By Gregory Daurer | Jan 01, 2016
Albuquerque, New Mexico
In 2014, Marble Brewery was crowned "Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year" at the Great American Beer Festival, and Team Marble has taken home gold, silver, and bronze medals over the past few years for its Pilsner, Double White, and Imperial Red. "One of the things that I take pride in about Marble is that we specialize in diversity," Rice says.
Marble also makes a popular IPA. Rice, a Long Island native who began brewing in Albuquerque in 1999, says, "I just knew that people in New Mexico love dry, briskly hoppy beers. I knew that was going to be our flagship for Marble. And that's always fun when you know something is going to be your flagship and it's also the beer you love to drink, as well."
The brewery's taproom at 111 Marble Avenue NW has been called "a consummate New Mexican bar" by the New York Times. The space underwent a renovation in 2015, and this year a rooftop deck on an independent steel structure will be added to the building. Rice calls Marble a "community hub," complete with food trucks and bands outside. "We view the taproom as a brand builder, so when people see the beer on the shelves, they remember the experience they had at [our brewery's taproom]," says Rice.
Bottles of Marble beer can even be spotted in episodes of Breaking Bad, according to Rice. As a special thanks to the show's local crew members and to the cast (actors Bryan Cranston and Jonathan Banks have both quaffed beer at Marble), Rice cooked up a white and a dark IPA in 2013 in honor of the show's final season: Walt's White Lie and Heisenberg's Dark.
Rice says he was surprised by the international press that the beers' release unexpectedly generated. So why haven't those two beers remained on tap? Rice explains, "Because it's too kitschy for me. I really enjoyed the series, but I just want to stay true to myself and my brand, and I don't want to latch onto popular culture to keep people coming in. It's just not authentic to me."
Marble has an authentic following. Rice says his brewery has been operating pretty much at full capacity since the day it opened in 2008. "As fast as we can add a tank and get the beer out there, it's sold," says Rice.
Major expansion plans are underway for 2016. The addition of a 7,000-square-foot structure next to the current brewery will allow it to more than double its 15,000 barrels annually. (Rice says Marble is presently the second-largest producer of beer in the state.) Also, a new canning line will enable the filling of up to five times more cans per minute. Over 90 percent of Marble's kegged, bottled, and canned beer is sold in New Mexico, with some distribution into Arizona and southwestern Colorado, as well.
This year, Marble also plans on opening its third taproom, complete with a beer garden, in the Northeast Heights area in Albuquerque. It will also serve as a pilot brewery for the unique and experimental beers that Rice won't have the space to concoct at his Marble Avenue location, any longer.
Commenting on the hectic nature of his schedule, Rice quips, "That's the way life goes these days -- especially when you're running a brewery that is fortunately successful."
Favorite beers: Rice says, "Some of the beers I'm really drawn to today are spiked with Brettanomyces. Not necessarily sour beers, but beers that have that earthy, horse blanket, pineapple, 'Brett' character. So we're trying to brew more of those beers. We have a beer called 111 Farmhouse, which is our Double White aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces."
A Belgian favorite: "One of the beers I've always loved is Saison Dupont. I really enjoy pouring that in a stem glass and enjoying some nice cheese with that beer."
Challenges: Rice says managing growth is a prime one. "I'm very confident in our style and flavors," he says. "My goal is to grow at a steady pace. . . . So I want to steadily grow the available production here at 111 [Marble Ave. NW] over the next couple years, assess the market, see how strong our brand is, and take it from there."
Opportunities: First and foremost, meeting local demand. "We have distributors asking us for more beer all the time," says Rice. "We can't even meet our current New Mexico distributor's demand. But I don't want to overextend myself, because there's a lot of breweries out there and people are making good beer these days."
Needs: More space. Explains Rice: "The idea that we'll probably be able to sell most of the 35,000 barrels at capacity here in New Mexico: My goal is to reach that level by the end of 2017. At that point, there's not going to be any more room on this site for additional capacity. So one idea is to keep this brewery as a specialty brewery, because I never want to leave the 111 [Marble Ave. NW] flagship location. But to meet demand and continue to grow, we'll need to find an additional production space."