The majority of breweries in New Mexico decided to stay open during the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown, offering their beers and/or food for takeout only. A few, however, decided to close their doors and wait things out. As breweries return to having customers inside and on their patios at 50-percent occupancy, now even most of the dormant breweries have returned to action.
One of those is Boese Brothers Brewery, which reopened all four of its locations on Monday after three months of inactivity.
“It was kind of exciting to have all three locations open again after being closed for three months,” co-owner George Boese said. “We were closed a couple weeks before we were forced to, when the state imposed the seating restrictions, we were only open one day after that. We kind of made what we thought would be a safety call for employees and customers to close.
“As a business, you need to make money to keep things going, but the safety of your staff and the customers supporting you, that has to be paramount. And I think, from what I’ve seen, from the breweries and restaurants that are up and running, people have been taking it pretty seriously in our state. It looks like people are being responsible.”
During the long period of downtime, George and his brother Sam decided to tackle a number of projects at the original downtown brewery and at the Desert Dogs taproom in Santa Fe.
“Some of the (remodeled) stuff you pointed out here kept me busy, a bunch of non-glamorous, building upkeep projects,” George said. “Fixing doors, stripping finish off furniture and putting it back on, things like that. No real brewing going on. We pretty much stopped right in March and have just started to get going.”
Boese Brothers was also lucky in the beers it had in the tanks in March were not the type to spoil with age.
“We had all of our tanks full at that point, and we had packaged one product that we were going to put out in early spring and now early summer,” George said. “It’s a watermelon kettle sour that we did last year and was really popular. We’re bringing that back. Josh (Hammond) has been working hard, getting going again in our brewery back there.
“Fortunately, a lot of the things we’d finished brewing are really advantageous even on the aging side. I had two lagers, two sour beers, and two batches of cider, that I’m pretty confident get better with three months of cold storage. That was kind of stupid luck. We were going to brew a seasonal hazy IPA the following week, our white IPA, Zeus Juice. We had called it off just before then. We haven’t done that yet.”
The full lineup of beers now on tap for Boese Brothers can be found in our most recent edition of The Week Ahead in Beer.
As for why the brewery waited until Monday to open, rather than join other breweries and open the patio on Friday, George said he and his staff needed the weekend to prepare.
“We chose to take the extra couple of days,” he said. “I got together with the staffs with both locations in Albuquerque and do a deep clean. We wanted to kind of familiarize people with the (new) setup, how we’re going to service, and some dos and don’ts type of things. We waited on this weekend and got started (Monday). It was a good reception, particularly for a Monday, but we were all happy it wasn’t overly busy and put us in a weird situation. That was part of why we took the weekend off. I was happy we opened, but like the one-day announcement (that we could) was abrupt.”
A big change for customers, of course, is the new rules that require them to stay seated once they arrive, and that is something the brewery staff is still working to educate people about.
“I would say one thing that is maybe catching people a little off guard, the approach we’re all trying to take from a safety perspective, is you can go out with your friends but you need to put your butt in a seat and stay there,” George said. “That’s a new feeling for anyone who goes out to bars, period. Normally there’s a fluidity of changing seats and going to talk to people that you see out, but we’re trying to encourage people to keep their mask on until they’re seated. We just want them to stay put in one spot, it makes it easier for us to make sure the table are getting clean between customers.”
As for two of the other locations, the brewpub in the Northeast Heights and the Los Alamos taproom are also back up and running, with a change coming to the latter.
“We’re lucky at this location to have a patio, because there’s no parking around here,” George said. “In the Heights, we couldn’t really do the (temporary patio). You’ve probably seen some of the temporary patios, and I think it’s awesome that the state (Alcohol Beverage Control) is working with us to give our customers more space. The location in Los Alamos is right next to a little park, which is great. We were able to put a pretty substantial kind of outdoor patio in the park area out there. I was lending a hand to Sam putting up temporary fences and furniture out there to accommodate customers.”
While there are some aesthetic changes to the brewery taproom downtown, a bigger change is coming soon, as anyone who has seen the pending distillers license posted in the window might have guessed.
“Sam and I are both pretty big whiskey fans, so it was something that we were always pretty interested in,” George said. “We had gone and started taking some hands-on distilling courses at the end of last year and beginning of this year to kind of prepare ourselves. We didn’t know where we wanted equipment placed, things like that. In that way, having the downtime was helpful. As you might imagine, it’s a considerable amount of paperwork. Paperwork and waiting, so at this point all the paperwork that can be submitted has been submitted. We’re kind of in that waiting phase. Originally we wanted to add a small distillery to our location in Los Alamos, but it made more sense trying to do an alternating use kind of situation down here. We have the fermentation tanks and the brewery built out for it.”
Now that everything is open, the timetable is in the hands of the state.
“That’s something we have on the horizon,” he added. “As soon as we can be approved, we’ll get started down here. We’ll be integrating some cocktails into the menu here downtown.”
We are all pleased to see that Boese Brothers and the other breweries who closed their doors at the start of the pandemic have now rejoined the land of the living, so to say. A big thanks to George for the in-person interview (with masks on and six feet apart, of course). We look forward to trying some Boese Brothers whiskey in the future.
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