Red Door head brewer Matt Meier has been a busy man of late. Not only has his brewery started canning one of its most popular beers, Vanilla Cream Ale, but it also opened a new taproom in Clovis, and on top of all that work, he and his wife welcomed their first baby into the world.
Amazingly, Matt was not sound asleep when I stopped by the main Red Door location on Candelaria last week for an interview for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
“Actually, this month marks a full calendar year since I’ve been at Red Door,” Matt said. “It was awesome. I had a great time. I felt we grew a lot. Obviously, signing on with a distributor (Premier) last year that was able to take us statewide. Our taprooms have seen sustained growth in the last year, and now with the most recent opening in Clovis … within a year now, not to mention cans, cans was huge, and then (this Saturday) we’re going to be releasing Mail Order Russian Imperial Stout in bottles.”
Matt paused to take a breath before continuing.
“Stuff like that we couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago,” he said. “We’ve got two new tanks in. We’re able to (brew) two batches a day now. Jason Larson, the assistant brewer, he’s moved into more of an assistant brewer role instead of just a cellarman. We’re just trying to put out some volume now. Last year was the first year we did over 1,000 barrels, which I thought was pretty cool to do (in my) first year.”
As Matt noted, it all starts in the brewery, which saw its first major new pieces of equipment arrive in some time.
“We didn’t have a hot liquor tank before,” he said. “It was heating up all the day’s water in the kettle and sending it off to an empty fermenter and then brewing with that. In order to do two batches a day, we’d have to entirely clean out the kettle after the first batch, rinse it out and get it nice and clean, and then fill it back up with cold water, wait for that to heat, and start all over again. That wasn’t really ideal. Now that we’ve got a hot liquor tank we’re able to stagger our batches where the first batch goes into the kettle and the second batch gets smashed in. It’s stuff that most of the production breweries have been doing for a while now. That’s huge for us.”
Red Door also purchased a new 30-barrel bright tank, and old 30-barrel fermenter used as a temporary hot liquor tank can now be used for beer. Matt said those two tanks, specifically, are used for the production of Vanilla Cream Ale for cans. The old 15-barrel fermenters and brights handle the beer for kegging.
Moving into packaging for the first time has been an up-and-down experience so far for Red Door, but more on the positive side.
“The reception has been great, (but) it’s not without any headaches,” Matt said. “For a little while there there were a couple cans that were mis-seemed that didn’t get caught on the canning line. Tracking those down and going back through every sign can that we did to make sure it doesn’t go out to market, that’s been a fun headache. But, that’s just growing pains, and after a first run with a canning line we’re unfamiliar with and they’re unfamiliar with us, those things are going to happen. I shouldn’t say we’re surprised, it was just a little bit of a headache.”
Matt said the next canning run, which is done by the folks at Mother Road Mobile Canning, will take place April 8, with hopefully one more run after that at the end of April. Each run will feature 200 to 300 cases.
“Our distributor originally allotted only 30 accounts based on the first 200 cases that we sold them, just because they didn’t know what we could do,” Matt said. “Now with the second batch coming through we can say all right, take that list of 30 and expand it to 60, slowly start creeping cans out into the market.”
Of course, with any accomplishment, be it cans or elsewhere in the brewery, there comes the inevitable question of what is next. Matt said there are no current plans to add a second canned offering anytime soon.
“That’s definitely down the line,” he said. “At some point this year I’m sure we’ll have a conversation about maybe a couple more fermenters and another bright tank, but those thoughts are just dreams right now. If we’re going to go with another style of beer in a can, the next one we’ll probably lean towards is our Irish Red. To get to that point, though, we want to get real comfortable with what we’re doing with Vanilla and keep up with the demand for Vanilla before we start with another brand out in cans.”
Packaging has certainly been a big focus of late in the brewery, but outside of town, Red Door has been revving up its latest taproom. This one, however, is not in Albuquerque, but in far-off Clovis. Located inside a bowling alley, the taproom officially held its grand opening over the weekend, after our interview.
“Just the reception we got from announcing we were going to open a taproom and then soft opening weekend, I think it’s a great decision of ours to move down to a market that doesn’t have a craft scene, but it’s definitely thirsty for one,” Matt said.
Once upon a time I met some Air Force personnel in Oklahoma who had previously served in New Mexico. Those who served at Cannon AFB, next to Clovis, complained that they had next to no craft beer options compared to their compatriots who were stationed at Kirtland. That crowd alone should keep Red Door busy, plus the other options in town are fairly limited to a handful of restaurants with beer-and-wine licenses, and a few bars that can charge a cover anytime they feel like it. Throw in the fact that Red Door will stay open until 11 p.m., while most others close at 10, and the taproom should be plenty busy.
“They’re on an island,” Matt said. “Luckily, we have a ton of space to work with down there. There’s a second walk-in cooler that’s at our disposable, so it can actually be an off-site warehouse cooler for me if I needed it to be. So them running low on beer isn’t going to be a hassle and us making more beer and trying to find a place in our cooler to store it isn’t going to be that big of an issue, at least for the foreseeable future.”
Red Door owner Matt Biggs also chimed in after arriving late with an apology for misreading the time.
“It was an experiment, (so) we’ve got to wait to see how it goes and see what the challenges of going out to a really remote location are,” he said. “We’ve already run into a few of them.”
Based on a couple of Facebook posts after the grand opening was finished, it appears Red Door ran low on some unspecified supplies in Clovis, though they assured the new fans all is well and there is still beer available. It will just mark another change in what has been a constant stream of changes for the brewery since it opened years ago.
“We haven’t had a year where we didn’t have a bunch of big changes, either publicized or not,” Matt Biggs said. “This is sort of par for the course for us. We’re waiting for the year where we don’t have a ton of changes, and then I’ll be happy about that.
“It’s been going fine. Brewing is a crazy industry right now with all the taprooms and stuff. Breweries opening and closing, all that stuff. I think it’s going to get crazier. I think 2019 is going to be a huge year for probably less openings and more closings. But, I guess we’ll see how that shakes out, see who’s the competition at the end of the year.”
Well, all of us in the Crew will try to remain optimistic, but we still wish everyone in the ever-growing, ever-evolving industry plenty of luck. A big thanks to Matt and Matt for the interview. Hopefully they both get some rest after this past weekend.