Those darn Millennials. Normally, that is how to start a story about young people these days. This is not one of those days. Instead, it is time to restore hope in the youth of America. That renewal of hope comes from college students like Gus Pedrotty and Sara Collins, who are spearheading an effort to bring a craft beer taproom to the University of New Mexico.
I had the chance to meet with both of them after doing beer history research on campus at the Center for Southwest Research earlier this week. They had a long list of well-thought-out reasons for why the university deserves a taproom, none of which were just “we want to drink beer.”
“Obviously, the brew scene here is unbelievably important,” Gus said. “It’s an industry that’s growing rapidly. We’re a top 10 brewery city in the United States. Our beer is constantly competing nationally and doing very well. It’s a social epicenter for our population and that should be represented at UNM as well.
“I really believe UNM represents what’s the best and brightest about this state and our brew scene is part of that now. Especially with CNM now starting a brew program, it makes sense for us to start creating infrastructure to guide more programs here, looking at microbiology (and other) pre-vocational programs can come out of this. … All of this can already be done with infrastructure that we have. That’s course work based in chemical engineering or microbiology. This is a great way for us to provide more higher education without needing to create large pieces of (wholly) new infrastructure like our own brewhouse or something.”
Furthering the brewing education process to create even more skilled workers. Helping people who might otherwise not have an interest in science or engineering move into those fields. OK, this is sounding good so far. That education can go beyond teaching folks simply how to brew or cultivate yeast. It can go to an area where college students are sorely in need of a change of perspective.
“As far as the social education goes, it’s really about normalizing and de-stigmatizing alcohol consumption,” Gus said. “As you know, the brew scene here is all about responsible consumption. Three-drink limits, it’s about quality, it’s about the taste, it’s about what people are doing differently and we want to bring that to campus.
“We want to show that the binge-drinking culture isn’t what drinking is about. We want to show the community a culture that’s actually cultivating something much larger than that. That’s a place for discourse and a place for exploration within the brewing sciences. We think that’s really apparent on campus that we can bring it here.”
Yes, folks, these are college students actually saying that it is not all about getting wasted every weekend. Rather than preach prohibition, as so many are wont to do on college campuses, they are instead calling for responsible drinking through the craft culture that already exists for those of us who have left college behind.
Seriously, sign them up to talk to that group that wants the new alcohol tax to stop DWIs by shutting down our craft brewing scene.
Of course, they will face an uphill battle in combating that image of college students as just wanting to get slammed on IPAs instead of Keystone. Not to mention the fact that UNM is technically a dry campus, though the athletic administration has found a way around that as far as the football stadium and The Pit go.
“Luckily the policy is in our favor,” Gus said. “We could totally implement a taproom on campus right now without any changes to the policy as it currently stands and as we see it. It’s pretty much that we’re a smoke-free campus (but) with (designated) smoking areas. It’s just as we serve at the stadiums and arenas on South Campus, these are spaces that already allow us to distribute.”
All of this will take cooperation from entities outside of the university.
“We would just need a liquor license from the State, which is what we’re in the process of looking at,” Sara said. “What would they need from us, what they want within that process? We’ve been working with Dr. Walt Miller, who’s the licensing agent for the university, so he’s been talking to him to see what documents they would need from us and what information they want before moving forward.”
Sara said they hope to complete the Board of Regents process in the next six months or so. Then it would be turning their targeted space on campus into a taproom that everyone over 21 can enjoy.
“The venue we’re looking at is Louie’s Lounge,” Sara said of the pool hall that has been there since my own father was a student in the 1960s. “There are lots of potential spaces on campus, but we think the SUB (Student Union Building) is the epicenter for student involvement, it’s an epicenter for everyone. There are at least 10,000 people going through there on a general day. Putting it there, (we would be) eventually looking at renovations to make it an open space (with) glass windows, but for now utilizing an existing space with what’s already there.”
The plan for the taproom would be to serve only local beers.
“Oh, of course, entirely,” Gus said. “We’re focusing on keeping money here, engaging the community here, creating an employable and excited populations to stay here and continue to grow. We’re just giving another place for breweries to sell their beer to, trying to decrease that (over) saturation and give another outlet to the growing scene. We just see it as a huge economic opportunity for the whole city as well.”
This could also be a wonderful opportunity for the breweries in town to gain brand-new customers, saving them from years of unfortunate purchases of terrible macro brews, and get them started on the right foot. As more and more breweries open, they are often competing for the same customers, instead of going after new customers. There is still a huge swath of people in New Mexico (and visiting our state) who do not drink craft beer. Trust us, it is a whole lot easier to convince someone in his/her early 20s to take up craft than someone who has been drinking the same mass-produced swill for 20 years.
Gus said they have reached out to the New Mexico Brewers Guild and several breweries for help. They want to learn from the most successful breweries and figure out how to make a taproom similarly successful in the heart of campus.
“We’re really looking to increase that engagement between local breweries (and UNM),” Gus said. “We’re going to look at their standards. We’re going to look at how they do it. We want to bring their knowledge, their know-how, and their experience to campus as well. Really give students the opportunity to get vocational work to understand the industry they’re going into as well. We want to create the most competitive people to enter that job market.”
Not only that, but they want to encourage students to remain in Albuquerque after graduation. It would give them a legitimately successful industry to aspire to join upon earning their degrees. Or, at the very least, it would give them a safer alternative to the traditional bar scene when it comes to socializing in town.
“Everybody is already coming here for the beer anyway,” Gus said. “You can see how full the microbreweries are around town on any given day. It’s great to see. No one is really too worried about the market yet and we really want to keep the excitement here.”
There is hope for the youth of America, and it comes in the form of craft beer. Yeah, we can get behind that, and we hope the rest of the craft beer community can as well.
Good luck to Gus, Sara, and their team. We will keep everyone updated on their progress and let the community know if they ever need some extra help, like, oh, say, adding your name to their petition.
Until then, raise a pint to these Lobos. Something tells us they will bring winning back to UNM.