Unlike some breweries, Casa Vieja in Corrales elected not to wait until the Governor’s initial shutdown order in mid-March. They shut down about a week before she actually “pulled the plug,” as owner Gary Socha told me. This is but one example of how protective Gary is over his customer base. As it turns out, I was about to find out even more about that between the time of this interview and writing up the story.
Gary and his staff found ways to keep busy and keep things moving along while the brewery was closed to the public. After the shutdown, on March 27, the print shop in the Village decided to make “Corrales Love” T-shirts. They sold them for $15 and gave $12 from each sale to the bartenders and servers. This helped inspire Gary to do a PPE drive for the hospitals beginning the very next day. His other business is associated with mechanical contractors, so they had both masks and body suits available. The giving spirit seems to work both ways in Corrales.
In early April, Casa Vieja updated their website to include gift card purchases.
“That’s when we found out how good the people of Corrales are. Our customers are frickin’ amazing! I mean they came out in force to support us,” Gary said.
Gary said he couldn’t be happier to be located in the Village of Corrales with such a loyal customer base.
Back on April 25, they finally opened to customers for to-go sales. They had a ton of growlers and howlers sitting around, so they were ready to go. They opened for four hours, and a ton of customers came in, buying three or four growlers at a time. Gary said he just couldn’t believe how much beer they sold that first day. Over the next few weeks, they consistently sold a good amount of beer. So much so, in fact, that on May 16 they had to close for a bit because they ran out of all those growlers. At that time, you couldn’t get any more anywhere. Gary said he had already bought all he could from local shops. Also, throughout this time, they really found out how much their customers were supporting them as they were also buying wine from Casa Vieja, Gary reported, “like there was no tomorrow.” (Well, didn’t it sort of feel that way?)
It was time, Gary said, that he needed to get into the canning business. He got a crowler machine and began doing variety packs of 16-ounce cans. This opened up another unexpected opportunity. Casa Vieja was able to then participate in this year’s virtual ABQ Beer Week. Gary did a web-based virtual tasting. He sold the four-packs of assorted beers, and those people that purchased them received an emailed link and Gary walked people though the tasting virtually.
A concern that Gary had as they first shut down was that he would be sitting on an inventory of beer. Instead, they blew through it.
“It’s a real act of faith,” he said, “to keep brewing beer when you have no idea whether you are going to open again.”
And, now, they are “fully” back open, meaning with in-house customers, but at reduced capacity with tables at least six feet apart. But, they are basically the same days and hours as before (Thursday through Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 3 to 7 p.m.). And, believe it or not, with the new procedures including table service, they actually need and want to hire more staff.
Speaking of table service, I have always felt that Casa Vieja had one of the best kept secrets in their gorgeous patio. Because outdoor seating is considered safest, I doubt the patio is underused anymore. In fact, Gary told me that in the past few weeks, he only remembers one couple specifically asking to sit inside. The secret must be out. Thankfully, there is a good amount of patio space. According to Gary, his patrons have been terrific about wearing masks and being patient.
Since Casa Vieja is not only a brewery but an event center, I asked Gary to tell me about what it is like without any of that side of the business. He said he decided to move his other business into the space for the foreseeable future as a tenant. Gary said he is again thankful — this time to all his wedding parties that had to postpone/cancel, because they have been absolutely lovely to deal with.
The day after I interviewed Gary for this story, he contacted me with some news that made me decide to postpone this write-up for a week. Gary told me that an employee was in contact with someone who had a co-worker who tested positive for COVID-19. Even though there was no direct contact with the person who tested positive, and none of this occurred anywhere near the brewery property, Casa Vieja closed that week to make sure everyone stayed safe.
The official message this week is as follows: “We are happy to report that the COVID-19 test results for our employee are [sic] negative and all is well. This secondary exposure did not occur at Casa Vieja. We are confident that we can safely reopen this week/weekend. We remain diligent and continue our cleaning and screening practices in order to keep you and our staff safe.”
The Crew would like to thank Casa Vieja for their honest and thoughtful communication, and for taking safety so seriously. I am also personally relieved that the fantastic staff at Casa Vieja is safe and doing well. Support them by dropping by this weekend and trying their brand-new beer release — Zombie Apocalypse Lager. (Again, doesn’t it sort of feel that way?)
Cheers in these crazy times!