New Mexico Brewers Guild aims to follow one victorious year with another

Guild executive director John Gozigian has remained at the forefront of supporting New Mexico breweries in our state and beyond.

In the past, the Look Back/Look Ahead Series has focused solely on individual breweries. Tractor Brewing president/co-owner Skye Devore felt that we had been missing something, so she let me know after our interview last month. Namely, the Crew had never done one of these for the New Mexico Brewers Guild, so today, that absence is remedied. I sat down with Guild executive director John Gozigian last week at Bosque Brewing to go over how 2017 went and what to expect in 2018.

“It was good,” John said of 2017. “We added a fair amount of new brewery members, new associate members. We had legislative success at the beginning of the year in the form of blocking some pretty damaging legislation (Senate Bill 314 and its house counterpart). We’ve been helpful on the national level with promoting and moving the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act forward. I think one of the things we’re most proud of is that New Mexico is the only state in the country whose entire Congressional delegation, on both sides of the aisle, are sponsors of the (CBMTRA). And, all members of their respective parties’ caucuses.”

For beer lovers across the state, the most tangible thing the Guild does every year is sponsor a slew of festivals. From WinterBrew in Santa Fe every January, to the Stout Invitational in Los Alamos in February, to Blazin’ Brewfest in Las Cruces in May, to the NM IPA Challenge across the state in July, and finally to the Beer Premiere in Albuquerque in October, it was a strong year.

“The festivals went well,” John said. “WinterBrew, the first festival of the year, sold out, as it always does. The next one of the year, the Stout Invitational up in Los Alamos, sold out, too. Blazin’ Brewfest in Las Cruces was good. Our attendance was down. We had a major freak thunderstorm blow through in the first hour of the festival, right as the gates opened. That dampened attendance, but there were still a lot of people there.”

The NMIPAC was a big hit for Boxing Bear brewer/owner Justin Hamilton and the Guild as a whole.

The 2017 NMIPAC was a smashing success in terms of attendance, with the final round at Steel Bender Brewyard selling out, but that does not mean the Guild is fully satisfied with the format going forward.

“That’s one that we’re struggling with, trying to figure out what to do with, whether we keep it small and keep it brewery-based, which has been our tradition for almost 20 years now,” John said. “Or, do we find a larger venue at least for the final round? Then more people could attend. That’s kind of an existential crisis that we’re having right now. It’s worked well the way we do it and it’s a lot of fun the way we do it and it’s our tradition. We sold out the last event, the final round this year. A lot of people were not able to get tickets. It’s challenging to execute that in the space of a brewery, even the big breweries now, even the biggest. You’re pouring flights of 15 beers for hundreds of people. It’s definitely a difficult endeavor to pull off. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The obvious issue there would be finding and then paying for renting said venue, while hoping increased attendance would cover the loss of revenue for the Guild, as host breweries do not charge. The NMIPAC is the single biggest Guild fundraiser every year, and that money is needed to keep fighting the good fight in Santa Fe.

“There is a chance that in 2018, the IPA Challenge, at least the final round, might end up at a venue that’s not a brewery to accommodate more people,” John said. “The cool thing is because there’s so much attendance now, it’s really legitimized the IPA Challenge as a competition. The old days when you’d have 20 to 30 people per round, if you had 15 to 20 people from one brewery show up and identify their beer, it would really skew the numbers. That’s really hard to do now.”

Being on the Guild Board of Directors can be an adventure, such as that one time the RV broke down between Farmington and Taos. (Photo courtesy of the NMBG)

While final decisions on the fate of the NMIPAC will be made later in 2018, one set of changes is already afoot. The Guild currently has a seven-person Board of Directors, with elected members serving two-year terms, capped at three consecutive terms. Voting alternates between four seats and three seats every year. This year, three seats came open as the sitting members did not run again.

“Skye had served two terms (and) Gabe (Jensen, of Bosque) had served two terms, and they felt like they needed a break,” John said. “James (Warren) was up for reelection and he has served one term, but you can’t have a member from a brewery that already has a board member. If you remember, he got elected when he was with Santa Fe Dining and then moved to Santa Fe Brewing. He can finish out his term, there’s no rule against that. If you’re running for election, you can’t run against another candidate from your brewery or a serving member.”

The election results came in after our interview, with Nexus owner Ken Carson, Bosque director of culture and engagement Jessica Griego, and Bombs Away head brewer David Kimbell taking over the three vacant spots on the board.

All of them will hit the ground running in 2018.

Legislative changes loom in 2018

There are no cool photos of legislation, so how about a cool photo of a Guild goblet from October’s Beer Premiere instead?

The coming year will feature a 30-day session of the State Legislature, which will also be the last year in office for Republican governor Susanna Martinez, meaning big changes could await on the political playing field in 2019. For now, though, the Guild has a couple small items targeted.

“For 2018, there’s a couple things,” John said. “One, we have a legislative session coming up. We are introducing a bill. What we’re seeking is to modify the Sunday sales hours, because right now we can’t serve alcohol until noon on Sundays. That got addressed for specialty permit holders a couple years ago. If you have a full liquor license, you can open at 11 o’clock on Sundays. It didn’t specifically allow small brewers and winemakers to open at 11 o’clock. We’re going to run a bill that will hopefully clean that up.”

For everyone who has gone to a brewery to watch the NFL games that start at 11 a.m. on Sundays, or even earlier to catch some Premier League soccer, not being able to order a beer until noon has always been a major bummer. John said he did not foresee much resistance on this bill.

“It’s a 30-day session, so the key will be to get the bill introduced, through the committees, and onto the floor before the session times out,” he said. “I don’t foresee this being particularly controversial. We’re talking about one hour on one day of the week. It’s something that’s already happening at every other licensed establishment besides breweries and wineries.”

Something else the Guild would like to see changed is the current inability of breweries to exclusively serve their wares at private events.

“Another thing we’re going to do is we’re going to work on the public celebration permit,” John said. “Right now the public celebration permit is specifically for public events, so we can use it for things like New Mexico Brewfest, the IPA Challenge, Blazin’ Brewfest, because they’re open to the public. But currently breweries and winemakers can’t cater a private event and serve your product. On the other hand, dispensers permit holders can get a special dispensers permit and they can do either or. They can do public celebrations or private events. We’re asking that the public celebration permit become the celebration permit, so it can be used for public and private.”

John said that it could especially be key for smaller breweries in the outlying communities, giving them an opportunity for added revenue. That could be important for those that do not package and sell their beers across the state. John said there might be some push back against a change, but ultimately he feels a move to help more small businesses will be approved.

Something else that will help smaller, rural breweries could soon appear on your phone.

“The other thing is we’re looking at having an app built for our breweries,” John said. “It will have an interactive map and tour. People who download the app can visit breweries and there will be incentives for visiting X number of breweries, completing X number of ale trails throughout the state.

“Some of our fellow guilds across the country have begun to use them. I think it could be particularly helpful in a state like New Mexico, driving people to the more rural breweries. You can incentivize particular ale trails more heavily if they’re more challenging to complete.”

You mean the Crew might have to retake some of our past brewery road trips? Back to the Southeast and the Taos area and even more beyond that? Oh, gosh, darn, twist our arms.

WinterBrew is up first among Guild-sponsored festivals in 2018.

As for the festivals, many of those dates are already set in stone. WinterBrew will return January 12 at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The Stout Invitational will be back February 17 at Bathtub Row. Blazin’ Brewfest is set for Cinco de Mayo in Las Cruces. The NMIPAC will kick off with the preliminary round July 14 and conclude with the finals July 28, locations TBD.

“All of our festivals, we’re always looking at ways to keep them up to date, to tweak them,” John said. “We want to keep them fun and exciting. People should be looking for some new and exciting things this year. We do have some new plans in the works.”

A big thanks to John for taking some time to chat. Clearly, he has a lot on his plate going into the new year. All of us in the Crew look forward to supporting the Guild again in 2018 and beyond, and we thank John and the board members for their service on behalf of our craft beer scene.


— Stoutmeister

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