The first words emblazoned on La Cumbre’s growlers: “La Cumbre Brewing Company is what happens when two people take one thing altogether way too seriously.”
They describe the labor of love that is Jeff and Laura Erway’s new operation. I thought about just repeating the rest of the story straight from the back of the jug, but I know the standards you Alibi readers have.
Opening a brewery in these ever-depressing times of economic hardship may seem like a foolhardy idea to some, but head (and only) brewer Jeff Erway was not letting anything come between him and his dream—not even the city of Albuquerque.
“This city is not small business friendly,” he says (though not on his growlers), “and they make it hard for anyone who does not have very deep pockets.”
So the Erways tried to make the process as painless as possible, in fact choosing their location mostly on the logistics of transforming their building into a working brewery. They decided that the former 505 Southwest location at 3313 Girard NE (just north of Candelaria) best met their needs. Notwithstanding the hoops that Jeff and Laura had to jump through in trying to meet city regulations, there was also the intense planning it takes just to design a brewery. Jeff spent months researching and pricing brewing equipment, which he likens to searching for a car without knowing how much a car should cost.
Though he was an accomplished brewer at Chama River from 2007 to 2010, Jeff had no experience in setting up a brewery operation. He ended up traveling to several far-flung states looking for equipment before finding the right gear in Cincinnati, Ohio. He then spent a week in a 100-degree warehouse disassembling and loading the stuff onto two flatbed trucks. While checking in on La Cumbre’s progress, fellow brewery owner Nico Ortiz of Turtle Mountain once joked, “Hear that sound? That’s the sound of money going out the door!”
A year of planning and installation ended with La Cumbre’s quiet opening in December. And if the first month is any indication, you might actually hear the sound of money coming in the door for a change.
A 15-barrel system allows Jeff to have seven house beers on tap, along with at least one cask-conditioned beer, at all times.
The interior of La Cumbre can hold about 70 people, and it’s decorated with bar tables that Jeff crafted himself from old wine barrels, as well as hundreds of beer bottles from his expansive collection. (Laura confides in me how much fun it’s been lugging them around during their various moves over the years.) The space encompasses two floors. On the second story, a former bigwig’s wood-paneled office now holds a pool table and a couch.
A 15-barrel system allows Jeff to have seven house beers on tap, along with at least one cask-conditioned beer, at all times. Rounding out the bar are four guest taps with beers from other local breweries. Jeff says that since he has to brew large batches each time he does a style, he only makes styles that’ll sell. That’s not to say he’s brewing bland beer. His idea of “styles that will sell” include the super hoppy, 7 percent alcohol-by-volume Elevated IPA. And as luck would have it, it outsells all other current styles on tap combined.
Future plans include getting La Cumbre taps at bars around Albuquerque, as well as starting the production phase of canning their beers. In the meantime, look for a huge Russian Imperial Stout in March and possibly a Double Red as a future tap. Jeff also says that as soon as barrels become available from the local wineries, he plans on purchasing them to make some sour beers, a style that’s underrepresented in Albuquerque.
Live entertainment at La Cumbre is still in the experimental phase, though look for an acoustic open mic night on Mondays, a blues jam every Wednesday and an upcoming show by the Squash Blossom Boys. And keep an eye out for my favorite kind of entertainment: “Hoppy Hour” is all day on Tuesdays, which gets you $1 off pints.
La Cumbre is an inviting spot that already seems to have attracted a following, and the owners are almost always on hand to talk to customers. They’re easy enough to find: One will be holding their 3-month-old son, Miles. Lucky kid gets to grow up in a brewery. I’m so jealous.