In recent months all of us in the Crew have noticed The Ale Republic popping up as a term over the local beer landscape. Even after liking their Facebook page and reading their posts, we were still unclear on just what the concept of this local group was. Were they trying to open a brewery? Were they just craft beer lovers trying to create a new community online? Or was it something else entirely?
To answer these questions, and with Jason from the Bullpen in tow, I sat down with Zach and Patrick from the Ale Republic on a busy night at Marble’s downtown pub last week before I had to head down to Tucson (thus the delay in getting this story up; sorry, Ale Republic folks).
What the Ale Republic is going to be has evolved from the group’s original concept.
“We wanted to open up a beer bar where you could get really crazy, exclusive beers, always rotating (taps),” Patrick said. “I wanted to have a sour tap. I had all these big dreams. We realized you can’t do that with existing New Mexico laws. You can’t have California beers or anything from out-of-state unless you (also) sell food.
“We still wanted to have a beer bar. There are some places like Sister, Billy’s (Longbar), Anodyne. We wanted a place that’s not distracted by Jaeger shots, all that crap. We wanted a place that has really good beer and a lot of it. A place where you go every time there’s something new.”
With their initial plan needing modification, the Republics (we won’t refer to them as Republicans, because that would bring politics into a discussion about beer, and we would NEVER do that to anyone) took some inspiration from a unique, monthly beer lovers gathering known as the Beer Underground, something else that’s popped up on social media of late.
“We came up with this concept of where we’re launching off the Beer Underground,” Zack said. “The deal with that was we have New Mexico beers and home brews (for tasting). … But it was becoming too popular, we had too many people. We decided we needed to expand or something. We wondered how we could (adapt) that.”
While people would gather, invite-only, at a secret location to try locally-made beers and home-made beers, Zack was right, it was getting overcrowded. Realizing there is a market for beer customers to try not only beers from the breweries, the new concept was born.
“It’s a beer bar that’s a brewery. You can come in, brew your beer, put it on tap with La Cumbre, Marble, whoever,” Zack said. “And so you can put your beer up with the breweries across New Mexico. We want to focus on New Mexico, seek out the really unique beers. If Marble is doing a sour, we want to serve some of it.
“Basically if you come in, you’re not going to know what’s going to be on tap. It’s going to be 30 different beers (constantly rotating). We wanted to do something that from time to time, it’s going to be entirely different.”
The Ale Republic will give home brewers a chance to showcase their beers. The more unique, the better, Zack added.
“What started as the idea of having a beer pub with a lot of different stuff morphed into this model,” Patrick said. “At the beginning we’ll have a lot of crazy, experimental stuff from other breweries, like the Underground. But the long-term goal is to have mostly our beer unless there’s something we need to focus from somebody else.
“It will be community-built. If someone says, ‘Hey, there’s something I’ve always wanted to make,’ they can come brew it.”
Turning a conceptual idea into reality, however, can be difficult. There are all the matters of finding a location for the Ale Republic, to raising money for its construction/development/operation, to navigating the various laws, while also continuing to garner support from the brewing community and in-state breweries.
“The biggest challenge is purely social in the beer network,” Patrick said. “It’s convincing the other local breweries that we’re partners in this, we’re not competitors. There’s a lot of evidence to support that.
“My best example is the Century 24 movie theater. When they built that it was a giant dirt lot. Then Pappadeaux’s started and all of a sudden a couple years flew by and 15 restaurants opened up. You would think that it would be bad to open a restaurant next to another big restaurant or five other big restaurants. But it’s a big draw and all of those restaurants are successful because of that.”
The Ale Republic would also offer breweries on the west side of town a chance to showcase their beers to an audience that may be reluctant to cross the Rio Grande, or perhaps for a southern crowd that does not want to drive north of the Big I.
“So basically you can come to our brewery and try everything you’ve heard about,” Zack said. “There’s stuff in the south of the state, stuff in the north. Not many people make it up to Farmington to try 3 Rivers. It becomes an incentive to the breweries and people visiting, instead of a pub crawl, you can come to one location. We have 30 taps, each one of those taps will be a different brewery.”
Another advantage to the breweries, Zack explained, will be a planned phone application for the Ale Republic where customers can vote on their favorite beers and leave comments. It could give insight to the breweries on why certain beers sell and do not sell.
As for the in-house Ale Republic beers, Patrick said the recipes will be community-based, created by a team of brewers based upon customer reaction. The Ale Republic will also seek a vintners license so they can brew ciders and mead.
“That will help diversify the crowd a little bit,” Patrick added.
The targeted area for the Ale Republic is downtown, though they did not want to reveal the exact location yet as they are still searching for an ideal location. It figures to be no further north than Wells Park, but they would prefer something closer to Old Town as it would draw in tourists looking for a good starting point to exploring the local beer scene.
As for financing, Zack said in an ideal world the Ale Republic’s current Kickstarter campaign would be more than enough, but here in reality the group will probably take out loans and/or seek additional private investment. Still, all the money they can raise from the beer-loving crowd is greatly appreciated. They are trying to reach $25,000 by Sept. 8, so donate now if you can.
Once they are open, Ale Republic will have a customer membership program that won’t be too dissimilar than those at other breweries.
“We’re going to have several levels of membership,” Patrick said. “The basic level of membership will be $25 or $30 (a year), with like $1 off beers, stuff like that. We want to have another level of membership above that with more offers, more incentives.
“We also want to keep some things from Beer Underground, with our ‘First Thursday’ tradition, where we have special events like beer and cheese tastings, things like that.”
The Ale Republic could even allow its customers to vote on special events to be held on Thursdays and other nights.
Another aspect they hope to have is brewing classes for the public, helping people learn how to brew on systems bigger than their kitchens at home. After that, they would like to help people learn how to become professional beer judges, though that might take a lot more research into just what national regulations must be met. (Patrick, it should be noted, was a judge for the recent New Mexico State Fair Pro-Am. We’re still working on getting those results, FYI.)
“There is a huge demand for judges, which is just a sign of how many people are brewing now,” Patrick said.
If everything comes together for the Ale Republic, we look forward to this concept of a New Mexico beer bar, with the opportunity for home brewers to come there and create their own recipes. An interactive, learning environment for beer drinkers is something this state could always use. We wish them a lot of luck, because it’s never easy to turn a concept into reality.