Local Hero: Beverage Artisan: Beer

An Interview with Rod Tweet, President and Brewmaster

Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Beer flight at Second Street Brewery’s Rufina Taproom.

No, Second Street Brewery is no longer on Santa Fe’s Second Street. Since opening there in 1996 as a brewery/restaurant in a warehouse building, they have expanded their restaurant operations and brewing capacity. Second Street is now packaging in twelve-ounce and sixteen-ounce cans, as well as serving from draft accounts. They currently have a pub/restaurant in the Santa Fe Railyard district and two brewing sites, including their production brewing and packaging facility, which is also a full-service restaurant.

Rod Tweet, a brewer and engineer by training, joined Second Street in August 1996 as the opening brewer. In 2000, he became an owner and president/brewmaster, leading the company through three expansions of restaurant operations and multiple phases of brewery operations expansions. Before all that, he had a stint as a DJ—“not a very good one, but one nonetheless”—with his own show at his college radio station, KTEC, at Oregon Institute of Technology. “I did play good stuff, though!”

You joined the New Mexico brewery scene early, in 1996. What was the inspiration? What were some of the early challenges? How has the beer business changed between then and now?

I had recently finished up the American Brewers Guild program in California, including my apprenticeship, and was looking for an opportunity. At that time, I was really interested in a brewpub start-up because of the freedom that would allow. I was hired when I was working up in Seattle, and I basically arrived to find a construction site. So getting the original 5 bbl brewing system, which was a whole variety of fairly primitive used equipment, assembled into a working system was the first big challenge. The first few years were pretty rough, honestly. Like a lot of start-ups, we opened long on great ideas and enthusiasm but short on enough cash and experience running restaurants. We made it through, and by 2001 or so, we kind of reached some stability as a business and the Santa Fe locals really supported us.

Rod Tweet in front of a tower of Second Street’s 2920 IPA.

Brewpubs were still a really new thing back then, so there were a lot of things that were different, including that people didn’t necessarily get what we were doing. There was also only a small fraction of the suppliers that there are now. It was a pretty primitive scene in New Mexico; I think there were maybe fourteen breweries total in the state. I have to say that the quality of beer in the state, on a whole, has improved immensely since then. New Mexico is a really competitive market with an impressive number of great brewers.

This year, you won a medal for your brown ale at the World Beer Cup. What makes that beer special? What is your go-to beer?

The brown, which also won the gold the year before at the Great American Beer Festival [GABF], is a really well balanced, focused formulation—just Centennial and Cascade hops—and it obviously fits the style. As far as a go-to beer, that’s hard to answer—I have like five. I still like IPAs a lot, I have been really focused on pilsners the last several years, I love Märzens/Oktoberfests, and maybe the Double X ESB/RBB from our lineup.

In 2019, you partnered with the Nature Conservancy for their OktoberForest campaign, producing an amber lager with a can design inspired by the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve. From a brewer’s perspective, what is high-quality water, and how does water influence the flavor profile of a beer?

Yes, in 2019, Mariah [Cameron Scee, our director of art and branding,] chose the Santa Fe River near Diablo Canyon for the can design. We worked with the conservancy again in 2020, and Mariah put the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve on the can label. They’re no longer doing the OktoberForest program, but we continue to make the Oktoberfest (it won the silver medal for German Märzen at last year’s GABF) and in that beer, water is everything! It can get into some pretty deeply nerdy science, but the upshot is that, while it varies from style to style, the mineral content of any given regional source has a huge influence on the flavor of a beer and, critically important, how a beer finishes. As brewers, we spend a great deal of effort on the details, including pH management and making adjustments all throughout the process to suit the style.

Tank at Rufina brewery.

In what other ways does a concern for conservation influence practices and decisions at Second Street? Are you still donating spent grains for farmers to use as livestock feed?

Yes, we do donate the spents to a farmer that raises goats. We also have been giving our used fryer oil to Reunity Resources, along with the moisture barrier bags that our specialty malts come in.

Mariah Cameron Scee, your director of art and branding, has won awards for her beer can and barley wine packaging designs. Is there a design you think should win that hasn’t?

Oh sure, lots. I have my own personal favorite, one of her early ones, but I still really love the Agua Fria Pilsner label, but that has won. I really like the current Zombie Star Double Hazy IPA label, and 1 for 5, and I think the Kölsch is a really great one. We have a lot of options for future winners, but as far as what gets entered, Mariah pretty much makes those calls.

Mural by Mariah Cameron Scee.

Speaking of artwork, you recently relocated a mural from your original location to the lounge at your Rufina Taproom. How does it feel to have left the Second Street venue behind? What’s in store at Rufina?

Obviously, I have a huge amount of personal history with that location, having built so much of it myself, so it was an emotional decision for me and a lot of other people too. Knowing how much people loved that place, I knew a lot of people would be upset about it and that weighed pretty heavily on us. Aside from the lease being up, it was also a strategic decision, and I feel that as a local business and employer, the overarching responsibility we have here is to remain successful and viable going forward. Closing one of the restaurant footprints—especially in the current climate—will allow us to better focus on the beer production and the two remaining restaurants. And I don’t think we have even seen the full potential of Rufina yet. It’s still a work in progress, and getting busier all the time.

This award is for beer, but Second Street also serves food. To what extent do the kitchen and brewery collaborate?

The kitchen does utilize beer as an ingredient in several things. We have done more collaboration in the past, and we will probably return to more of that in the future now that the restaurant operations are slowly returning to the “new normal.”

Is there a local food issue that is particularly important to you?

Well, with the amount of rain we have been getting, my family and I have really been enjoying foraging the bolete mushrooms up on the mountain. So it’s been nice to get all the moisture for multiple reasons.

1607 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, 505-989-3278; 2920 Rufina, Santa Fe, 505-954-1068; secondstreetbrewery.com