Archive for the ‘Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2018-19’ Category

Turtle Mountain celebrates its 20th anniversary this year after winning its first GABF gold medal last year.

Turtle Mountain is turning 20 years old in just a few weeks, which is quite the milestone for a brewery, let alone a restaurant. I was able to sit down and chat with both head brewer Mick Hahn and owner Nico Ortiz regarding their stellar 2018, and what 2019 has in store for them.

Solo: The big thing with our look back would probably be that gold medal you snagged at GABF (Great American Beer Festival)?

Mick: Yeah, that definitely is the biggest thing for 2018. We are beyond thrilled to have that thing hanging behind the bar. It feels really good to have something that Turtle has deserved for a long time, and to get that recognition. So my favorite part of GABF all together was seeing Stan Heironymous tweet out that his favorite thing of GABF was Turtle Mountain getting a medal. 

Solo: That’s beautiful.

Mick: To get those words coming out of Stan’s mouth means a whole lot. He was one of the first people to sit at our bar and taste our beer 20 years ago, and Albuquerque owes a lot to him and his writing, so to hear him say that felt great. It just backed up everything I believe about Turtle being, oh, just shy of world class. We are very happy about it and hopefully we can try to have some sort of repeat this next year. Wooden Teeth will definitely get submitted again, for sure, and we will look at what else is going to be our entries for 2019 medals. 

Solo: Since lagers are kind of your thing, might we see some more of those?

Mick: Yeah, for sure, and I think they are overlooked by a lot of people who don’t see them to be as exciting, so they don’t get as much attention as a lot of the styles out there. 

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Congratulations to Sidetrack on three years in business! They will have plenty more beer in store for the year ahead.

Going into their fourth year, Sidetrack Brewing Company owners Dan Herr and Anne O’Neill have one main goal — making their beer even better.

To achieve that goal, they first had to acquire some new equipment, including a 7-barrel fermenter and an expanded walk-in cooler. Coming off a big year in sales, during which, Anne said, they struggled to keep up, these new items will help increase their production.

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Sidetrack’s shiny new fermenter, which they bought from Boxing Bear, will be ready to go within the next month or two.

Since Sidetrack doesn’t currently do any distribution or canning, 100 percent of its sales are out of the taps in house. This led them to expand their tap tower to 10 handles (previously six). In past years, there may have been two or three beers from other breweries flowing from those taps. Moving forward, they want their own beer to be featured. This will continue to include at least one, but usually two, regular cask offerings. Although it is a challenge to do, Anne said she hopes to “make it fun” and add new flavors like fruit to the cask beers.

With not much room to expand beyond their current footprint, Dan and Anne have to get creative with their use of the space by making these adjustments, along with smaller behind-the-scenes changes that most patrons probably won’t ever see or notice. All of the moves are aimed at bringing the brewery up to a more conventional system and improve the overall customer experience.

“We just open the doors and try to make the people who come in happy,” Dan said.

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Austin Giorgetta, the new head of brewing operations, aims to get Rio Bravo’s beer up to par with the rest of the New Mexico craft scene.

Around this time last year, the staff at Rio Bravo Brewing told us that some big changes were coming in 2018. Not all of those that did occur were obvious, but arguably the biggest move of all will start to have a telling impact in 2019.

That would be Austin Giorgetta, the new head of brewing operations, who is tasked with bringing Rio Bravo beers up to par with the rest of the vibrant Albuquerque craft scene. I sat down with Austin, and co-owner Randy Baker, for this entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.

“We had to make the change to bring our beers up to what people expect,” Randy said.

Head brewer Ty Levis is still working at Rio Bravo, but Austin is clearly taking point on revamping the entire beer lineup, with an emphasis on making sure that all the Rio Bravo brews reflect the tastes of the modern craft consumer.

“I’m the head of brewing operations, so I pretty much decide what goes in the kettle, what we’re going to be producing, things of that nature,” Austin said. “There’s only two of us, so we’re still both brewing, we’re still both doing other work around the brewery. I guess, to say the least, I have the executive order on what we’re brewing, when we’re brewing it, how we want to change the taps, what we want to put in, things of that nature.”

To begin with, Austin will refocus the sizable beer menu.

“I’m looking to really change the menu here, make it unique,” he said. “We’re going to dwindle down to 16 different beers, probably actually 14, with two ciders on tap. I’m looking to keep eight core, three experimental, and three seasonal-type brews.”

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The name had to change, but everything else about Kilt Check is the same quality neighborhood pub as before.

The name change still trips up some customers every now and again. They walk into Kilt Check Brewing and ask if it is a new brewery, only to see owner/brewer Mike Campbell is still behind the bar, the throwback decor still adorns the same walls, the Groundskeeper Willie Cream Ale is still on tap, and so on.

“It was like starting new again, people poking in (and asking) new brewery? We still are (seeing that) almost every day somebody comes in and (asks),” Mike said with a laugh.

The former Drafty Kilt Brewing had to change its name due to a trademark dispute with an Atlanta brewery. It was another bump in the road for the small Northeast Heights brewery, tucked away at 4814 Hardware Drive, nestled just west of San Mateo and south of McLeod near the dollar theater. I sat down with Mike over a pint of Black Sunshine Robust Porter last week for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.

Mike said the one thing he learned over the course of 2018, besides being thankful that the name change stress is behind him, is that any brewery, big or small, has to find a way to stand out.

“It was a pretty good year,” he said. “We do have to provide entertainment, we have found. We’ve got to try to stay relevant with 40-plus breweries in town.”

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Things have been busy behind the scenes at Dialogue over the past year.

By the time I arrived for the interview at Dialogue Brewing, it was bustling with projects and work, both getting ready for the day and continuing to push forward on recent ambitions. Luckily, the crew at Dialogue put few minutes of their time aside for us so we could get caught up and see how one of ABQ’s particularly unique breweries had fared in 2018, and for their ideas and thoughts going into 2019.

This is another chapter of the Dark Side Brew Crew’s annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, covering New Mexico’s breweries big and small through the years. For those that have yet to make the trip, Dialogue sits amidst warehouses and machine shops at First Street and Kinley. At first, this may seem somewhat peculiar, but it has created an incredibly one-of-a-kind experience for those looking to satiate both their love of craft beer and their taste for some incredible local art. Just look for the massive metal trees that tower above the building in the large patio and performance area.

Before getting into the story however, just a quick correction on our part for previous stories in which we titled then-manager Eliot Salgado as owner/operator.

Taking in the busy atmosphere and settling in behind a pour of the Dry Stout, I was greeted by owner/operator Daniel Gorman and head brewer Ian Graham. Before getting into the interview, I was given a quick tour and introduction of some of the workspace that their current projects are focusing on. It was a behind-closed-doors tour that one wouldn’t have assumed existed when looking at it from the outside, such as the very impressive, professional quality sound booth that operates the equally impressive sound system, which is actually mounted onto the large tree sculptures outside.

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Ponderosa head brewer Antonio Fernandez was a busy man in 2018, and that won’t change this year.

Every brewery that opens an off-site taproom hopes that it provides a decent boost in sales and revenue. For the folks at Ponderosa Brewing, they had those hopes when the small taproom at the renovated El Vado Motel on Central opened this past summer. The results, however, went well beyond what head brewer Antonio Fernandez expected, as he explained when we sat down for the Ponderosa entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series on Wednesday afternoon.

“2018 was crazy,” Antonio said. “Of course the biggest thing was getting the taproom at El Vado open. None of us were ready for what was going to happen with that. I was thinking like most taprooms it would probably give us a little kick when it first opened and then ramp up business. But, man, we just hit the ground running, selling tons of beer out of there and it never slowed down until like Thanksgiving.”

That was all well and good from a sales perspective, but not necessarily from a brewing perspective. Antonio said he had to scramble to keep up with double the usual demand.

“I took a big hit over here, actually,” he said. “We have draft accounts, I was brewing beer for (putting beer in) cans, and the next thing you know we had gone down to only five beers on tap at both places while I tried to get caught up. I had to modify my brewhouse slightly so I could double-batch in a single day without taking 14 hours. That was a big change. I had to get on the new paradigm.

“I was brewing twice as much beer as the year before. Our output was way up compared to the past. This is our fourth year now. We brewed and sold way more beer than we ever had before and it’s been our most profitable year as a company, also.”

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Corrales has its own small brewery tucked inside this historic building.

Casa Vieja, located on Corrales Road in the heart of Corrales, is just what the name says — a very old house. Established in 1770, it has been many different things over the centuries, including a church and a small hospital. It is best known for its long tradition as a popular fine dining restaurant. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when we learned they started brewing beer and became a taproom.

As part of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I met with Gary Socha, owner and brewer at this new iteration of Casa Vieja, although his business card says his title is “Beer Whisperer.” It is this bit of whimsy that makes you want to root for him out of the gate. All throughout the interview, it was clear to see Gary has an impish way about him, and his passion for this project is evident. But, there is also a calmness that has helped him weather both the usual and unusual types of issues that have come up along the way.

Gary was a homebrewer and a member of the Dukes of Ale Homebrew Club, and won a gold medal in the 2015 New Mexico Pro-Am in the German Wheat category. The word Duke was soon to gain a whole new importance for Gary. But, we will get to that. First, I wanted to know the history of how Gary obtained ownership of the place, and how it came to be the newest brewery (until Ex Novo opens) in the area.

In 2011, Casa Vieja fell victim to the area’s economic hard times and repair issues. The long-time restaurant, a one-time home to some notable Albuquerque chefs such as Jim White and Jean-Pierre Gozard, closed its doors. Casa Vieja always held a special place in the hearts of Gary and his wife of over 40 years. In fact, they went there on their honeymoon.

In 2016, Gary’s family purchased the property, restored it, and turned it into an event space. They spent a great deal of money on renovation, and did not want to have to spend much more on a liquor license. Well, Gary was already a brewer, right? So a small brewer license made much more sense. Plus, the addition of a taproom meant the locals could have a relaxed and charming space in which to grab a craft beer.

The commercial kitchen was removed during the renovation, and now Casa Vieja has only a catering kitchen (for the events, mainly). Gary figured that many breweries rely on food trucks, so that should not be a big deal. Unfortunately, it proved difficult to book any trucks due to the location, amount of patrons, and being the last guy in line to request a truck. The only way to get them was to supplement them with a guaranteed amount. Luckily, another chef alumnus from Casa Vieja, Jon Young of ABQ BBQ, came to the rescue to provide catering. Eventually, they plan to park Jon’s bus that has seating as well as a kitchen in it right in the catering driveway attached to the catering kitchen. It is a win for everyone involved.

Most of Casa Vieja’s equipment had to be lowered into the brewing space through the roof.

One of the more unusual hurdles that Gary faced had to do with the brewing equipment. Old houses tend to have smaller entrances and challenges with preservation. Therefore, Gary special ordered brewing equipment to meet the specs of the house’s brew space. Unfortunately, a long battle ensued with the manufacturer regarding delivery of the equipment, and when it finally arrived many months late, it was two to three times the size it was supposed to be. The boil kettle was supposed to be 800 pounds, and it is 2,000 pounds. To sum up, they had to drop it in through the roof using a crane. The upside to this, I suppose, is that he has a larger brewing capacity (3-to-4 barrels) if he needs it. In July 2018, the taproom somewhat quietly opened to the public with limited hours.

Gary faced another annoying (to say the least) challenge over the Thanksgiving holiday. There is an “out building” behind the main house that was built as a walk-in cooler for the restaurant. This would serve as Gary’s keg storage area. Over the holiday, the control decided to fail. The building turned from a walk-in cooler to a freezer. All the kegs froze. He came back to find exploding kegs. He was also storing his yeast in there, so all the yeast died.

You never know what you might run in to in and around older properties. That said, not all of the surprises were troublesome ones. Prior to Gary’s purchase of the property, Casa Vieja developed a roof leak that needed repair. Like something out of a novel, the contractors found an old portrait painting in the wall. It was in pretty bad shape. The age and subject of the painting were unknown at the time. The previous owner stated the painting had to stay with the building and Gary agreed. The painting was evaluated in Santa Fe and carefully restored. The evaluation determined that the painting was likely done in Spain in the 1600s. It is an oil portrait of Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, a French nobleman who held the title of Duke d’Epernon. And thus, the reference to Duke literally resurfaces! The painting is now prominently displayed near the entrance. In tribute to this French duke, Duke (of Ale) Gary brewed a house beer known as “Duke’s Red Ale.”

The taproom area is a charming space.

Gary said his plan for the rest of the year is to continue brewing and have around six of his own taps online, as well as a few guest taps. At the time of my visit, there were three Casa Vieja brews available — a hefeweisen, a lager, and Duke’s Red. Guest taps that day included a cider from Steel Bender, Steel Bender’s Blue Bullet Stout on nitro, and La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA. Current taproom hours are 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

If any of our readers would like to visit the Duke (either of them, really) and try the beer, this Sunday is Arts Alive! in Corrales. Gary will be performing Art of Brewing demonstrations at 2 and 4 p.m. at Casa Vieja. The brewery will also feature art by Dave Sabo and Wanda Blake.

As the Duke d’Epernon himself might say …

À votre santé,

— AmyO

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Brewmaster Rod Tweet and head brewer Tom Ludzia are ready for more Second Street beer. Are you?

Second Street had another great year, with each of its taprooms humming along like well-oiled machines. The big news wasn’t the taprooms in 2018, although it should be noted that Second Street Rufina is steadily becoming just as much a fixture in the Santa Fe brewpub scene as the Oldery and the Railyard locations already are. The real star of Second Street’s 2018, however, was another machine altogether, one perhaps not as well-oiled (just yet), but one with multiple components whirring to life at the hands of a few good men and women. That machine includes the canning line, the wholesale shop, and the new lines of distribution of kegs and gorgeous cans chugging off the line.

Some time between counting inventory and working on the latest batch of one of his new flagship beers, president and brewmaster Rod Tweet made some time to sit down with me for the latest installment of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2018-19.

Tweet meets me after work on a Saturday at Rufina. We take one of the tall tables in the large Rufina space, and I have a hard time deciding on what I want to drink, for once. There’s more than a few exciting beers on the list these days, but I’m in the mood for the Brown. It’s good, and I can’t recall the last time I really enjoyed a Brown Ale as much in years.

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The Brown Ale does not disappoint.

After taking a couple sips, I start the recorder. I want to see how business was in 2018, and I want to hear all about the brand-new canning line, and how its first few months in operation went. As we all know, it ain’t easy getting one of those things firing on all pistons. I’m also looking to find out what they plan to do with all the beer they’re pouring into packaging in 2019, and which beers.

“We had a really good year,” Tweet says. “The new place continues to grow. The Railyard, and the original location are like an engine, relatively figured out at this point.”

Second Street is still fine-tuning Rufina, building on what they know, but tweaking everything from food to events as needed. With their restaurant business purring away, they have more time to focus on what we’re all interested in: beer.

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The Starr Brothers command staff includes, from left, general manager Derek Minero, co-owner Heather Starr, head brewer/part-owner Rob Whitlock, and assistant brewer Matthew Pullen.

There are occasions where we can actually properly time the release of one of our Look Back/Look Series articles with a major event at the subject brewery. Sometimes, though, we almost miss the opportunity, and a mad scramble ensues to get the story done in time. That was almost the case this week, but the good folks in charge at Starr Brothers Brewing made it easy for us to get this article up before their third anniversary party kicks off Saturday.

Co-owner Heather Starr, head brewer (and now part-owner) Rob Whitlock, and general manager Derek Minero were able to join me for a quick interview on Wednesday afternoon, going over the entirety of 2018 and what is to come in 2019.

First up, Saturday’s anniversary bash will run all day, with plenty of fun on deck.

“We haven’t done the bands before, this is kind of our first time doing that,” Heather said. “But, I think it will add to the celebratory atmosphere. We’ve got (souvenir) cups, we’ve got merch, we’re doing a live screen print.”

The participating bands are Rise of Seekalae (2 to 4 p.m.), RoyalHills (5 to 8), and Kevin Herig (8:30-10:30).

“Our beer release, we’re going to do the Lost Cities of Gold (Hazy IPA) that I had up at WinterBrew,” Rob said.

“Then some raffles and stuff, just an all-day party,” Derek added.

Heather also noted that the west parking lot has been expanded, with crushed gravel instead of dirt. Any time a brewery can add more parking, it is a good thing.

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The future location of the Nexus Blue Smokehouse could open its doors in February.

Nexus Brewery owner Ken Carson is a busy man these days. We had originally scheduled an interview for a Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry back in December, but it had to be postponed until last week. When we did have the time to sit down to talk about everything, from the early challenges in 2018 to the forthcoming third Nexus location tentatively expected to open in February, I also ended up getting a bit of a lesson in local history, which fits particularly well on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

First, a bit of background. Yes, the long-awaited Nexus Blue Smokehouse is getting close to finally opening its doors. Its location at 1523 Broadway SE, just south of Avenida Cesar Chavez, has a connection to the past that made it too important for Ken to pass up when he was looking for a third Nexus location.

“I know some people are probably wondering why that location,” he said. “My family is from Albuquerque. My dad, his parents brought him to that neighborhood back in 1929. Our family has been in that area for a long time. Now, the neighborhood doesn’t look like it used to be (because it was) the black neighborhood. That was the only place you could buy a house in Albuquerque back in those days.”

The demographic of the neighborhood has shifted in the decades since from African-American to Hispanic, but the previous owner of the building was still tied into the original history.

“The guys that owned the building were the Navajo Elks,” Ken said. “The history of the Navajo Elks was the Navajo Elks were all over the country, (they were) the African-American Elks. They separated from the regular Elks, in fact they just stole the name. They got sued over it, but then ultimately the Elks just gave up and said forget it.”

Segregation caused a need for separate establishments.

“Then what happened was because blacks couldn’t go to the nightclubs and stuff … they put various nightclubs across the country especially in parts of the country where the population of blacks was not that big,” Ken said. “The reason being, say you’re in a town in Mississippi where the population was 50 percent, there’s going to be a guy that owns his own nightclub. Well, in New Mexico, I don’t what it was in the 50s, but back in those days the population wasn’t big enough to support it, so they created these nightclubs across the country. I’ve been to ones in Denver, there was here in Albuquerque, (and) there was one in Phoenix. A lot of them were in the Southwest.”

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