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

Things are looking up around Marble these days.

There were no more hard hats, no more blueprints, no more sawdust piles. After two jam-packed years of expanding two locations and building a third, Marble Brewery settled down and got back to basics in 2017.

“It’s a very weird stage for me these days because I don’t have a dozen projects all happening at once,” Marble president Ted Rice said. “Back in ’16 we were doubling the Westside taproom, building the fermentation hall at 111, building the rooftop deck at 111, and building the Heights taproom and brewery. I got used to that intense pace of work. So now, I’m kind of reorganizing my daily activities. It’s been a little bit of a … it’s almost like I’m not quite sure what to do. I know what to do and I’m doing things, but it’s not the same as working with contractors and suppliers and adding staff members.”

Over a couple weeks, I managed to corral Ted, brewmaster Josh Trujillo, and marketing director Geraldine Lucero for three separate interviews for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series to cover anything and everything relating to Marble in this year gone by and a big 10th anniversary year that lies ahead.

“We’ve got a really good team in place now, front of house and back of house,” Ted said. “I’m looking forward to having a great taproom experiences, solid beer flowing, and new and exciting flavors always on the horizon.”

The fermentation hall has filled up quickly downtown.

Glancing back at 2017, even without the construction projects, it was still a busy year around the three locations.

“2016 was the year of building and 2017 finished filling out the brewery at 111 with fermenters and we’re just finishing commissioning a new keg line as we speak,” Ted said. “So 2017 has been the year of filling inventory for our distributor for New Mexico, NDC (National Distribution Company), and so we did that. We met our goal with NDC for case equivalent depletions. I’m meeting with NDC (this) week to plan for success in 2018.”

With everything in place at the downtown production facility, it has made life easier, though Ted was quick to point out that no one has become complacent.

“We’re never content, but we’re definitely doing better,” he said. “The CFT canning line is just a dream. It’s turning out really high-quality package beer. I love the carton that encloses the six cans. It’s just such a clean face and so much easier than snapping on the other options.

“The layout is far more efficient than what came before. Everyone is enjoying the balanced workload. The production team is working four 10-hour shifts, so they’re enjoying the three-day weekend. The flow is just so much smoother. It’s amazing what things like a loading dock will do for you. Having sufficient BTUs in your chiller to crash your tanks in a timely manner. A lot of those things just flow naturally from that — clarity and carbonation.”

Marble beers are now appearing six-packs, 12-packs, and even 24-packs exclusively at Costco. Distribution is strong throughout the state.

The 10-barrel brewhouse in the Heights has been churning out a huge variety of beers this year.

As for the taprooms, Josh has been churning out seasonal after seasonal, experimental beer after experimental beer, at the Heights taproom/brewery, a.k.a. the MavLab.

“I think things have been great up here,” Josh said. “I’ve had some that were better than others, some that were medal winners, right? So that’s been a lot of fun. I learned a lot about lactobacillus and kettle sours and how they react with fruit. We’ve had this big wave of goses that is still trending. People still want a gose in the winter time despite the (low) alcohol content and the sour properties of it. They like the dark beers, too, but the goses are still selling really well.”

The many, many fruited goses were a big hit this summer.

“He was going really hard on the ‘if you pink it they will drink it train,’ ” Ted added. “Not all of them were pink, but he did explore the world of acidity and fruit. He now has a firm understanding of what works. Now we’re going to start blending those fruits together for new flavors.”

Josh has been enjoying the creative freedom in the Heights, but he has kept tabs on what customers want, frequently stepping out of the brewery to chat with the regulars and newcomers.

“Yeah, man, I try to go talk to everybody at the bar, and be inspired by the feedback and what direction am I asked to go, comparatively on different levels,” he said. “One person is going to have a different idea of what’s good and what direction I should go than the other person. It’s really trying to take a little bit away from every personality and balance the spectrum that I’m producing, try to keep a couple lagers and a couple Belgians and a couple stouts and a couple strong beers.”

The centrifuge downtown has been one of the hardest working pieces of equipment, along with, well, the staff.

Josh still keeps an eye on what is happening at brewery downtown, sometimes just by trying all the main beers off the tap.

“Though I’m not down at the production facility I still do pay close attention to the beers that are on tap,” he said. “I taste them all regularly. For the most part, I think everything is very solid. In the end everything could always use some improvement, I strive for perfection. When you work with agricultural products across the board to produce the beer, they’re always going to have a little bit of a (different) flavor to it. You have to listen to your customer who drinks the three-beer limit in Red Ale or Amber Ale or Double White. You have to taste them regularly. I think overall our house beers are consistent, but still expressive. They’re quaffable, you want to drink two or three of them. Or, mix and match, they blend well, too, from what I understand. People do a lot of blending. That’s good.”

For the most part, Josh said that as Marble has grown, it has also had key people step up in different areas has helped out everyone, as now no one has too much on his or her plate.

“(Brewer) John Heine downtown loves beer and that’s the drive people need,” he said. “Geraldine taking over the events area and being super creative and in tune with what’s happening in the scene.

“I think the bigger you get, the bigger the load gets, and the more you need to spread that (around). I always say that the thing I like most about working with Marble and the team that I have here is the confidence in everybody in their job. Geraldine has super confidence in events and Leah (Black) in the social media and Ted is the driver. … All the people that are driving have a ton of confidence in themselves and how they do their job and that brings a lot of the success. It makes it a lot easier on me.”

Marble marketing director Geraldine Lucero, left, has kept everyone smiling this year, with help from Barbie Gonzalez, the director of taproom operations, and brewmaster Josh Trujillo.

As for Geraldine, she has managed to wrangle the many, many events held at all three Marble locations. From the standard slate of live music acts booked by Gabriel Tafoya, to charitable events and more, 2017 kept her plenty busy. Amid all of it, a few events or series of events in particular stood out.

“I think that the CRAVE dinners were probably may favorite events to put on here at the fermentation hall,” she said. “We worked with amazing chefs from all over town. … Turning a production facility into a dining room is the most fun that I’ve ever had. Our breweries cleaned everything. Just to see the room really transform is awesome. It’s really special to have a beer dinner in the middle of 150-barrel fermenting tanks, where the beer is being made. That was by far my favorite event to be putting on.”

Another series of events that proved to be popular went beyond the traditional karaoke night that many breweries host. Even some of the staff got into it, including a certain packaging line director.

“Other fun events included the Marble Mouth-Off, the lip-sync battle we put on,” Geraldine said. “It’s always funny to see people get up and not be afraid to put themselves out there and entertain a crowd by lip syncing, everyone wants to be a rock star at some point. Getting up on stage at 111 for the finale, we had eight of the winners from eight rounds, they put on such an amazing show. They had such a blast doing it and we had so much fun watching it. I even lip synced for the first one. Nate (Jackson) did every single Mouth-Off, he opened every single show.”

Josh Trujillo, looking the part, claimed gold for his Cholo Stout at GABF.

The strong year for Marble was capped off by two more medals at the Great American Beer Festival in October. Pilsner won its sixth medal overall between GABF and the World Beer Cup, snagging a bronze. The gold-medal winner this year for Marble was a pleasant, if not prophetic surprise.

“It was tradition over the past four years at GABF where before the awards ceremony we go to brunch with our ingredient suppliers,” Ted said. “Part of that tradition of having breakfast with some good friends of ours, we get the day started with tequila shots. It seems to have proven effective, granted everything is decided ahead of time, of course, but it’s fun to think that tradition has an impact. I told Josh at breakfast this year that my fantasy for the day was for him to receive gold for his Cholo (Stout) and go up on stage with his cholo suit on. That fantasy was real, so that was pretty cool.”

More medals are always a good thing.

“We’ve been fortunate to consistently win in recent years,” Ted said. “The Pilsner has won six medals between GABF and World Beer Cup. Walking across the stage for another bronze for Pils, I don’t want to dismiss it, but it’s nice to win for the second time we’ve actually brewed a style. That was only the second time the Cholo was ever produced, but we knew when he first made it that it was a winner and definitely a contender for attention on the shelf and the captivation of the judges’ palates.”

That award for Cholo Stout portends just one of the changes on the horizon for Marble in the coming year.

More distribution and new packaged beers await in 2018

The Red Ale will be joined by its big brother and several more styles in cans in 2018.

Marble already has plans for adding new beers to its packaged lineup while redoing how some past brands are packaged for the new year.

“I was already planning on designing a can for the Cholo before it won at GABF and that just kind of further reaffirmed how much fun it’s going to be to have that hop-forward American stout in a can,” Ted said. “That design has been approved by the TTB. We’re going to release that in early ’18.

“We’re moving our Double IPA and Imperial Red from 22-ounce bottles to 12-ounce cans. You’ll see those on a regular basis starting in 2018 as well. We’re also transitioning the Stout Americano, our coffee stout, from 22 ounces down to 12 ounces. Then we’re working on a gose can package as well.”

So, yeah, Cholo, DIPA, Imperial Red, Americano, and a gose (fruit infusion TBD) are coming to cans. More choices are always a good thing. There are other moves in the works as well.

“We have redesigned our tap handles, so you’ll see those on the market in ’18,” Ted added. “Then some other POS (Point of Sale) items back there, LED signs for on-premise accounts, for all accounts, basically. We’re starting to spend some more money now that we have the capacity to exercise on flexing the brand.”

There will also be expanded distribution beyond the borders of New Mexico.

“We’re going to reassert ourselves in Arizona and we’re assessing a distribution agreement in El Paso, Texas,” Ted said. “And, we’re potentially considering going back up to the front range of Colorado again. We retracted from that market in ’13 when we couldn’t keep up in New Mexico.”

There are already plenty of malt bags ready to become new beers at the MavLab.

Josh is already working hard at determining everything from what gose will be packaged to what new styles will be popping up on tap in 2018.

“Like I said before, I learned a lot about goses,” he said. “I ran out a pretty long, strong experiment across many of fruits. I use the same base for everything and for the most part the same weights to see what fruits are the most expressive and which ones have better underlying characters. Now it’s moving on to blends and really focusing on dialing in perfection on things like passion fruit and the Rita we do every year for Cinco de Mayo. I’m pretty confident in my abilities with lactobacillus now and keeping things clean.”

Fear not, hopheads, Josh has you covered as well.

“(I want to) explore more hops, start ranking in those categories,” he said. “I feel like Marble IPA for me is my favorite, most drinkable IPA, but with some of the categories going in the direction that they are it’s nice to have some specialities on, maybe offer one or two IPAs at different hop rates that people can (taste) and learn from for us as well. I’m looking forward to playing with larger weights of hops and different variety combinations and different combinations of varieties, different grain bills (too).”

Josh said he also hopes to continue doing the beer education/beer pairing classes at the Heights location. A barrel-aged beer and cheese tasting is slated for December 27, with similar events on deck in the new year.

“I love to talk about beer, I could talk about beer all day long, different topics,” Josh said. “It’s fun to educate people that are interested, at least. Offering the classes and the curriculum, the people that are showing up are actually interested in learning not only more about beer, but learning more about themselves and how much they actually know about beer or don’t know about beer. I always take away a little something from those classes as well.”

Those events are not all that is on deck for 2018.

“I like to do a lot of beer-and-food pairing events, those are my favorite,” Geraldine said. “We’re going to bring some more of those up to the Heights and Westside, spread the love a little bit. I think those are such fun and we work with a lot of really talented food trucks and we have good relationships with many of the best chefs in town. We are planning a really fun event in February at the Heights. It will involve a battle of the brewers, also, as well as getting two chefs involved. That’s as much as I can tell you about that.”

The ninth anniversary party was packed. No. 10 is gonna be even bigger. (Photo courtesy of Marble)

The biggest event for Geraldine and her team is upcoming 10th anniversary. Circle April 21 on the old calendar now, because Marble is going all out.

“Ten Year Anniversary, we’ve already started brainstorming amongst the minds here,” she said. “We have a Google (document) that we share and anytime we come up with ideas we put them on there. I can’t give you too much information but I will let you know it will probably be the biggest party Marble has ever thrown downtown.”

For anyone who attended the huge Reviva CD release party this year, where Marble Avenue was closed off between 1st and 2nd Streets, it will be like that, but bigger, Geraldine said.

“In the past, we have done days and days of events, like nine different events for nine years leading up to it,” she said. “We’re going to have some events during the week (before), but our main focus is to do one huge 10-year anniversary party on site. This year we did off-site at the El Rey, but we’re bringing back to Marble.”

The next series of awards and competitions will also be kicking off soon, with the National IPA Challenge right around the corner and then the biennial World Beer Cup after that in April.

“For things like the Pilsner that’s won in the past, competing side-by-side with European breweries, that’s pretty special for me,” Ted said. “As Charlie Papazian says, it’s the most prestigious beer competition in the world, and there’s no arguing with Charlie.

“This year we were really hopeful that our Imperial Red Ale at GABF (would medal), but it didn’t move on. It seemed like the judges just had a totally different flavor in mind. They didn’t really choose any Western examples, it seemed like it was all East Coast examples. Hopefully they’ll get the right set of judges at World Beer Cup and we can reassert our standing in the world of imperial reds.”

The Marble staff is looking forward to more success at awards competitions in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Marble)

Josh said he is certainly looking to build off the gold medal for Cholo Stout and go beyond in 2018. He said that the Pilsner, Imperial Red, Cholo Stout, and a barleywine he has been aging since 2016 will all be entered. Some sort of IPA will likely join them, along with possibly a pale ale.

“We just kind of started an email thread on what we’re going to send to World Beer Cup, which is coming up very, very quickly,” he said. “Now with the second brewery license we are able to enter eight beers. We put a little more thought into it. GABF is not an international competition, so the things we felt we do really well it’s a little bit different.”

A big thanks to Josh, Ted, and Geraldine for taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and talk. Marble has been the bedrock of craft brewing in Albuquerque for nearly a decade, and all of us in the Crew look forward to what the next decade will bring.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Say, Brettanomyces!

Our Look Back/Look Ahead Series continues today with Rowley Farmhouse Ales in Santa Fe. I wanted to find out how their first big year went, talk about their current brewer situation, and find out what direction RFA will take in 2018.

Directly after my interview with Blue Corn, I drove five minutes up the road to RFA, which was holding its Blackest Friday event, and I didn’t want to miss that. I had the day off, and I definitely had another interview in me.

Pulling up to RFA, just a ways down Maclovia Street, located somewhat behind Santa Fe’s best Indian restaurant (in my humble opinion), India House, I immediately noticed the parking lot was full, and cars were parked up and down the street. This didn’t make finding a spot difficult, however, and it certainly wasn’t a bad thing. I soon found owner John Rowley working with assistant brewer Tyler King, and friend and wife of Chef Jeffrey Kaplan, Elissa Ritt. Even on an event day, operations were underway.

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Assistant brewer Tyler King and all-around badass Elissa Ritt

It was a bustling scene. Folks were getting tours, while the brewhouse was firing on all pistons. Everyone was all smiles as it was a good day to be a craft beer fan and a good day to be a craft beer engineer. For the interview, Rowley led me away from the madness to the solitude of the barrel room down below. I felt like Maxwell Smart, and almost expected the cone of silence to descend from the ceiling. Instead, in true down-and-dirty brewery style, we grabbed a couple of crates and faced off between rows of barrels. It was hard not to feel at home.

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Folks gatherin’ ’round for the Black-est Friday event.

Rowley Farmhouse Ales opened on Labor Day Weekend 2016. The staff just celebrated their one-year anniversary.

“It’s been good, pretty steady,” John said. “We had a great summer; summer is kind of the bread and butter of Santa Fe’s lifeblood.”

In Santa Fe, the breweries I’ve chatted with over the years talk of the sales downturn in winter, which sets in typically after the Labor Day mark. There’s a marked slowing of foot traffic and a general thinning of the out-and-about crowd. Perhaps it is because precious beer money is reserved for shopping, or maybe the cold keeps Santa Feans in their cozy homes and drives the tourists away, but whatever it is, it’s pervasive of the scene, and business generally won’t pick up again until after the thaw.

Rowley Farmhouse Ales First Anniversary Party Pic

Looks more like a bottle share than a one-year anniversary party, but I did say they were beer geeks! (Photo courtesy of RFA)

To combat this sort of hibernation period, RFA has continued to have fun events like the Blackest Friday barrel-aged rare beer event, but also keeping the taps fresh with plenty of hard-to-get beers. The thinking here is, John said, beer geeks don’t stop wanting good beer just because it’s cold outside.

“We’ve focused on that as part of our gastropub side of the business,” John said. “We wanted to bring in, not just our own beer, but beer that’s really fucking cool.”

Beer they want to drink, in other words.

“And that’s the bottom line,” John said. “If I wanted to drink it, I would bring it in.”

But, it’s a group effort at RFA, as it always has been. Both Kaplan and Ritt have been integral in curating the tap list to create a haven for true beer geeks in all forms of weather. The outdoor patio, which is actually where the bulk of the seating lies, has evolved to be a good, warm place to get a cold one on a winter’s eve.

Part of the issue Santa Fe breweries have is awareness. For most of them, being established as a go-to place to get a brew has taken time. The locals know about the older guys like Blue Corn and Second Street, and as a result make them their choice Friday-night-with-the-family destination. The new guys, including Second Street’s Rufina location, have the tough task of just getting their name out there, making sure people know implicitly that we can go grab a beer there.

This year, Rowley Farmhouse Ales really got its name out there, being part of some great festivals, including two really big fests held out of state. The annual Midwest Belgian Beer festival in St. Louis, put on by Perennial Artisan Ales, included more than 60 top-tier breweries, and RFA was one of them. There, the staff poured Meier, a Meyer Lemon Gose, named after a fella, Troy Meier, who runs one of the homebrew clubs in St. Louis, in homage to his “Meierlemonparty.org” and clearly his sour sense of humor.

“We poured that beer at Side Project Brewing. For us it was a huge honor to pour at such a cool place,” John said.

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Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX. (Photo courtesy of Rowley Farmhouse Ales)

The more recent big pouring for RFA was at the Pints for Prostates Denver Rare Beer Tasting 9.

“That was a huge hit for us,” John said, as RFA poured an Oud Bruin, which had 80 pounds of raspberries in the barrel, and was one of the first beers to pour out at that event. “For us, as a new brewery, that means a lot.”

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Quite a line for Rowley Farmhouse Ales at WinterBrew.

Pouring locally, RFA started off at WinterBrew, which, for the staff, is one of their favorite events in Santa Fe or anywhere. They also did Skiesta up at Pajarito Mountain this year, as well as Pajarito’s Summerfest, which John likened to pouring on the moon.

“At Summerfest, you’re pouring in the dirt and there’s a fine dust that gets allover everything,” John said. “Your legs get all dirty, it’s just everywhere. But, Skiesta is great because we’re on the deck.”

RFA also did BearFest in Albuquerque; they just happened to be pouring right next to the speakers and the brewery got blasted.

“I love Kevin (Davis), and I love Boxing Bear,” John said. “Those guys are great. Hey Kevin, if you’re (reading), don’t leave it at 11. Turn it down to nine or eight.”

RFA’s IPA was also a big hit at Hopfest this year.

At home base, RFA has its own special events and brewery features. The staff is continuing to support the local animals with their Pulls for Pups, where they choose a new animal shelter every quarter and donate a $1 per pour of the designated tap. The beer may change, but the support hasn’t. They typically raise around $1,200 for the shelters and charities, per quarter from your generosity, so cheers to that!

The staff has also continued with a slew of tap-takeovers from big names like Great Divide, Firestone Walker, New Belgium, and the list goes on. Tap takeovers are truly a beautiful thing.

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RFA has grown a lot in a short time.

This year, RFA has worked hard at increasing its beer production. But, the kind of beers RFA is making aren’t the kind that have a quick turnaround. Naturally, it’s taken a bit of time getting a real pipeline going. Beers that needed time to age and condition are becoming more available, as the staff didn’t want to rush anything.

“Next year we’ll have more wood down here,” John said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. We want to fill this place up and have more beer aging at all times.”

In the last year, the set of core beers has become a steady set, worthy of the good chalk and the big wall. Agent Scully, RFA’s flagship IPA, has a farmhouse grain bill with flaked oats and malted wheat, with a little ginger marmalade added to keep their Scully a true ginger, as well it should be. The hops have rotated from season to season, but in any event, it’ll turn the largest skeptics into believers.

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They do brew a good-looking beer at RFA.

Another beer kept in the pipeline is the Fields of Rye Saison. This beer has remained pretty consistent in flavor from my first tasting at Santa Fe Brewing’s Oktoberfiesta about a year ago. It’s subtle changes come mostly in ABV, to be a bit more crushable in the summer, John said.

Rowley’s Germophile, a clean Berliner Weisse, has enjoyed great feedback from the local crowd. It’s a refreshing staple at the brewery with malted wheat and pilsner malt, soured with lactobacillus, and finished with a saison yeast.

Ab Initio is a Brett Berliner Weisse, which is one of Rowley’s favorites to play around with. From the dry-hopping to the fruiting, RFA is keeping the promise of changing and evolving beers to keep their tastes fresh and interesting to the crowd and to the staff.

Saison Du Sarlacc is a Citra-Mosaic hopped-up Brett Saison that’s worthy of several more Untappd check-ins itself.

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And there will only be more, soon.

But for Rowley, it’s what’s in the barrels that are ‘The Cat’s Ass.’

“If I could only brew this beer, I would. But we can’t,” John said. “You can’t just live off mixed-fermentation saison, and think that everyone’s going to want to drink it. We’ve got to keep the lights on.”

Rowley’s is not the place to go if you want the same old beer, every time. There are places for that.

“This isn’t cheers,” John said. “I’m not Norm. You come here when it’s time for something fun. Go to a place you can get something fun and new. That’s our philosophy.”

Blackest Friday

We hope they do this again next year.

At the time of the interview, RFA was hosting an event with nine heavy-hitting barrel-aged stouts — impressive, interesting, and some much harder to get a hold of than others, from the likes of Deschutes, Great Divide, Dogfish Head, Odell, Marble, La Cumbre, North Coast, Firestone Walker, and Oskar Blues. It was a must-attend event, and there were a ton of people who got that message.

“It’s the most I’ve seen in a long time,” John said of their first (and hopefully annual) Black-est Friday event. “There were people waiting here when we opened.”

Knowing Santa Fe’s beer scene, I count that as a huge win, and a good start. Rowley was reminded of the Postcards from Hell release at La Cumbre.

“There were a lot of people,” he recalled, “and there was a sell-out in 90 minutes. We’re not California, but we’re getting there. Congratulations to La Cumbre and Modern Times; they did a great job. Loved that beer, and it’s setting up something new here in New Mexico.”

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Jami Nordby was super for RFA earlier in 2017.

Before we started looking torward to the future of RFA, we had to address the present situation. Recently RFA lost their head brewer, Jami Nordby, who is heading off to start up a new brewery.

“Jami has been a fantastic brewer for me,” John said. “He’s a standalone guy, he can just work without any guidance. He’s been with us from the beginning, and he’s leaving at the end of (November). I’m sad to see him go, but at the same time, I really want him to be successful. I’ve known him for a really long time. He’s a good friend. He’s the guy that can run the business and not need any help or hand-holding. He can be the guy, and he will be the guy at his new place.”

Without too many early details, Jami will be opening up a place of his own with friend Rich Headley off of Highway 14. (Editor’s note: Franz Solo will have more on this soon. — S) There he’ll be doing what he does so well, brewing.

“Jami has always been a part of the beer community, and he always will be. It was blow to us, of course, but we have to move on. The beer must flow on,” John said.

Changes await in 2018

Starting off the new year, RFA is currently (casually) looking for a qualified, hard-working, friendly individual with a background in mixed-fermentation and sours. But, until then, John said he is confident that he and the very capable assistant brewer, Tyler King, will tow the line. As a reminder, King has been there from the start as well, and he, too, has been one of their hardest working, intelligent assets. And, they’ve got a good amount of inventory to keep the lines full for a while.

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Work to be done.

New hires aside, Rowley said 2018 will be another year of steady growth, filled with events, festivals, and finding more ways to get the brewery name out there. In 2018, RFA plans to represent New Mexico at the Midwest Belgian Beer Fest again, and it is already slated to be the featured beer at the Rare Beer Tasting X up in Denver, brewing a special beer for the Rare Beer Club. The staff has already been working on an unusual recipe for a smoked juniper Gotlandsdricka, akin to Jester King’s beer, of which Rowley said he found inspiration. They will aim to brew at least 200 cases of bottles for that particular event. It’s a very limited event, so buy your tickets … yesterday.

Speaking of bottles, RFA will continue its current bottling program, selling 750-ml bottles to select local shops and out of the brewery on a smaller scale for now, but that could change as it grows.

As far as expansion plans, it’s more about barrels than square feet. RFA plans to buy a couple of 30-barrel oak foeders.

“We’re going to treat them like a solera,” John said, “where we’re going to pull seven barrels out, put seven barrels in, because we have a 7-barrel brewhouse. We’ll have to brew a lot, at first, to fill them. Over time we’ll have a lot more beer that way, because we’ll have a golden sour base beer to work from, and we’ll have a mixed-fermentation saison to work from.”

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These kegs will be filled in 2018.

Rowley Farmhouse Ales isn’t going to shy away from any beer style in 2018. Rowley told me that he currently has an imperial stout in the tank that he plans to barrel age. And, the staff will also be brewing an award-winning barleywine recipe from homebrew club friends, Jim Steinbach and Kent Steinhaus, appropriately called Steinwine (at the moment). I would personally Google the name, depending on the size of their batch, just to be cease-and-desist safe. (Yeah, Tractor might have something to say about that. — S)

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Kaffeeklatsch: a social coming together over coffee.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the delicious-sounding collaboration RFA did with Iconic Coffee Roasters.

“A Kaffeeklatsch is a social ‘coming together’ over coffee,” John said. “We collaborated with our good friends Chase and Dylan over at Iconik Coffee Roasters for this beer, and we went down a lesser traveled, but super fun path. Most coffee beers are stouts or porters, but we went to the opposite end of the spectrum for this beer. We started with our Germophile base, and hopped it lightly to 5 IBU in the boil with German Hersbrucker hops. We then whirlpooled this beer with a healthy charge of Lake Toba Sumatra, and then co-fermented with a blend of B. Brux var Drei, L. Delbrueckii, and German ale yeast. After a long rest, we dry-hopped the beer with more Lake Toba Sumatra. ABV is a bit high for the style, but we figured since it is coming into winter, this would be a good bonus. Special thanks to Chase and Dylan for helping us brew this beer, and to Iconik Coffee Roasters for the fun collaboration!”

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From left: Sarah Ritchie, John Rowley (RFA), Jay Mead, Noel Garcia of 12 West Brewing Co. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Ritchie, Craft Beer Betty)

Another collaboration RFA just did was with 12 West Brewing Co. in Gilbert, Ariz., on December 6.

“Sarah Ritchie is kind of the force behind them,” John said. (Big shout out to our favorite Craft Beer Betty!) “They also have a really good sour guy, named Jay Mead down there.”

Rowley said they are looking at putting something into the coolship that 12 West just built, and sometime after Christmas they’ll be brewing something interesting with Wren House Brewing Co. in Phoenix. It seems that RFA is really bearing down on Arizona at the moment, but that’s where Rowley’s folks live, and where he spent his college days, so it just makes sense all around, and, rumor has it they plan to be sending some beer down to Arizona pretty soon.

Next year, Rowley said he does plan to get more beer out closer to home in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. More beer capacity at the brewery means more opportunities to do just that.

With three spare tanks, look for new beers to hit Untappd lists soon, such as a French almost witbier called Petit Blanche. RFA will also be bringing back its mixed-fermentation saison brewed with Earl Grey Frances tea, from Artful Tea, called Tea for Two. And, RFA will also go through its list of successful small batches and see what else the staff wants to put in the tank. The public will taste new beers, and get another chance at beers folks may have missed in 2017. It appears that 2018 is going to be funky, and fresh, or funky fresh, if you will.

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I always feel like a baller at RFA. I’m not, but it’s a good feeling nonetheless. This was a great end to a great day of interviews. Look for more soon from the Crew!

“If you’re in town, come and try our kick-ass beer,” John said. “Welcome! Our doors are always open, we’re open seven days a week. We always try to give a great experience. If we don’t, call us out, we’ll fix it. Because, that’s what it’s all about — growing, learning, and doing better. We’ve got great food, and we’ll always have some cool new beers for you to try.”

* * * * *

Growing from special small releases of their own beers, to keeping them regularly on the menu, Rowley Farmhouse Ales has become the kind of brewery the staff first envisioned when they were beneath their first rose banner. Of course, RFA is always growing in barrelage and in seating options, and the beers are constantly evolving, so it’s a brewery that you should never make up your mind about in one sitting. You’ll have to come back, again and again, before you decide who and what Rowley Farmhouse Ales is. If not just to see what new fun beers are on rotation, or what exciting dish Chef Kaplan has just added to the menu, or if you’re simply interested in which fruits they’ve added to Ab Initio, there are plenty of reasons to return.

There’s a saying in New Mexico. If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. Well, if there’s not a beer you like yet on the menu (seems impossible), give it a week. And, speaking of which, every Wednesday they tap something special. So, during the winter lull, it really falls on us, my fellow beer drinkers, to patronize these establishments that are working so hard to stay interesting, stay fun, stay fresh, and stay open. Today, we raise ’em up to better beer options for folks searching for something different in the City Different!

Cheers!

— Luke

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Post IPA Challenge Selfie.

Buy me a beer; I’ll buy you two. And subsequently, I’ll probably pay for our Uber. Approach beer-writers responsibly.

 

 

 

Steel Bender brought quality craft beer to a thirsty neighborhood.

The Village of Los Ranchos is my first home. I grew up biking along the ditches, enjoying the wildlife and the omnipresent old school vibes from the historic farming/ranching culture which pervades the area to this day. When Steel Bender opened their quite modern and cutting-edge brewery, it filled a niche that was certainly lacking in the valley. We had very few, if any options for procuring beer and good food without driving across town. Having something in our back yard has just been incredible. The past year has seen an amazing reception for the brewery from the local community and from commuters of 2nd Street, going from one side of the river to the other for work.

They were an excellent host for this year’s IPA Challenge (I thoroughly enjoyed biking down there for the event along the river and some of the old acequias of my youth), and also held the wonderful Balloons and Brews week on their patio during the Balloon Fiesta, which I’m sure will be even more of a success this coming year. As with any new venture, there are always unforeseen challenges that present themselves, and the ownership and staff of Steel Bender have had their share, rolling with the punches to where they are today — a pub with some tasty brews and good food options to boot, with ample indoor and outdoor spaces to imbibe in some of the finer things in life. I sat down briefly with the very busy Bob Haggerty, head brewer for Steel Bender, and this is what we discussed.

The patio is a popular hangout in warmer months.

Solo: So what were your successes, what were your challenges this past year, what are you looking forward to doing in this next year?

Bob: I would say the greatest challenge was keeping up with the unexpected rush of business that we have gotten from the beginning. We were a lot busier than we thought we would be straight from the start and that continues right on to the present. All of which has been great. So that’s kind of been the biggest success and the biggest challenge for us is just that we’ve had such a great response from the community. We’ve had a lot of fun pushing the envelope on some of the different beers that we’ve done, some of the different barrel-aged beers that we’ve done. I’ve got a brett beer on tap now which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve got some barrel beers coming out very shortly before the end of the year. I’ve got a La Cumbre collaboration coming out on, I believe, it’s the 22nd of December called Edith. That’s a barrel-aged kettle sour saison brewed with peaches and spiked with brett. So that should be a lot of fun.

Solo: And then you’ve got your four barrels for Christmas or something like that?

Bob: Four casks of Christmas. So I brewed an American stout, a little bit stronger, it comes in at about 8.5-percent ABV, and I flavored four different casks in four different ways. First one I melted down candy canes and used that as the priming sugar. I got some powdered peanut butter and I made a chocolate peanut butter stout, a peanut butter cup if you will. I did one where I steeped sweet orange peel and cocoa nibs in the priming sugar solution for a couple of hours and then I added that in to flavor a chocolate orange. And then, I did one with cinnamon, chiles, all sorts of other things went into that one so I’m calling that one the cinnamon spice.

It’s a bit festive at the bar, especially when the 4 Casks of Christmas roll out every Saturday this month.

Solo: I love when people do different kinds of stouts, especially during this holiday season and so forth, it is always fantastic.

Bob: Each one of those stouts is going to be served with a little complimentary cookie, so on each Saturday when you come in and get your pint of stout you will get a cookie that one of the guys in the kitchen is going to make. So that should be a lot of fun.

So in the new year we are going to be looking at more packaging, a little bit vague at the moment so no definitive dates at present. We are putting quality first, so we are going to make sure that we are good and ready before anything goes into a can. But, we’re planning on launching maybe three, maybe four different varieties in a can in this coming year. Keep your eye out. We are going to be doing lots of cool stuff, more barrel stuff. I’ve got my mixed culture room and that stuff will be ready to barrel probably mid-year, so look for that probably around Christmas of next year. I want to give that a few good months to really come around. But, we’ll have lots of mixed culture stuff and sours coming. Also, a lot more nitro stuff, getting some tanks in to do some more nitro stuff. Currently I do nitro keg by keg.

Those barrels are gonna be rolling out their contents in the new year.

Solo: That’s a bit of a bear for sure.

Bob: Yeah, so I’ve got some nitro tanks coming in for nitro. I’ve got some bigger tanks coming in within the next couple of weeks, so moving and shaking.

Solo: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bob: Well, just thanks to everybody for all of the support and thanks for coming in, drinking the beer. Just a shout out to everybody who has made us this successful, thank you and Merry Christmas!

* * * * *

Clearly, there is a lot to look forward to at Steel Bender, from sours to nitro to barrel-aged beer of various varieties, as well as canning and distribution, and more fun events throughout the coming year. Cheers to a successful 2017 Steel Bender, we cannot wait to see what your 2018 brings!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Drafty Kilt started to find its niche in its first full year of operation.

Editor’s note: Yes, we added another writer to the Brew Crew Bullpen. Please welcome Jerrad to the team. — S

As is the going tradition, and for my first contribution as part of the Dark Side Brew Crew, we continue the yearly Look Back/Look Ahead Series examining the hustling and bustling breweries across the Albuquerque metro area.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting what I would call a wonderful but slightly hidden brewing gem, Drafty Kilt Brewing Company. Don’t let the off-the-beaten track location fool you. To get there, take a quick westbound turn onto McLeod Road from San Mateo, and then a left on Hardware Drive will land you right out front of the well-branded building. The taproom is warm and inviting with its heavy use of wood and bold tones, lofted ceilings, some modern artistic touches, and an incredible drinkware and can collection that adorns just about every wall. All of this is the pride and joy of Mike Campbell, a veteran brewer and long-time man of influence in the Albuquerque beer scene.

After a tour of the taproom and brewhouse, we sat down and had a chance to start our discussion with how things have been going for the business in its first year. Drafty Kilt officially opened its doors last November and just celebrated its first anniversary. This anniversary certainly didn’t come without its fair share of hard work.

“The highlights, for one was St. Patrick’s Day, it was a busy, crazy fun day,” Mike said. “Each of the festivals this year, too, were great. You have to take every chance to get out there in front of people and be seen. There’s enough festivals where it can be a real burden to give away that much beer. At least I can make enough at one time, where’s it’s not so bad as dealing with it on (other breweries’) 2- or 3-barrel systems. That’s a lot of free beer to be giving away, but that’s just how it is, pay it out in the front and hope to collect it (when it) comes back.”

Brewer/owner Mike Campbell stayed plenty busy this year.

Making an observation from his standpoint as the brewer and owner over the past year, Mike shared the obstacles the brewery has faced and is still facing.

“One of the biggest hurdles, I guess, is that now there’s 30-plus breweries and taprooms and another 50 (locations) to get craft beer in town,” he said. “We’re sharing customers, but you know a lot of people like to drink close to their home, and if there’s a taproom they may stop there instead of here. Finding the place the first time can be difficult, but then once you’re here you realize you have four exits out, highway access, and returns back onto San Mateo.”

I asked Mike about his current and previous selections on tap and what fates they may hold in the near future.

“The beer names are probably going to stay the same,” Mike said. “The Groundskeeper Willie, our cream ale, is a real hit. It’s our biggest seller. We use the hot rocks in brewing that. It’s an old technique they would have to use in old wooden mash tuns; it’s definitely not the cream ale your dad drank. Another beer that jumps out is my IPA; it’s a more balanced beer. I’d never depredate some of the others that are, you know, 100 IBUs plus. It’s got every flavor you look for in an IPA, I just find it’s not as drying.”

The old brewhouse did its part this year, but more equipment is needed.

In terms of the future for the Drafty Kilt, Mike said he has his eyes set on upping his production capacity in terms of the cold side brewing materials.

“We just want to be able to produce more beer faster to help get kegs out to some more locations and restaurants and get some more handles out there,” he said. “Right now it’s just a logistics thing. I’m not looking to build an empire, I just want to sell fresh beer to Albuquerque and the surrounding areas … I’m looking to double production. Once we can buy some more tanks that will be entirely possible.”

They will also continue to host their weekly events — Geeks Who Drink on Tuesdays, Open Mic Night on Wednesdays, and the Blues Jam on Thursdays, all starting at 7 p.m.

“We are excited for several other things as well,” Mike said. “We have the Highland Games coming up, along with several other festivals. It’s always nice to be out in front of people.”

The name of the brewery will change in 2018, but the best-selling beers will remain the same.

The biggest change coming to Drafty Kilt in the new year will be the name of the brewery itself. The brewery received a cease-and-desist order from a brewery in Atlanta, which trademarked the name Drafty Kilt for one of its packaged beers. The Brew Crew offered its readers a chance to submit name suggestions, and coupled with those from friends, family, and patrons, Mike ended up with a list that was seven pages long. Mike said he has narrowed it down to a final page and an announcement will be forthcoming.

Hopefully year two will great the soon-to-be “Formerly Known as Draft Kilt Brewing Company” with some positive news. With the lessons and progress over the last year, Mike and his dedicated team are sure to be bringing even more awesome experiences to your glass.

Cheers!

— Jerrad

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Blue Corn’s dynamic duo of head brewer Paul Mallory, right, and new assistant brewer Andy Lane.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it’s Stout Season, and if you’ve been keeping up with us all these years, you know that also means it’s time for the Crew’s annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Not unlike Salvation Army Santas, it’s our busiest time of the year, as we scramble frantically to bring you the scoop on as many breweries as we can physically cover.

At the end of November, instead of boxing out old ladies at the Black Friday sales, I decided to side-step the shopping lines of Santa Fe’s Southside and slip into one of the city’s best local smile suppliers, Blue Corn Brewery.

My goal is simple, to catch up with the new brewing team, see how their year went, and see what they’ve got planned for 2018. Most of my articles for Blue Corn are about a new manager, or a new assistant brewer, a changing of the guard, if you will. I know the song by heart by now. Blue Corn’s been quite a revolving door since John Bullard was there, and probably even before him (If only someone had written a book detailing some of that. — S). But, I know, with fresh talent comes fresh ideas, and I wanted to get what’s flowing down the line into your glass.

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The copper icons are feeling a bit festive.

With a quick smile, I told the hostess I was meeting with the brewers, and that I was going to find a place at the bar. That statement means much more to me than it does to her, I realize. I greeted my tall copper friends, as if they’re glad to have me back in house, and took my usual spot at the bar, where I always wait a few minutes before I text the brewer to let him know I’ve arrived. Nothing says, “It’s show time,” like a taster tray of new Blue Corn seasonals.

After a few minutes head brewer Paul Mallory invited me back into the dining room. He and new assistant brewer Andy Lane were kind enough to let me interrupt their lunch. There were buffalo wings on the table, and for some reason, they made me think of Chama River. (R.I.P.)

2017 was a turbulent year for Blue Corn Brewery. Docked in the Capitol City, Blue Corn may have just missed the sudden tsunami that hit poor Chama River (also owned by Santa Fe Dining), but they endured their own share of rough waters and suffered a few men overboard themselves. Yet, Blue Corn Brewery proved, once again, that with a cool-headed captain, a solid crew, and keeping to the course, they are a sturdy ship that can weather the worst of storms.

Despite the difficulties, Blue Corn had plenty of highlights to mention

One of the big changes this year was getting Andy Lane (formerly of Santa Fe Brewing) in the brewery at the busiest time of the year.

“Andy’s been a kick-ass assistant, bringing lots of ideas to the table with beer and how to change the process,” Paul said.

Lane has been waiting for a chance like this. He cut his teeth as a beer sales rep for a craft beer distributor back in Texas, his home state, getting beer to the hard-to-penetrate niche markets as well as homebrewing in his spare time. With the dream of someday opening his own brewery, he took a risk and moved to New Mexico, starting at the bottom of the industry, packaging at Santa Fe Brewing. “I just want to learn everything I can,” I remember him saying back then. You might remember him from that one episode of Vice’s Beerland that made a brief stop in our state. After his 15 minutes of fame, Lane’s doing what he loves at Blue Corn.

“To have this opportunity is exactly what I wanted,” Lane said. “It’s a dream come true.”

After a brief period of adjustment, learning each other’s style and personalities, the chemistry is good. Though Lane is newer to the process, Mallory made sure to utilize his assistant’s unique sales experience.

“He definitely helps me choose the styles,” Paul said. “I could come up with beer ideas I want to brew, all day, but as for will they sell? That’s where I get Andy to weigh in.”

As for beer this year, Blue Corn focused a lot on doing collaborations with local suppliers, sourcing everything from malts and hops, to chocolate and whiskey barrels. Blue Corn, which has had a long-standing relationship with Santa Fe Spirits, put their Imperial Chocolate Porter in a Colkegan Whiskey Barrel to great success. They’d also done a really hoppy collaboration with Del Cielo Brewing Co. from Martinez, Calif., likely a connection Mallory made during his time brewing by the bay.

Mallory’s favorite beer in 2017 was an easy drinking Oktoberfest, which they were able to lager for a later release in the season. As it turned out, folks only complain when the Oktoberfest is released too early, if they complain at all. The beer showcased a malt sourced from nearby Proximity Malt’s Colorado location.

In ‘17, Blue Corn was not a bit shy with trying new things. One such beer was a Honey Ginger Braggot, which was one of Lane’s favorites to work on. He said,

“It was unusual, heavily drinkable, a perfect kind of crowd-pleaser,” Lane said.

It was their last collaboration with Chama River, as it turned out.

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Blue Corn Brewery has a solid core line-up, but it’s the constantly rotating beers that keep folks coming back again and again.

Speaking of which, it was not all smooth sailing for the Santa Fe Dining Fleet, with that one particular heavy-medaled flagship sinking into the history pages of Stoutmeister’s book. There was a change on the wind, says I, and for some, it blew harder than others.

Chama closed. Blue Corn lost their previous assistant brewer to a bout of school. Two delivery drivers walked the plank. Former Admiral of the Fleet, James Warren, left to join the pirates at Santa Fe Brewing. And Chef “D,” David Sundberg, moved on to make new waves as well.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover,” Mallory said, soberly. “And, I think we just do our best to keep this ship afloat. And, I think we’ve done a really good job with that. Hopefully no one up front noticed. We kept the beer flowing, and kept the beer tasting good.”

Gathering from the jubilant crowd that I had left back in the bar area, I would say they’ve done just that.

In 2018, the Blue Corn staff promised that their famous (Brew Crew Approved) beer dinners will continue. They aren’t sure what will happen as of yet with the uncertainty of the new chef hire, but a change in the guard has never set Blue Corn back before.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any expansion plans in the works. They said they definitely want more fermenters, and perhaps a grain silo. I can think of one that’s just sitting there off of I-25, probably still filled, floor-to-tip, with 2 Row.

I asked if there was any word on Chama River, but Mallory’s lips were shut tighter than a mermaid’s non-disclosure agreement.

As for beers in 2018, BCB may be planning to do a Smash Pale Ale, with Single Malt, And Seven Hops. That counts in my book. Blue Corn’s Russian Imperial Stout is currently in the tank, a beast of the abyss, just waiting to surface.

Something probably only Santa Feans know on the regular is that Blue Corn gets its hands on a barrel every now and then, and certainly fills it with something worth driving 40 minutes or taking the Rail Runner to try. The staff is looking at putting some of their Imperial Stout in the barrel and aging it a bit. Blue Corn isn’t rushing to barrel-age anything and everything at the moment. The staff is not looking to sour anything for the sake of souring, either.

“We’re going to try to keep it small, make sure we do it right,” Mallory said. “Because I think a lot of breweries, especially smaller breweries, run before they can walk. And, that’s not what we want to do. We want to keep them nice and clean. We want to do a few of them and do them right.”

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My current favorite beer at Blue Corn Brewery is their La Santa Oscura Black Lager. It was like a refreshing Mexican Hot Chocolate. They didn’t pull any punches on the spice, but it’s so easily drinkable it borders on dangerous. Delight yourself responsibly.

One of the very few they’ve been working on was a saison brewed last year, which should be ready any day now. (Farmhouse Funkalicious is now on tap. — S) They gave it a pinch of sour cherries and a dash of sour ale, to give it just a little bit of tartness, Mallory said. They did a little bit of blending and gave it a good amount of time on the brettanomyces.

I asked both Lane and Mallory what upcoming project most excites them for 2018.

Lane: “I think a little bit of everything. (Laughs) For me, getting to the point where I’m more involved with the recipe writing and stuff like that and actually creating beers. That’s what I’m excited for.”

Mallory: “I want to keep up the collaborations, build up on what we started last year. Then, one of our first beers will be a Mexican Lager. It usually calls for rice or corn to lighten up the body. We’re going to do locally sourced blue corn, to keep with the farm-to-table attitude of the restaurant. We also want to build on some of the relationships we’ve made in the past year with the chocolate and coffee makers. We look forward to getting the beer dinners up and running and tap into the local community with more events. And, people should expect to see us at more local beer events as well.”

Mallory’s parting words: “I think a lot of people have their mind made up about Blue Corn Brewery, because we’ve been around for 20 years. I think they should come by and check it out. If you’re a fan, or not a fan, I say come by and see what we’re working on. I guarantee, it’s different than last time.”

* * * * *

I say farewell to my friends for now. As soon as they were finished, they caught up to me at Rowley Farmhouse Ales to sample some of the darkest barrel-aged beers ever arrayed on tap in one location, a black hole of beers with a gravitational pull too strong for any of us to resist. This year for Thanksgiving, among family and friends, I was thankful for New Mexico’s beer scene and the strong community surrounding it. To you and your health, my friends, cheers!

— Luke

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If you see me at the bar, say, “Hey.” Let’s talk beer!

It never slowed down at Albuquerque’s oldest brewery in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Canteen because someone forgot to take new pictures, again)

It seems like only yesterday that the Crew sat down with Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. At least that is what he told us when we dropped by last week. If anything, it is the result of all the days blurring together as customers are keeping Zach and his brew team awfully busy throughout the year.

“It’s been a great year because we’ve just been busy,” Zach said. “You always want to be busy. We brewed a lot of beer this year, a lot of different varieties, so that keeps it exciting. I thought the year literally flew by. Here we are again already talking about World Beer Cup is back, the National IPA Challenge email is out, and you think to yourself, ‘Has it been a year?’ ”

Last year around this time, Zach spoke about returning to Canteen after a stint at Chama River, plus the opening of the taproom on Tramway, putting two of the house beers in cans, and winning a medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup. This time around, there were no moves of such a big nature to recap, but as Zach said, there was plenty keeping him busy.

“We’ve been doing well,” he said. “What have we been doing? … This summer, I really enjoyed exploring sours, kettle sours. We just recently began some brettanomyces projects, one of which is a Belgian that was fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and then re-fermented with passion fruit using the same yeast strain and then placed in Chardonnay barrels with brettanomyces. That was a fun project that we got started this fall. We’re looking at releasing that this spring. That will help connect 2017 to 2018.”

Of course, a brewery cannot live off kettle sours alone, not with so many hopheads in town.

“I really enjoyed brewing the Hop Baller and the Tuttle IPA,” Zach said. “Having two IPAs, one New England style, and the other Hop Baller is a continuous kind of project that changes. I just dry hopped this one as a test run for the National IPA Challenge, so this will probably be released in two weeks. It’s always exciting.”

Another version of Hop Baller will be debuting soon, now with the added twist of tangerine peel to give it an even more citrus-forward flavor and aroma.

Hopheads had many reasons to be pleased, often enough to even take the IPAs home.

Zach also found some time this year to adjust the recipe on one of the house beers.

“You don’t want to make major changes to core beers as people get used to something and like the way they are, but as a brewer you want to make it better,” he said. “When it comes to core beers, they aren’t typically changed, but for the Dark & Lusty, for that style in general I’m always searching for a nice full and chocolatey stout. I felt like even a year ago, even though there a lot of folks that like it, it wasn’t quite where I liked it. I worked with a lot of other brewers around town, picking their brains.

“That’s what’s great, Albuquerque has one of the best group of brewers just for sharing information and rooting for each other. With that in mind, picking other brewers’ brains for stouts, with brewers I respect like (Marble’s) Josh Trujillo and (Kellys’) Andrew Krosche. Guys like that have been a big help.”

As this writer can attest, the improvements are tangible. Fans of the other house beers should not worry about Zach doing too much tinkering beyond the D&L.

“I feel like our core beers are where they should be,” he said. “You don’t want to play with those too much. But that’s what’s nice about here at the Canteen, we’ve got 17 taps up at the taproom, we’ve got 12 here, (so) we’ve always got room to play. That’s where I can focus my creative energy.”

Business was still booming up on Tramway, too. (Photo courtesy of Canteen)

Things at the taproom on Tramway have been going well in its first full year of operation.

“The taproom is continuing to stay steady; it’s busy,” Zach said. “That part of town has needed something and I think that’s evident with some of the other breweries moving up to that part of town. People up there really want good beer and they don’t want to have to drive too far for it, either. Our location, it’s been a continuous process of making things better, adding music or trivia nights, giving people things to do and I think they’ve responded.

“Every time I get up there it’s been busy. It’s fun to see new faces. There are a lot of people that I hadn’t recognized when typically I recognize almost everyone that comes into the brewery down here. It’s fun to get that new group of beer drinkers checking us out.”

Those new beer drinkers, as well as all of us old ones, will also see a change to a popular annual December beer event.

“Solstice Blackout is going to be here (soon),” Zach said. “Our idea would be for this going forward to take Dark & Lusty, similar to what Hop Kwon Do was when we took Exodus and did five different types, we’re going to take our Dark & Lusty and make five different types. We’re going to get creative with that, probably do a barrel or so of each. In the past Hop Kwon Do and Solstice went on for a couple weeks, but we’re trying to turn those around a little quicker. We’ll take a batch of one beer and create five different things with it.”

Prior to that, Tuesday will mark the arrival of Pop’s Pre-Prohibition Lager, which celebrates the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The beer will be served in commemorative mason jars that customers can purchase and take home.

There will soon be a third canned offering joining Exodus and Dougie Style. (Photo courtesy of Canteen)

Speaking of beers on the lighter side, one of the more popular ones, Laid Back Lager, is about to move to the next level.

“(We are) canning our Laid Back Lager,” Zach said. “We’re offering it next to (Exodus) IPA and the (Dougie Style) Amber. The Laid Back Lager just offers that third kind of balance and choices for people who want to bring beer home in a can. I know I want to, I love taking cans camping or anywhere, really.”

The first canning run on will be on December 18, so look for it in stores soon afterward.

Keeping it simple but fun is the theme for 2018

Things may look different out on the patio in 2018, but in a good way. (Photo courtesy of Canteen)

Zach said there are no major plans on deck at the moment for capital projects, though that does not mean it will be same old, same old at the brewery.

“Right now we’re not looking at expanding our taproom, we’re looking more at expanding our current space (here),” he said. “Specifically here we’re looking at rezoning our patio and including some games like cornhole and other activities people enjoy. You see it as beer drinkers and as brewers visiting other breweries, people want things to do. We’d like to try to continue to try to create a space that people want to hang out at and giving them some more space and things to do, it’s on the agenda. That’s about it, I think.”

The majority of Zach’s focus will be on the beers, of course, and he has some plans already for the coming year.

“I’m always trying to dream up new beers,” he said. “I really want to go back over 2017 and focus on some of the beers that were well received. With the kettle sour, the Social Capital, it would be nice to continue play around with that, but I also want to offer maybe three or four of the better sellers, the ones that people enjoy. They’re always tricky. We had a Thai Social Capital that you want to be able to offer because you want to show you can go a little crazy out there, but you also don’t want it to be on tap forever. There are always people that like it, and there are always people that won’t. You try to find some of the ones that were well received.”

One example of resurrecting a popular edition of Social Capital was the batch brewed with dark sweet cherries and aged on French oak. That originally came out in December 2016 and it should return December 15 of this year. Zach said this batch was aged longer to bring out more of the oak characteristics.

As fun as the Social Capital varieties can be, at heart Zach remains a big fan of a certain style.

“For next year, though, I’d like to continue to focus on lagers,” he said. “I love brewing lagers. I want to go beyond the lagers that we’ve created recently, like the Cabana Lager, Laid Back, and High Plains, and the other lagers we’ve created have been within style guidelines of particular styles. It would be fun to try and start creating some lagers that may not fit into the style guidelines.”

No medals came home from GABF this time around, but Canteen will have plenty of competitions to enter in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Canteen)

Yes, he already has one of these new hybrid lagers in the works.

“I’m looking at an amber lager,” Zach said. “It should be 6.5-to-7 percent. It’s going to have your caramel malt additions (to create) a nice red hint, and I’m going to add a little chocolate malt, too, so it’s going to be a hybrid kind of cross between a brown and an amber on a lager yeast strain with a hop bill that is American IPA (style) — Cascade, Centennial, and some Columbus. Where do you put that?

“I’d like to make beers that maybe you don’t have to put them anywhere. They’re just big, malty; with a lager yeast you’re not going to have that sweetness in the finish like you get from an estery ale yeast with an amber. So I’m looking forward to having that sweet caramel character, but finish dry so it’s crisp, kind of a winter warmer. It’s going to be called Buffo Mundo.”

We dubbed the Canteen brew staff as mad scientists many years ago, so it is good to see that same willingness to experiment and have fun is still present.

A big thanks to Zach for taking the time out of his busy day to chat, and for the pints of Dark Crystal Warrior Black IPA, too.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

It has been a busy year for Boxing Bear brewer/owner Justin Hamilton and his staff.

Franz Solo here, continuing our annual series of looking back and looking ahead for our breweries all around the Duke City. I was able to sit down with brewer/owner Justin Hamilton over at Boxing Bear Brewing on a fine Monday afternoon and what follows is an account of a strong and busy year of the Bear.

Solo: So, here we are Look Back/Look Ahead once more, so successes and other things, obviously having two years in a row of hitting that New Mexico IPA Challenge was pretty awesome.

Justin: Yeah, that was really good for us. It was cool to get another one of those under our belt and continue that tradition of breweries being able to stagger their wins year after year with Il Vicino, Bosque, and us. So that was really cool, especially with the increased competition. We’ve never had closer IPA Challenges than we had these last two years, so it was cool to keep that progression going even with so much more people involved and such heated competition. It was really awesome for us to keep that going, especially for the same beer. That was really awesome for us, and then continuing to get into this last GABF, and taking a win with a bronze medal for Featherweight (Session IPA), that was awesome for us. We couldn’t have asked for more, especially with so much more competition.

Solo: How many people were in that category?

Justin: Like 130 or something, but as far as one of the biggest as far as the the medals we won collectively in New Mexico, that was one of the biggest categories entered for a win. So we were super excited. We had a really good year across the board. We’ve been busier, trying to keep this place going and we got more equipment in earlier this year. Our production has finally been able to catch up just the last couple of months. We’ve actually been able to keep specials (on tap longer).

The taps were flowing this year, and the specialty bomber releases were big hits.

Solo: Keeping up with your 16 available taps?

Justin: This is probably the only time we’ve had consistently 16 beers on tap for more than a few weeks at at time. We would have a full board and then we would run out of a special and come back and run out of another special. We’d be down to around 12 to 14 beers on a regular basis. So now it is nice (that) we have the 16 beers on tap at least for now. We will see how things go next year. That’s been a really good thing for us to keep that variety. People always want something different and something new, so it’s been nice to kind of have (a) full winter beer (lineup) on around this time and keeping them on for more than a week or two. It’s been nice for us, and also for our customers who can come back and enjoy the same thing they had (before), as opposed to that stuff just going poof and disappearing. Other than that, we’ve just been trying to keep things moving. It’s been a really busy year up front and in back getting new equipment. We are getting into our third year of brewing.

Solo: Which equipment did you add?

Justin: This year we added two more fermenters and two more brite tanks, so that’s been a pretty big thing for us to help with that gap in production. So now we’ve been able to keep up with doing more double batches of specials and that’s why they’ve been lasting a little longer. Getting into next year our big thing is finding a taproom. We are really trying to find a taproom right now. It’s up and down with progress and where we find potential places. We are trying to solidify something right now, so hopefully getting in next year we will have a better idea of where we are going to be. Our goal is to hopefully have something done by the end of next year. It’s ambitious, but I think it can be done if we find the right place.

It’s getting crowded back in the brewery.

Solo: With everything you guys have done, you take your time, you make sure you are doing it right.

Justin: That’s it, we want to make sure we have a good location that’s got parking, that’s potentially got a patio or a deck, and all of that stuff is like a big part of making sure we continue not only our portfolio of beer but also having a cool place. I mean, we could just set up a draft system in a shed somewhere, but that’s not our style. We want to make sure it’s a solid location. But, with that we also want to start doing improvements on this place. That’s always been something on our minds. Those are things that we are continuing to do. As you saw this last year, we got more TVs, getting an actual sound system indoor and outdoor, getting patio covering, better outdoor lighting. All of that stuff, (such as) continuing to take care of our patio furniture, we will probably get new patio furniture and continue to get new stuff indoors. All of our money gets reinvested. Our profits over the past three years have gone right back into our business. That’s another one of our goals for next year is we would like to start to make a little bit of a profit on what we are doing, as opposed to simply having to re-invest our capital solely back into the business. It’s a cycle where we do well, but then we buy 50k worth of equipment and so that’s good, but we want to keep things improving and also to look for new locations and things like that. Our big goals are looking towards just what we’ve done the last few years where we have a lot of good competitions coming up.

Solo: National IPA Challenge for one.

Justin: Yeah, National IPA Challenge is going to be in February and March. Shortly after that we’ve got the World Beer Cup, and just after that we’ve got IPA Challenge locally again, and then back to GABF, so we’re going to have our hands full next year where every couple of months we’ve got a big thing going on. We still have December left this year and we are trying to do a couple of big events in December, including a bottle release where we’ve got a bourbon-barrel-aged stout that’s our collaboration that we’ve been trying to put together with Jubilation. They actually provided us (a) Buffalo Trace barrel, so that’s been aging for over a year in that barrel, and then we’re going to blend it and bottle it hopefully next week is the plan. So in the next two weeks we will have that and hopefully available some very limited run of bombers, some here, some at Jubilation, but that will be it. We might have a little bit of it on tap, but that will be a really big release.

We are also trying to plan a Festivus party for the 23rd, which just happens to be a Saturday, so we have a beer planned for that. We are working on getting an actual event going that day. So we’re trying to do a couple of fun things in December maybe even another one that we’re trying to put together, but we are trying to end the year with a bang and get ready for January, in which hopefully we might see another special bomber release. We are trying to plan that guy, too. Last year we thought we might put out bombers every month and try to push specialty beers, (but) with our current schedule it’s too much to be able to bottle that many beers that frequently. So we are definitely going to keep up with Chocolate Milk Stout in bombers, and then you will see specialty bomber releases when we have time or if we have something special.

TKO was one of the new beers to earn a bomber release this year.

Solo: So if you’ve got another Black and Blue or Red Glove and such.

Justin: We are talking about if we could get a batch of session IPA and if people were willing to buy that in a bomber, (but) we’re not really sure, I think so myself. Either way, we will have more of that kind of thing coming out on draft.

Solo: I mean you’ve got Founders with All Day IPA in 19.2-ounce cans, so there’s definitely a market for it.

Justin: I love that beer (Featherweight). I’ll drink it in a bomber all day, plus it’s something that you can actually finish a whole bomber of but not be overly inebriated. Some of those big beers like even the heavy barrel-aged ones are great, but …

Solo: It’s better to share, really.

Justin: It is hard to drink a whole 22 ounces of something that’s that rich. Those ones are something that’s meant to be shared. I think a session beer would be something you could enjoy the whole bomber by yourself and it would be great. That’s all stuff that we are trying to work on other than building improvements, potentially (a) taproom, and we really want to solidify our identity more and the culture of who we are. I think we’ve been doing that the past three years, but it seems to never stop the need for that.

Things have been buzzing around the taproom.

Solo: No, it doesn’t. I mean, you start creating an image of yourself and a vision for yourself, and no, you can never stop fighting for that because it will fade far too quickly.

Justin: I mean, Marble’s one of the most established breweries in our state other than Santa Fe and a couple of others, but they never stop marketing. They never stop showing their image and progressing it, and I think that’s something to look forward to creating ourselves. That’s another reason we want keep reinvesting in our brewery. We don’t want to lose our focus and our vision for what this place should be, and it is constant, there is always something. When you open and run a business, you think, oh yeah, that will work here and this will work there just fine, but no, it is constant improvement, so everything changes every few months and that is the hardest part about running any business, especially a brewery. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but I think we are on the track that we need to be on, but we kind of have to play our cards right over the next years and make sure that we are sticking to our plan and also not getting too comfortable. I think if we had the mindset of, hey we did well at GABF this last year, we got (mid-size brewpub) of the year, we’ve been doing good with local and national competitions and all of that stuff, we’ve found our place, (but) I don’t like that idea. I want to continue to strive for excellence so our QC and QA is constantly being revamped, and hopefully from the brewery to the front of house and getting into the kitchen, so that all of this continues to stay relevant and we keep that from becoming stale.

With the kitchen, that’s something we continue to make improvements back there. We are putting out different specials every now and then. We have our core set of sandwiches, which is how we started, but we grow that stuff. We’ve added wraps, we’re adding a really nice charcuterie plate, we’ve been doing tacos and some stuff like that, so we’ve been able to give our customers a little more variety. Myself and John (Campi), the general manager here, are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. The carnitas tacos was just something where we had most of the ingredients here and it was just this idea of we’ve got our pulled pork, why don’t we take that put a little red chile, put it in the oven bake it, and that turned out great. It’s been nice for me having that separation where now I have that general manager so I don’t have to do that position. I can pay attention to what is going on in the brewery portion rather than having to also run the kitchen and all of that other stuff. I almost had time for all of that, but now there’s just no way I could properly attend to both aspects of the brewpub.

Our staff has been changing and we’ve tried to get that more solidified with not only our hiring process, but also our ability to retain our good employees and make this place really function well. Being that we serve a little bit of food, one of the things that we decided to do was table service. Looking back, I don’t know if we would do that again. It’s really hard to keep up with and with a lot of the breweries that we visited recently in Denver, but locally even if they have food they don’t necessarily do table service. It can really be confusing sometimes to especially new customers, especially if it is really busy and we’ve got so much real estate here. People will just show up and sit down and unfortunately sometimes they sit in a spot where you don’t see them and it’s busy and we miss their table and then we get a bad review. So those are all things we are trying to work on. We want to make sure our staff is watching people come in and make sure on busy nights that they are checking the whole place.

Awards season was good to Boxing Bear again in 2017.

Solo: Employee awareness of customers in any good business is paramount to have great success.

Justin: It’s hard since we’ve got corners inside here and outside, so there’s a lot of places where if you are not actively looking for someone, they could easily walk in this side door and sit down and wait and not get service right away. So that’s something that we are really trying to address for us and we are constantly evaluating that, trying to ensure that we have enough people on staff while also have the right people on staff at the right times. It’s all stuff that we have been learning. I knew a lot of this stuff coming into the business, but once you are in charge of it that’s when it changes, when you have to make sure that you are balancing employee coverage with labor costs and all of the rest of that. I’d love to have 20 people on at any given time and each of them just has one table, but that’s simply not something feasible nor affordable in the long run, since none of those employees would make anything from tips with that much staff. It’s just that balance, that’s what we are striving for and working out those little kinks just as every brewery does even five or seven years into it. Being that we are just past three years we are doing well. We are staying on track for what we want to do, but that being said, there’s still plenty of improvement and adjustments to make in lots of areas.

So that’s what we are trying to address and not only that, but like I said, expose ourselves to more people in the city. (We will) hopefully getting some place on the other side of town as far as a taproom will do, and then getting that extra exposure. Because we see that a lot, we see a lot of people that haven’t really heard of us in spite of some of our good successes. It’s exposure. People don’t want to cross the river, I get that (too). I used to live on the other side of town. It’s not easy to do the commutes in this city, especially if you are going and having a couple of beers. It’s not going to make it your priority if you’re going to come out here just to grab a bomber and a growler or something and go back to the other side of town. That doesn’t make that much sense, especially when there’s so much good beer in town. You’ve got Bosque and Marble and La Cumbre out there with plenty of taprooms and other choices, so I get it. If we can help the customer have a little ease of convenience to getting to our products, then I think that’s just going to help us across the board with exposure and everything else. It’s all trying to play the hand that you’ve been dealt and hopefully making the right call, because every year this industry changes. It is more competitive, and also very different every year with what’s going to be on the docket this year. Who knows? Who knows what style, what trends, and what people are looking for as just the taproom?

Seeing some place like Chama River go down scared the shit out of everyone. We all kind of knew what was going on in that place, but we also saw it as a standard that was never going anywhere. And so to see something like that change, I think it kind of shifted the environment for breweries that you are not bulletproof in this society. People have always said that breweries are recession proof, but if you are looking at what is happening now you are seeing a lot of instances where breweries fall off that are just making good beer, and Chama was making great beer! It’s not always just the product, it’s the politics.

Solo: It’s the ability to stay relevant.

Justin: So that’s what we keep looking to is how do we continue to grow this business into something that will actually last a decade or more. These are all things that are constantly on our minds. We are continually meeting and discussing these issues — direction, money, and experience, for not only the customer, but also the brewery scene itself.

Bearfest moved to the ABQ Convention Center for 2017, but it could have a new venue in 2018.

Solo: So Bearfest is another one that you changed up this year.

Justin: Bearfest has been a changing thing as well, being that it grew so much the last couple years. We’re not really sure what we are going to do with that this year. We might be looking at a different venue this time or just changing the whole festival, but Bearfest has been kind of crazy. It’s been really fun the past three years and I don’t know what we are doing for this next year. We’ve been talking about it and throwing ideas around, but it comes down to our ability to find a good location that can host a lot of people that’s just going to be excellent. The convention center worked well, (even though) the spot we had wasn’t the best. There are better locations in the convention center that were already booked, so we are looking at maybe changing that venue at the convention center, or just looking at other places to go. In the future I could see us continuing that, hopefully in some place that will hold enough people and will …

Solo: Allow you to do what you want to do?

Justin: Yeah, and also we will have to evaluate how many breweries we (invite), because I think last year we had so many breweries that some people kind of didn’t get as much attention as they should have, because there was so much going on. So it’s either attendance has to go up or the quantity of breweries will need to shrink down a little bit. Either way, we are good with it as long as we can make sure that the experience is worth going to every year. I can’t think of too much else that’s on the docket for this coming year other than what we’ve covered.

Solo: So continuing to make specialty beers and or bombers as you have the chance.

Justin: You’ll see us do that. We are always looking to make different kinds of beers, and I’m also trying to work with scheduling on having new equipment and having 20-barrel specials instead of 10-barrel specials. (Plus) the timing on all of that as well, trying to make sure we have fresh beer and different varieties for different seasons. That will be something that I am personally working on. But, other than that, I think everything is going to be pretty much rolling into 2018 with the same attitude, just trying to really keep ourselves relevant and making good beer, trying to keep up. Especially if we open a taproom, the keeping up is going to be a bit of a bear.

Solo: That’ll be a whole can of worms on its own.

Justin: And with that, if we do get a taproom going, we will probably need more equipment, so it’s going to be this whole cycle.

Solo: That vicious cycle of hey, we need more stuff so we have to get more stuff to make more stuff.

Justin: And, buy more ingredients to make more beer, so a lot of times you need so much more (than just) money just to get involved in something that will hopefully, maybe, make you a little money. So that’s what we’re looking towards, and hopefully with 2018 we will continue to do well and just make good beer.

* * * * *

There are good things to look forward to, with the hope for a taproom on the eastern side of town, a delightful sounding barrel-aged collaboration stout with Jubilation which will be forthcoming, the Festivus party, and perhaps more in December, plus more various bombers to enjoy as the year progresses, the continuation of Bearfest, and another grand festival season looming. A strong year has come and gone for Boxing Bear, with Featherweight Session IPA claiming bronze at GABF (it was quite quite tasty), Bear Knuckle IPA repeating as the NM IPA Challenge champion, and TKO Triple IPA, which was a delicious third anniversary bomber release, among a plethora of delicious seasonal and specialty beers which took us through one helluva difficult year. On a personal note, I was simply amazed and pleased to be able to enjoy a pint of Vantablack after biking to the brewery on my 35th birthday. I could not have asked for a better seasonal even if it was the very end of May! All the best for the year ahead and Boxing Bear Brewing!

Skål!

— Franz

The beers were flowing and business was busy again at Tractor in 2017.

Change is the one constant at our local breweries, even the long-established ones like Tractor Brewing. A frenetic 2017 is nearly in the books, so I sat down with co-owner/president Skye Devore, co-owner/brewmaster David Hargis, and marketing director Jeremy Kinter last Thursday to try to sum it all up and preview what is on deck for 2018.

“I always have a hard time remembering,” Skye said. “I’m like what did we do this year, I always feel like we didn’t do anything, but we did a lot.

“We opened a (new) taproom. We went into distribution in El Paso. We did some seasonal cans, that was new and exciting, and transitioned everything to 16-ounce cans except for (Mustachio) Milk Stout. I think that’s all.”

Jeremy added that the recent Stranger Things Arcade Carnival was the single largest event, in terms of attendance and sheer scope, in the history of the Wells Park location.

Yes, this photo of the Stranger Things Arcade Carnival is a little blurry, but someone was a few beers deep when he took it in the jam-packed Wells Park taproom.

Most of the headlines this year were about the new Four Hills taproom, which proved to be a relatively easy project for the brewery staff.

“We’re pretty fortunate that we didn’t have any big construction delays at Four Hills,” Skye said. “It was pretty quick. We signed the lease in April and opened in August.”

The locals in the area, many of whom had never tried Tractor before, quickly embraced the taproom.

“It seems to me it’s also been the fastest adoption by a neighborhood,” David said. “The neighborhood was very welcome to us right off the bat. We saw our distinguished guests coming in from the first day.”

Since David was largely responsible for the buildout, he was quite glad to avoid any major stress with the project.

“Given all the new taprooms that are opening, it’s kind of cool that that level of stress was a little bit relieved.”

The new Four Hills taproom remains a popular spot since opening in August.

Skye said the traffic has not slowed down since August, which has been a pleasant surprise.

“They’re going really good,” she said. “Going into winter you’re always nervous opening something. We really weren’t sure of the audience we were going to capture up there. We’re really surprised that it’s an older audience than we get at our other locations. We have a lovely group of retired ladies who come in after Sunday chatter and drink 6-ounce beers and eat sandwiches.

“Early on, we got some interesting reviews from folks about our choice of music was something their 18-year-old daughter would listen to. So we’ve had to adjust part of our style to their style in some ways, but there’s also a younger crowd that comes in, too, that lives around the area. It’s definitely the most diverse population, but I feel like we’ve been able to have and I feel that’s good for us as a brand.”

Most of the construction in Nob Hill is now complete, much to Tractor’s relief.

As for the other off-site taproom, Nob Hill has managed to weather the storm of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction that tore up Central for much of the year.

“It was supposed to be done with construction before Shop and Stroll in Nob Hill (on December 7), and then have it full up and running February,” Skye said. “That’s kind of a big deal for us. Having all that construction in Nob Hill, having that landscape of the neighborhood change so much with things closing down has been very interesting for us.”

Dealing with A.R.T. also brought the businesses in Nob Hill together like never before.

“We did the Superhero Pub Crawl and everyone jumped on board immediately — Bosque, Kaktus, (Zinc) Cellar, Nob Hill Bar & Grill — it was super awesome,” Jeremy said.

Skye said the need for unity will continue going forward.

“Businesses are pulling together a lot more because everyone is like how do we tell the story that A.R.T. is over and Nob Hill is still fun, so you should come to Nob Hill,” she said. “It has been kind of cool because when we first opened there we wanted to be the neighborhood bar and we feel like we lost some of that whenever things got super busy, whenever Nob Hill turned into a bar district. It’s gone back that way. Of course, that doesn’t always feel that great in your pocketbook, but as far as the vibe of regulars and people you see all the time, stuff like that, it’s been positive for that.”

Tractor also has a new landlord at the Nob Hill location, who has already talked of helping out his tenant “do some expansion of our footprint,” Skye said, in addition to putting a new bakery and cafe into the old bike shop space next door. What that expansion will look like is to be determined, but it could involve adding more bathrooms (rejoice!).

Another popular event not mentioned was Hops for Harvey, a benefit for Houston-area breweries affected by the hurricane.

Down at the main brewery at Wells Park, there have been plenty of popular events, from as big as the Arcade Carnival to many smaller ones. Change, though, is afoot there as well. The rising popularity of neighboring breweries has actually been more of a positive than a drain on business.

“Something new opens around you and you’re like what’s going to happen, but it’s been pretty constant,” Skye said. “I definitely feel like we’ve seen an uptick since we started doing our own food in-house, which we were definitely pretty nervous about.”

Ah, yes, the other big change saw Tractor open a small kitchen in what used to be the merchandise room located off the main taproom area at Wells Park. As the Crew noted recently, the decreasing number of reliable food trucks has forced some changes at breweries and taprooms around town.

“I think it’s been great,” Skye said. “It’s allowed us to consolidate what we feel are the easiest to work with who offer us food all over to the Nob Hill location. A lot of them shut down in the winter, so it’s been easier to deal with and manage. Dealing with that many trucks’ schedules across two locations was taking too much of Jeremy’s time.”

Jeremy, looking a bit more relaxed than he has in recent months, agreed.

“It’s significantly reduced time spent on my end just literally calling food trucks for an hour or two,” he said. “I feel like we’ve moved our best and brightest (to Nob Hill only) and I’m really happy in December with our food truck schedule, in the variety we have to offer and the following that those food trucks have. Soo Bak, Cheesy Street, Route 66 Grill, all really top-notch food trucks.”

Tractor transitioned to 16-ounce cans for most of its styles in 2017.

Beyond all the taprooms and kitchens and events and such, Tractor also saw some changes to its beer landscape in 2017. From new 16-ounce cans to new styles, it was a diverse year, with special limited canning runs replacing the 22-ounce bombers of the past. Only Mustachio Milk Stout remains in 12-ounce cans, though that will transition over in 2018.

“We put New Mexican Lager in a can this year, it’s a full-time can offering,” Skye said of what has become one of the brewery’s most popular styles. “Seasonally we’ve done Honey Wheat, Big Sipper, (Golden) Dry Cider, and now Turkey Drool coming out, so we’ve done limited runs of all those. We put out our first barrel-aged sour this year (Flanders Red).”

David said he plans to close out the year in style with a couple more big releases.

“We will have our second sour release, it just needs to be kegged,” he said. “These will be three-year-old, barrel-aged sours. I thought the Flanders was very approachable. It still had a level of malt blended with the sourness. The next batch is going to be advanced in its palate requirements.”

The number of barrels tucked away in the back continues to increase.

“We’re continuing to expand the sour program, so that’s a lot of fun for us,” David said. “Coming out this year, a different change, the Luna fans may be a little disappointed, but the barrel-aged is going to be the Luna de los Muertos, but with chocolate and milk. Barrel aged in bourbon barrels for 13 months. It comes out December 8.”

If anyone wants to know where the Crew will be that day, well, your question has been answered.

This year also saw an explosion in the popularity of cider. In addition to winning multiple local and national awards with the main Delicious Red Hard Apple Cider, Tractor added Berry Cider year round and also produced a slew of seasonal ciders that were big hits.

“We can make a batch of a seasonal cider and be out of it in like two to three weeks,” Skye said, with Jeremy adding that two of the biggest hits all year were the Thai Basil Mint Cider and the Blood Orange Cider.

Tractor also picked up some awards for its beers over the course of the year, with longtime Crew favorite Double Plow Oatmeal Stout winning a gold medal at the Los Angeles Beer Competition. There should also be two more local awards to add to the list before the end of the year.

“And then, it hasn’t been officially announced, but we assume we won Best Stout and Best Cider for Best of the City in ABQ the Mag, because they came and took pictures,” Jeremy said. “They said you finished top five in each of these categories, but we want to take pictures of the cider and (milk) stout.”

Overall, it was a solid year on the Beer Farm.

Another new taproom among the many projects on deck for 2018

Another taproom is on the way in 2018, though it won’t look exactly like the Four Hills location.

For a good chunk of the year, the Crew was asked to keep quiet after we learned from a couple of our readers that Tractor was planning on opening a taproom on the West Side near McMahon and Unser. It was mainly due to the fact that nothing had even been built yet. Well, things are finally moving ahead to the point where the command staff is willing to talk about it.

“We finally started moving dirt on our Westside taproom,” Skye said. “That’s finally in the works enough we can maybe talk about it, hope we don’t jinx it.”

The new location will be the first where Tractor does not have to re-purpose an existing building, as it did in Nob Hill (a former yoga studio), Wells Park (a furniture factory showroom), and Four Hills (a pizza restaurant).

“It will be our first new construction space ever,” David said. “This will not be a remodel. We’ll be handed a clean canvas. A lot of our budget every time goes to solving an issue because the space doesn’t fit us. Now it’s going to be designed for us. We can go in there and start cleaning. I’m looking forward to that.”

David said they expect to get their keys to the space in February, after which it should take about 60 days to build it all out. He also added that Skye will probably want him to get it done in 30 days.

“We’ll have a little race,” she said. “When I file for the permit, can I get the alcohol permit before you get the construction done.”

Tractor has been seeking a location west of the Rio Grande for three years, David said. They have been waiting on that spot for about 18 months.

“We’ve been looking at potential spots (for longer), figuring how is it zoned, how is the exposure, how many square feet do you want,” Skye said. “All the things that go into it. I’m fairly content this will be our last Albuquerque taproom. … I don’t see us having a geographic need for something else in the city limits.”

Tractor also has a wine growers license, so technically it could still open another three off-site taprooms outside the city limits. That is something to file away for the future, but there is another big move coming to Wells Park.

“So, we’re getting our distillers license hopefully the first quarter of next year, so that’s exciting,” Skye said. “It’ll be here (at Wells Park), we’ll distill here, but then that gives us three distillers taprooms. We haven’t decided if we’ll put them with three of our current taprooms, probably not one in Nob Hill because they won’t let us sell package.”

David and the brew team will be in charge of that as well.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun to see what the customers expect from that, what we want to do. We don’t have some grand plan, it just makes sense us for to have a license because we do 60 percent of what a distiller does, so why not take advantage of the process we already have in place.”

Skye said she was excited to finally mark it off her to-do list, where it has sat since 2014, but was always placed on the back burner due to more pressing matters coming first. As to what exactly Tractor will end up distilling, that remains to be seen.

“Distilling, we can distill anything,” David said. “We can distill wine. Then blend those things. It’s going to be a whole new frontier. We’re excited about that.”

As for the rest of the brew team, they will remain a busy group.

“In the brewery, (head brewer) Josh (Campbell) is doing a whole lot more on his shoulders,” David said. “It’s preparing for me to be in more of a position to do construction and move the company forward in our current environment with all of our competitors, spend more time kicking ideas around with Skye.”

David said another brewer on staff has also stepped up.

“Peter (Moore), who joined us last year, is pretty talented, so we’re going to hand him some recipe formulation stuff, along with Josh,” he added. “Those guys are doing a great job.”

More barrel-aged beers are a good thing.

There will be plenty of new beers coming out in 2018, plus one popular series of beers that will continue.

“I hate to talk about stuff until it’s had a successful fermentation,” David said. “We’re doing our first pecan beer. That’s in the fermenter. We’re going to do our first winter spiced cider. That comes out very soon.

“What else have we got? We’ve got the whole Three-Two series, inspired by Skye. What’s cool about that is we’re pretty deep on session beers these days. She took it to the next level. The cool twist that she put on that, because my opposition was always the price, so we’re going to make those always available at $3.25. We’re going to have a few of those on.”

Skye said there are plans to do a lower alcohol version of Turkey Drool (7.2% ABV) that would be sold in cans outside the Albuquerque market, though David noted those are not set in stone and Josh would have the final approval as TD is his recipe (and a Crew favorite).

There will be specialty can releases throughout the year again in 2018 for all markets.

“Things that we have going in cans next year for sure that are seasonal, beyond whatever we just decide we want to do (in the moment),” Skye said, “so this spring we’re going to do Thai Mint Basil Cider. Then for IPA Challenge we’re going to do Ghost Ranch IPA. For fall we’ll do a Pumpkin Spice Cider and then Turkey Drool again.”

David noted that with the constant change and evolution in the hops themselves, there could be more changes to beer recipes in 2018, even some of the lineup staples.

“The hops seem to be changing quite a bit these days,” he said. “We’re going to be playing around with some different recipes of a flagship beer that may evolve a little bit because we’ve noticed the hops are going left and we’re going right. There may be some things changing around with some beers.

“Hops have been the interesting stress of David Hargis’ life for 2017. A lot of things are going right, but those are a big challenge. Keeping the right amount, what is the expectation going forward.”

There won’t be any events this metal in 2018, at least not that we know of yet.

As for the events that are the lifeblood of Wells Park, expect plenty of popular ones to continue like Drag Queen Bingo, plus new and innovative events debuting as well.

“We’ve been trying out some new events,” Jeremy said. “I want to do some different things. It seems like everything we do anyways gets imitated. I’m just kidding. I just want to do some different things you don’t see at breweries.

“This year we did some live karaoke, molding that into something different. Also, maybe hopefully getting some arcade games in here full time. And then, working at just at different nights. We’re going to have a Lego night, a Lego building contest. We’re looking at working with other businesses.”

Jeremy is already deep into planning out all the events Tractor will host for ABQ Beer Week in May.

“Looking ahead to Beer Week, I feel like we had a successful Beer Week (in 2017),” he said. “We’d like to continue working with partners. We worked with Rowley Farmhouse Ales for sour hour. That was a really big hit.”

Tractor will even shake up the type of live music it hosts.

“Also, not just doing music by itself, because every place has music and has the same solo acoustic musicians,” Jeremy said. “We did a live (film) score this year (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). I’ve never seen the taproom as quiet as it was then. Everyone was just 100 percent focused on it, it was really cool.”

Everyone at Tractor is certainly going to stay busy, so a huge thanks to Skye, David and Jeremy for taking some time out to chat. (And for the Turkey Drool, of course.)

Look for more entries in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series after Thanksgiving.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Cheers to another great year, La Cumbre!

It was not the splashiest of years for La Cumbre Brewing, but it was another strong and successful one in 2017. Sticking with tradition for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I sat down with owner/master brewer Jeff Erway first to kick things off. We hit up all that went down in 2017 and what to expect in 2018.

“Good, I can’t complain,” Jeff said of 2017. “We continue to grow at a similar pace as 2016. We finished a couple of major business projects, nothing too sexy, but things that were definitely necessary for us to continue growing as a business.”

One of those necessary moves was to take over the building just north of the brewery.

“We were able to not only enter into a lease purchase agreement but just last month we were able to actually close on that property,” Jeff said. “We (also) built a 2,500-square-foot cold room out back and all the fun permitted types of projects that go along with building that cold room. We added a few new tanks to keep up with demand and production. We added a whole bunch of different, fun beers.”

La Cumbre has expanded next door. This is a good thing, too.

One of those different, fun beers will debut this Friday. Postcards From Hell is a new IPA brewed in collaboration with San Diego’s Modern Times Beer. The collaboration grew out of Jeff’s admiration for Jacob McKean, the owner of Modern Times.

“I had read some of Jacob’s posts on blogs and online a couple times,” Jeff said. “I always prided myself on being a eloquent writer, but not just eloquent like I pride myself on being good on organizing my thoughts and such. He is just so clearly better than I am. I would read these things that he had written and I was just (blown away).”

It was a move by AB InBev, and Jacob’s response, that triggered the decision to work together.

“It came down to a post that he had made about the South African hops that would not be available to American craft brewers this next year,” Jeff said. “Basically, he said it in two or three short paragraphs what would have probably taken me two or three pages. I finally reached out to him and I said I’ve got a whole bunch of those hops left and what would you think about getting together and brewing a beer together.”

It all came down to mutual respect, which in turn led to the new beer that will be available on tap and in a limited canning run.

“As much as anything, though, we have a mutual respect for each other,” Jeff said. “I can’t speak for their respect for us, but obviously they think we’re worthwhile to do a collaboration with us. But just speaking for myself, there is not a brewery in the country that really impresses me more, not just from a beer quality standpoint, but also just from a total business ethics (standpoint) and the way they’re kind of a total package. They represent their brand incredibly well. Their graphic designers, I truly think they’re the best in the industry.

“The creativity that comes out of that place is really admirable. Getting to spend a few days with Andrew (Schwartz), one of their head brewers, is pretty incredible. He’s 10 years younger than me and has every bit of the knowledge I have and a zest for creativity that I find really admirable. I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the newer style of IPA and I feel like they do it more consistently than anybody else. So when they said that’s what they wanted to do, I was completely on board.”

La Cumbre’s popularity at events like GABF has led to its decision to expand into another state, Arizona.

Another big move for La Cumbre in 2017 was the decision to expand distribution into Arizona. Jeff said things have been going great so far.

“They’re clearly going to be our second biggest market already,” he said. “We knew they would. We signed on with a pretty incredible distributor and we knew they were incredible before we signed with them. The proof’s in what your current distributees say about you and I didn’t hear a negative thing from just about any of them. They all like working with Hensley. It’s been good.

“Jason Metzger, our brand rep out there is doing a really good job getting our beer into as many places as he can. We’re really looking forward to 2018. It was a really big investment of not just money but time as well getting into Arizona. We’re hoping that that investment pays off for us.”

Jeff talked last year about how great of job head brewer Alan Skinner had done for La Cumbre. Alan continued to impress his boss in 2017.

“Inside of our company, I think probably one of the biggest surprises to all of us is how well Alan has come into his position in this company and he’s seen what Daniel (Jaramillo) is good at and what Daniel is the best that and done such a damn good job of complementing those skills,” Jeff said. “(Alan) leans on me when he needs to, but for the most part he’s grabbed the bull by the horns and taken over the brewery. I’m truly in awe. The way that he’s been able to get our new quality control lab technician, Andrea, up to speed on everything we need done, where she’s grabbed a hold of that job (and) just the way that everything has gotten dialed in has been pretty awesome.”

That confidence in Alan has led to an even greater willingness to push the envelope on the beers.

“I don’t think in the past we haven’t released too many beers I wasn’t truly proud of, but that being said, there wasn’t anything where I wasn’t like that was great,” Jeff said. “There wasn’t anything I wasn’t pleased with in every way. All the beers were really well done.”

The entire La Cumbre command staff has gelled together to keep the company pointed in the right direction.

“I feel like as a cohesive team — Corey (Campbell), Paul (Cornett), Daniel, Scot (Nelson), Jenn, myself — have really hit a flow that’s working out well for us,” Jeff said. “Hopefully the greater craft community sees the projects we’re taking on, sees the beers we’re taking on and are pleased with them. It seems they are.”

That cohesion has helped La Cumbre adapt to the changes in the craft beer market as a whole.

“If there’s anything that really stood out to me this year, it’s just the new world order in craft brewing now,” Jeff said. “It’s not an internal thing, it’s just a fact of life in the way that this business is running nowadays. The level of competition, the level of money that’s coming into the industry, both positive and negative, there’s a lot of both.

“Some of the types of people that are getting into it are very new and have some really, really incredible ideas on what they want to do. I think Jacob from Modern Times is a really great example of that. I’ve met several people that have gotten in the last couple years it’s incredible the amount that they’re accomplishing in such a short period of time. I’m just thinking to myself you must not have children or a wife or a husband, because jesus that’s a lot of work that you’re taking on.

“For others, I feel like it’s a sign of the times right now that they’re getting into it and they have very little interest (in quality), they want to make a quick buck.”

More experimentation on deck for 2018

More and more new beers will pop up at the taproom in 2018, as well as in limited canning and bottling runs for distribution in New Mexico and beyond.

The focus for 2018 will be keeping the beers fun and fresh, rather than any major capital projects, Jeff said.

“What has become abundantly clear is that there are going to be (changes), everybody that’s successful is going to have their own pathway forward,” he said. “That’s been kind of obvious for several years now. There is no one right way. There are many wrong ways. We are going to really double down on trying to push the envelope with interesting beer releases and trying to do our best to grab the proverbial attention of the true craft beer aficionado, which is what we’ve always tried to accomplish. It’s just gotten harder. It’s not just making the greatest IPA in the state, it’s not just making the greatest lineup of beers available, it’s also like what did you do for me in the last week.”

A small but important addition to the La Cumbre team in 2017 will continue to go a long ways to helping keep the brewery relevant.

“That’s part of the reason why I finally got that 3-barrel brewhouse put together is so we can do things like the beer you’re drinking right now, beers that we wouldn’t necessarily brew 15 or 30 barrels or even 60 barrels of,” Jeff said, pointing to the pint of Mochavation that I had purchased. “We can brew a 3-barrel batch of something like that. But, it’s also for beers we can (later) be releasing 30-barrel batches of and things that we know, one, that we can knock out of the park, and two, that are really going to grab attention.

“As hard as it might be to stick out in our own town, and I think we do a pretty good job of that, it’s far, far harder to grab the attention outside of the state of New Mexico with anything than a steady flow of new releases, a steady flow of new beers that excite people. I feel like that’s become so much a part of my job nowadays is simply to know what is going to excite people and trying to identify that and perfect it.”

That can be both fun and challenging at the same time.

“I feel like this year I’ve actually pushed my creative juices probably farther than I ever have before,” Jeff said. “If someone had told me five years ago that I was going to do a sour saison aged in tequila barrels with hibiscus added, I doubt I would have believed it. … I feel like my place has never excelled at completely pushing new boundaries and coming up with completely off the wall, adjunct ideas. But, what I feel like I’ve always excelled at and what Alan and Daniel and I have truly excelled as a team at is finding that one cool thing or just any kind of style, whatever that style is, and slowly but surely making it our own and doing it better than the vast majority can do it.”

The core lineup of packaged beers — Elevated IPA, Slice of Hefen, Red Ryeot, BEER, Malpais Stout, Project Dank — will not change, Jeff said.

“No, absolutely not,” he said. “The year-round releases are going to stay right where they’re at. We’ll definitely be doing more series, I would say. Yes, I’ll brew more Oktoberfest this year, I’ll guarantee that.

“As far as what (else) we’re thinking, yeah, there will be a lot of new and interesting can releases. Several of them will be these kind of series of beers that we haven’t necessarily brewed before. I’m very confident they’re going to be well received.”

As for the possibility of doing La Cumbre’s first off-site taproom, Jeff remained non-committal, though he did not rule it out completely.

“It’s possible,” he said. “I don’t have any solid plans of doing it. As that market fills up, it becomes a little less enticing to go after one. The number of taprooms in this town that are fighting really hard to sell $5,000 a week of beer is just growing and growing every day. I have zero interest in working my tail off to open a taproom that’s not gonna be profitable for our company.”

Jeff does love his German beers, so we can all hope that somewhere down the line, he might open up an all-German brewery here. It just won’t be in 2018.

Our conversation drifted toward talk of how the craft beer scene is evolving around the country, and how they could eventually trickle down to Albuquerque. Both of us have been impressed by how breweries are adapting to the constantly changing market in Denver, particularly in the rise of specialization breweries like Bierstadt Lagerhaus. While it is true that New Mexico already has some breweries focusing on certain styles (Duel, Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Dialogue), Jeff said our state is not ready for a German-styles-only type of brewery.

“You’ll know when we are (ready) when I do it,” he said. “I love those styles and I’d love to brew them. I don’t know how hungry I am to take on another project right now. I would not open up another brewery right now. I think we’re probably four years away from just the dust has cleared and it might be time to look at other projects. … It’s not nearly crowded here as elsewhere. I was in Chicago and there were some straight-up good breweries that were just dead, dead as doornails.”

Jeff said he remains optimistic that the Albuquerque craft beer scene is still capable of positive growth.

“I still totally believe there is room for really high-quality breweries in this town,” he said. “If you’ve got a really high-quality head brewer and a vision of doing something truly unique and interesting, great, go for it.”

He just will not gamble with everything La Cumbre has built on a whim or a trend.

“We’re finally at the point as a company where we’re offering pretty good benefits to our key employees,” Jeff said. “Anybody that’s been here for any period of time is making good money. Scot and I are comfortable, so why are we going to go jump at any opportunity that comes our way just to risk it all?

“We’re just going to keep on focusing on making the most killer beer we can and hopefully the people that have always been our big supporters keep on being our big supporters.”

The Crew certainly looks forward to more fun beers from La Cumbre in 2018. More Oktoberfest is always a good thing, too.

We will continue our Look Back/Look Ahead Series with even more Albuquerque and Santa Fe area breweries in the weeks ahead. Keep an eye out for all the entries!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister