Even a year without any major projects can prove to be a busy one, at least as far as Marble Brewery is concerned. The brewery that started the current boom back in 2008 continued to see a steady increase in sales, with more events at its three locations, all of which should continue into 2020, with the possibility of physical expansion looming as well.
To get a recap of everything for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, I sat down separately with president/brewmaster Ted Rice, vice president/director of taprooms and marketing Barbie Gonzalez, marketing and events coordinator Geraldine Lucero, and off-site event and festival coordinator Tammy Lovato.
“2019 has treated Marble well on a volume level,” Ted said. “We continued to grow year after year, sell more beer. More of the beer is being sold through distribution channels than over the bar at the taprooms. We released a couple new beers and products in 2019, the Double White Triple Berry, Cerveza, and the (hard) seltzers. The Cerveza and seltzers came out a little late in the year. I’m looking forward to seeing those placed in our distribution region as 2020 ramps up.”
That change in the sales numbers is due to the evolving market around Albuquerque.
“In 2019, we saw more breweries, other breweries pop up,” Barbie said. “We definitely felt the effects of the market being a little bit saturated. That doesn’t give us too many reasons to be concerned besides the fact that we’ve always not necessarily been worried about what other people are doing, but more focused on what we’re doing and how we can continue to evolve as a company.”
The taprooms have not seen a significant dropoff in sales as much as the distribution team has been able to increase sales of all the packaged products around the state.
“We’ve been doing great,” said Tammy, who also oversees sales in half the state. “We’re one of the many breweries in New Mexico that is still showing growth. I’ve been able to cover a lot more territory in Northern New Mexico. Xavi (Romero) has been doing really good things in Southern New Mexico and West Texas. I’ve kind of gotten more into the Farmington, Northern New Mexico area, and start pushing our product a lot more up there.”
Cerveza and the two hard seltzers have already begun to make an impact for Marble, with the former even moving into the top sales spot at the taprooms.
“We innovated with a couple new products,” Ted said. “Cerveza has taken over as our number one style in our taprooms. For a while it was Double White. We’ll see how it plays out in the cooler months. It’s cool to see this delicate, low gravity lager take front and center.
“In overall distribution, Double White is still 50 percent (of the total).”
Tammy said that along with Desert Fog Hazy IPA, Cerveza has been an impactful seller out in the marketplace.
“That beer has been selling really well for us,” she said. “We put it in 19.2(-ounce) large-format cans at Target and convenience stores, now it’s in 12-ounce cans in six-packs and 12-packs. These new SKUs have really opened up a lot of growth for us, as well as Desert Fog becoming one of our top sellers. Lots of cool, exciting growth happening in the company.”
The different styles of the more popular beers all balance out as far as the brewing times go, which makes things easier on the staff.
“(W)ith the balance of the portfolio between a 10-day (brewing time for) Double White, and we’ll see if the seltzers take off, and those are a pretty quick turnaround like Double White,” Ted said. “Then the mix of the hoppy beers like IPA and Desert Fog, and then the lagers, I think there’s a pretty good blended production time here.”
The news was still good back on the home front, too, as Marble pulled off a number of big events in 2019, as well as many smaller ones that still had an impact, particularly for charity.
“There were a number of events that happened this year that I thought were just a complete success, and just kind of reminded myself and the team of our position in the craft beer landscape, as well as some really wonderful beer releases, collaborations, and fundraising opportunities,” Barbie said.
“The one that I think that blew us all away was Muertos Fiesta. That was a much bigger than we anticipated turnout. It was a really proud mom moment for me. I cried that night, because I was like we still have the power to affect so many people in such a positive way, whether it’s through this quality, delicious beer, or it’s through this amazing experience where people in Albuquerque celebrate this year.”
For Geraldine, the biggest one was the first one of the year back in April.
“I think our events were awesome this year,” she said. “(Our) anniversary party, Oncé Anos, and (Cerveza) can release was definitely my favorite event this year. We had an awesome music lineup. The energy was good. We had mariachis at Marble. I was really excited about the way that was executed. And, Muertos Fiesta, too, was huge for us this year.”
In addition to her regular duties, Geraldine also faced the daunting task of succeeding human-ball-of-endless-energy Leah Black — who was appointed as executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild — and take over as the social media coordinator at Marble.
“I feel like I’m always learning something new with social media,” Geraldine said. “It’s very different for me when Leah was doing social media. That was her main focus. She did a great job and was really attentive and on the spot. When I came on board, I still had my everyday job of planning events, scheduling food trucks, preparing stuff, and then to put more on top of that.
“The balance for me is something I’m still trying to figure out. It’s easy to get stuck on your phone a lot and fall down that rabbit hole, and then you’re just wasting time. I also had to learn to turn my phone off at a certain point of the day. I don’t need to be answering a message at 8 p.m., it can wait until tomorrow.”
Downtown has been as crowded as ever with events big and small, while the Heights and Westside Taprooms are still churning along relatively well, Barbie said. The former has gotten a particular boost from the addition of its private event space.
“The Heights is soaring,” she said. “The Lounge has been open now a little over a year, and the number of event requests has really doubled from the opening of The Lounge. I really love that space just because there are what I like to call four different zones in that space. You have the beer garden and you have the main taproom that really reflects downtown’s feel, but then you have this Lounge, and then you have the 10-barrel MavLab brewery. It’s an awesome experience in itself because Josh (Trujillo) is there, (Greg) Dupy is there, and all those wonderful guys are there creating these phenomenal flavors.”
The front-of-house staffs at all three locations have held it together throughout the year.
“The staff is phenomenal,” Barbie said. “I’m so blessed in the fact that I get to work with everybody. I know all of these people very, very well. I can walk into a space and I can tell if someone is having a good day, a bad day, an ‘eh’ day. The staff, they’re part of the machine. I’ve said it from the beginning, there’s no role in Marble that is more important than the other. Every single person contributes to the bigger picture that is this company.”
A fourth taproom could be a part of 2020
Ted probably knew it was inevitable that he would be asked, following a year of zero hard-hat projects, if Marble was planning another physical location.
“We’re looking down south in Las Cruces, but we have not pulled the trigger on anything,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone at this point in time. I don’t think there’s plenty of options (left) here in town, so we’re not looking in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. We definitely feel that Las Cruces is still an underserved market. We’re thinking about it, for sure, we just haven’t found the perfect location yet.”
That sounds promising for our beer-loving friends down south, even if it is farm from guaranteed. As for activity in and around the two brewing locations in Albuquerque, there does not figure to be much movement beyond the daily brewing process.
“No, we’re maxed out on equipment here at 111,” Ted said. “The Heights is good. We still have capacity here at 111 to fill out distribution needs. Really, we’re just waiting for Cerveza to gain placements and traction and see what it does. The team is in place, the equipment is in place, the beer is getting into place where it’s formulated and excellent.”
Ted did add that Marble is looking to go further into West Texas beyond El Paso, which has been a lucrative market, but he added that 90 percent of all sales still take place in New Mexico. That has Tammy and the distribution team working hard around the state, and coming up with some fun new collaborative efforts.
“We have a lot of really cool off-site stuff happening with Taos Ski Valley,” Tammy said. We have a partnership with them where we’re brewing a beer for them called Ski Break. It’s going to be loosely based off of Desert Fog, more of a West Coast style on that. So it’s going to use Chinook, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and one other that we’re going to dry hop with to make it a little different from Desert Fog. This beer is essentially an exclusive for Taos Ski Valley. We’re going to be up there doing a lot of different events with them.”
That will include the Taos Brewmasters Festival on December 14, plus a winter ski clinic (date TBA), and spring break.
“It’s a really great partnership to have to get us up on the mountain,” Tammy said. “They want to take Taos to year round, have a bike park, have a lot of really cool year-round stuff that they’re trying to do. Hopefully having Ski Break on tap year round up there will help get people up on the mountain.”
Marble is also working with Ski Santa Fe, providing them with an exclusive batch of Doppelator, which proved to be a big seller last winter.
On the events front, Marble has big plans both on-site and off.
“One of the events we’re going to be refreshing (for 2020) is our Explora Science of Beer event,” Tammy said. “It usually happens in February, but this year we’re going to push it back so we can take full ownership of all of Explora and use the outdoor space, and really make it a totally different experience for the people going the last two or three years. We’re going to be able to use the outdoor space, maybe get a band, a lot more space for adults to roam around and see more stuff.”
Back at 111, Barbie and Geraldine are already working together to not only make the returning events better, but also add some mysterious new events to the calendar.
“We are already planning, we’ve already set dates and planned for our major events for next year,” Barbie said. “We have a couple of new events kind of rolled up our sleeves that we’re all being a little hush hush about, just because it starts with an idea, then we start talking about the planning and the processing and the execution and then the beer with it. We’re really excited about celebrating 12 years, but also some new things up our sleeves.”
The big, and small, annual events will all be back in 2020.
“Returning events, we’re definitely going to do a blowout for our anniversary party, you can expect that, with a really exciting theme that I’m really stoked (about),” Geraldine said. “Very geeky, I’ll give you that. Crave is going to come back, we’ll have it back at The Lounge. That’s something we changed, too, we’re now at The Lounge and we brought Crave over to the Heights and utilized that space. It’s such a romantic and beautiful space that I think everyone enjoys it. It’s a cool place to have a pop-up (dinner), but there is something to be said about eating in between two rows of fermenters. The setup for that I don’t miss as much, because it was crazy.”
The Marble staff is always looking for ways to make even their most popular events better for staff and patrons alike.
“We’re going to bring those back, do a little tweaking on those events to make them better, and to make them a little different, too,” Geraldine said. “We’re excited to plan some awesome events for the non-profits that we work with, too, to make those events even bigger. We donate a good amount of money to different nonprofits throughout the state. I really want to take those to the next level, not just raise money, but raise awareness of those nonprofits. One we work with specifically is Camp Enchantment, for Love Beer/Hate Cancer, I think we can turn that up a few notches so we can get more people out here, and make the events cool and a good experience for everybody. It’s always nice to go to a fun party and say I did that for a good cause.”
In the end, Marble is just going to stick to its tried and true formulas that have made it such a success heading towards that 12th anniversary.
“We’re doing what we naturally do and are driven to do to stay relevant,” Ted said. “I would say it’s a conscious effort to stay fresh, but I don’t think we’re doing anything differently than we have in the past. There’s definitely a lot of options for consumers when it comes to taprooms on town. It keeps everybody on their toes, hopefully.”
A big thanks to Ted, Barbie, Geraldine, and Tammy for taking time out of their schedules to chat. The Oatalé and Reserve Ale were much appreciated, as well.