Il Vicino Microbrewery


The new digs are quite an improvement over the "Frakenbrew" system put together by Tom Hennesy years ago to sucessfully quench the thirst of Albuquerque "beer cafe" patrons. The spacious layout just off Interstate 25 in the middle of Albuquerque now hosts a 7-barrel Century stainless steel system that supplies four Il Vicino establishments: Il Vicino Albuquerque Nob Hill, Il Vicino Albuquerque Northeast Heights, Scallo Restaurant Albuquerque, and Il Vicino Santa Fé. The system had previously produce top-notch beers for the owners of the failed Rio Bravo Brewpub. Once again demonstrating that great beer alone cannot create a successful business. At the helm of this reconfigured brewing setup is Jason along with his trusty brew-slave Bill McDonald. Together they crank out 28 to 35 barrels a week on the 7 bbl stainless steel Century system to keep the corporate accounts supplied with the four standard beers. Lacking a mill of their own, the brewers receive pre-ground malts in sacks and lug everything from receiving dock to storage area to mash tun. The spartan operation requires all keg filling and cleaning to be done by hand. Grundys are used as conditioning tanks and they continue to be an educational experience for the brewhouse staff. Recently one demonstrated the real-life significance of the physics equation "f=m*a". The unscheduled event left a Grundy top cover embedded in the ceiling of one of the two coldrooms and a permanent telltale bulge that will entertain brewery tour visitors for years to come.

While demand is good for business it puts pressure on the brewer, where filtering is shunned in lieu of finings that require a fixed amount of time to clarify the beers. Plans call for an Il Vicino restaurant location in Tulsa to join in March a like-named restaurant in Wichita in receiving Il Vicino beers brewed by Brady at the Colorado Springs location. This last year has seen significant changes in the makeup of the partners who control the destiny of Il Vicino. Many people are watching for signs of where this innovative craftbrewing operation is heading as we begin the 21st century. Hopefully the Forth of July celebration at Salida, Colorado will once again offer the opportunity to relax in a majestic setting and sample multiple beers for the three Il Vicino operations in New Mexico and Colorado.

 2001 saw some changes at the brewery, with Brady McKeown assuming the role of head brewer and Doug Cochran enlisting as the faithful assistant brewer. The addition of a dedicated front tasting room and small, mostly covered, outdoor patio with bench seating helps draw customers who sample a pint or two before refilling their growlers on the way home. The five-place bar offers cushioned stools along the wall of the cozy, well-lit room. The beige and gold color scheme, along with the track lighting make for an inviting place to stop by and have a chat with the brewers over a cold one. The chalkboard menu announces the available beers while the 35 mugs of the Mug Club members max out the available wall space and cause a waiting list of those wanting to fork over $30 per year for the convenience of having their own drinking vessle always within a few feet of the tap handles. Light Rock & Roll music provides the background, with the mini-TV usually silent. New prices are $2.75/pint, $6 for a growler refill, $40 + deposit for 5 gallons, and $120 for a 15.5 gallon 1/2 barrel keg. Look for the new Tap-a-Draft systems that use horizontal polycorbonate vessels and CO2 bulbs to provide convenient draught beer to-go for refrigerator dispensing right at home. Prices run $35 initially and $18 for the hefty refills. At 875 barrels, 2001's production has surpassed the previous year's and allows for new draught accounts. Look for Il Vicino beers on tap at two new Albuquerque locations: Milagro and Johny's.

 The Amber is clear amber in color, with a caramel/malty flavor, supporting hop bitterness, and a dry hoppy finish. The Joe's Stout pours with a creamy nitrogen-blessed head. This light-bodied brew is very easy-drinking and offers a clean, dry finish. Due to its nitrogen dispensing requirements, it is available elsewhere only at the Il Vicino Nob Hill location. The Malpais Porter is medium-bodied, with a dry flavor that empahasizes its black malt character. The Blonde Ale is a clear pale straw color with a crisp and clean pale malt flavor. The addition of flaked corn and dry pilsner malt also contributes to the resulting crisp character.

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - February 2000 and December 2001

Jason on the job Got the equipment

Il Vicino Brewing
4000A. Vassar Dr. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107

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