Shortly after NEW MEXICO BEER (History Press) went to the printers, a major shuffle occurred among New Mexico brewers. Award winning Blue Corn brewer John Bullard accepted the post of head brewer of Albuquerque’s rapidly growing Bosque Brewing. Nexus’s brewer Manuel Mussen departed for San Francisco. Turtle Mountain’s Mark Matheson decided to retire, and Justin Hamilton left Chama River to start his own brewery, Boxing Bear.

That left four openings for head brewers. One vacancy was filled by a brewer from outside the state; the other three jobs went to assistant brewers from Albuquerque breweries. John Warren came to Blue Corn from New England Brewing Company in Connecticut. Kaylynn McKnight moved from La Cumbre to Nexus; Zach Guilmette from Il Vicino (Canteen Brewery) to Chama River; and Tim Woodward from Chama River to Turtle Mountain.

In this post, we’ll profile Zach Guilmette and Tim Woodward; in a later post we’ll write about Kaylynn McKnight and James Warren.

ZACH GUILMETTE dates his first beer experience to the year he turned seven and raided the keg his father kept in the garage. Born and raised in Vermont, he discovered three of that state’s best known craft breweries — Long Trail, Magic Hat, and Otter Creek — whole attending college. But it wasn’t until the mid 1990s, when he made an extended road trip across the country, that he decided he’d like to become a brewer. “I lived in my van for eight months and visited 43 states. I tasted local craft beer everywhere I went and that’s when I realized that brewing was what I wanted to as a profession.”

He got his first brewery job, a rather unglamorous one washing kegs at Albuquerque’s Kellys, then returned to Vermont where he found a job at Otter Creek and began taking courses from the American Brewers Guild. “It was a production brewery and I worked for a few months each brewing, filtering, and cellaring. It was a great opportunity to learn all the steps of brewing.”

But he didn’t want to stay in New England. The Land of Enchantment had enchanted him and he wanted to get back to New Mexico. A job became available at Sierra Blanca brewery in Moriarty, which he took. After a year and a half, he moved to Il Vicino. The popular Albuquerque brewpub/pizzeria had just opened a new, enlarged ¬†brewhouse and both the owners and head brewer Brady McKeown were interested in expanding the beer offerings beyond the style-standard (and very good) offerings they now had.

“Brady gave the assistant brewers opportunity to play around, to make departures from current recipes and to experiment with new, unusual style variations,” Zach remarked enthusiastically. One of the recipes Brady asked him to develop was what became known as “Panama Joe Coffee Stout” — which won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. Another unusual beer recipe he enjoyed creating was for a chocolate cherry doppelbock called Smooth Operator.

Like nearly all brewers, Zach had a dream of running his own brewhouse. The opportunity to do so arrived early this year. When John Bullard decided to leave Santa Fe’s Blue Corn for Bosque, Guilmette decided to apply for his job. But he realized that he wanted to stay in Albuquerque. Then, when Justin Hamilton left Charma River to start his own brewery, Santa Fe Dining (owners of Blue Corn and Chama River) asked him to consider that job. He did, and became head brewer in spring 2014.

The lover of recipe making tinkered with the recipes he inherited at Chama River, not radically altering them but adjusting them to reflect his own approach to brewing. The biggest change was in transforming Class VI Golden Lager from a German to a Bohemian Pils. I like clean crisp beers, so I used a lot of Saaz hops.” The beer won a gold medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

When you visit Chama River, you can depend on experiencing Zach’s unique interpretations of the restaurant’s year-round menu beers, and you can also look forward to the recipe-creator’s unique offerings. One of these is a rauch beer — a beechwood smoked lager.

TIM WOODWARD, like many brewers, began as a homebrewer. But he isn’t a homebrewer who decided it would be fun to turn his hobby into a profession. He knew he wanted to become a professional brewer and decided that the best initial steps to achieving that goal would be to learn about the process of brewing by making his own.

The Albuquerque native confessed that, “like everyone, I started out drinking crappy beer. And then I was introduced to craft beer at Chama River — when Ted Rice was the brewer. I fell in love with craft beer. It was satisfying and perplexing, dynamic and complex. I felt that wine couldn’t complete with beer, which had such depth, which had an infinite number of scenarios.”

In addition to developing a friendship with Ted Rice, Tim got to know Jeff Erway and his assistant Kaylynn McKnight. Kaylynn told him that Justin needed an assistant at Chama River, and he began working there and taking courses at the American Brewers Guild. “Then, this spring, Jeff who is a good friend with Nico Ortiz at Turtle Mountain told me that Nico was looking for a new brewer.

At both Chama River and Turtle Mountain, he enjoyed the challenge of working with the kitchen, thinking up ways to make beer and food complement each other. “The food connection adds an artistic level to the making of beer.”

Moving to Turtle Mountain offered Tim and new challenge, as Nico had been considering retiring the present house beers and creating new recipes. “We wanted to bring Turtle Mountain to the forefront of local people’s minds when they thought of beer,” he explained.

He did admit that the beer drinking demographics were slightly different in Rio Rancho than in Albuquerque. “You have to pay attention to these demographics,” he explained. “Rio Rancho beer drinkers know what they want. They don’t experiment as much as in Albuquerque. But you have to provide quality versions of what they want.” That includes a cream ale, a helles, amber — all easily accessible to new craft beer drinkers, and a white IPA, and IPA, and a porter for those who are more adventurous.¬† Of Hopshell IPA, he jokingly remarks, that, like most good New Mexico IPAs, “It doesn’t punch you in the face; it holds you as it gently lowers you to the ground.”

Both Zach Guilmette and Tim Woodward have achieved their goals of running their own brewhouses. Now they have the opportunity of combining their training and skills with imaginative flair and creativity to provide the patrons of Chama River and Turtle Mountain not only with outstanding versions of familiar styles, but also with exciting new experiences in craft beer enjoyment.