Ted Rice of Marble Brewery

Going Pro by | Jun 2013 | Issue #77

Photo by Kevin Fuller

Ted Rice bounced from New York to California to Miami before finding himself as a brewer in New Mexico. Things clicked for him after he fell in with a robust community of pros and homebrewers. Together, they’re pushing what Rice, co-founder of Albuquerque’s Marble Brewery, calls “a Southwestern regional flavor, a flavor from the cuisine, the landscape, the people, the culture here.” At Marble, Rice says, “We’re growing naturally and organically. We’re brewing pure from the heart, making beers we love. We’re not out there with a fancy marketing campaign. We’re saying, This is where we’re from, and this is what we like to drink.”

1. Do something fun
Long before Ted Rice found a career in brewing, he knew what he didn’t want to do. Many of his relatives were working in finance in Manhattan, and although he felt compelled to join their ranks, Rice knew his calling was elsewhere. “I had no drive to sit there and torture myself just to make money,” he says. “I wanted something that would be fun.” Rice found his something when, as a newbie homebrewer, he toured the Frederick Brewing Company in Maryland. “I was enamored with the vibe, the culture, the equipment, the art of the finished product, the passion they brought to it,” he recalls. “I knew then, that’s where I wanted to go.”

2. Join a community
Rice worked his way from the keg washing line at a Long Island brewery to the American Brewers Guild and a head brewer’s job at a pub in Miami. He says it wasn’t until he followed his wife to Albuquerque that he found himself as a brewer. He’d been brewing in isolation in Miami, but in New Mexico, he found a welcoming group of pro and hobbyist brewers that helped fuel his own passions and hone his techniques. “Things really came together when I had other brewers around me to bounce ideas off of,” Rice says.

3. Hit “Reply to All”
In the finance houses where Rice’s family works, it’s a less than optimal professional development strategy to mistakenly copy one’s superiors on an email chain detailing one’s desire to ditch said bosses in favor of greener pastures. Not so in brewing, where that slip-up led to the Marble Brewery’s founding. Rice had been musing about striking out on his own, but didn’t know how to take the notion from wanderlust to execution. The errant email turned two managers at Rice’s old job into partners at Marble. Rice says he wasn’t always aiming to open his own place, because he felt uncomfortable with the business end of the venture; Marble allows him to exercise full creative control over his own beer, while leaving the business side to folks who enjoy that sort of thing.

4. Make your own scene
Marble isn’t a brewpub, but Rice gets to run the brewery as if it were. New Mexico law lets breweries operate three separate retail locations, and a large chunk of Marble’s sales come from the brewery’s own storefronts. State law creates a market where sales volume comes from within the company’s walls, and draft sales outweigh packaging. This lets Rice and his brewers feed their creative sides with a wide array of seasonals and experimental one-off recipes. In the absence of an in-house kitchen, a vibrant food truck scene has sprung up outside Marble’s downtown Albuquerque pub; the pub recently took this development to the next level, hosting a competitive food truck beer dinner in April.

5. Stay ahead of the game
Here’s how far from the old style books the American IPA market has roamed: Rice brews an assertive, highly aromatic version of the style that clocks in just shy of 7 percent ABV, and he has to defend it as an exercise in moderation. Rice’s flagship IPA is designed for pairing with spicy New Mexican cuisine. He lays down a light malt base, and tops it with bright, classic Northwest hops. Rice admires the consistency behind a beer like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, but Marble takes advantage of the rapid pace of hop innovations, adding and subtracting varieties within an established vein of flavors. “Hops are moving through the market so fast,” Rice says, “we want to stay ahead of the game and keep our flavors fresh.”

6. Go first
Rice uses first wort hopping for his hoppy recipes because he believes the technique lets him hop heavily without creating overaggressive beers. When he was just relying on bittering charges and big late additions, “I found the flavors too overbearing,” he says. He believes first wort hopping “delivers a cleaner, smoother bitterness,” with this caveat: “In truth, it’s hard to say, there’s all the late additions and dry hopping. But I know when I drink the beer, it’s rich, bitter and smooth.” And since Rice is just trying to brew beers that he and his staff enjoy drinking, a good end result, however achieved, is good enough.

7. Toss the book
Marble Reserve Ale is sort of a big Scottish Ale, but not really. It has a Barleywine-ish quality, with the emphasis on the -ish. Rice, a Beer Judge Certification Program judge, tossed out the style book when he crafted Reserve Ale. He designed the beer specifically for barrel aging, creating a base recipe that would be “potent, warming and harmonized with American oak and bourbon.” Rice lets his big beer soak in barrels for at least six months, and then blends it with a fresh batch from stainless steel tanks; the blend blunts extremes in sweetness and booziness, and highlights what Rice calls “those delicious, craveable barrel-aged flavors.”

8. Achieve balance
“What brewer doesn’t love Imperial Stout?” Rice asks. The answer is, obviously, no brewer. This presents a problem: In a market packed with brewers who love bourbon barrels and big, dark beers, how to stand out? Rice aims for “a dark chocolate fudge quality,” where bourbon notes harmonize with, but don’t overpower, his malt base. As with his Reserve Ale, Rice cuts the Stout he ages in Woodford Reserve barrels with beer straight from stainless tanks, so the bourbon doesn’t distract from the rest of the recipe. “We found the spice was a little too intense,” he says. “Blending gives us balance.”

9. Make your mark
Since Rice runs his production brewery like a brewpub, relying heavily on volume from kegs sold at his own taprooms, he has lots of freedom to drop specialty recipes into his lineup. The playground for wild ales is wide open. Marble has experimented with traditional Belgian sour styles like Oud Bruin and Flanders Red, aged a Dubbel in a spent bourbon barrel and spiked it with Brettanomyces, and topped a Double White Ale aged in wine barrels with Brett and fresh apricots. “Some of the styles are just made with Brett, and some are made with the full spectrum of bugs,” Rice explains. “We’re tinkering. We’re finding where we can make our mark in the wild ales world.”