COVID-19 and how it has affected the Santa Fe brewing industry so far

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Rowley Farmhouse Ales on a normally busy evening.

Now that we’re several weeks into the global pandemic, it’s pretty evident that life has changed drastically for small businesses everywhere. For our local craft brewing scene here in New Mexico, they’re feeling the effects just as much as in the larger cities. You’ve no doubt read my editor’s updates on what’s been going on around the Albuquerque and New Mexico brewing scene in general, with changes to hours of service and even closures.

As the sole Santa Fe guy, I’ve tried (work permitting) to cover most of what’s happening in the Capital City, and so I felt it was my job to reach out to the local brewers to find out more about how the viral epidemic is affecting them.

The coronavirus was already affecting local businesses behind the scenes long before I started working on this story, and when I decided to send out questions to Santa Fe’s brewing industry members, responses were only tentative at best. I got a lot of “we’re waiting to see what happens” answers. At that point, no one knew what tomorrow held for their business or their jobs.

I remember the day when I’d committed to writing a local story on COVID-19. It was a Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, to be exact. Back then, the first wave of doomsday shoppers had already stripped the shelves bare of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. The news was telling us to avoid large gatherings and to wash our hands. Businesses were still mostly open in some capacity or other. Restaurants and breweries were forced to, themselves, enforce a 6-foot distance between tables, and there was a tragic no-seating-at-the-bar rule in effect.

But man, hindsight-longings are 20/20 in 2020. Boy, what a great day that was! No sarcasm. Now, I miss being able to go into a place and have a beer with other people. Remember places? Remember other people? I don’t mean grocery stores with masked shoppers.

That day was my last day at a brewery. On St. Patrick’s Day I went out to support Second Street, my neighborhood pub. There, I had the luck of running into a certain seldom-seen bearded head brewer. He huddled at my table for just a moment and we chatted a bit. “Crazy times,” was the gist of the conversation.

“We have a million plans, but it’s out of our hands at the moment,” Tom Ludzia said with a wistfulness in his eyes to match mine. I raised my glass of Jordy’s Irish Red, and we both vowed that neither of us would give up the good fight.

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All tables around you were “reserved” to maintain a 6-foot distance.

Two days later the governor announced that restaurants and bars would have to close to public seating, and switch to takeout and package sales only.

Here we are a week later. On Tuesday, the governor issued the stay-at-home order which, as far as I can tell, has only stopped certain business owners and employees from having to leave the house. Everyone else seems to be out and about.

I remember scrolling down the list of businesses deemed essential and joyously receiving the news that restaurants and breweries would still be allowed to remain open for takeout and package to-go. But, I wasn’t without an overall feeling of gloom.

“We’re going to be able to weather the storm,” Chili Line brewer/founder Alexander Pertusini said.

Chili Line will remain in operation, even though Pertusini had close the offsite taproom in Lamy, and family business Osteria D’Assisi. Chili Line has slowed its lunch service, but food will be available for takeout and beer will be sold in growler format for the foreseeable future, as well as all other breweries around town.

“We have ample supplies for carryout business going forward, including our full pizza and food menu, and growlers on order for beer to-go,” Beer Creek head brewer Jami Nordby said.

Beer Creek is continuing with production on its new brewing system with full anticipation of higher take-home demand. And, just as everyone must now, the staff is taking their cleaning and sanitizing to a whole new level. Jami said they’re doing all they can to enjoy laughter and the light moments, while of course taking the virus outbreak very seriously.

As a reminder, Beer Creek is still currently serving free kids meals in place of school lunch with aid from donors.

“And, we are doing everything we can to support our Beer Creek family (employees),” Nordby said.

John Rowley of Rowley Farmhouse Ales had this to say: “COVID-19 is/has dramatically affected/is affecting our business. We are lucky to not be shut down completely, but our operating capacity has been cut by over half. By the time you read this, we will have been reduced to takeout only. This really hurts as we rely heavily on our taproom to keep us whole. All the smaller breweries in town rely on taproom sales of beer (and food in our case) to survive. I can’t argue with the ban as it does really help to slow the spread of the contagion in this situation, but it really hurts businesses like ours. We have no events planned at this time, and we hope that our rollout of cans will save our business, as this is the only income we will be receiving other than to-go food and beer sales, which are far less than we would normally have. Pray for us.”

RFA has been canning like crazy to meet upcoming orders in town. I’ll have the story on the canning line and canned offerings soon enough. And, in order to keep folks employed as much as possible, they have even included servers in the canning process. At the time of the response to my question they hadn’t had to lay off anyone. They’re not at all looking forward to a scenario where that becomes necessary.

Unfortunately, that is the scenario many restaurants and breweries are facing right now. As recently as yesterday, I learned that there have already been some surprising layoffs at some of our favorite breweries and restaurants already, but better sense and judgement tells me that the public doesn’t need a list. Just know that it is real and it is happening.

But, there is light and hope in these dark times. There is strength in community and goodness in people’s hearts. And, there are always opportunities for us to help ease the struggles of those around us, especially those taking the biggest hits, be they servers, bartenders, cooks, managers, or even brewers.

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Santa Fe Brewing’s Brakeroom during “Happy Hour.”

One way Santa Fe Brewing’s management generously tried to help was to donate all to-go orders of beer and merchandise directly back to their staff. That gives us a chance to help directly.

Some ways you can help are by continuing to patronize these local establishments, if in a different way. If you went there every week for dinner before all this, keep your weekly dinner plans. Just order it over the phone or online, pick it up, and take it home.

The best ways you can help, based on the answers of all the breweries that responded to my emails, are by purchasing gift cards, merchandise, food, and beer to-go.

And, because all three Second Street locations are currently closed until further notice, the best way to help this Santa Fe beer staple is to “buy Second Street beer at stores,” said Mariah Scee, formerly, currently, and futurely of Second Street.

You can even buy a meal at Rowley Farmhouse Ales for someone in need who is at the shelter at Pete’s Place. Check out their Facebook page for all the details and some tender feels.

We are all in this together.

The biggest worries now are that this crisis carries on for an extended period of time. We know that small breweries won’t be able to survive on to-go and package sales alone, but everything helps.

Everyone’s hopes are that we can all get back to work, back to business, back to some semblance of normalcy soon.

All of our Santa Fe brewers want people to know that they are taking every precaution and are still working hard to make the best possible products for New Mexico.

As for me, I won’t see many of you or my friends in person for a while, and believe me, that bums me out a lot, but I will continue to fight the good fight however I can, whether it’s on the frontlines or at home.

This time, I raise my glass of local craft beer to all of you, because we’re all united now by what is happening. To those still working to keep shelves stocked, packages delivered, patients cared for, etc., and to those working to slow the spread by staying home, to our community connected beyond distance, to your health, virtual cheers!

I’ll see you back at the breweries soon enough. Stay healthy and stay safe.

— Luke

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Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

For more local #CraftBeer info and @nmdarksidebc news follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro

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