After Boxing Bear Brewing surprisingly opened its new taproom on Tramway, even in the midst of the current stay-at-home orders for the entire state, a popular topic in beer-related discussions was the state of the other breweries/taprooms-in-planning.
All of us in the Crew knew that Gravity Bound (formerly Context) Brewing was the closest to opening when everything was shut down, or at least temporarily frozen in place. The brewery at Third Street near Slate, which we profiled back in brighter days, was brewing its first beers in anticipation of a late March/early April opening.
Rather than simply sit around and ponder, I sent an email to co-owner/brewer Cameron Frigon and asked what was the status of his brewery. He offered up an informative update of the good and bad of this current situation.
“We were about a week or two out from opening when all this craziness started,” Cameron wrote. “It might sound a bit strange or counterintuitive, but I think the particular stage of business that we’re currently in has made us quite adept to ride out a situation like this. After all, I have months of experience at losing money by this point in time.”
Everyone who has ever opened a brewery is nodding as they read this.
“In all seriousness, we are in a place where we had some capital projects that we had budgeted funds for, but have now put those on hold and are able to use those funds to stay afloat while the seas are rough,” Cameron continued. “Namely, we had intended to install a 16 kW PV system on our roof, but we scaled that down to an 8 kW system. Sustainability is really important to us and we look forward to filling out our rooftop when the skies clear up, but none of that can be done if you never open your doors.
“On top of that, we have our rent abated while we’re in this build-out phase, so we don’t have to pay that until we open for business. Everyone tells you, when you’re opening a brewery, to plan on it being more expensive than you expect and to take longer than you expect. No one tells you to do that in case of a pandemic (if they would have, I’d call them a witch), but the advice still works.”
It is nice to see a brewery has caught a break on the financial side as far as rent goes. We can only hope more breweries have earned this as well.
“We were also very fortunate that we didn’t have to lay anyone off,” Cameron wrote. “I know that’s been one of the hardest things for the owners and managers at the breweries around town (and across the country). The camaraderie and relationships are a big part of why we all do what we do, it’s what has kept me in the industry for the past decade. I’ve really been feeling for everyone that’s been affected by this.”
About all there is to do right now is just make small improvements in advance of an opening date, which of course is impossible to predict.
“So basically at this point in time we’re just fine-tuning the interior and doing a bit of landscaping,” Cameron wrote. “I planted a couple raised-bed vegetable gardens and a small orchard with some peach, pear, and cherry trees in the back plot of the brewery.”
Not everything has worked out, of course.
“As far as losses go, I decided to dump a batch of IPA,” Cameron wrote. “I was about to give it a sizable dry hop, but the best IPAs are served fresh, so I cut my losses on it and decided to save the hops for a beer that I’m certain will be able to be served immediately. I also dumped our yeast cultures that only had a generation or two of use under their belts; nothing fun about that.”
Cameron’s business partner is his own brother, and the two of them have been doing their best to stay positive.
“On a personal note, as part of this venture, my younger brother Chris, and I had fashioned our lives down to the basics while we aren’t taking an income,” Cameron wrote. “We are roommates in just about the cheapest apartment we could find, and I already didn’t have to worry about losing health insurance. The shockwave has been a bit less harsh on us, so we’re quite fortunate in that regard.
“There have been some real positives from this, too. Chris adopted a dog, his name is Coach, and he brings a great canine energy to our apartment. Plus, there’s an abundance of places to hike, run, and swim in relative isolation here in Albuquerque. Also, I had a few lagers in the tanks that now get to lager for even longer which, frankly, is awesome.”
After all, it could be worse for Cameron, who moved here from a certain large city.
“At the end of the day, having moved here from NYC, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m not there right now,” he concluded.
A big thanks to Cameron for sharing his experience in this difficult time. We can only hope that Gravity Bound will be ready to open when social distancing restrictions are lifted.
The Crew will keep checking in on our operational breweries as well, and we are going to start looking back in time to explore more of the history of brewing in New Mexico from the 19th Century to present day.
In the end, we have nothing but time on our hands, too.
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