fairly soon. Then, eventually, we’ll start inoculating pediococcus and lactobacillus to do a true sour, but right now we’re just kind of letting it naturally sour.”

Kaktus has kept its beer menu fresh throughout the year.

Kaktus has kept its beer menu fresh throughout the year.

So, what’s in store for 2017?

“2017 is gonna be awesome,” Koller said. “We’re excited about the Bernalillo location. We’re gonna start marketing it towards weddings and special events. We have such a unique location out there. We did our first wedding there a couple months ago, and it turned out really well.

“As far as the taproom goes, we realize the diversity that Nob Hill has to offer, and we are planning to capitalize off of that. Obviously, we have opened up the (World Travel) Cafe. The Cafe is also owned by Kaktus Brewing Company. We are going to be adding a New Mexico wine bar, which will be hosted within the Nob Hill facility as well. So, that location will offer three incredibly high quality productions, which is our craft beer first and foremost, and adding organic coffee and the New Mexico wines. That’s all really exciting!”

Kaktus hopes to increase their brewing output in 2017.

Kaktus hopes to increase their brewing output in 2017.

Another notable feature coming in 2017 is that Katkus is looking to start distributing.

“We just filed for our distributors license,” Koller said. “Granted, we will be distributing on a small scale. We realize that people want our beer. We want to establish ourselves in that setting so that we can be more available to the public. We also want to show (the public) that even though we are a small brewery, we are still a strong and growing brewery.”

“We have slowly started expanding our equipment,” Waddy added. “We’ve been ordering more kegs. We’ve been upgrading our fermenter sizes. My hope for 2017 is that we basically double what our system is now. I think that would be awesome for us.”

The original brewery is becoming more of an event space.

The original brewery is becoming more of an event space.

I spoke with Waddy a little bit about the idea of collaboration. I was interested to learn that he’s really excited for the opportunity to collaborate with another local brewery.

“I’d like to collaborate! I like a lot of local breweries. Nobody’s ever asked us to collaborate, and I think collectively, maybe we’re too shy to ask,” Waddy said with a laugh. “But, it would be really fun if we are given the opportunity in the future. It’s definitely something I’d like to do.”

Overall, 2017 is poised to be an opportunistic year for Kaktus. Stay tuned for more information on the New Years/One Year Anniversary Party at the Nob Hill taproom.

Cheers!

— Shawna