Wolf Canyon Brewing Company


Long denied a local source of craft-brewed beer, Santa Fé, New Mexico now has Wolf Canyon Brewing Company to call its own. A favorable first impression is made early, as the single level stuccoed adobe and natural wood building comes into view amidst the dusty and dry desert southwest surroundings. Standing guard spiritually and visually are the wolves, one overhead and one at each side of the entrance through the stucco wall. On either side lies the patio with its stone tiles and green iron patio tables and chairs. Authentic barked posts of the coyote fence esthetically shield patio diners from the nearby interstate but not from the vistas of the local Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Seating for 130 is available outdoors and 285 indoors. Inside, the surroundings seem both expansive and cozy. To the left lies the lounge area with a dozen copper tables standing on the stone tiled floor. Above, the three-dimensional tin ceiling adds to the subtle elegance of the decor. Two exterior walls offer large glass double doors that lead to the outside patio. Well-lit from the abundant natural and artificial light, the inviting mood attracts crowds from happy hour through the evening. Originally intended to handle diners awaiting their tables, experience now shows that local area residents find the lounge a perfect place to socialize and enjoy the appetizers and beers. Six beers flow from the two ornate brass tap towers mounted on both sides of the medium-sized copper-topped bar. In a gesture of support for their local clientele, a Stein Club offers members a numbered ceramic stein along with 50 cents off the pint price. Membership is limited to the first 200 participants with costs of $20 for sign-up and $10 yearly. On the wall stands a tasteful glass display case housing most of the steins, while those of founding members hang above the bar. Happy hour runs 4 to 6 PM daily and yields 25¢ discounts. Also above the bar is one of three televisions that populate the lounge. Normally a rare commodity in brewpubs, these instruments of attention seem to have the positive effect of drawing people together for a social gathering (a tertulia). The non-smoking portion of the dining area stands in a large sunken room with a fireplace, wooden walls, and hand-hewn beams above the copper tables. A more private upstairs area offers two dartboards, a stage, more dining tables and a view of the mountains outside and the dance floor below.

Being the first brewpub in New Mexico's capital city means you don't really know what the tastes of your customers will be, but the experience of the team at Wolf Canyon affords them good insight. The brewmaster is Brad Kraus, a New Mexico native who is a familiar figure in the American brewing scene. A chemistry major out of Rice University, he entered the job market for petroleum research just as the bottom dropped out of the oil industry in '78. As fate would have it, Brad was drawn into homebrewing by friends. Subsequent technical encouragement from Scott Birdwell at DeFalco's homebrew supply in Houston caused him to study and brew the myriad beer styles then possible. Hiring on at DeFalco's meant answering the questions of homebrewers for three years and that meant learning the ins and outs of small-scale brewing from the practical side. Declining a brewing job in Dallas, Brad was drawn back to the Land of Enchantment in 1990, ending up at Santa Fe Brewing Company in the small town of Galesteo. "I missed the mountains and open spaces" Brad said. In three short years he ascended to the position of Brewmaster and developed six specialty recipes that built upon the success of the original Santa Fe Pale Ale. In the process, two GABF medals were acquired on the merits of the Nut Brown Ale and the Sangre de Frambruesa. The ranch location could not support further growth and the opportunity to be part of a brewpub start-up drew him to Rio Bravo Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Albuquerque. The 60 mile each way commute grew tiring as well as life-threatening; consulting began to look better and better. Working as the regional sales rep for DME in the six-state Rocky Mountain area offered even more insight into what it takes to succeed in the present market. Long hostile to small businesses in general and brewpubs specifically, Santa Fe had been the ideal candidate for a brewpub location. Longtime plans with partner Chuck Nashan finally materialized when the site of the defunct Legends nightclub became available. With a shared vision to give the local market what it lacked, combined with the creative freedom to produce distinctive beers in conjunction with a uniquely Southwest restaurant, the move to brewmaster at Wolf Canyon was the logical one. For Brad, this was the realization of a long standing goal of brewing at a Santa Fé brewpub.

The goal of those involved with Wolf Canyon is to create a successful operation where locals can find an affordable menu in a comfortable setting. Managing partner Chuck Nashan brings to the enterprise his lengthy background in the Santa Fe restaurant business. "We are a restaurant first and strive to offer affordable family dining." Partners Noel Ferguson and Jeff Schimberg bring their extensive management expertise from working as vice-presidents with the Marriot Corporation. Nashan says the master plan envisions Wolf Canyon as a showcase operation for future expansion into other locations. Mostly local private investors contributed $2.5 million to get the operation going and the business view is a long-term one. Although only a few minutes from the tourist-infested downtown plaza and its associated lack of parking, this strategic location supports current and future local residents with its ample parking. "99 % of our customers are locals." Seemingly isolated from Santa Fe proper, current county zoning plans call for major residential growth in the surrounding vicinity in the form of the Rancho Viejo sub-division. Wolf Canyon will be poised to serve this new community for years to come.

According to the business plan, it will be the food, the service, and the beer that make this high desert brewpub a success. All breads are baked in house and even the beef is ground by the kitchen staff. The food menu stands out as a unique attraction. The entrée price range of $4.95 to $14.95 is rare in this tourist-dominated economy, while $2.25 pints are unheard of. The emphasis on seafood and New Mexican entrées among the broad range of dishes appears very ambitious. Head Chef Matt Nichols has the responsibility of integrating this spectrum of flavors into consistent, top-quality fare. Matt has already begun to incorporate crushed malt and wort into various featured dishes. " I'm using grains and wort in our batters and marinades." Another ambitious undertaking is the Tapas Bar with its own room filled with tall chairs along an angled copper bar. The separate menu offers light food, cooked up in a dedicated Appetizer Kitchen visible behind the bar. Food is available anytime and a selection of Scotch is offered from the full bar.

Laid out to Brad's specifications, the shiny new 1000 square foot brewhouse is visible through the large glass doors and windows. The copper mash tun and boil kettle are joined by four 10-bbl stainless steel fermenters as part of the 10 bbl Master Brew System from DME. 50-pound bags of Great Western and Hugh Baird malts are fed manually into the hopper of the two-roller Roskamp mill. From the enclosed mill room a flexible auger takes the crushed grains to the top of the mash tun where they are met in the removable grist hydrator by carbon-filtered well water from the La Cienega Aquifer. The heat source is a compact steam generator, and the cleaver movement of liquids through a fixed-plumbing "swing-link" panel eliminates the need for a hot liquor tank and hoses. Currently the all-ale recipes get a single temperature infusion mash that lasts 60 to 90 minutes. From there a recirculation pump with flow control valves allows for a 60 minute runoff. The boil kettle is equipped with three separate steam jackets that are activated as the liquid level inside rises. After a 90 to 120 minute boil, a sump in the base of the kettle causes a whirlpool and allows the removal of "hot break" material. A glycol-jacketed cold water tank then feeds the heat exchanger where 64° F wort emerges, gets blasted with O2, then heads for the fermenter. CO2 captured here will later be used for natural carbonation, although carbonator stones are installed in the base of each vessel. Minimal plate filtering is employed before the beer ends up in one of nine serving tanks housed in a long windowed cold-room. A separate glycol chiller keeps the lines to the bar at a precise temperature right up to the tavern head. The efficient layout allows for a six hour brew cycle and 14 day span from brewing to serving. Attention to detail and sensitivity to the environment has led to installation of a $75,000 waste water system and the avoidance of traditional caustic cleaning chemicals.

First year production is estimated at 1000 bbls. An early best seller is the Piñon Brown Ale that gets a dose of piñon nuts in the grist, and yields a medium body, light malty flavor, and dry finish. Also popular is the Lobo Negro Porter with its chocolatey aroma, full body, and dry chocolately flavor and finish. The next standard brew is the Aspen Vista Golden Ale, a Kolsch style, its crisp hop flavor and smooth mouthfeel allow it to assume the role of a "cross over" beer. Finally, the Copper Mesa Amber Ale is reminiscent of an Alt with its dry malty characteristics. The first of the two Brewers Choice Specials was the White Wolf Wheat, with aromas of clove and banana, its nice blend of flavors can be traced to the Weihenstephan yeast used. The current Special #2 (always a fruit beer) is the Ojo Rojo Raspberry Ale, a hazy pink, its aroma starts strong and is followed by a subdued tart flavor that is well-matched to the light body. The homemade root beer dispensed from dedicated lines is developing quite a following. Having previously brought cask-conditioned beer to New Mexico, Brad now plans to feed the two beer engines from authentic aluminum Firkins, each holding 9 Imperial gallons (10.8 US gal.). This system will allow the beer to be served from the vessel that it actually finished fermenting in. Two fining additions will clarify the beer before tapping. Look for a 90 Shilling Scotch Ale for the holidays.

Having been open only since September 22nd, the 83 new employees of Wolf Canyon are under a lot of pressure to meet people's high expectations for Santa Fe's first brewpub. From the looks of the satisfied customers lining up to consume 400 to 500 dinners every weekend night and usually leaving with a growler to go, business is off to a very good start, and the "shared vision" of the owners and staff should soon become a reality.

Wolf Canyon Brewing Co.
9885 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, NM 87505

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1996

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