Local breweries remain cautious but hopeful in terms of bringing back on-site events

The stage at Marble’s downtown taproom has remained largely unused even as many of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, but there is hope that will change in the coming months.

Slowly but surely, things are starting to look normal out at the breweries again, but there is still one thing missing. Go to the event section on just about any brewery’s Facebook page, and it is still mostly blank.

While the mask requirements have been lifted by the Centers for Disease Control and most state governments, including New Mexico, and even with occupancy as high as it has been since the pandemic arrived in mid-March 2020, large-scale events are still a ways off.

Two breweries that one might argue are as famous for their events as their beer are Marble Brewery and Tractor Brewing. To learn a little more about how things are progressing on the events front, last week I caught up with Marble marketing director/event coordinator Geraldine Lucero in person, and her Tractor counterpart Jeremy Kinter over Zoom.

While the Department of Health and Alcohol Beverage Control have been providing information to the breweries in terms of occupancy and general reopening, they have not offered direct guidance on bringing back events.

“I personally haven’t gotten any feedback from anybody up north on how to successfully run an event,” Lucero said. “We’re just trying to get our way through this reopening. Clearly, it looks so much different than it did in 2019, and last year. What we’re finding is we’re getting that spark to start putting stuff on our calendar for later summer and fall. Things will go back to normal for us, I hope, if we are at full capacity by July. Because I keep hearing this rumor that we should be at the regular (level). If that rumor is true, then late summer/fall, it’s all on for us. I’ll say that.”

Kinter said that there are also issues in terms of having enough people to put on an event.

“My general response is we’re still trying to (fully) reopen,” he said. “What I’m seeing is we’re focused more on the essentials, staffing, trying to be open more hours, getting beer out there. Just our basics right now before we bring back any entertainment. In terms of staffing I need back of house, helping with events, administrative. It’s all restructured at this point. We’re slowly but surely going to start getting there where we can start booking light events.

“It’s really tough because you want to be as safe as possible, and in that I don’t want to create a situation where we create an event and there’s a line out the door. I couldn’t even imagine doing Drag Queen Bingo, where we hit capacity before it starts. That event wouldn’t be able to perform at its capacity. You still have the 6-foot rule. You don’t want to create an environment where an outbreak happens. We don’t want our patrons to be upset with a line outside the brewery.”

Jamming everyone inside Tractor Wells Park for blurry photos at the Stranger Things Arcade Carnival is not something the brewery sees as being too likely for this year.

While the breweries are being cautious, it has not stopped local musicians, artists, nonprofits, and charities from starting to reach out to see if they can again return to Marble and Tractor.

“Yeah, totally, we’re getting flooded (with requests),” Lucero said. “People are ready. We were excited to reintroduce music slowly once we turned into the turquoise zone, (like we did) with our Pink Lemonade Lager release. We don’t even have our music director back yet. That was a thing for a long time. I put out some feelers on Facebook and I’m still getting text messages and (other) messages from different people. ‘Hey, I heard you’re booking music at Marble now!’ ‘Hey, just kidding, I’m really not.’ I will fill in whenever I’m needed to do so.”

Patience, then, is the word of the moment for everyone.

“The fact of the matter is, we’re just trying to open up at this point,” Kinter said. “That’s what people need to understand. When I say open up, it’s a lot of things. And then, I don’t know, if I can be honest with you, what it’s going to look like outside of this? I think a lot of the breweries and entertainment venues might permanently change the way they do events. Pre-pandemic, we were having a lot of freaking events. That was our shtick. Probably the most in terms of any craft brewery in the state of New Mexico. I think us getting back to that is going to look at lot different.

“We need to be more responsible in how we program those things. Not simply putting a musician there to have one. The way that I approach it from a marketing and events standpoint, I’m not going to plug things in for the sake of plugging them in. I want to be more diligent in terms of how it’s going to look.”

Marble has started limited, small-scale events, usually just a few musicians playing to coincide with a holiday or a special beer release.

“So we got mariachis out on May 2 for downtown, and then up in the heights for Mother’s Day,” Lucero said. “I’m going to be booking the Dee Brown Situation for our Piña Loca Gose release on June 2 here downtown. It’s a collaboration with Camp Enchantment. Every year we used to have Love Beer, Hate Cancer. We can’t throw that huge festival.

“So we brewed a beer, Piña Loca Gose, (which) we released as a special two years ago in 2019. We’re putting it in small-batch cans. Our very own Diego Villegas designed the labels, and we’ll be donating $2 from every six-pack to Camp Enchantment, as well as selling some of their merch through our taprooms. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from their T-shirts will go to Camp Enchantment. We’ve been trying to figure out different, creative ways we can still help these organizations that really mean a lot to us.”

We are still a ways from big parties lasting until the final hours of the night at breweries.

Tractor is also looking to get back into holding fundraisers and working with local charities and nonprofits, though Kinter said much of that might not come back until 2022.

“We haven’t, because we postponed our Beer for a Better Burque program,” he said. “This year is done, (but) once things get back to normal we’ll bring it back on as the regular Beer for a Better Burque. … It’s a year-long process, we’re going to have to wait for another January before we can pick it back up. We don’t have the back-of-house staffing to do that. That’s not at the top of our priority list. We’re trying to survive right now. But, we do plan on bringing it back. We need to be in a position where we can support them as we did in the past. There is an expectation to what this program needs to look like. There’s no way we can do that right now. That was a big part of the program, the exposure they would get from us and the events. We’re working on it, and hopefully we will get there by next January.”

Other fan-favorite regular events at Tractor may not return in the future, or at least not in the immediate future.

“That’s something people need to understand,” Kinter said. “There’s weird stuff (still happening), and I want to get to it, but karaoke, I don’t think it’s safe to do something like that. I know you’re wiping it down every time, but … the thought of it is generally disgusting to me. It irks me and scares me a little bit. That’s a weekly event I want to have, but I can’t have it right now. I don’t want to put those people at risk. They have some precautions, but just like anything else, we’re in uncharted territory.

“Being as cautious as possible with this opening is a good rule of thumb. We could have a third wave and then restrictions come back again. That’s another reason we’re being cautious in terms of bringing everything back at 100 percent. It requires a lot on our end to get back to that point.”

Lucero said Marble is also receiving requests from private groups to rent out the skydeck at brewery, though she has cautioned people that all the same Covid rules that apply on the patio and taproom below would still apply for a private event.

“We’ve never been the type that wanted to poo-poo a party, but now we have tom,” she said. “That’s the frustrating part. Guys, we’re still in it, we’re still in it. Luckily, people are getting vaccinated and they’re feeling more comfortable about going out. I know personally that’s my fate, I felt like a superhero after my second vaccination, I’m ready for this shit! I can’t speak for everybody, but I would assume that most people who are getting vaccinated are feeling that. That comfort level is back for them.”

Kinter said there are certain types of events that he feels can be done more safely than others.

“We’ll get back to normal things like trivia and whatnot, and of course some solo acoustic musicians, (but) it’s weird to think about (bigger events),” he said. “That’s something that has been on my mind a lot, and how I would feel doing a Stranger Things Arcade Carnival. Is that something that people need or want right now? Half of my vendors I probably couldn’t even get. What is tent cost going to look like? It’s going to be astronomical. We don’t have the bank to roll an event to break even.”

Big parking lot events, like this one from 2015, are not coming back anytime soon, but smaller events are potentially in the works.

Marble did bring its popular Beer and Cheese last month at the Heights taproom, and the first Crave beer dinner in a long, long time is coming up soon downtown. Lucero said those types of events can still be done safely and efficiently, while others still seem a bit risky.

“I’m so excited about throwing parties again,” she said. “So I do have a Crave dinner up on the skydeck, a full-moon Crave (on May 26). I only had six tickets left, last time I checked, and this sits about 40 people. This is similar to our beer-and-cheese event at the Heights that we did last month. The tickets went so fast. People are just eager to do something. We can successfully and safely pull off certain food events. My heart breaks when I say let’s get a band that makes people move, but no one can dance yet. You know what I mean? It’s bittersweet, a lot of this event planning right now.

“This year feels good right now. Putting potential events on the calendar makes me feel so much better, but it scares me, too. Do we really know what we’re doing anymore?”

Kinter said all the event organizers at breweries will eventually get their feet back under them, but for now he just asks for more of that patience from patrons, artists, and the community in general.

“I think it’s just being cautious, hopefully optimistic, and diligent, trying to focus on the big (issues) — staffing, making beer, getting our taprooms open, that is our focus right now,” he said. “That’s what’s helping us save ourselves from ourselves. If we went full throttle, and one of those parts falls out, then we’re fucked. We’re operating at this cryostasis in a bit. We’re keeping it as steady as possible so we’re able to pivot no matter what happens. If we’re able to go to 100 percent, or if we shut down again, it makes it easier for us to adapt to that change. That’s something that might be another semi-permanent thing, realizing we may not need eight back-of-the-house people for everything. Spreading the load so everyone carries a little more. That has worked out for us. Luckily, many people at Tractor are versatile.”

A big thanks to Geraldine and Jeremy for taking the time to talk about these issues. As they have said, if we can all just stay patient for a little while longer, then we will really start to see some of our favorite weekly/monthly/annual events return to the breweries at the scale we have enjoyed in the past.

So for now, just keep treating our brewery staffs with respect and kindness, and we will all get through the final stages of this pandemic together.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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