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One-on-One with Ted Rice

In Ted Rice’s youth, all signs seemed to point to Wall Street.

His father is a stock broker-turned-financier. His stepfather ran the bond division at a major investment firm.

Rice – who grew up in a particularly tony section of Long Island – figured he’d try to follow suit.

“I decided I would take accounting for my freshman year of college – 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Rice says. “With (my) strong taste for Milwaukee’s Best, it didn’t really go over so well.”

Rice plugged away, graduating from Roanoke College in four years. But while he had a degree, he didn’t have much in the way of direction. He wound up working construction and restaurant jobs for a couple of years.

Then his brother bought him a home-brew kit for his 24th birthday.

Everything changed.

Enamored of the beer-making process, Rice soon took a job cleaning kegs at a Long Island brewpub. That led him to brewing school in California, and subsequent gigs in Miami and, later, Albuquerque.

After several years with Blue Corn Brewery and its sister, Chama River, Rice and a handful of partners launched Marble Brewery in 2008. Customers flooded the Downtown Albuquerque brewery and taproom the night it opened and things still haven’t slowed down. Demand for Marble beer is so ravenous, the brewery is working on an expansion that will double its production capacity.

Marble has been a critical hit, too: Earlier this year, it earned Small Brewing Company of the Year honors at the Great American Beer Festival, the latest in a long string of awards.

Rice never fathomed this type of success, but, he says, “It’s a great place to be.”

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: How do I want to phrase this? Privileged derelict. I wasn’t really focused on school. I played team sports, had a lot of good friends, enjoyed a pretty cushy life and here I am today. I’m a brewmaster.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I was a caddy on my parents’ golf course, so that was a great summer (gig). I did that from sixth grade through college. That’s just pretty free-form. You just show up, carry two golfers’ bags around 18 holes, find their balls, give them clubs, give them tips and they pay you. So you were done by like 1 or 2, and then I’d go out on my parents’ boat and go waterskiing or fishing for the rest of the day or drive over to the south shore of (Long Island) and go surfing.

Q: What was the first great beer you ever tasted?

A: They talk about beer epiphanies and I think I probably had a couple of those. I do remember one time drinking at a beer bar in Manhattan called the Blind Tiger and drinking a Schneider & Sohn Weizenbock, so it’s a wheat beer … (and) you have all these flavors of clove and banana, but also chocolate and strength of alcohol, and just the intensity. That really opened my mind to where beer can take you, and that’s a classic German style; it’s not like it’s one of these new, inventive American-fueled styles that you see in the market now. So that was one of them and then just drinking Sierra Nevada pale ale on draft on summer break during college. And once I was locked into that flavor, to full-flavored beers, there was no turning back.

Q: When you got a job washing kegs at a Long Island brewpub in your 20s, were your parents cool with that?

A: It’s funny you ask that because the guys who hired me were like, “So what do your parents think? You finished college and you’re in here just like working in a brewery.” I was like “Well, they just want me to be happy and I’m having fun doing this. And I’m not doing it just to make money; I’m doing it because I find interest in this.” That’s what’s always sort of driven me, fueled me. Sure, everybody needs income, but I’m doing this because I’m creating something that I love, and I’m challenged by the process and by managing it all.

Q: How would you describe your brewing style?

A: Currently, I describe it as “unabashedly bold,” which is our tag line on a couple.

Q: Was winning Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival a goal of yours?

A: I’ve been entering the GABF since 2000, so I’ve always admired the breweries that won that and been in awe of that feat. These days, with the sheer number of breweries out there and the amazing quality of beer, to secure that title was touching. … (Getting the award) was quite the moment. The whole rest of the day, you’re just in disbelief that it even happened and then, the week after, everyone’s telling you, “Congratulations.” (You) just almost well up with tears in your eyes every time. So much work and emotional investment leads up to this point, whether it’s designing your beers, training your team, building your brand (and) just the relationships you have with your customers over the years. It all comes together.

Q: How do you know when you’ve absolutely nailed it with a beer?

A: When even myself – and I’m my biggest critic – (when) I’m actually impressed. When it just has those aromas and flavors and layers that keep you curious and keep you wondering, and call you back time and time again.

Q: It seems Marble is always doing something in partnership with a community organization or nonprofit. Was that one of your goals at the outset?

A: I wouldn’t say it was one of our goals at the outset; I would say it was just a natural progression. People would come down and spend time on the patio and we’d decide to collaborate with them. ( Marble hosts several large-scale fundraisers every year to benefit organizations such as Harwood Art Center, Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and Downtown Growers Market, among others. It also makes donations to other nonprofits.)

Q: What is your biggest regret?

A: (That I) didn’t really apply myself in school.

Q: Do you think you’d be in a different place if you had?

A: I don’t know. It’s tough to say, maybe it’s all for a reason. But I think I probably could’ve been a more educated, rounded individual. I tend to be fairly focused and when I focus on something, I just lock in.

Q: What is your pet peeve?

A: Lack of attention to detail.

Q: Do you have any strange quirks or superstitions?

A: I have a strong aversion to mayonnaise. Lifelong. Growing up in New York, it is all deli cold cuts for lunch. I’m really happy to be in the land of tacos and burritos for lunch.

Q: What is your perfect way to spend a day off?

A: These days, really a varied day. Probably playing with my daughter, teaching her something new. (Also) nine holes of golf, a bike ride, a great meal and some live music.

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?

A: (Wife Amberley Rice) encouraged me – my parents and my wife – to go find a job in the brewing industry and encouraged me to go to brewing school, and I’m forever indebted to her for that.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Gutsy, ambitious, impatient.

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