After making a quick stop at the new Lizard Tail Industrial space last week to snap a couple photos and get a general sense of the revamped former Cantero Brewing, I was contacted by owner Dan Berry about setting up a time to sit down and talk about all that has happened and what else is coming down the pipeline for his business.
We managed to find a time to squeeze into his busy schedule and met up after the lunch rush at 3351 Columbia Dr. NE. Berry purchased the property from former Cantero owners Kade Oueis and Katey Taylor several months ago, and it was actually the pandemic that made it all possible.
“So basically, the previous owners, one is a real estate agent and the other owns the Oasis vape shops,” Berry said. “Those two industries exploded when Covid hit and this place got shut down. They got so busy they didn’t really have time to keep up with this place, so they started looking to sell. Fortunately, we had a mutual friend and he approached me about it.”
Berry had long wished to escape the cramped confines of the original Lizard Tail location, at least as far as the brewing went, but he was still not sure if the middle of a global pandemic was the right time to make a big leap.
“There was a little bit of resistance (on my part) early on, because I didn’t know where we were going to land,” Berry said. “Everything was uncertain there for a while. Then, once we started seeing all the Covid financial assistance for small businesses, it just made sense to do it, so I went for it. That’s been my dream for 25 to 30 years to have a professional brewery. I’ve never had a professional brewery, I’ve had a duct-tape-and-baling-wire brewery for seven years.”
In the end, a difficult period for many businesses ended up actually helping Lizard Tail.
“It really wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic,” Berry said. “I would never have been able to get those SBA (Small Business Association) loans that I was able to get through the pandemic (relief fund). It’s kind of a weird irony. What can I say? It was enabled by the pandemic.”
The attraction of taking over the Cantero space also went beyond just having more room to brew.
“I guess the other big selling point was they had a good following already, and then the previous owner hooked me up with the chef (Agustin ‘Auggie’ Santos) that they had before,” Berry said. “So that seemed like a good deal. I figured we should open up and hit the ground running instead of having to rebrand, and do all that kind of stuff.
“We needed to open and start making money. The biggest part is wanting to emphasize with the previous followers of Cantero that we have the same chef; we wanted to get all of the previous followers and regulars of Cantero on board before we completely switched on them. We wanted them to know we have the same chef and the same food.”
For now, the Cantero name is still on the outside of the building, still present inside, and the Cantero social media pages remain, just now with the Lizard Tail logo alongside. It will eventually fully change over to Lizard Tail Industrial, but for now it can help customers find the brewery, which is located in a somewhat odd spot in the Brewery District. Columbia is one of the only north-south streets in that area that does not connect to either Candelaria to the south or Comanche to the north. It is one block east of the I-25 frontage road and can be accessed by either Aztec or Cutler.
“That was the thing, even when it was Firkin (Brewhouse), I was like man, I wasn’t really impressed with the location, so I was surprised that they got such a following (as Cantero),” Berry said. “The previous owners did a great job with that, they put a lot of money into boosting Facebook and Instagram and doing everything they could to market this place. Which has always been my weakness, marketing, I’m terrible at it.”
Berry said that a handful of his employees all have access to social media, which has made things a bit confusing in terms of messaging for some time. It wasn’t even Berry who came up with the name Lizard Tail Industrial, but he considered that a pleasant surprise and will stick with it.
“That’s the last piece of the puzzle, I feel like, we need a good marketer,” he said. “We have really good recipes, it’s just a matter of dialing those in and getting someone who can come and do full-time marketing for us. We’ve been lucky with the staff. We had a little bit of a hard time finding cooks, but other than that, I’ve heard a lot of places are having a really hard time.”
Berry said he does not blame anyone for being reluctant to return to the hospitality industry right now, between surly customers and better unemployment benefits. Still, as he said, he considered Lizard Tail to be lucky to find enough people to staff the front of house, the kitchen, and the brewery.
Behind those doors to the brewery, there have been a few changes already.
“We actually took out a lot,” Berry said. “It’s a really well designed brewery, but there were some things we didn’t need. We took out a 20-barrel cold liquor tank; I don’t know what it was for. There was another tank that was for CIP chemicals, I think, I don’t know. It came with everything, but just some extra equipment. It’s a 10-barrel system that had two 7-barrel brite tanks and a 7-barrel fermenter, and I was like OK. We got rid of those, put in 10s. I got a canning line, so I think most of the improvement has been in the brewery. We put the circuit breaker in for when we start canning. That’s been a nightmare, too, the cans are now (hard to get). Covid has messed up a lot of that.”
The initial plans call for Lizard Tail to can the Legless Double IPA, Horned Honey Pale Ale, and Lagarato Loco Mexican Lager, but Berry said it will be a little while before those are all ready to go.
First up, there are other Lizard Tail locations in the works.
“I guess it comes down to I have a lot of recipes that I really want to develop on that system,” Berry said. “For that turnaround, you need a lot of outlets for everything. In that sense, it makes sense just from a financial standpoint we want to use our brewery to its best extent. We have a lot more capacity than we did before. Either go into full distribution or open some taprooms, and full distribution is scary when you haven’t really had time to dial in the recipes on your brewhouse yet. So I figured taprooms was a way to use our brewery while we’re dialing in our recipes, and prepare us for distribution.”
Lizard Tail has been helping to run the Rock Canyon Taproom in Carnuel via a small brewer offsite license, but that partnership is ending by mutual agreement.
“We’ve been doing that, but basically Leroy, he’s the guy that runs that one, he’s going to go out on his own,” Berry said. “He’s actually working on a beer-and-wine license. He’s going to be splitting off and doing his own thing.”
There still figure to be some Lizard Tail beers on tap out there in Tijeras Canyon, but otherwise Berry will be putting a focus on his other forthcoming locations, starting with one at 3417 Central Ave. NE in Nob Hill.
“Yeah, it’s on the north side (of the street), it’s the downstairs space, you can’t even get to it from Central,” Berry said. “It has a real speakeasy kind of vibe. You have to go around, go through this alley, and go through the back door.”
The only remaining component for the taproom is a walk-in cooler, which Berry said he ordered three months ago, and yet like so much else these days, it has been held up by Covid-related supply chain issues. It was supposed to finally ship out today (Friday).
“We’re done with all the licensing, we’re just waiting on that,” Berry said. “It’s awful. Usually, you’re waiting on the licensing (last). Basically, just get someone to install it. I think we have someone, but that’s another thing, finding a contractor is (hard). Then have them install it as quick as possible, set up all our draft lines, and go. We’ll have to coordinate the health inspection so we can get them in the second we’re done with our draft lines.”
As if opening one taproom in addition to a new brewery location was not enough, Lizard Tail is planning on two more offsite locations.
“I can tell you right now I actually just before I got here I mailed to (Alcohol Beverage Control) the application for a small brewer (offsite) license in Mesa del Sol,” Berry said. “We’re (also) looking at that old Tractor (taproom), that’s really weird, we’ve been negotiating for four or five months, but the old Tractor location at Tramway and Central.”
The former will be in a brand-new space, but the latter is basically still ready to become a taproom again after it was closed last summer.
“It’s totally turnkey,” Berry said. “Everywhere else is going to be a taproom and we’re going to have basic bar food, we’re going to get those little fryers and pizza ovens. Auggie is amazing, our chef is amazing, he’s already developed menus for that kind of setup. The Four Hills spot, if we manage to pull that one off, we want to put a full kitchen in there. It would be more this kind of model with a full kitchen.”
In addition to all that, Lizard Tail now has a winemaker license, so it can start producing its own ciders and mead, the latter of which is not readily available from too many places in New Mexico. I got to sample the Cherry Chocolate Mead and Ginger Mead that were already on tap, and both showed a lot of promise.
Other recipes will change on the beer side of things, with Berry noting that it has time to stop being stubborn and to finally create a big, 100-plus-IBU house IPA in the same vein as those served at numerous other New Mexico breweries. Expect a lot of experimentation over the next several months as Berry and head brewer John Ruyak adjust to the new reality of operating a mid-sized brewery.
“I finally got a professional brewery,” Berry said. “Our recipes are pretty solid, but they never became what they could be. That’s really what I’m excited about the next year, really dial this in, see what our recipes can do.”
A big thanks to Dan for the interview and the beer samples. We wish everyone at Lizard Tail plenty of luck going forward, and it is truly a good sign to see a brewery pushing forward after this long, bleak stretch of pandemic time.
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