Cans are the key to survival as Red Door swings into 2021

Head brewer Matt Meier, left, watches carefully as the canning line do its thing in pre-COVID times. (All photos courtesy of Red Door Brewing)

Strange times call for remote interviews as I forged on with this year’s Look Back/Look Ahead Series with our friends at Red Door Brewing. On the call with me this time around were head brewer Matt Meier and operations manager Ali Cattin. Off we went, exploring the challenges and constantly shifting seas of regulations and pivoting that this incredibly tough 2020 laid at our feet.

(Editor’s note: this interview took place prior to a couple can releases mentioned below back on December 11, just to clear up any confusion.) 

Solo: What a difference a year makes, just crazy. Last year we were hanging out in the brewery plotting our collaboration, Czar of Aberdeen, and you were telling me about “no more new taprooms this year.” Then the world just goes completely upside down. 

Matt: Yeah, and then we opened a taproom.

Solo: Yes, you did.

(Laughter ensues)

Solo: I guess looking back, that was a helluva challenge this year. How have you guys coped, how are things going?

Ali: I think the big thing was probably adding the canning line and then constantly trying to make the taprooms work in some capacity. 

Solo: Yeah, with regulations changing and all of that. 

Ali: Yeah, and then trying to wrangle that and make sure everybody got their unemployment filled out, and trying to get them hours when we can. That part has taken up probably the majority of my time this year. 

Cans of Pining for Maple Breakfast Brown, one of the most recent major releases at Red Door.

Solo: No surprise there at all. It’s just crazy.

Matt: So as far as the brewery’s going, pretty much what Ali talked about with the canning line. Really, we got that at the perfect time and without that we wouldn’t be probably sitting here right now. That thing has propped up this company at least for the short term. It’s been able to help out a lot, and with taprooms being off and on and off and on, our income has been really inconsistent. We are not sure where we are going to get it (from) next, so the canning line has been really nice to have. 

Solo: With package it’s reduced profit margin as opposed to pints, which is the money maker of basically every brewery anywhere, but at least it gives you something. An outlet for your beer and so you can keep the pipeline going to some extent. 

Ali: Yeah, keep beer flowing out the door.

Solo: What sort of new beers have you done and maybe have coming in the near future?

Matt: So besides the staples we’ve been putting in cans, we’ve basically switched to putting every special we do now in cans. We will order a small amount of labels and do a run of maybe 80 cases of these specials and reserve a couple of kegs for the remaining taprooms, try to get beer flowing that way. We started putting barcodes on these specials so that our distributor can pick them up and put those out in the market. 

Another recent couple of releases have been a pair of cleverly-named hazy IPAs.

Solo: Oh, cool.

Matt: We did two hazy IPAs, one was called Ground Control to Major Tom, and then the next in that series is Major Tom to Ground Control coming up this Friday. We put our New England IPA in a can, we did our Full of Helles in a can, (and) Paleta, which has been a fan favorite since before the shutdown, we just figured out a way to put that in cans. 

Ali: We’ve had a lot of time to research it. 

Solo: Times that you would normally be spending doing your staffing and brewing and planning, this year has changed everything completely in that regard, that’s for sure. 

Ali: We’re pretty confident that we’ve figured out how to do it and get it canned for distribution. They’re pretty consistent across the entire batch, so as long as people keep it cold there shouldn’t be any issues. So it’s just kind of been a year to just put ourselves out there and try it, see if it works. We’ve had some successes this year. As of Friday we will have four IPAs in cans, that’s kind of amazing. 

Solo: Give the people what they want — the hops, lots and lots of hazies. 

Ali: We’re looking forward to being able to can our seasonal releases and put those out there. We’ve started working with a couple of different artists this year. You always have to have more artwork in the works for the next seasonal release coming out, so that’s been a new thing we’ve had to juggle. Getting art, getting it formatted and working with graphic designers, getting the labels printed. 

One popular can release that still supported a charity near and dear to the Red Door staff was Left Paw Lager, benefiting Animal Humane of New Mexico.

Solo: Yeah, that’s a whole process for sure. Then getting the right kind of labels so they adhere properly, and there are a myriad of other things that most of us wouldn’t know a thing about if we hadn’t dealt with it. 

Ali: We’ve learned all of that this year. It’s flown by and it’s also gone on forever. 

Solo: I think that’s this year in a nutshell. It’s here we are, it’s December, and yet at times it’s felt like every day was a week. 

So I know that the future is rather uncertain, we don’t know what’s coming next week let alone next month, do you have any tentative future plans or just more of the same until things get a bit more under control and open up again?

Ali: So what we’ve sort of decided to do with the taprooms in the meantime is to keep the (Candelaria) brewery and the Clovis taproom open for takeout of package. So that’s growlers, crowlers, cans, having that as an outlet for people to stop by and pick things up. Also, in Clovis of course we have the kitchen out there so doing food, delivering food. So we are going to keep with that. We are going to keep downtown closed until Bernalillo County turns yellow, and I think at that time it’ll be OK for us to open back up to some indoor dining and some patio. But trying to do patio service in the middle of winter is kind of ridiculous. (Editor’s note: since this interview, Red Door has partially reopened its patio at the currently allowed 25-percent occupancy at the brewery only.)

Just when the patios looked to be closed for the winter, the one at the brewery was reopened at 25-percent occupancy.

Solo: Yeah, totally agreed there. 

Ali: It’s always been tough this year trying to be good stewards of public safety, public health, and do what the science is telling us and what the state of New Mexico is telling us, and then also trying to keep the business open and do what we can for that. 

Solo: It’s an incredibly difficult thing.

Ali: And then, you’re asking your staff to put their health at risk, to come serve beer. So that is conflicting; it’s really hard to do.

Solo: Basically every aspect of business in general is just a very conflicting thing at the moment. On the one hand, you need to keep food on the table and keep the lights on and the doors open. On the other hand, there’s risk in being open. It’s just a puzzle that we’re just fighting through, I suppose. 

Matt: I think for the foreseeable future we will just keep the two taprooms going with to-go stuff, and then just keep putting stuff in cans like we mentioned, and hopefully the new beers we are throwing in cans and recipes we are writing will bring us enough revenue to keep us afloat. 

Solo: That’s a pretty consistent message, I think, across the board with breweries right now. Well can we get enough out in the market, is there enough demand to at least keep us going, to weather this crazy long storm?

Ali: Everybody is in the same situation. 

Matt: At least that’s a little bit of comfort, not just limited to us. 

The can supply, and variety, remains strong at Red Door.

Solo: Yeah, you’re certainly not alone. Everyone in one sense or another is facing those same sort of challenges.

Ali: So the best people can do right now is keep buying beer. And, it is a hard ask at Christmas time, and for people that are (working) on partial hours or whatever.

Solo: But, if you can, buy a can! Or a crowler or a growler!

Ali: It does help. 

Solo: Every little bit helps. So do you guys have any other sorts of plans in the works?

Ali: So yeah, we have some stuff coming up. The Mail Order (Russian Imperial Stout) is aging on oak right now. We’re going to split it this year so we will do the 20-ounce bottle release, and we will also do a small run of cans that will have adjuncts added to them. So that’s going to be happening in January. 

Matt: Early January, as long as we get everything here. 

Ali: Yeah, that will be exciting. That will be the first aged beer that we’ve done that for. And, we’re doing another Paleta beer.

Matt: Yeah, that was pretty popular, so we’re going to get some more grain and yeast and we will get some more fruit and do that soon. After that it’s kind of being ready for another round of distribution for the IPA and the Vanilla Cream, so that will probably keep most of January busy. And then, we are talking about brewing some other recipes. The hardest part for us in the brewery I think is, well, we used to just turn (batches of beer) and burn (can, keg, distribute) and now we are sitting around looking at each other.

The Clovis taproom remains open for to-go orders of beer and food. It also has amazing artwork on its exterior.

Solo: At least until canning day, that is. 

Matt: So we are going to brew that Paleta next week. We’ve got our spirits up a little bit, we’ve finally got a day that we can brew coming up. So as far as what we are going to be doing in the future is a whole lot more of this. Kind of throwing a beer out there every few weeks and hoping to make some money on it, keep up with distribution or somehow increase distribution because we need this beer to go somewhere. 

Solo: And, there are only so many outlets at the moment and those are pretty limited. 

Ali: On Thursday morning we are canning the (Pining for) Maple Breakfast Brown, so on Friday we will release that one and Major Tom, the Galaxy (hops) hazy. 

Solo: Perfect in time for the holidays with that malty deliciousness. 

Ali: Yeah, I just tasted it this morning and it’s got a real wintry feel to it. 

Solo: Have you run into any issues with canning supplies or anything like that?

Matt: No, not really. When we ordered the canning line, we ordered 75 pallets of pre-printed cans of our staples, and we have a pretty good supply of blank cans coming, so as of right now we have a pretty good supply. We probably won’t run through any of our staples until mid next year or late next year. In the meantime, I’m not worried about that. 

Solo: That’s good. That’s just an industry concern since everyone who can is canning. 

There are still plenty of cans available to be filled in the coming months.

Ali: We do have a peanut butter imperial stout coming soon.

Matt: Yeah, that will be out next month. That’ll be something you Dark Side guys will probably enjoy.

Solo: Yeah, I’m sure we will.

Ali: And then, we are not going to have our nitro milk stout on for a while, since we have no way to get it out of the taproom.

Solo: Right, with nitro beers you can’t can them without using a nitro widget or other wizardry. Yeah that’s impossible. Totally understandable. 

Ali: We will have the brown and the peanut butter stout, and then those can kind of fill that role until we can open the taprooms back up and have that beer again. 

Solo: You’ve got all of your bases covered with the hazies, a little sour, and some stout and brown, fantastic. 

Ali: We are trying to be well rounded. 

The downtown taproom will stay closed until Bernalillo County can reach “yellow” status on the state’s public health chart.

Solo: So we’ve got lots of canning going on, we’ve got a couple of new beers in the works and then kind of a holding pattern of more of the same, at least until things can open back up. Anything else on your horizon?

Ali: For myself, I’ll probably keep working on our online ordering and trying to expand what we are offering on there. Talking to people picking up their beers, they are really liking the convenience of all of that. 

Solo: Good point. That’s an incredibly necessary aspect of helping your customers right now is having that online portal. 

Ali: It’s only been going for three weeks, but it’s pretty popular so far, and sales on there have been nice. It made releasing the Paleta pretty easy. 

* * * * *

As I ponder and attempt to throw all of these themes in cans (pun intended) and wrap it all up, slap a label on it, hell, cans are the lifeline of so many of our local breweries right now. Without them, many wouldn’t have survived the year, let alone have a chance to make it through until whenever we can all take that deep breath and safely go back to some semblance of what we all take for granted — being able to have a pint and a bite at our favorite breweries.

For Red Door, they’ve got some lovely beers out at the moment, including a pair I’ve recently been able to try in the aforementioned Pining For Maple Breakfast Brown and Major Tom to Ground Control. Both are excellent on the malty and hoppy sides of the spectrum and certainly worth one taste, or 12.

Here’s hoping this nightmarish-at-times 2020 will be behind us soon, and we can once again be with our friends at Red Door in good company and libations. All the very best in riding out this storm to Red Door Brewing’s crew, and let us hope 2021 can bring us back, even in part, to what was a thriving enterprise across the board. I urge you all, dear readers, if you are able to pick up a few cans, growlers, and merchandise from your favorite watering hole, please do so! 

Until next time,

Prost!

— Franz Solo

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