Archive for the ‘Brewery Obit’ Category

Duel Brewing gives up the fight

Posted: April 4, 2019 by Luke in Brewery Obit, Interviews
Tags:
DawsonAtDuel

Former Duel general manager Mark Dawson

In the Dark Side Brew Crew, we like to think of ourselves as champions for the industry. We’re not gotcha journalism, never have been. We’re here to tell the stories of all the state’s breweries, your stories. We can only ever hope that they’re all stories brewed up with good vibes and happy endings, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. It’s a difficult thing to write about a brewery’s end, especially when, for years, we’ve considered much of the staff to be our friends. But, it wouldn’t be right not to write on the negative stories as well.

It’s very easy to let the story slip by, say nothing, and navigate away from what might be treacherous waters, but our coverage of the New Mexico brewing industry would be incomplete if we didn’t do a story on Duel Brewing’s untimely closure.

We first reached out to Duel’s owner, Trent Edwards, days after the closing of Duel’s Santa Fe location. After receiving no response, we let it go for a time, until I sort of bumped into and met Mark Dawson. I was having a beer at Rowley Farmhouse Ales one night after the gym, and I couldn’t help but overhear the bartender saying that he had just left his job as former general manager of Duel Brewing.

My journalistic curiosity, paired with his need to tell his tale, led to a series of conversations and emails, all resulting in a collaboration on the story of the end of Santa Fe’s Belgian-style brewery.

(more…)

Santa Fe Dining vice president Justin Svetnicka is spearheading the latest makeover at Kellys Pub, which includes emphasizing a wide selection of craft canned beers.

At last, we have clarity regarding the future of Kellys Brew Pub and the former Chama River Brewing. After receiving some mixed messages from some of the staff at parent company Santa Fe Dining, I was invited to sit down with SFD vice president Justin Svetnicka late last week to clear up the entire matter.

“As of (March) 8 all brewing operations were suspended at Chama River,” he said. “Kellys is staying open. The idea was with the Chama building on the market for lease, we did not want to keep the brewery running when we have some interest. We want it to be ready for an occupant to move in quickly.”

As we detailed last year, even though the restaurant part of Chama River had shut down, most of the beer brewed for Kellys was made with the Chama brewhouse by SFD director of brewing operations Andrew Krosche.

“Kellys was a brewing institution in Albuquerque, one of the first local craft establishments,” Justin said. “Unfortunately, it did not keep up with the trends and technology.”

Kellys was originally founded by Dennis Bonfontaine and Paul Perna just down the street in 1997, occupying the building that was most recently the Korean BBQ House. It moved into its current location in April 2000 on the southwest corner of Central and Wellesley. Bonfontaine would continue to own the brewpub, popular for its large patio, up until 2016.

“When (Santa Fe Dining) took over in 2016, we tried to get the craft brew at Kellys on par with this market,” Justin said. “With Andrew at the helm, and Dan (Cavin) helping him out here, we felt the beer got much better. Unfortunately, the public didn’t seem to take notice.”

Kellys was imperiled by the combination of years of bad reviews and word of mouth, coupled with an ineffective push by Santa Fe Dining on social media and other outlets to simply explain that ownership had changed. Even to this day in 2019, many people tell members of the Crew that they had no idea Kellys had ever been sold and/or upgraded its beers, using many of the classic Chama recipes such as Sleeping Dog Stout.

“Kellys for many years wasn’t up to the standards of the other breweries in Albuquerque,” Justin said. “We fought that reputation for years, but it got to the point where the craft beer market surpassed it and we couldn’t catch up.”

At this point, the decision was made to cease brewing operations, as the house beers just were not selling. As an example, when I went to fill a growler of Sleeping Dog for the Crew’s annual Stout Challenge on Super Bowl weekend, the bartender said it was the first growler she had filled in several months of working at Kellys, and that customers rarely ordered one of the house beers.

Among Albuquerque breweries, Kellys was the second oldest behind Canteen/Il Vicino, which opened up the street in 1994. Chama River had actually been the third oldest, opening in 1999 as Blue Corn Albuquerque before taking on the Chama moniker in 2005. Overall, there are now just a handful of breweries that opened in New Mexico before 2000 that are still operational — Santa Fe Brewing (1988), Eske’s Brew Pub (1992), Canteen/Il Vicino, High Desert (1996), Second Street (1996), Sierra Blanca (1996), Blue Corn (1997), Tractor (1999), and Turtle Mountain (1999).

Kellys will remain open, now rebranded slightly as Kellys Pub, thanks to the fact it does have a full liquor license. Justin said that Santa Fe Dining will be making a renewed push to highlight all of the changes, including some that are still to come.

“We still want to try to embrace the craft beer culture,” he said. “We have been able to bring in other breweries’ beer in here, but now we want to take it a step further. We feel we have a great cross section of of beer styles and brands, and coupling that with a strong food menu. We have two brand-new chefs who will revamp the food program.”

On the beer side of things, Kellys will de-emphasize draft beer and instead focus on carrying a wide variety of craft beers in cans. There will be around 36 to 44 different cans available at most times.

“We think that works well for our layout here,” Justin said.

Justin also said that Kellys will be promoted more heavily online; at the start of March, the most recent Facebook post on the Kellys page was from early December. That has changed quickly with a more aggressive social media campaign, something that Justin agreed should have been done back in 2016.

“That’s absolutely a big part of it,” he said. “We’re going to make a big push, especially with social media.”

Other new features at Kellys include a pool table and shuffleboard, with a makeover also coming soon to the popular patio outside.

As for Blue Corn Brewery in Santa Fe, the lone SFD brewery left, there is no need to worry.

“We believe in Paul (Mallory),” Justin said of Blue Corn’s head brewer. “We really want to focus our brewing resources on Blue Corn.”

There will still be a handful of beer taps at Kellys, and some of those will be Blue Corn beers, such as the Road Runner IPA.

As for the brewing equipment from Kellys and Chama River, Justin said there are no current plans to sell any of it. A few pieces will head to Blue Corn, such as a “fermenter or two,” Justin said, but the rest will be placed into storage.

In conclusion, it is both a sad ending and (hopefully) a bright new beginning for Kellys. It was a brewing institution once upon a time, a great place to hang out on weekend night, doing as much people watching as drinking and eating on the patio. For many of us, it was the first local beer we ever had in Albuquerque; it was for me, drinking an imperial stout there after the UNM-Arizona basketball game in January 1999. If we could, we would raise one final pint of Sleeping Dog, our 2016 Stout Challenge winner, and pay final homage to Kellys, Chama River, and all the memories we had at both brewpubs.

Thank you to Justin for the interview, and Nicole Tipton for setting it up.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

A sad and sudden farewell to Chama River

Posted: August 25, 2017 by cjax33 in Brewery Obit, News
Tags:

We will always cherish our opportunity to brew on Chama River’s system back in 2014. From left, then-head brewer Zach Guilmette, Brandon, Stoutmeister, and then-assistant brewer David Facey.

A relatively normal Thursday afternoon turned chaotic after a single text from a friend in the business: “Apparently Chama (River) is closing, as in right now. They just called last call and are done. Heard anything?”

This happened shortly after 4 p.m., and suddenly, while still standing in the Albuquerque Isotopes dugout as batting practice was winding down, I was quickly texting anyone and everyone who might be in the know. Confirmation from a source, who shall remain unnamed for now, followed, letting me know that the third oldest brewery in Albuquerque was indeed closing its doors for good. It was, to put it mildly, stunning.

The Albuquerque Journal was able to get the president of Santa Fe Dining, Chama’s parent company, to go on the record (sort of): “Unfortunately, we had to shutter the doors after 12 really wonderful years with our Albuquerque guests,” Randy Ropek told Journal reporter Jessica Dyer. That, and a comment about Kellys Brew Pub being in fine shape and in no danger of also closing, was about all the Journal got for the time being.

While the Crew and the rest of the media wait for a more official announcement, which we were told is coming next week, about all we can do for the moment is reflect back on Chama’s place in our local beer history. (A much more detailed version of this history can be found in a certain book which you can purchase online here or at local retailers.)

Chama got its start in August 1999 as Blue Corn Albuquerque, a spinoff of the popular Santa Fe brewpub. Within about six months of opening, there was a change of brewers. Ted Rice took over at Chama and helped put it on the map, at least as far as the beers went. He won three medals at the Great American Beer Festival — silver for Get Off My Bock in 2002, gold for Atomic Blonde in 2003, and gold for Rye On in 2004. He also snagged three silvers and a bronze at the World Beer Cup.

The name change to Chama River came in 2005 after the restaurant’s food sales continued to lag even as the beer sales increased. The New Mexican-style menu was replaced with more of an upscale pub selection of American dishes.

Farewell, old friend. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

After that big change, the next was when Rice left in 2007 to start up Marble Brewery the following year. That left his assistant brewer, Jeff Erway, to take the reins. Erway picked up two silver medals at the 2008 World Beer Cup for Sleeping Dog Stout and 3 Dog Night (Baltic Porter). By 2010, Erway moved on to start La Cumbre Brewing.

Next up on the brewer docket was Justin Hamilton, assisted by Tim Woodward. Those two would also eventually leave to run their own brewhouses in 2014, Justin to Boxing Bear and Woodward to Turtle Mountain (and since moving on to Bosque, where he now works alongside John Bullard, also a former assistant brewer at Chama before moving up to his first top job at Blue Corn).

Zach Guilmette came over from Canteen to run the show in 2014, bringing David Facey along with him. David would eventually depart to join the ownership at Quarter Celtic with longtime Canteen/Il Vicino brewer Brady McKeown, which in turn prompted Zach to return to Canteen as head brewer. Before he left, Zach added to the Chama medal total with a gold at the 2014 GABF for Class VI Golden Lager.

Andrew Krosche, formerly of Ponderosa and Marble before that, then came over to run the show. He was still in charge Thursday when Chama was closed. We can only hope the future is bright for Andrew, but we have confidence things will turn out OK for him, considering his talent and ambition.

As for this beer writer, Chama River was the first local brewery I ever visited in Albuquerque. I was living in the Los Angeles area when the name change happened; before that, my dad does not ever recall visiting it as Blue Corn. That summer in 2005, while making a quick stop in town, my dad took me over to the brewpub next to what was then the best movie theater in town. I enjoyed a Rio Chama Amber before getting a pint of Sleeping Dog Stout, proudly declaring to our server that I would be drinking that stout on every subsequent visit. By the time I moved back in late 2008, the only local craft breweries I even knew about were Chama, Il Vicino, Kellys, and Turtle Mountain. I had seen Santa Fe, Sierra Blanca, and Rio Grande bottles in stores (not knowing the latter two now had the same owner), but otherwise it was a barren scene. (I would later have my first pint of Marble Red at the old Burt’s Tiki Lounge on Gold, but that is a story for another time.)

Chama ended up being instrumental in my willingness to embrace local craft beer in New Mexico. It was the place that told me that, hey, they could make beer here that would stack up to the heavyweights from Colorado, Oregon, and California. By the time we all came up with the idea of the Dark Side Brew Crew, Chama had long been a hangout, sometimes for a full meal, other times for a pint and maybe an appetizer before or after a movie. Even as nicer theaters were built and a slew of bigger breweries opened, Chama always kept a special place in our hearts. For many of us, it was the original local brewpub, the first place we ever had a local stout or IPA or just about any style.

The brewers may have changed, but the beer quality remained. As Andrew told us when he was hired, “I’ve been in here many, many times. I’ve been friends with the brewers in here for the last four or five years. As far as walking in here, expectations, I already knew what I was coming into, the history here. One of the things that was kind of exciting is the best way I can describe my first day was like coming into an archaeological dig. You just look at layers, you can see elements of each brewer here. Everyone has been putting it on top and on top. It’s like excavating an old, abandoned building and realizing, oh, there was another building here and they just piled on top of it. There’s really cool elements, just layers you can find.”

Yeah, we are gonna miss Chama River. Before anyone asks, no, we do not think this is the beginning of a sudden series of brewery closings. Until we get the official word from Santa Fe Dining (assuming we get one at all) about why it closed Chama, anything at this point is just pure speculation.

To the staff at Chama, we wish you all luck finding new jobs. Thank you for your service over the years.

All we have now are our memories of Chama River. Its place in our local craft beer history is secure. It is just unfortunate its place in our present and future was so insecure. We hope to have more information to share next week.

Until then, never take your favorite brewery for granted. Pay it a visit this weekend. After all, you never know what can happen these days.

— Stoutmeister

Farewell to Twisted Chile, one of the many unique small-town breweries in New Mexico.

Saturday will mark the final day of operation for Twisted Chile Brewing in Socorro. It will mark the end of a two-and-a-half-year journey for owners K.C. and Stephanie McFadden, who did their best to bring quality craft beer back to the small town 70 miles south of Albuquerque.

Twisted Chile is just the latest of many breweries to pop up in small towns in New Mexico, burn bright, and then fade away. The reasons they fail are as varied as the reasons others continue to live on. If there was a clear answer to what it takes to work it all out, certainly there would not be so many casualties.

For each of them, the ongoing survivors and the dearly departed, there was or still is a certain charm, a bit of an underdog mentality, that permeates all of these breweries. Even as more and more packaged beers arrive from the big boys in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they keep rolling along, or they fade away.

The first small-town/rural brewery was not located in a town at all. Embudo Station Brewing was located in a former railroad stop along the road between Taos and Espanola. It opened in 1989, just the third brewing operation to open in the state since the 1930s, following Santa Fe Brewing and Albuquerque Brewing (take one). It finally closed in 2008, but will probably be best remembered as the place that gave a home brewer named Steve Eskeback his start. Eskeback would go on to open Eske’s in Taos in 1992, which is now the second oldest brewery in the state after SFBC.

Eske’s success has been attributed in large part to its location, right in the heart of Taos, a small town that happens to also be a major tourist attraction. With hotels and art galleries within easy walking distance, Eske’s has survived throughout the years even as other breweries opened nearby, such as Taos Ale House and Taos Mesa, whose new taproom is about a block away from the old brewpub.

Other small-town breweries were not as lucky as Embudo Station or Eske’s. Elephant Butte Pizzeria and Brewery (1995-97), Alamogordo Brewing (1996-99), Pinon Brewing (2005-07) in Los Alamos, Silver City Brewing (2007-10), Mimbres Valley Brewing (2010-14) in Deming, and New Mexico Craft Brewing (2012-15) in Las Vegas all came and went in less than five years. The first two predated the current craft boom, while the others found themselves unable to capitalize on their town’s tourist-friendly status, or location along a major interstate.

Still, others have found their local niche, relying on a combination of just enough customers from the surrounding area, plus maybe the tourists and travelers passing through. Three Rivers has been going strong since 1997 in Farmington. The Wellhead has been serving up pints and food in Artesia since 2000. More recent additions with a few years of operation under their belts include Blue Heron (2010) in Rinconada, near old Embudo Station and now operating a taproom in Espanola, plus Comanche Creek (2010) near Eagle Nest, Roosevelt (2012) in Portales, and Little Toad Creek (2013) near Silver City.

More keep coming, with Enchanted Circle (Angel Fire), Desert Water (Artesia), 550 Brewing (Aztec), Hub City (Belen), Milton’s (Carlsbad), The Brew House (Chama), Route 66 Junkyard Brewery (Grants), and Bathtub Row (Los Alamos) all opening in the last couple years. Forthcoming breweries include Switchback (Cloudcroft), Drylands (Lovington), Colfax Ale Cellars (Raton), Glencoe Distillery and Brewery (Ruidoso), and Truth or Consequences Brewing, all of which hope to open sometime this year. If nothing else, the ones that closed have not scared off everyone else.

Still, there quite a few notable towns in New Mexico that lack a local brewery. Of the 10 largest municipalities in the state, four are still without a place to call their own — Roswell (5th, 48,544 people), Clovis (7th, 39,480), Hobbs (8th, 38,416), Alamogordo (9th, 30,753). There are various reasons some of these places do not have their own breweries, be it local liquor laws, or a general lack of anyone wanting to open one up (or at least having the funds to do so).

Looking at most of the success stories, though, and one can begin to discern a few keys to finding that success. First off, location is huge. Twisted Chile was on Abeyta Street, near Socorro’s central plaza, but far enough from California Street, the main drag through town that runs parallel to I-25. Tourists and travelers found it hard to, well, find TC. While places like Little Toad and Roosevelt have benefited from having small colleges nearby (WNMU and ENMU, respectively), TC never seemed to capture much of the New Mexico Tech crowd, be it students over 21 or the staff. (Then again, talking to a few NMT grads, they said it is far from a normal beer-loving college campus.) The presence of a more lively college, or having enough locals period, is as much a key as location in a highly visible area.

Twisted Chile offered up quality beer, good food, and a friendly atmosphere in a historic building. It was still not enough to keep the operation going. The owner of the building still owns the brewing equipment, and the McFaddens have put the brewery’s trademark and recipes up for sale. The hope is that someone will step up and take over the operation, but so far there is no word of anyone looking to take the reins.

The Crew does not consider Twisted Chile a cautionary tale or anything like that. We enjoyed our couple of visits and wish things had been more successful. We respected what they tried to do and hope someone else gives Socorro a chance. Breweries, in towns big or small, can become the positive central hub of those communities’ social scenes. They discourage the over-consumption found at most local bars, instead promoting a sense of camaraderie and fellowship. Frankly, our state needs more of that.

To all the small-town breweries of New Mexico, past and present, we raise our glasses to you this weekend! Look for more stories from us on many of these fun and unique little places in the coming months.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The open sign at Broken Bottle will be turned off for good this weekend.

The open sign at Broken Bottle will be turned off for good this weekend.

It is a bit trite to say, but for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As more and more breweries open around the Albuquerque metro area, there has always been the possibility that some might not survive in an increasingly competitive market. Other brewery owners have said a sort of reckoning is coming, where some of the smaller, less successful establishments will not stay open much longer. That prediction of sorts has come true as Broken Bottle Brewery will close their doors after tonight (Friday).

Broken Bottle was the first brewery on the west side of Albuquerque (if one does not count Rio Rancho-based breweries, which most of us know Rio Rancho would always prefer to be kept separate). They elicited mixed reactions from the craft beer community. They certainly had their fans, many from the surrounding area who treated BBB as their local pub/hangout. They had their detractors as well, those who criticized their ever-changing lineup and lack of consistency from batch to batch, even among their house beers.

In some ways, Broken Bottle can serve as a bit of a cautionary tale. Another brewery owner shared that there are currently 31 (!) applications for small brewing or taproom licenses with the City of Albuquerque. If we take out the four taprooms we know about (Duel in downtown, Kaktus in Nob Hill, Marble on Montgomery, Red Door in downtown), that leaves 27 new breweries. Subtracting Broken Bottle, there are 24 current breweries from small (Bistronomy B2B, Sandia Chile Grill) to medium (Chama River) to big (Marble, Tractor, La Cumbre). That would mean there will be more than double the number of breweries in town, or as friend of the Crew Matthew Reichbach likes to say, soon there will be one brewery/taproom per ABQ resident.

Location, a lack of proper brewing equipment, and other factors contribute to Broken Bottle's demise.

Location, a lack of proper brewing equipment, and other factors contribute to Broken Bottle’s demise.

I had the chance to stop by Broken Bottle on Thursday night and had a quick chat, nothing formal, with co-owner Chris Chavez. As he noted, “There must be a lot of money behind those places.” Opening a brewery is not cheap, as Chris and co-owner/brewer Donovan Lane discovered. They had enough money to open, create a perfectly comfortable, semi-stylish place to drink, but they never had enough money to purchase proper equipment in the back. While they had a small brewhouse, their beers fermented in plastic barrels as opposed to stainless steel containers that you see everywhere else. Did this affect the quality and consistency of the beer? Well, as anyone who home brews knows, batch to batch, the smallest things can affect flavor and mouthfeel and the like.

Broken Bottle did try to be different. They did not brew the usual beers you see everywhere else. It was not just a blone or amber, red, wheat, IPA, and stout or porter. They were adventurous, they were experimental, and sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. In the end it did not work enough. Beer drinkers demand at least some consistency in the house beers; they expect variances in seasonals/specialties. For Broken Bottle, the house beers varied too much from batch to batch. The Incident Black IPA, initially our favorite of the regulars, changed over time. But as we know, hop contracts can change, and smaller breweries can have a hard time being able to keep the same ingredients to keep their beer consistent. In many ways, it again serves as something cautionary for other small establishments, who will face many of the same challenges as they open.

“We opened this place on our own terms and we will close it on our own terms,” Chris said. He could not disclose the fate of all those tables and chairs with people’s names on the back, a unique “gift” of sorts for those who contribute to the brewery’s opening on Kickstarter. What will happen to the foosball table, the remaining growlers and glassware, and the brewhouse in the back is tied up right now. Broken Bottle’s lease was up at the end of October, and in the end Chris did not want to seek out a new location (because let’s face it, that spot near Coors and Irving at the far end of the shopping center from the street was a lousy spot, barely visible from Coors in either direction). Without his partner, Donovan decided it was time to walk away as well.

The days of two (or more) friends turning home brewing into a profitable microbrewery are likely over. Now we see more of these large investment groups starting breweries, though even they draw some skepticism. Hopefully most have a sound business plan, but in an environment where they must stack up their brews against the award-winning offerings from places like Blue Corn, Bosque, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Chama River, La Cumbre, Marble, Nexus, Santa Fe, Second Street, and Sierra Blanca, it will be up to the strength of the brewers they hire. To compete in this environment, places cannot just hire their friend who’s competed with the Dukes of Ale. You need an experienced commercial brewer or assistant brewer to make it work.

We shall see how things turn out for those 27 new breweries, and whether even half of them get as far as opening their doors. For some, they may not even make it as long as the nearly four-year run of Broken Bottle. Others could surprise us all. However things turn out for them, there are lessons to be learned from Broken Bottle. The concept of the neighborhood pub brewery is a good one, one that can work in different parts of town where a brewery is removed from the big competition. Yet it is not a guarantee of immediate financial windfall. Places can break even, but for many people these days, is it enough?

If you are on the West Side tonight, and feel like saying farewell, Broken Bottle will open their doors one last time. Stop in, have a pint of Vanilla Stout, and wish them luck in their future endeavors.

Just always remember, there are no guarantees of success of life, much less in the world of craft beer.

— Stoutmeister

One last ride at the Steer

Posted: May 1, 2015 by amyotravel in Brewery Obit
Tags:
You don't gotta go home, but you can't drink here anymore.

You don’t gotta go home, but you can’t drink here anymore.

Editor’s note: None of the rest of us in the Crew could make it to the Steer before it closed, but AmyO from the Bullpen was able to file one last story from the west side establishment. It will close for good at the end of business today (Friday). If anyone else has anything you would like to share of your memories at the Steer, words or pictures or both, send it to us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

My boyfriend and I stopped by The Stumbling Steer last night (Wednesday) because I couldn’t let them ride off into the sunset without stopping by for one last Bacon Bourbon Stout (on cask, no less). Just rub it in, why don’t you? Of course, it was a madhouse and service was slow and difficult. What did surprise me, though, was the attitude of the staff. They were extremely pleasant and accommodating. In so many ways it did not seem like the end at all. They were out of some items, but I still saw many steaks and fish and chips coming out of the kitchen. Everyone was enjoying the oh-so-cheap beer like they were their last beers on Earth, not just at the Steer.

The beer and food was going fast.

The beer and food was going fast.

There’s nothing like sitting down with your sweetheart, ordering a cocktail, three beers, an appetizer (yes, we had one of the last available orders of the pork bites) and a turkey Reuben, and walking away with a bill that is less than 20 bucks. (The rest of us will really miss the BAG OF MEAT. — Stoutmeister)

Good-bye little pork bite. We will miss your deliciousness.

Good-bye little pork bite. We will miss your deliciousness.

While I’m not a fan of country music, I can respect this man and his fitting message: “Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say. This is where the cowboy rides away.” – George Strait

I will miss you, Stumbling Steer.

A Final Cheers to The Steer!

— AmyO