Writing about the end of breweries is much harder than the beginning

Closed permanently or temporarily? We do not know for sure either way.

As we noted in Tuesday’s beer history timeline article, the idea for that story came from a reader after we put out a request for a little inspiration to help us through a slow news period. Another reader had a shorter and simpler request for an article, asking what is happening over at Cantero Brewing.

Our honest answer: we do not know. A few trusted sources have told us that Cantero put up all of its brewing equipment for sale. Beyond that, we have no news to share. Our only contacts there were the brewers, and we have no way to reach the owners. Even if we did have an email or phone number for the owners, the odds would be against us finding out anything.

In the nine years that we have been writing on breweries, the single hardest stories to put together are always when a brewery closes or is about to close. Simply put, no one really wants to talk on the record about the end of their business. With a number of breweries having closed their doors permanently during the course of this pandemic, we thought it would be a good time to examine why it can be so hard to find out what we all want to know.

1. No one wants to admit failure

This is a simple human emotion. You put your hard work and money into a project like a brewery, seeing the success of other breweries throughout the state, and expect that in due time, you will join them atop the pedestal. Only it does not happen, and things go belly up.

Your pride, not to mention your bank account, has been severely impacted. The last thing you want to do is talk to a writer about it. There are other concerns, too, which leads us to …

2. The blame game is dangerous

If an owner feels wronged, he or she might lash out in print, perhaps at their landlord. We know of at least two breweries that have closed in 2020-21 where the dispute was centered there. The problem is that landlords read stories, and so do their lawyers, so if a brewery owner pops off in print or on a TV news interview, he or she might then be subject to a lawsuit.

Caution is the word of the day when closing down a business, lest creditors and litigious people/corporations elect to pounce on any verbal misstep.

When Broken Bottle closed years ago, they threw a going-away party. Most breweries close in comparative silence.

3. Internal squabbles

Though we have not heard, even off the record, that any of the recent closures were due to infighting among multiple owners, this has been a major issue in the past. When there are multiple owners, or investors, in a brewery, and that brewery fails to live up to expectations, it can often lead to a nasty internal struggle for control. Sometimes that can end with one or two owners pushing out the rest and seizing complete control (which happened at one brewery in Albuquerque that shall remain nameless; it is still operational).

More often than not, it leads to a fierce legal battle that ends with the brewery dissolved and no one willing to talk to the press. We can think of a few past examples (pre-pandemic), but since lawyers were involved, we are not going to name those breweries here.

4. No one has to talk to the Crew

Unlike the Albuquerque Journal, Business First, or the three local TV stations, the Crew does not have any financial backing that would enable us to assert or defend our First Amendment rights as a news-gathering organization. We have always essentially been at the mercy of the breweries as to whether or not they wish to speak to us on the record. Most of the time, that is not a problem, since most of the stories we do are generally positive (new beer! new brewer! new taproom! new event!).

We have to be very careful of printing information we receive from sources. We don’t have lawyers working for us like the Journal does to protect them from frivolous lawsuits. Our general rule is that it has to be on the record for us to print it, directly from a brewery employee/owner with valid knowledge of the situation. Sometimes even that doesn’t work, as we were threatened with a lawsuit by a local developer for directly quoting a brewery owner locked in a dispute over a taproom lease. Big companies know they can bully small media outlets with the threat of legal action (which is why the notion that “citizen journalists” can be an effective replacement for legitimate, large media companies is ludicrous, but that is a story for another day).

It was strange being inside Chama River after it officially closed. We were never given the full story as to why.

5. “We’re not dead yet!”

More than once, we have found enough information from a brewery that they are closed, only for someone involved to email us and write, “We’re not closing, we’re just reorganizing/moving locations/getting refinanced” or something of that sort. When all the evidence in the world said Eske’s Brew Pub & Eatery was done in Taos, one of the people who owned it vowed that was not the case, they were simply closing the spot near the taproom, and planned to move a few blocks away.

That did not happen, at least not yet, as the pandemic has essentially frozen any and all in-planning breweries (save for those that had already passed a certain point in construction, where not pushing ahead to open would have been an even greater financial disaster). Maybe Eske’s will return some day after all, but we have no way to know for sure.

One of the recent breweries to close is closed, but it may reopen some time after the pandemic is lifted. We know that rings a bit hollow, but the owner still owns the property and his equipment, so perhaps it could return in the future.

Small brewer licenses issued in 2020 will expire at the end of this month. At that point, we will formally get an idea of who did not renew for 2021, and have an official list rather than just idle, unconfirmed speculation.

7. All right, but which breweries are on the “official” casualty list of 2020-21?

To the best of our knowledge, the following breweries are closed for good, but some could surprise us and return at a later date.

  • 1933 Brewing, Rio Rancho (closed officially last April)
  • Black Snout Brewhouse, Albuquerque (confirmed by the owner)
  • Broken Trail Brewery and Distillery, Albuquerque (confirmed by the owner)
  • Cantero Brewing (unconfirmed by the owners)
  • Dialogue Brewing (unconfirmed by the primary owner)
  • Turquoise Trail Brewing (unconfirmed by the owner)

Other places have closed, but are vowing to reopen once restrictions are lifted include Flix Brewhouse in Albuquerque, 1865 Brewing in Santa Rosa, and the Taos Trail Inn in Ojo Caliente. After being temporarily closed for a few weeks, Kaktus Brewing is ramping up to reopen soon in Bernalillo.

One of the confirmed closures that happened during the pandemic lockdown.

8. Well, that’s mostly depressing; got any good news?

There were 110 active small brewer licenses in New Mexico before the pandemic hit. Not all were actively producing beer, but all told we had close to 100 functional breweries in our state of 2 million people. Now? By our count, there are 88 still actively brewing beer. That is impressive, by any measure.

Five breweries have active licenses but are not yet up and running, though some may be getting close. Bandolero Brewing in Clovis recently had an invite-only soft opening, and stated in a social media post that a grand opening (or as grand as one can be these days) will soon follow. Public House 28, near Anthony, is also moving closer and closer to opening, per their Instagram posts.

Bosque Brewing is moving ahead with its planned taproom at Spain and Eubank. Construction continues at Wanted Brewing and Distilling in Las Vegas, as well as with Nuckolls Brewing at the Santa Fe Railyard.

Times have been tough, no question, but there is still more good news coming down the pipeline than stories of doom and gloom. We will continue to do our jobs and try to report on both.

If any owner(s) of a recently closed brewery is/are willing to go on the record, you can always reach us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com, or via direct messaging on any of our social media pages.

In the meantime, stay strong, breweries and beer lovers. We can get through the end of this.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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