One year ago, when COVID-19 first threatened to become a full blown pandemic in the U.S., breweries throughout New Mexico took various approaches as to how they would handle the newly mandated restrictions. After much reflection, choices were made on the next steps that would be best for the business, and for the community. For Dana Koller, president of Kaktus Brewing Company in Bernalillo, that decision was a temporary closure that would last nearly two months.
From the beginning, Dana made it clear that this would not be the end of the Kaktus story, but instead an opportunity for growth and change. In an email sent out to customers on March 19, 2020, he wrote, “It is with excitement that we are taking advantage of this epidemic and we are closing the doors, but we (are) continuing to improve our company and community. During this closure we will be coming together as a team, cleaning, building, organizing and training so that the moment we come back to open we will be bigger, better and more capable than ever before.”
That email would be the first of many throughout the closure, with announcements ranging from virtual concerts to fun giveaways, and even a quarantine beard-growing contest. And finally, in early May, the big announcement came — a reopening date, along with a brand new updated outdoor patio setup.
“The improvements made during the first closure were a LIFE SAVER!” Dana said. “It really helped our numbers and without it, we would have been in a world of hurt.”
He credits an aggressive nature that allowed them to keep the entire staff employed, and even add another full-time staff member, to make the closure work in their favor.
For much of the summer, things were looking up as Kaktus (and the rest of the state) reopened its doors to yet another “new normal.” Unfortunately, an increase in cases and a new set of restrictions led to Kaktus’ second closure in mid-November. Again, Dana took the opportunity to reassure his customers that this was not a permanent closure, but a time to make even more improvements. This time around, it was the beer that got a major upgrade.
“We are again making huge improvements,” Dana said. “Adding new jobs to improve service, updated technologies, new menu options, and one of the most exciting is releasing a highly researched bottle-conditioned beer that we have been working on for the past 12-to-18 months. It is a super impressive product that might change the game in New Mexico beer offerings.”
So, what exactly is bottle conditioned beer? It’s probably best to let head brewer Michael Waddy describe it.
“Bottle conditioning takes finished beer from the fermenter, and instead of going into a keg or serving tank for forced carbonation like most beers, the beer is bottled with a little bit of active yeast,” Michael said. “The yeast will start another small fermentation in the bottle and carbonate naturally. The beer can then age in the bottle and develop unique flavors and aromas.”
Dana added that the new offering, “Not only allows us to have a fun ‘age-able’ product, but allows us to control each and every bottle of beer individually. This helps us to create a quality product that most other brewing methods can’t touch.”
Currently, there are three varieties of bottle-conditioned beers that will be offered in 750mL bottles. These include an imperial stout, a barleywine, and an imperial version of their Big Ben ESB, called the Bigger Ben.
If you’re wondering when you can get your hands on one (or three) of these new bottled beers, in addition to fresh on-tap brews of all the old favorites, the answer may be sooner than you think. We have a confirmed reopening date of this Wednesday, just in time for a St. Patrick’s Day pint. Both indoor and outdoor seating will be available in accordance with current state and county guidelines.
When asked about his thoughts on each closure and subsequent reopening process, Dana said, “I would say the benefit was the opportunity to really appreciate the friendships we built with our clients. We miss our people more than anything else. We also realized the benefit of short-term closures and how we can make more efficient improvements to support our clients’ needs. We were open seven days a week for the past eight years; we may move to six days a week. Although we created a lot of good out of the bad, we would have rather stayed open.”
Thanks so much to both Dana and Michael for taking the time to provide us with an insight into Kaktus’ highs and lows over the past year. We are excited for the reopening and look forward to raising a glass on the patio very soon.
Cheers to new beginnings!