Get your finest viking gear on and head up the mountain for beer!
Greetings, gang. Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos has had a new head brewer for a while now. We’ve been meaning to track him down and pick his brain, and the planets finally aligned Wednesday. We spoke with Nic Boyden about where he’s from, what he likes, and what his plans are.
We also discussed Nic’s special beer for this weekend’s upcoming event at the Pajarito Ski Area, Ullrfest! We know that there are other things going on this Saturday (NM Brew Fest and Corks and Brews in Albuquerque), but this is one of the premier events in the mountains near Los Alamos. The weather forecast looks promising, so it should be a great time. As always, activities other than beer drinking will include bike races, chairlifts and hiking, disc golf, and a viking-themed costume contest. Music will be provided by JJ and the Hooligans. If you think you will be participating in the beer portion of the agenda, you may want to take the free shuttle that runs between town and the ski hill every half hour.
The breweries that will be in attendance, with beer lists where provided. (Updates will be posted whenever we receive them until the morning of the festival.)
- Bathtub Row: Ullr Beer (Sahti), Hoppenheimer IPA, Raconteur Table Beer, Fat Man Stout
- Blue Heron
- Boxing Bear: Oktobearfest, Ambear, Uppercut IPA, Cider
- Chili Line
- Enchanted Circle: Glory Hole IPA, Panty Tosser Peach Wheat, Wet n Wild, Octoberfest, Red River Red
- La Cumbre
- Santa Fe: Idaho IPA, Oktoberfest, Imperial Java Stout, Nut Brown (in cans)
- Second Street: Southern Passion IPA, Rail Runner Ale, Red & Yellow Armadillo, Rod’s Best Bitter, 2920 Pale Ale, Kolsch
- Taos Mesa
- Tractor: Mustachio Milk Stout, Tractoberfest, Farmer’s Almanac IPA, plus cider cans
- Unquarked Winery
What else does Bathtub Row’s new brewer have in store? Well, let’s find out.
Nic Boyden, the new head brewer at Bathtub Row, is looking forward to his first Ullrfest.
DSBC: Hi, Nic. Thanks for meeting with us. How would you describe your beers?
Nic: Hoppenheimer (IPA) is the standard beer that we have here. That’s what everybody asks for the most. A bunch of hopheads here in Los Alamos. I try to brew a Hoppenheimer every other week, so we’re trying to keep it on tap. We’ll blow through a Hoppenheimer tank in about four days. If it’s released on a Wednesday it’s almost gone Thursday night and Friday night, and then Saturday, Sunday, we’ll have a little bit, and then it’s gone by the beginning of the next week. So, I’m trying to do that every other week, but still trying to keep a good variety. Otherwise I’d be doing that once a week. Trying to bring in some other IPA ideas, also. We’ve made some small tweaks to Hoppenheimer, but it’s pretty solid — bitter, hoppy Centennial-based beer. Sticking with that, made some small tweaks to it.
DSBC: Do you have other ones that are staples? It seems like a lot of these are unusual ones.
Nic: Right. Every one of these was a first time. We’ll try to keep the Wit, which is pretty standard. Changing up the yeast strain right now. The next Wit we’ll be doing a little more frequently, but we’ll be sticking with that yeast strain for a while, really trying to dial that in. Everybody here has really been liking the Wit since before I was here. I’m not going to tweak that one too much. We want to keep a bitter, a light one, and a dark one, also.
DSBC: Do you think about it seasonally, too? It’s getting colder, so it’s time to start stocking more stouts and things.
Nic: I’m definitely going to try to do that. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, a hophead still wants an IPA. A malthead always wants a stout or brown or porter. Still trying to keep a variety, but at least let the subtleties of each beer be dictated by the season. In the summer, we’re trying to keep it fruity; in the fall, we’re going to have more beers with more spice to it, like your apple pie spices or your pumpkin beer. Everybody loves that. Definitely there will be darker stuff in the winter, too.
DSBC: Right now you have eight of your own beers.
Nic: Right now all of them are our own, so all of our taps are full.
DSBC: That’s a lot of room to play around even if you had four staples on hand; that’s four one-offs or crazy ones, whatever you want to try. Well, do you get to pick the brews?
Nic: I pretty much get to pick. I’m always trying to take suggestions and get some input on beers that we’ve done. I’m not going to just make every beer to (fit) my palate. We’re trying to sell some beers, try to keep some variety and some staples at the same (time), a balance of everything across the board. Pretty exciting that we have eight of our on tap right now. There was a point at the end of the summer where we were running out of beers so fast that we couldn’t keep all eight taps full even with guest beers. We were blowing through guest beers. After we blow through a Hoppenheimer, we’d put on a Boxing Bear (Uppercut) IPA. We’ve also done (Bosque’s) Riverwalker. As soon as we run through ours and theirs, then people will gravitate towards the next hoppiest thing, and then the pale’s gone. And then the hoppy pilsner’s gone (and) until Sunday afternoon we don’t have any beer whatsoever.
DSBC: Do you have kegs in reserve from other breweries that you can pull out?
Nic: Yes, we do, and we try to not (create) too much of stockpile due to space. What we’re usually going to order from another brewery are IPAs. IPAs are best when fresh, right, so we try to keep our stock as small as possible due to space and freshness. People got really thirsty over the summer.
DSBC: Plus the Lab is the factory in this town, and there lots of students that come in over the summer. Now that summer is out that’s probably why it’s calming down, and you know how much students drink.
Nic: I’m excited to have all eight of ours on tap. We’re just catching our breath after summer.
DSBC: I guess you do have to think about all of this when planning your own brewing schedule. You don’t want to stockpile too much of your own, either.
Nic: I’m still trying to figure it all out. I’m still new to town. I feel like wherever you go there’s a specific beer season. The only variables are how much does it drop off and sometimes it’s almost negligible, and in other towns it’s almost mud season like you’d have in a mountain town where tourists disappear for a while.
DSBC: Or ski season kicks in and suddenly they’re back. That brings up the next question. You mentioned you’re not from here, so where are you from?
Nic: I’m actually from Albuquerque. I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years and been brewing up there for the last six or seven years.
DSBC: Where did you work there?
Nic: I got my start at Avery in Boulder. It’s huge. And then I moved down to Salida in the mountains and worked at Elevation four years after that.
DSBC: So, you’ve been working your way up the brewery ranks?
Nic: Yeah, I moved to Colorado to do environmental consulting as a field tech. Then found that I didn’t get paid anything, so I got into cell phone tower construction. I grew up and worked nine years at the Tram in Albuquerque climbing towers and stuff, so it was easy to transition that to cell tower construction. Really enjoyed the travel, but being a home brewer, I said that I didn’t care how much I made, I’m getting into the industry.
DSBC: So you were a home brewer before. You’ve liked beer for a long time, like a lot of us.
Nic: Yeah, I just took the leap. I took the first job I was offered. I applied to a lot of places on the front range of Colorado, and the first job I got offered luckily was at Avery. I just drove a forklift to get my start. I very quickly moved into packaging. I was the packaging lead and then I did some cellaring and then I moved up the brew deck. I worked my way up, getting on-the-job training at Avery. What was awesome was that they also paid me to do online schooling for brewing. When I felt like I was topping out with where I could go there, I wanted to move on and get more creative control, so I went to Elevation. A smaller place. I developed a few things and changed some things there, then I felt like I wanted to move to a place where every single week was a new beer and a new opportunity. More creativity.
DSBC: You couldn’t find that at Avery, huh.
Nic: I couldn’t find that at Elevation, either. That’s why I think this is a great fit for me. I have to keep the customer base happy with the IPA, the Blonde, the Wit … but beyond that, it’s complete creative control. It’s a lot more fun.
The current selection of beers at BRB.
DSBC: What I’ve found is that there is a lot of sophisticated beer drinkers in this town. Plus, a lot of home brewers, they know their beers, and they love creative, crazy things, if you can pull it off. How did you find out about Bathtub Row?
Nic: I met Jason Fitzpatrick (the general manager) and Jason Kirkman (the assistant brewer) last fall at ColorFest at Pagosa Springs. I had a good, professional relationship with them, and once I heard that they were offering up a head brewer position, I decided that this would be a pretty good trip for me. I knew those guys already, so I figured they know what they’re doing, I’ll take the leap.
DSBC: What do you think of this town? It is different from other towns, it’s a little isolated … in World War II that was a plus.
Nic: It totally makes sense. It’s a cool little town, definitely. Cool, unique town … like you said, driven by the Lab. Moving from Colorado, I didn’t want to end up back in the desert. I’m a mountain person at heart. This was one of the few places that I could see myself moving back to New Mexico for. Being at 7,500 feet, getting the moisture, the cool air. Having trails right outside my door, I can bike, I can run, I can take my dog out. That’s the closest I can get to Colorado. I thought it would be a good fit. So far, it’s been nice living here.
DSBC: Albuquerque is of course a huge beer scene, just getting bigger all the time. But, you’d rather have a small town atmosphere, I guess.
Nic: Yeah, I’m from Albuquerque and moved to Denver. I was in downtown Denver, and ever since I’ve been stepping away. I went to Boulder which is smaller, and I went to Salida, which is smaller. And, I went to Los Alamos, which is probably about the same size as Salida.
DSBC: Unlike our previous head brewer, you didn’t get a whole lot of say about how things are set up or the equipment. Are you happy with what’s going on in back?
Nic: For what we can fit into this building, we’ve got a pretty decent setup. And, just speaking with the Board and Jason the GM, I’ve definitely heard what their long-term goals are, and their brew system itself was purchased from Bosque. They outgrew it in a year. So did we, actually. That would be the only thing that I’d like to really step up in the future. That’ll be down the road. We can catch our breath before next summer’s big season starts up again. Maybe we can get something in the works by then. But, right now we did just buy a keg washer that should have arrived yesterday. We’re going to get that installed so we can take care of our own kegs.
DSBC: What did you do before with kegs?
Nic: We mostly took our kegs down to Santa Fe Brewing and paid them per keg to clean them. So, we’d drive them down there, drop them off, and then a week later pick them up.
DSBC: It’s like having to go to the laundromat!
Nic: Yeah, it’s just that the laundromat’s pretty far away. And, also they’ve got their own struggles trying to keep up with their own production, so we were on the back burner. They were doing us a favor. So, sometimes we wouldn’t have kegs if they had issues of their own that they needed to address. They definitely helped us out, but we decided to just take care of it ourselves. It’s not like the brewery is going anywhere, we can invest in a keg cleaner. That’s the next thing that’s been purchased and on the road somewhere. And, I think we will be getting at least one more fermenter pretty soon. It’s the number one limiting factor for our production right now. We’ll be maxed out on space back there after that.
DSBC: I suppose you could brew off-site and bring the kegs down here?
Nic: We could, but we want to stay true to Bathtub Row, make sure that the name makes sense. Holds true to the history of this place and what we’re about. Ideally we wouldn’t leave Bathtub Row as far as the facility goes, but maybe that’s way down the road. We have talked to the landlord just a little bit about expanding this building in the future. We haven’t been shot down yet.
DSBC: You mentioned Santa Fe Brewing. It seems like there’s a pretty tight-knit, friendly brewing community here. There’s also more and more competition, not so much here but in Albuquerque. Do you still feel that camaraderie?
Nic: I still definitely do feel the camaraderie. I feel like we’re making as much beer as we possibly can and we’re at our max capacity here. Nobody’s eating into our business, so it’s not even an issue for us. As far as breweries being competitive, I don’t really feel that too much because I think that coming from Colorado and joining the New Mexico beer industry, even though Colorado’s been around longer, I’m seeing the same thing … there’s just so much camaraderie. A very altruistic atmosphere where everybody’s trying to help everybody out. Ultimately our competition is not each other. There’s a huge market share that’s not craft beer.
DSBC: Those Budweiser guys?
Nic: Yup. We’re all friendly. It’s no issue whatsoever, especially here.
DSBC: Do you ever go to some of the other breweries? For “research” purposes?
Nic: Oh, definitely. I need to do a little market research. I’ll try to get off the hill as much as I can, but that is pretty rare right now. Since I’ve started, we’re kind of short-staffed, and summertime being busy, I’ve been here at the brewery almost seven days a week. Not really working hard on weekends, but there’s always something that needs to be kept up with or addressed. We can’t brew any faster. The only thing that slows down our schedule is if the yeast could work faster, I’d be brewing even more beer.
DSBC: Not much you can do about that, there’s no super yeast yet.
Nic: Nope, can’t rush those guys. I haven’t made it to as many places as I like. The industry is booming right now.
DSBC: A lot of them are putting out some really good beers too. Like, if you went down to La Cumbre and tried an Elevated, would you think about how you could reverse engineer it?
Nic: I like to interpret what they’re going for and see how it is received by everybody around me. I obviously have my personal tastes, but I want to make a beer that the masses really want to enjoy. When I say the masses, I really just mean the co-op and the local community because that’s who I’m brewing for. But, once I get a finger on the pulse of what they want here, which is basically the Hoppenheimer …
DSBC: A double IPA would be fine, too!
Nic: That would be nice to keep on tap. We (would) blow through that so fast. We have done some. Did you get a chance to try the honey double IPA?
DSBC: I bought one for a friend but didn’t try it myself, so no. It sounded good.
Nic: That was Jason Kirkman’s little baby. He did a fantastic job with it. He came up with all of that before I was here. I brewed it but it was all his. We used some local honey. We used some orange blossom water and copious amounts of hops. We ended up winning a national honey competition. There’s a large honey company, nationwide, based out of Colorado. They did a beer competition. They had an IPA category and a light beer category. Stouts, porters, browns, Belgian categories. It was nothing like the GABF, but we submitted a bottle of the honey double IPA and won the IPA (category). I think that’s a pretty stout category to try to win. Proud of Jason and his recipe. That’ll be coming back.
DSBC: You probably didn’t even use their honey!
Nic: No, we used local honey.
DSBC: No need to mention that on the form.
Nic: Ha ha, no. So we also have that submitted to GABF. We bottled enough to send to that competition as well as GABF.
DSBC: Anything else you’ve entered in GABF?
Nic: We entered the Redhammer, which is also Jason’s imperial red recipe. I had him come up and do that brew on his own and show me how he liked to brew that. That has been the best-received beer that we’ve entered in competition. I figured why not enter it again. We also did the wit, which has done pretty well also. No medals, but it’s advanced to the finals in some different competitions.
DSBC: And, you’ll continue to participate in the IPA Challenge? That’s big in this state.
Nic: Yup. There’s a lot of good IPAs that were down there. We have to step our game up.
DSBC: So what is your favorite beer? Just some personal info.
Nic: My favorite beer … Actually, I’d say that my favorite beer is Coors Original.
DSBC: Ha ha. I’ll have to edit that out.
Nic: It’s a solid German lager.
DSBC: I didn’t see that one coming!
Nic: No one does. It’s mostly water. That’s how I hydrate. And, it’s consistent, and that’s something I can geek out on as a brewer. Every Coors I’ve ever had in my entire life tastes exactly like a Coors. They’ve got the science down, for sure. Made with that Rocky Mountain water.
DSBC: You can taste the difference, eh? You’re drunk right now, aren’t you?
Nic: Ha ha. My girlfriend still lives in Salida, and we try to climb a mountain every weekend. She’s done almost every single 14er in Colorado, and some 10 times. She’s done quite a bit. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m going to try to summit a peak once a week when it’s climbing season. My favorite thing is to sit on top, eat some peanuts, and drink Coors Original. Doesn’t get you too drunk so you can get back down the hill.
DSBC: Yeah, you don’t need a double IPA right then. It’s not a good idea.
Nic: You can edit that all out.
DSBC: No, no, it’s a fun part. Anything else you want to mention?
Nic: I think it’s just great to be able to experiment here and try different styles. I’m really glad the community has been very open to that idea. I always have to keep an IPA on tap. I get plenty of request for reds and ambers. I try to keep those in rotation, but I feel like there so many other styles and I think it’s awesome that the educated beer drinkers are open to that. There are some places where you couldn’t do a mild and have people enjoy it, (a) three-plus-percent English mild, or a Belgian table beer. I’m really glad that people are open to that idea. It also allows me to do a SMASH on tap. I’m trying to showcase some hops. I think it’s pretty awesome that we can dance across all styles, as long as we keep our staples on, I can play around with whatever I want. That being said, Coors Banquet might be my favorite beer, but I love to make Belgians, I love to make sours. We have a great saison with peaches, brett, and lacto in barrels right now. It’s developing. It’s starting to taste good. That’s what I like best, a variety. If I want something standard, I’ll drink a Coors Original. I get to try everything. I definitely feel lucky to do this.
DSBC: You’re kind of living the dream for a lot of people that would be reading this blog, for example. Congratulations to you for having it all come together … and get paid for it! I’ve heard that for Ullrfest you’re making a juniper beer?
Nic: I’ve researched, but it’s nothing that I’ve tried. It’s sahti, a traditional Finnish beer. European malts and noble hops. The distinctive character of it is traditionally is mashed and filtered through a hollowed-out log filled with juniper branches. What I did is completely cover the false bottom of our mash tun with some fresh Los Alamos juniper boughs, and then threw all of the grain on top and mashed on top of that. It pulled the juniper flavor out of the branches. I’ll be adding a juniper berry dry spice at the end of fermentation, also. It’s going to be a good beer, hopefully. If you like juniper! With Ullrfest being the kick-off to ski season, we were thinking we would do something Scandinavian and maybe that’ll help with the snowfall.
DSBC: Sourcing local ingredients, too! That’s cool. Well, that’s about it. Thanks for your time.