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Brewery brotherhood thrives

Bartender Josh Morales draws a draft beer at Ponderosa Brewing Co. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Bartender Josh Morales draws a draft beer at Ponderosa Brewing Co. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Brian Hansen was sitting on a bar stool at Red Door Brewing Co. near Interstate 25 and Candelaria, drinking a beer on a recent Friday afternoon.

The 57-year-old playground installer from Bosque Farms usually has his lunch at Chama River Brewing Co. While eating there one day, a bartender suggested Hansen try Red Door Brewing Co., a new brewery that opened this past October.

“They told me this place just opened, and they’re really nice,” he said while sitting at one of about a dozen barstools in the darkened taproom. “I’ll definitely come back. Just because of the friendly people … I’m not super-alcoholic or nothin’ – just like the friendliness.”

A brewery referring a loyal customer to another brewery might seem unlikely, but a brewery brotherhood that exists in Albuquerque includes not only collegial sharing of customers, but also lending of supplies and business start-up tips, especially for the breweries new to the game.

In recent months, a handful of breweries have opened in Bernalillo County, bringing the total to 20, about half the breweries in the state, according to executive director of the New Mexico Beer Guild, Christopher Goblet.

In addition to Red Door, the new ones include:

  • Bosque Brewing Co. in the Northeast Heights, which opened for business this month;
  • Ponderosa Brewing Co. in Old Town, which opened in October; and
  • The Blue Grasshopper in Rio Rancho, which is set to become the next neighborhood pub after opening its doors in October.

The Duke City is apparently the ideal place to get started, according to Goblet, who prefers to call himself the state’s beer ambassador, a title that comes with “a lot of practice, of course.”

At Red Door Brewing Co., a crowd enjoys the beer and ambiance on a recent Saturday night. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

At Red Door Brewing Co., a crowd enjoys the beer and ambiance on a recent Saturday night. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

He attributes the camaraderie between breweries to several things:

  • Learning to brew beer is done through apprenticeship, causing bonds between teacher and learner;
  • Brewers are essentially small business owners who want to see their colleagues succeed; and
  • In 2014, quite a few brewers attached to one location got jobs at another.

“When you have all this shifting of talent, you have all this camaraderie that’s already embedded,” he said.

“There’s a huge degree of respect,” he added. “Everyone wants to try each other’s beer and root for each other … not to say that we’re not competitive, but no one’s hoping someone’s business goes down the tubes.”

Of the local brewing community, he said, “it’s still small enough that everyone can know everyone … it’s like going to a small private school.”

Last December, Livability.com ranked Albuquerque fourth of the 10 best beer cities. Described as a place that “offers innovative and award-winning breweries, residents who consume beer at higher rates than the average American, sophisticated beer tastes and a high-quality of life for beer lovers,” Albuquerque came in between third-ranked San Diego and fifth-ranked Tampa.

Top staff members at the new breweries interviewed for this story all said the longer-established breweries have welcomed them to the scene.

Ponderosa Brewing Co. patrons can see into the brewing area from the taproom and restaurant. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Ponderosa Brewing Co. patrons can see into the brewing area from the taproom and restaurant. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“The bottom line is that we all love beer,” said David Eichorn, tap room manager at Bosque Brewing Co., where the tag line is “Flavor is Boss,” and the menu features salads, sandwiches, hummus and stew, most for under $10.

That spot opened in January. Since then, he said, “the feeling is that if (customers) have a good experience at one brewery, they’re likely to have a good experience at another (and are probably thinking), ‘I had a good IPA over there; I’m going to try another IPA over here.’ ”

At Red Door, it’s not only customers who were regulars in other taprooms, but also the employees of other breweries, who’ve been coming in. “It’s amazing to see the other brewers come in and hang out in the back,” said co-owner Jeff Hart, 38.

At Red Door Brewing Co., a pint of blonde ale is one of many options brewed in a large back room adjacent to the taproom. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

At Red Door Brewing Co., a pint of blonde ale is one of many options brewed in a large back room adjacent to the taproom. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Because that brewery doesn’t have a kitchen to offer hot food, customers bring in snacks from one of the food trucks often set up outside and then hang around and play ping pong while sampling a range of beers.

A few miles away is Ponderosa Brewing Co. in Old Town. General manager Devan Colston said he’s benefited from the help of more established breweries, including Marble Brewery, since opening this past September. “They let us use their keg washer to get (our kegs) clean; they let us use their yeast crop,” Colston added. “If you’re in the middle of fermentation and you need more (yeast), you can borrow it from someone right down the street,” he said. “It’s not a cutthroat industry.”

He said Ponderosa returned the favor to Marble with a new brew. “We actually brewed a tribute beer to (their) president, Ted Rice, and named it after him,” he said. “We definitely have a lot of camaraderie.”

The beer, called Marbleous Rice Lager, is on tap at Ponderosa for $4.50 for 12-ounce mug for a limited run. “Customers really liked the idea, and the beer community embraced it as well.” He saw a lot of encouraging reactions from social media commending the crossover, and Marble returned the honor by putting Ponderosa’s tribute brew on tap at their Downtown spot as well. “It’s a pat-each-other-on-the-back type feel,” Colston said.

Ponderosa Brewing Co. offers a pint of amber beer, left, and a smaller glass of stout, right. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Ponderosa Brewing Co. offers a pint of amber beer, left, and a smaller glass of stout, right. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

In Rio Rancho, another brewery opened in October called The Blue Grasshopper. If co-owner Greg Nielsen has his way, it will become a neighborhood hangout. It has a seating capacity of 60 chairs, a regular rotation of local musicians and a brick oven in which the staff cooks pizza and chicken wings. Nielsen’s nephew is the primary cook; his son-in-law makes pizza in the pub’s wood oven; and his grandson is one of the servers.

When he was getting started and wanting to learn how to run a business, Nielsen said, he went to a small business seminar in Bernalillo, only to find out it was being led by Ken Carson, who runs Nexus Brewery in Albuquerque.

Many of the tips Carson offered were ones Nielsen was able to use, so as a thank-you, he bought Carson’s scotch ale to sell in Blue Grasshopper on tap.

“Oh, I love the community,” Nielsen said. “It’s a wonderful community. Everybody wants to help everyone else.”

Next year, a few more breweries will be opening, according to several brewers who have been tracking their up-and-coming colleagues’ journey through the licensing process, space finding and other obligations of starting a business. Already, Hart at Red Door is looking to reverse roles and become the one to do the welcoming. “I think we all benefit from each other,” he said.

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