Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meet YOUR Local Brewer- Brady McKeown

I thought it would be fun to do a feature every now and then on a different Albuquerque brewer, entitled "Meet YOUR Local Brewer". I emphasize the word "your" because that is what they really are- your resource to great beer, information, and events. These brewers are all local guys, and are dedicated to the craft of well made beer just for you, the Albuquerque beer drinkers with exceptional taste. We all need to support these brewers and their respective businesses to make this a successful beer city!

The first brewer featured in the series is Brady McKeown, Brewery Manager of Il Vicino Brewing. Brady, along with fellow Il Vicino brewer Doug Cochran, serves up local favorites Wet Mountain IPA, Slow Down Brown, Pigtail Pilsner, Dougie's Amber, and specialty beers that change weekly and are all served at the Il Vicino tasting room (4000 Vassar NE, just north of Comanche). Though in the heat of preparing for the NM IPA Challenge, which will be hosted by Il Vicino, Brady was kind enough to spare some time for an interview.

So let's start with the standard first question: How did you get your start in brewing?
I was working at the original Il Vicino and going to UNM when they opened the new brewery. After six months or so, the guy who was doing the brewing needed help, and I've never stopped since.
How long ago was that?
Let's see, that was 1995.
Had you had any experience in commercial or homebrewing before that?
(laughs)Nope, learned everything on the job there!
So if there is such a thing, what does a "normal" day at the brewery entail?
Well, we're on a pretty consistent routine, so every day's pretty well organized- though we've already had a fiasco this morning with the new boysenberry beer, though nothing like Marble's problem. And just because one of our employees was there does not mean I was AT ALL connected in any way with that! (Note: apparently Kim, who bartends at the tasting room, was at Marble the night they lost the batch of IPA. I haven't yet proven that Brady was responsible for the incident, though I haven't yet proven that he was not).
So what's your brewing capacity here?
We could probably do, if we brewed seven days a week, about 200 barrels. The business plan is not to bottle, not to push our beers to other restaurants, but to get the beer to our own restaurants. It's a draw to get people to our places. They can't just go to Kelly's, to local bars to get our beers.
So do you like that plan?
I do. I mean, for purely selfish reasons, it is always nice to get the notoriety, to get your name out there, get your beers in bottles. But it's not part of Il Vicino's business plan, and I'm fine with that.
That leads to another question I had- why can you get Wet Mountain IPA in bottles in Colorado and not in NM?
Those were actually bottled at the Il Vicino in Salida, CO. That's no longer an Il Vicino facility; it's now Amicas brewery. And those bottles were never really that great. If you drank it fresh it was ok, but if it sat around it lost a lot. The bottles weren't filtered, and that's fine, but there were a lot of inconsistencies in the beer. They were getting too many comments about how "this beer wasn't the same as the one I had had before". So there are now no more Il Vicino breweries except for this one in New Mexico. Because of the bottling issue, headaches with paperwork and the government, the Il Vicino beers in CO are being contract brewed by Bristol Brewery. So Bristol makes most of the money on the beer, and we get a little just for the use of the name. It's not really worth the cost of distributing the bottles down here.
What's your favorite style to brew?
Any style that I haven't done yet! The IPA we brew every week, so while it's not a boring beer, it's just doing the same routine over and over. It's taking the time to learn something that holds the new things up. Right now there's a lot of Belgian and sour-type stuff going on out there but I can't really change the entire brewery to try and do something funky. Everyone's always out to one-up each other and there are some very good beers out there that I'm not going to one-up, from breweries like Lost Abbey, Russian River, and even Deschutes; everyone's kind of jumping into it. Hard to get beers seems like the biggest new thing.
So are you customer driven in choosing new things to try?
Oh yeah. I mean, I'm out there in the tap room a good amount of time serving beers. I hear the comments firsthand, so why not? I'm always willing to try new things. The whole barrel aging trend- we had a couple barrels, but the time, the work involved on such a small scale wasn't really feasible. So telling the person with the suggestion why it wouldn't really work out to brew 200 gallons, as long as the person actually brewing the beer is telling them why we won't be doing it, works out well and the customer is usually pretty good about understanding the situation. But we try as best we can.
Is it more competition or camaraderie among the local brewers?
For the brewers, it's always been like a brotherhood. We all talk, you know; if I have a problem, I can ask anybody. Once you get into the's not my money, it's the owners', so there's always more of a competition aspect among the owners. But our owners, they don't care so much. I can be talking to Chama, they help us out with ingredients, we help them out. Our owners like that sort of thing. They've been in the restaurant business for a long time, so they've seen a lot of things they don't like, but they like the aspect of the "niceness", I guess you'd call it, between brewers here. Some owners are just that, owners. Their priority is to protect their investment.
As far as competition, how do you feel about brewers entering something other than their "regular" IPA in the annual challenge?
We have been over this and over this, and I guess I'm the bad guy, because one year we had two batches of Wet Mountain to choose from, and one was better, so I sent that one over. I was being razzed that I was trying to cheat, but it wasn't different IPA, just a batch that came out better. But now, most of us, we don't care. This year, there's more talk that, if you're going to serve up a double, how do you serve up the pint if that's their favorite? You have to give them less, with the serving laws, because that's a stronger beer. But then you don't want to advertise that the beer's a double, because people may not vote for that beer just because they won't get a full pint if they vote for it.
So are you just going to stick with the Wet Mountain IPA for the competition?
No, we brewed a different one. The Wet Mountain is a good IPA, but this is like a beer festival to me.brew different things and taste different things. I like Marble IPA, for instance, but if they can brew up something special just for an event, I'm excited to try it. So we're going to enter (CENSORED) in the IPA challenge. (note: sorry, everybody. I'm not allowed to tell!)
Can we talk about the lease issue?
Yep. So, Direct Power and Water, the guys who own the building, sold the business, and the company that they sold it to needs more space. So we're actively looking for a new place to brew.
Will you, upon seeing the success that a place like Marble has had, try to expand your brewery? Not as far as bottling, but seating capacity?
That is the one thing the owners want to do. The current space is too small. It's fun, it helps pay the bills. But the brewery was here for four years before the tasting room existed. That space was originally used for storage. I think one of the owners used to keep the top to his jeep in there. But it wasn't part of the original business plan. When we move, yeah, the seating area will be bigger. But it still won;t be open past 8 pm. It's still a tasting room. The owners don't want it to be the bar environment. They like to put out a good product at a good price to the public, but they don't want the midnight drunk people, the problems with overserving.
Will you be going to the Great American Beer Festival this year?
Yes. Well, Il Vicino will. I may not be going because I have a family wedding at the same time. but that's ok. The only other time I wasn't there we won a medal, so it may be good luck for me not to go! We'll be entering the Rye Pale ale, which was our Malt Madness winner. Also the IPL (India Pale Lager), a sour beer, the Sweet Sanderine Porter (2008 Silver Medal Winner), and our 2006 Imperial Stout in the aged category.
We've got to mention your family a little, especially since your wife had a son recently.
Yes, he was six weeks early, and he was only 3 lbs., 14 oz. He was in the ICU for two weeks, which I was told is actually a short time for babies that small. But there was a scare for awhile there that he wasn't growing fast enough, but you hear different things from different doctors. One said the size and weight should be measured from date of birth, another said that the projected date of birth should be factored in. So it's really a gray area. But he's doing just fine now. My daughter is almost five now, and my wife's doing great.
How long have you been married?
Since May 12th, 2001. She was actually hired as a pastry chef for Scalo, but when she moved here they didn't have a spot for her yet, so she worked at the Il Vicino pizza place, and that's how we met.
Oh, so you wooed her with beer.
No, it wasn't beer...I actually don't know what it was. It wasn't beer; she's not a big drinker, though she does love stouts. She went to the California Culinary Academy and they did a tour of the Anderson Valley Brewery, and I think that's where she got to first try other things out there than the beers you drink in high school.
When you do find a new brewing facility, any idea on how long of a down time there will be during the move?
It really depends. If we find a place that already has everything we need, things will of course go much faster. But the owners are talking about moving from a seven barrel system to a fifteen barrel one, but nothing's decided. Moving's going to be expensive, and it may not be the best economic time to buy new equipment. But if we did that, we could just move in and start brewing, and there would be no downtime!
That sounds like the scenario we would all like! Brady, thanks for your time.
Sure. We'll see everyone on Saturday!


Solis said...
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Elizabeth Bond said...

LOVE the beer at Il's great to finally meet the men behind the magic!

Andrew said...

enjoyed the interview. thanks abqbeergeek! excited for Saturday!

Dinger said...

Great interview. Glad to hear Il V's expanding a bit (apologies to Brady and Doug for this news).