After taking a week off from our Look Back/Look Ahead Series to deal with SB314, the Stout Challenge, and a couple hangovers, we are back with our latest entry on Red Door Brewing. I sat down with brewmaster Wayne Martinez at the end of last week to recap 2016 and preview what is to come in 2017.
“2016 was opening the second taproom downtown and then just really trying to grow a little bit, grow our distribution a little bit,” Wayne said. “That was the majority of it. We’re constantly trying to increase our efficiency in the back, make a better product, but that’s kind of a never-ending thing for brewers no matter who you are. If you’re not trying to get better, there’s no point to doing it.”
The taproom has become a swanky spot for downtown drinkers. It tends to peak in during the traditional happy hour stretch (5 to 7 p.m.) as folks are getting off work. It also lends itself to events that are unlike those held at the main brewery taproom on Candelaria. Sometimes the results can be, well, unexpected.
“We started doing Geeks Who Drink downtown,” Wayne said. “We got lucky and got to do The Gilmore Girls special, that was only at one bar in this city, maybe in the state. That was really big for us. I knew Gilmore Girls was popular and when it came back it was popular, but people were sitting on the floor. We had our occupancy (posted), but we didn’t have as many seats as our occupancy allows, and people were still coming in. We told them we didn’t have any place for them to sit. They didn’t care.”
Take note, be very careful if you try to crack a derogatory joke about The Gilmore Girls in this town. You may not make it out alive.
Anyway, the addition of the taproom also led to another long overdue improvement at the brewery.
“We expanded the cooler when we did the new taproom,” Wayne said, after noting a lack of cooler space was a problem during last year’s Look Back/Look Ahead interview. “We had to, it was already a little cramped for just here. We’ll be fine with that for a while.”
Speaking of the beer, 2016 was definitely a year for Red Door to figure out the wants and needs of its customers.
“The Vanilla Cream, when we took it off the demand was outrageous to bring it back,” Wayne said. “We’ve actually made that a year-round beer now. … We can turn it over quickly, which is nice. It’s a relatively simple beer to make. It’s easy to stay consistent. There’s not too many variables.”
Wayne would admit to having a particular favorite among the many seasonals he brewed up over the course of last year.
“My favorite beer that we made was probably the barrel-aged brown, which was based off the Nieuwe Bruin,” he said. “We partnered with (Broken Trail), got their very first whiskey barrel they used for their one-year whiskeys. We threw the brown in there for about three-and-a-half months. Just the flavors that came off of that, the smokiness, the bourbon flavor, the whiskey oak flavors, I think that was my favorite beer that we put out last year.”
Wayne did note that despite the quality, it was not the type of beer that would sell well during warmer months. The Red Door staff took careful note of which seasonals did well during the, well, seasons.
“I think there were a few seasonals that weren’t really within the season, and we learned that they did not really do well,” Wayne said. “They might have been reviewed positively and people might have said they liked them, but we could tell sales weren’t there. Whereas something like our Blackberry Hefeweizen, (we had the) perfect season for releasing it. It was the best beer release we’ve had to date, so much so that it’s been one of the few seasonals we’ve done three batches of during that span. People were flying through it.”
After all the hustle and bustle related to the addition of the off-site taproom in 2016, Red Door is planning to take things a little easier in 2017.
“This year is going to be more refinement of our locations,” Wayne said. “We don’t have any big plans as of now to expand or do anything crazy. The big thing here (at Candelaria) is we’re going to redo the draft system, have more taps. There’s 10 here and 12 downtown. What it is now is if we have a seasonal and the previous one isn’t out, we put it downtown (only) on tap there. We’re going to put more taps here. It’s going to allow us to do more seasonals as well. That’s the biggest thing we have planned.”
Getting Red Door beers on tap at more restaurants and bars is also a big priority for 2017.
“We’re really focused on distribution this year,” Wayne said. “We kind of redid how we were doing things, retooled it, got some new blood in there to kind of reorganize everything and take it in hopefully a positive direction. Already this year we’re seeing an increase in sales slowly. That’s the other big thing.”
Like any brewer, Wayne also has a list of things he would like to do, though none have been set in stone as yet.
“As far as like wishful stuff that I think probably will happen, but it’s just on the back burner, definitely we’re going to start looking into a barrel-aging program,” he said. “I definitely want to get more barrel-aged (beers) and sours as well. We’re getting ready to do a true sour. A gose, doing a kettle sour would be nice, and probably we’ll do one of those first. But I definitely want to get something aging that’s going to be in there for a year, at least, get that started this year so by 2018 we’ll have some of that stuff coming out.”
There are no major plans to get Red Door beers into package, but limited runs of certain beers may be coming.
“We’re hopefully going to be doing some sort of small-batch bomber program,” Wayne said. “That may not be pushed out to distribution, as far as like Jubilation or anything like that. It would just be in house. Doing something like for our seasonals, even our standards, if you’re looking for something smaller than a growler. Hopefully we can figure out how to put our stout in there, because we can’t put that in growlers right now.”
Wayne said there is no set schedule for exactly when they will re-release some of their more popular seasonals from the past, but fans can expect to see Stormtrooper Imperial IPA, and O.D.B. (Oaked Dark Belgian) back on tap in the future. He also said there are no plans to add more major pieces of equipment in the back, at least not right now.
“It’s small equipment stuff, I think, that we’re going to be focused on in the back,” he said. “We’re not going to be getting a new brewhouse or new fermenters. We’re buying another heat exchanger, buying more kegs, focusing on stuff for increased distribution.”
The Red Door staff is also working on some new and fun events for people in 2017. The brewery is already well known for having retro video game systems at both locations, so there could certainly be more tournament-style events in the near future, Wayne said.
“Definitely we’re trying to do events that aren’t the same old thing,” he said. “We had done it when we first opened, we did a video game competition. I think Call of Duty was the first one, then we did Mario Kart. Now we’re doing Smash Brothers downtown. I think we’re going to try do those a little more frequently. Initially it was hard having enough consoles and CDs to do it, but I think we’ve alleviated that concern.”
Rather than try to fill any specific niche, the goal for Red Door is to still be the type of brewery where everyone can find something they enjoy, from the beers to the events and more.
“I don’t know that we necessarily have (to fill a niche),” Wayne said. “We’re trying to do the gluten-removed beers. Going into 2017, we’re going to have another cider or two. I don’t know that we’re trying to appeal just to a gluten-removed crowd. I think right now we’re still trying to be as all-encompassing as we can. I’m not a big fan of the idea of just becoming an English-style brewery or a Belgian-style brewery. It works for other places, but I don’t know if it would work for us.”
Thank you to Wayne for taking the time to chat. We wish Red Door all the luck in 2017 and beyond. Just let us know when the Stormtrooper is ready!