Bathtub Row Brewing (BRB) in Los Alamos had a phenomenal first year and said they hope to keep the ball rolling in 2016. As part of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2015-16, I sat down with general manager Jason Fitzpatrick and brewers Hector Santana Jr. and Jason Kirkman to get their take on the new brewery.
Everyone suspected that a brewery would do well in Los Alamos. The town is somewhat remote, it’s home to a bunch of thirsty scientist types, and there weren’t too many other options in the watering hole department. The bar where BRB is now actually closed up a few years earlier. Otherwise there was just Pajarito Brewpub and Grill, which, while a nice place to get a pub meal and stocking a respectable number of beers, isn’t actually a brewpub. Plus, it gets a little old to go to the same place over and over. The new Smith’s superstore has also since opened, and their in-store beer and wine bar is quite impressive, but you can’t fill a growler. And, there’s just something special about knowing that the beer in your hand was made right here. It appeals to the green “local” (verb) side of me, and “drink” is one of my favorite verbs.
So, when BRB had their grand opening in late May 2015, the excitement in town was palpable. Events have been crowded. Beer/dinner events have been sold out. Most every time I stop in, the place is at least half full, and it’s often difficult to find a table at peak hours. Yes, Los Alamos folks love their brewery.
“We’ve been successful,” Jason Fitzpatrick said. “Projections were for us to sell around 300 barrels the first year, and we most likely be around the 600-barrel mark.”
What business wouldn’t be happy to double their first-year projections?
One of the unique aspects of BRB is that it uses the co-operative business model. People invest in the form of interest-bearing loans and buy year-long or lifetime memberships (which gets you discounted drinks and other perks). It contributes to a feeling of community ownership in the enterprise.
“We have over 800 members now,” Jason Fitzpatrick said. “We just passed that mark. I don’t think the co-op model is a detriment at all. There’s a lot of opinions, and a lot of them very good to be taken into consideration in the design of the place, but also the beers that we’re brewing. Some of the changes that we’ve made around here have come from our membership. They feel like they’re a part of it.”
For certain brews that require lots of manual labor, community members have joined in “work parties.”
“It also, surprisingly I think, gives us the freedom to do what we want to do,” Hector said. “‘How are you going to deal with having all of these bosses?’ You really have no boss when you have 800 bosses. You listen, but it’s not something I have to do.”
The brewery has been using an inventory control system that keeps track of sales, so they have a good idea of how much each beer sells and in what form (pints, growlers).
“I think the way we’ve been talking to customers, talking to the bartenders, and what people like, and Jason (Fitzpatrick) going over the statistics of what’s selling, I think we’ve done a good job of responding to the demand,” Jason Kirkman said. “If certain people had too much of a voice and were pushing this or that, it would be detrimental, but the way it has come about organically, it has worked out great.”
So far, BRB has done a great job balancing the beer styles, having the usual staples (IPA, blonde, stout) and mixing in some unusual ones like a cucumber saison and a smoked pumpkin amber. Impressively, they’ve already brewed 30 different beers in the short year.
Though BRB is run as a co-op, there is still a board of directors that oversees the big picture. The GM and brewers are given a great deal of control over day-to-day operations, but the board sets the larger vision. The current and previous board members (note: I served on the board in the early days) got the business to this point, and the current and future boards will tweak things as necessary and decide how to grow the business. Given the high demand, one might think that a bigger brewing system would be under consideration, but Jason Kirkman said he thinks they can manage.
“We can still do some things to get more out of the system,” he said. “We’ve got a wishlist of things that will make either the brews go faster, or for us to be able to spend less work on other things and focus on brewing.”
Another potential direction is packaging. Several other breweries have decided to expand into bottling and canning, as well as providing kegs to restaurants and bars. Jason Fitzpatrick has been contacted by several businesses in Los Alamos and Santa Fe about providing BRB beer, but the decision has not yet been made about going down that path. Another item of interest to members is how much of a dividend will be given out. Once all of the net profits are calculated and funds dedicated to projects as directed by the board, a portion of the remainder will be sent out to BRB members.
Members can contribute to BRB by joining committees that have been set up by the board of directors. A new and particularly interesting one is the “brewer’s council,” which will be a group of both board members and non-board members that will taste-test the beer, help with quality control, and compare BRB brews with those from other breweries.
Since BRB is doing so much that is right, they will be mostly staying the course. Expect more bands, more events, and more beer dinners. The reasonable prices will not be changing (though some of the more exotic beers with expensive ingredients may have an up-charge). Look for BRB to be at various festivals around the state, including WinterBrew in Santa Fe on Jan. 15.
Changes for 2016 will include a new outside deck and a BRB-owned food truck that will feature a variety of beer-friendly foods from around the world. Fun for customers and employees alike will be a new program where every BRB employee gets to design and brew his or her own beer. This will likely result in some interesting concoctions. First up will be Jason Fitzpatrick’s cherry quad.
2015 was an overwhelming success for BRB, and 2016 is looking to be even better!