Things are always busy over at Tractor Brewing, but in the last few weeks, things have gone from zero to 60 in a hurry. To make sure I had every last bit of information for this story, I sat down with co-owner/president Skye Devore at the end of last week to go over all the big news.
“It’s hard whenever you get so much good news and so many great things are all happening at one time,” Skye said. “You want to enjoy your moment and tell everybody, but you also have to figure out how to time it.”
Over the last few weeks, Tractor won a gold medal for its Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, signed a distribution agreement to put its beer in Texas, made the decision to switch to 16-ounce cans, announced two beers that will join its can lineup, and officially announced the location of their second off-site taproom in Albuquerque.
The move to larger cans is one that will impact Tractor in a number of ways.
“The can manufacturers have just made it harder and harder for you to order (smaller numbers),” Skye said. “They don’t want to deal with you in small quantities. They want you to buy 8,000 cases per brand of anything that you’re going to roll out. That wasn’t going to work for us.
“We found that if we switched to 16-ounce cans, and work with a company out there that sleeves them for you, the minimums are much lower, the margins are better, and it makes it feasible for us to do the stuff that we love, but to replace our entire bomber series with 16-ounce cans.”
Skye mentioned popular seasonals like Turkey Drool and Luna De Los Muertos Imperial Stout as candidates for special can releases. For the most part, though, the change in can size will be focused on the core beers and ciders. Farmer’s Tan Red Ale, Delicious Golden Dry Cider, New Mexican Lager, and Big Sipper Session IPA will make the transition this month, followed by Almanac IPA and Delicious Red Hard Apple Cider in June. Mustachio Milk Stout will switch over in 2018.
“Right before we made the decision we had ordered an entire truckload of milk stout cans,” Skye said. “We’ll get through a chunk of this year, because (stout sales) slows down in the summer.”
Of course, there are two new names to cans up there in the New Mexican Lager and the Big Sipper. The latter is part of a special new partnership with the annual Pork & Brew festival, held every July in Rio Rancho. In past years, event organizers have designated one special beer among participating breweries as the official beer of Pork & Brew. This time around, it will be available in cans in addition to being on tap.
“We get a lot of requests for it throughout the year,” Skye said of Big Sipper, while later adding that since Almanac IPA is Tractor’s best seller, it makes sense to put another IPA into the market, even if only for a limited time.
The Big Sipper cans will officially debut during ABQ Beer Week with a special event at Wells Park on May 25. The Silver String Band will perform and Pork & Brew tickets will be sold at a discount.
“With us moving to (bigger) cans and not have to commit to so many of them, it just makes so much more sense for us to be able to do stuff like that,” Skye said.
Adding more sessionable beers like Big Sipper and New Mexican Lager will also help Tractor in its expansion into sales in Texas. Tractor participated in its first beer festival across the border, the Sun City Craft Beer Festival in El Paso, on April 29.
“L&F is our distributor in the southern part of New Mexico and they also have a house in El Paso,” Skye said. “We were like, well, that makes the most sense for us. It’s certainly the most friendly market to approachable craft beer, versus our neighbors to the north. We have an existing relationship with a distributor who’s always treated us right.
“We already know there are close to a million people sitting right there. Why not go for it? The New Mexico population is not growing. If you want to grow, you either have to steal someone else’s business or sell outside of the state.”
It never hurts to dangle some hardware in the face of new, and old, customers, too. Tractor pulled in a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Beer Competition in April. That it won with one of its longest-tenured house beers, Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, does not hurt.
“Double Plow was a beer that we were making when I first started with Tractor in 2007,” Skye said. “We sent it out to the L.A. International Beer Competition and won gold. Anytime you win something you want people to know. That was pretty exciting for us.”
Double Plow did win the third annual DSBC Stout Challenge in 2014, and it fell four points shy of becoming the first two-time winner at the sixth annual back in February. It has long been a favorite beer of the Crew.
“We love our milk stout and it’s definitely our best seller in the stout category, but it does have lactose in it,” Skye said. “There are a lot of people that can’t drink it.”
To that end, the gold medal and the lack of lactose has suddenly put Double Plow on the radar of other businesses.
“We’ve actually received a whole bunch of phone calls and interest from people who want to carry it outside of our taprooms,” she said. “That’s led to a twist on some production schedules.”
Of course, production at Tractor is going to have to ramp up soon as a second off-site taproom will be opening soon.
“The taproom, that was another one of my goals,” Skye said. “At the end of 2016, I sat down and asked (myself), ‘You were supposed to do a taproom this year, where’s your game face, what’s happening?’ I started working with Kyla (Rhodes-)Stoker (of KW Commercial) and I said I wanted a taproom lease signed by April 1 and I want to be open July 1. She’s like really?”
At this point, it looks like Skye and Tractor will meet those goals. They have signed a lease with Daskalos Development and Investments to place the taproom at the Four Hills Village at Central and Tramway. That location is already home to Icon Cinemas and a Sprouts Market.
“We’ve been assured that the neighborhood is really interested in having us come in and put something in that spot,” Skye said. “Five years ago, Albertson’s pulled out, the movie theater pulled out, and it was kind of abandoned. Now it’s been revitalized.”
The taproom will be in a space formerly occupied by a pizzeria, so there will not have to be an overt amount of renovation. Skye said Tractor has a hearing scheduled with the state on May 17 to get their liquor license approved. The taproom will then have 24 taps and a large exterior patio.
Putting a taproom far from Tractor’s current locations in Wells Park and Nob Hill was a goal from the beginning. Adding new customers is always a priority. It will also be just the second craft brewery location in that area. The Canteen taproom is a half-mile north on Tramway on the opposite side of Interstate 40, but Skye said the two locations will serve to complement each other, not compete.
“Looking at that, too, I find that in New Mexico, freeways are great dividers,” she said. “They’re like mental blocks. I feel like Canteen has found their niche on that (north) side of the freeway. We’ll have a full, entirely different group of people on our side. There’s a shift toward neighborhood breweries. We want to do that.”
The Crew has also heard of rumors of a possible west side taproom for Tractor, but Skye said she could not comment on the record about whether there is any truth to those whispers.
Skye said all of these big moves for Tractor will help the brewery keep up in an increasingly crowded and competitive craft beer market.
“The next challenge (is that) everyone is growing around you, and you don’t want to be left behind,” she said.
We look forward to checking out the taproom when it is finished, and in taking some of those new cans home, too. Just stay out of our way when they put Turkey Drool in cans this fall.