Brian Lock – Santa Fe Brewing Co.
Brian Lock wasn’t even old enough to buy beer the day he and his dad were looking at a grocery store display case in Portland, Oregon. But as the elder Lock decided what to buy, Brian was fascinated by one choice—Full Sail Amber Ale.
Amongst the other sudsy selections, this one stood out because it was brewed in Lock’s hometown, one of the forerunners of the still-nascent craft-beer industry.
“I just thought it was a really cool thing to see a locally made craft brew,” Lock says.
Soon after that shopping trip, Lock began reading about how to make home-brewed beers. He soon dove headlong into the process: boiling water and malt syrup on the kitchen stove, then adding yeast and listening to the burbling sound of gasses escaping an airlock as the brew fermented in a bucket.
Lock has come a long way from that grocer’s display case. For starters, he’s well past the legal age to quaff what he sells as owner and president of Santa Fe Brewing.
For more than 25 years, he has been a staple of the craft-beer scene in New Mexico’s capital city, taking the brewery he bought with three partners in 1996 to new heights of innovation and production—while ensuring the business remained embedded in the community.
“Who I am is reflected in our brand,” Lock says. “We create products that meet the taste profiles of our consumers and make sure our taprooms are somewhere you can come visit and have a great time.”
From barn to brewery
In 1988, as Lock became enamored with Full Sail Ale, Mike Levis—a New Mexico cowboy who loved homebrewing—founded Santa Fe Brewing. His flagship beer, Santa Fe Pale Ale, remains a staple brew 35 years later.
As Lock recalls, the original brewery was in a horse barn with a square brew kettle and one mash tun for mixing grains and water. The brewery’s batch capacity was 200 gallons—or about 2,000, 12-ounce bottles.
As Levis was pioneering craft beer in Santa Fe, Lock was completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology and minoring in business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. While at SMU, he’d visit college friend Carlos Muller at his family’s home in New Mexico, but after Lock graduated, he headed back to Oregon and worked in several Portland breweries.
While he dreamed of starting his own operation, he faced stiff competition in the Rose City. When Muller suggested he come to Santa Fe, Lock moved there in 1995. Not long after the two wrote a business plan to start a brewery, they heard through the hop vines that Levis was looking to sell his. In 1996, Lock and Muller were joined by Dave Forester and Mike’s son, Ty Levis, as new owners of Santa Fe Brewing. In 2003, Lock bought out his partners.
Old standbys, new tastes
India pale ales, including the 7K IPA, loom large in the company’s menu (according to Lock, 70 percent of craft beers sold in New Mexico are IPAs). But Santa Fe Brewing also offers beers such as Pepe Loco, a Mexican-style lager, as well as the Social Hour, NMX Standard and Java Stout.
The brewery is also adding to its array of craft beers with its All Ripe hard ciders (made in cherry and strawberry flavors). In March, the brewery launched its Sky Island brand of ready-to-drink, malt-based cocktails.
“What sets us apart is the sales department and our brew master work together on what to bring to market,” Lock says. “The sales and brewing departments have leaders who get along well. They look at taste profiles and data and understand the objective is to sell beverages.”
Lock prides himself on bringing in skilled staff and letting them guide the course for new products. For instance, his brew master, Bert Boyce, worked for more than a decade at the Boston Beer Co., which helped launch the craft brew industry with Samuel Adams Boston Lager in 1984.
He says Boyce has helped Santa Fe Brewing refine its production processes while ensuring the company meets market trends. The brewery was the first in New Mexico to market craft beer in cans in 2010, and recently added an indexing machine that can sort different brews to package sampler 12-packs.
There’s also a new inline blending and carbonating machine used to spritz up the hard seltzers and Sky Island cocktails. In addition, Lock says Santa Fe Brewing has ordered a new R&D brewhouse where new products will be made for testing at the five tap rooms. He expects to be installed in June
Because Santa Fe Brewing has grown so much, Lock even retired his manual bottle capper.
“Back when we only had our beer in amber bottles, I personally hand-capped hundreds of thousands of bottles,” he says.
Tapping into the community
Settings are as integral to Santa Fe Brewing as its suds. The company has taprooms in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and Lock wants each to be distinctive to welcome tourists and locals.
Case in point: the company’s Santa Fe headquarters, which features a beer garden that includes a fire pit, large outdoor chess sets and other family games. There’s also a stage for live music. In Albuquerque, the taproom in the Green Jeans Farmery retail development is built out of shipping containers, as is the rest of the retail complex.
Lock and Santa Fe Brewing also established 4NM in 2022. It’s a nonprofit fundraising project that supports outdoor recreation and the environment, arts and culture, agriculture and community resources such as animal shelters, women’s shelters and food banks.
And though Lock says staying aware of and addressing market trends is crucial, Santa Fe Brewing also stays true to its intent as it innovates.
“We’ve been around a long time and built great brand awareness,” Lock says. “We’re more than just a beer company. We’re a beverage company that embraces the community and its customers.”
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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