The state of the microbreweries

The state of the microbreweries

From Downtown Albuquerque News

Today, Left Turn is in a soft opening and Outpost is slated to open in a couple of months. Voodoo Girl has moved into the old Blue Grasshopper and Juno has moved into the old Dialogue. In other words, the pandemic may have ravaged the hospitality business, but greater Downtown now has 22 breweries and distilleries – five more than before it began.

Where things stand: A visit with industry observer Chris Jackson
Like most matters these days, the future of breweries and their taprooms in greater Downtown remains at the mercy of a certain virus.

But while the pandemic has been a major challenge, it has decidedly not been a catastrophe. All but two breweries survived lengthy state-ordered shutdowns, and both have been replaced by newcomers even as they are joined by five new entrants to the business.

Whether that luck will continue to hold will depend in part on the level of sales taking place right now, according to Chris Jackson, who writes for the Darkside Brew Crew, a blog that extensively covers the New Mexico craft brewing scene.

“Summer is the most lucrative time for breweries,” Jackson said. “This is when they make their money. Summer pays for literally the rest of the year.”

Many breweries survived the shutdown thanks to federal relief and loan packages and landlords who deferred rent, he added. Now, however, many landlords are seeking those deferred payments, and if breweries don’t make enough this summer to cover them, closures could follow.

Breweries that offer packaged sales have, generally speaking, fared better throughout the pandemic, Jackson said, but added that even robust direct-to-customer sales don’t generate the more impressive profits that come with getting customers to sit down and have a drink.

“The greatest value will forever remain – for any brewery, even the biggest ones in the country – for people to come to their establishment and drink beer on draft because you can charge five bucks for a pint as opposed to selling a six-pack for twelve bucks,” he said.

Now that breweries are back to seating customers at full capacity, most have shifted their focus to things like getting back to regular hours and finding the people to work them. Like many other industries, that has proven to be one of the biggest hurdles so far, particularly for establishments looking for cooks and dishwashers.

“Pretty much every brewery with a kitchen is running on a skeleton crew,” Jackson said.

Other threats loom, of course. The pandemic is not over, and rising case numbers have prompted worries of more restrictions or even another possible shutdown.

And then there is the tricky matter of vaccination. Earlier this month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and other state officials sent an open letter to business leaders encouraging them to implement vaccination policies for employees and patrons. Recently, one of the Downtown core’s largest venues, Sister, announced it would follow suit with a requirement that customers show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. Jackson said he expects more establishments will do the same.


Dripline Brewing, a family-friendly craft concept, is delayed but still on track
Dripline, a brewery that sought to appeal to families with children, was slated to open sometime in 2021 (DAN, 1/27/20). But while it received a permit for its building on the corner of Second and Summer in Wells Park, owner Jacob Werenko told DAN recently that thanks to pandemic delays they’ve had to restart the entire process.

“Our permit lapsed, and we had to reapply. The city would not cut us a break on COVID craziness,” Werenko said. “So we just got out of permitting again, and we’re on track again.”

Werenko called the situation “wildly frustrating,” adding that the city changed some codes since they last applied for a permit which required them to go back to their architect for some updates.

When exactly they might open isn’t yet clear, but once they do, the plan is still to offer a family-friendly setting with four bocce courts, cornhole, water features, a grassy hill, and outdoor seating.


Left Turn Distilling’s ‘Taproom at Old Town’ is in a soft opening
After a long journey, Left Turn’s Taproom at Old Town is open – mostly.

Owner Brian Langwell said he hasn’t yet made a huge announcement or done any advertising, but the doors are open as they figure out more details.

“We’ll do a bigger announcement once we get comfortable,” Langwell said.

During the soft opening, Left Turn doesn’t even have any set hours. Langwell said they’re simply trying to get settled and to get a feel for overall traffic.

There’s also a kitchen at Left Turn, but it’s run separately by Kitsune, a food truck, and staff there are also trying to feel things out before a grand opening.

Left Turn also operates locations in Raton, and in Albuquerque at Candelaria and Girard.


Outpost Taproom to open at Old Town’s Plaza Don Luis
The taproom will be on the second floor at the south side of the complex. Plaza Don Luis is in the midst of a big renovation following its purchase by Ruidoso winery owner Jasper Riddle in February (DAN, 2/16/21). Several new businesses have already set up shop, but the plaza’s grand opening likely won’t be until the end of October, he said. He expects Outpost to be open by then.


Down the road for the old Burt’s Tiki Lounge: Echoes
Finally, peering even further toward the craft brewing horizon, we come to Echoes, the creation of owner Ralph Dilibero. He plans to open at the old Burt’s Tiki Lounge near Fourth and Gold. Though he has tangled with some delays, Dilibero said he expects to be open by the end of the year.