When I finished writing NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) last fall, one of the last things I noted was that the New Mexico beer scene was constantly expanding and changing, and that I’d use this blog to provide updates.

The book was officially published today and here is the first of what, given the vibrancy of New Mexico’s beer scene, will be many updates over the next few months.

THE STUMBLING STEER BREWERY AND GASTROPUB

3700 Ellison Rd, NW, Albuquerque, NM, 87114,  phone 505-792-7805; http://www.stumblingsteer.com

In 2011, Min Lee returned from Southern California to his home town of Albuquerque to take a leading role in the family business:  Kelly’s Liquor Stores, the largest liquor chain in New Mexico. While living in San Diego, one of America’s great craft beer cities, he’d become very familiar with the area’s many brewpubs, especially the better-known gastrobrewpubs.  He hadn’t been back in the Duke City for long when he realized that his hometown had a strong and rapidly growing craft beer culture.  That’s when he began to consider opening a gastropub.

He needed a viable location and, at about this time, he learned that the Quarters Barbeque and Liquor store located on the city’s rapidly expanding west side was for sale. Situated at the busy intersection of Ellison and Alameda, and very close to Cottonwood Shopping Mall, it was easily accessible, had lots of parking, and was a very large building. Moreover, all of the nearby eating places were chain restaurants.  By putting a brewpub in the old Quarters building, he’d be establishing what people of Albuquerque were becoming increasingly partial to: a locally owned restaurant that made its own beer.

He invited two of his San Diego friends, Sonny Jensen and Kirk Roberts, both veterans of the brewpub business, to become partners, along with Thanawat Bates, a chief with extensive experience at major restaurants, and Luka Park. The group came up with the name the Stumbling Steer, and, to complete the western theme, completely renovated the interior of the building with rustic wood and brick finishes. Also included in the over 1.5 million dollars worth of makeovers was an expansion of the covered patio which looked out at the Sandia Mountains. The patio would not only provide shaded dining space during the warm spring and hot summer days and evenings, it would be outfitted with a large screen on which to show films for a weekly “Beer, Dinner, and a Movie Night.”

The Stumbling Steer is intended to be not just a place for west-siders on their way from shopping or work. It is also intended to be a destination for people from other parts of Albuquerque and nearby Coralles, Rio Rancho, and Bernalillo. Sonny Jensen, who began working in restaurants in the San Diego area as a 14-year-old dishwasher and has had 15 years in brewpub management, says that the excellence of the food, which will be a high end version of familiar pub grub, and the beer will be the attractions. “Chef T,” as Jensen and the other partners call Bates, “will offer ribs, but they may be Korean style. And the BLT sandwich will be made with pork belly.”

Brewer Kirk Roberts had been in the computer industry and had turned to homebrewing as a way of relieving the tedium of his job. Turning his hobby into a new profession, he began to work at Newport Beach Brewing Company before moving to The Beer Company, which was managed by Jensen and visited by Min Lee.  In 2012, his Manhattan Project Ale, a wee heavy Scotch ale that had been conditioned in barrels that once contained the mix for Manhattan cocktails, won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal.

Roberts describes his brewing style as “San Diego style,” and goes on to explain how important hops are in his beer, especially his IPAs and Pale Ales. Jensen, listening to Kirk’s description, adds: “In San Diego, an IPA has to be hoppy and good, or don’t bother making it.” Stumbling Steer’s pale ale is 6 per cent alcohol by volume; the IPA, 6.5 per cent; and the double IPA, 10 per cent (limit of two to a customer). But not all the beers Roberts has created are hop bombs or big beers. There is a blonde ale (4 per cent), a wheat (4.6 per cent), and a brown (5 per cent).  The imperial stout, at 9.5 per cent, is Stumbling Steer’s other big beer.

The most interesting piece of beer making equipment, won’t be housed in the soon to be completed 20 barrel brewhouse. “Randall, the Enamel Animal,” will sit atop the bar. In addition to the enamel base that gives it its name, it has two glass columns with couplings to attach hoses on each of them. One of the columns is filled with a flavoring additive, perhaps a special hop variety, coffee or vanilla beans, figs, or fruits. The beer is filtered through the flavoring, transferred to the second column and dispensed from there. “Randall” makes it possible for the brewpub to provide a variety of different flavors to any one of their base beers without having to tie up conditioning tanks.

Randall won’t be placed anywhere near the edge of the bar. None of the partners wants to have a stumbling steer bump against the bar, tip Randall over and break him. He’s a small animal, but he certainly isn’t cheap.

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