T o Mike Carver and his partner in business and marriage, Kathy, it was the realization of a long-held dream as the first batch of beer emerged in August from Cabezon Brewing Company. Just another dirt lot in a industrial section of Albuquerque in April, the site now houses a modest but well laid out microbrewery capable of producing 1000 bbls its first year. Mike's degrees in Chemistry and Biology give him the technical background but it is his seven years of homebrewing experience that give him the inner drive to first build a brewery from scratch, and then dedicate his waking hours to ensure its business success. "Working in the bio-tech industry growing E. coli just wasn't doing it" he says. Brewmaster Ramon Gallegos was selected for his "passion for brewing" that accompanied his four years of homebrewing. Talking to him about his new profession, you can tell that he both takes his responsibilities seriously and enjoys his work.
Throughout the brewery are signs of Mike's ingenuity, applying many lessons learned from homebrewing. The raw grains require minimal handling after a forklift places them on the second story loft and gravity feeds them to a two-roller mill below. A grist hydrator of Mike's own design douses the crushed grains with water as they enter the mash/lauter tun. Homebrewers are renown for their skills at scrounging affordable components for their brewing systems and that same approach works at Cabezon. The stainless steel mash vessel was formerly a diary tank and the 21 bbl boil kettle previously saw service cooking non-malted ingredients at Campbell Soup. Some vessels were actually designed originally for brewing by Specific Mechanical, they were handed down by Left Hand Brewing. Mike's task was to ensure that the whole system would be easy enough for one person to operate and still produce a top quality product. A visual inspection of the brewery's interior reveals that he has succeeded, all equipment is easy to access and clean while the floor drains just as you would like if you were the cleanup crew. Some new technology is also evident, individually-controlled glycol jackets hug each fermenter and a glycol chiller drops the tap water temperature entering the heat exchanger. If you brew professionally in the desert southwest, glycol is your friend. Another consideration in the dessert is water. Cabezon makes efficient use of city water by capturing the warmed output from the heat exchanger into the hot liquor tank for use in the next brew.
The Carver's business plan calls for most production to end up in bottles so Mike designed an efficient two-person bottling station. Following its passage through a Diatomaceous Earth (DE) filter the beer enters pre-evacuated 12 ounce bottles through a Meheen filler that feeds to a homemade conveyer belt that moves one case a minute to a fifties-generation labeling machine. Both the labels and the six-pack holders feature striking New Mexico scenes rendered by local Navajo artist Fred Cleveland. Working closely with a responsive state-wide distributor, the bottles and kegs are already seeing widespread distribution. Stop by the brewery to support its environmentally friendly policy of recycling six-pack holders and bottles, and you might receive a donation of a case of bottles for your next batch of homebrew. While there you may also enjoy fresh draught beer in the tasting room. Actually, cozier than a formal tasting room, visitors get to experience the beers while surrounded by brewing vessels and palletized cases of bottles. On-site sales six days a week are doing well, "We're getting a lot of repeat customers, cases and growlers really sell well on Fridays" says Carver. Half-gallon growlers are $7.25, refills $5.25, six-packs $6.25, and cases $24.95. Souvenir glasses can be had for $5 full or $4 empty while T-shirts are a reasonable $12.
The current product lineup features three beer styles that take advantage of British malts, bales of British and American whole hops, and a single American yeast strain. The Sunchaser Ale is a light amber color and yields a light hoppy aroma with an underlying dry, malty flavor and aftertaste. Fresh from the conditioning tank, this recipe has a great hop/malt balance with just the right contribution of esters from the yeast. The Stout offers a thick dark head of fine bubbles and emits both roasted and chocolate aromas. The strong roasted character carries into the flavor and combines nicely with the creamy mouthfeel and full body. The Anasazi Wheat is a clear straw color with plentiful fine bubbles that bring forth a light hoppy aroma. Hops also dominate the light, malty-sweet flavor. A creamy mouthfeel combines with the crisp flavors to make this a likely summertime best seller.
Someone is usually around six days a week but if you're planning a visit give them a call first. If you attend any of the growing number of regional beer festivals look for their banner featuring a full moon illuminating a well-known New Mexico landmark, the nearby "volcanic neck" known as Cabezon. The Carvers expect a tough next two to three years due to the expected shakeout caused by the "pseudo-micros" but for Albuquerque's sake we wish them a successful future.
Cabezon Brewing Company
421 Edmon Road NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - December, 1996