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Woman’s touch: Female team heads Toltec, the newest brewery on the West Side

A predominately female leadership team runs the show at the West Side’s newest brewery, Toltec Brewing Co.

Brewmaster Kaylynn McKnight recently brought on assistant brewer Amanda Rebecca Ruiz to help make the brewery’s signature beers, which include rye lager, altbier, agave wheat, IPA, New England-style pale ale, and stout. McKnight plans to gradually fill Toltec’s 10 taps with six house beers and four rotating seasonals.

“I just kind of do a broad range of beers but kind of switch them up a little bit,” McKnight said. “I love having light beers and dark beers, stronger beers, and more sessionable beers. I think it’s really important to have a variety, something for everybody.”

McKnight has been brewing for eight years. She previously was head brewer at Nexus Brewery and an assistant brewer at La Cumbre Brewing Co. She has won gold and silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup and plans to enter some of her new beers at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in September. She also will compete in the New Mexico Brewers Guild IPA Challenge in July.

Co-owner Diane Navarrette came up with Toltec’s name, interior design, logo and branding. She said the word “Toltec” has always resonated with her because it sounded different. The swirly logo bordered by straighter lines was inspired by her research on petroglyphs. Diane Navarrette owns Toltec with her husband, Robert Navarrette. Their niece, Violet Navarrette, who handles marketing and social media for the brewery, received her bachelor’s of arts in communication from the University of New Mexico and is a signals support systems specialist in the Army National Guard.

In the kitchen, Executive Chef David Ruiz holds the reins. Ruiz has 14 years of culinary experience and was the executive chef at Pueblo Harvest Cafe before joining Toltec. After his stint in fine dining, he is ready to have some fun with food on his own terms. His current pride and joy is The Royale, an incredible burger that features homemade buns, ancho herb mayonnaise, a local fried egg, New Mexico green chile, aged white cheddar, bacon and a brisket and cremini mushroom New Mexico-sourced patty. You can also find his Green Eggs and Ham on the menu, made of eggs deviled with a spinach puree and braised pork belly glazed with agave and brown sugar.

“It’s one of my favorite books growing up,” Ruiz said. “So food the way I’m looking at it is I can transform the food and take people back to simpler times, to their childhood, kind of give them a good reminder of, you know, things that their parents made, because half the menu is stuff that my grandma made or my mom made or just deviations of that.”

It was important to the Navarrettes to hire a strong team.

“We know that we wanted people with the right experience, because we know that we don’t have that experience,” Robert Navarrette said. “We don’t know how to be a chef or a brewer, so we needed someone with their talent. It basically fell into place.”