Archive for the ‘Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2017-18’ Category

It’s already been a fun first few months of 2018 for Boese Brothers, with a lot more on the way.

After far too long between visits, I stopped by Boese Brothers Brewery last week to catch up with co-owner/brewer George Boese for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. We talked about everything from seasonal beers to upcoming collaborations, a downtown brewfest, and of course a pretty big project from last year.

That big project was Desert Dogs Brewery and Cidery, which opened to quite a bit of acclaim in downtown Santa Fe last year.

“It was a good year, pretty exciting in that the big thing we did last year was the partnership that we opened up with New Mexico Hard Cider in Santa Fe,” George said. “That’s where my brother Sam is kind of working as a general manager over there. He moved to Santa Fe to get that place open. That’s gone really, really well. It’s been fun, too, because I get to make a couple beers for Desert Dogs, which is fun. I do one, Bell Ringer, that’s kind of their flagship beer that’s near and dear to my heart.”

George said Bell Ringer is a New England-style IPA, which was his original intent for the beer that Boese fans know down here as Dr. Strangehop XPA.

“But three years ago, our standpoint was that people wanted something that tasted more bitter and had more bite,” he said. “That beer doesn’t have any bite. It has the exact amount of hops that our flagship IPA here, Strangehop has, the same quantity, but it has a more fruity flavor to it. It has a very, very different taste.”

The inaugural beer and cider lineup from opening day last September. (Photo courtesy of Desert Dogs)

Having fun with beers and beer styles has been the mission at Boese Brothers since it opened in 2015.

“We’ve got some fun stuff planned to get the summer started,” George said. “We do this beer in late spring, early summer, called Zeus Juice. We’re doing that again. That beer is finished. I’m going to be packaging it (this) week and releasing it in bombers again. We’re pretty excited about that.

“Right on the tail end of that we’ve got a collaboration with Rock & Brews coming out. We’re doing a beer we’re going to call Rock & Boese. They’re crazy about the cloudy IPA stuff. We’re going to do a really fruity, juicy-tasting IPA, but to kind of put a fun twist on it we’re going to put a lot of mango in it when it ferments to accentuate that fruity flavor.”

George added that he was hopeful that Boese could win its second straight Malt Madness Challenge at Rock & Brews. Comrade Boese, a beefy imperial stout, triumphed last year. Black IPA is the current entry. Beers like Black IPA and Zeus Juice are part of what is becoming a set calendar for seasonal releases.

“Something Sam and I came up with was to try to do one seasonal IPA style and rotate through that,” George said. “The first one is our Double Dead Red, which is a red ale, but it’s hoppy like an IPA. Then we do Zeus Juice in the summertime and then we do our Sour Strangehop. This year I’m going to do our grapefruit version, too, and squeeze that one in there. Next year I think we’re going to do this Black IPA, too.”

Things are staying plenty busy at the original brewery.

The spirit of collaboration will continue later in the year as a 2017 favorite will make its return.

“We did a collaboration with Milton’s Brewing in Carlsbad, New Mexico Hard Cider, and Sidetrack called Sour Relationship that we brewed here at Boese Brothers,” George said. “We have a plan to do that in the summer. Dan (Herr of Sidetrack) has been trying to find a prickly pear provider and then probably do the same kind of thing, kettle sour as the style, but last year we put the purple carrot juice that New Mexico Hard Cider provided.”

Purple seems like George’s favorite color.

“I’m also (working) on a seasonal right after that that’s going to be an all-brett fermentation with like a pound per barrel of plums in it,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I really want to make a beer that looks purple naturally. It’s a strange quest.”

George said folks can also look forward to a grapefruit-and-tangerine pale ale this summer when the temperatures skyrocket. The end of the summer will also feature a couple of big events for Boese Brothers and its neighborhood breweries and taprooms.

“Then, end of summer, August will be our third-year anniversary, which will be really cool,” he said. “I think we’re also going to do our 90s party fundraiser, too. We’ll do year two of Saved by the Boese.”

The patio behind this gate will be packed again this summer.

This August will also feature a new event, if everything comes together.

“We’re testing out doing our first downtown brewfest,” George said. “It’s going to be the crew at Red Door, Monks’ (Corner), Duel, Sidetrack, and Boese Brothers. We’re going to do kind of a smaller brewfest with some music, and we’re going to do it on top of the (Banque Lofts) building. We thought we’d take advantage of the cool stuff we can do in the neighborhood here. If it all goes well, hopefully we’ll be able to get it together and do that as an annual event.”

Suffice it to say, 2018 will be a busy year for Boese Brothers. A big thanks to George for taking the time out from brewing to sit down and chat over beers. We also really hope that once the Albuquerque Rapid Transit buses start pulling up to that stop across the street, it will bring even more business to Boese Brothers and all the downtown breweries.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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New head brewer Randy King is happy to be home and at the helm of Nexus.

Over the span of the past few months, Nexus Brewery has experienced the transition from head brewer Kaylynn McKnight, who is now with the forthcoming Toltec Brewing, to new head brewer Randy King. I sat down with Randy on a lovely spring evening over a few samples of what he had on tap, including our stalwart favorites and a few new recipes to boot. Irish Red was up first. We also talked about the transition and what else is to come for Nexus in 2018 and beyond in one of our final installments of the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2017-18.

Solo: Yeah, this is nice, crisp with just a hint of sweetness.

Randy: The idea here was to be as traditional as possible, nice and crisp and dry. I think it has turned out pretty well, nice and bright.

Solo: But, you do get that little bit of sweetness there, which is kind of that balancing act of lagers in general is finding that spot between too sweet and too bready or too dry. I think you did quite well with this.

Randy: The second one is New Mexico Snow (IPA), which is supposed to be a more aromatic beer with a good bit of citrus, some melon, and with a really light malt presence and color. On this one I’m really happy with how bright it came out.

Solo: That is super bright, very crisp, and easy drinking.

Randy: This one is the anti-kick-you-in-the-mouth IPA, the smooth IPA where you get all of the florals from the hops.

Solo: It has that resinous character to it rather than the bitter kick.

Randy: Those hop oils are really shining through. That was really the goal, to let the hops shine in this beer instead of having more malt presence, have the malts just in the background.

Solo: Doing later hop additions mostly? (Later additions tend to add less bitterness and more aroma and tropical flavors from hops as the oils are not all boiled out as you would get from a longer boil time.)

Randy: Yeah, a lot of late additions, a lot of Citra in this beer with a significant dry hopping as well. That one was inspired by 3 Floyds’ Arctic Panzer Wolf. (A ludicrous double IPA from the creators of Zombie Dust and Crew favorite Dark Lord.)

Solo: You kind of have to in order to get the aroma you are going for. That’s kind of the name of the game for a lot of these up-and-coming IPAs these days with super-late additions for hops, almost no bitterness. That stylistic shift is somewhat of a precursor you could say to the NEIPA style. This actually kind of reminds me of a beer that Stoutmeister and I had up at Comrade Brewing on the south side of Denver where they had a golden ale hopped with Citra, which gave this same sort of delightful crispness.

Randy: Nice, I know those guys are well known for their IPAs. You ready to try this next one? All right, so this is our Hot Chocolate Porter.

Solo: There is a helluva lot of chocolate in there, nice little kick in the back, too. You were going for something with a little bit of spice in it?

Randy: It’s got 20 pounds of cocoa and 30 pounds of lactose in there, and some cayenne to finish.

Solo: Cayenne does pretty well with spicing. I just did an imperial stout myself with a little cayenne and red chile, and the same thing with this porter, it gets that nice, warming tickle in the back of your throat, but it’s not overpowering in terms of flavor. This tastes just like Mexican hot chocolate, very good.

Randy: It is interesting to find the balance with the cayenne, because you can get too much in there pretty easily. I love New Mexico green chile, but I’ve had a hard time finding a green chile beer that I like.

Solo: It’s kind of funny because every time I meet a new brewer in town I say please give me a good green chile beer.

Randy: So have you found any yet?

Solo: Not anything that is regularly available, unfortunately.

Randy: So I’m actually really pleased with how all three of these seasonal beers turned out; of course the consumer is going to decide ultimately, but I’m really happy with them.

Solo: I can definitely sort of see your take on things in these, your own style coming through with your own nuances that differ a bit from Kaylynn before you. I think you are stamping out on your own pretty quickly which is excellent.

Randy: Kaylynn is awesome, she’s a super cool person. She did a lot of great things here and she’s been really nice to help me with questions and any problems I’ve had over here and really set a good base for me step into. I’m looking forward to trying her stuff out at Toltec Brewing.

The Hot Chocolate Porter is pretty much as advertised, and delicious, too.

We then turned somewhat to Randy’s background as a brewer and a bit about his take on everything from different styles to the Great American Beer Festival.

Randy: I was a hophead for a really long time, and I do love my IPAs, but the longer I’ve been a brewer, I’ve really started to appreciate lagers and pilsners more and more.

Solo: Yep, right there with you. I started off drinking Stone back in the early 2000s, but these days well, the last couple I brewed are a Schwarzbier and a Pilsner.

Randy: Something you can cruise with, rather than the hard and quick end-your-night beer, with those you can just cruise for awhile.

Solo: Yardwork beer is what I call it a lot of the time.

Randy: Like a lawnmower beer. You mentioned Stone. I used to live out there in San Diego, so we would visit Stone and Green Flash back in the day.

Solo: So where are you from originally?

Randy: I grew up in Belen and went to Belen High School, and then went off to college. I’ve been gone for about 20 years and moved back in January. My mom is here and I’ve got a brother and a sister, nieces and nephews that live here.

Solo: You’ve come full circle in a sense, returned to your original home. What brought you to Nexus specifically?

Randy: It was a great opportunity where I would get some creative license. Interviewing with Ken (Carson), he seemed to be a very reasonable person to work with and he’s turned out to be a really fun person to work with. And then, to be blunt, my mom’s health isn’t great, so it was really nice to be able to get back and help her and help the family. I was brewing at Angry Inch Brewing in Lakeville, Minnesota, that is part of the Minneapolis metro area. That was a lot of fun, I love those guys, they are super cool, it’s a little 7-barrel place. I was at a production facility before that at 612 Brewing right by US Bank Stadium (home of the Minnesota Vikings), which was a good experience as well.

I started my commercial brewing in Boise, Idaho, so I’ve really kind of gone around the states a little bit. I’ve got some Pacific Northwest training. Ron Thomas, my head brewer in Boise, was amazing, and then I got some really good experience in Minneapolis, so I have those influences from there. I actually took Tom Hennessy’s course years ago, so I do have some Albuquerque training as well because he was one of the original partners in Il Vicino. That’s my brewing history in a nutshell.

We discussed a bit on the topic of Nexus’s GABF medal-winning Honey Chamomile Wheat and Imperial Cream Ale (not to fear, these recipes will assuredly remain the same great beers you know and love) alongside our Brew Crew experience this past year, and Randy had this to say about GABF.

Randy: Speaking of GABF, I’ve got to say that I’m a veteran of GABF. Last year was my 20th year at GABF.

Solo: That is, well, impressive.

Randy: I know my way around there pretty well, it has been a lot of fun. I’ve got a group of friends that all go up together and we do all of the sessions and I plan on doing it again this year.

Solo: That’s quite the commitment.

Randy: Yeah, I missed one year out of 21 years. I figure I’ve got to be up there as far as attending since it is 36 years old now, so I’ve got to be in the top 10 percent of most attended at this point. I don’t know what that gets me, but hey.

Solo: You’ve gotten to see firsthand the changes over time of this whole industry, community, all of the different trends, coming and going.

As far as the look ahead and what we can expect from Nexus in the coming year, Randy and I covered everything from the upcoming anniversary, anticipated upcoming seasonal beer styles, and expansion.

Randy: So I do have some ideas for beers in the future, (including) a New England IPA. Ken really wants to do a big, nasty IPA, so a big, bitter, kick-you-in-the-mouth kind of IPA.

Solo: Kind of our state standard at this point.

Randy: Our anniversary party is coming up (in May), so we are talking about doing a smoked stout for that.

Solo: We haven’t had a good smoked stout in a while here. We’ve had porters that were good, but a stout would be nice as well.

Randy: The idea of it is kind of for our new location, which is Nexus Blue Smokehouse, which will be a barbecue smokehouse (that) I’m excited about. It is going to make my job harder keeping up with production, but I live down that way so I can eat more barbecue. That’s one of the best perks about working here is that the food is fantastic, so that’s a pretty good deal.

Solo: Yeah, we’ve been coming here for years and enjoyed the chicken and waffles and pretty much everything else that we’ve tried. (We are) definitely excited for the new location as well.

Randy: So those are on the radar, and then I want to do a gose, a lemon wheat beer, and a barleywine. Gose is a style that I have a real personal interest in making because I think it is a really fun style. It’s delicious and on a hot day there’s not much that is better. Your lawnmower beer is great, too, but to have a nice, tart beer on a warm day is fantastic. Those are kind of the ones on my radar right now. The new smokehouse is going to be great as well.

Solo: Is there an official date for the opening?

Randy: It is supposed to be around three months out.

Summertime BBQ and Smokehouse, you say? Count us in! If the standard offerings at both Nexus locations are any indication, we are in for a real treat with the prospects of brisket and ribs from the forthcoming Nexus Blue Smokehouse.

We then tackled the topic of the brewhouse, which Stoutmeister noted in his book, Albuquerque Beer: Duke City History on Tap, has had a long run since its first use at Assets Grille in the 1990s.

Randy: Me stepping here and learning this brewhouse, I’ve been here two months and I’m starting to get in a much better groove now to understand this brewhouse.

Solo: There is always going to be that learning curve. Every system has its own little tweaks, its own little changes, and you ever have to change a piece of equipment you are going to have to go through that same learning process again. You really get to know the ins and outs, the nuance.

Randy: Yeah, for sure, we’ve been talking about upgrading a lot of this (brewhouse equipment) and that could happen in the next year. We might go to 15 barrels instead of all of those 7-barrel fermenters we’ve got back there. Of course if we go to 15s then all of the 7-barrel brite tanks would be outta here, and we’d do 15-barrel brite tanks all around the brewhouse. The brewhouse itself could get upgraded to a 15-barrel as well. That might actually be the first piece, (but) we will see. There’s talk of those upgrades so it will be fun.

* * * * *

It all sounds like fun indeed, from some tasty sounding seasonal brews, a possible brewhouse upgrade, and the upcoming opening of Nexus Blue Smokehouse. We are excited for the delicious offerings that will assuredly be coming our way in all forms of delectable smoked meats and the requisite accoutrements to boot. Rest assured, Nexus is in great hands with Randy and we in the Crew cannot wait to see what he’s got coming our way in the remainder of this year. So dear reader, when the need for soul food and some fine beverages strikes your fancy, you simply cannot go wrong with a day spent in the Nexus.

Live long, and prosper.

— Franz Solo

One of the first bottled beers in Ale Republic’s short history.

Back at the start of the month, before things got a wee bit crazy in the old work schedule (not to mention lots of breaking beer news), Franz Solo and I went on a two-brewery trip east of Albuquerque for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. We already chronicled our visit to Sierra Blanca, so it was high time I typed up our interview with brewer/owner Patrick Johnson of Ale Republic.

We visited on a quiet Thursday, which did give us a nice chance to take a tour of the property and not take Patrick away from his work for too long. The past year has been one of learning on the fly for Ale Republic, the lone brewery in the East Mountains. Specifically located in Cedar Crest on Highway 14, it is a craft beer oasis in a mostly rural area, one that lacked winter tourists with the scant snowfall. Its location also presents some unique challenges, as Patrick and the rest of the Ale Republic discovered.

“It’s a lot better than where we were (last year),” Patrick said. “I’m pretty happy with some of the beers we’re making. Some of them need some work, but that’s cool. The main issue we’re having right now is water. It’s so dry that wells are running dry and as soon as you drill a new well, the water is completely different. It’s absurd.”

There is no city water system to tap into for Ale Republic, and the recent drought has done the small brewery no favors, as Patrick mentioned. All of that has led to some significant variances in the beers.

“It’s just something that we need to sort out,” he said. “We just drilled a new well (and) the water is 100-percent perfect brewing water. … I looked up a dozen different water chemistries for IPAs, which is a standard ale, and averaged them all, and this water is that average. You don’t have to do any (special) filtration or any of that.”

Patrick said the previous well that the brewery used featured some extremely hard water.

“With the Belgians, it doesn’t matter too much, like the Dark Strong, for example,” he said. “For the non-Belgians, our IPA just tasted off/odd. It was a metallic flavor from the hard water. Which sucks, because people want to drink IPAs, and our IPA was just weird.

“The old water was super hard and the well was running dry. We had to drill a new one, which had perfect water chemistry, but then the new well went dry. We’re trying to find a nice medium. If we can’t figure that out, we’re going to have to truck water in, which sucks, but you have to do it.”

We visited early on a quiet weekday afternoon.

Water is not the only challenge that Ale Republic has faced.

“Customers, we don’t get as many people from Albuquerque as we thought (we would),” Patrick said. “Most are people who live up here and some people who are recreating. Snow has been terrible. Lots of mountain bikers, that’s probably our biggest external market.”

A bicycle product demonstration event held on the brewery property last year produced the largest single-day crowd. Otherwise, Ale Republic is learning how to adapt to the tastes of its primarily local customer base.

“It’s been interesting learning about this community,” Patrick said. “It’s kind of a smaller market here, so you have to cater. We always have (La Cumbre’s) Beer on tap. We always have the cider. Some folks, that’s all they want. I’m sure it’s personalities (similar to) what people in Albuquerque have to deal with, but it’s such a smaller market to deal with.”

The good news is that Ale Republic can now make more of its own beer thanks to the arrival of new equipment.

“We just finished installing all of our 3-barrel system,” Patrick said. “We have some new tanks, (and) we have some old tanks from Kellys, their 3-barrels. We got some old tanks from La Cumbre (too). We’re finally out of the beer bottleneck. Our bottleneck right now is storage. We’ve got tons of beer in the brewhouse, waiting to go somewhere, and nowhere to put it. That’s a good problem to have. We need to order probably a couple brights and then a bunch of kegs.”

A real brewing system is now in place.

Patrick said Ale Republic is working on getting its wholesaler license to start sending beer over the mountain to Albuquerque. He added that Hops Brewery has expressed interest in putting Ale Republic beers on tap in Nob Hill.

“Going forward, in-house we’ll have the standard American beers that people want, but to distribute I think we’re going to focus on probably three, maybe four Belgians,” Patrick said.

Ale Republic will take a careful approach to distributing its beers, making sure to stay mindful of how things change in the brewing world at large.

“We’ll see, the whole game it’s going to see how it’s going to play out in the next 10 years,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if we want to can or if we want to bottle. We did these (Snap Crackle Stout bottles) by hand. It was tedious, but it worked.”

As for the in-house audience, the food issue was a big one in 2017, but Ale Republic has a new plan going forward.

“The food thing, that’s another thing,” Patrick said. “We just wanted to do beer. I love cooking, but I don’t want to do it commercially. We opened and we thought food trucks would come up here. Food trucks don’t want to come up here. That’s too far, they said. It’s probably less hard on your vehicle because you don’t have to stop and start so much, but whatever. There was one food truck that started up here. They were here about two or three days a week, but the food was not very good. That reflected bad on us.”

The new plan fits with the creativity found in the brewery itself.

“We’re doing these little pop-up kitchens,” Patrick said. “Tomorrow, we’re just doing wings, that’s it. In the future it will be one menu item, and then we’ll try out some (different) recipes. We did one for fries. We’ll do paninis, simple but nice. We’ll do tacos.”

Ale Republic is now up to having eight of its own beers regularly on tap.

There are other plans afoot for 2018 and beyond that will require some heavier lifting.

“We are acquiring the back building,” Patrick said. “That’s going to be the brewhouse. It will be in a separate building. We can focus on things back there. We’ll have a kitchen, we’ll have all of our own beers, maybe one or two guest taps. We’ll be there within like three months. It will be more of a normal space.”

The current home of the brewhouse and associated tanks is fairly cramped, so moving into the taller back building will certainly help. It will require a fair amount of cleanup and re-purposing, but it is a hopeful development. While that is in the near future, Patrick said that Ale Republic has big plans for much of the remaining three acres of property.

“The next big point of focus is going to be outside,” he said. “We’re going to build a really sweet patio. We’re going to put in some games up on the hill. Eventually we’re going to build a really sweet walk-in beer garden. … We have three acres. We’re going to build a trail, have some fountains. We’re going to build a place where people from Albuquerque can come up, go for a hike, then come in and have a beer.”

For those of us who visit sporadically, the changes at Ale Republic are big and obvious. For the more frequent customers, it may seem like things are moving slowly, but Patrick assured us that is not the case.

“We’ve done a lot in the last year,” he said. “We didn’t have growlers for a long time. We have eight beers on tap right now. We have four or five more styles ready to go, we just don’t have kegs to put them in. But it’s 180 degrees from six months ago.”

Overall, things are looking up on the mountain, but Ale Republic still has a ways to go to cement its place in the New Mexico beer scene.

“To summarize everything, or put in an easy summary, we’re almost into a spot where we can really grow and really have a good life,” Patrick said. “We haven’t been able to grow too much yet except for buying the 3-barrel setup. But still, it’s small compared to the bigger breweries.”

A big thanks to Patrick for the time, the tour, and the beers. We also appreciate his patience when it came to waiting for this story to finally get typed up.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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The fourth location will open today. (Courtesy of SFBC)

By now, we imagine that you have heard the news that Santa Fe Brewing Company is opening a third off-site taproom in downtown Santa Fe. With the announcements on social media and in the newspapers, the word has officially gotten out on the opening of their new little speakeasy. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.

Well, this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to catch up with Santa Fe Brewing Co. (SFBC) and talk to them about their Look Back for 2017, and Look Ahead for 2018. Last week, I met with SFBC owner, Brian Lock, who gave me a tour of the still-unfinished taproom. There, he let me in on the history of the building, the vision he had for the speakeasy-like establishment, and exactly what you can expect to experience in this very cool space. We also chatted about their big accomplishments for the year, and their bigger plans they have for 2018 and beyond.

Beginning with a look back, I asked Lock what their major highlights were for the year.

“I think the biggest highlight for (2017) was our repackaging and redesign of all of our packages,” he said. “We decided we wanted to make the appearance of Santa Fe Brewing Company as uniform across the board as possible, and make it super easy for the consumer to identify which brands were ours.”

Lock said this arose from complaints from distributor partners and even confused consumers out there in the market. The new can designs are more solid, yet impactful, and now, each bears the Zia symbol, representing the state flag.

SFBC Can Lineup

Old brewery, new can designs.

In addition to the new designs, a big change this year was the release of Happy Camper, 7K IPA, and Freestyle Pilsner in both 16-ounce tallboys and 12-packs.

One of the goals for 2017 was staying relevant in the craft beer scene.

“Because it’s so crowded and there’s so much competition now, the only way to really set yourselves apart and stay relevant with your consumer is by coming up with innovative products, coming out with new and exciting beers,” Lock said.

For SFBC, 7K was the big objective in 2017. They needed an IPA that was current with the times. When Happy Camper was released in 2010, it was considered a pretty hoppy, but balanced beer by the craft drinking public. In the last eight years, however, tastes have certainly evolved in the direction of the West Coast style, as far as IPAs go. For Santa Fe Brewing, 7K was a good benchmark accomplishment, in my opinion, because even though many around are now brewing the hazy New-England style IPAs, I don’t believe these types of beers are a destination, but a stop (albeit delicious stop) along the way. Personally, I will never not want a good, hoppy beer leaning towards the piney, citrusy, or brightly floral. There, I said it.

7K has been very successful for SFBC this year.

“Right now, we’re on course to have 7K surpass Happy Camper in volume by May of this year,” Lock said.

On the new beer front, SFBC released Lust Garden, a dark lager with notes of chocolate and a healthy hint of raspberries.

“We really tried to focus on styles of beer that just didn’t exist out there, something that’s really unique that nobody else is really doing,” Lock said. “I’ve never seen a Dark Lager with an aseptic, organic raspberry puree.”

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It’s a dark lager with a lot of flavor.

Just recently, at the beginning of March, SFBC released the brand new Twisted Root, a blonde ale with ginger and lemongrass, yet another turn in the evolution of this brewery.

Twisted Root

Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Brewing Co.

For 2018, SFBC is looking to come out with five packaged seasonals, up from three seasonals last year. Lust Garden will be from January to February, Twisted Root from March to April, Sunsetter (a crushable farmhouse ale with lime and agave, currently in the works) will be from May to June. The other two seasonals are the still popular Oktoberfest and Adobe Igloo.

With the new seasonals coming out, one shouldn’t forget about the Ever Changing Series, which Lock has confirmed will continue to keep pumping out new beers quarterly. Schneeball Imperial Pilsner was recently released on February 16, and you may still be able to find it on draft at all of the SFBC locations. The Ever Changing Series is a New Mexico-only product, and now a draft-only product, so get thee to the taprooms! Follow them on social media for future release dates.

The “In and Out” rotating IPA series will continue as well. And, Small Batch Saturdays will continue, but in a different form. Instead of homebrewers coming in to brew 10 gallons, these small 5-gallon batches will solely be a rare taste of what’s going on in the mind of the head of research and development, Dave “Merkin.” You can bet they’ll push the boundaries of space, time, and beer style. The last small batch they did was an out-of-this-world vanilla porter. They’ll be tapped at the main location only.

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Think of it as drinking at a friend’s house in an old part of town.

As mentioned above, for 2018 the big news is the new taproom opening in downtown Santa Fe. It was not the focus at the beginning of the year, as it just sort of fell into Lock’s lap, but with a lot of hard work and a bit of a grind with the City of Santa Fe, they’re set to open a very unique space with a lot of history in the center of the historical district.

Lock said he had been looking for a location in downtown Santa Fe for the last 10 years or so. He was waiting for the right opportunity, due to the challenges all establishments face, which are parking and the lack of available building space to lease or purchase. He was looking for a standalone building, parking, and good character to the building that would fit with Santa Fe Brewing’s image, and history as a time-tested, long-standing establishment as well. They wanted something that fit with the brand.

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SFBC will reflect on 30 years in 2018.

His old partner (from 1996-2003), Carlos Muller, called Lock and informed him that he recently purchased the old Cigar Bar back in July. Lock’s interest was instantly piqued, having been a member in the late 90s early 2000s. Already having a soft spot in his heart for the space, Lock went to visit it.

“Man, this is so perfect,” he recalled thinking. “It’s already set up for a bar. There’s not much investment in a buildout. There’s no change of use, because it has already served liquor. It’s already got a liquor license. Already through zoning, and being the old brick house that it is, it was built in the early 1900s, so it’s over a hundred years old.”

It had everything Lock was looking for. It was as if the right train had pulled into the station at the right time. Parking, no change of use, and lots of historical character. Speaking of which, did you know that the bricks were once handmade by the inmates of the old state penitentiary close to 90 years ago?

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If walls could speak. How many years of interesting stories have they heard?

Even the new name comes from a piece of history surrounding the site, Lock explained that the name of the new establishment, the Santa Fe Brewing Company “Brakeroom,” which he had just named the day before I walked through the door, comes from the history of four similar brick establishments built in a row.

“This brickhouse,” Lock said, pointing to one side of the establishment. “That brickhouse. There are four in a row that look almost identical. These were built in the early 1900s for the brakemen. The brakemen were the guys working on the railroad. They were the guys that, back in the day, in order to bring the train to a stop, had to climb up the side of the rail car and turn this big wheel to slow the car down and stop it. It was a fairly dangerous job. And, so these guys would be working on the railroad all day long, and they would need a place to come take a break. And, so these four houses were built for the rail workers, the brakemen, to basically come take a break. That’s why we’re calling it the Santa Fe Brewing Company Brakeroom. It’s in honor of all the railroad workers back in the in the early 1900s. It’s got some good history, and it’s got a good story.”

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It’s downright cozy inside.

Through it was pretty much a no-brainer to snatch up the spot, there was still a lot of work to be done moving a taproom into downtown. This was Lock’s first full-foray into City of Santa Fe politics.

“It’s a very, very big challenge to get any business open in this city,” he said. “I don’t care what type of business it is.”

Because the Brakeroom falls within the historic preservation district, it meant that they couldn’t change any of the façades of any of the outsides of the buildings, the roofs, or anything without proper approval. Muller, the owner, had to get a lot of approval before changing the HVACs, making electrical upgrades, as well as duct work.

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That rustic feeling greets you at the door.

The other big challenge was making sure the Land Use Office, City of Santa Fe, building owner, and Santa Fe Brewing were all on the same page regarding land use. But, because there was essentially no change of use, there were far few barriers to opening.

“I wouldn’t have even gone down the road, had there even been a discussion,” Lock said.

But, in the end, every one seemed satisfied with the project.

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That monster from Stranger Things isn’t gonna come out of this wallpaper, is it?

In terms of the décor, SFBC wanted to preserve the historical skin and bones of the site, while turning-up the speakeasy volume a little louder, and modernizing it to be a comfortable, relaxing place to sit and really just take a break from it all. New wallpaper in one room, old wallpaper in the next. It’s not so much of a re-purposing of this history-rich site, but more of a retelling of the old story to a modern audience.

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It’s pretty darn old school in the Brakeroom. (Courtesy of SFBC)

As far as food goes, Santa Fe Brewing has partnered up with Restaurant Martín (two doors down) to do a full bar menu at the taproom.

“We’ve never wanted to be in the restaurant business,” Lock said. “I figured I’d just stick to what I know, which is beer. That’s why we reached out to Restaurant Martín. They serve our beer, they have a James Beard Award-winning chef. It’s going to be excellent food in here.”

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Yeah, that fits the mood. (Courtesy of SFBC)

There will be 18 taps full of SFBC beers, with the occasional guest tap from time to time. It will have guest ciders on tap and guest wines in the bottle, but the taproom will offer a larger selection of wine varieties than at the other SFBC establishments in anticipation of the tastes of the surrounding crowd.

The Santa Fe Brewing Company Brakeroom will open its doors to the public today (Thursday) at 510 Galisteo St.

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The doors swing open today.

What’s next for Santa Fe Brewing Company?

Last year, with the focus shifting to the downtown taproom, the big expansion plans for the three-story taproom and beer garden were put on the back burner for the time being, but Lock assured me that as soon as the downtown project is chugging along, all of his focus will swing back to the large destination taproom back at home base.

With the financing having been figured out just a few weeks ago, all the building permits already signed off on, and 100-percent of drawings acquired from the architects, Lock said he is planning to break ground on April 1, and the entire project is looking at a construction period of about six to eight months. Lock said he anticipates a tasting room opening for late fourth quarter of 2018, and a beer garden opening for spring of 2019 (give or take a few months for all brewery/taproom openings, now and forever, amen).

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The expansion of the main brewery will continue in 2018.

Lastly, Santa Fe Brewing turns 30 this year. Yeah, wow! A round of applause, please. No matter what your involvement is in the beer industry of New Mexico, whether you’re a brewer, bartender, manager, cellerperson, distribution, social alchemist, or beer drinker/local craft beer supporter, you have to tip your hats to the company. The New Mexico beer scene was a big, empty frontier since 1939. After SFBC opened in Galisteo in 1988, tons of brilliant pioneers were quick to enter the scene, pushing the boundaries of what beer could be and finding acres and acres of hoppy new territory to cover and claim for themselves, but it all had to start somewhere. And, humble though it was, someone had to believe that we could make better beer than what we were offered. Lo and behold, they did, and from the inside of a horse barn, on a small used system, “craft beer” was born in New Mexico.

SFBC is already in talks about hosting a big celebration, but I’ll make sure to give you the details for that as we grow closer to the anniversary date. Until then, I’ll leave you with a few of Lock’s final thoughts.

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Owner Brian Lock, serving beer at Red River Oktoberfest

I asked him, “After 30 years of the New Mexico brewing industry, and your involvement shortly after the beginning, what have you seen? And, what has it all meant to you, to be a part of this industry?”

“Being in this industry for 30 years, I’ve seen a lot of evolution in craft beer,” Lock said. “At the time that I got involved in 1995, there were just a couple breweries in the entire state. And, just trying to educate people on what craft beer is, and what it entailed, and to just get people’s interest in it was a difficult challenge. Now, there are so many craft beers, and everyone knows what craft beer is, it’s just a completely different landscape.

“Selling beer, back in the day, when I was doing all the sales and distribution, selling beer into an account was a challenge, because it was — hey, how am I going to get people to drink Santa Fe Pale Ale, instead of Bud Light, or Miller Lite, or the other seven or eight choices of domestic beers you had to choose from? So it was really difficult to get the consumers interested in craft beer in general, just to make the move into craft beer from domestic beer. So it’s really come a long ways in that respect.

“Back then, it was really just fighting to get a piece of mind of the general market and the consumers tendency to reach for a craft beer. To look back on it now, and to think of what Santa Fe Brewing was then, and where we are now, it’s been a very exciting 30 years. It’s been challenging, because just in the last 10 years, there’s been so much competition that’s come up, and I think it’s been good in that most breweries in this state are making really good beer.

“And, with all that competition, it helps everyone. It brings that level of beer to a different height, and what I think it does is that it helps consumers realize that craft beer really is better than domestic beer, and ultimately we’re just trying to steal share from the Bud/Miller/Coors drinkers, and that all the craft is really moving as one. That’s one of the nice things about being in this industry, and I love being in this industry and I’ll continue to love being in this industry, which is, for the most part, all the craft brewers in this state support each other. They want to help each other. They want to see each other grow and prosper and do well.

“And, you don’t find that in many industries. Most industries, it’s cutthroat. How do I kill my competitor? How do I get rid of them? How do I crush them? In this industry, it’s more about how can we ALL crush the big guys?

“In terms of a learning experience and being in a business for 30 years, looking back on it, probably the most rewarding part about it all, is that it’s an industry of people who want to help each other. It’s not cutthroat, and I appreciate the fact that I’ve been in an industry that’s not like that. I’ve learned that in our industry you can grow if you work hard at it. And, at each step, it’s been enlightening.”

To always innovating and remaining relevant in an ever changing industry, cheers!

— Luke

2017NMIPACround2-3

Untappd: SantaFeLuke

Twitter: SantaFeCraftBro

Twas a mighty spirited anniversary soiree at Palmer last year!

After a few missed attempts with other staff members, I finally sat down with head brewer and co-owner Rob Palmer for a very brief interview about the year in review for the first full year of Palmer Brewery. It is easy to see why it was difficult for us to find a time to meet — the place is totally slammed.

I was ushered into the back, where I found Rob furiously mopping while listening to Willie Nelson cranked up on a tablet plugged in to an old Technics receiver, just like one that I had growing up. It was a fun and humorous way to start things off. Rob immediately went and grabbed me a delicious pint of stout and we began to talk about the last year.

The biggest Palmer news for 2017 was the one year-anniversary in November. It seems like so much longer than a year to me, mostly because it was also the four-year anniversary of Left Turn Distillery, which shares the same space. I was able to attend the anniversary party and it was quite the crowd and experience. They had karaoke on a makeshift patio out front, and everyone, staff included, joined in on the fun. In fact, Rob said they have decided to do karaoke and open mic on Wednesday nights now.

I asked Rob about the first year and he seemed pretty blown away by the brewery’s popularity. He said it gets better every day, every week. The staff sets numbers they think they need to achieve; they hit that number and it seems like it is at capacity. Then a couple of weeks later, it feels like they double that number.

Since co-owner and distiller Brian Langwell is a machinist, they recently built a kitchen and now have a space available if or when they want to make food. They have been getting great feedback on their Taco Tuesday nights. They always have five-plus types of tacos. Rob said people were wary of the Spam and pineapple tacos, but they always sell out first. Unfortunately, Rob is way too busy and does not want to run a kitchen, so they still rely mostly on the fantastic local food trucks.

The other big push from last year is that they attended many festivals. I told Rob it seemed like I did see them everywhere. Rob said he enjoys the festivals and getting out in the sunlight instead of being stuck inside the brewery or bar all day.

Rob’s focus over the past year was to keep consistent beers on tap and keep up with demand, he said. I told Rob I was a big fan of the double IPA — the “Bro” — but it has been out the past couple of visits. He said that it’s because he cannot get the hop supply for the hop they were using in the Bro. It was made using Nelson Sauvin hops, and they are very hard to get; now they need to try again with a different hop.

As for what’s new at Palmer, last week the brewery launched their first production lager called Lowcard Lager in collaboration with Lowcard skateboard magazine. On the launch day, Palmer had some skateboarding pros in house and premiered their tour video.

Also, they are working on building an outdoor patio, which they really need because seating inside their building is often at a premium these days. As usual, the stumbling block is dealing with the City. The City wanted them to open in that part of town, and now says parking is a problem. But, the majority of Palmer’s operating hours (evenings and weekends) are outside the hours of the other area businesses. There is plenty of street parking. Hopefully it is settled quickly, because prime patio season is approaching fast.

For my off-the-wall question, I asked Rob if a pile of money landed on him and he was not allowed to keep it, only to use it in the brewery, what would be the first thing he would do with it? He immediately responded, “More equipment.” This week he is getting a couple of grundy tanks from a colleague, so that will help him keep up with some of the demand. The other thing, he said, is he would build a rooftop patio. The current building would not be able to support it, so they would have to do something like Marble did.

Look for more and different ciders from Palmer in the near future. They have some cider barrel aging right now. They hope to expand their barrel aging — after all, they co-exist with a distillery, so it’s a natural fit.

Congrats to Palmer on one hell of a first year, and to Left Turn Distilling for turning four as well.

Since it is March now (wow, already!), I will sign off with …

Slainte!

— AmyO

The taps have been flowing at Sierra Blanca like never before.

Sierra Blanca Brewing put itself back on the map in 2017 and has no intention of disappearing again this year. The big/little brewery in Moriarty took home a number of medals and began to repackage and relabel many of its long-time beers.

To catch up on this buzz of activity east of the Sandias for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, Franz Solo and I drove out to visit last week. We were greeted by general manager Tasha Isbell and Devin Myers, the new events and social media coordinator. Owner/brewer Rich Weber was busy in the brewery, making sure everything was running smoothly from the brewhouse to the bottling line.

“We’re still running a really tight ship as far as production (goes),” Tasha said. “Rich is honing in the recipes. He’s doing a lot more on quality control. We’re sinking our teeth into that more. We’re still doing it all with a really small group. We did 9,200 barrels and including our taproom we had 12 (full-time) employees.”

Devin noted that production was already double what it was in 2017 through the first two months of this year.

The new pride and joy of the brewery was added in October.

A lot of that has to do with the awards Sierra Blanca pulled in for last year. Cherry Wheat was the big winner, bringing the brewery just its second Great American Beer Festival gold medal in October, following what is now Bone Chiller Brown Ale winning gold back in 2012.

“We started bottling it in March of last year,” Tasha said. “We developed that recipe in 2016, we started it kegging it (that year). Once we figured out the secret with the cherries, we started bottling it. We won three gold medals with it last year.”

The other golds came at the World Beer Championship and CraftTastings.com awards. In addition to Cherry Wheat taking off, other beers shined at another fall competition.

“Then at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Oregon, we won gold again with our Pancho (Green Chile Cerveza),” Tasha said. “In 2016 we won gold, in 2018 we won gold. Then we won silver for our Milk Stout.”

Just a few of the many, many beers getting ready for distribution.

While the beers are racking up the medals, a major shift in how they look is taking place at Sierra Blanca. The old Rio Grande Brewing labels are being phased out, with Desert Pils now rebranded as Sierra Blanca Pilsner. Outlaw Lager and the aforementioned Pancho will follow later this year. The change in labels on the latter will come at a special festival that the brewery will host.

“We’re having a green chile festival this year (in August or September),” Tasha said. “We’re redoing the green chile packaging, getting rid of the old Rio Grande (label). We’ll do a big old festival and do a release party at that time when we have all the chile out here roasting for the next batch of beer.”

The old Rio Grande IPA is also being redone as the Alien IPA, taking advantage of one popular series of labels that are not going away.

“I do like the personality of taps,” Devin said. “Alien, that’s what people really like. That’s half the reason people drink the Alien beer. … We’re really pushing the Sierra Blanca brand. That’s what we’re narrowing it down to and all.”

Tasha said that the Whiskey Stout was another big hit this year. The brewery went from 240 cases and around 50 slims for sales and distribution, but now the slims are out and there were only four or five cases left at the brewery.

The old chile roaster will be getting a workout again in late summer.

These days, of course, it is not just about the beer. Sierra Blanca in the past was largely just about packaging and distribution out of the brewery, but more recently an effort has been launched to turn it into a destination brewery. That included the completion of the spacious beer garden in 2016, and now with Devin on board, the goal is to get even more people to visit with more events and festivals.

“Everybody here has like five jobs,” Devin said. “To have (Tasha) and the owners be in charge of the food trucks, that’s too much of a headache. When I stepped in I kind of took over all of that stuff. We’re getting it a little more hopping here, just like all the other breweries.”

The first winter for the beer garden was pretty slow in 2016-17, so Devin made an effort to keep people visiting year round.

“It used to be people weren’t coming out here over the winter time,” he said. “I found that if you’ve got a food truck, people are going to come out. Heck, if you just have hot dogs for sale, they’ll come out. I’ve been really pushing that, keeping people coming out. I’ve taken over social media, just pushing, pushing, pushing that. We’ve got a pot luck dinner every couple weeks. We have so many people come out here for that one. It’s a fun night to come, every second Tuesday.”

The patio is enclosed during the winter, but it will soon open up as soon as temperatures start to stabilize.

There are also dollar-off pints on Mondays, and veterans and active duty military get a dollar off their pints year round, Devin added. All in all, Sierra Blanca is committed to having a set weekly schedule of events and specials. Trying something a little different, the brewery is switching from Taco Tuesday to Tamale Tuesday. There will be a DJ and possibly wine specials on Wednesdays this year, plus an open mic night on Thursdays that Devin will host. As a musician himself, Devin has quickly dialed in things in terms of getting live performers to drive out from Albuquerque and even points beyond.

“I pretty much have all the music booked out all the way to the fall, all the music and all the food trucks pretty much until it gets cold again,” he said.

To keep the beer geeks interested, Tasha said they have installed a 3-barrel brewing system that will be used to make specialty, seasonal, and experimental beers that will just be sold on site. Those should start appearing on tap quite soon. The newest seasonal available during our visit was Natalie Portman, a traditional porter.

To draw in some first-time visitors, Sierra Blanca is once again participating in the Brew Passport with Albuquerque The Magazine. Tasha noted that was a huge draw for people to come visit last year.

“They come out here and then they fall in love with (the brewery),” she said.

The barrels have already been filled for next fall/winter.

Tourists, both local and from out of state (even outside the country), still make up a big portion of the weekly visitors to Sierra Blanca.

“We get a lot of tourists, too,” Devin said. “Our Oktoberfest is a big thing, St. Patty’s Day is a big thing. We get a lot of people out here for events. We get a lot of I-40 travelers. I’d say we get at least 10 to 15 tourists in here a day.”

There will also be a horseshoe tournament taking place in the beer garden in June, Tasha said. Last year, about 20 teams showed up, but this year Sierra Blanca is expecting double that number.

“That will raise a lot of money and we’ll give it to a local veteran,” she said. “We’re really trying to increase our local outreach to people who need the help.”

Production through the first two months of 2018 is already double that of 2017.

Add it all up, and one of the oldest breweries in the state (founded in 1996) is doing plenty of hard work to stay relevant in the crowded New Mexico beer scene. We thank Devin and Tasha for taking the time to chat, and for a few small pours of beer, too.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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

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

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

Kaktus owner Dana Koller keeps his brewery buzzing.

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

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

Michael also had great news to add.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dana also made an interesting point.

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

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

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

Cheers!

— Shawna & Jerrad

The 377 is flying high after its first full year, but challenges remain.

As our Look Back/Look Ahead Series winds down, I would have been remiss to not stop by The 377 Brewery at Yale and Gibson. Luckily, brewer Lyna Waggoner and I found the time in our busy schedules to sit down and chat for a bit last week.

The 377 opened in late 2016 “with a bang,” only to slow down over the holidays, which is a similar fate most breweries endure, even those open for years.

“We got more and more busy (afterwards),” Lyna said. “I got that double gold at the Denver International Beer Competition. That boosted us on the Schwarz. We started really picking up. We had another rough Christmas (this year). Now we’re back to doing really great again.”

That early award helped bring some legitimacy to The 377. It also helped that the brewery embraced its location near the University of New Mexico, with big crowds coming in on the same days as many of the best football and basketball games. That helped open up the brewery to more people than just the tourists at the nearby airport-area hotels.

“What we really get are hotel people, (but) we’re starting to get where the city is starting to learn about our beers,” Lyna said. “These last two months, or last month-and-a-half, we’ve doubled over income every night. It’s not necessarily the hotel (crowd), it’s the late-night school people, the University (of New Mexico) and CNM. Last Wednesday night, all of a sudden, we made twice the amount of money from 6 to 10, and there was nobody in here at 6. We’re getting the crowd.”

The brewhouse has been working hard over the past year.

Lyna said that bringing in a younger crowd is important to the future of The 377.

“I just think we need to maybe ‘millennialize’ this place a little bit, get some cool bands in here,” she said. “I need a marketer like crazy, (but) that’s not my decision. I’ve seen the way people do it. … It takes coordination, vision, the right person, and not somebody who’s serving beers and says I’ll call (the media).”

Getting more money is a big goal for the brewery in 2018 and beyond.

“We have new expanding (plans) that we’d like to do, bring in some investors, possibly,” Lyna said. “We have a food truck here that we have zoned. We already have plans for a kitchen that have been submitted to the City and is all ready to go, but we just don’t have the funds for it.”

Another example is the building itself. Right now, The 377 can only occupy 3,500 of the 8,000 available square feet. The City of Albuquerque would require the installation of a sprinkler system for any commercial space that exceeds 3,500.

“I thought we could use the back, but we can’t,” Lyna said. “This is an 8,000-square-foot building, but we can only use 3,500 unless we put in a sprinkler system. That’s a huge, huge (cost), so for me to delineate a spot back there for my (barrel) program, away from this, I’d have to be in the back. Right now it’s not working. I’m gearing up, I’m doing little things like adding brett to the bottles and things like that to get a sour profile.”

The lone dedicated sour barrel is nice and full in the back of the brewery.

That barrel program that Lyna has started is in two parts. There is the one dedicated sour barrel, then three “clean” red wine and bourbon barrels. For now, though, there is not any additional room to add more.

“There is a little bit of room back there, but that’s where my barrels are going to go for the clean barrel program,” Lyna said. “The keg washer, that’s over at Palmer’s right now, that can come home. I can get my mill running, but then that’s it. Other than that, the other 4,500 back there is going to be vacant. We have a lot of room to grow if the funds are provided.”

Lyna said she was inspired by a trip that she took to Belgium in 2017.

“I went to Belgium (and) it turned me upside down,” she said. “I know that styles are great and when you can learn styles and nail styles, but in Belgium there aren’t really any styles.”

Lyna said that there are some basic categories, like dubbles and tripels, but each brewery interprets those styles in some wildly different ways.

“We were bussed to so many breweries, and everything was a little bit different,” she said. “That’s what you learn. I came back here with a whole open mind. I can do the beers that are (already) on tap, but I want to go out and explore a little more. That’s kind of where I’m going this year. We’ve got barrels. I haven’t gotten the sour side right yet, just kind of on the sly, I don’t want to mess up the brewery.”

The 377 recently introduced its first two bottled beers.

For now, the big sellers include IPA (naturally), plus Imperial Cream Ale, Wee Heavy, Peach Wheat, and Plum Sour. The recent Red Wild Ale was a big hit as well, so look for more funky, off-beat beers in the future in addition to the house favorites. The 377 also has a pair of special barrel-aged beers as well right now — Wee Heavy on sweet cherries and Milk Stout on dark cherries — so stop at the brewery to pick up one or both before the small supply runs out.

It has been good to see The 377 find its footing, but we hope the brewery will get the opportunity to start really growing in the future. Until then, make sure to stop by before or after Lobo baseball games this season, and not just wait until football in the fall.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Head brewer Brandon Venaglia, assistant general manager Ashley D’Anna, and general manager Doug Osborn are now running the show at Bathtub Row.

It’s time for one of the more distant breweries to report in for the Look Back/Look Ahead Series.  Bathtub Row Brewing entered its third year of business and had some substantial changes in personnel, but things are still going well in Los Alamos.

Before we get into the details, we want to let everyone know that the third annual NM Brewers Guild Stout Invitational will be held at Bathtub Row this Saturday. As in previous years, the event will bring together breweries from all over the state to showcase their finest stouts. Granted, the weather isn’t frigid and snowy (though it is colder in Los Alamos than in Albuquerque), but it is still a fine time of year to take in some darker brews. At the Invitational, you’ll be able to indulge in 16 samples of stouts, along with a pint of your favorite. Voting will occur, but unlike the IPA Challenge, this event is more collegial and low-key. It’s more of an excuse for everyone to take a road trip and have fun. There will be three two-hour sessions, at noon, 2, and 4 p.m. The breweries that will be in attendance:

  • Ale Republic
  • Bathtub Row
  • Blue Corn
  • Bosque
  • Canteen
  • Duel
  • Kaktus
  • Ponderosa
  • Quarter Celtic
  • Red Door
  • Rio Bravo
  • Santa Fe
  • Sidetrack
  • Spotted Dog
  • Three Rivers
  • Tractor

As of Tuesday, some tickets were still available. They can be purchased in person at Bathtub Row or online.

Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming. I sat down with general manager Doug Osborn and head brewer Brandon Venaglia to discuss the year gone by and the year ahead.

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The new fire pit adds heat and ambiance to the outdoor seating area, welcome additions now and at any time of the year.

DSBC: Let’s look back at 2017. I know you had staff changes. I’m looking at two of them right here. (Yet it) feels like you’ve been here forever, Doug.

Doug: I officially took over January 1, but I didn’t really take over until (previous GM Jason) Fitzpatrick was finished with the transition, which was I think almost four months after the fact. I’ve only been here three out of four quarters. It’s going well, it’s good. Co-ops have their own challenges. I was more focused on bartending and service, and now I’ve become more focused with accountants and attorneys.

DSBC: Attorneys?!

Doug: We’re actually researching copyrights right now, for naming our beers and things of that nature. I’d rather not even go into that because it’s kind of convoluted. We have certain beers that the name is being used somewhere else. We’re trying to figure out where we stand with that. It’s interesting, it’s a different mentality than just putting cold beers in people’s hands, which before was my focus, getting everybody the best beer they could as quick as they could. We borrowed a bunch of money from the community to start this place up, and this January was the first installment of paying them back. Every quarter all the folks who ponied up cash to get this place open will be paid back over the next four years.

DSBC: Is that working out okay?

Doug: Like any debt position, it’s a pain and you don’t want to do it, but we’re in a position where it’s not a problem.

DSBC: That means good planning on your part, and everyone that came before you.

Doug: The people before me. This is more of a Lego structure than people realize. We have a lot of little hands in there. There’s a lot of people involved (and) that can be a really good thing, or a really bad thing, where you try to not overlap with what people are doing. We have more committees than your average bar.

DSBC: You just want to be the king sometimes.

Doug: Sometimes it’s nice to just make decisions and do what you want to do, but I also believe that if you get enough smart people in the room, usually the right decision is made, even if it takes more time to get made.

DSBC: So you’re getting comfortable in the role now.

Doug: We’re getting there. We’ve made rookie mistakes, but nothing that most people would even notice.

DSBC: Didn’t affect the beer!

Doug: Didn’t affect the beer, didn’t affect the serving of the beer. Any time you start talking about liquor licenses, events, the taproom, insurance, workman’s comp, slips and falls, it’s a whole different learning curve. When I came up as a bartender and a taproom manager, cold beer in hand is the end-all. That’s not the case for a general manager. I have a lot of people helping me.

DSBC: Including this one right here. (Gestures to Brandon.) 2017 was interesting for you. Most of it you weren’t here (for), but you’re getting into the flow of things.

Brandon: I’m getting into the flow of things. It take some time to figure out where all of the pins go. We’re slowly organizing things around my personality. They tended to have strong personalities, the people that came before me, in one way or another. I’m bringing my own.

DSBC: That’s part of the job. Was there anything in 2017 that stood out?

Doug: We’re still in an upward growth curve. In 2017 we had just over double-digit growth, which is good for a business in its third year. A lot of hours went into the member loan program, as I mentioned. (The) fire pit is finally finished. That was the holy grail of fire pits; it seemed like it took forever. A lot of little things that you don’t think of, too. Up until a few months ago, all we had were the standard pint glasses. Now we have pilsener glasses, we have glasses with a wider mouth so you can get a better smell compared to the ones we had before that had more of a closed mouth.

DSBC: That’s a subtle thing, but it matters.

Doug: It’s subtle, but it counts, especially when you’re sampling. Ashley is our new assistant general manager. As my dad likes to say, I don’t have that many shopping days before Christmas and before I’m old enough to retire, (so) I want to make sure there’s a person who can do basically everything I can do when I walk out the door. I like to tell these guys, when I drop dead on this floor, there needs to be somebody who has a set of keys to this place. I don’t want them having to rummage around in my pockets. Ashley’s the new assistant manager, which is a new position. She’s taking on more duties than any taproom manager ever took on. Her job description is everything I do.

DSBC: It’s probably good to have a little redundancy there.

Doug: It’s very good. She and I are still trying to figure out how to not duplicate work. How to not answer the same email. We’ve streamlined a lot of process. I’ve been involved in a lot of startups where your first two years are just figuring out if you have a viable product. We’re past that, we finished that hurdle. We’re just out of diapers and learning how not to put a fork in the light socket. We’re inventing and re-inventing systems as we go that have never been in place as we go, simply because we’ve never had the volume to worry about.

Also, another thing that’s really cool is that it allows us to have a historical perspective about what we’ve done. “What did you do last February?” Well, we didn’t have a last February, but now we do, so we have something to judge off of. That’s been really interesting. Numbers don’t lie, and we can compile numbers. We can take a look at it and see that such-and-such beer sold as fast as it did.

Ashley’s dad was the main accountant for the county, and he’s retired. He’s pointing us in the right direction. He’s an Excel wizard. He’s looking at some of our data and telling us what’s coming into play. Because we’re a co-op, we draw on a lot of people. Because of my love of baseball, I love stats, and he’s introducing us to stats I never would have thought about. Like Hoppenheimer (IPA) is our biggest seller. That’s great, we can say we sold X amount over the year, but he’s telling us things like how fast it sold, which beers it sold against. We sold $5,000 worth of Hoppenheimer this month, great, but you can’t compare this month to August. Volumes in August are so much greater.

DSBC: The customer base here changes month to month.

Doug: We’ve had some interesting trends. We’ve had down days we can’t explain. Is it the snow? Is it economic trends? A little bit of both? Who knows? But, we have people helping us.

Brandon: We have a lot of engineers in the room.

DSBC: If science needs to be done, this is a good town to do it (in).

Doug: When you’re first starting to walk and then run, then you can make plans for the future. Do we need to consider canning, bottling, kegging, selling, getting a wine grower’s license to brew your own cider? We didn’t have that historical data before. It’s all good information. What we sell up here is completely different from what I sold at Marble in Santa Fe.

DSBC: That was about five years ago? Have things changed that much?

Doug: Very different. Different palate. IPAs are always strong. Barrel-aged stuff was very popular for a while, and I think lagers are coming back. We go through lagers faster than I’ve ever seen.

DSBC: Interesting. We also have an international community here. Maybe the Europeans prefer it?

Doug: Maybe. We always did well with the Pilsner at Marble, but not as well as we’ve done with Brandon’s Mexican Lager. Some of (the) other lagers have done really well, and I don’t know if that’s geographic location or it’s a market trend. Hard to say.

DSBC: It is a weird little community.

Doug: It is, it’s not as cut and dry as we like to think it is.

DSBC: Moving to 2018, are you expecting to make any changes in the brewing area?

Brandon: It’s going to be a little tough. We need to cruise for a while. We need to get the most out of what we have.

DSBC: It’s a good-sized system for this size place?

Brandon: Well, the amount of fermenters is. We’ve got it down to the point that our regular brew day is almost the same as a 7-barrel brew day. If we had a 7-barrel system, which we don’t; we have half that, but we’re still putting in seven barrels to brew.

Doug: We have a 3.5-barrel brewhouse and 7-barrel fermenters.

Brandon: We could go to a 7-barrel system, but it won’t happen this year. It’s going to be tough for a while. We’re doing well producing what we do. Hopefully in the future we’ll get to that, or even beyond that.

Doug: I think the focus for us going forward, though who knows because we have a board of directors, too, is to finalize some of the things we’re doing here. We’re going to focus on this taproom and this brewhouse before going out and conquering the world. This year we’re going to stop, take a breath, pay our bills, staff up, put our “A” team in place. Figure out where we are in the world.

DSBC: Nothing wrong with that.

Doug: People can experience some success relatively quickly in this industry. New taprooms, new systems, this, that. I think we’re getting a lot of use out of this place. We could always improve sales, but I think we need to find out who we are first (and) then refine that before we expand.

Service in this town has gotten better. Pajarito Brewpub is doing a very good job. Laura at Pig ‘n’ Fig is serving beer now, and she’s doing a very good job. Blue Window has moved and is doing a good job. The VFW is doing a lot of promotion and trying to get our customers, and they should. There’s still a lot of expansion to happen with all of our businesses. Across the way, UnQuarked is getting better and better.

DSBC: They even have beer now.

Doug: Yeah, the competition has upped their game. The product is better across the board. It’s good for all of us. We have a good relationship with most of the people that are our competitors.

DSBC: You’re not looking to get into food, right?

Doug: Not yet. We’ve got the pizza place across the street that just opened up. It’s great, they have things we don’t have. They have an arcade. Parents come for a beer and kids go play video games. Having pizza and salad and wings allows us to send our customers to go get food. We don’t have to clean a kitchen. Food’s hard. Margins aren’t great. It’s a good thing for everybody. Even the chocolatier across the way, and Sirphey is available at UnQuarked.

DSBC: Anything else coming for 2018?

Doug: I’m fiscally conservative, so I don’t like debt on my books. I want to pay off member loans as soon as possible. It’s a more than manageable amount, but if I can pay it off I will.

DSBC: And once it’s paid off, that’s it?

Doug: That’s it, no more debt service. At that point, we’ll probably pay dividends to our owners. But, before we consider that, I want to make sure my employees have health benefits. We’re a co-op, which means we need to be kinder and gentler across the board to our community and our employees. If our employees are worried about their kid’s dental appointment or whatever, then they’re not efficient employees. As a co-op, we don’t have to show huge margins and there’s not a small number at the top taking advantage of the profits, there’s going to be more profit to be shared. We’re up to around 18 employees now. There’s 10 to 15 families that cash checks to keep their lights on. If we can provide more of that type of good will in our community and amongst our employees, then that’s the next goal.

DSBC: You mentioned that you’re getting a cider license?

Doug: We’re going to fill out the paperwork. I have the paperwork on my desk. Boxing Bear has a great product. Their cider is what we use. I like the guys there. They’ve been nothing but fantastic. People like their cider. It’s a gluten-free option. We’re going to run the numbers and see, does it make more sense to sell Boxing Bear’s or make our own? I’d love to do it, (and) if we can, we will.

DSBC: Well, hopefully we’ll look forward to a cider.

Doug: It takes a long time, six to eight months. We have some time to figure out if it’s worth it.

DSBC: OK, that’s it then. Thanks for your time.

Cheers!

— Reid

Business was up at Ponderosa in 2017, with plenty more on deck for this year.

It was all about the little things at Ponderosa Brewing in 2017. Whether it was doing a bit of remodeling, experimenting with new beer styles, introducing a canned beer for the first time, or just focusing on making the brewery into a true neighborhood pub, it all seems to have paid off.

“2017 was really good, actually,” head brewer Antonio Fernandez said. “Everything was kind of on a pretty big uptick for us. Our customer base was bigger, our sales were bigger, I brewed more beer than we’d ever brewed before, we sold more beer than before. The business growth was really positive this past year. We’ve had a pretty steady curve of growth.”

Antonio and I sat down recently over a goblet of his Russian imperial stout, which he named Bernalillo County Stout, for Ponderosa’s turn in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. It was a busy early afternoon on a weekday, which seemed to back up his point about business being up at the Sawmill District brewpub.

“One of the other big things that we’ve seen is that while we’ve sold a lot of food … at this point we’re selling as much beer as food,” Antonio said with a smile. “It’s 50-50 now, which is cool. That makes me happy.”

Ponderosa also continued to branch out beyond the confines of its four walls in 2017.

“We increased our distribution quite a bit,” Antonio said. “Last year at this time we were having our beer distributed through Bosque. They sold their distribution (to Admiral Beverage) and we got out of that deal. We had to get a rezoning thing done with the City and get our wholesaler’s license. You probably saw it on the way in, we’ve got our little van.”

Antonio said Ponderosa now has beer on tap at around 20 other establishments, ranging from bars to restaurants, mostly in downtown and the North Valley.

“It’s been really nice (feedback),” he said. “What’s been good for us is a couple of our normal styles are ones that no one else makes regularly, our kolsch and our brown ale. I don’t think anyone makes a kolsch year round. Our brown ale is really popular for the same reason. It’s probably one of only three or four browns made year round.”

Ponderosa found success with its first canned beer in 2017, and more styles are on deck for this year.

This past year also saw the first canned beer from Ponderosa as its India Pale Lager was sold at liquor stores and retailers around town.

“It was basically kind of like a test run to see if there’s any interest out there in the market,” Antonio said. “I decided to go with something different. You see a lot of IPA out there in the market. We did a small test run on the cans with Mother Road (Mobile Canning). It’s been most popular here in the taproom, we sell a lot of six packs (here). It’s been successful enough for us that we’re counting on doing a couple more brands (in the future).”

Antonio said the Blood Orange Wit, a big hit in the taproom, is one under consideration. The other could be a German-style pilsner.

While more cans are on deck, the biggest project of 2018 remains the first off-site taproom. It is still under construction at the El Vado Motel redevelopment on Central near Tingley.

“It’s been delay after delay,” Antonio said. “That’s how it is with construction. It will probably be open later in the spring.”

The cold room was under construction, with the draft system to follow. Antonio said they were still waiting for some of the equipment to arrive.

“My ultimate goal is that it will be open by (ABQ) Beer Week,” Antonio said. “That would be perfect if we could make that happen. But, I’ve been in this town long enough to know that if you say you’re going to open by June, I’ll see you in December. That’s just the way it is with any place that serves beer in this town.”

Even with delays on the construction of Ponderosa’s first off-site taproom, head brewer Antonio Fernandez still has plenty to smile about of late.

The first retail outlet, Metal the Store by Metal the Brand artist Michael Wieclaw, opened this past Friday at El Vado. Even Mayor Tim Keller was in attendance, which shows how much support the project is receiving from the City of Albuquerque. Plenty of folks in attendance said they were looking forward to the Ponderosa taproom opening in the future.

“It’s going to be a small taproom,” Antonio said. “It will have 10 taps to mirror what we have here on tap at all times. We thought about doing some more taps and bringing in some guest taps as well. That could be nice, but I don’t know where we are on that.”

There will be up to six different eateries at El Vado, and Antonio said they are hoping to be certified to where customers can purchase beer and take it out to any part of the complex. That might be a tough sell with the State of New Mexico, which did not allow that at Green Jeans Farmery with Santa Fe Brewing.

While all of that is going on a few miles away, Antonio is staying focused on the beer.

“I’ve been experimenting with a lot more beer (styles),” he said. “I brewed a lot more lagers. I’ve been getting into that lately. We’ve got a few more coming out. There will be a lot more fruit beers, actually. They were really popular.”

Another new beer is the result of a conversation with a couple of Ponderosa customers.

“We’re going to have a cool project coming up in a couple weeks,” Antonio said. :We’re going to partner with General Mills. We have a couple guys that work there that are regulars here. We got to talking, so we’re going to brew up a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Stout. We’re going to get a big bag of that and throw it in the mash tun.”

If the beer is a hit, expect more cereal brews in the future, he added.

The first remodeling project opened up the south end of the taproom.

In addition to new beers, there have also been some physical changes at Ponderosa.

“There are some different innovations on the south side of the restaurant,” Antonio said. “We pulled out all the booths and put in the high-top tables. It really opened up the area. It’s a lot brighter and more inviting now. It’s turned from overflow seating to where people want to go sit down.”

With that area done, the next bit of remodeling will be behind the bar.

“We’re going to move the office back in (the southeast corner),” Antonio said. “I’ll be taking over this entire (central) space. We’re expanding some more stuff into my brewery. I can move all my grain into that area. I’ll be able to add another tank. We’ll get a little more capacity, take some pressure off when I’m doing lagers.”

Speaking of lagers, Antonio said he hopes to have more fun with those during ABQ Beer Week in late May/early June.

“We’re trying to organize a small beer festival that we’ll do here just for lagers,” he said. “There will probably be six to eight breweries, everyone brings over a keg of beer. Kind of your standard format, get a sample at each one, then a glass of your favorite.”

Overall, Ponderosa will be a more active participant in the annual 11-day series of beer-centric events.

“We’re planning on doing quite a bit more for Beer Week this year,” Antonio said. “Last year we did the beer and tapas pairing every day. We’re planning on doing that again this year because we had some pretty crowds every day. We’re also going to do a full beer pairing dinner in here one of the nights now that we’ve got a stable, veteran kitchen staff. We’re going to be on track to do that.”

All of that is part of the plan at Ponderosa as the beer scene evolves around the country.

“There are over 6,000 breweries nationwide now, but if you read all the statistics, the beer-drinking base is actually shrinking,” Antonio said. “It’s making it tougher and tougher. I’d really like to focus on being a neighborhood pub, being a regular place for people. We have a lot of regulars. That’s what I personally see as the future of craft breweries.”

Thanks to Antonio for taking the time out for an interview, and for being patient when it came to this story being published (it got bumped by breaking news more than once). Make sure to head over to try the Bernalillo County Stout before the supply runs out.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister