Southwest Brewing News

O’Ryan’s Tavern and Brewery: a licensing tale of biblical proportions
by Richard Vang
Southwest Brewing News. (Austin, TX) 1994, 2:6

Presented by the Upstate Chunk & Paradigm Company


Brothers and Sisters, before we begin our story, let us attend to a lesson from the Great Book.  Our reading today is from Experiences, Chapters 18-33.

Now it came to pass, in the land of Mexico, which is New, that a brewpub was needed in the desert south of Albuquerque, in the place of The Crosses.  And in that place, lived a man named John, a tavernkeeper.

One day, while traveling to the North, the LORD came to John in a snow cloud, and spake unto him, saying, John, I have a Great Work for you to perform for the people, for their souls art exceedingly thirsty.  You will open a brewpub, that their spirits might be filled, and their lives do not wasteth away.  And John kept the Word of the LORD, and returned home, and began to brew.

But the brewing of John was heeded not, and he did rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth and ashes. In despair, he prayed to the LORD, saying, O LORD, my skill is not great, send me a brewmaster that together we might perform this Great Work, and glorify your name.   And out of the bosom of the tavern came David, who was a teacher of children, and he went unto John, and said, Here am I.  And John tasted of the cup which David had wrought, and it was good.  The two men became then as brothers, and there was much rejoicing.

Now in due time, after the brethren had planned their Work, they appealed to the stately Assembly in the city of Holy Faith, where the King did govern, that their great work might be sanctioned by the Assembly.  And when the moon had gone full six times, the Assembly sent for John and for David, and they blessed them, saying Go forth; be fruitful and multiply.

But after a fortnight had passed, the stately Assembly again sent for the two men, and said, Brew not, for the judges and the scribes have said that we can not sanction your Great Work, for, even now, you already have one license on this premise, named O’Ryan’s Tavern, and we can not bless another on the same spot, to be called Organ Mountain Brewing Company:  the Law states that Two can not be separately named Two, if they are combined upon One.  And John and David were caught unawares, and fell upon their faces in despair, and there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The two men were passing sore, but the LORD fortified their souls, for they issued forth good brew.   So they returned to their Work, and renamed it as One, that is to say, O’Ryan’s Tavern and Brewery; and again appealed to the stately Assembly, where the King governed.   And when four more turns of the moon had come and gone, their Great Work was blessed, and the Assembly said unto them, Go now unto the civil Council of the place of The Crosses, that they too might bless thee, and also sanction thy Work.

Now as the civil Council gathered in their chambers to hear the brothers’ application, the LORD did confuse their thoughts and their speech.  They began to speak blasphemies, and asked unto one another, Surely this is a manufacturing process?  For they are a tavern, and this does not agree with what they are zoned. And multitudes of people had come to hear and have their thirst relieved, but the LORD hardened their hearts against the brethren, and they cried out to the Council, saying, Yea, this is a manufacturing process, and it stinketh, like unto the cheese factories and the Coors plants.  Therefore did the Council lay the Work upon the table, and acted not.  And John and David were amazed, and believed no more.

Being in their confusion, the civil Council became greatly afeared, so that they sent the Great Work once again unto the stately Assembly in the city of Holy Faith, where the King did govern, that they might wash their hands of these two men.  But the Assembly was exceedingly wroth, and sayeth unto the Council, Do not ask this of us again, for we have already blessed it; art thou so unclean that thou canst not act and sanction this Work?  The people have given ye their trust, do not go against it, for they are thirsty.

And after the moon had become full three more times, on the fifth day of the seventh month, it came to pass that the LORD opened the hearts of the civil Council, and restored their minds, and forthwith they accepted the Great Work, and blessed it, so that the people might taste of the cups which John and David had wrought.  And the LORD did grin.

Can I get a witness!?  Surely the tale of O’Ryan’s Tavern and Brewery is one of the greatest sagas in brewpub licensing history.  It illustrates well for you dreamers out there just what can happen during the long road to owning and opening your own house of hops.  But despite these and the other usual delays encountered with brewing equipment, John Ritter successfully opened the first brewpub in southern New Mexico in October of 1994, albeit almost three years after its original licensing application.

O’Ryan’s Tavern has been serving up quality food and spirits to the people of Las Cruces from its location in Mesilla Valley Mall since around 1980, when John and his father first opened the Irish-style pub.  After traveling and discussing various operations with owners and brewers around the country, John enslaved Dave Million as brewmaster, and together they embarked upon what was originally supposed to be the Organ Mountain Brewing Company, to be located in the existing Tavern.  But, if you had eyes to see and ears to hear, you just learned that the State of New Mexico doesn’t allow two licenses under two names on only one commercial site, so they were forced to redo the application, change the name, and after about 14 months of hassles, finally received the proper approvals.

Construction was finished on the brewhouse and adjacent dining areas during September of 1994, completing a fin de siècle San Franciscan style theme which features a 115 year-old stained glass ceiling window/skylight/thingy, purchased from the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  It complements well the antique tin ceilings, kelly green colors, brass fixtures, and dark wood of the Tavern’s existing interior.

The brewing equipment, which can be viewed from the dining room, centers around a solid copper brew kettle, made from a German design of the 1880s.  It is claimed to be the smallest steam-fired copper kettle in the U.S.  The fermenters are used grundys from England, which have been copper-clad and glycol-jacketed, and the stainless mash tun is also copper-jacketed.  A water filter, an 84-plate heat exchanger, and a 300 lb. grain hopper are also included in the seven-barrel system, which was brokered by Dan Moran of Austin, TX.  The problem of 80º tap water during the summer is fixed by the use of a 200-gallon water chiller.  If early sales are any indication, that kettle will be seeing much wort.

O’Ryan’s showcases the beers of Dave Million, a high school math teacher who has been home brewing for about seven years.  His biggest influence of course has been Charlie Parpazian’s New Joy of Home Brewing.  He has previously spent brief periods of time learning his craft at various establishments such as Anderson Valley in California, Eske’s in Taos, and at the Corona brewery in Mexico.  Both Dave and John have attended the Brewing Science and Technology course at UC-Davis.  So, with John as Operations Manager of the Brewery, and the recent addition of his brother Win to do the dirty work as Cellarmaster, the team provides a formidable brewing attack.

The beers have already made a name for their creators.  Dog Spit Stout, a hearty Imperial-style stout with a high abv (9.0%), has won first place at the New Mexico Sate Fair Pro-Am three years running.  This year, Dry Dog Spit, now named Mind Shaft Dry Stout, finished second directly behind original Spit in the Stout category.  Red Dog Pale Ale, an APA-style, also placed this year in the Pro-Am, finishing third in the APA category.   These three are part of a regular brewing rotation which includes Organ Mountain Gold, a dry, crisp, Canadian-style ale (a good transition beer for the novice); Arroyo Amber, whose exceptional balance and deep amber color make it a good session beer; Rio Grande Brown, an American brown ale; Son of Spit, a delicious porter; and Desert Dunkel Weizen.  Brewers whims and seasonal brews might include a raspberry ale, a possible high-gravity cranberry ale for Christmas, an Irish ale or porter for St. Patrick’s Day, a bock, and an Oktoberfest brew.

With the addition of the brewery John, together with head chef Ray Holguin, altered the menu to reflect standard pub fare, prepared as often as possible with their beers as a main ingredient.   The menu includes Shepherd’s Pie, a ploughman’s platter, fish and chips (the batter is made with their pale ale), bratwurst marinated in porter, then sautéed and grilled, Irish Stew, beer bread, and one mean Reuben sandwich.  Chocolate desserts are also available, made with Dog Spit Stout.  The Tavern also supplies a full bar for those infidels who don’t drink beer.

Special activities have already included an Oktoberfest/Fall/Halloween celebration, complete with German food, and will include in the future monthly tastings, as well as the ever available tours of the brewery.  The Desert Quenchers, the Las Cruces area homebrew club, can often be found loitering as well.

Some of O’Ryan’s beers are available at the Double Eagle in Mesilla, another Ritter family establishment.   A second brewery, under the original name of Organ Mountain Brewing Company, is currently being planned.  Kegs of 5 and 15 gallons are available to go, as are stylish etched-ink growlers for home use, which might be a good idea, as business has escalated greatly since the beer came on-line.  And why lie, you need a beer anyway.

So, if you didn’t quite understand the licensing saga related above, or you find yourself in southern New Mexico, be sure to stop off at O’Ryan’s Tavern and Brewery.  Either John, Dave or Win will be there to chat, pour you a tall one, and tell their whole sordid tale all over again.

Oh, and by the way, on a recent visit to New Mexico, Michael Jackson tasted a couple of beers from O’Ryan’s Tavern and Brewery—and the LORD did grin.


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