In 2020, Chili Line Brewing Co. closed their taproom to the public and pulled out of the Lamy Station. While it may sound like the beginning of another worst-year story, actually, all things considered and despite the challenges they faced, the brewery known to smoke ‘em if they’ve got ‘em (meaning beers of course) had a pretty good year.
Though the doors to their taproom were technically shut, the veteran brewery, now passing its fourth year in the biz, was fortunate enough to keep serving beers and sending out cans and good vibes all year long.
I recently caught up with head brewer and founder Alexander Pertusini to find out how they made it through 2020, and what their plans are for 2021.
In 2020, Chili Line had to pivot pretty hard to acquiesce to the many mandated health orders passed down from the governor’s office. Between splitting their workforce up into separate teams to keep the business open in the event of a potential exposure, to keeping up with the strictest COVID safe practices, like temperature taking and contact tracing, as well as moving their indoor-focused taproom outdoors.
Luckily for Chili Line, and all of us, they share a large patio (and kitchen) with Pizzeria Da Lino. And so, it was a combination of good food and beer, great use of outdoor space, and best practices that kept both businesses safe and well through the roughest part of the pandemic.
Like many other breweries in 2020, however, “most of the businesses’ sales have been from to-go orders,” Pertusini told us. And, people have had no trouble with ordering online or calling ahead, and they’ve responded really well to the delivery service, which hadn’t existed pre-pandemic, but has become a solid extension of their revenue.
‘Whatever it takes to keep the business rolling,’ has been their and (many others’) motto these days. Even Pertusini has gotten behind the wheel to deliver his business a fighting chance in the form of a piping hot pizza. What he’s really hoping for is a bill to pass through the legislature, like House Bill 8 (which hit the legislative floor last Wednesday, just after our conversation), which would potentially add beer to their delivery menu. Here’s hoping!
Switching to outdoor-only service has been rough on all Santa Fe businesses, with the loss of the extra seating and then the drop in temperature typically keeping many Santa Feans at home even before the pandemic hit. But, Chili Line has that great patio and a fighting spirit. They aren’t going to give up their opportunity to serve Santa Fe without a bit of fisticuffs. No, sir. And so, to combat the more extreme weather conditions, they’ve set up tents and added not six, but 16 heaters out on the patio.
They want to prepare for next winter, too. Pertusini told me that they have plans to build a more permanent structure to better suit them in the event that they face extended outdoor dining months, but he knows it all depends on how the beginning of 2021 goes, too.
During a quick COVID catch-up I did with Chili Line back in June, I mentioned that while the taproom was closed, the good folks at Chili Line seized the opportunity to move their brewhouse out of the small space in the corner of the taproom, and into the warehouse area attached to the kitchen in the back.
“It’s been really good,” Pertusini said. “It’s great to have the extra space.”
So much space, in fact, that bigger fermenters are currently on their shopping list for 2021.
In the catch-up, I also mentioned that they were just about to get a brand-new canning line from Wild Goose. So I asked Mr. Pertusini how that’s been working for them.
“It’s been a really good investment,” he said. “We were really able to amp up our can production. We’re working on getting more cans out to distribution. We’ve got some out to Cliff’s Liquors and Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits.” More is on the way.
As the year went on, they quickly found it very fortunate to have the extra cans available on-site, Pertusini recalled. Because whenever people came to pick up a pizza, more often than not, they’d leave with beer as well. Before the canning line, I recall from that visit that they were struggling just to keep up with the daily demand.
One of the few breweries open to serve the downtown area, Chili Line had plenty of folks stopping by and asking what’s new. To which, Pertusini and brewer Andrew Paulson have answered with an ever-changing and rotating list of beer. Out back in the new brewhouse, they kept the creative juices flowing from the taplines of their imaginations, kept working hard, churning out batch after batch, because though the business and the pandemic have been where their heads have had to be, the beer is still where their hearts remain.
“I think we’re up to 17 different beers on tap,” Pertusini said. “We try to have something for everybody — light beer, hoppy beer, and Andrew’s really excited to bring back his Milk Shake IPAs.”
Definitely something for everybody’s taste.
In 2020 and leading into 2021, Chili Line is particularly proud of how their barrel-aging program is coming along. A huge fan of the high ABV barrel-aged beers himself, Pertusini was really excited to release their 14-percent whiskey barrel-aged version of Stoked, an evolved rauchbier they originally made in collaboration with the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition back in 2019.
Coming soon from Chili Line’s barrel program is a Belgian Tripel, as well as another 14-percent heavy hitter, a nine-month old Imperial Stout, which should be available now or very soon. You can certainly expect some limited can releases in the near future, too.
For 2021, Pertusini said they also plan to expand their sour program even further now that they’ve seen some positive results with their Grisette and Flanders Brown. They can’t wait for you to see what else they can do with the house culture they started around a year and a half ago. Don’t be surprised if you see a barrel-aged smoked sour on the menu in the coming months.
“We discovered, through the sour and barrel-aging process that smoked beers taste really good when they’re aged in bourbon barrels, and soured. So we’re really excited for that,” Pertusini said.
Unfortunately, their Pilsner was among the many good things claimed by 2020, but as for the rest of their beers, like their Llorona Lager, Biscochito Stout, their Red and Green Chile beers, Pertusini said he is very proud of how well the people have taken to them.
Now, it’s impossible to look back into 2020 without raising our fists to the sky and cursing the cruel fates at least once, or several times, over something 2020 stole from us too soon. Unfortunately, the year-which-must-not-be-named proved to be the nail in the coffin for Chili Line’s second taproom at the old historic station in Lamy. I’m sorry to announce that Chili Line Brewing Co. has officially pulled out of the Lamy Station for the last time. No pun intended.
Pertusini explained that the folks who own the space were just no longer interested in pursuing business opportunities at that location. Whatever made up their minds, it’s going to be hard not to blame the pandemic for that one. And so, on the final 31st of the year, Pertusini and Co. also decided to call it a day. Rest in Power, Lamy Station Taproom.
There may have been a lot of low-hanging clouds in 2020, but they weren’t without silver linings. For one, Pertusini said Chili Line was basically forced into the 21st Century. He’s talking about the brewery and restaurant adopting QR code menus, self-service and self-pay at each table, as well as the business having to overhaul their website into a much more streamlined experience, where you can order your food for delivery or to-go with a tap and a swipe of your own device. Most of this would have been years off, if not due to COVID.
And, as mentioned, had it not been for that bizarre twist of fate dealt to us in March, the renovation of the taproom/brewhouse might not have happened, and future plans for patio expansion would not now be in the planning process.
“We just want to keep what we have in the beer garden going all year,” Pertusini said.
And, Pertusini was just happy that through the worst of it, his brewery, and more importantly his people stayed healthy.
“We were able to stay open, kept our staff healthy and safe, and kept our customers healthy and safe,” Pertusini said. “We played by the book, took everybody’s temperature, we did everything we could. And, we have Team A and Team B, and knock on wood, everybody’s been healthy. And, we were really lucky that we were able to get through most of last year without any problems while keeping people employed, and working with the staff that we had to lay off here and there, we made sure that we were able to get them onto unemployment. We’re really excited for things to get better and to get everyone back on board.”
Heading into 2021, the strategy is to be better prepared, to focus on what’s worked for them during the hardest months, canning more beer, and perfecting their online ordering, delivery, and carryout services.
Pertusini’s biggest take-away from 2020 was that even when you have two people on both sides of the argument, and things get heated, despite everything that’s going on, beer still brings people together.
Much thanks to Mr. Pertusini for making time for my phone interview between Zoom meetings. To Chili Line’s continued health and success, as well as yours, readers and friends, cheers!
For more @NMDarkSideBC news and local beer info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.