Unless you’ve been living under a rock, which is actually encouraged now, you’ve been hearing/reading more and more about how the COVID-19 virus has been affecting well, everything and everyone. Here in New Mexico’s local brewing industry, these small businesses have been weathering the storm as best as they can, with each situation different for each small business.
Just last week, I stopped by to check in on one of Santa Fe’s breweries to see how they’re doing, and how they’re handling ‘the whole situation,’ and basically get a sense of the mood right now among the local brewers.
Business has been anything but usual for the 2019 triple-medal winning GABF Small Brewpub of the Year, Rowley Farmhouse Ales. Each day since everything began to worsen in the news, the rules continued to change on a bi-weekly basis, and as a result the management and staff at RFA has faced many new challenges. They had to, like so many others, pivot their entire business model, and the crew (those still around) has been nothing but hard at work.
They’ve had to alter nearly all of their strategies going forward, shifting their meal service to to-go and delivery service (like Grubhub and UberEats) only, and all of their brewing focus from draft production to can and bottle only package product.
“We were lucky we got the canning line when we did,” head brewer Wes Burbank said, as he and several gloved crew members carried newly labeled cases of Raspberry Germophile cans from one side of the small brewing facility to another, making room for freshly canned favorite Tea for Two.
Canning was something that RFA had just begun in earnest this year, having only recently unpacked the machine. Now, it has become one of their biggest assets and best means of keeping the lights on and the doors open.
“This is basically going to keep the business alive,” Burbank said confidently.
It’s now been about three weeks since Burbank filled a keg for taproom use or distribution. They may not be on the scale of Santa Fe Brewing, but having only just tweaked the canning line for full-time use, they’ve accomplished some pretty solid numbers for the small brewpub.
As of last week, RFA had canned around 43 barrels of beer in just 30 days, with each run making around 54 cases, about 30 of which were sent out to distro. Since the switch to cans and bottles only, they’ve had a great response from the local beer-drinking community, basically buying everything RFA had available within just a few days of release. For instance, I went in on a Thursday, and they had just sold out of every available on-site case or can of Thrace, their Hazy IPA, which they had released the weekend before.
Don’t worry, there’s more Thrace available now, and there will be more canned offerings like Meier Lemon Gose, Germophile, Tea for Two, and and West Coast IPA available soon, as Burbank and company continue to work non-stop in their new roles as an improvised packaging crew.
I spoke to one of the crew, who normally works a front-of house shift, a position which is temporarily in limbo at many restaurants and breweries these days. He said, “For someone who works front-of-house, it’s nice to have hours while keeping connected to what we do.”
On the way out, I ran into co-owner and chef (among just two of the many hats he now wears), Jeffrey Kaplan. I asked sort of tongue-in-cheek, “Do you really believe that beer can keep this place open?”
He replied, “Yes it can.”
The story is the same all over the industry. Whether you’re a huge packaging facility or small rural brewery, Small Brewpub of the Year or just starting out in the industry, we’re all in the same … well, I’m not going to say boat. But, we are in this together, folks. We are living through a unique part of history where we have the power to save lives by staying home, the power to aid our community with simple gestures like sewing masks for friends and first responders, or even supporting the local economy by ordering a cheeseburger and a four-pack to go.
As of last week, Rowley Farmhouse Ales had donated over 100 meals to Pete’s Place Interfaith Community Shelter, through a donation-match program they created to lift up the community around them. I’ll raise a glass to that and to all others just doing what they can to help, and what they can to just get by.
For more #SupportLocal info and @nmdarksidebc news, follow me on twitter at @SantaFeCraftBro.