The virtual version of the Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony caught more than a few people by surprise. In the case of La Reforma Brewery co-owner John Gozigian and head brewer Robert Buskirk-Lechner, it ended up being a rather pleasant surprise when they captured a gold medal on Friday night.
“So I’ll be perfectly honest, I wasn’t watching it this year,” Buskirk-Lechner said. “I find that it’s a lot of stressful moments during the announcements. There’s a letdown when you get passed by. I’m always down with that if you’re there in person and see all the others from New Mexico win, but it’s rough from a distance. I figured I wasn’t going to bother with it this year, so I was just sitting around at home when I got a text saying GOLD in all capital letters. It took me a couple minutes to figure out what’s going on.”
The same thing happened to Gozigian.
“It was totally not on my radar,” he said. “In the back of my head I knew it was GABF weekend, and the awards ceremony is on Saturday morning. I didn’t know they had moved it to Friday. Around the same time as Robert I started getting all these texts. I did not think it was that. The first thing I thought was we were named best taqueria from Albuquerque the Magazine. They said we’re in the running. And then, Angelo (Orona) texted me and said congratulations. I asked him what it was for and he said, ‘Seriously, you don’t know?’ I didn’t know. ‘You won a gold medal!’”
Once the reality of what happened settled in, both men took a moment to celebrate amidst what has been a tough year for their brewery and everyone else.
“This last week I started to feel like the world was closing in a little bit, so it was nice to have that little bit of happiness, that reset to remind you,” Buskirk-Lechner said. “I didn’t even have any beer at the house (to celebrate). Whiskey will do!”
The winning beer was Maximilian, their German-style dunkel that fills the role of a Mexican dark lager, that is on tap year-round. Since it was the Germans who first introduced beer brewing to Mexico on a large scale, the beer itself was a natural fit in the La Reforma lineup.
“It’s all about style (at GABF), so especially to get a lager gold is nice,” Buskirk-Lechner said. “That felt really good. It was one of our middle sellers but I’ve seen a lot of folks excited about it. It’s got a small (following), it’s really core.”
“Now I feel vindicated!” Gozigian added with a laugh.
Any bright spot in a year of gloominess should be celebrated. It is no different for La Reforma or any brewery that captured a medal this year, in New Mexico or beyond.
“It’s been a really stressful year, it’s been a lot of hard work,” Gozigian said. “At that moment, it felt pretty good. I was a little giddy. Getting this place up and running during a pandemic, there’s a lot fo things that can get you down. At that moment, it was definitely a feeling of joy.”
While I was there, I also noticed that La Reforma got a bit bigger inside. The taproom space has expanded into the suite to the south, and an opening for this expansion should take place soon.
“We’re preparing for the cold weather,” Gozigian said. “At some point it’s going to be really uncomfortable to sit outside. With the 25-percent occupancy/capacity not going anywhere anytime soon, we just realized we needed more inside space. Prior to the pandemic we had planned on expanding into the space next to ours, use it for private parties and groups, live music, all kinds of different uses. Obviously we put those plans on hold when the pandemic hit.
“A couple months ago we started thinking ahead to the cold season that we’re going to need more inside space. That went from the back burner to the front burner. We signed a lease with the landlord, got to work on it, (and) it’s ready to go now. We’re just waiting for ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) to give us our permit.”
Overall, Gozigian said that as bad as things have been, La Reforma has weathered the proverbial storm so far. That could change in the blink of an eye, however, something everyone at the brewery is well aware of these days.
“We’ve worked hard on making it nice and inviting, a comfortable experience to be here to the best extent possible,” he said. “I think our customers have really rewarded us by continuing to come in and support us. It’s been pretty good. We’re actually having, believe it or not, a good year.
“We could face another disruption at any time. Now more than ever, you have to live in the moment. At this moment it’s pretty good.”
Now it just falls on Buskirk-Lechner and his brewing team to figure out how to top winning a gold medal in their first GABF competition.
“Oh, man,” Buskirk-Lechner said. “I hadn’t thought about that yet. I just gotta go exponential from here on out. I think it’s a joke around here that I’m not really happy with how any of our beers turn out. It’s just about small iterations, trying to make everything a little better each time. I think the main focus for us here is making sure we’re keeping people happy and coming in. That’s what I really worry about, making sure people are happy, and this is just icing on the cake.”
A big thanks to Robert and John for the interview, and of course a pint of Maximilian. We can only hope that things continue on an upward trend for La Reforma and all of our other breweries as 2020 rolls along.
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