A NEW MEXICO BEER Update: Brewsical Chairs Part I

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NINETY-NINE BOTTLES # 8: A little bit of Old Belgium in Fort Collins, Colorado

On the western side of Interstate 25, just north of Fort Collins, Colorado, sprawls the giant Anheuser-Busch brewing complex. Since 2008, it’s been a member of the Anheuser-Bush InBev conglomerate based in Leuven, Belgium. And, as if to enhance it’s Belgian credentials, it has been brewing the “Shock Top” brand of what it calls “Belgian style” beers. But it’s main product is still Budweiser, “The King of Beers,” which, as many people have pointed out, is somewhat oxymoronic, considering that America is a democracy, not a monarchy.

Not visible from the freeway, but only a mile or so away, stands New Belgium Brewing Company. Although, unlike Budweiser, it is a wholly American company, New Belgium is closer in spirit to Belgium than the giant complex sprawling beside the freeway. When Jeff Lebesch and his then wife Kim Jordan took a bicycle tour through Belgium, they were so impressed with the many small breweries they visited, that they decided to start their own brewery in their garage, and to specialize in Belgian style beers. Stated in 1991, it had by 2013 become the third largest craft brewing company in the United States and had begun plans for opening a second brewery in the Ashville, North Carolina area.

I wouldn’t, on principle, visit the Anheuser-Busch plant. And I haven’t been able to schedule a tour of New Belgium. But there is another Fort Collins brewery with Belgian ties that I stop by whenever I pass by Fort Collins. It’s not big (although it’s growing), but it sure does make good beer. And when I arrive at either my Canadian or New Mexican destination, my beer loving friends anxiously inquire if I’ve made a stop in Fort Collins.

The place is called Funkwerks; it produces Belgian style beers, specializing on saisons, or farmhouse ales; and its so close to I 25 and you’re in a hurry to get out of the area before the rush hour begins but you want to take some of the beers with you, you can be of the highway, make the half mile trip to the brewery at 1900 E. Lincoln Avenue, Unit B, buy some of the 750 ounce bottles, and get back on the freeway in under half an hour.

The brewery is relatively new, having been founded in 2009 by Brad Lincoln and Gordon Schuck, two craft beer aficionadoes and dedicated home brewers who met while taking brewing courses at the Seibel Institute in Chicago. The two decided to open a microbrewery in Fort Collins. The city was a microbrewing hub, with over a half dozen breweries serving a very knowledgeable group of beer drinkers. “The city was big enough and had so many devotes of craft beer that we were sure it could support another brewery,” Schuck explained to me when I arrived at the brewery with enough time to stop and chat. “Both Brad and I were lovers of Belgian style beers, and we felt there would be a niche for a brewery offering just Belgian styles.”

Funkwerks soon became very popular, not only in Fort Collins, but around the state. And it quickly became very respected. In 2011, its Saison, won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival; and in 2012, the brewery won golds for the Saison and for Deceit a Belgian-style strong ale. It was also named the small brewing company of the year.

Funkwerks offers three different saison-style ales, Montagne, Saison, and King, along with a variety of other Beglian-style ales. The one I stock up on is simple titled Saison. It’s a 6.8 per cent ABV beer. It is a rich orange in color with a sold white head. There are notes of passion fruit, tangerine, and black pepper. It is somewhat citrusy, and finishes dry. It is based on the beer that was served to Belgian farm workers to slake their thirst after a hot, dusty day laboring in the fields.  But you don’t need to sign up for farm labor to enjoy it, and you don’t need to stop drinking it when the harvest is in. it is really a beer for all  “saisons.”

And so — if you’re driving on Interstate 25 past Fort Collins, you could stop and tour the Budweiser conglomerate. Or you should take the short trip off the freeway to 1900 E. Lincoln Avenue, Unit B, to Funkwerks, sample their beers and buy a couple of bottles to enjoy when you reach your final destination.

But, unless you’ve bought more than a couple of bottles, don’t tell your friends. It’s nice to share great beer, but you want to make sure you have enough left to enjoy yourself.

 

 

 

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES #7: KELLYS SESSION IPA

On Friday, I enjoyed the freshest can of beer I’d ever had. In fact, when I popped open the top, the beer had been in the can for less than six hours.

I’d dropped by Kellys in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district to see the new mobile canning unit that belonged to Mother Road Moble Canning. The company was in the middle of a three hour project that would end when they’d canned some 250 cases of the brewpub’s Session IPA. It was the fifth visit that Mother Road had made to Kellys in its first few weeks of operation.

Kellys brewer Dan Cavin explained that Mother Road’s David Smidt had gone to school with the daughter of Kellys owner, Dennis Bonfantine. “We had been talking about packaging beer and then David, remembering his school friend, contacted us about his new business.” Since the canning of two of Kellys most popular beers, Session IPA and Amber, began, the brewery’s production has almost tripled. “Soon we’re going to replace our 3.5 barrel brewing system with a 10 barrel one. Right now, we’re just in select Albuquerque stores, but with the new system, we’ll be able to cover most of Albuquerque and place the product in Santa Fe as well,” Cavin noted.

The Session IPA was Cavin’s interpretation of what has become one of the newest of the IPAs, something that is the direct opposite of the high alcohol hop bombs that are so often associated with the style. The idea is to keep the alcohol content below 5 per cent while, at the same time, sacrificing none of the hop aroma, flavors and bitterness that are so popular. You can have more than one or two without the alcoholic intake or the palate assault of the bigger varieties.

The can of my Session IPA listed the contents as being 4.8 ABV and 87 international bitterness units. The beer poured a dark golden color with a white, but quickly vanishing head. In spite of the stated IPU level, it didn’t taste all that bitter. The Eldorado, centennial, and CTZ hops did impart some bitterness and a piney, then grapefruity taste. There were definite malt notes that offered some counterbalance to the hops, somewhat in the manner of an English IPA.  The beer went down smoothly, as a session beer should.

I think I’ll try another!

 

NEW MEXICO BEER UPDATE: Albuquerque’s The Stumbling Steer

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.

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES # 4, #5, AND # 6: NEW MEXICO’S WBC MEDAL WINNERS

Friday, April 11, was a pleasantly warm eveningin Bernalillo County, a perfect time for sitting on the porch, sipping a beer. That’s what Mike Campbell, the brewer at Rio Rancho’s Las Cazuelas Mexican Grill and Brewery was doing. He was also watching the Awards Ceremony from the World Beer Cup, which was being streamed from Denver. He wasn’t just curious — he’d entered three of his own brews in the competition.

When the awards for the Oatmeal Stout category were announced, he smiled broadly. His “Beer for My Horses Oatmeal Stout,” named after a Willie Nelson song had earned a bronze. Two other New Mexican beers won medals: Marble’s Pilsner took the gold in the Kellerbier/Zwickel category, while Il Vicino Canteen’s Panama Joe’s Coffee Stout, garnered a silver in the Coffee Beer category.

It was the first major medal for Las Cazuelas; Il Vicino garnered a gold for its Panama Joe at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival; Marble’s Pilsner earned a silver in the same competition.

“I use dark crystal and chocolate malts in the stout,” Campbell explained. “And I also include oats that I buy from Village Mercantile in Corrales. The beer is dark black, but clear, with a tan head and nice lacing. It goes down very easy. I add just enough hops to smooth some of the roasted notes in the malts.”

Il Vicino’s Panama Joe’s is the creation of Zack Guilmette, who recently became the head brewer at Albuquerque’s Chama River. “The stout base complements the coffee. It has a creamy body. I steep the coffee for a few days in cold water.  The eight percent alcohol adds sweetness and body.  We called it Panama Joe’s after the type of coffee beans and the fact that one of the slang terms for coffee is Joe.”

Although it won it’s medal in the kellerbier category rather than the German pilsner category (which it took a medal in 2013), it’s the same beer that is bottled as “Pilsner”. The kellerbier/zwickel terms refer to the unfiltered brewing technique. It is breadier than Czech and most North American pilsners. Interestingly enough, Marble’s Ted Rice won a bronze medal for his Chama River zwickel at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.

Reflecting on his Friday night experience, Campbell said that the fact New Mexico beers consistently win at major beer festivals, “makes you be proud to be part of the New Mexico brewing community. So many people are making such great beers, it makes everyone work hard to be the best that they can be.”

DON’T KICK THE CAN

Canned beer has been around for a long time, since the mid 1930s. And, since 1959, when Coors introduced the first aluminum cans it has become the preferred type of packaging for beer.

But only recently in the craft brewing industry. You see, canning lines were very expensive and preprinted cans had to be ordered in vast quantities. Most craft brewers simply couldn’t afford the cash outlay. And besides, beer snobs, which included drinkers and some brewers, thought that the idea of a can smacked too much of the megabrewers. If you wanted beer from a can, the reasoning seemed to be, why not have a Miller, Bud, or Coors, or — worse yet — Milwaukee’s Best or Old Milwaukee? One well-known craft brewer was heard say that he’d never put his product in cans.

It was some two decades into the craft brewing industry that some brewers started using cans. That was in part because, around the turn of the century, Cask Brewing Systems of Calgary, Alberta, developed a relatively inexpensive canning system that was just the right size and price for small breweries. In 2002, Oskar Blues of Colorado began to market their Dale’s Pale Ale in cans and, after that, the sale of their beer increased dramatically.

Canning reached New Mexico in 2010, when Santa Fe Brewing introduced Happy Camper IPA, which now counts for over half of their sales. Marble and LaCumbre have followed suit. A local business man has bought a portable canner, which he plans to drive around to the smaller breweries in the state so that their products can be available to more people — in cans.  And, a few months ago, that stubborn brewer put his product, the most widely distributed craft lager in the United States, in cans.

With canned beer, everyone wins. The lighter, more compact, virtually unbreakable containers are less expensive to distribute. The airtight can keeps away two of beer’s greatest enemies: air and light. That beer is going to taste as fresh as, if not fresher than, one from a bottle. The environment wins as well. Environmentally conscious outdoors lovers have usually always packed out as well as packed in. Now it’s a lot easier. Cans are really easy to recycle. And environmentally unconscious people who pitch containers out of car windows aren’t going to leave shards of glass for people or animals to cut themselves on.

Some of the bigger craft brewers are now offering their best-known beers in both bottles and cans. And here’s where I have a gripe. When ever I go somewhere to buy a six pack and discover that the place only has bottles for a product that’s also available in cans, I complain. I explain the virtues of canned beer, including the fact that the compact size of a pack of canned beers takes up much less shelf space than the same number of bottles. I remind managers, especially if they run a supermarket, that all the talk about being friendly to the environment should extend to extolling the virtue of cans. And then I go somewhere else that has the product I want in cans. I’m encouraging my friends to do the same. If our joint efforts reduce the number of beer bottles, especially broken and discarded ones, that would be a good thing.

So, don’t kick the can — it really is great for craft beer and the environment.

Unless, of course, you’re using an empty container to play a game with the kids at the campground. And then, when the game is over, don’t forget to pack the can up and recycle it.

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — #3 Grand Canyon American Pilsner

When I stop at beer outlets during my travels, I have no difficulty finding local or at least in-state IPAs and usually ambers and stouts. But pilsners is another matter. One hot day last summer, at a Bellingham, Washington supermarket noted for its wide selection of beers), I counted over 40 pale ales, IPAs, Black IPAs, and variations thereof. But no pils from the area, the state, or even the country.

But a couple of weeks ago, on a trip that took me through Arizona on the way to southern California, my pils pilgrimage achieved partial success. When I stopped at a store in Flagstaff, I found a pilsner that was brewed in nearby Williams. The name: Grand Canyon American Pilsner. The description on the bottle described it as medium-bodied with “a hint of Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought, I’ll be spending a couple of late afternoons beside a pool in Palm Springs, this should just hit the spot. A few days later, before I headed to the fridge to fetch my first bottle of this American pilsner, I checked out the brewery’s description of the beer on my iPad. It was described as a Bohemian style lager with “loads of Czech Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought once again. Pilsner Urquell and other Bohemian pils are among my favorite summer beers and, even though it was only mid February, it sure felt like summer beside the pool.

Well, my expectations were not realized — the loads of Czech hops didn’t seem to be there, more like the hint the bottle promised. But, I did like the beer, even if it wasn’t what I was looking for.

It poured a clear and golden colored. On the first sip, it seemed more medium-bodied than I expected from a pils. This was no doubt because of the Munich and Vienna malts the web page description said were included in the recipe. It was like a cross between a Vienna and a helles lager — with the slight sweetness of the malts balanced by the hops, that were noticeable but certainly not forward.

All in all, the beer was very satisfying. Sometimes I want something with a bit more (but not too much) oomph than is found in the crisp refreshment of a Bohemian pils — and Grand Canyon’s pil, with its noticeable maltiness, offered a very enjoyable alternative.

I’m still going to go for a Pilsner Urquell when the days get really hot this summer. But if I can get some friends who are going to Flagstaff to bring some Grand Canyon American Pilsner back to Albuquerque for me, I’ll put it in the back of the fridge and save it for the not too distant days when the weather is not too hot and not to0 cold, but just right for this very enjoyable beer.