Divorce is never a pretty thing. Even in the craft beer business.
A few months ago, Firkin Brewhouse went from being just another new brewery looking to make their mark to a vortex of controversy and in-fighting, the likes of which had not been seen in Albuquerque in a long time. Things have settled down, somewhat, between the two feuding factions, though they still have to officially settle things in court.
Somewhat surprisingly, with that legal case pending, co-owners Mike Trissell and Dave Singer still wanted to sit down and talk with the Crew about what has happened and what could happen in the future. They were limited somewhat in what they could say due to the pending case between them and Bill and Aaron Walters, their former partners (Aaron was the head brewer, as well). The Crew reached out to Aaron, but he responded that his lawyer was advising them not to comment publicly until the case is resolved. We hope he will do so when able, as both sides of the story deserve to be heard.
First off, Mike and Dave wanted everyone to know that Firkin is still open. They have a new website that lists their new hours of operation. They currently have two guest taps (Boxing Bear Black EyePA and Tractor Cider), plus a few of their own beers, with more in the works. The food menu is unchanged. They are planning more events in the future, from comedy nights to live music. Check their social media pages for more info.
Before I even asked a question, they had an opening statement of sorts.
Mike: I appreciate you taking the time and talking with us. We’re not the kind that harps on anything, speak ill of people and stuff like that. It was an unfortunate splitting of ways was what it came down to. Aaron and his father, Bill, they had different ideas for the business. We have different ideas for it, too. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye on those things. Now we’re still in negotiations with trying to make everything right with each other. Our lawyers have said we can’t say a lot about this situation. But we really appreciate what you guys said on the blog about that you wouldn’t write us off quite yet. We really appreciate that. As you can see, we are open and we have been.
Dave: We were (shut) down only two or three days. We got things in order. We were back up and running. We just had a meeting (recently) with doing some advertising, some radio, probably some TV. It’s just a matter of pushing forward and trying to get people in the door. It’s all we can do.
NMDSBC: As much as you can talk about, was there any particular thing that caused you to do what you’ve done, just taking control of day-to-day operations away from them, or was it more an accumulation of what was happening?
Mike: The main thing, as partners because Dave and I have been partners right from the beginning. We’re the ones who got it all started. When Bill came in, what’s the word I’m trying for here, he had his own ideas and we actually kind of brought him in to help do the books, the payroll, stuff like that. What clinched the whole issue was he wasn’t sharing any of the financial information. We asked to see the balance sheet several times, from month to month to month, and we were denied access to any of that, to the point where he changed the passwords. Those are things, a little bit of deceit on their part. But, that being said, I wish them well. I hope everything works out.
Dave: We know what a very influential beer blog that you guys do, we just want to let people know we’re open. We’ve got some new people in to brew the beer. We’ve still got our kitchen. People really seem to like the food.
Mike: We’re actually brewing the beer ourselves now, too. My background is brewing as well. Now that we’ve … it’s so funny, when this break-up all happened, we got calls from Boxing Bear, from Tractor, from everybody just calling in, (saying) ‘Hey, what’s happened, what’s going on, do you guys need any help?’ This community is phenomenal. The brewing industry is awesome. Some of these people we didn’t even know and they were asking. We have Tractor and Boxing Bear on tap now.
NMDSBC: You’ve hired outside people to come in and help with the brewing?
Mike: No, actually we’re not paying anybody. It’s just people that are helping us, friends of ours.
Dave: They’ve been brewers before, like home brewers. We’ve had a little bit of experience, but we’ve done a couple of batches. It’s gone realy well. At least we know the system. Now it’s just a matter of learning new recipes.
Mike: We’ve got some really cool recipes. It’s stuff that either I had and I didn’t get a chance to brew before this happened. And also some from friends of ours, they want to try out some of their recipes. We give credit where due.
NMDSBC: I talked to people about this place when you were having those initial problems. I discussed with a lot of brewery people you still face one major problem — your location. You’re not on a commuter street, you have no foot traffic, and you’re in a neighborhood with arguably the two top breweries in the city (La Cumbre and Canteen). What can you guys do to set this place apart and also make it a place people want to come to in this area?
Mike: Well, first of all, we’re hoping that our beer is going to be really superior. We really do believe in that. We’re very strong on using the best quality products, ingredients that we can. And, I think that once we get up and get some of that is shown, we can actually get on our feet here and show that … The other thing is our environment that we’re trying to create here. We’re trying to be so different than anybody else. Because Prohibition, comedy, entertainment, that’s where we’re trying to go with this. We want people to come here and have fun and make good friends. That’s our biggest thing.
Dave: We’ve also had great feedback for the food we do sell. It’s not a full kitchen. We’re kind of similar to Canteen with our panini press for sandwiches. The feedback that we’ve had is it’s really good, quality food, and it’s heartier than a lot of other panini sandwiches. We have had great feedback on our Chicago Dog, something that not a lot of people do in town. We’re looking to expand the menu a little bit, too, here down the road, in terms of probably Frito pie. And, we’re going to maybe experiment with some hot wings, too. It’s another thing that people do come in and they do know that we’re open, they know we have some decent food along with the beers.
NMDSBC: Are your guys hours still the same?
Mike: No, we changed the hours, mainly because of our staff. Our staff stuck with us over this. Well, I’d say about 90 percent. Some decided they didn’t want to put up with all that stuff, and I can’t blame them. That’s pretty normal.
Dave: We’re closed Monday. Mondays, especially for restaurants and bars, they’re slow. For a new startup, we decided for now to close Mondays. Tuesdays through Thursdays it’s 3 to 9. Friday and Saturday it’s 12 to 11. Sunday it’s 12 to 9.
NMDSBC: We just want to get that right for The Week Ahead in Beer. If people ask us if you’re open, they want to know when you’re open.
Mike: We’re getting to ready to put quite a bit of money into advertising. One of the things that we’re going to be doing, we’re going to get signs put out on the major streets around us that says The Firkin Brewhouse this way, that type of thing. So that when they do get in the general area, they’re directed by these signs.
NMDSBC: So, like Columbia and Aztec?
Mike: Well, along the (I-25 northbound) frontage. As you come down the frontage road, you hit Cutter first, we’ll have a sign that says ‘Beer, sponsored by The Firkin Brewhouse.’ And an arrow going that way. Then if they pass that and they hit Aztec coming down, (it will say) ‘Last Chance for Beer, Firkin Brewhouse.’ We’ll do that kind of thing with the jocularity.
Dave: Like I said, we’re going to be talking to radio guys. Most likely going to do a TV spot or two. That will be down the road here, hopefully it works out in a few weeks. We’re looking to be (more active) on social media, that’s always going to be there for us.
NMDSBC: I noticed you’ve got Twitter and Instagram back up.
Mike: Yeah, they are, but they’re a little sketchy right now because we don’t have enough staff to handle all of it. But, we’re really hitting hard on Facebook.
Dave: We started a texting service for deals and specials. We started that last week. We’ll see how that turns out.
Mike: We’ve got a VIP club that gives $25 gift certificates, things like that. … One thing that we did, not last weekend, but the weekend before, we did $1.50 hamburgers and $1 hot dogs. I don’t know if it’s the same prices you paid in Prohibition, but close.
Dave: We’re going to be doing events like that (outside), every other Saturday, at least up until winter. We’re just trying to get people in here, let them know we’re open, and let them know where we are. We’re still planning on putting a (permanent) patio out there, even a stage out there.
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We thank Mike and Dave for taking the time to chat. Legal cases are tricky, hence the lack of digging into the full details on what happened to cause this split among the owners. As they said, hopefully it all works itself out for the best. We wish them luck in all their endeavors. Making beer and getting people to buy that beer is getting harder in this town as the palates of ABQ craft beer fans continue to evolve.
The Crew will keep an eye on when everything is resolved at Firkin and let everyone know how the final decision turns out.