NM Brewers Guild executive director stepping down to start his own brewery

The new project from outgoing Brewers Guild executive director John Gozigian.

The news that New Mexico Brewers Guild executive director John Gozigian was stepping down at the end of March did not catch us by complete surprise when it was announced last week. We were aware of John being involved in a new project coming to replace the Bosque San Mateo taproom/brewery, and seeing as how the Guild bylaws prohibit the director from having a financial stake in any brewery, that meant his time would eventually be up.

That time is almost here, so I sat down with John over lunch on Monday to talk about his new project, La Reforma, as well as his time with the Guild and what is coming down the line.

“It’s been in the works for a little while,” he said. “When Bosque announced that they were going to developing the Open Space (location), and I learned that they were basically going to leave the space on San Mateo, it got me to thinking. I never intended to get back into the brewing industry. Even less so, was I interested in getting back into the restaurant business.

“But, from an entrepreneurial point of view, you look at a second generation restaurant/brewery space becomes available, and you can potentially cut in half the cost of developing it for that use. The infrastructure is already there.”

John said he talked to managing director Gabe Jensen and ended up “shocked” that no one had approached Bosque about taking over the space. That led to John making a call to an old friend.

“I ran the idea by my former Marble and Santa Fe Dining partner Jeff (Jinnett) about his level of interest in getting back into the brewery/restaurant business,” John said. “Jeff was kind of the same mind I was after we left Marble, don’t need to do (another) brewery, don’t need to do a restaurant. It’s like the Mob, you know, every time you try to get out, they pull you back in. We tend to gravitate back to what we know and what our area of expertise is.”

Our first photo of John Gozigian as Guild executive director was snapped at Starr Brothers three years ago. My, how time flies.

It was Jeff who came up with the idea for La Reforma, which will bring a new theme and approach to a brewery in a town loaded with options.

“Over the years, Jeff had always talked about the restaurants he went to when he was a kid in Mexico City, because he grew up there,” John said. “He would go to these carnitas restaurants, these huge places that specialized in carnitas and tacos, and it was a real family (friendly) thing. There was beer, too. We had talked over the years that if we ever did a brewery again, we would do a Mexico City-style culinary experience, and do some Mexico-style beers, lagers, obviously.”

Most Mexican lagers, John noted, are derived from German recipes. Negra Modelo is based on a Munich dunkel, Dos Equis Amber is based on a Vienna lager, and beers like Corona and Pacifico are based on pilsners.

“I thought it would be really cool to do those styles, do them like they’re done traditionally, not adjunct lagers, but based on the original German styles and paired with that cuisine,” John said.

La Reforma will also have a distillers license and a wine growers license, so it can make its own margaritas and other non-beer drinks commonly available at that style of restaurant.

After his initial conversations with Gabe, John came up with a proposal to not merely move into the space, but to keep the existing infrastructure, which will keep the costs down.

“I asked if he would be willing to turn it over turnkey, (but) they don’t own the building, there’s a landlord,” John said. “Fortunately, we met with the landlord and got approved and picked up the lease. The next item on the agenda was would Bosque be willing to leave everything behind turnkey for some equity in this project. They were excited about it. When we pitched the idea to them, they really liked it.”

The original Bosque location will be transformed into a new brewery/distillery concept.

With two other investors on board, plus the Bosque ownership, John said it is only a matter of timing at this point.

“The original plan was we were going to move into the space a year ago, like April of last year,” John said. “But, with construction projects and opening a business and planning, there’s so many hurdles you have to overcome, it got pushed back. Now we’re looking at some time this year.”

Exactly when that will be is up in the air, as Bosque has not yet broken ground on Open Space, plus there are the lingering after-effects of the recent federal government partial shutdown.

“The biggest thing is coordinating it with their other projects they have going on so there’s no gap in employment for any of their employees, and making sure all the permitting falls in place,” John said. “We actually have a hearing with the City of Albuquerque on Wednesday. When our permit gets through TTB is anybody’s guess. We had our application in in October and haven’t heard back on it yet by December 22 when the government shut down. I guess technically they’re back open. We’re trying to get some help from our Congressional delegation to speed up all the New Mexico breweries’ applications.”

With so much still to be decided, John said he has not started the process of hiring a brewer or any other staff yet. First, he had to inform the Guild Board of Directors, which he did three weeks ago, followed by telling the general membership two weeks ago, and then the general public last week.

“Now I can start the process of recruiting people, not just brewers, with complete transparency,” John said.

John said he has enjoyed his time at the head of the Guild, from shoring up finances to helping restore the sense of camaraderie among the breweries.

While preparing for the future, John has been able to reflect on his three years at the helm of the Guild, as the membership has grown by leaps and bounds, with more than 80 breweries now operational in New Mexico.

“I had two main objectives when I started,” John said. “One, to really shore up the Guild’s finances. When I took over we essentially didn’t have any money. It was kind of frightening. I thought that we really needed a war chest available for a variety of things — any projects we would undertake, mainly for defensive purposes to be able to afford some really good representation in the Legislature.”

With that war chest now full, the Guild has two full-time lobbyists on retainer in Santa Fe to deal with the Legislature. Previously, the Guild only had a part-time lobbyist, who has since moved on to start her own private law practice. Now, with two lobbyists available, the Guild can be protected year-round instead of just during the annual 30- or 60-day session.

“You think of a session as being for 60 or 30 days, and that’s where everything happens, but it’s not,” John said. “There are things happening all around the year that you need to be paying attention to, you need to be involved in and speaking up. You need to keep your important agenda items on the radar. I feel like we can do that now. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that the Guild has matured enough now that we can afford to have year-round representation.”

John has done his best to bring all the brewers and breweries back into the fold, including big collaboration beers like this one at La Cumbre a few years back. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Ward)

As the Guild has grown, the original “family tree” of brewers and owners has been joined by many people who had no prior experience in the industry, or came from out of state. That led to some strained relationships, as John saw when he took over.

“The other thing I was really interested in, too, when I started was (restoring) the camaraderie,” he said. “You heard all the time about the brewing industry, and what attracted a lot of people to the brewing industry, was camaraderie. The breweries don’t compete with one another, they collaborate, there’s a symbiotic relationship among the breweries around the country. It’s a really neat thing, but when I came back to the Guild after a year-and-a-half or two-year hiatus, the industry had grown enough to the point there were (visible divisions).”

John made an effort to bring those newcomers into the fold, making them feel like a part of the club, while also keeping the old guard engaged.

“One of my first things was we started doing Guild socials, communicating every week with breweries, really fermenting that (idea) that we were all in this together,” he said. “I feel like that’s borne fruit. I do feel like there’s a lot of communication between breweries. You see a lot of the newer breweries that don’t necessarily have preexisting relationships with the community now getting on board faster, and being involved in collaborations, and coming to Guild events and socials.

“I think we have a very welcoming community and they see that. I think we’ve kind of turned the corner, despite the fact that the industry has grown so much and there are so many more players now. It’s become so much more geographically diverse. There are breweries all over the state. I feel like the sense of community is back, I think the sense of camaraderie is back.”

The collaborations and behind-the-scenes cooperation is not limited to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, John noted, with breweries now working together in Las Cruces and the Southeast.

The Guild figures to have a long list of candidates to succeed John as executive director.

Now the Board of Directors, with help from John, will pick his successor. Rather than run this story and have the Board flooded with applicants who just like craft beer, I asked John for what credentials the job requires.

“I think you have to have a background in event planning,” he said. “The majority of our funding comes from the events we produce. You have to produce events that are popular, well-run, and overall profitable. A Guild event can’t just be profitable, it can’t be a fiasco that makes money, but makes all the attendees mad. That reflects directly on our membership. The events have to be well-managed, well-produced, they have to be fun, and they have to make money. You have to know what you’re doing.”

The job, though, is more than just event planning. In many ways, it is three jobs in one — event organizer, accountant, communicator.

“You have to be pretty strong in bookkeeping skills,” John said. “You don’t have to be a CPA, but you do have to know how to manage accounts. We have lots of expenses and revenues and so forth to keep track of. You have to be at least a decent writer, because you’re communicating with the membership on a weekly basis. You have to be a halfway decent public speaker because everybody wants to interview you, on the news, the radio, the print media. You have to communicate intelligently, but also everything you say reflects upon your membership. You have to be hyper-aware of that and always be prepared to present our industry in a really positive light.”

John said the job no longer requires direct lobbying in Santa Fe, but a background in dealing with government is also a good thing.

“Nonetheless, you have to be aware of what your membership wants, what their legislative priorities are, and come up with a game plan to produce and present legislation at an opportune time,” he said. “You also have to be aware of possible threats to our industry and be prepared with all the ammunition you need to debunk false perceptions and protect the interests of our members.”

We have truly appreciated all the fun moments with John as well as talking about business all the time.

In the end, as media members, the Crew can only thank for all of his work the past three years. He has always kept the door open for us, quickly answering questions and making sure we were up-to-date on all the events and information. For someone as busy as he has been, we have truly appreciated that.

Until his final days after the Guild technical conference in late March, we will be happy to continue working with John on helping to bring all the information on craft breweries in New Mexico to the public. We thank him for his time and efforts, and applaud him for all he has done for the craft beer scene in our state.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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