Duchess of Ale
Albuquerque’s oldest homebrew shop enters a new generation
I met one of my oldest friends for the first time the other day. To explain, I first met Michelle Trujillo back in 1976, but neither of our brains had fully formed, so you can understand my reluctance to claim that meeting as official. At the very least, you couldn’t say we’d been properly introduced until I stopped by her store just a few weeks back. But one day, back in 1976, there we were, two infants, less than a year old and only a few months apart, lying on the rug in a south valley adobe as our parents made beer together.
It was the ’70s, and homebrewing beer was a novelty that only a few attempted. In fact, it wasn’t even legal at that point. Our parents were part of an Albuquerque homebrew club called Roma Boogie, one of the first in the nation, and because there wasn’t much information on brewing out yet, they were pretty much winging it. My mom and dad made a few batches (one of which exploded) and then gave the hobby up. But Michelle’s father, Victor Trujillo, stuck with it. Soon he went on to own and operate Victor’s Grape Arbor, which for many years was Albuquerque’s only homebrew supply store.
“My father loved beer, and probably since the time he was 18, he was trying to make it. He even said that one of his most successful stouts was made with my baby cereal. Puffed rice,” Michelle Trujillo said, fondly remembering her father. “It was a lot more trial and error back then. I think there’s something valid about that.”
But in 2010, after more than three decades of supplying beginner and advanced homebrewers in Albuquerque, Victor died suddenly of a heart attack. Michelle, his only child, was running a successful massage therapy practice at the time and had never considered becoming involved in the homebrewing world. But with her father’s death, that changed.
“It wasn’t even a conversation I had with myself,” she said. “It was just like, ‘boom’—this is what I’m doing.” She wasted no time in taking over the store. “We weren’t even closed for a single day except for the Saturday that was his funeral.”
Although she grew up around the business, and had dabbled in brewing beer and making wine as a hobby, she had never delved too deeply into the processes, nor considered what the challenges of maintaining a successful store would be. “It was a really significant transition from the year before he died to the year after he died. Those two years were really rough. Trying to figure out, is this going to be viable?”
“My father loved beer, and probably since the time he was 18, he was trying to make it. He even said that one of his most successful stouts was made with my baby cereal. Puffed rice,” Michelle Trujillo said, fondly remembering her father
Not only that, but her father was hardly the most organized of predecessors. “Most of his stuff was in his head. I was coming into the business from it as a hobby. I didn’t have a business mind. I was a massage therapist, it was all foreign stuff.”
Adding to the transitional woes, many of Victor’s loyal customer base assumed that the store would be closed for good now that Victor was gone. “That year was awful. There was massive loss,” Michelle says. “I still have people coming in going ‘We heard you were closed! We’re so glad you’re here!’”
But she was determined to not let her father’s legacy fade. She persevered, keeping the business going through its most vulnerable period, and even updating the shop for a new era. “The store was really raggedy looking, the carpet was 20 years old,” she remembered, shaking her head. “My dad liked things to remain the same, but I felt like I needed to change things just to keep my own sanity. ... So I remodeled in August of 2011, completely by myself.”
The shop is certainly a different place now. It’s bright and welcoming, well-organized and easily navigable. Michelle has also taken steps to become more involved in the local brewing community, joining hobbyist groups like the Dukes of Ale and helping to organize brew festivals in the city and the state.
And Victor’s legacy lives on in more than just the name and location of the store. This year, Michelle dug into her father’s old notebooks and assembled some of his most popular recipes into boxed kits for new brewers. “20 years ago, he created 18 to 20 solid recipes. It’s a wide range: There’s a pilsener, a British pale ale, an oatmeal stout, even a steam.” The recipes are unique, ones that Victor himself developed over his career. “I can see a lot of him in them. They were unique to him in the ingredients. For instance, a lot of them have honey and he loved honey. The recipes reflect him, absolutely.”
With two years running the shop under her belt, Michelle has adapted to the local brewing community and it seems likely that she’ll be able to keep her father’s legacy alive for a good long while to come. And she has other ideas for how she’d like to see the brewing community reflect her influence.
“It’s a very male dominated hobby. … When a girl comes into my shop, I pounce on them,” she laughs. “The Dukes of Ale needs some duchesses of ale, too.”