Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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

If you have all sufficiently recovered from the concert at El Rey, pick a taproom and enjoy a special beer today!

Back when we presented our preview for the Marble ninth anniversary week events, one of the lingering questions was what beers would be part of the special From the Wood triple release. Well, thanks to Marble marketing and events coordinator Geraldine Lucero being her awesome self, we have the scoop before any of the three taprooms open today at noon.

  • Cereza Cerveza (6.2% ABV), which debuted at Tart at Heart 3 last weekend, will be at Marble 111 (Downtown).
  • Gin Blossom Ashlar (7% ABV) will be at the Northeast Heights taproom.
  • Nitro Brune (8.5% ABV) will be at the Westside taproom.

Each of the beers will offer up a unique and different tasting experience.

“The one that I’m really excited about is the Cereza Cerveza,” Geraldine said. “We’re using pilsner malt, Magnum hops, Chardonnay barrels, Dalton cherries, and lots of patience. The tasting notes on that are bright cherry flavor, neat and subtle funk, lively acidity, and mellow notes of oak creating an easy-drinking, fruited sour.”

Even as a non-sour drinker, I personally enjoyed that beer at Tart at Heart. It pretty much tastes exactly as those tasting notes describe.

The Gin Blossom Ashlar is the Double White aged in Stonecutter Spirits gin barrels.

“Some of the tasting notes from this beer: The Double White takes on notes of rosemary and mint and juniper berries, as well as a subtle vanilla bourbon note,” Geraldine added. “We tried it (Wednesday). It’s so good, it’s so tasty.”

Considering how much you all love Double White, this one should go fast.

The Nitro Brune is the La Brune on nitro, as if one could not tell by the name. The CO2 version debuted back on New Years Day and proved to be quite popular.

“Some of the tasting notes on the Nitro Brune: Notes of prune and dried cherries. A smooth tartness and warming notes of vanilla and bourbon from the oak blend together to make a luscious experience in the glass,” Geraldine said.

Marble Westside is fast becoming a major destination for people who like a wide variety in their beers.

“Our Westside location has 25 different beers on tap right now,” Geraldine said. “That’s insane. We’re also doing an archive beer tapping there Saturday. DJ Leftover Soul will be there Saturday night.”

Archive beer tapping? Lord help us if they have vintages of Imperial Stout and/or Reserve Ale. Oh, Isotopes, you just had to be home this week …

Anyway, Geraldine also had a couple additional news tidbits she wanted to pass along.

“I’ll give you a little scoop,” she said. “Have you tried the Indiana Bones Raider of the Lost Ale? That’s an IPA that drinks like a 6-percent (ABV) IPA but it’s only 4 percent. It’s a delicious, hop-forward, I couldn’t believe that it’s only 4 percent.”

OK, an early contender for best beer name of the year right there. We will let everyone know when it pops up on tap, but you can keep track yourself by checking the constantly updated beer menus for all three Marble locations on Untappd. Just search by venue and you will find them.

For those of you who love the beer/food pairings at Marble, they have a huge one coming up for Cinco de Mayo.

“Something else that we’re working on other than anniversary week that’s coming up is our (next) Crave featuring Chef David Gaspar from Artichoke Cafe,” Geraldine said. “We’re turning the fermentation hall into a dining hall again. A four-course meal paired with four special brews. We met with Chef David this afternoon to do a tasting.

“The beer lineup is looking like Pilsner Anejo will be on the menu, the Hans Cholo is going to be on there, and we’re thinking about putting our Pineapple Gose on the menu. That’s what we started with (Wednesday). He’s going to come up with some pairing ideas and we’re going to do a tasting at Artichoke next week. Tickets are looking like they’re starting at $60 a seat (for) Friday, May 5.”

Artichoke Cafe and Marble? As soon as those tickets go on sale, get them, because they will go fast.

Thanks to Geraldine for taking the time out of her (insanely) busy day to chat. And thanks to old Crew friend Tyler for the samples of Pineapple Gose, Hans Cholo, and Maibock, the ninth anniversary beer that is now on tap and for sale in bombers.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Tractor’s Nob Hill taproom is back behind those trees, away from much of the construction for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

The Albuquerque Draft Station shut its doors on April 3, through no fault of its own. The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project had torn up Central Avenue outside, and during the construction a water line was ruptured, forcing the craft beer bar to shut its doors. Draft Station would not reopen until April 12. Nine days of revenue were lost.

It was perhaps the most extreme example of the negative effects of the ongoing construction, which has hampered businesses not only in the stretch of Central west of downtown, but also in Nob Hill, which has been torn to pieces for months. The Crew reached out to the breweries and off-site taprooms in the affected areas. While Bosque and Draft Station never got back to us, I did have a chance to sit down with Kaktus owner Dana Koller, Kellys head brewer Dan Cavan, and Tractor marketing director Jeremy Kinter. Each of their respective Nob Hill locations has had a different experience with A.R.T.

Kaktus only opened its taproom on December 31, 2015, making it one of the more recent new additions to the neighborhood.

“We only opened a few months before we really started getting into that (construction),” Dana said. “We don’t have numbers to compare it to, but it’s definitely been an uphill battle. We feel there’s a (clear) reason for that. We’re getting our high ratings, people love what we’re doing up there, but it has been really difficult to get that walk-in traffic. We see our numbers going up slowly, really slowly, but they are going up. I think we would be about 35 to 40 percent stronger if the construction wasn’t there.”

Kellys has also had a hard time discerning the exact impact of the construction, as the longtime brewpub recently went through an ownership change. Now under Santa Fe Dining’s umbrella, Kellys has revamped its food and beer menu.

“Honestly, I think it’s just slightly less than business than usual,” Dan said. “Probably the changeover had more impact than this on our sales.”

Tractor has been the most established and stable of the three, but that has not meant it has avoided a drop in sales.

“It’s been interesting, but surprisingly enough A.R.T. hasn’t impacted us as deeply as we expected,” Jeremy said. “We’ve held our own. Sales have been down, yes. We have noticed a drop, but it has not been significant by any means. We’re one of the lucky few.”

Tractor does have a couple things in its favor. First off, it has its own established parking lot out front, and many customers over the years have learned to park on the side streets like Silver and Tulane. The taproom also has a loyal clientele from the residential neighborhood to the south.

“What’s nice about our Nob Hill location is it’s more like a Cheers (style) bar,” Jeremy said. “There’s a ton of regulars and those regulars still come, mostly from around the neighborhood.”

Parking issues are still there for everyone, however.

“We’re one of the lucky few where we have parking, unlike areas like Harvard, for instance, in the Bricklight District,” Jeremy said. “That’s a lot tougher. Getting there is really tough, getting in and out is really tough. I know Winnings (Coffee) is having a tough time. They have the Indiegogo campaign for $10,000. It’s really sad to see that it’s impacting those bigger businesses as well. I don’t want to see Off-Broadway go out of business. AstroZombies won’t go out of business, but they’ve taken a hit. Everyone has taken a hit. Nob Hill Bar & Grill, they’ve taken a hit. Even Two Fools.”

It is that drop in support for all businesses in Nob Hill that has Tractor concerned.

“All in all, it has impacted us, but not bad,” Jeremy said. “We’re more concerned with the neighborhood in general. That’s our biggest concern right now, concerned with the other businesses shutting down like Red Wing (Shoes), Hey Johnny, the furniture store. We’re worried about the impact on Nob Hill in general, because that impacts all of us.”

These sorts of signs are becoming all too common in Nob Hill, worrying the breweries and taprooms.

Kaktus has made moves to try to combat that by bringing the various businesses together.

“We’ve been trying to get involved wherever we can,” Dana said. “We did that passport program recently to encourage business and encourage the businesses to come together and build that excitement. I’m happy to see that our numbers are going up, because that means we’ll probably make it, even though it’s been a struggle. Chances are high we’ll make it, especially after the construction is done. We should see some strong numbers.”

The passport program involved 19 businesses on or near Central, where patrons could get a small booklet and receive a stamp every time they made a purchase. They could then turn them in to be part of a drawing for $700 in prizes.

“It got us some positive exposure in the media,” Dana said. “It’s the perception that people are getting more than anything else, if we kind of create events, they’ll make their way down. That was pretty successful for the first one. The biggest thing was we got positive news. It was in the Journal. KOAT covered it.”

Kaktus may look to do a second go-around with the passport program, Dana said, as construction is expected to continue through July. Those construction plans extending into summer is where the Nob Hill locations could start to see a major impact.

As Dan noted for Kellys, “we’re patio driven, so we’re also weather driven,” meaning the coming weeks and months will truly show whether or not the construction will have a tangible effect on the brewpub.

“They’ll probably finish the bulk of the construction during our slow season,” Dan said. “(But) it will be interesting to see what happens when they’re working on the sidewalk on our side of the street.”

The bulk of the sidewalk construction is currently along the north side of Central in Nob Hill. It has created headaches for locations such as Il Vicino, Two Fools, Matanza, and more. Once it reaches the south side, where it could begin to affect Tractor, Kellys, Nob Hill Bar & Grill, and even close to Bosque.

The sidewalk construction is creeping closer toward Kellys.

One major casualty, events wise, has been the loss of the annual Pride Parade, which will move to Lomas this year. The uncertain end date for construction means that Route 66 Summerfest could also be in jeopardy of being relocated.

“That’s a huge loss for us, especially for Tractor and our involvement in the LGBTQR community,” Jeremy said. “That’s one of our big demographics. We have Drag Queen Bingo and we do events sometimes with the social club. At Pride we do a float and people come to Tractor (afterwards). That was a big loss for us and we weren’t too happy about it moving to Lomas, but we understood. You can’t do that on Central right now.”

Tractor still intends to be involved with the parade.

“The word as of now is next year it will move back to Central, which is good,” Jeremy said. “Also, they’re working with me to let Tractor to close down a portion of the street or block in Nob Hill and host a post-Pride Parade party. That’s a nice stipulation that they gave us. They’re working with us and Nob Hill Bar & Grill.”

The Tractor staff is thinking positive thoughts about Summerfest staying put. So far, city officials have not officially committed to keeping it in place, nor have they officially said it would be moved. That call may not come for another few weeks, so the city can better analyze the state of the construction and its progress.

“What we were concerned with, and we just had a meeting with the economic development (committee), and our biggest concern has been the loss of Summerfest,” Jeremy said. “As you know, Summerfest is a huge event in Nob Hill. It’s our number one day for sales. That’s the case for a lot of the businesses in Nob Hill. There has been some talk of Summerfest moving away from Nob Hill, but that hasn’t happened. We’re very fortunate for that.”

Kellys, likewise, will miss having the Pride Parade around and hopes that Summerfest is not going anywhere.

“Those are huge bumps,” Dan said. “Losing Pride from Central, we’re busy from 7:30 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. That will definitely impact us. Summerfest is huge, that’s the largest event on Central. Just keep it rolling, get (the construction) done by Summerfest.”

For now, the Nob Hill breweries will keep their fingers crossed that things will keep trending in a positive direction as the construction gets closer to completion. None have been hit so hard that they are in danger of closing shop, but not every business in the district can make the same claim.

“We’re more concerned about the neighborhood in general than ourselves,” Jeremy said. “Tractor will be fine. We do things to try to drive traffic there. We have music two nights a week. We have art openings. We have those events to generate our own traffic. Scalo, I think, is bringing back music as well. It’s about that time of year. We opened our patio. Once the warmer weather is back we’ll see more traffic.”

The Crew will keep an eye on the status of all the breweries and taprooms up and down Central, as well as the ultimate fate of Summerfest.

In the meantime, get back out to the affected areas and show your support for all the businesses in Nob Hill, East Downtown, West Downtown/Old Town, and downtown itself whenever the construction finally reaches there. Let us focus on helping our local small businesses, whether they sell beer or not, keep their doors open, regardless of the status of old Route 66. Lomas and Lead/Coal are our friends!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Ponderosa Brewing is about to celebrate their second anniversary with a party on Saturday. The festivities include a special release, a 2014 barley wine that has been aging for 18 months. The impressive, or at least unique, fact is that beer was made four brewers ago. Ponderosa has seen a lot of change in two years, so on a recent, spectacularly beautiful fall day in Burque, I met the new head brewer, Antonio Fernandez.

In these two years, Ponderosa has had four brewers. But, to be fair, initial brewer Matt Kollaja was basically meant to be on a short-term loan, if you will, to get things started up, Fernandez said. His successor, Andrew Krosche, could not pass up the head brewer job at Chama River, and the most recent brewer, Bob Haggerty, has moved on to the massive Steel Bender project, which aims to open in early 2017.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa's short history.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa’s short history.

Readers may ask, “Who is this Antonio guy?” Fernandez is a newcomer to the Albuquerque brewing scene, and in this writer’s opinion he arrived in a really cool and unique way. I did not expect the answer I got when I asked what his background was.

Fernandez was born and raised in Albuquerque and has had several careers. His first was actually in music as a trained classical guitarist, but playing all different types of music. Hopefully, someday he will have time to play at Ponderosa, but as a head brewer with no assistant brewers, he said it might be a while before that happens.

Following that, he was a sous chef at Trombino’s in Albuquerque for seven years. (Developing a strong palate, no doubt.) The restaurant cut back on staff when they stopped doing lunch, and Fernandez was laid off. He was a home brewer for a lot of years and was really interested in beer — he is also a certified BJCP beer judge — so he decided to apply to the American Brewer’s Guild. The program started right after he got laid off, so the timing was right. After completing the program, he was working at a home brew shop in Rio Rancho, the Grain Hopper out by Intel. It closed in April. Fernandez decided that was the impetus he needed to go out and get a serious brewing job.

“I was applying for a bunch of things and I figured I was going to be an assistant, go and wash kegs, and things like that for a while,” Fernandez said. “I had the degree and all that and experience in restaurants and everything. You know, I applied for a bunch of jobs and then I got the call over here and they were like, ‘Yeah, we would like to interview you.’ I was like, cool. I had met Bob quite a few times, actually, and he’s a nice guy, good brewer.”

I asked Fernandez if he knew he was interviewing for head brewer or if he thought he was interviewing as an assistant.

“You know, I kind of thought I was interviewing for assistant, actually, because they just had … the posting was for brewer, that’s all it said,” Fernandez said. “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that would happen … Bob was here, and Alan, one of the owners, was in town.”

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

During the interview, Fernandez found out that Haggerty was leaving. The interview ended up going on for about four hours, Fernandez said. It clearly went well.

At this point, it was time to taste some of Fernandez’s beer. Because Ponderosa has quite a few beers on tap, I decided to limit the tasting to one of the regular beers, and each of the seasonals. Overall, I was impressed. Fernandez said he actually enjoys brewing the more involved beers with bigger malt bills and more hop additions.

I wanted to try his version of the Ghost Train IPA (6.2% ABV, 70 IBU), since that is the style that locals favor. It has been a while since I had the Ghost Train. It’s still not an over-the-top hop bomb, which is perfectly OK with me, but the malt bill seems to have been mellowed, allowing the hops to shine a little more.

Fans of lighter styles will enjoy the Belgian Pale Ale (5.2% ABV, 30 IBU), which Fernandez said is probably his favorite to drink right now, and the Oktoberfest (5.8 % ABV, 30 IBU), a traditional, lighter, Munich-style beer brewed according to the German Purity Law. The Oatmeal Stout (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU) was flat out delicious, with an abundance of coffee, cocoa, and caramel notes, next to no bitterness, and only subtle sweetness. The carefully managed sweetness continued in the Imperial Black IPA (8.2% ABV, 110 IBU). Their version of a fall pumpkin beer is the Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (5.6% ABV, 30 IBU). Fernandez said he is not a fan of heavily-spiced beers, so this is a rich, only slightly spicy offering.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

Quality control is one of his biggest concerns, Fernandez said. He said he is a fanatic about it. He said he likes the fact that without any assistants, from grain-to-glass, he has absolute control.

Fernandez said he soon plans to brew a single-hop Mosaic Pale Ale. He also said he thinks it is kind of strange that Ponderosa has never had a regular Amber, so there are plans for that as well. There is a sour Belgian Brown in the works, too. And, what I am most looking forward to is an upcoming Smoked Imperial Baltic Porter in late winter.

Fernandez said also hopes to increase the frequency of the bottle releases. There are tentative plans to collaborate with the forthcoming Hotel Chaco down the street, perhaps providing them with their own beer and having other Ponderosa beers on tap.

Ponderosa will be hosting a beer dinner in mid-November. Fernandez promised more details on that event soon.

Cheers!

— AmyO

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

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

Way back on Saturday night, I was peacefully sitting at the Rhein Haus in downtown Denver, enjoying some schnitzel and a mug of Prost Marzen, when I received an inquiry from NM Brewers Guild director John Gozigian. He had heard something was up with Boxing Bear winning an award at the Great American Beer Festival that had not been part of the awards ceremony earlier in the day. I had no idea what was going on, when on cue, an email arrived from the Brewers Association.

The contents of that email were available for me to share (I was writing on the bar top at Rhein Haus, surrounded by some bemused customers and bartenders) in our GABF awards/medals recap story. Shortly after finishing that update, I was invited by the Boxing Bear staff to join them for a celebratory event at Appaloosa Grill. Before things got particularly, um, festive, I got head brewer Justin Hamilton to talk about how he found out that Boxing Bear was suddenly named the GABF Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.

“Shortly after the afternoon members session (ended), I got a text from one of the GABF organizers,” Justin said. “She texted me and said can you give us a call, one of these two guys. I kind of missed the text (initially) because my phone had died. I (later) called the first number and he didn’t answer it. I called the second number and he answered. He said he a couple questions about how you basically signed up, what you’re categorized as.”

Justin informed him that Boxing Bear had listed itself as a very small brewery, based on barrel output in 2015.

“He said you brewed a little over 850 barrels last year, yeah, but you also have a kitchen,” Justin said. “Yeah, we have a small kitchen. So, you have food and (thus) you’re a brewpub. OK, we’ll take that into account and call you back. I hang up and tell my wife, man, I just got a weird phone call.”

By this point it was 5 p.m. and time for Justin to return to the Boxing Bear booth inside the Denver Convention Center. Before he could leave his wife and daughter behind to leave the madness, the next phone call arrived.

“I have to go to the night session and I’m literally on my way out the door when I get a call from one of the organizers,” Justin said. “It’s nothing official yet, but we wanted to let you know the whole story about Karl Strauss being in the wrong category. Basically what it leads to is that the opening is for you and you were mis-categorized as well and now you’re now the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year. I throw my sweatshirt down and start screaming, fuck yeah! I had to apologize for yelling (to my wife).”

Fear not, Justin’s daughter is too young to start repeating what her daddy said.

A rare moment where the line was not stacked up at Boxing Bear during the Saturday afternoon session of GABF.

A rare moment where the line was not stacked up at Boxing Bear during the Saturday afternoon session of GABF.

From there, it was time to let the rest of the Boxing Bear team know what was happening.

“I text these guys you need to meet me at the booth right fucking now, I have huge news,” Justin said. “I literally sprint, I haul ass, I run all the way to the booth, and nobody’s there. I’m just like oh, shit, oh, shit. I start calling people and nobody’s answering. I get a hold of Dylan (Davis, assistant brewer), who’s like yeah, we’re headed over there. Get your ass over here right now! I told him, dude, I’m going to tell you right now, we just won Mid-Size Brewpub of the year. He’s like shut up, no, whatever. I said something went wrong, we won that shit. I’ll be right there! We tried to hold it under our hats until the official release came out.”

A certain local beer writer then informed Justin that it was official, then the celebration was on.

“To be the second brewery in New Mexico to pull off a brewery of the year (award), and it’s only in our second year, we’re super proud,” Justin said, referring to Marble’s 2014 award. “We couldn’t be any happier.”

It was the perfect capper to a day that had already seen Boxing Bear claim gold medals for The Red Glove in the Double Red category and Chocolate Milk Stout in the Sweet Stout category.

The latter was a repeat medal winner, while The Red Glove was the big surprise of the day.

“After bronze and silver, I’m like, we’re done,” Justin said. “Then I heard The Red. Then Glove came out and I just jumped up.”

“I didn’t even get it until everyone else around me congratulated me,” Dylan added.

Justin called the entire awards ceremony a whirlwind.

“I think at the end of that awards ceremony I feel the same if I won nothing or won Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year,” Justin said. “It’s so draining emotionally. It’s hard, it’s hard, man. You sit there waiting for every category to come up. It’s rough.”

The team with Charlie Papazian after winning gold for The Red Glove. (Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association)

The team with Charlie Papazian after winning gold for The Red Glove. (Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association)

Still, winning for The Red Glove felt especially rewarding.

“We worked really, really hard following the judges’ guidelines,” Justin said. “We entered Red Glove last year. We got our remarks back from the judges and we literally, from judge to judge, and took their remarks super seriously. We changed our entire recipe for The Red Glove. We knocked it down in alcohol, changed some of the bitterness. We did a lot to it. It felt good.

“That was a really good win for us because it’s not another stout. I want to win in different categories. Me and Dylan talked about this at CBC (Craft Brewers Conference), where we want to be known for a variety of categories and styles. Being an IPA guy would be great, but we got that a little bit this year.”

“We want to be (known as) good beer guys,” Dylan added.

Something tells me a whole lot of people already know Boxing Bear as just that. If they did not before, they sure do now.

Stop by Boxing Bear this week and make sure to congratulate everyone on this amazing accomplishment. Oh, and fresh batches of Chocolate Milk Stout and The Red Glove are coming soon. Once the celebrations were done, Justin and Dylan were back in Albuquerque and brewing as fast as they can.

Congratulations to Boxing Bear, it was a well-earned victory, even if it did not come in a traditional way. Thanks for the interview, the drinks, and the general awesome finish to a great weekend.

I will have a final wrap-up of GABF news, notebook-style, on Tuesday.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Get your finest viking gear on and head up the mountain for beer!

Get your finest viking gear on and head up the mountain for beer!

Greetings, gang. Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos has had a new head brewer for a while now. We’ve been meaning to track him down and pick his brain, and the planets finally aligned Wednesday. We spoke with Nic Boyden about where he’s from, what he likes, and what his plans are.

We also discussed Nic’s special beer for this weekend’s upcoming event at the Pajarito Ski Area, Ullrfest! We know that there are other things going on this Saturday (NM Brew Fest and Corks and Brews in Albuquerque), but this is one of the premier events in the mountains near Los Alamos. The weather forecast looks promising, so it should be a great time. As always, activities other than beer drinking will include bike races, chairlifts and hiking, disc golf, and a viking-themed costume contest. Music will be provided by JJ and the Hooligans. If you think you will be participating in the beer portion of the agenda, you may want to take the free shuttle that runs between town and the ski hill every half hour.

The breweries that will be in attendance, with beer lists where provided. (Updates will be posted whenever we receive them until the morning of the festival.)

  • Bathtub Row: Ullr Beer (Sahti), Hoppenheimer IPA, Raconteur Table Beer, Fat Man Stout
  • Blue Heron
  • Boxing Bear: Oktobearfest, Ambear, Uppercut IPA, Cider
  • Chili Line
  • Enchanted Circle: Glory Hole IPA, Panty Tosser Peach Wheat, Wet n Wild, Octoberfest, Red River Red
  • La Cumbre
  • Santa Fe: Idaho IPA, Oktoberfest, Imperial Java Stout, Nut Brown (in cans)
  • Second Street: Southern Passion IPA, Rail Runner Ale, Red & Yellow Armadillo, Rod’s Best Bitter, 2920 Pale Ale, Kolsch
  • Taos Mesa
  • Tractor: Mustachio Milk Stout, Tractoberfest, Farmer’s Almanac IPA, plus cider cans
  • Unquarked Winery

What else does Bathtub Row’s new brewer have in store? Well, let’s find out.

Nic, the new head brewer at Bathtub Row, is looking forward to his first Ullrfest.

Nic Boyden, the new head brewer at Bathtub Row, is looking forward to his first Ullrfest.

DSBC: Hi, Nic. Thanks for meeting with us. How would you describe your beers?

Nic: Hoppenheimer (IPA) is the standard beer that we have here. That’s what everybody asks for the most. A bunch of hopheads here in Los Alamos. I try to brew a Hoppenheimer every other week, so we’re trying to keep it on tap. We’ll blow through a Hoppenheimer tank in about four days. If it’s released on a Wednesday it’s almost gone Thursday night and Friday night, and then Saturday, Sunday, we’ll have a little bit, and then it’s gone by the beginning of the next week. So, I’m trying to do that every other week, but still trying to keep a good variety. Otherwise I’d be doing that once a week. Trying to bring in some other IPA ideas, also. We’ve made some small tweaks to Hoppenheimer, but it’s pretty solid — bitter, hoppy Centennial-based beer. Sticking with that, made some small tweaks to it.  

DSBC: Do you have other ones that are staples? It seems like a lot of these are unusual ones.

Nic: Right. Every one of these was a first time. We’ll try to keep the Wit, which is pretty standard. Changing up the yeast strain right now. The next Wit we’ll be doing a little more frequently, but we’ll be sticking with that yeast strain for a while, really trying to dial that in. Everybody here has really been liking the Wit since before I was here. I’m not going to tweak that one too much. We want to keep a bitter, a light one, and a dark one, also.

DSBC: Do you think about it seasonally, too? It’s getting colder, so it’s time to start stocking more stouts and things.

Nic: I’m definitely going to try to do that. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, a hophead still wants an IPA. A malthead always wants a stout or brown or porter. Still trying to keep a variety, but at least let the subtleties of each beer be dictated by the season. In the summer, we’re trying to keep it fruity; in the fall, we’re going to have more beers with more spice to it, like your apple pie spices or your pumpkin beer. Everybody loves that. Definitely there will be darker stuff in the winter, too.

DSBC: Right now you have eight of your own beers.

Nic: Right now all of them are our own, so all of our taps are full.

DSBC: That’s a lot of room to play around even if you had four staples on hand; that’s four one-offs or crazy ones, whatever you want to try. Well, do you get to pick the brews?

Nic: I pretty much get to pick. I’m always trying to take suggestions and get some input on beers that we’ve done. I’m not going to just make every beer to (fit) my palate. We’re trying to sell some beers, try to keep some variety and some staples at the same (time), a balance of everything across the board. Pretty exciting that we have eight of our on tap right now. There was a point at the end of the summer where we were running out of beers so fast that we couldn’t keep all eight taps full even with guest beers. We were blowing through guest beers. After we blow through a Hoppenheimer, we’d put on a Boxing Bear (Uppercut) IPA. We’ve also done (Bosque’s) Riverwalker. As soon as we run through ours and theirs, then people will gravitate towards the next hoppiest thing, and then the pale’s gone. And then the hoppy pilsner’s gone (and) until Sunday afternoon we don’t have any beer whatsoever.

DSBC: Do you have kegs in reserve from other breweries that you can pull out?

Nic: Yes, we do, and we try to not (create) too much of stockpile due to space. What we’re usually going to order from another brewery are IPAs. IPAs are best when fresh, right, so we try to keep our stock as small as possible due to space and freshness. People got really thirsty over the summer.

DSBC: Plus the Lab is the factory in this town, and there lots of students that come in over the summer. Now that summer is out that’s probably why it’s calming down, and you know how much students drink.

Nic: I’m excited to have all eight of ours on tap. We’re just catching our breath after summer.

DSBC: I guess you do have to think about all of this when planning your own brewing schedule. You don’t want to stockpile too much of your own, either.

Nic: I’m still trying to figure it all out. I’m still new to town. I feel like wherever you go there’s a specific beer season. The only variables are how much does it drop off and sometimes it’s almost negligible, and in other towns it’s almost mud season like you’d have in a mountain town where tourists disappear for a while.

DSBC: Or ski season kicks in and suddenly they’re back. That brings up the next question. You mentioned you’re not from here, so where are you from?

Nic: I’m actually from Albuquerque. I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years and been brewing up there for the last six or seven years.

DSBC: Where did you work there?

Nic: I got my start at Avery in Boulder. It’s huge. And then I moved down to Salida in the mountains and worked at Elevation four years after that.

DSBC: So, you’ve been working your way up the brewery ranks?

Nic: Yeah, I moved to Colorado to do environmental consulting as a field tech. Then found that I didn’t get paid anything, so I got into cell phone tower construction. I grew up and worked nine years at the Tram in Albuquerque climbing towers and stuff, so it was easy to transition that to cell tower construction. Really enjoyed the travel, but being a home brewer, I said that I didn’t care how much I made, I’m getting into the industry.

DSBC: So you were a home brewer before. You’ve liked beer for a long time, like a lot of us.

Nic: Yeah, I just took the leap. I took the first job I was offered. I applied to a lot of places on the front range of Colorado, and the first job I got offered luckily was at Avery. I just drove a forklift to get my start. I very quickly moved into packaging. I was the packaging lead and then I did some cellaring and then I moved up the brew deck. I worked my way up, getting on-the-job training at Avery. What was awesome was that they also paid me to do online schooling for brewing. When I felt like I was topping out with where I could go there, I wanted to move on and get more creative control, so I went to Elevation. A smaller place. I developed a few things and changed some things there, then I felt like I wanted to move to a place where every single week was a new beer and a new opportunity. More creativity.

DSBC: You couldn’t find that at Avery, huh.

Nic: I couldn’t find that at Elevation, either. That’s why I think this is a great fit for me. I have to keep the customer base happy with the IPA, the Blonde, the Wit … but beyond that, it’s complete creative control. It’s a lot more fun.

The current selection of beers at BRB.

The current selection of beers at BRB.

DSBC: What I’ve found is that there is a lot of sophisticated beer drinkers in this town. Plus, a lot of home brewers, they know their beers, and they love creative, crazy things, if you can pull it off. How did you find out about Bathtub Row?

Nic: I met Jason Fitzpatrick (the general manager) and Jason Kirkman (the assistant brewer) last fall at ColorFest at Pagosa Springs. I had a good, professional relationship with them, and once I heard that they were offering up a head brewer position, I decided that this would be a pretty good trip for me. I knew those guys already, so I figured they know what they’re doing, I’ll take the leap.

DSBC: What do you think of this town? It is different from other towns, it’s a little isolated … in World War II that was a plus.

Nic: It totally makes sense. It’s a cool little town, definitely. Cool, unique town … like you said, driven by the Lab. Moving from Colorado, I didn’t want to end up back in the desert. I’m a mountain person at heart. This was one of the few places that I could see myself moving back to New Mexico for. Being at 7,500 feet, getting the moisture, the cool air. Having trails right outside my door, I can bike, I can run, I can take my dog out. That’s the closest I can get to Colorado. I thought it would be a good fit. So far, it’s been nice living here.

DSBC: Albuquerque is of course a huge beer scene, just getting bigger all the time. But, you’d rather have a small town atmosphere, I guess.

Nic: Yeah, I’m from Albuquerque and moved to Denver. I was in downtown Denver, and ever since I’ve been stepping away. I went to Boulder which is smaller, and I went to Salida, which is smaller. And, I went to Los Alamos, which is probably about the same size as Salida.

DSBC: Unlike our previous head brewer, you didn’t get a whole lot of say about how things are set up or the equipment. Are you happy with what’s going on in back?

Nic: For what we can fit into this building, we’ve got a pretty decent setup. And, just speaking with the Board and Jason the GM, I’ve definitely heard what their long-term goals are, and their brew system itself was purchased from Bosque. They outgrew it in a year. So did we, actually. That would be the only thing that I’d like to really step up in the future. That’ll be down the road. We can catch our breath before next summer’s big season starts up again. Maybe we can get something in the works by then. But, right now we did just buy a keg washer that should have arrived yesterday. We’re going to get that installed so we can take care of our own kegs.  

DSBC: What did you do before with kegs?

Nic: We mostly took our kegs down to Santa Fe Brewing and paid them per keg to clean them. So, we’d drive them down there, drop them off, and then a week later pick them up.

DSBC: It’s like having to go to the laundromat!

Nic: Yeah, it’s just that the laundromat’s pretty far away. And, also they’ve got their own struggles trying to keep up with their own production, so we were on the back burner. They were doing us a favor. So, sometimes we wouldn’t have kegs if they had issues of their own that they needed to address. They definitely helped us out, but we decided to just take care of it ourselves. It’s not like the brewery is going anywhere, we can invest in a keg cleaner. That’s the next thing that’s been purchased and on the road somewhere. And, I think we will be getting at least one more fermenter pretty soon. It’s the number one limiting factor for our production right now. We’ll be maxed out on space back there after that.

DSBC: I suppose you could brew off-site and bring the kegs down here?

Nic: We could, but we want to stay true to Bathtub Row, make sure that the name makes sense. Holds true to the history of this place and what we’re about. Ideally we wouldn’t leave Bathtub Row as far as the facility goes, but maybe that’s way down the road. We have talked to the landlord just a little bit about expanding this building in the future. We haven’t been shot down yet.

DSBC: You mentioned Santa Fe Brewing. It seems like there’s a pretty tight-knit, friendly brewing community here. There’s also more and more competition, not so much here but in Albuquerque. Do you still feel that camaraderie?

Nic: I still definitely do feel the camaraderie. I feel like we’re making as much beer as we possibly can and we’re at our max capacity here. Nobody’s eating into our business, so it’s not even an issue for us. As far as breweries being competitive, I don’t really feel that too much because I think that coming from Colorado and joining the New Mexico beer industry, even though Colorado’s been around longer, I’m seeing the same thing … there’s just so much camaraderie. A very altruistic atmosphere where everybody’s trying to help everybody out. Ultimately our competition is not each other. There’s a huge market share that’s not craft beer.

DSBC: Those Budweiser guys?

Nic: Yup. We’re all friendly. It’s no issue whatsoever, especially here.

DSBC: Do you ever go to some of the other breweries? For “research” purposes?

Nic: Oh, definitely. I need to do a little market research. I’ll try to get off the hill as much as I can, but that is pretty rare right now. Since I’ve started, we’re kind of short-staffed, and summertime being busy, I’ve been here at the brewery almost seven days a week. Not really working hard on weekends, but there’s always something that needs to be kept up with or addressed. We can’t brew any faster. The only thing that slows down our schedule is if the yeast could work faster, I’d be brewing even more beer.

DSBC: Not much you can do about that, there’s no super yeast yet.

Nic: Nope, can’t rush those guys. I haven’t made it to as many places as I like. The industry is booming right now.

DSBC: A lot of them are putting out some really good beers too. Like, if you went down to La Cumbre and tried an Elevated, would you think about how you could reverse engineer it?

Nic: I like to interpret what they’re going for and see how it is received by everybody around me. I obviously have my personal tastes, but I want to make a beer that the masses really want to enjoy. When I say the masses, I really just mean the co-op and the local community because that’s who I’m brewing for. But, once I get a finger on the pulse of what they want here, which is basically the Hoppenheimer …

DSBC: A double IPA would be fine, too!

Nic: That would be nice to keep on tap. We (would) blow through that so fast. We have done some. Did you get a chance to try the honey double IPA?

DSBC: I bought one for a friend but didn’t try it myself, so no. It sounded good.

Nic: That was Jason Kirkman’s little baby. He did a fantastic job with it. He came up with all of that before I was here. I brewed it but it was all his. We used some local honey. We used some orange blossom water and copious amounts of hops. We ended up winning a national honey competition. There’s a large honey company, nationwide, based out of Colorado. They did a beer competition. They had an IPA category and a light beer category. Stouts, porters, browns, Belgian categories. It was nothing like the GABF, but we submitted a bottle of the honey double IPA and won the IPA (category). I think that’s a pretty stout category to try to win. Proud of Jason and his recipe. That’ll be coming back.

DSBC: You probably didn’t even use their honey!

Nic: No, we used local honey.

DSBC: No need to mention that on the form.

Nic: Ha ha, no. So we also have that submitted to GABF. We bottled enough to send to that competition as well as GABF.

DSBC: Anything else you’ve entered in GABF?

Nic: We entered the Redhammer, which is also Jason’s imperial red recipe. I had him come up and do that brew on his own and show me how he liked to brew that. That has been the best-received beer that we’ve entered in competition. I figured why not enter it again. We also did the wit, which has done pretty well also. No medals, but it’s advanced to the finals in some different competitions.

DSBC: And, you’ll continue to participate in the IPA Challenge? That’s big in this state.

Nic: Yup. There’s a lot of good IPAs that were down there. We have to step our game up.

DSBC: So what is your favorite beer? Just some personal info.

Nic: My favorite beer … Actually, I’d say that my favorite beer is Coors Original.

DSBC: Ha ha. I’ll have to edit that out.

Nic: It’s a solid German lager.

DSBC: I didn’t see that one coming!

Nic: No one does. It’s mostly water. That’s how I hydrate. And, it’s consistent, and that’s something I can geek out on as a brewer. Every Coors I’ve ever had in my entire life tastes exactly like a Coors. They’ve got the science down, for sure. Made with that Rocky Mountain water.

DSBC: You can taste the difference, eh? You’re drunk right now, aren’t you?

Nic: Ha ha. My girlfriend still lives in Salida, and we try to climb a mountain every weekend. She’s done almost every single 14er in Colorado, and some 10 times. She’s done quite a bit. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m going to try to summit a peak once a week when it’s climbing season. My favorite thing is to sit on top, eat some peanuts, and drink Coors Original. Doesn’t get you too drunk so you can get back down the hill.

DSBC: Yeah, you don’t need a double IPA right then. It’s not a good idea.

Nic: You can edit that all out.

DSBC: No, no, it’s a fun part. Anything else you want to mention?

Nic: I think it’s just great to be able to experiment here and try different styles. I’m really glad the community has been very open to that idea. I always have to keep an IPA on tap. I get plenty of request for reds and ambers. I try to keep those in rotation, but I feel like there so many other styles and I think it’s awesome that the educated beer drinkers are open to that. There are some places where you couldn’t do a mild and have people enjoy it, (a) three-plus-percent English mild, or a Belgian table beer. I’m really glad that people are open to that idea. It also allows me to do a SMASH on tap. I’m trying to showcase some hops. I think it’s pretty awesome that we can dance across all styles, as long as we keep our staples on, I can play around with whatever I want. That being said, Coors Banquet might be my favorite beer, but I love to make Belgians, I love to make sours. We have a great saison with peaches, brett, and lacto in barrels right now. It’s developing. It’s starting to taste good. That’s what I like best, a variety. If I want something standard, I’ll drink a Coors Original. I get to try everything. I definitely feel lucky to do this.

DSBC: You’re kind of living the dream for a lot of people that would be reading this blog, for example. Congratulations to you for having it all come together … and get paid for it! I’ve heard that for Ullrfest you’re making a juniper beer?

Nic: I’ve researched, but it’s nothing that I’ve tried. It’s sahti, a traditional Finnish beer. European malts and noble hops. The distinctive character of it is traditionally is mashed and filtered through a hollowed-out log filled with juniper branches. What I did is completely cover the false bottom of our mash tun with some fresh Los Alamos juniper boughs, and then threw all of the grain on top and mashed on top of that. It pulled the juniper flavor out of the branches. I’ll be adding a juniper berry dry spice at the end of fermentation, also. It’s going to be a good beer, hopefully. If you like juniper! With Ullrfest being the kick-off to ski season, we were thinking we would do something Scandinavian and maybe that’ll help with the snowfall.

DSBC: Sourcing local ingredients, too! That’s cool. Well, that’s about it. Thanks for your time.

Cheers!

— Reid

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.

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.

Back in May, the Crew learned that brewer Tim Woodward was leaving Turtle Mountain for a job at Bosque. That in turn necessitated a replacement for Tim in the form of Mick Hahn, who had been working as an assistant brewer at Marble.

After letting Mick get his bearings at Turtle Mountain over the last two-plus months, I trekked out to Rio Rancho to finally sit down and get to know the man in charge of one of New Mexico’s oldest breweries.

Mick said he did not come from a craft beer background.

“Let’s start with the fact that I’ve seen my dad drink three beers in his life, 98 percent of which was Miller Lite,” he said with a laugh. “Turning 21 and getting into beer, I was pretty apprehensive. I was down in Socorro at New Mexico Tech, I got my degree in chemical engineering and I minored in partying while I was down there. I found plenty of delicious, off-the-menu beers that I wasn’t aware existed, stuff that tasted a lot better than Miller Lite.”

That led to the inevitable — home brewing.

“I got a home brew kit just before graduation,” Mick said. “I think I did three batches before I realized this was something I could really enjoy, and be good at, and make minimal money doing it! (But) I have a fun job that I enjoy going to every day, that makes a big difference.”

Of course, armed with an engineering degree from Tech, Mick was first looking for something closer to his field of study.

“During the whole course of that (post-college life), I was looking for engineering jobs and the markets were very slim,” he said. “They were looking for three to five years experience, which is hard to do when all you have is a degree.”

That led Mick to try and kick down the door to a brewery, metaphorically, at least.

“I started bugging Ted (Rice) and Jeff (Erway) right around New Year’s of 2012,” Mick said. “I was trying to get in. I bugged them once a month. I went to the Siebel Institute that April for their new crash course of introduction to brewing technology. I met a lot of cool people from all around the place, plus I learned some great lessons.

“I came back and it was still another two months before I ran into Ted at a beer dinner and finally got to meet him face to face. I told him I was still looking to get into the market. He said call me tomorrow and I got an interview and started up cleaning floors and not even running the packaging line, just bottling beer and moved my way up. I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Once he moved up to assistant brewer, Mick’s first beer that he poersnally created at Marble was the popular one-off Mick’s Mac, a Scottish ale. Even though he had plenty of fun being part of the brewing team there, when the chance came to take over at Turtle Mountain, Mick jumped at the chance.

“I had to take it, immediately,” he said. “I didn’t even have Tim’s number, he didn’t have mine. I got a text from Andrew (Krosche) saying, ‘Hey, Tim needs to get a hold of you. You should call him. It would be in your best interest!’

“I called (Tim) like two minutes later. He said, ‘I’m leaving and we need someone good to take this over. You’re my first choice.’ I pretty much said hell yeah right then. I came over, checked it out, met Nico (Ortiz), that’s about it.”

Mick started working alongside Tim on May 9 as they started the transition. Mick officially took over on June 1.

Once that was done, Mick learned the challenge of being a head brewer goes beyond just making all the beer. As Nico, TMBC’s owner, pointed out at a smaller brewpub like theirs, Mick does not have an accounting department or anyone else to fill in the many roles like they do over at Marble.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” Mick said. “The biggest challenge with it is to keep stock of everything. When you’re working at Marble, the one to two areas I was working in each day, I had a limited amount of tasks. Now it’s just me and (assistant brewer) Evan, and everything falls onto our plates. We’ve got a lot to manage all at once and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It’s a lot of keeping your eyes everywhere.”

With almost three months under his belt, Mick has been able to put his stamp on some of the TMBC seasonals, including the current Scottish ale, McSmack.

“I definitely think we’ve had some really delicious specials in the past three months and more to come,” he said. “I’m working bit by bit on the house beers. I had a really good baseline to start with. I had a few tweaks to start with last week. We went through all of them, gauged where we feel each one is at, what we can do with it and where we feel they can go. We’re also figuring if they’re worthy of remaining house beers.”

The first major beer competition of Mick’s career is looming in October as TMBC will be sending entries to the Great American Beer Festival. Rather than just send the usuals, Mick is gambling in some smaller, but still tough categories.

“We’re entering all lagers into it,” he said. “Four different ones — we’ve got our house Helles; Bien Tu Helles Bock, a really tasty maibock that Tim actually brewed a while ago and it’s been sitting back there lagering; Oktoberfest; and what was Hockey Teeth, but we’ve renamed it Wooden Teeth. It’s Tim’s recipe and we’re giving him a little nod in that fashion. I can manipulate Wooden Teeth as I see fit, give it a new start.”

Brandon and I will have to stop by and check on those beers when we provide live coverage of GABF, including the awards ceremony.

Until then, keep up the good work, Mick! We encourage everyone to visit Turtle Mountain and let him know how he’s doing. Just talk in between bites of delicious TMBC pizza, please. We don’t want anyone to choke to death on pepperoni.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Oh, yeah, there is another one coming.

It has been a bumpy road so far for the Firkin Brewhouse.

Divorce is never a pretty thing. Even in the craft beer business.

A few months ago, Firkin Brewhouse went from being just another new brewery looking to make their mark to a vortex of controversy and in-fighting, the likes of which had not been seen in Albuquerque in a long time. Things have settled down, somewhat, between the two feuding factions, though they still have to officially settle things in court.

Somewhat surprisingly, with that legal case pending, co-owners Mike Trissell and Dave Singer still wanted to sit down and talk with the Crew about what has happened and what could happen in the future. They were limited somewhat in what they could say due to the pending case between them and Bill and Aaron Walters, their former partners (Aaron was the head brewer, as well). The Crew reached out to Aaron, but he responded that his lawyer was advising them not to comment publicly until the case is resolved. We hope he will do so when able, as both sides of the story deserve to be heard.

First off, Mike and Dave wanted everyone to know that Firkin is still open. They have a new website that lists their new hours of operation. They currently have two guest taps (Boxing Bear Black EyePA and Tractor Cider), plus a few of their own beers, with more in the works. The food menu is unchanged. They are planning more events in the future, from comedy nights to live music. Check their social media pages for more info.

Before I even asked a question, they had an opening statement of sorts.

Mike: I appreciate you taking the time and talking with us. We’re not the kind that harps on anything, speak ill of people and stuff like that. It was an unfortunate splitting of ways was what it came down to. Aaron and his father, Bill, they had different ideas for the business. We have different ideas for it, too. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye on those things. Now we’re still in negotiations with trying to make everything right with each other. Our lawyers have said we can’t say a lot about this situation. But we really appreciate what you guys said on the blog about that you wouldn’t write us off quite yet. We really appreciate that. As you can see, we are open and we have been.

Dave: We were (shut) down only two or three days. We got things in order. We were back up and running. We just had a meeting (recently) with doing some advertising, some radio, probably some TV. It’s just a matter of pushing forward and trying to get people in the door. It’s all we can do.

NMDSBC: As much as you can talk about, was there any particular thing that caused you to do what you’ve done, just taking control of day-to-day operations away from them, or was it more an accumulation of what was happening?

Mike: The main thing, as partners because Dave and I have been partners right from the beginning. We’re the ones who got it all started. When Bill came in, what’s the word I’m trying for here, he had his own ideas and we actually kind of brought him in to help do the books, the payroll, stuff like that. What clinched the whole issue was he wasn’t sharing any of the financial information. We asked to see the balance sheet several times, from month to month to month, and we were denied access to any of that, to the point where he changed the passwords. Those are things, a little bit of deceit on their part. But, that being said, I wish them well. I hope everything works out.

Dave: We know what a very influential beer blog that you guys do, we just want to let people know we’re open. We’ve got some new people in to brew the beer. We’ve still got our kitchen. People really seem to like the food.

Mike: We’re actually brewing the beer ourselves now, too. My background is brewing as well. Now that we’ve … it’s so funny, when this break-up all happened, we got calls from Boxing Bear, from Tractor, from everybody just calling in, (saying) ‘Hey, what’s happened, what’s going on, do you guys need any help?’ This community is phenomenal. The brewing industry is awesome. Some of these people we didn’t even know and they were asking. We have Tractor and Boxing Bear on tap now.

NMDSBC: You’ve hired outside people to come in and help with the brewing?

Mike: No, actually we’re not paying anybody. It’s just people that are helping us, friends of ours.

Dave: They’ve been brewers before, like home brewers. We’ve had a little bit of experience, but we’ve done a couple of batches. It’s gone realy well. At least we know the system. Now it’s just a matter of learning new recipes.

Mike: We’ve got some really cool recipes. It’s stuff that either I had and I didn’t get a chance to brew before this happened. And also some from friends of ours, they want to try out some of their recipes. We give credit where due.

NMDSBC: I talked to people about this place when you were having those initial problems. I discussed with a lot of brewery people you still face one major problem — your location. You’re not on a commuter street, you have no foot traffic, and you’re in a neighborhood with arguably the two top breweries in the city (La Cumbre and Canteen). What can you guys do to set this place apart and also make it a place people want to come to in this area?

Mike: Well, first of all, we’re hoping that our beer is going to be really superior. We really do believe in that. We’re very strong on using the best quality products, ingredients that we can. And, I think that once we get up and get some of that is shown, we can actually get on our feet here and show that … The other thing is our environment that we’re trying to create here. We’re trying to be so different than anybody else. Because Prohibition, comedy, entertainment, that’s where we’re trying to go with this. We want people to come here and have fun and make good friends. That’s our biggest thing.

Dave: We’ve also had great feedback for the food we do sell. It’s not a full kitchen. We’re kind of similar to Canteen with our panini press for sandwiches. The feedback that we’ve had is it’s really good, quality food, and it’s heartier than a lot of other panini sandwiches. We have had great feedback on our Chicago Dog, something that not a lot of people do in town. We’re looking to expand the menu a little bit, too, here down the road, in terms of probably Frito pie. And, we’re going to maybe experiment with some hot wings, too. It’s another thing that people do come in and they do know that we’re open, they know we have some decent food along with the beers.

NMDSBC: Are your guys hours still the same?

Mike: No, we changed the hours, mainly because of our staff. Our staff stuck with us over this. Well, I’d say about 90 percent. Some decided they didn’t want to put up with all that stuff, and I can’t blame them. That’s pretty normal.

Dave: We’re closed Monday. Mondays, especially for restaurants and bars, they’re slow. For a new startup, we decided for now to close Mondays. Tuesdays through Thursdays it’s 3 to 9. Friday and Saturday it’s 12 to 11. Sunday it’s 12 to 9.

NMDSBC: We just want to get that right for The Week Ahead in Beer. If people ask us if you’re open, they want to know when you’re open.

Mike: We’re getting to ready to put quite a bit of money into advertising. One of the things that we’re going to be doing, we’re going to get signs put out on the major streets around us that says The Firkin Brewhouse this way, that type of thing. So that when they do get in the general area, they’re directed by these signs.

NMDSBC: So, like Columbia and Aztec?

Mike: Well, along the (I-25 northbound) frontage. As you come down the frontage road, you hit Cutter first, we’ll have a sign that says ‘Beer, sponsored by The Firkin Brewhouse.’ And an arrow going that way. Then if they pass that and they hit Aztec coming down, (it will say) ‘Last Chance for Beer, Firkin Brewhouse.’ We’ll do that kind of thing with the jocularity.

Dave: Like I said, we’re going to be talking to radio guys. Most likely going to do a TV spot or two. That will be down the road here, hopefully it works out in a few weeks. We’re looking to be (more active) on social media, that’s always going to be there for us.

NMDSBC: I noticed you’ve got Twitter and Instagram back up.

Mike: Yeah, they are, but they’re a little sketchy right now because we don’t have enough staff to handle all of it. But, we’re really hitting hard on Facebook.

Dave: We started a texting service for deals and specials. We started that last week. We’ll see how that turns out.

Mike: We’ve got a VIP club that gives $25 gift certificates, things like that. … One thing that we did, not last weekend, but the weekend before, we did $1.50 hamburgers and $1 hot dogs. I don’t know if it’s the same prices you paid in Prohibition, but close.

Dave: We’re going to be doing events like that (outside), every other Saturday, at least up until winter. We’re just trying to get people in here, let them know we’re open, and let them know where we are. We’re still planning on putting a (permanent) patio out there, even a stage out there.

* * * * *

We thank Mike and Dave for taking the time to chat. Legal cases are tricky, hence the lack of digging into the full details on what happened to cause this split among the owners. As they said, hopefully it all works itself out for the best. We wish them luck in all their endeavors. Making beer and getting people to buy that beer is getting harder in this town as the palates of ABQ craft beer fans continue to evolve.

The Crew will keep an eye on when everything is resolved at Firkin and let everyone know how the final decision turns out.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Paul never has to ask for anyone to help him get something from the top shelf.

Blue Corn Brewery has undergone quite a bit of change throughout the years since it opened in 1992. One thing that hasn’t changed is that this humble 7-barrel brewpub has been a springboard for many great careers in the New Mexico Brewing industry. The names Daniel Jaramillo, John Bullard, Jordy Dralle, Justin Hamilton, and James Warren come to mind. Flipping through Blue Corn’s old log book reads like a modern history book of brewing in New Mexico. It’s a fine list.

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How long has Blue Corn been around? None of the Crew was old enough to even drive, much less drink, when it opened.

Recently, a new name was etched into that list. The name is Paul Mallory, and I’m here for his story.

It’s a hot Thursday afternoon, one of the hottest yet in Santa Fe, the kind that has you pausing one too many times beneath the office air-conditioning and begging for the bell to toll ‘Beer:30.’ When it’s time, I drive just down the road from work, brewery to brewery, which is less of a pub crawl than it sounds. I sit down at that same familiar bar. My old friends, the copper serving tanks, are as welcoming as ever. I choose the one beer I hadn’t yet tried on the board, the Blueberry Gose. It’s as refreshing as you want it to be. New head brewer Paul Mallory meets me just in time to order a pint of Summer Lager. Pints in hand, we look for a table. Paul has a friendly demeanor. A few minutes talking to him, and it’s hard not to like the guy.

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All the tools of a beer writer in one place.

After we cheers to our first interview, I get a little background from Mallory. He tells me that he’s from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and shares that he may have gone to school with Franz Solo. No way! I say. I feel cliché tossing in ‘small world.’ If there are any stories there, I’ll be sure to let Franz be the one to tell them. I get straight into brewing. Paul tells me that before Blue Corn, he had been professionally brewing for about four years; nine if you count his homebrewing. His parents gave him his start, having given him a homebrew kit all those years ago. As with many homebrewers that became professional brewers, he was hooked from the start. From then on, he read books, talked to pros, and kept following his curiosity. He would talk to local brewers in Albuquerque, but more importantly, he listened to them. He took their advice and that led to taking beer-judging classes. They also advised him to go to school if he really wanted to pursue brewing. Again, he took their advice; that led him to the brewing program at UC Davis. At one point, he even did an internship at Marble, which was another foot in the door.

After the program at Davis, Mallory began his professional career at Black Diamond Brewing Company in the East Bay Area (Concord, Calif., to be specific) to get us closer on the map. There, he was hired as assistant brewer, and pretty quickly he was promoted to head brewer there. He was there for about three years.

Mallory: It was a good, challenging job, because it was a production brewery, so you know we were on a 15-barrel system, brewing about six times a week, kegs and bottles, and sending to all these different states. So, stability, shelf-life, all that really mattered.

DSBC: How many states is Black Diamond in?

Mallory: I think we were in 13 to 15 different states. We had beer in Brazil and Italy. Too much, honestly. We were like, the Italians must be digging the old hop flavor, because I don’t know why they would like beer that’s made that trip. (Laughs)

DSBC: Did you work anywhere else after Black Diamond?

Mallory: Yeah, I went and worked with some buddies in Oakland at this really small brewery, which had its own set of challenges. It had a new 15-barrel brewhouse that they hadn’t hooked up yet, so I went in there, really trying to get their recipes dialed in, their processes, their lab, all that before they went on to the bigger scale. It was great. It was really fun to just work with friends and try to get their brewery off the ground.

DSBC: After that, you found Blue Corn? How did that happen?

Mallory: Yeah. Well, I was traveling, and my girlfriend sent me this email. And, so I was in a place with not very good internet. (Stoutmeister? Sound familiar? — Yes, all too familiar.) I really scrambled to get this resume in before the deadline closed and all that. So, somehow it worked. I spent one of my travel days getting my resume together, shot it over to James, and yeah, I got lucky, just with the timing. I was gonna move to Santa Fe, either way, and I really wanted to keep brewing.

DSBC: Now that you’re at Blue Corn, what sort of direction would you like to see the beer go?

Mallory: I’ve gotta say, James has been very creative. I’ve looked over his past recipes, and I’ve had his current beers. I’d like to keep it going. I’m sure I have some things that I can bring to the table because I came from another region in the country. I’ll definitely try to add that and just try to keep pushing the boundaries. I’ve looked through his old recipes and I was like, oh, I’ve done one of those, or I’d like to do one of those. There’s definitely a lot of overlap, too.

DSBC: What are your current favorite styles?

Mallory: I think it really depends on the time of time of day, time of year, whatever. If it’s a really well brewed beer, I’ll drink it. I’ll brew any style! But, hops, I really like hops, as most people do. (Laughs) I like the big, hoppy beers, but I’m obsessed with those pale ales. I like IPAs. I like session IPAs, but right in the middle are those pale ales, just super balanced, a lot of body, good strong bitterness, bold American or New Zealand hops. I want to be able to drink a few.

DSBC: Any beers you don’t particularly like to brew?

Mallory: I guess smoked beers. It’s just not my thing. I have friends who keep trying to find a smoked beer that I’ll like, and I’ll give it to them. They kind of found some that I do like more than others, but it’s just not a style you’ll see me do anytime soon.

DSBC: It’s a certain fringe style, either you like it or you don’t, like pumpkin ales or chile beers. Looking forward, what would like to see more of at Blue Corn?

Mallory: I think I’d like to help build the culture here. I think a lot of people don’t know how good a beer we make here. I think people think of our house beers, and that’s it, and they don’t really know about all these exciting seasonals. I don’t think they even know how good our house beers are. I’m really trying to work with the front of house, the kitchen, maybe the other location downtown. As for the beer, I kind of just want to keep it going. I’d like to follow in James’ footsteps and, of course, throw in my own flavor in there.

DSBC: It’s probably early to ask, but do you think you’ll be working on any special projects in the near future, barrel-aging kind of stuff? Sours?

Mallory: I hope so! I think when things slow down, at the end of summer, I’ll definitely look to fill my time by doing some more adventurous things with barrels. Yeah, and we’ve got a few to play around with, that we’ve been kind of tasting off of the last week.

DSBC: So, what kind of specialties can New Mexico expect to see at Blue Corn with the Mallory flair this year?

Mallory: Well, I guess I have my little black book with all my ideas in it. I can’t say for sure what I’ll draw from there, coming up, but in the past I’ve made a ginger saison for the summer, or maybe a rye pale ale, or maybe a pale ale that’ll showcase a new hop variety that most people don’t know about. I could go on and on, I guess.

DSBC: I’d let you, but we’ll save it for future interviews. What can you tell us about our current specialties that you have on tap?

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The variety of seasonals at BC is always outstanding.

Mallory: Yeah, of course. So, last week we released the Blue Corn Summer Lager, which actually has blue corn in it. It’s from New Mexico, some local blue corn flakes. And, you know the blue corn just dried the beer out. It’s nice and crisp. Real light body.

DSBC: It’s a good American light lager.

Mallory: Exactly. We threw some American hops in there, too, just to keep it fairly traditional to them with a little twist. And then, I don’t know if it’s because we knew there was blue corn in there, but we thought we saw a little tint or a little haze.

DSBC: It could just be in your head.

Mallory: I think it might be, but there definitely was during the early part of the brewing process, but it seemed to clear up later. And then, today, we released the Blueberry Gose. We used a little bit of acidulated malt to just give it a little tartness. We used a little bit of coriander and salt to give it the spice and the body. We used over 50-percent wheat on it and blueberry puree. And so, again, it’s somewhat traditional, and then we throw in a little twist. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s nice and drinkable.

DSBC: I know you’re going to try new things. Will you continue to do some of the new favorites that people really latched onto? I’m not talking about the cores, but the big beers that people have been enjoying like the Barleywine and Russian Imperial Stout, which have become kind of an annual thing?

Mallory: Yeah, I’m definitely happy to listen to what the customers want. I know that instead of our regular Honeywheat, we put blueberry in it one year, and it was like one of the best-selling beers of all-time. Barleywines, those, I’d be happy to do again if that’s what the people want. We are going to do a Russian Imperial Stout coming up, and Santa Fe Dining has a coffee roastery as well, so we’re going to get coffee from 35 North, and put it in the Russian Imperial Stout. And, with James’ inspiration, you know he likes his big beers, and he’ll release them at any time of the year, so we’re coming out with that soon. And then, we’re also doing the IPA Challenge this year, too. So, I know we got second place, last year.

DSBC: And you guys brewed that yesterday, right?

Mallory: That’s right, and hopefully we do well with that.

DSBC: Can you give us a little teaser about it? And, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Mallory: Um, yeah. It seems like a lot of the brewers are keeping it somewhat quiet, but yeah, kind of like last year, just a bunch of hops, just more hops than I’ve ever put into a beer.

DSBC: Even at Black Diamond? Cool.

Mallory: Yeah.

DSBC: In the Dark Side, we’re fans of really big beers, beers that consume you, not the other way around. Any of those in your black book?

Mallory: Hmm, let’s see. We did a quad at Black Diamond that I was a big fan of. I know we have one on right now that James made, and that’s really tasty. I’m a fan of the ones we already have. I love barleywines. I love quads. And, you know, we’ll see about getting our hands on some yeast in the winter when we have some more tank space, and maybe do a dopplebock lager, something like that.

DSBC: Last few questions. What kind of beer do you have in your fridge?

Mallory: Um, (Sierra Nevada) Torpedo. I know it sounds like I’m missing the Bay Area, where I was just living for the last five years, but honestly, I went to the corner store, and they didn’t have any local stuff. I ended up buying from California.

DSBC: Shaking my head at you, distributors. I’m kidding.

Mallory: I still feel new to the beer scene here a little bit, and I’m super excited to try all these new beers on the shelf by these local breweries.

DSBC: Anything you’d like to add for our New Mexico craft beer drinkers?

Mallory: I’m just excited to be back home. As good as the California Bay Area brewing scene was, I honestly feel like New Mexico is one step above.

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Nice touch there on the beer board, BC staff.

* * * * *

At Blue Corn, I’ve heard and used the phrase “big shoes to fill,” a lot. In my early opinion, I think Paul definitely has a chance, and of the Bunyan and Babe size. He’s both tall and very knowledgeable, but in either event, he won’t talk down to you. As a brewer, he’s at a good age for what he’s doing and where he is. At 31, he seems to understand the industry in a longitudinal sense, while still being young enough to not be set in his ways.

He’s confident in his abilities, yet seems ready to learn from anything and anyone. He trusts his brewing process, and so seems excited to test his new system in the name of beer experimentation. He’s happy to brew traditional styles while also keeping up with “what the kids want,” to quote former head brewer James Warren.

If Paul’s Brew-Fu style is as strong as his knowledge, hands-on experience, and passion for the craft, then I’m sure his future will be as bright as those of his predecessors. Welcome home, Paul. We’re all excited to see what you’ll have waiting in the fermenters for New Mexico in the coming months. Cheers!

— Luke (Craft Crusader)

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A selfie with the new Head Brewer. It happened. I’m less sorry than you think.

For more New Mexico #CraftBeer news and info, follow @nmdarksidebc and me, Luke, at @SantaFeCraftBro!

Zach did not have his World Beer Cup award yet, but he did have this wonderfully ridiculous picture given to him by Canteen's owners.

Zach did not have his World Beer Cup award yet, but he did have this wonderfully ridiculous picture given to him by Canteen’s owners.

Many brewers around town can brew lots of great beers, but if you ask them, there is always one particular style that is a favorite. It may not always be the best seller (e.g. IPA), but it is the one in which they take the most pride. In the case of Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette, that beer is the High Plains Pilsner. Zach has long taken pride in the Bohemian Pilsner style. He was rewarded with a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival for Class VI Golden Lager when he was at Chama River. Now, he can add a silver medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup for High Plains, his take on the same style for Canteen.

I sat down with Zach back on Friday, before a stretch of far too many baseball games in too short of a time, as he was unable to join some of the other WBC-winning brewers prior to that for a gathering to talk about their victories. As with those brewers, I asked for how he found out about the silver medal. Unlike those three, Zach did not actually travel to Philadelphia.

“I’m a nervous wreck during any ceremonies like GABF or the World Beer Cup,” Zach said. “I had really put it out of my mind that that was the day the award ceremony was even going on until I got a phone call from a hop salesman that he was in Philly for the awards. That’s when it hit me, ‘Holy cow, those are tonight?’ Then when I was hanging out with some friends Friday evening, I tried to put it out of my mind.”

That did not last.

“Then I got three text messages from some fellow brewers and that’s when I knew we won something,” Zach said. “The search started to find out what beer it was. We put Dougie Style Amber in the American Amber category, Exodus in American IPA, Dark American Lager in its own category, and then the Bo Pils.

“For me, personally, the Bo Pils was the one I was hoping was the medal winner as I was trying to find out which beer it was. That’s a style that I took under my wing a few years ago. I just love that style. I’ve researched it, read it. To find out it was that beer, I was jacked.”

Winning in that type of category for the WBC goes a little beyond GABF. After all, many of the international breweries that have been brewing Bohemian Pilsners for, well, centuries.

“I did look at the winners from 2014 and there were two Czech breweries that took gold and silver,” Zach said. “When you put it in that perspective, you definitely feel proud and happy to represent the country and New Mexico.”

Zach returned to Canteen, where he was previously an assistant brewer, at the start of this year. He filled the big shoes left behind by Brady McKeown, who left last fall to open Quarter Celtic Brewpub. In a way, this achievement at the WBC helped Zach put his stamp on the long and storied history of Canteen/Il Vicino.

“It really does,” Zach said. “We all know the history of the Canteen or Il Vicino, what Brady McKeown has done for this place. It was really important for me, whether I would say it out loud or not, to make sure I continued the success and the award-winning quality of beer. It’s the first medal for a lager won here. That’s something I’ll be proud to say.”

Zach was also proud to be one of seven winners from New Mexico.

“For the scene it definitely continues to show that New Mexico has the most well-rounded group of brewers in the country, as good as any state in my mind,” he said. “I think we’ve shown with some of my friends like Jeff (Erway) at La Cumbre, John Bullard at Bosque, we’re talented at IPAs. To show the country we can with lagers, we can with stouts, not only that, though, everybody that wins, those are your friends, the people you hang out with. You’re so proud of them. It’s almost like you won seven medals. It’s nice to win something but it feels even better to see your friends have the success as well. It feels like it’s a family, a big group win.”

Do not expect Zach, or any standout brewer, to be satisfied with this achievement. Much like all those baseball players I talk to, there is always room to improve.

“That’s the truth,” Zach said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not growing, you’re not challenging yourself as a brewer … even if you win a gold medal, you should be looking at that beer, thinking can I make it a little better. You’re never done, you’re never finished. Or if you feel like you’ve got that style down, there’s always something new to try.”

Speaking of new styles to try …

“We’ve seen a lot of goses,” Zach said. “That’s a new experience, I just brewed my first gose. I’m looking forward to that. Stan Hieronymus was brewing with wheat. There was a Belgian brewery he mentioned using a hefeweizen yeast for a gose. So, I decided to do that. We’ve seen a lot of goses with neutral yeast strains. Instead of adding fruit, which is nice — you see a lot of grapefruit goses — but this is going to be a gose with orange peel, coriander, sea salt, and brewed at higher fermentation temperatures on a hefe (yeast) strain for more ester character, more phenolics. We’re going for more sweet fruity and citrusy.

“That’s a fun style. I look forward to doing a couple more (new ones) this summer.”

The tap setup at Canteen — six house beers, six specialty taps, a cider tap, and a nitro tap — leads to some fun for Zach and his brewing team.

“I brought in nitro full-time now,” he said. “That’s a fun experiment. We’re just carving off like a little grunion, about 90 gallons. I probably get about five or six kegs of nitro per batch, whichever batch I choose. It doesn’t always work out. It’s fun to try. The Apricot Hefeweizen didn’t work out so well so we didn’t release it. You move on. The IPAs have done really well, it’s an interesting experience on nitro.”

Overall it has been a great start to 2016 for Canteen. They have two of their most popular beers — Dougie Style Amber and Exodus IPA — for sale in cans. Now add in the WBC hardware and it is only getting better.

“I definitely am thrilled with the progress,” Zach said. “I can only see it getting better. We’re getting our beer out there further. We’ll continue to grow with beer on draft around town. I think it’s exactly what I want it to be now, because I can also see where it’s headed. We’re not finished continuing to grow and maintain our (standards).”

Oh, and then there is the forthcoming taproom on Tramway just north of Interstate 40.

“I think they’re moving along quicker than you expect,” Zach said. “You always expect delays. We were looking at the end of May. I think maybe end of June now. I’m hoping end of June. We’re going to work on providing everything we have here up there. It will be like a whole ’nother Canteen up on Tramway. We’ll even have our nitro beers up there as well. I think, right now, fingers crossed, we should see that space open up soon.”

It all sounds good to all of us in the Crew. Make sure to stop by Canteen during American Craft Beer Week and enjoy a High Plains Pilsner. Raise a pint to Zach and all of our great local brewers.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister