The Big Guy
A seemingly endless line of students enrolled in brewing and beverage management courses at Central New Mexico Community College pours into the main brewery warehouse at the Santa Fe Brewing Company on the outskirts of town. Dressed in matching coveralls, they’re here to learn about large-scale brewing. Rows of massive stainless steel fermenters tower overhead as workers flit around mixing ingredients, manning machinery and crafting various types of beloved local beer, which are headed for countless local bars and restaurants and 10 states.
A centrifuge whirrs loudly in the background, separating sediment from the brews for the cleanest possible beer; two and a half years ago, the brewery became the first in the state to boast such a device. Outside, construction chugs forward on upcoming additions such as a brand-new family-friendly beer garden and a subterranean tasting room built within buried shipping containers specifically to serve barrel-aged creations. The cacophony of cleaning, brewing and working rings out everywhere.
Founded in 1988, Santa Fe Brewing Company remains one of the most productive, oldest and best-known craft breweries in the region. What began as a micro-scale operation pushing out small batch brews from Dinosaur Trail has grown into one of New Mexico's largest brewing operations. Of course, owner Brian Lock has a much loftier vision than founder Mike Levis probably ever dreamed of back when he created the legendary Santa Fe Pale Ale in the '80s. Lock bought the business in 1997 along with three other partners. By 2003, he had bought them out and began ramping up production. Today, the company's reach continues to stretch. With a tasting room and one of the highest-quality music venues in the area, the operation has grown to include well over a dozen flagship, seasonal and, soon, barrel-aged beers. Experimental and one-off formulas are not uncommon. Think of it more like a family united by beer, but you're reaping all the benefits.
Santa Fe Brewing Co.’s head of research and development, David Ahern-Seronde, appears on the brewery floor as if from nowhere. “So,” he says. “You wanna take the tour?” In addition to his R&D work, Ahern-Seronde acts as a tour guide for visitors on Saturdays. He’s also worked most of the other jobs here. “I’m one of only four people who is cross-trained in everything,” he says. A local musician and co-founder of DIY metal venue The Cave, Ahern-Seronde came to Santa Fe Brewing nearly five years ago and started on the canning line. Before long he proved an aptitude for the work and moved up to cellarman (which he describes as a glorified janitor). Eventually, he became a brewer. “I knew pretty much nothing about brewing when I started,” he says, “and my first batch was about 290 kegs.”
On the day of SFR's visit, Ahern- Seronde is experimenting with South African hops for what he hopes will become a pretty solid pale ale. "Smell these," he says, holding out a handful of the aromatic flowers. "Not a lot of people are specifically using these hops without cutting them with other kinds." We say that they smell exactly like a particularly skunky kind of weed. "Yup," Ahern-Seronde confirms. "Hops are genetically very close to marijuana."
When we reconnect a couple weeks later, he has an update about the batch: "It came out pretty ok," he says. "But there's still work to do." This is an apt statement when it comes to the brewery—fast and steady growth doesn't seem to be slowing.
Adjacent to Santa Fe Brewing Co.'s fermenter warehouse sits another, even larger space that houses the canning line, a vast Rube Goldbergian contraption that Ahern-Seronde estimates can fill over over 120 12-ounce beers per minute. Lock says the operation currently takes up roughly 61,000 square feet, but that by the time they're done with improvements, they'll have another 10,000.
Ahern-Seronde grabs a pair of Pilsners as they whiz by, one for me, one for the photographer. It's one of the most deliciously fresh beers either of us has ever tasted. Stacked nearby are thousands of empty cans emblazoned with custom artwork, waiting to be filled. Attached is the main distribution center, and the two other adjoining rooms contain sales offices, pallets of thousands of ready-to-ship cans and a gargantuan walk-in refrigerator full of kegs. This is also where the brewery's new water filtration system resides. A complex array of pipes and pumps feed outside to two standing tanks, one of which will contain gray or waste water, the other soon-to-be potable water. "The idea is that we'll be able to take whatever waste water we can and recycle it," says Ahern-Seronde. "And then we'll use that to water the plants and trees in the beer garden once it's built."
This isn't the only way the brewery recycles. Several times a week, a nearby cattle rancher picks up hundreds of pounds of spent grains to feed his herd. "We've had guys come in looking for just a couple buckets of grain to feed their pigs or whatever, too," Ahern-Seronde adds.
"The idea is that more people are environmentally conscious these days and concerned about the products they're buying," says Lock of green steps the operation is taking. "The driving force behind a lot of it is our engineer, Alfonz Viszolay —without him it wouldn't be possible."
Recently, they moved the taproom from the smaller space people know and love to temporary digs in The Bridge, the music venue across the parking lot that previously (and perhaps disastrously) housed Sol Santa Fe. And though the titular bridge itself has yet to be built, it will ultimately allow drinkers to legally transport alcohol from the forthcoming 10,000-square-foot permanent taproom to the music venue. Lock believes the majority of these improvements will be business-ready by January of next year, and even says they hope to kick off a shuttle service to and from downtown Santa Fe.
“I already have the passenger van,” he says. “Maybe we’ll do Wednesday through Saturday pickups, and that would be nice not only for tourists, but for locals who don’t want to worry about driving.”
As we wrap our tour at Santa Fe Brewing Company, Ahern-Seronde tells us that the future seems bright. With something like 60 locals working full- and part-time jobs at the brewery, they're impacting the Santa Fe economy in a major way. Much of this can be attributed to the rise of beer nerd culture and more drinkers eschewing large-scale brews for creative craft and micro-scale beers, but Lock obviously has ideas and the means to execute them.
Santa Fe Brewing Co.
35 Fire Place, 424-3333
11 am-10 pm Monday-Friday;
11 am-9 pm Saturday; 2-8 pm Sunday
Good for: Live music fans and craft beer fans searching for a reliable brew
The New Guy
When chemist John Rowley opened his restaurant/taproom/brewery in an unassuming warehouse space on Maclovia Street seven-ish months ago, not even he could envision the explosive local response. Rowley had been a home brewer since the '80s, and still serves as president of the Sangre de Cristo Craft Brewers, a loosely structured club of home brew fans who get together to craft beer and talk shop. Rowley's operation itself, however, leans more toward sour and farmhouse beers. For beer nerds, these are sought- after brews; for casual drinkers or those new to the wide world of beer, however, the old-world style most commonly associated with Belgian brewing practices is a fairly new concept.
Regardless, Rowley's unusual offerings (and a stellar gastropub menu courtesy of restauranteur/chef Jeffrey Kaplan) have meant rapid growth, from the craft-scale and custom-built brewing equipment in the back to a relatively new cellar built to cultivate barrel-brewed concoctions— no small feat for a guy still working his day job at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“I think a lot of it is that we filled a niche that was necessary to fill,” Rowley explains. “There are places that have a lot of taps, but they tend to have a pretty static list whereas, if we find something cool, we put it out.” Rowley says his ultimate goal was to foster a neighborhood feel while slowly yet surely introducing his beers far and wide. He estimates nine locations between Santa Fe and Albuquerque now serve Rowley, but insists that “if there are people who want to try our beer, we’d rather they come in here and drink it.”
With 22 taps for beer and two more for cold-brewed Ohori's coffee and filtered water used for brewing, Rowley may just have some of the most exciting offerings in town. According to Kaplan, "We don't dedicate any of them to anybody specifically, including ourselves." Kaplan says this is meant to not only showcase beers that he and Rowley find exciting, but also a means to share dynamic beers from all over the world. "Our design is to be a destination taproom," he says, "so we want to have the best versions of different kinds of beer as we can find."
Every Wednesday at 4 pm, this means tapping rare or hard-to-get kegs. "It's something that maybe there's only one keg in Santa Fe or maybe one or two in the entire state," Kaplan says. "We're just trying to do fun stuff and keep the beer world fun and interesting."
Plans to enclose Rowley's patio are on the horizon, but Kaplan says that expansion will most likely be reserved just for the brewing operation. "We like where we are," he says. "We want to make sure to keep it local and intimate."
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
1405 Maclovia St., 428-0719
Open daily, 11:30 am-10 pm
Good for: Beer nerds and sophisticated palettes
The Old Standby
Second Street Brewery president and brewmaster Rod Tweet say they decided to open a Railyard location in 2010 because they were producing more of their popular beer than they knew what to do with. The local champs have slowly but surely built a mini-empire throughout Santa Fe since its inception 20 years ago. This is why Tweet and head brewer John Walker have been searching for an even larger space to house their third retail location over the last three years and they say it's nearly ready to open.
Down on Rufina Street in the now-bustling Siler Road area, Tweet and Walker are hard at work alongside construction crews and new restaurant general manager Mariah Scee to complete renovations on Second Street's new 20,000-square-foot warehouse space. "We think there was a guy doing engineering work in here at some point, but we think maybe he didn't have a business license—he just did it," Tweet says of the warehouse's history. "We did find out he built concrete bunkers for L Ron Hubbard."
Second Street has owned the warehouse for a few years now. Back before Meow Wolf first opened, the collective assembled elements for the
House of Eternal Return
in this space. But now, only weeks from opening a branch of the brewery, things are finally coming together. Tweet and Walker show off newer equipment, and more of it, including numerous fermenting tanks and a soon-to-be-operational canning line. Walker says they’ll be able to fill 30 cans a minute once it’s running, and with something like 70 original recipes to pull from, he’s excited to get started.
Tweet says that Second Street will also soon enter the realm of barrel-aged sours thanks to recent trends and more discerning drinkers. Through a row of windows the restaurant/venue space is visible. "We'll have 24 taps and a long standing bar," Tweet says, motioning in the temporarily empty area. "We'll have a stage over there in that corner, and we'll be doing things that aren't really happening in Santa Fe musically."
Walker agrees, adding, "There's just not anything else like this in town right now."
The pair envisions different zones throughout the warehouse, such as a more lounge-like area with comfy chairs or the aforementioned standing bar. For entertainment, they tapped Matron Records' Eliza Lutz to keep things fresh. "We're going to start having events that are a lot different from what you'll see in our other locations," Tweet notes. They'll even kick off a new food menu created by current Second Street Railyard chef Milton Villarrubia III and, according to Tweet, certain food and beer selections will be specifically tethered to the new location.
This very well may mean brand-new recipes in celebration of the expansion, but Walker won't spill anything just yet. For now, they're just trying to get everything completed.
Scee works on a mural on one wall in the dining area, and power tools drone someplace within. As of now, Tweet and Walker aim to open in late May or early June, and despite seeming tired from the overwhelming level of work required, they also seem at peace. This is a game-changer for Second Street Brewery, and another feather in the cap for the midtown district.
Second Street Brewery (Rufina)
2920 Rufina St.
Good for: Locally-minded drinkers interested in a wide array of rotating styles
"In 2016, we expanded exponentially," Duel Brewing's Todd Yocham says. He stands among the brewing equipment at Duel's Santa Fe location. Along with his fellow brewer Michael Karr, Yocham is one of only two people responsible for crafting the midtown brewhouse's beers. "We opened the space in Albuquerque and almost simultaneously we were offered a chance to have our beer over at Meow Wolf," he continues. "We added more tanks, too, so we could try to keep up with the demand of selling beer in three locations. It doesn't seem like it's going fast, but if you look at our timeline, it went pretty quickly."
Beer brewed at higher temperatures. The yeast will generally rise to the top of the brew during the process and, by the end, sink to the bottom. Sometimes ales wind up with a higher alcohol content. Think fruitier or more bitter beers.
You know that bitter IPA you say you love? That pale ale that kinda stinks? This is caused by hops used in brewing. What type of hops are used and when they’re added during the boiling stage are factors in how bitter that beer will be.
Sometimes brewers will blend beers together to make another beer more complex in taste.
The process of removing non-liquid stuff from beer. Y’know, like straining? Or getting that yeast outta there? (Like in coffee, sediment adds flavor, so you don’t want beer that’s too filtered.)
These little cone-like flowers come from the female plants of climbing vines and make your beer taste like beer. Hops work sort of like a bitter spice and provide balance to the sweeter malt flavors. You’ve probably used this word before all like, “Oh yeah, this beer is pretty hoppy, you guys,” and prayed no one asked any follow-up questions. This sucker is in the cannabis family.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
Legend has it that the only way the British could ship beer to India in the days of the East India Trading Company without it spoiling was to make it way hoppy and bitter. Hence, India Pale Ale. Boom. Science.
International Bitterness Units (IBU)
The rating assigned to beers in terms of bitterness. Light beers are usually rated 5-10, whereas stuff like that Stone IPA you drink to prove to your friends you’re a knowledgeable beer person can get up between 50-70 IBUs. It goes to 100, but at that point we’d be scared to death.
That metal barrel you got for your lame birthday party no one attended that you’ve now been slowly working to finish in a completely not-sad way. A keg holds about 7.75 gallons (29.33 liters). That’s a lot.
Fermenting at colder temperatures, the yeast from lagers settles more toward the bottom during the brewing process. Type of yeast and colder maturation are both factors and, generally speaking, lagers are more crisp and light than ales.
It used to be barley, now it’s been processed in water to germinate and then heated to stop the germination process. The level of heat dictates the color of beer, so lightly roasted = lighter beer.
Super-duper-fancy-ass hops traditionally grown in select areas in Europe and sometimes used to brew traditional beers, like Pilsners. Think of them almost like fancy wine grapes known for being grown in particular regions. Probably only the nerdiest of beer nerds needs to be on the lookout for noble hops and most of us probably can’t tell the difference, taste-wise.
You’ll feel like an idiot when we tell you that it means “season,” but you’ll be glad to know that these often-simple, light-bodied and delightfully fizzy beers are making serious inroads in Santa Fe and beyond. Pop by Rowley or Duel and ask for one and they’ll probably say something like, “Wow, you sure do know the names of things.”
Compounds in cereal grains and other plants (like hops), these bad boys also bring a kind of bitterness to beer and also make a chilled brew kinda hazy.
Single-celled microorganisms that convert sugars into alcohol. A long time ago some scientist looked at yeast through a microscope and was like, “These microorganisms know how to party.”
The actual chemistry branch that focuses on fermentation. Also the name of the American Homebrewers Association’s magazine. Not kidding.
Yocham has been on board since day one. Karr came on four months later. And when the doors opened in a warehouse space off Siler Road in 2013, Yocham says, most of the other locations in the neighborhood were vacant. "Oh, there was nothing here," he recalls. A niche was quickly carved, however. With a focus on Belgian brewing methods coupled with the Duel mission to create beers that can't be found just anywhere, they've thrived.
"It starts with the yeast," Karr explains. "Yeast out of Belgium creates different flavors that American yeasts don't typically have, and it'll create these esters that lend a lot to the product." Esters are the fruity flavor created during the fermentation process of sour beers and vary based on what fruits are used in the process.
"It's a byproduct of the yeast activity," Karr notes. "We have a mentality of brewing—allowing the yeast to do their thing at a temperature that's uncomfortable for the typical American brewer; being patient. It's not filtering, it's making a beer that we think is going to be delicious."
To date, Yocham and Karr have surpassed 30 different recipes, though at any given time the restaurant at Duel serves up six. Still, they're always trying new things. "A lot of Michael's passions are going into taking care of these casks," Yocham says, motioning to numerous barrels scattered around the space. "For example," Karr interjects, "the same beer is going into six different casks and we'll taste them periodically, and each cask is going to be doing something different with the beer, so we'll figure out what the right blend is at the end."
Blending is the process of mixing different beers to create another, third product with serious flavor complexity. This is a testament to Duel's experimental nature: Yes, they've got standout brews such as the Turncoat sour Scottish ale and the Whistler blonde, but Yocham and Karr are dedicated to crafting new styles all the time.
"We have a long way to go before we're maxed out with [the equipment] we have, but that's going to happen this year and that's exciting," Karr says. "Our reputation will continue to grow as far as the sour beers go."
Yocham agrees, saying, "If people can come into any one of the breweries in the state and try something they haven't had, they're going to take that information home. … There are very few breweries in the state that aren't killing it at what they do, and you drive around the country and that's not the case everywhere."
1228 Parkway Drive, 474-5301
Noon-10 pm Monday-Thursday;
Noon-midnight Friday and Saturday; 1-8 pm Sunday
Good for: Adventurous beer fans looking for a challenge
The Young One
In its Southside location, Blue Corn Brewery's head brewer Paul Mallory emerges from the back room. He's much younger than you'd imagine, but he's a man on a mission.
"I'm coming up on 11 months, a year now," he says of his position. "I think I was just in the right place at the right time."
Mallory, a New Mexico native who grew up in Albuquerque, says he was only a few home brew batches in when he discovered his passion for beer. He'd taken prerequisite classes at Central New Mexico Community College before transferring to the University of California, Davis, to complete master brewer's courses after which he'd take on positions with various small breweries in California. "It took a while before I could get my foot in the door," he says. "I would have done anything—keg cleaning, deliveries, anything—but it was probably only two or three years between when I knew I wanted to become a brewer and when I actually called myself a brewer."
These days, Mallory is charged with filling 10 taps at Blue Corn, six of which are the brews for which they're known, like the Road Runner or the Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout. Mallory says the oatmeal stout "either wins an award or comes close to winning an award with the Great American Beer Festival or other places every year."
Blue Corn is owned by Santa Fe Dining, which also runs Albuquerque's Chama River Brewing Co. and Kellys Brew Pub, among others. Mallory says there's a certain level of shared resources and beers between them, but also that "it's kind of a point of pride to be able to feature your own beers."
The extra four taps allow for more experimentation. Mallory says Blue Corn is also embracing the trend of barrel-aged sours, but his passions ultimately lie in collaboration with other local businesses. "I can show you some of the chocolate nibs we're working with," he says as he disappears into a walk-in refrigerator. When he returns, an overstuffed Ziploc full of what appear to be chocolate shavings in hand, he seems almost giddy at the idea of working with unexpected ingredients. "These came from Cacao Santa Fe," he says of the new chocolatier on Richards Lane, "and they can't really use this stuff in chocolate, but they'll sell it for use in candles or soaps, and I think it's going to make a really nice stout."
Mallory describes his collaborative efforts as "the art of the follow-up," and points to locally roasted chocolate or coffee or locally grown fruit for future projects. "If you call back enough times, you can get your hands on some pretty good local ingredients," he explains. "I'm really close to getting my hands on a Colkegan whiskey barrel from Santa Fe Spirits, so it's kind of like a three-business collaboration when it's all said and done."
Mallory does say it's a mite harder for Blue Corn to focus on barrel-aged beers, as a certain amount of time is needed for them to come to fruition. Furthermore, Blue Corn is known for certain brews. "That's kind of the challenge," he says. "Making sure you have the beers people are coming to drink while also trying out new things. But I'm going to be trying some things this year."
What those are exactly remain a secret, but if Mallory's commitment to collaboration and experimentation can provide a clue, they'll probably be worth the wait.
Blue Corn Café & Brewery
4056 Cerrillos Road, 438-1800
11 am-10 pm daily
Good for: Everyday beer fans not quite ready to get weird
With so many local breweries to choose from, we asked the experts what they’d recommend from their own operations.
Santa Fe Brewing Co.
Java stout. It’s tasty and big. Also, coffee comes through and has a placebo caffeine buzz. People argue that. I don’t.
Santa Fe Brewing Co.
I personally love our Freestyle Pilsner. My tastebuds have evolved. It’s a beer that light and easy to drink and you can have more than a couple and not feel like you’re hammered.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
I’d say the Saison du Sarlacc. It’s a mixed-fermentation, dry-hopped spelt saison, a great farmhouse-style beer.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
I would say the upcoming bourbon barrel-aged Oud Bruin is going to be delightful. Still a ways to go on that beer, but it is coming along nicely.
At this moment, I’d choose Bad Amber because I had one last night and it was delicious! Plus, I think it’s a good entry into the Belgian style; lightly hopped, the malt and yeast come through with a bit of coriander spice.
Cezanne Vérité. [It’s a] barrel-aged saison [with] 10.4 percent ABV.
Blue Corn Brewery
I think our [Road Runner] IPA is one of the best. It’s aggressively hoppy, but it’s still very drinkable.
Second Street Brewery
Tough question. Boneshaker Special Bitter. Nothing too fancy by current standards and a pretty loose interpretation of a bitter, I gotta admit, but the style is a great platform and has everything: full-flavored, nice yeast character and highly drinkable because of it’s unusual dry-hop combination of oily floral East Kent Goldings and sharp, spicy/fruity Citra.
Second Street Brewery
Fulcrum. It’s big, juicy, wildly aromatic and extremely drinkable for such a big IPA.
If your lust for beer has been piqued, check out the Beerland Tour at The Lodge at Santa Fe this Thursday and Friday, April 27 and 28 (5 pm. Free. 750 N St. Francis Drive, 992-5800). Events include a homebrew seminar, a Detox/Retox yoga event, lawn games and, of course, so much beer. Admission is free, but unless you meet a kind stranger, you'll have to pay for the beer.