Tumbleroot Hits Its Stride
By Liz Maliga · Photos by Douglas Merriam
Walking into Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery’s Agua Fria location on a sunny October Sunday, I’m greeted by a woman singing and playing guitar to a table full of friends. Other small groups are scattered throughout the spacious-yet-cozy space. Familiar faces from behind the bar are preparing for tonight’s event—blues artist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a sold-out show. “Are you sure it’s completely sold out?” a smiling woman queries the bartender. He replies yes, and she accepts his answer with a wink that says if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
One venue can’t contain the tremendous plan spearheaded by cofounders Jason Fitzpatrick and Jason Kirkman, and today Tumbleroot encompasses both the Agua Fria taproom and the Bisbee Court tasting room in Santa Fe. The former was previously home to Club Alegria, and the new taproom carries the entertainment tradition by regularly hosting musicians, comedians, burlesque shows, and film screenings on their stage.
Left to right: Jason Kirkman and Jason Fitzpatrick at Tumbleroot’s Agua Fria location.
We walk back to the brewery and distillery floor, a bright white room glowing with late afternoon sun, and are greeted by towering copper and steel stills and vessels. A former teacher, Kirkman nimbly explains the most complex aspects of the brewing and distilling processes with ease and enthusiasm, starting with one simple, essential ingredient: water. “As a brewery and distillery, we want to get as much mutual benefit from having both operations in the same place as possible,” he explains. “We try to integrate. We use our water three times, which we’re very proud of.”
Both brewing and distilling use—and can potentially waste—large volumes of water in heating and cooling. Distillation is the process that separates components by heating liquid into steam and cooling it back into a liquid. Steam containing pure water and alcohol is cooled back into a liquid using water, which is typically discarded. At Tumbleroot, this water is siphoned off and cooled again, then used to cool wort. From the wort, the heated water is captured a third time in a hot liquor tank, becoming process water for the next day’s brewing.
In addition to these eco-savvy measures, Tumbleroot’s approach to brewing, distilling, and entertaining nods to tradition, authenticity, and place in community. Many beers, including an upcoming Helles release, use malts sourced from Germany, and their agave spirits are made from organic blue agave nectar from Jalisco.
Other ingredients are sourced much closer to home. “I have four to five acres, where I can wild harvest prickly pear, juniper, piñon, and cholla cactus,” Kirkman says. “Earlier this year, we did a whole spruce-tip thing. We spent June doing a hike every week, where we would have to go higher and higher into the mountains, above twelve thousand feet, to harvest spruce tips as they’re budding.” The spruce tips went on to infuse a beautiful green amaro used in Tumbleroot’s riff on a Vesper. The prickly pears are steeped into the liquor that flavors the current wild-harvest cocktail offering, a prickly pear margarita. Kirkman’s garden and property also provide the pears in the pear thyme shrub and the sage, juniper, and lavender that flavor Tumbleroot’s botanical gin.
Stills and bright tanks at the Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery.
“When I built these gin recipes, I would do single-ingredient distillations on a smaller still,” Kirkman explains, “one ingredient at a time.” Tumbleroot offers three varieties: the Botanical, High Desert (a London dry), and a barrel-aged Navy Strength. “‘Proof’ goes back to when the navy gave sailors rations of alcohol, and to prove the strength, they would put gunpowder in it,” Kirkman continues. “If the gunpowder still lit, it was ‘proven’ to be 100 proof British, which is 114 proof in the US.”
Back at the Agua Fria taproom, we check out the new cocktail menu. I try the Corpse Paint, a take on the Corpse Reviver featuring the botanical gin and a house-made grapefruit amaro, and Kirkman orders a Pho Kit. The latter arrived, to my delight, as a bowl of pho. A slate board holds a bowl, a small glass of the spirits (Tumbleroot Oro Rum with a simple syrup flavored with pho spices), and fragrant add-ins: lemongrass, star anise, chiles, and fresh herbs. Once assembled, the drink is sipped from the bowl, continuously infusing with the herbs to the last spicy, fragrant sip.
The first beer I tried was the double brown, recently awarded a bronze medal in the Other Strong Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival. I also tried the Honey Double IPA, the Smoked Porter, the Festbier, and the Farmhouse Ale. The Honey Hibiscus Wheat features hibiscus flowers, quickly steeped and kept cold to preserve the flavor. “We tried heating it,” Kirkman explains, “but it radically changed the flavor. It’s a delicate beer, and we have to keep it cold, so its distribution is limited. But it’s an excellent flavor.”
“Nobody does what we do from scratch,” Kirkman says. It becomes evident that while he’s talking about distilling, it’s true of Tumbleroot from their spirits to the spirit of the entire operation. Bringing all of these elements together and executing it in a way that works is a huge task, but if you don’t ask (or try), you’ll never know.
32 Bisbee Court and 2791 Agua Fria, Santa Fe