Blues & Brews: The Santa Fe Brewing Co.

Date March 6, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Publication Santa Fe Sun Monthly

Categories Business Community Culture Food

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New Mexico's and perhaps the West's oldest and premier craft brewer is located right here in Santa Fe. This fact naturally belongs in a "Blues and Brews" article. The name Santa Fe Brewing Co. dates back to the late 1800's. It was incorporated in 1892, but closed its doors in 1896. It operated under another name and was closed in January 1920 during prohibition, but was resurrected in 1988. Using custom square vessels and open top fermenters obtained from the defunct Boulder Brewing Company, a Mike Levis, began brewing the Pale Ale that remains one of the flagship brew's today at the original location of the brewery, a 60 acre horse ranch in Galisteo, NM.

Original Galisteo Ranch House Location

Over the next several years the New Mexico State Fair and the Great American Beer Festival, amongst others, took notice. As a faithful following and regional reputation grew, Santa Fe Brewing Co. added Nut Brown and Wheat varieties to its regular offerings, establishing a reputation for unique and flavorful seasonal brews. People like to drink customized beer that is locally brewed.

In 1996 Brian Lock, present Owner and President and 3 partners, including present brewmaster Ty Levis, purchased the brewery from Mike Levis, the founder. Brian grew up in Portland, Oregon and as such gained an appreciation for craft beer. He was inundated with craft beers coming out regularly in the late 80's and early 90's. After working at a smaller brewery in Portland, Brian moved to Santa Fe in 1995 with the intention of starting a brew pub. Instead the group decided to open a microbrewery (the late 20th-century name for small brewery, now replaced with craft brewer at the start of the 21st century).

Brian Lock

In 2004 Brian bought out his partners who wanted to get back to teaching, and started building the new brewery where he is presently located just off the Turquoise Trail. It was a lot of work. He purchased a brewing system originally installed at Miami Trails Brewing in Xenia, Ohio, but which was unused for 8 years since Miami Trails had closed. Upon completion the brewery increased its annual capacity first to 15,000 barrels and now to 30,000 barrels per year. With the ability to now brew 10 times the beer, Santa Fe Brewing Co. is increasing its distribution dramatically, while maintaining its reputation as a craft brewer known for unique, flavorful seasonal brews.

A grass roots homebrewing culture had emerged in the United States in the late 1970's at a time when there were only 44 brewing companies. Microbreweries at that time made it possible for the producers to create their own unique concoctions and do different experiments with the flavor of the beer. Beer often lost its flavor and freshness due to excessive storage. Millions came to love the taste and feel of the beer brewed in local microbreweries mainly due to its unique touches and freshness. Micro brewed beer tasted richer and had a darker color tone to it compared to the commercially and mass produced variety. Microbreweries (Craft Brewers) as a result, carved their own niche in the market. The number of craft brewers has gone from 8 in 1980 to 537 in 1994 to over 1600 in 2010.

Brian has worked hard at implementing numerous renewable energy producing ideas that have helped him become a very "green" brewery. He keeps moving toward reducing his operations carbon footprint and has installed a photo-voltaic solar array on the roof to offset electrical costs. He produces a consistently clean product and is innovative with new styles of beer to release seasonally, all the while winning awards too numerous to include here.

Eldorado Taphouse

In 2010 a new Taphouse was opened in Eldorado with numerous beers on tap, to go along with the Tasting Room at the Route 14 brewery. It has become the social center of the area. Food can be ordered from nearby restaurants such as La Plancha, Mi Amor, Pizza Centro and Piccolinos. The Taphouse, with The bartender Karl and regular bartender Kevin among others, has developed a strong crowd of regulars enjoying great conversation and watching their beloved teams on the big screens.

Production Facility on NM 14

Brians long range goal is growing the production and distribution of beer and ale in all 50 states and potentially internationally. Currently Santa Fe Brewing Co. is distributed in 7 states, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. Santa Fe Brewing Co. became New Mexico's first brewery to reach 15,000 barrels per year in 2012, the benchmark for a "regional brewery" as opposed to a "microbrewery." If successful with plans Santa Fe Brewing Co. would be looking to build a "new" production facility in Santa Fe with a substantial increase in capacity.

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