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


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.”


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.


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.


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?


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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).


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.


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


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 …


— 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 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.


— 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.


— 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.


— Stoutmeister


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.


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.


— 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.


— Stoutmeister


Happy second anniversary, Bow & Arrow!

It’s always a pleasure to sit down with Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay, owners of Bow & Arrow Brewing Co., and head brewer Ted O’Hanlan. After last summer’s piece on the barrel-aged program they were just rolling out then, I was eager to catch up on what we can look forward to in 2018. First up, Bow & Arrow turns two years old with a celebration and a first-ever bottle release this Saturday from noon to close. It’s the perfect opportunity to check out their comfortable German-style beer hall if you haven’t made the trip to their Wells Park neighborhood (608 McKnight Ave. NW) location yet.

Now a year into it, the barrel program at Bow & Arrow is impressive, especially considering the short amount of time they’ve had to build it. Sour and brett beers tend to take a steeper amount of investment in both equipment and time, and Ted and Shyla said they are committed to doing it right.


Ted O’Hanlan, head brewer, and Shyla Sheppard, owner (pictured at last fall’s Beer Premier event)

Bow & Arrow’s trajectory as a brewery shifted course last year with the release of their notable brett saison, Cosmic Arrow (7.7% ABV). Now a popular house offering, it helped establish the brewery as a local leader in barrel-aged experiments. Head brewer Ted O’Hanlan said he has perfected the recipe since its debut, and it remains an extremely drinkable, complex, dry saison. Cosmic Arrow is also a staff favorite, topping the list for both Ted and Shyla.

“2017 was the year we were able to launch our barrel program because Ted joined our team,” Shyla said. “Right now, we’re doing a lot of experimentation to see how people respond. We’re aggregating data, and learning from that and moving forward.”

Ted explained that their focus last year was experimenting with wild yeast and mixed fermentation sours. In 2017, they also rolled out their foraging program, named the Thirsty Land Foraged series. Missy said she chalked this series up as her favorite produced in 2017, especially the Navajo Tea Grisette (4.3% ABV), a light-bodied version of a saison, grounded with earthy flavors from the tea.

“I’ve had to learn a lot about ingredients that are local to the area since moving here, even though we did do some foraged ingredients at Fullsteam,” Ted said.

His culinary background and prior experience at Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina has certainly helped him understand how these ingredients affect his brews.

Brewing wild in 2018

Both Shyla and Ted said they agree that 2017 was a year of renewal and exploration for Bow & Arrow, as they rolled out a wide variety of new styles and types of beer that defied expectations. They gathered the necessary experience over the past year and repeatedly tested it with the public, and they now know exactly where their identity as a brewery is headed. The brewery’s new tagline, “We brew Wild, Sour and Barrel-Aged Beers in the Heart of the American Southwest,” certainly speaks clearly to their path in 2018.

The big news for the first part of this year? They are making bottles of their brett and sour beers available for purchase in the taproom. These limited-release 500mL bottles will feature the Bow & Arrow iconic branding and will be available only as long as supplies last.


Bottles featuring limited-edition barrel-aged releases will soon be available at Bow & Arrow’s taproom.

Ted let me taste Dark Mesa, the Belgian quad ale he was aging in red wine barrels. At 11-percent ABV, I expected a fierce alcohol aftertaste, but its dry, classic Belgian strong features do not overwhelm on the finish. Dark Mesa will delight a wide variety of craft beer drinkers with its notes of fig, dark plum, and black pepper. Ted ran it through standard fermentation with abbey yeast, then aged it in the barrels using brett yeast, which cut the sugar content, for three months. During that time, the yeast took it down to a stable gravity. The limited-edition Dark Mesa stands to be a notable achievement in Bow & Arrow’s portfolio, as it is difficult to brew a beer this big with a high ABV and have it end up so nice and dry. It will be available for purchase during the anniversary party on Saturday.

Coming soon to a tap handle near you


Typical offerings on a January day at Bow & Arrow’s taproom

Last year, Ted worked his way through each of the house brews and revisited their recipes. Their popular Nomadico IPA (6.1% ABV) is their new house IPA, replacing the Hoka Hey. The Nomadico pivots toward the current trend of hazy, juicy IPAs, but doesn’t fully commit to that trend, opting for a cleaner body and finish.

Jemez Field Notes (4.5% ABV) has also gone through a bit of a transition, and the newest iteration coming soon will contain locally-sourced blue corn.

“It just felt right to incorporate blue corn into the Jemez lager because it’s local,” Ted said. “It’s a nice introduction to craft beer for those who may not have tried a lot of variety yet, because it’s low-alcohol and refreshing.”

Other house beers include the Sun Dagger Saison (6.5% ABV), their flagship farmhouse ale; the Visionland Amber (5.4% ABV), a copper-hued, mildly hoppy amber ale; and the True Aim Scotch Ale (6.3% ABV), a malty rustic ale that surprises with its smoothness.

Ted said they will continue with their Rotating Stout Series, a series of infusions that allow him to be creative and to play with ingredients that they wouldn’t normally put together.

“Ted has streamlined the recipe development process, and these stouts have been really well received in the taproom,” Shyla said. “We have a number of wholesale accounts who are eagerly anticipating the next release.”

As for the barrel-aged program, there are currently 48 barrels in full view from the taproom. Shyla said their number will potentially see an increase this year, as some of the barrels are already on their second rotations.

“We’ve put a stake in the ground for barrel-aged and barrel-fermented New Mexican beers,” Shyla said. “Ted has three different programs going — he’s aging the stouts in uncultured whiskey barrels, and then we have the bretts and the sours.”

“I believe each round of beer should match the nature of the barrels,” Ted added. “We first aged our Coyote Waits Imperial Mole Stout in whiskey barrels. Now, those same barrels are holding barleywine.”

For the barleywine fans out there, it will hit the taps in March sometime and will hover around 9-percent ABV. Ted set out to create a malt-forward beer on the lower end of the bitterness spectrum, and is anticipating tannin and char flavors from the wood. Also in the works is a brett pale ale and a brett sour red, as well as a variation of Cosmic Arrow that was brewed with 62 pounds of their own peaches from their tree on site. And finally, their answer to a sudden inspiration received is a German chocolate cake stout as part of their rotating stout series.

“I’m most excited about the barrel-aged program,” Ted said. “I love the fast sours, but I love the complexity of the barrel-aging process with long-term souring even more. We are fully committed to it.”


Ted poses with his bike (yes, he commutes to work daily on it) in front of the whiskey barrel section of Bow & Arrow’s barrel-aged program.

Culture and community in 2018

In the last quarter of 2017, Bow & Arrow increased its distribution to partners in Santa Fe and around town. Now, you can find new tap handles at Fire & Hops and Piñon Pub (Whole Foods) in Santa Fe, as well as El Pinto and Sadie’s in Albuquerque. The staff will continue to show up at beer festivals to test their experimental brews alongside their tried-and-true favorites.

Shyla said they will continue to focus on supporting specific nonprofits in 2018. They raised money for Dig Deep’s water filtration project for a Navajo special-needs school last April, and also hosted a Culture Crush week where they celebrated indigenous culture during the Gathering of Nations. The brewery hosted a popup that featured local indigenous artists, an Indian taco popup, and also a five-course paired beer dinner during Culture Crush week.

“We also hosted a Diversity in the Outdoors event in partnership with REI, where a panel of speakers discussed making the outdoors more accessible to people of all backgrounds, as well as protection of sacred places,” Missy said. “We look forward to doing more events like this, because it highlights beer’s ability to build community.”


Bow & Arrow hosted the New Mexico Brewers Guild Beer Premiere last October

More beer dinners are planned for 2018. Keep an eye on the Bow & Arrow social media pages and website for event details as they are announced. This is also where the staff will announce what beers become available from their bottle program and, of course, what’s currently on tap. Don’t forget to stop in on Saturday from noon onward to experience the fruits of their cutting-edge barrel-aged program for yourself.


— Julie


Dialogue has made plenty of beers worth talking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brewery opened its doors just 15 months ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those familiar towers have become a beacon for thirsty people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dialogue will choose carefully which competitions to enter in 2018.

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

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

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

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


— Jerrad


The Starr Brothers command staff includes, from bottom left, Matthew Pullen (assistant brewer), Heather & John Starr (founders/owners), and, from top left, Derek Minero (general manager) and Rob Whitlock (head brewer).

Starr Brothers Brewing has just passed its two-year anniversary last weekend, and is no longer the new kid on the brewing block. The brewery has established itself with a welcoming Northeast Heights taproom and a solid lineup of house beers. To catch up on all that went down in the past year and what is to come in 2018, I sat down with John and Heather Starr, founders of Starr Brothers Brewing, along with head brewer Rob Whitlock, for our Look Back/Look Ahead series.

Creating a space for all types of beer drinkers

“I always wanted to own a bar,” John said. “But, as we discovered craft breweries in our travels, I shifted focus and decided to go this route. I knew the craft beer scene was blowing up in New Mexico, and figured the time was right to go for it.”

John said he wanted to create a public house-style place, similar to the Deschutes Brewery Public House in Portland, Oregon. He wanted a very approachable space where people felt comfortable whether or not they were craft beer aficionados. The taproom is situated within my daily orbit in Albuquerque, and I drop in regularly for lunch with colleagues and clients. I can confirm that this place is, indeed, an accessible space for everyone, no matter where they might be on the spectrum as a beer lover.

Heather is the president of the company, and many people may be unaware that Starr Brothers Brewing is actually a woman-owned business. It’s a small, family operation with Heather and John at the center running the operations, Rob as head brewer, and Derek Minero as general manager. (Editor’s note: The Starr Brothers are actually John and Heather’s sons, whom John once said he hopes to leave the business to someday. — S)

Last year proved to be a big one for their small team. They opened up their back room to expand their fermentation capacity, growing from 36 to 96 barrels. The expansion spanned a three-month buildout and allowed Starr Brothers to increase its tap handles around the city. Even without a dedicated salesperson, they are now self-distributing to locations such as Blue Grasshopper, B2B, Matanza, Route 66 Casino, Silva Lanes Bowling Alley, The Pit, and a range of other places. The tap handles stay in place once established, a fact that makes John proud.

The taproom is also popular for its food. Even without a head chef, the kitchen staff offers up consistent pub fare (including delicious tacos) that has a loyal following. John said they had professional help creating the menu, and points to the competency of his staff as the cornerstone of the kitchen’s success in dishing out a high-quality product.


Derek Minero, general manager, with Starr Brothers’ Blackfriday Dark American Lager

Crafting a solid lineup

Rob pointed to their house blonde ale as the “gateway” beer best to induct people new to craft brews into his world. Currently, house offerings include the blonde (L.A. Woman, 5.4% ABV; 16 IBU), Starrstruck IPA (7.2% ABV; 82 IBU), Lampshade Porter (7.6% ABV; 27 IBU), Red Zeppelin (7.6% ABV; 28 IBU), and Brown Chicken Brown Cow (6.4% ABV; 24 IBU). All of these staple brews are balanced, drinkable, and don’t venture too far out of bounds from classic styles, matching the taproom’s approachability with what’s served up there.

When asked how John and Rob got connected, John said they were introduced through a mutual friend when he was planning the brewery.

“I wanted someone different, from outside the scene who could bring something new to it,” John said. “What got me so excited about Rob was that he was so passionate about what he did as a home brewer, and I respected the way he approached his brewing as if he were already a professional.”

Rob brought his own recipes with him to Starr Brothers, establishing the stable of house beers and laying the foundation for the seasonal and experimental brews he’s created since. When the taproom opened on January 18, 2016, they launched with guest taps from local breweries until their permits were approved. On April 8, 2016, they started pouring Rob’s brews from their tap handles.

“We really have two anniversaries,” Rob said. “It’ll be two years in April since we started pouring our own beer, and so we get to have another celebration.”

In rotation with the house beers are seasonal fruity wheat beers for summer, an experimental pumpkin yam ale for fall (Jack Tooth Grin, 6.1% ABV; 25 IBU), and rich, dark brews for winter. The Anniversary Stout, just released for their opening date anniversary, is slightly sweet with chocolate notes and incredibly drinkable with just a hint of smokiness. It’s a twist on Rob’s popular Zombies in the Manger stout (6.5% ABV; 20 IBU).

On the specialty hop-forward side of things, the Starrgazm New England IPA (7.5% ABV; 75 IBU) took fifth in last year’s IPA Challenge.


Phantom Limb Black Rye IPA (Photo: Luke Macias)

Full disclosure — I might have bullied Rob into putting my favorite seasonal (I wish it was a staple beer) on to brew. The Phantom Limb (7.2% ABV; 58 IBU) is a black rye IPA that nails it, in my opinion. I spent years in Northern Vermont where black IPAs were standard, and in the six years I’ve lived in New Mexico, I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement for the ones I left behind. This is it. Its hoppiness is accentuated by the dryness of the rye, and the dark Cascadian base makes it smooth and sessionable. Rob said it should hit the taps in a couple of weeks. You can bet that you’ll find me there when it does.

“It’s all about balance for me,” Rob said. “The biggest part about a beer to me is the finish.”

Looking Ahead

With an increased capacity, Starr Brothers is going to be pumping out a wider variety of beers. Rob said he’s been going back through his original recipes and making small tweaks to his staple brews. He’s also planning a greater range of seasonals and is looking to experiment with barrel-aging this year.

The pilsner that’s been on in the taproom is excellent, and a great representation of a dry, German-style lager. The Blackfriday dark American lager (5.9% ABV; 13 IBU) is a balanced lager that’s not too malty with rich undertones. Last year, Starr Brothers collaborated with the now-defunct Chama River and produced the popular Oakey Smokey. The staff is looking forward to more collaborations in the year ahead.

“Rob is making a great, quality product, and he has a natural mind and palate for brewing great beer,” John said. “He gets the way everything works chemically. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot, and 2018 is going to be another year of growth for us.”

In 2017, Starr Brothers produced 765 barrels (about 23,000 gallons). This year, it will exceed 1,000 barrels thanks to the expansion. Rob brewed seven barrels of Oktoberfest in 2016 and it was gone in eight days. Last year, he brewed 15 barrels of it and it kicked in about 20 days. This year, with their expanded capacity, watch for more.

This year, outside the taproom and the tap handles around town, you will be able to find Starr Brothers at BearFest, Bacon & Brews, the Celtic Festival at Balloon Fiesta Park, and other events yet to be announced. And, if you haven’t been to their taproom at 5700 San Antonio Drive NE, head in for what’s sure to be a good time with their friendly service, approachable atmosphere, and excellent craft brews. Veterans, firefighters, law enforcement and public service workers all receive discounts on site.

We’ll see you there on April 8 to celebrate the second anniversary of serving up great craft beer to Albuquerque. And, we’ll be watching to see what Heather, John, Rob, Derek and crew cook up in the meantime.


More of the crew at Starr Brothers in the newly expanded brewery


— Julie