The craft beer movement is thriving in Albuquerque, as evidenced by the popularity of established breweries like Marble and Bosque Brewing, as well as the frequency with which new breweries are popping up all around the city. It remains to be seen if the Duke City can support all of these burgeoning microbreweries, but there is no doubt that Sidetrack Brewing Company (413 Second Street SW) has put down roots in the Downtown business scene, with a devoted neighborhood clientele and owners that are dedicated to their work.
I used to live very close to Sidetrack, and I enjoyed drinking beer on their sunny back patio, my dog in tow, in warm weather. During winter it was a comfortable spot to post up inside with my laptop—the brick walls and soft lighting provided coziness on cold evenings. I’m far from what you would call a beer expert, but I like Sidetrack’s beer, the atmosphere, friendly service and the music (they’re always spinning vinyl). It’s a super inviting space.
Dan Herr and Ann O’Neill are the owners and operators. They are foremost present, involved and committed to their business. “We’ve also had great luck with staff,” Herr says. Their relationships with staff aren’t superficial; there’s an ease and warmth in their communication with employees, which translates to low turnover and knowledgeable help. Nestor Escamilla, one of the beertenders at Sidetrack, has been with them since 2017. All the patrons appreciate his friendly demeanor.
Herr is now making a career out of what once was a hobby. For 25 years he was an architect for a firm that was previously located in the building where Sidetrack is now, and which Herr now owns. Although both Herr and O’Neill had separate careers, it seems like they were destined to enter a profession together. O’Neill bought Herr his first home brewing kit about 20 years ago, and he was hooked right away. O’Neill says, “Dan loved to brew beer, and I loved to drink it.” It was many years later, but they eventually found a way to channel that love into a growing business in the form of Sidetrack.
The trajectory of Sidetrack is an interesting one, possibly influenced initially more by coffee than by beer. In 2012, Herr was approached by a woman named Pilar Westell who told him she wanted to open a coffee shop in the building he owned. She opened Zendo Coffee the next year. “Zendo was a magical thing that happened,” says Herr. With Zendo’s impact the neighborhood vibe started growing. The craft beer movement was in full swing, and Herr and O’Neill decided they wanted to do their own thing. After lots of renovation they opened Sidetrack Brewing Company in the space next to Zendo on January 1, 2016.
I recently visited Sidetrack for a tasting of some of their beers. The first beer I taste is the American Blonde Ale, which is aptly named Güera (sort of a friendly Spanish slang for “white girl”). It’s mildly hopped and citrusy, due partially to the tiny amount of orange zest Herr adds in the brewing process. With an alcohol content of 6.4 percent, it’s on the boozier side. Herr says, “we try not to go to extremes, and are generally moderate in creating our flavors and alcohol content.”
Next we tasted the Ringwood English Ale. The Ringwood yeast gives this beer a lot of its distinctive fruity flavor, and the aromas of apple and pear pop.
Then we try a cask beer called Dark Engine Stout with cacao nibs. Sidetrack may be the only brewery in town currently using this cask conditioning method, which historically pre-dates carbonation (most beers are now force carbonated). The ingredients are sealed in a stainless steel cask, and the CO2 is the byproduct of fermentation. This gives the cask beer a creamy head and a softer, smoother mouthfeel. It seems like more flavors come out and I can definitely taste dark chocolate and vanilla.
The fourth tasting is the force carbonated version of the Dark Engine Stout. Although tasty, it has less of a head and the mouthfeel is sharper, edgier.
Finally, we taste the Old School IPA. I’ve never been a fan of IPAs, which always taste too bitter to me, but this IPA has a sweetness to it that balances out the bitterness well.
Sidetrack and their beers beam with the talents and dedication of its owners. Although Herr and O’Neill didn’t expect to go into the beer business 20 years ago, they’ve taken to the trade exceedingly well. One just has to visit the place on a Friday evening to see the proof. O’Neill proudly says, “this is our life now.” It’s a life they obviously enjoy.