Three weeks after our last check-in with the breweries, we decided it was a good time to once again see how they are adjusting the new normal of to-go-only sales, plus the recent closure of liquor stores, and more. Rather than lump them all into one jumbo-sized story, we are are going to break out a few into individual stories, based on the length of their responses to the questions we sent out.
First up, just like for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, is La Cumbre Brewing. We sent owner/master brewer Jeff Erway, and other brewery owners, the same set of questions. As one might expect, all their answers differed a little from brewery to brewery.
In addition to these questions, we also later asked Jeff if La Cumbre was planning on brewing up the All In recipe from Other Half Brewing (that would be a no) and if beer lovers in New Mexico should be concerned about the potential shortage of commercial CO2 (that would also be a no, as local suppliers have plenty in stock, and the problem seems more concentrated in the Northeastern U.S.).
Onto the main questions:
NMDSBC: What pandemic era innovations have worked out for your brewery?
Erway: Honestly, not much innovation going on as we are dead-pan focused on keeping our core beers available through the channels that are still open. Lots and lots of Elevated IPA. The reception of Community, Acclimated and Miles (From Cologne) have been really heart warming. The only discounting we have done is with $2 off growler glass as we won’t fill used growlers, and 20 percent off all kegs. We were really worried that we would be dumping a lot of draft, but it turns out that people are really thirsty and we have blown through 90-plus-percent of the draft that we had on hand at the beginning of this.
NMDSBC: Has online ordering (should you have it) been a bonus or a headache?
Erway: Haven’t tried it.
NMDSBC: Have sales remained constant or are they fluctuating week-by-week, day-by-day?
Erway: It has really flattened out since the liquor stores closed. Sales in grocery and Costco is through the roof. It is a challenge to keep the store shelves stocked. Sales in our taprooms have remained around 60 percent of what we would normally see, which is incredible. Really though, and I can’t emphasize this enough, our team from production to distribution to bar staff have all really risen to this occasion, and I have never been more proud than I am right now of my coworkers.
NMDSBC: Have customers responded positively to any beer/food discounts? Or have you found most people are still unaware?
Erway: The 20-percent discount on kegs moved a ton of beer for us, which we absolutely needed to avoid dumping a ton of beer.
NMDSBC: For packaging breweries, how much of a hit have you taken with liquor stores being shut down?
Erway: Too early to say. We continue to move a ton of whatever is available in the grocers.
NMDSBC: What are some ideas you have coming up? Please include any special beer releases you would already like to start letting people know about.
Erway: We are playing this day to day. We are, as we always have been, risk averse. We will make announcements as we have them to make, but we have already scrapped several releases unfortunately. With the independents closed, there’s no real point in packaging new releases unless they have approval in the chains … which some of them do.
NMDSBC: And finally, if you’re willing to share: If the stay-at-home order is extended to mid or late May, or even beyond, is there a point where the current to-go-only model is not going to be feasible for your brewery?
Erway: We are not in risk in the immediate future. If this goes on for many months, who knows. But, we are hanging in there and are shocked by how much love beer drinkers are showing us. Shocked.
Jeff concluded his email response with “FYI, no furloughing as of yet and I am doing my damndest to keep it that way.” With so many people out of work (myself included), that is great to hear.
We thank Jeff for taking the time to respond to our little questionnaire. We will have more brewery owner responses running throughout this week, plus we are setting up another Zoom beer review/interview, this time with Rowley Farmhouse Ales head brewer Wes Burbank to talk about Thrace Hazy IPA and more.
Keep supporting local!