In a small town like Santa Fe, we sometimes have to stray outside of county lines to check out a good venue. So it was that I found myself driving out to Taos on a recent Sunday just as the sun was beginning to set.
My route was somewhat unconventional—winding through the darkened gorge, instead of going through the town itself, then circling around on a small county road to the recently opened Taos Mesa Brewing Company (20 ABC Mesa Road, (575) 758-1900)
The brewery is only a few minutes from downtown Taos, but the desolation of my route evoked the experience of going to the venue’s predecessor, a warehouse in the deserts outside of town used for shows, raves and parties. According to Dan Irion, one of the main forces behind both the warehouse and the brewery, “It got out of hand...we became victims of our own success and the cops finally shut [the warehouse] down, because it was totally illegal what we were doing.”
Irion explains this to me over a pint of the brewery’s Lunch Pale Ale in the Brewing Company’s green room (and office). The room is just private enough for his words to be audible over the thumping and feedback of Oklahoma band The Doldrums on the stage behind us.
After being shut down six years ago, Irion recounts, he began to think about going the way of legitimacy.
First, he talked to his good friend Gary Feuerman, a lawyer, “about the legality” of building a new venue that would include both indoor and outdoor stages as well as a large amphitheater. As it turns out, Feuerman wanted to contribute more than just legal advice, and jumped on board as a full partner.
The next step, according to Irion, was “putting in a microbrewery [because] we knew the venue wouldn’t support itself.” As luck would have it, “I owned a restaurant in the ski valley at the time, and one of my employees was a brewer.” So the partnership grew to include premier brewer Jayson Wylie.
The only missing element was the physical building itself. They began interviewing contractors and builders.
Irion says, “I wanted [the venue] to be in a hangar, a Quonset hut...so then we sat down with Peter [Kolshorn, a builder], who ends up being our fourth partner, and he tells us, ‘I’ve always had the vision of doing a bar and a brewery in a Quonset hut.’”
A Quonset hut is a familiar structure on military bases, where its prefabricated galvanized metal structure makes it an efficient way to encapsulate large areas of space. While the aesthetics of such a space are appealing, the acoustics are another story: “It was horrible when we first put up the stage; we couldn’t hold a conversation because of the slapback.”
Fortunately, several renowned acousticians sought them out, with “all these crazy suggestions that we went for, like putting four inches of sand beneath the stage.”
The acoustics were only one of the challenges facing this ideally matched coalition of partners.
To save money, they provided almost all of the labor themselves and relied heavily on salvaged materials, not just as an additional cost-cutting measure, but also to support their vision of an eco-friendly business.
Irion says the goal of the brewery, by year five, is “to be completely energy-neutral, to where we’re not leaving any kind of a carbon footprint.” The partners have incorporated green initiatives like an extensive rain catchment system, heated glycol tubing running through the roof and a south-facing greenhouse that stores up heat during the day.
After our interview, I returned to the front of the stage to hear the rest of Treemotel’s set. Though I had to admit that there was something odd about traveling to Taos to hear bands that I like but that perform in Santa Fe regularly—also on the bill was Lucas Carr of Pitch & Bark—the experience proved to be different.
It wasn’t just the ambiance, or the beer, or the location. More importantly, the acoustics were spot-on and the dedicated stage was big and welcoming, so the bands were compelled to step up their performance. As a result, the audience (differing from a Santa Fe crowd mainly by having a much higher dreadlocks-per-capita ratio) gave the bands the attention that live music deserves.