Archive for the ‘Unsung Heroes Series’ Category

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Jim Dyson, the unsung hero of Bathtub Row, is the man who keeps the brewery running.

Bathtub Row Brewing (BRB) in Los Alamos is an unusual sort of brewery, being based on a co-operative business model. It’s also in a small, fairly isolated town. These things lead to a lot of community involvement and pride. I know that many people have done an awful lot of volunteer work on all facets of the business, from getting it off the ground to building its furniture. They’re all heroes, of course, but when asked, the management narrowed it down to one name: Jim Dyson.

“Jim is a hard working and dedicated employee who has been with us since the beginning,” management said. “He is a vital part of keeping Bathtub Row Brewing a success. Simply stated, the beer doesn’t flow unless Jim is here.”

After talking to Jim for nearly an hour, I understood completely.

We sat down just as the brewery was opening, so things were still calm and relatively quiet. I’d been somewhat involved in the early years of the business, but not much in recent years, so I’d never met Jim. He’s a friendly guy, retired from the National Laboratory for four years now, and having lived in Los Alamos for 50 years.

He was called in to help move some equipment into the new business before it first opened, which was in early 2015. Soon after, he was asked to help wire the igniters for the boiler tanks. Being a helpful fellow, he said sure. The management knew they were onto a good thing, because they then asked if he could hook up the controllers.

It may not have his name on it, but Jim was instrumental in getting all of this equipment up and running.

After that, he pulled together a team of people with tractors and Bobcats to level the patio area. There were more stories about his ongoing volunteer efforts, including hauling equipment to festivals, and past tales of taking kegs down to Santa Fe Brewing Company for cleaning. (BRB now has their own facilities for cleaning kegs, fortunately.)

Aside from courtesy beers, his only payment was a gratis lifetime membership; granted, that’s a $250 value, but Jim’s efforts have been worth much, much more than that.

At one point, Jim’s wife came in. He was spending so much time at the brewery that she got her server’s license and joined him in handling BRB events. She is now a bartender there, so it’s a family affair.

When any sort of facility emergency comes up (a rare thing these days), Jim is usually the man that gets the call, any day of the week. He’s handled many himself, and if he can’t get it taken care of, he knows who to contact. Jim is now an actual employee, getting paid for a handful of hours a week as the maintenance manager, but his contributions still greatly outweigh his salary.

Jim always keeps an eye on all the BRB equipment.

Outside of his BRB activities, Jim owns horses and spends a lot of time with them. He’s able to feed the horses the spent grain from the brewing process, so even the horses benefit from Jim’s relationship with the brewery. He owns 10 acres near Chama and hopes to build a dream house there someday.

As for beers, Jim said he enjoys lighter beers, like the kolsch, blonde, and Wit Rock. BRB had one called Krispy Kreme, which he said was akin to a combination of the blonde and Wit, and that was one of his favorites. If he gets a chance to pick a recipe, he’d like to see a heavy cherry liqueur-style brew, ideally during the cold of winter. He’s particularly not a fan of dark beers that taste of coffee, which he calls a “cold coffee.”

We ended the interview with a tour of the facilities.  It felt like there wasn’t a single bit of equipment about which Jim didn’t have a story or a hand in. I walked away feeling like without Jim, it’s quite possible the place wouldn’t have survived. If you happen to see Jim at the brewery, be sure to thank him for all of his efforts!

Cheers!

— Reid

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We swear that Marble Downtown taproom manager Xavier Romero can be serious sometimes.

Up until now, I have left the Unsung Heroes Series to our other writers. When I sent out a second email to the breweries asking for more nominees, Marble Brewery responded with not one but three, the managers of each of their taprooms.

“These three unsung heroes are on the front lines everyday and are committed not only to Marble but to their patrons and the community,” said Barbie Gonzalez, Marble’s director of taproom operations. “I couldn’t single one of them out because they are all truly and equally deserving of this.”

Figuring that I would have to drive to all three locations for interviews, I took this one on myself rather than ask any of the Crew staff to rack up some serious driving miles.

Then all three managers invited me to meet them downtown. Yeah, I got lucky.

On a recent afternoon, I sat down with taproom managers Xavier Romero (Downtown), Max Jones (Heights), and Keri Fleming (Westside) on the rooftop deck for a quick chat before I had to skedaddle over to Isotopes Park. Each of them offered up their thoughts on what makes their particular locations unique, yet still similar.

First up, how did each of them end up running three of the busiest taprooms in town?

“I guess about four and a half years ago (2013) there was a posting online,” Xavier said. “At that time I was coming here as a random customer, drinking some beers, the big, hoppy IPAs and Double IPAs. I saw their posting, I guess it was the first time they ever did job postings online. I had just moved to this city about a year prior to that. I interviewed for a job, killed it, and they offered me a bartending job. Two years after that (2015) they offered me the pub manager job.”

Keri joined the Marble family in a similar way.

“I was pretty much a regular at the Westside taproom,” she said. “I was a regular down here until they built that taproom. It’s right there (by my house) and makes it easier for me. My husband and I came in frequently, and Rachel, the manager at the time, asked me if I would like to work for my beer. I told her I have a bartending job. She’s like, is it this close to home? That happened on a Wednesday. I talked to her manager on Thursday and I started on Saturday. I’ve been with Marble since 2014. In 2015, I got promoted to assistant taproom manager. In 2016 in February, Rachel left to go on maternity leave and then decided not to come back in May, so that’s when I officially was made the taproom manager.”

Max started working for Marble at the downtown taproom before the Heights taproom opened last year.

“I started working (as a bartender) at 21 and ended up learning a good bit about wine and spirits,” he said. “I didn’t know much about beer, but then a beer dinner came along with the place I worked at. It seemed super awesome at that point. I applied for a job (at Marble in 2015) and that was it. After a year-and-a-half, became his assistant manager. When the Heights opened up (I moved there). I’ve been a manager for about six months now.”

The challenges the managers and their staffs face vary by location, though all have to deal with packed houses on the weekend.

“This location, I would say is first, you want to provide a nice, fun, exciting, great vibe,” Xavier said. “You’re trying to keep that going but you’re trying to keep people safe, too. You want people to enjoy their beers, but you want to always try to maintain a safe environment when you’re dealing with so many people. Trying to keep it a chill vibe when there’s chaos all around is pretty challenging, I would say.”

Westside taproom manager Keri Fleming turned her hobby of hanging out at that location into a full-time job.

At least when Xavier has a problem with the more technical aspects of the taproom, he has a room full of brewers and cellarmen to call upon. Keri is not nearly that lucky.

“For me, I guess my biggest challenge is we’ve been kind of free-standing on the west side,” she said. “We’re far away from the other breweries. I don’t have brewers on hand at all times. For me and my staff, we have to understand how all the draft systems work, how the CO2 levels work, how the nitrogen levels work on our own without the brewery to fall back on has been a big challenge for us. It has helped us learn and work together as a team.

“That, and everyone sees the Westside as the Cheers bar. We definitely have with our table service, knowing our regulars, knowing their names and their stories, being able to keep that for the past five years, it’s something I’m very proud of, but it has its challenges that come along with it because it entitles people. We’re just trying to keep everybody happy.”

For Max, the main challenges he and his staff face in the Heights are still tied to the relative newness of the location.

“We’re trained to keep an eye on the atmosphere, keep things under control,” he said. “You want to keep it consistent. I’m just trying to make sure it’s a cool place to come hang out. I like the vibe we’ve made. The challenge is just keeping everyone else happy, including our staff.”

Each taproom has also adapted to the different crowds that come along. The greatest variety of people still seems to come to the downtown pub.

“Well, we have a wide spectrum of people that come to this location,” Xavier said. “(It’s) unlike anything I’ve worked at before. We’re working with doctors, lawyers down the street, some local artists, just all variety of people coming. Tourists coming from the airport staying downtown. It’s just a bunch of different variety of people. We do have a good, solid base of regulars who visit us a few times a week, shake our hands. It’s just a really community hub to work at this location downtown.”

Keri has to deal with two main crowds, separated by age.

“I always think of the Westside crowd as more family-oriented,” she said. “A lot of young families, families with young kids. Then it goes back to the older crowd. … (But) it’s nice that they appreciate it that we’ll talk to them about what’s going on in their lives. It goes back to that would family feeling. I would say ours is definitely more of the young families. (But) grandpa is always there, a lot of grandpas.”

Heights taproom manager Max Jones has been keeping the newest location humming for the past six months.

Over the past year, the Heights crowd has become more defined. Max said he even sees a lot of the same faces he used to see downtown, but now the beers they love are closer to home.

“The Heights definitely has a pub feel,” Max said. “We’ve got everyone coming by. The age demographic, we’re all over one end of the spectrum and the other end of the spectrum. The guests that do come in, there’s a lot who used to make up the downtown crowd, but now they don’t have to drive down. We’ve got a lot of regulars like that. We’ve got a lot of regulars from that area who didn’t go to breweries much. All we had in the area was Lizard Tail. Now they’ve got two breweries around the corner from each other. I (also) see a lot of people who are new to (craft) beer.”

To get through all the ups and downs for their staffs, each manager has to keep things consistent in how they run their respective operations.

“To build them up, to be prepared to work this kind of crowd, we have a good training system we all follow at our three taprooms,” Xavier said. “So our standards, we just set them high. Our expectations for new staff is high. We’re just trying to motivate them and make them grow to be what we expect. I like doing things that I wouldn’t ask anyone to do. If a new barback is in the club, I’m going to get my hands dirty, I’ll go pick up stuff other people don’t want to pick up, just to show them, hey, this is our pub, this our house, our home, we’re family, a Marble family. Once you’re here, you’re going to be taken care of.

“I always tell my staff, you treat this pub really nice and the pub is going to treat you super nice. I just try to motivate them enough to see that this is a true experience, it’s not like another job. You’re not just pouring beers and slinging food. You’re going to appreciate this craft.”

Keri has a similar philosophy at the Westside taproom.

“I have to agree with Xavi on the training,” she said. “We have a really good training system. We revise it as need be, because when we’re training staff members we know what works for them. I also like to do feedback coaching with my staff, make sure that they’re comfortable with how we’re running things. But, also reminding them we are a family here, we do take care of each other, there are no weak links. Everybody works together, everybody works at the same pace. We’ll give you all the coaching and training you need. If you want to succeed, you will.

“Beer education is a big one. I try to push my staff members a lot to go to different classes. I try to research different beers and different styles, so that way I can educate them as well. I communicate with the brewery a lot on what I can do to keep them better educated so they can keep our customers educated as well. At one point, we had 32 different beers on tap (this summer). We had to pull some classics off our second bar. I would quiz my staff on these beers.”

Max tries to make sure his staff is educated as well, since he noted there are a lot of regulars at the Heights who are new to craft beer. Luckily, he has a big advantage working on the other side of the glass behind the bar.

“I have a master brewer (Josh Trujillo) up there who can give us a lot of knowledge, which is great,” Max said. “We get to pick his brain over the new beers coming out, because most of the specials we have are rolling out of there. … Beyond that, I’m working to try motivate them. I just want to keep them on top of everything.”

In the end, it appears all three Marble locations are in good hands, even when they each get a little crazy sometimes.

A big thanks to Xavier, Keri, and Max for being able to meet up in one place at the same time. Next time I will just have to remember to take a picture.

Until the next entry in our Unsung Heroes Series …

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Chris Medina, right, helps out everyone at Palmer Brewery, including his head bartender.

I made my way through a weeknight happy hour crowd in the expanded bar seating area at Palmer Brewery/Left Turn Distillery to interview Chris Medina, assistant distiller and sales manager. Chris started on the distilling side at Left Turn about two and a half years ago. When the brewery opened in November, he began helping out there as well.

Prior to his employment with Left Turn/Palmer, Chris worked at a profit management firm for bars. He would calculate pour costs and help with the accounting and inventory, as well as loss prevention and marketing strategies for local establishments. He said this really helps him with the sales side of this job. I have to say that Chris does not seem like a typical sales person. In fact, when I asked him why he thought Rob Palmer nominated him, he said, “Because he knows I’m shy.”

I jokingly asked him if Rob was trying to get him more exposure or just yanking his chain. Chris said probably a little of both. We indulged in a couple of pints of Cockness Monster, a superb new Palmer seasonal Scottish ale brewed in collaboration with CockFight Skateboards. And then, magically, shy guy Chris began to open up. Ah, the mighty power of beer!

In the back-of-the-house production side, it is really just three of them for the most part — owners Brian Langwell (head distiller) and Rob (head brewer), with Chris working between the two of them. They are swamped (hey, business is good!), so his nomination might have something to do with all the hard work that comes with this unique type of setup. Between the festivals they attend, the increased demand on site in the expanded bar, and distribution, this small staff has a lot on their plate; or is it in their bottle?

The Cockness Monster there in the center tends to go quickly once poured.

Speaking of Brian, he is a very hands-on kind of guy. With his experience as a machinist in his “former life,” he builds all his own equipment himself. If something breaks or they want to change how it works, they don’t have to wait because they can take care of it in house. In a true example of build it and they will come, they expanded what was originally an extremely intimate (read: tiny) tasting area into a wholly inviting full bar with much more ample seating. Since then, their customer base seems to have grown exponentially.

Chris said it was hard building it out because they did everything themselves by hand. Although Chris attended Eastern New Mexico University on a baseball scholarship, he was also a welding program student at CNM, so it all sort of fell into place. Because he said he has more of a passion for the bar industry than welding work, this makes for a good mix.

As I have in previous stories in this series, I asked Chris who (besides the owners) at Left Turn/Palmer he would nominate if he was asked to do so. Chris said it would be the head bartender, Ray. He is personable, makes awesome cocktails, and he goes the extra mile all the time, Chris said. Ray has been working there about a year and a half.

I have been trying to ask the “hero” a different question each time as well. I asked Chris to tell me about his best day and worst day. He said his best day is coming up with new spirits like the limoncello that he just made. He gave me a sample. He did an outstanding job (and peeled each and every lemon by hand himself!). It was not too thick or syrupy, or too bitter from pith. It was light and lemony and perfect on a hot day. Chris also helps with infusions, and said there is free run on ideas. Eventually, they would like to make all the mixers and liqueurs, and market their ginger beer. Chris makes the ginger beer for Left Turn/Palmer, but said he does not aspire to become a head brewer.

As for his bad day, it was about two months after he started working there. They were making rum and left a big barrel drum of molasses out in the sun to get it softened up to make it much easier to work with. Chris tilted it to open the lid, but it had expanded under pressure and it exploded like an oil gusher — as tall as the ceiling. It was everywhere. It took five hours to clean that day and when he left it was finally spotless. Then, when he came back the next day, molasses was crawling up the walls and coming out of the ceiling. It took a week for that to stop happening. To this day, he can occasionally see a spot. It makes me wonder if he has nightmares about it. It’s not the Cockness Monster, it’s the Molasses Monster you need to worry about!

The bar area at Palmer/Left Turn is an inviting place.

Since he grew up in a small town in northwest New Mexico, I asked Chris what his favorite part about living here is. He said it’s the locals. I would not have expected that answer, but his explanation makes sense. He said the sense of community here in Albuquerque was unexpected. Yet, it’s a big enough place that people don’t stay in your business. It’s a good balance, he said.

I asked Chris to tell me his current favorite beers from other breweries around town. He lives downtown, so in his rare time off work, this is where he spends most of his time. Right now he is into Boese’s lager. He said that he likes all beer styles, but usually leans toward clean, crisp beers.

“The staff members go to La Cumbre a lot because it’s close by,” Chris said. “And Quarter Celtic is awesome. The community is so great — you walk in anywhere and they recognize you.”

I asked if that’s hard for a “shy guy” and he replied, “Those guys aren’t strangers anymore, and, well, there’s beer to loosen you up!” There’s that magic again.

I wanted to know if Chris had to leave this bar industry and could do anything else, what would that be. He said he loves the outdoors and would like to be a fishing and/or rafting guide. However, Chris told me he is building a pizza oven that is similar to a horno. He likes making bread and might someday have a food truck, if not a brick and mortar establishment. I joked about going from one yeast to another.

Following the interview, I pinned down Rob and asked him his actual reason for nominating Chris.

“Chris wears all the hats in the brewery/distillery,” Rob said. “There is nothing that he doesn’t do or won’t do. I am the one making the beer. Brian is the one making the sprits. And Chris is the one helping us do everything. Without Chris, we couldn’t do it. And everywhere he goes, he’s fighting for us.”

Rob also let me know that coming up in the fermenters is an imperial pale ale. Also, they may soon have a barrel-aged MWA (malt liquor). Seriously, if that happens, where else in the world could you get that?

I would like to thank Chris for letting me interview him, even though it was well outside of his comfort zone. Also, thanks to Rob and Ray for being so welcoming and gracious. It is no wonder the people have come to Palmer/Left Turn, and even more importantly have stayed. Congratulations, and we wish you continued success.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Michael Waddy does more than just make the beer over at Kaktus Brewing.

When we got the news that Dana Koller nominated his head brewer, Michael Waddy, as an Unsung Hero at Kaktus Brewery, I jumped at the opportunity to write his interview. I have a fondness for the particularly eccentric and creative methodology and themes the business has become known for. I drove out to Bernalillo’s neighborhood brewery, sitting quietly along South Hill Road, to sit down with Michael and try a few new beers. After settling in on the outside patio, with its intimate view of the Sandias in the evening, we began to sample the libations and start our conversation.

When asked why he thought he may have been nominated as an unsung hero, Waddy humbly replied, “I don’t know. I certainly don’t feel unsung. I feel like people appreciate what I do and they let me know. I brew beer. I guess that’s kind of a big deal. But, I also do other things. I’m the keg delivery guy. I also do random side jobs around here. I’m a bit of a handyman. Currently, I’m putting together new furniture for the brewery (new tables were being placed in the taproom dining area). I try to help out wherever I can.”

To turn the question around this time, I asked what he believed were the most valuable qualities he brings to the brewery.

“Well, I think I’m a pretty good brewer,” Waddy said with a chuckle. “But, I’m also very emotionally invested in this place. I try to help out as much as I can, and I try to do the best job that I can.”

The dedication certainly showed as we further discussed ongoing projects within the brewery, to include the expansion of their Kombucha line, and ideas hinting towards further building on a true sour-style barrel program.

Michael started brewing beer at a young age, displaying a mischievous resourcefulness and fondness for the art of brewing.

“I started brewing beer before I could legally drink beer,” he said. “I purchased a 5-gallon pilot system and started experimenting with it in high school. I mostly just started doing it to throw parties and have beer. I really started getting into the science of it when I went to UNM. I started apprenticing under Mark Matheson of (then) Turtle Mountain, and that hands-on experience taught me more than anything else I had done so far, including my own trial and errors.”

It’s clear to me why Waddy was nominated as an unsung hero. He is a man of my talents, from brewing, to cooking, to building furniture, but Waddy had a couple other nominations in mind for unsung heroes.

“While we’re talking about unsung heroes, a couple of our regulars here feel like the true unsung heroes to me,” he said. “There’s a guy named Stu. He builds stuff here. Like right now, he’s working on a stage on our patio. He’s coming in on his own time to build this stage. There’s another guy named Reid. Reid helps us book musicians. We had blues player(s) come through. He also booked a girl that was on The Voice. Both shows brought in huge crowds to the brewery. We have patrons that love this place so much that they want to help us out. Those guys are the true unsung heroes of Kaktus Brewery.”

Patrons as unsung heroes? At a neighborhood pub like Kaktus, we can see that.

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat, and to Dana for setting it up.

Cheers!

— Shawna

Broken Trail operations manager Devan Colston is a veteran of the local beer scene.

When our editor asked for Unsung Hero nominations, Broken Trail Spirits + Brew’s co-owner and head distiller Matt Simonds nominated his operations manager, Devan Colston. Originally, Matt gave me a three-word response when I asked him why he chose Devan: “Because he’s awesome?” Then Matt immediately expanded on that by saying, “No, more to the point. Devan has been a source of stability around here. I’m stretched pretty thin, and Devan more or less begged for the opportunity (to) help out when I needed it the most. He’s a guy that’s been around the craft brewing scene for a while now — he’s bartended, he’s slung beer. He brought that experience over to us and really helped take Broken Trail up to the next level. And, he’d be the first to say, we haven’t even gotten started!”

Luckily, I thought to bring my Dark Side shirt with me to work and hastily threw it on before I met with Devan at lunchtime in Nob Hill to interview him for this series. Because, despite his being in the industry for quite a long time, we strangely had not met, and neither of us would have known who to look for. It turns out he is an interesting guy who has pretty much seen all sides of this business of breweries.

Devan began his career in the industry working for Nico Ortiz as a server at Turtle Mountain. He then started bartending there, became a manger, and in total worked there for almost a decade. Devan moved on to La Cumbre, where he worked as a taproom manager for just under three years. He then worked at Ponderosa for about eight months, and has now been at Broken Trail about a year and a half. He started out there bartending a couple of nights a week while working another full-time job. Working at Broken Trail afforded him the opportunity to work with both beer and cocktails. He feels that, first and foremost, he is a beer guy, but the spirits side allows him to be more artistic.

Broken Trail started growing quickly, and there is also the added business from distributing, including the new and very popular Pepe the Mule malt beverage. With this growth, Devan saw an opportunity to assist Matt on the operations side. He now manages operations at both the Green Jeans taproom and main location.

As I did in my first story in this series, I asked Devan why he thought he was nominated. He said he likes to go about his job in a humble fashion, just show up and get things done. Between what he said and what Matt said, if I can read between the lines, I am guessing the crux of it is this — it seems Devan has the ability to see a bigger picture and envision what needs to be done. And then he does it. It may sound simplistic, but in actuality, this is not an innate trait in most employees.

Also, as I am wont to do, I threw out a couple of silly questions. I asked Devan — before he ever got involved in this industry — what he originally wanted to “be when he grew up.” (I obviously couldn’t answer that question if I was asked, because I never did grow up!) Devan said from the time he started high school he wanted to be involved in academia. He always wanted to teach, to be a professor. I told him he should teach craft cocktail classes.

I suddenly decided I wanted to know the weirdest thing he has seen working in this business. Devan thought for a bit and then said, “Humans are just weird.” He then told me a recent story about a couple who were “being gross” at the bar. He said the words public display of affection didn’t even cover it. Because it happened at the Green Jeans location, the micro-bar size of the space made it impossible for him to get away from it. He actually turned the incident into a Facebook post, comparing it to a Dave Chappelle skit from Saturday Night Live.

I asked Devan who he as operations director would nominate at Broken Trail for this series. Without hesitation, he said, “Obviously Matt.” Devan said he loves Matt’s products and “Matt’s the one that makes the show go.” I teased him about how this series is not really about owners or long-time head brewers, but more about the hardworking employees who don’t usually get the credit. I gave him a hard time about a mutual admiration society. All kidding aside, though, Matt is great fun, and wouldn’t we all like to have such a fantastic relationship with our boss?

Then, Devan went a step further by saying he wanted to note one more thing about who he would nominate if he could nominate anyone else (outside of Broken Trail). He wanted me to know how much respect and admiration he has for Zach Guilmette at Canteen Brewhouse. Devan feels Zach is making some of the best beer in town and does not get the same recognition as the “top guns.”

As for upcoming news for Broken Trail, collaborations like the Sancho Saison they did with Jubilation, will continue. Devan said to look for a couple more hop-forward beers soon.

Event-wise, there’s a special one coming up, hopefully at the end of July. Devan literally provided information that could be called a smoking gun. Because Matt bought one — a smoking gun, that is! They are planning a night of smoked cocktails at the main Broken Trail location in collaboration with Nob Hill Bar & Grill, Scalo, Farina Alto, and others. I wish he had some kind of sign-up sheet right there with him, because I would have signed up on the spot.

And, there just might be another, much bigger surprise in the works. Stay tuned, everyone …

Cheers!

— AmyO

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Tyler King (left) and Jami Nordby (step-ladder) are getting things in place back in December.

When we began our Unsung Heroes Series, we sent out feelers to all of the breweries, asking them to submit an employee who they feel goes above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. When John Rowley of Rowley Farmhouse Ales replied to me, he sent me not one, but two heroes he felt were deserving of the title, though he was careful to mention that it’s not only the two candidates that bust their butts every day to make RFA happen, it’s all the employees, friends, family, and the amazing community that come out to support this fine brewery. But, to Rowley, these two individuals, are 100 (percent) proof that not all heroes wear capes. And, don’t think I didn’t angle for that photo-op. So, before anyone runs into a phone booth, this is an ode to two hard-working guys with home-brewing roots, living out a dream of many of ours, but certainly not taking it for granted.

Jami Nordby (head brewer)

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Okay, so it was just luck that Jami wore his Superman shirt the day I dropped by for a photo.

Rowley Farmhouse Ales brought Nordby on board in October 2016. Before that, Jami had been home brewing since 1994. In Santa Fe, we all knew him well for running the only local home-brew supply shop in town. He had recently sold the shop around the time he was approached about commercial brewing full-time at Rowley Farmhouse Ales (not that the two are exactly related). Since then, he’s proved quite an asset to the team.

Besides the usual, everyday brewing operations (which is not a blanket statement at all at a brewery), Nordby takes on anything that the brewery and restaurant needs to have done.

“I’ve been on the roof; I’ve been in the basement,” Jami said.

He’s done it all, top to bottom, everything from electrical to construction and plumbing. And, as a bartender, who just happened to walk by during the interview, put it quite well: “He gets all the jobs that nobody else wants.” I’m sure it’s true.

On a typical day, Nordby rolls into work about 8:30 a.m. or so. He puts in a good eight hours Monday through Friday, with Saturday as needed. If it’s a brew day, he plans to spend about 10 to 12 hours at work. Though he puts a lot of time and effort into RFA, he doesn’t let it completely take over his family life. Either he picks up his son from school, or he makes arrangements with his wife. His kiddo has always been a priority, as we Santa Fe home brewers knew that the home-brew supply shop would be closed for an hour at peak pick-up times during the school year. (We never minded.)

At RFA, Jami has just followed his passion for home brewing. You can see his eyes light up as he talks about all the new equipment they have in the space now, from the keg washer he hand-built, to the new barrels, and the brand new/used walk-in cooler.

“It’s a homebrewer’s dream,” he said.

Maybe that was me who said that, but he didn’t disagree. I asked him what his favorite style of beer to brew was.

“Whatever the next one is, I think,” he said with a laugh.

Rowley said of his head brewer: “Jami has been a force since he came on. He’s able to do much more than just the brewing tasks. Just as one small example, let’s talk about the keg washer. Our plan, to start, was to rely on Santa Fe Brewing to contract clean and sanitize kegs as they do this for local smaller guys like ourselves. They have a state-of-the-art keg-washing system. Jami took the initiative to build his own keg washer, as he felt it would be more effective to do it in-house, as opposed to lugging kegs back and forth. And, it works great! Having Jami there while I am off at the lab working has been a huge plus for us. He’s able to work independently without direct supervision. He gets the job done, and I don’t have to second-guess his decisions at all. He’s a great guy and has proven to be one of our most valuable team members. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Rowley also named their other brewer, Tyler King, as one of their Unsung Heroes, noting that he definitely deserves credit for all he’s done for RFA.

Tyler King (brewer)

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Tyler King said, “You can take a picture, but I’m not really doing anything right now.” My reply, “Maybe not, but it’s a Sunday, and you’re here at work. Smile for the camera, hero.”

Tyler is originally from Loveland, Colorado, and moved to Santa Fe about 14 years ago. After judging the Enchanted Brewing Challenge in 2016, Tyler spoke to John Rowley about a job. It proved to be pretty good timing, as he was looking to get into commercial brewing, and Rowley was just starting to talk about the brewery publicly. Even before construction started (which Tyler volunteered a lot of his time for), they’d had a bit of a verbal agreement. Prior to that, King had home brewed for seven years. He had a rocky start in college, like many of us have, but his interest was rekindled while having a conversation over a home brew at former Governor Gary Johnson’s son-in-law’s house. (True story!)

King’s big entrance into the NM brewing scene, however, came by way of the annual home-brew competition in 2014, the Santa Fe Open, put on by the Sangre de Cristo Craftbrewers home-brew club. The Dark Side has covered several of these great local home-brewing competitions, because we know for a fact that these kind of competitions yield future professional brewers. Come to think of it, that first competition is actually where I met King. He was volunteering a lot of his time then, too, as I recall.

Aside from brewing, King also does I.T. for a local art university in Santa Fe, as well as owning an independent film company. On occasion, he does freelance post-production audio work for independent film workers as well, because, as he put it, “You’ve got to stay busy!”

And, busy he stays. When he’s not at his 9-to-5 weekday job, for which he’s also on-call nightly, he works Saturdays and occasionally Sundays at the brewery, doing anything and everything that is needed on those days, much like Nordby. His primary focus at RFA is the 1-barrel small-batch system, where he gets to try out new recipes and make more of the fun one-off beers served in the taproom. Of course, he also helps Jami and John on the 7-barrel system when they need to fill barrels with new stuff, or make more of the core beers.

When I asked if King had much input in the recipes they brew at RFA, he replied, “The great thing about our size is we all work together. John usually makes up the actual recipes in the software and has final say. He is the brewmaster and it is his name on the wall. I wouldn’t expect anything less. That said, if I want to make a recipe, use a home-brew one, or improvise on the spot to fix a problem, I can. Colonel Citra was a scaled-up version of my award-winning home-brew DIPA by the same name. It seemed well received commercially! Who doesn’t like a well-balanced 9-percent, all-Citra hop IPA? I’ve been thinking of a funky brettanomyces version, too. On top of just recipes, I can give input on equipment we need, fruits to use, (and) if a beer is ready or not, et cetera. Best recent example I can think of is tasting the four chardonnay barrels we just bottled. Four of us got together to decide what fruits would go in what barrel. I pushed the group to swap the fruit choice in two barrels. Hopefully everyone will agree with me when they are for sale! 1,000-plus bottles are conditioning now.”

Rowley had this to say about King: “Tyler was instrumental in getting our small batches off, and running when we first started brewing after getting our licenses all lined up. He and I brewed every Saturday for the first five months or so. It was taxing, but he runs with it and doesn’t complain. He’s come a long way as a brewer and is a vital part of our team. Tyler played a big role in us getting the doors opened as well. He was there, every weekend, in 2016 while we worked on getting the taproom and patio ready for service. We were fortunate to have a lot of help from our friends, but Tyler was there every step of the way. I know my name is on the wall, but there really isn’t Rowley Farmhouse Ales without Jami and Tyler working hard to bring New Mexico the best possible beer we can. I can’t speak highly enough of the team we have in place right now. Over time, we hope to grow the brewery up, but we definitely have a great core now.”

I asked Rowley what took them above and beyond the call of duty.

“I really think that these guys are looking at what we are doing as less of a job, and more of a mission,” he said. “Anyone can have a job that they may or may not like going to daily. But, my feeling is both Jami and Tyler are passionate about our mission to create the best beer we can, and that translates to passion instead of a feeling of this just being a job. Sure, we all have days that we don’t want to do some less desirable work (washing kegs, cleaning tanks, whatever that might be), but I don’t feel any hesitation with these guys. They have the attitude that those things are necessary and they embrace these less than ideal parts of the job and charge at them, not away from them. That’s how I know we have the right people, and Jami and Tyler are those guys.”

* * * * *

There are many different kinds of heroes that work at our breweries. They come in all shapes, sizes, beard-lengths, boot-colors, and genders. They work at all different positions from bartender, to lab tech, to office manager, and brewer. There really are no small fires that these gals and guys put out on a daily basis. Everything they do, tweak, build, or fix, no matter how seemingly minute, makes or breaks the solid reputations of our great New Mexico breweries.

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These limited bottles will be available soon. Check your local beer geek shop.

Truth be told, if it were not for Jami’s patience and unassuming nature, and his store, of course, I may not have lasted through my first hop selection and recipe creation. I may not have brewed a few batches, joined the local club, and soon after leapt at the opportunity to write for the Dark Side. So, to all of you heroes, sung and unsung, whether your name is on the posters or simply on a pay stub, we in the Dark Side Brew Crew, salute you.

Cheers!

— Luke

Luke123 Steel Bender

For more @nmdarksidebc info, #CraftBeer news, and unabashed Untappd pics, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!

Manager Skip Galarneau is the man who keeps the original Blue Grasshopper location hopping.

Editor’s note: With ABQ Beer Week in the rear view mirror, we are finally getting back to our Unsung Heroes Series. We asked each of the breweries around town to nominate one or more employees who go above and beyond, but don’t necessarily get the recognition of the owners and head brewers/brewmasters. Today, we meet up with the man the owners of The Blue Grasshopper said saved their Rio Rancho location while they were busy opening up their new taproom near Coors and Montano. — Stoutmeister

Kenneth ‘Skip’ Galarneau is currently the bar manager at The Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub in Rio Rancho, and when I sat down with him, I had one goal in mind (OK, aside from drinking a good beer), and that was to understand what defines an unsung hero. What is the essence of being an unsung hero? I started by asking Skip about his past and how he had found his way to the present.

“In ’99 I started working at Turtle (Mountain Brewery), April of ’99, it was like a couple of weeks after it opened. I was just about to turn 21 and it was a good time to get a job at a brewery,” Skip said.

At this point I interrupted Skip with a bunch of questions about the early days of Turtle Mountain. I won’t bore you with that, but rather skip (no pun intended) ahead.

“I took a break over there and went to the coast in Newport, Oregon,” Skip said. “I worked at the Rogue Brewery out there … cooking again over there at the bayfront taproom. It was cool … just thousands of fish and chips and they had pizza over there, too, (plus) burgers, just a huge variety of food. That was awesome.

“Came back to town when my little brother was getting out of school and he actually got a job at Turtle, also, as did my older brother, Adam. He’s now a regional manager over at Bosque. We’re beer nerds, sort of, we just love the restaurant industry. It kind of puts us in touch with the people. I like Rio Rancho and working at Turtle helped me get to know most of the community out here and I grew up here, too.”

It was during Skip’s 11 years at Turtle Mountain that he realized what he enjoyed most about working in a restaurant was getting to know his guests and taking care of them. This became the focus of his career and he carried it with him to his next job, which was at yet another local institution.

“I worked over at The Range for five years after that, shaking drinks over at the Bernalillo location,” Skip said. “How I kinda got pulled from The Range over here was (I wasn’t living here at the time), it’s close to my family and close to where I wanted to live. I like Rio Rancho and I like the people out here. I feel really comfortable. And, you pretty much got a great view of everything. Live music six nights a week, though. That was pretty much the pull for me. And, a bunch of great beer on tap. The guest beers were the key to this place, I think. Because, you can totally advertise everybody that’s New Mexico. Now that I have a little bit more pull in the beer order I can get exactly what people want. I listen and then I deliver. We just try to pull the best stuff.”

The vibe of Blue Grasshopper is what drew Skip to seek a job there.

Just as he did at Turtle Mountain, Skip started in the kitchen and quickly proved himself before finding his way out to the customers.

“They were open for a year when I got here in April of last year,” Skip said. “I started off as the kitchen manager. They were looking for some kitchen help. I walked in here and it looked like a baby old Turtle (Mountain), and I was like damn, I might have to work here. I came in here, I saw the setup — lots of beer on tap. It was an open mic night that night. I played a few songs. Everything was like a really good vibe, so a couple weeks later I started, and my second day they made me kitchen manager.”

One way to describe Skip’s migration from the back of the house to the front of the house is to say that his passion for food is far too great to be contained in the kitchen, and therefore he must be able to take it out to the guests. Skip has his own philosophy when it comes to the role of food at a taproom, and it’s hard to disagree with him.

“As a server it makes me feel nervous about serving alcohol when you don’t have a lot of food on-hand that really kicks ass and makes people compelled to order, not because they need something to eat, but because it’s delicious,” Skip said. “You’ve taken care of a human need, you know. That’s part of hospitality is taking care of all the human needs — food, drink, shelter, love.”

I took a cue from AmyO (thanks!) and asked Skip why he thought he had been chosen as the unsung hero. It almost seems like this question should be a requirement for this series.

“Basically I just like the work,” he said. “I’ll work hard wherever I’m working, I just hope it’s worth it, and it’s worth it because of the Rio Rancho people. Why was I picked? I just work hard.”

Skip has a big say in what beers are selected as guest taps.

Of course, Skip didn’t give himself enough credit. Being an unsung hero is more than hard work. It’s the intangibles. It’s the passion that he has for what he does, how it inspires his coworkers, and how it translates to a better experience for his customers. Like the way he is always eager to work with the staff on improving their skills, yet is never afraid to be shown up.

“I’m not in the kitchen anymore, but I’m always ready to get down there and show people some method and how to just do some little tweaks and get a little faster,” Skip said. “I love watching other people maybe that aren’t even from the industry do something that I think is amazing, and stealing their shortcuts, and put it in my pocket, and be like, thank you, you don’t even know what you did for me. You know? Because, you never know where you’re going to get that extra knowledge … and then you’re like, we’re going to do it that way from now on.”

Stop in at Blue Grasshopper Brew Pub sometime for a beer and maybe some music, or just to say hi to Skip. If you are lucky you might catch him on stage.

“I love musicians,” Skip said. “I play and sing. Occasionally, I’ll sit in and play on somebody’s break or I’ll sit in with a band and sing some songs or something like that.”

The Brew Crew thanks Skip for his work in our local craft brew industry and wishes him the best of luck going forward in his career.

Cheers!

— deezbeers

Flix Brewhouse bartender Misha Lockamy has stepped in a big way.

Editor’s note: The Crew is kicking off the new Unsung Heroes Series, an ongoing catalogue of articles that will focus on the folks who work extra hard to make our local breweries great, but maybe don’t get the recognition of the owners and head brewers/brewmasters we all know and love. We asked all the breweries to nominate one or two members of their staffs. To start us off, AmyO went to the west side to meet with the unsung hero(ine) of Flix Brewhouse. — Stoutmeister

I had no idea what to expect as I arrived at Flix Brewhouse early one Sunday morning in order to interview Misha Lockamy, the day shift bartender. I know I did not expect to be interviewing someone who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, who has a degree in astrophysics, and was a mechanic in the Air Force. Oh, and she’s also the proud mother of two children.

Misha’s heroism might be “unsung” outside the walls of Flix, but internally the staff is quick to sing her praises. Her diverse background and knowledge, and her willingness to jump in and do whatever needs to be done, is what makes her such a valuable employee. And, it is why Will Moorman, Flix Brewhouse’s head brewer, nominated Misha to be profiled for this series.

“Misha’s passion for Flix Brewhouse’s beers is second to none, and shows our new employees what being a team member at Flix is all about,” Will said.

Flix Brewhouse also has locations in Texas, Iowa, and Indiana. It is the first theater in the country to brew beer on site. The Albuquerque location is unique in several ways. One is that it does not have a full bar due to state regulations. This has its drawbacks, but also aids in keeping the focus more on the beer. Because Albuquerque is quite the beer town, another unique aspect is that sometimes people come just to sit at the bar and have a beer, rather than go see a movie. Misha said that really does not happen at the other locations.

Misha said Flix has the most rigorous training she has been through other than the military. She had nine days of training on every aspect of the operation (short of the actual brewing), starting as a runner. On her days off, Misha sometimes helps out in the brewery, and having been a mechanic in the Air Force lends itself well to being around the brewhouse.

The day was just starting for the staff at Flix.

This is a new series for the DSBC, so I pondered where to start the conversation about being an unsung hero. I decided to ask Misha if she might know why she was nominated. She said that was a good question, because she feels like everybody works really hard at Flix. There are about 200 employees, which she thinks makes it even more flattering that Will nominated her.

“Maybe because I’m a little universal here?” Misha said. “I teach the brew class (to other employees) … I guess they got good feedback. They did an anonymous survey and more than half of new employees said that the brew class was the most useful and enjoyable aspect of training.”

That was it — she got it on the first try. In fact, her training has been so successful, they want to roll it out to all of the Flix locations. I asked her how the class originally came to be. She replied that her general manager came to her one day to ask a favor. He said every time he overheard her speaking to a guest, he learned something. He wanted to know if she could please share that knowledge with all the other bartenders. So, Misha designed an agenda for the class — which he was not expecting — and the manager was very impressed, she said. Although Misha had not written the agenda with the intention of anyone else seeing it, this information was ultimately shared with the other locations.

In the brew class, Misha said she talks about the brewing process, the ingredients in beer, and the difference between lagers and ales. She gives a brewery tour and lectures attendees on the enemies of beer, and how to avoid introduction of off-flavors. She describes the history of each of the core Flix beers and what they should taste like. She has the employees taste the beers, and asks them to branch off from saying “like” and “dislike” to include the use of more descriptive adjectives. It varies, but a class is usually about an hour and a half long, and has three or four people. A recent class, however, lasted two and a half hours and had 12 people, Misha said. Some employees have asked to come back multiple times.

Misha knows all about the beers in the bright tanks above the bar.

Prior to joining the Flix staff full time, Misha worked at Ponderosa. She said she started there when it first opened. In fact, Misha credited her beer history fascination and quest for knowledge to Bob Haggerty, Ponderosa’s previous head brewer who is now at Steel Bender Brewyard. He would tell her facts about the beer and her eyes would light up, she said. She soaked up all the information like a sponge.

Misha was recently was a guest judge at a Dukes of Ale local home brewing competition. She is a Cicerone certified beer server and said she is nearly ready to take the test for level two. Because of her vast knowledge, her science background, and her mechanical skills, I asked Misha if she would like to be a brewer herself one day. Misha said that she would love to, but also cannot see herself giving up bartending. She has a real desire to work with the public and is hesitant to switch fully out of customer service, because she learns something every day from interacting with other people.

When I inquired as to what she feels is the best thing about this particular job, Misha said it is the people she works with. While this may seem like some sort of typical or canned response, Misha said that in any competitive environment there is actually healthy, productive competition. The staff is very much there for each other, inside and outside of work. She called them genuinely positive people, who are not, “fake happy.” Misha said she makes a conscious effort to know and address each employee (remember, there are a lot of them) by name.

Using that information, and in order to come full circle with the interview, I turned the tables and asked Misha who would she nominate for this title of unsung hero if she were asked to make the decision. She was slightly hesitant to commit to an answer at first, but relented and said it would be twin sisters Marin and Jena. They mainly work in the box office, but jump in to help wherever needed. They come in on days off and after school. Marin and Jena call themselves “mirror twins,” because one is left handed and the other right. But, Misha said they are very much alike in that they are super smart, kind, and intuitive people who are willing to work any shift, any time.

Thank you to Misha for taking time out of her Sunday to chat with us.

Following the interview, I got a behind the scenes tour, some of which I cannot share in photos. I will say, though, that it’s quite interesting. Unfortunately, no one there on Sunday morning had the key to enter the brewing area. I stood there peering through the glass at all the equipment and thinking how it would be nice if I could take Misha’s class. But, I had already taken up more than enough of her valuable time. She was heading off to go pull apart the front end of her car to replace her own cracked radiator. Yes, by herself. That, friends, is pretty damn heroic.

Cheers!

— AmyO