Business may have slowed a bit for Chili Line Brewery while the pandemic stay-at-home orders were in full effect, but that doesn’t mean the staff members have taken any time to rest. From moving their whole brewhouse and fermentation room, to pulling out of the Lamy station, there’s been plenty going on.
In keeping several promises made to my editor and our readers, last Thursday I met up with Alexander Pertusini, brewmaster at Chili Line Brewery, to complete the circle and finish up the Santa Fe portion of the Look Back/Look Ahead Series, perhaps a little later than planned, and with a bit of a different approach. Instead of talking business, successes, and highlights for the previous year, I focused mostly on the “look ahead” aspect, covering what they’ve been working on during the shutdown and other big things chugging down the line.
I also got the scoop on what happened with the Lamy Taproom, why they had to pack up and leave, and what will be happening with that space in the near future.
As mentioned, Chile Line had its hands full during the shutdown, and not just fulfilling to-go orders. They’ve remained open to the public as long as they were able, and then switched tracks to takeout only when given the order, and then extended their hours to include lunch. But, while the brewery side of the business (sharing a lease with parent company Da Lino’s Pizzeria) was itself closed, Pertusini and company took the opportunity to accelerate their previous plans of moving the whole brewhouse from the taproom back to the warehouse space behind the large patio, and renovating the taproom itself from bar space to dining area. They had planned to move the brewhouse back in February, but ran into a few electrical issues and so held off until they had more time to get that sorted out.
In March, as you know, everything happened. Enter: more time.
“We got that (taproom) renovation done, moved the brewhouse, and we opened for lunch, which was something we wanted to do during the summer anyway,” Pertusini said.
Knocking out one of the walls in the taproom, which formerly held the fermentation room, opened up a lot more dining space in the taproom, and just in time for reopening to the public on Monday. This also allowed them to spread out their employees so that they could keep everybody employed, something they really worked hard to do.
The new brewery area is a current work-in-progress build-out of the old space where Pertusini had started brewing, and where Chili Line had begun its journey years ago.
The brewery space now includes an all-new brewhouse (one 3-barrel system), a keg washing station, water filtration center, new fermentation room, and will include a new walk-in fridge as well as a dry storage for grain as soon as they get approval from the city. And, they now how the space to operate.
“It’s so much more space!” Pertusini said.
Chili Line is brewing once a week now, down from three times per week pre-COVID. Without the Lamy Taproom, they haven’t had to keep up with the same production numbers.
“That place sold more beer than we did,” Pertusini said.
But, while they may not be making as much beer, they’ve kept the system warm, especially with their packaged can and growler orders flying off the shelves. When I arrived for the interview, there were only an armful of four-packs left of beer in a previously full fridge, and they were completely out of 32-ounce growlers.
“We were going through 192 cans a week during quarantine, and two days ago the Oktober canner broke,” Pertusini said.
Their previous single can-system, the Oktober Can Seamer, just couldn’t keep up with the demand. They have now ordered a brand new canning system, a Wild Goose Gosling, which should be in around July, according to Pertusini.
The Gosling, a small-volume, but efficient canning system should help keep Chili Line keep rolling out cans long after the previously mentioned ‘everything’ settles down a bit. Because, even if it was already supposed to be for the last six years, I believe that cans, now more than ever, are the way of the future.
Pertusini and Andrew Paulson have continued to brew throughout the shut-down. Though, while Pertusini’s time has been more wrapped up in the taproom renovation and other logistics, assistant brewer Paulson kept feeding the furnace.
During the interview, I was treated to Chili Line’s triple decocted Pilsner. I found it really hard to put down. It was clean and balanced, and well-worth the 12-hour day Paulson put into it, as well as all the mask lifts I took to assure its quality.
Kept separate from the fermentation room are all the parts of Pertusini’s barrel-aging program, currently including a stout, a smoked beer, and a grisette. A grisette is a lighter, crisper sour ale with hints of citrus, not heavy in alcohol, and not as heavily weighted in the tart department, with Belgian roots. Pertusini’s grisette is an easy drinker, perfect for June weather on the patio.
“We were gearing up for the summer,” Pertusini said. “We started these in March. Luckily we had our hands full of projects, and (then) this whole thing hit, and we said, ‘All right, let’s just keep going.’ ”
Soon you’ll be tasting Chili Line’s beers as well. After receiving bad news from the NM Brewers Guild that a June 1 opening would be unlikely for breweries, they had also received word from the NM Restaurant Association that they would be allowed to open, due to more than 50 percent of their/Da Lino’s sales coming from food purchases. As a result, they planned to work through the weekend to get the near-finished taproom ready for all your 50-percent capacity dine-in needs.
As of now, they’re open for business!
Chili Line is really excited to have people back in house, but they want everyone to be safe. Like many other businesses, don’t want to screw up the opportunity, either.
“The last thing I want is there to be more people to get sick after restaurants reopen, and they say, just kidding, close down for the rest of the summer,” Pertusini said.
Lamy Taproom closes temporarily
Back in March the Santa Fe New Mexican ran a story stating that Chili Line Brewery had received a cease and desist letter from Amtrak, the owner of the depot in which Chili Line had just, not a year before, opened up their first offsite taproom. They did this in a sublease/collaboration with another group that ran the sandwich shop Harvey’s Cafe. The problem with that was, neither Chili Line nor Harvey’s Cafe knew they were still leasing from Amtrack. And, they weren’t. Well, not directly.
“So essentially, the guy leased us a space that was already leased,” Pertusini said, referring to Karl Ziebarth, owner of Santa Fe Southern Railway.
At one point, Amtrak had deserted the building and left it to the rats, as they had done with many small town depots, according to locals. Somewhere, an idea was hatched to clean up the baggage space in the depot and reopen it as another attraction, a charming draw for those passing through or living around the Lamy station. Pertusini and the Harvey’s folks subleased the space from Traveling Taverns LLC, who were subleasing from Santa Fe Southern Railway, and all the adoring public knew was that a little gem had pulled into the station and was there to stay.
Though the entrepreneurial effort was deemed a huge success, the endeavor was short-lived.
“It was right around Coronavirus time, and I got a letter with one day’s notice that we had to get out of there,” Pertusini said.
But, Chili Line wasn’t about to pull out of the depot just yet. Pertusini wanted to make sure they weren’t going to lose the space, as there had already been talks of new ownership, but to his knowledge nothing had been finalized, yet. George R.R. Martin and Bill Banowsky (who will be opening up Nuckolls Brewery in Santa Fe soon), had already been talking to Pertusini about their idea of purchasing the Lamy Depot and railway. That has now been made official.
And, though Banowsky is still in the build-out stages of his own brewery, Pertusini said he has no plans take over the Lamy space with the Nuckolls brand. In fact, the plan is for Chili Line to move back in and continue to service the southern railway depot all the livelong day, and for the foreseeable future.
As far as Amtrak goes, they are still in the picture, but now they’re dealing with Banowsky and George “Rail Road” Martin and another partner, Catherine Oppenheimer. And, in a true Game of Thrones twist, after the conquering … I mean the buyout, Amtrak is now leasing from Banowski, and their lease is up June 30.
If all goes according to plan, Chili Line should be back in the depot and pouring beers for whatever capacity is allowed indoors by late June.
For 2020, Pertusini said that Chili Line aims to keep improving on their business, and keep making good beer, which, in my opinion, continues to get better and better every time I visit. They plan to put a lot more beer into cans, and get more of it into new accounts. With a new brewhouse, new taproom, and the Lamy depot back on track, they will have plenty more to keep them busy no matter how the rules of shutdown change. Thanks so much to Alexander Pertusini for the masked interview. To a healthy business, cheers!
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