SF brewery’s growth secret: Yes we can

Brian Lock is owner of Santa Fe Brewing Co., which is celebrating its 25th anniversary today with the introduction of a new beer and a “brewers’ Olympics” at its brewery southwest of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Brian Lock is owner of Santa Fe Brewing Co., which is celebrating its 25th anniversary today with the introduction of a new beer and a “brewers’ Olympics” at its brewery southwest of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Owner has raised company’s profile, expanded output

SANTA FE – Brian Lock pours his latest specialty brew into a pint glass – filling it nearly halfway – and swirls the golden liquid.

He sticks his nose into the glass, taking a hearty sniff.

“There’s a citrus and a spiciness – almost like black pepper,” he said. ” … The spice kind of balances out the sweet. It doesn’t have a huge body to me – it’s fairly light. That’s what we wanted from this beer, something easy to drink – something you can have two or three cans of and not feel it was too heavy.”

And Lock, the owner of Santa Fe Brewing Co., knows beer – he has made a career of crafting brews on a micro scale and selling it to the masses.

Santa Fe Brewing Co. is issuing Saison 88 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Santa Fe Brewing Co. is issuing Saison 88 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

The latest creation: the Saison 88.

“Saison means ‘season’ in French – and this our new summer beer,” he said.

As for the significance of the number 88, that’s the year Santa Fe Brewing Co. was founded: 1988. Since then, what began as a small, family-owned operation in Galisteo has evolved into the largest New Mexico-based microbrewery.

“This is our 25th anniversary ale for 25 years of brewing,” he said.

Along with the anniversary celebration, SFBC, located at 35 Fire Pl., hosted a first-ever brewer’s Olympics, featuring Marble and Second Street breweries, as well as a local homebrew club.

While Lock isn’t the founder of SFBC – that would be Mike Levis, who sold the company for an estimated $200,000 to a group including his son Ty Levis (who remains SFBC’s director of brewing operations); Lock; Las Vegas, N.M., native Carlos Muller and Dave Forester around 1997 – he’s been the sole owner since 2003 and is responsible for raising the profile of the brewery to unparalleled heights.

Since relocating to its current location in 2005, SFBC now inhabits nearly 15,000 square feet of space, while pumping out about 23,000 barrels annually – a far cry from the 1,750 barrels it produced in 2004.

Leif Rotsaert of Santa Fe steam-cleans wood barrels to prepare them for a sour ale at the Santa Fe Brewing Co. He said old-style methods are used with old-style beers. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Leif Rotsaert of Santa Fe steam-cleans wood barrels to prepare them for a sour ale at the Santa Fe Brewing Co. He said old-style methods are used with old-style beers. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

An award-winning product made more consistent through automation, Lock said, certainly is a factor in the company’s nearly 30 percent rate of annual growth. But Lock points to a decision to alter the packaging of their beers in 2010 as a major factor in helping SFBC make its way onto virtually every grocery store shelf in the region.

“We started canning beer in July of 2010 and the response was overwhelming,” said Lock, whose first canned beer, Happy Camper, is still his best seller. “We ran out of stock on a few occasions because the demand was so high. … It put us on the map.”

SFBC beers can now be found in eight states, including Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nevada.

So with such growth in the first 25 years, what does the next 25 hold for SFBC? When posed with this question, Lock sat back in his chair, laughing.

“Back in 2005, I had a vision of building this facility to do 25,000 to 30,000 barrels – I just didn’t realize we would get there this fast,” said the Portland native, who expects production to reach 30,000 barrels by 2015. ” … Right now I’m finalizing a distribution contract in Louisiana so, at this point, I think we’ll stick with the nine states until we build a new facility with more capacity.

“After that, I would hope that in the next 15 to 20 years we can be at 200 to 250 thousand barrels – that would be a nice place to be in size and scope. But 25 years out is kind of hard to project.”