Monday, August 22, 2011

AN INTERVIEW WITH KRISTIN HENNELLY OF BLUE HERON BREWING

This is the first of what I'm hoping will be a long string of interviews & discussions with folks that we at Beer Samizdat believe are making the craft beer world go 'round. We plan to avoid the pompous "usual suspects" and get down conversationally with the real people whose beer we drink, blogs we read and whose gumption we admire.

The first such discussion in this forum is with KRISTIN HENNELLY of Embudo, New Mexico's BLUE HERON BREWING. Blue Heron, you say? How do I know them again? Well, we wrote about our first encounter with their excellent Cascabel IPA right here, and vowed we'd try to get Kristin on the e-horn to see if she'd submit to our rigorous questions. See, this is a microbrewer if ever there was one. Brewing up top-drawer beers on a long highway in the New Mexico wilds - and by the banks of the Rio Grande river no less - Blue Heron are the sort of operation who are "central casting" for how I'd like to imagine the "rich tapestry" of craft beer scene. Wife-n-husband team, batch of kids, one very important brewing partner, all operating on what I presume to be a shoestring budget in a quest to bring great beer to the thirsty people of New Mexico. With any luck they'll be bringing it to your town somewhere down the proverbial road.


I caught up with Kristin over email. Here's what we talked about.

Beer Samizdat: Tell us a little about how your brewery came to be – what led to it, how you got it set up and what your “mission” might happen to be.

    Kristin Hennelly: Starting a brewery was something I had given a few passing thoughts to over the years, but what really got us started was me just taking  a trip to the county planning and zoning office and then I was off and running.  I had some great support from my father and uncle at La Chiripada Winery.  Our mission was and still is too make a solid, easy drinking beer and to provide a comfortable place that people will enjoy visiting.

Beer Samizdat: What’s the market for craft beer like in New Mexico right now, and how has that changed over the past few years?

     Kristin Hennelly: I did not know what to expect when we jumped into the market, but the interest in fresh beer from microbreweries seems to be catching on. Our brewery is doing very well one year into this. I am having a hard time keeping up with production. New Mexico has several new breweries that have opened in the short time I have been open.

Beer Samizdat: How much of your market is made up of tourists like me, who slammed on his brakes on the way to Taos and just waltzed into your tasting room? Or is there a strong “local” component to your customer base? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Both, I get many tourists off of the highway. This is very busy road between Santa Fe and Taos. I get quite a few people off the river. I am only about a mile from the place the rafting companies get out of the river. The locals are really happy with me and support me year round.  Many locals come to my happy hours with local musicians.

Beer Samizdat: What is Blue Heron Brewing’s distribution right now – bottled and tap – and what are your near-term plans for expanding that, if you have them? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Right now the only place you can get Blue Heron Brewing Co. beer is right out of our tasting room.  It is available by the glass, 22 oz bottle or the 64 oz growler.  We produce 200 gallons of beer a week on a three barrel system. We are rapidly outgrowing the building we are in and hope to build a brewery to our design.  We would also like to open a tap room in Espanola, but first we just have to get through the busy season keeping our seven fermenters full.  We are also a winery and will be producing wine this year.

Beer Samizdat: Your Cascabel IPA is an excellent, very bright, very strong India Pale Ale that I liken to what many call “west coast IPAs”, but which I’d imagine you developed from your own recipe. Can you tell us a little bit about this particular beer? 

     Kristin Hennelly: This is one of our favorite beers.  Scott has played with this recipe and is our IPA man.  Our IPA is a well balanced beer with an earthy undertone and and just the right amount of hoppiness.  We use Chinook, nugget, Centenial and Cascade hops.

Beer Samizdat:  How does the Blue Heron Brewing business run itself? It sounds like you’ve got three brewers, including yourself and your husband Scott, and three children helping out as well. 

     Kristin Hennelly: We are a very small family-operated business. My husband Scott keeps everything running and creates and invents equipment as we need it, example: our growler filler.  He brews with me every now and then soon to be more often. Brandon Santos is an invaluable member of our team. He ran the brewery at Embudo Station years ago and he knows beer. I have known Brandon my entire life and now he is my mentor.  I am an ex-school teacher and bring the practical side. I brew, run the tasting room, keep the books and wash the tanks and equipment, washing is 75% of the job. Joshua Johnson is my brother and our vintner.  He helps with a little of everything too. Our three children are little brewers in the making.  They love to eat the mash and visit with our customers.

Beer Samizdat:  It looks like your beers are primarily on the “golden” and “red” beer color scale for the time being. Is there a market in New Mexico for Russian Imperial Stouts and wild ales yet? 

     Kristin Hennelly: We made an Oatmeal Imperial Stout over the winter and that was very popular.  We will make it again. I meet so many different people in my tasting room and am constantly amazed at the variety of beers people enjoy and seek out.  I think there is a market for any style if it's done right.  Our beers range from Stouts to golden.

Beer Samizdat: If non-New Mexican readers wanted to seek your beers out or find a way to order them online, are there any options for doing so? 

     Kristin Hennelly: Our beers are only available out of our tasting room.  I bottle fresh beer (no pasteurization and no bottle conditioning)  so I can't guarantee how it would hold up for shipping.

Beer Samizdat: Finally, if forced to choose, what would you say is the finest beer on the known planet?

Kristin Hennelly: That is just too hard to answer. There are so many good beers and especially from micro breweries. I think we are starting to rival Europe in some of our American Micro brews.

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