JUNO picks up where Dialogue left off and then looks to go beyond

Another closed brewery has been reborn, this time down in the Wells Park neighborhood.

It is not exactly a theme, but for the second time this year, a brewery lost to the pandemic has come back to life, with new owners and a new name.

JUNO is the new brewery that has taken the place of Dialogue Brewing at 1501 First Street NW, following in the footsteps of Lizard Tail Industrial succeeding Cantero Brewing over in the original Brewery District.

In order to learn a little more about JUNO, which quietly opened last week, I caught up with one of the new owners, Jason Marks, on a rainy Monday afternoon.

“Dialogue basically couldn’t survive Covid,” Marks said. “My wife (Maxine) and I and our other main partners (Trevor and Priscilla Reed), we invested in Dialogue right before Covid. We were trying to do a turnaround on the financial side. It was just impossible with Covid. So when Dialogue couldn’t survive, we picked up the lease. We got new liquor licenses.”

Other than the JUNO logo on the east and south sides of the building, not a whole lot has changed. The sculptures on that patio will remain, and part of the interior still looks like Dialogue.

The visible changes inside include a shiny new floor, and some new tables that have greatly increased occupancy.

“Dialogue was a great place aesthetically,” Marks said. “I would (it took) say a unique approach, both an industrial look inside, and what they did with the patio. The rusted steel trees are obviously are what the place is known for. We retained that aesthetic.”

There are some changes already apparent, including new booths and tables inside, a redone floor for the taproom, and a large reused shipping container that now helps enclose the patio along the south side of the property.

More changes are afoot, Marks said.

“We’ve had to make some investments,” he said. “(What) we’re trying to do, the concept we’re trying to do, is keep the best of Dialogue, and make changes. There’s a gallery in the back. It’s not finished yet. This show was the last art show from Dialogue. The artist, Augustine (Romero), wanted to keep it here. There will be a separate gallery (for future art shows).”

Marks said the brewery will take advantage of the patio stage and have live music and other events in the near future. He added that the plan is to be more consistent when it comes to booking bands and individual artists, more along the lines of how customers always know which nights nearby Marble has or does not have music on its stage.

“If we don’t know if we have the largest patio in town, (but) we’re close to it,” Marks said. “I think it’s the nicest patio in town. Particularly with when we fixed up the landscaping finally. With the storage container, we’ve got more seating options. It’s a nice patio where you can enjoy a beer with lunch or dinner. We’re trying to provide a different atmosphere. Once the gallery is open we’ll have seating back there as well. It’s for people who want it to be a little bit mellower.”

The biggest change so far on the patio has been the addition of that shipping container on the south side.

While much of the initial focus is on the Wells Park location, Marks and his partners are planning an offsite taproom, which he said he believes is the key to surviving in such a crowded area of town for breweries.

“The big thing, there’s a lot of little things, but the big thing is we will be opening a taproom in Edgewood,” Marks said. “We’re really appreciative of being down here in what I’m calling the (new) brewery district. I don’t know if everyone is calling it that, but this is now Albuquerque’s brewery district. Within a half mile we’ve got Rio Bravo, Bow & Arrow, Marble, Gravity Bound, Tractor, and Hollow Spirits and Still Spirits.”

Marks even pointed out that there is a new taproom/restaurant coming to the neighborhood, called the Voodoo Grill, that is moving into the old Blue Grasshopper building on Second Street.

As far as Marks is concerned, the more places around JUNO, the merrier, but ultimately to prosper the brewery will need that second location.

“At this point, I think everybody comes down here and just adds to the vibrancy and brings customers to the area, whether it’s sophisticated beer drinkers or casual beer drinkers, (and) I love that,” he said. “We need — just like Tractor has multiple taprooms, Marble has multiple taprooms — the way to prosper is to have another taproom. We can sell enough beer over the bar here to break even, but I really can’t thrive unless we have another outlet. … My personal opinion is where I think Dialogue went wrong is they probably spent too much money on this place and then they didn’t have the money to expand. If you’re down here, you need to have a (second) taproom.”

Edgewood does not currently have a brewery or taproom, so in a way, it is an untapped market (pardon the possible pun). The closest places for craft beer to the town on the east side of the Manzano Mountains are Ale Republic in Cedar Crest, the Rock Canyon Taproom in Carnuel, and Sierra Blanca Brewing in Moriarty.

“Our next place, it will probably be about three months to get that built out,” Marks said. “We’re just focusing really intensely on getting the licensing and getting this place open. We’re super happy that we’re open. We’re super happy that some of Dialogue’s old customers have come back. We’re super happy that new people have come.”

The brewing area looks largely the same, though some excess fermenters were sold off to create more room.

Marks came of age as a beer drinker in Portland, Oregon, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, just as the nascent craft breweries began to spring up. He said that he mostly drank bottles of imported beer back in those days, but quickly came to appreciate the culture that sprang up around those specialty beer bars, one that has continued at breweries across the country.

“We love the feeling of a brewery,” Marks said. “Customers feel like they have some ownership. It’s not like a restaurant or a bar in my experience. Customers feel like they have some stake in it. We like being a part of that, being able to talk to customers whether they’re beer aficionados and know beer, or just folks who want a nice place to hang out with nice music. I like being able to provide that.”

As for the actual brewing aspect of JUNO, Marks and his partners reached into the recent past to find their man.

“We’ve got Ian Graham, who was the master brewer and one of the founders of Dialogue,” Marks said. “He’s now a part of ownership (as well). He’s supervising the brewing.”

Some of the beers at JUNO are holdovers from Dialogue, including the 505 Lager, Sour Raspberry, D-Lite (Lager), and Local Stout. New beers include an Amber and the New Hope IPA.

“The goal is to always have the 505 and then have a rotating lager,” Marks said. “I think we’ll rotate between the export and more of a Central European pilsner, like a Czech pilsner. I think we’re always going to have this IPA, and then we’ll have a rotating second IPA, a little lower alcohol, a session-type IPA. We’ll have a stout on off and on. More often than not, people say stouts don’t sell, but I find that people like it. It’s an English-style stout.”

The opening beer menu for JUNO features new brews and some old Dialogue favorites.

There is one aspect of brewing where Marks and Graham are in agreement needs to be played up more for the local audience.

“Something a layperson doesn’t understand, because all they want to talk about is the hops and the malts, is the yeast,” Marks said. “When I talk about doing an English-style beer as a rotation with the IPA, is (using) an English yeast. It will be a little different flavor. The American-style is to have an inoffensive yeast, yeast that imparts the least character to your final product. It lets the malt and the hops shine through. But, on the other hand, you’re missing so many interesting flavors. While we want to be serving the classic styles, we’re going to offer some things that are interesting and different, but approachable.”

With all that talk about yeast, it certainly sounded like many of the Belgian-style beers that Dialogue was initially known for could be returning, but that will not be the case.

“I was never in Dialogue when they started, but I think they did a lot of Belgians, things like that,” Marks said. “I know there have been some other breweries in town that have done some Belgians, but I think they’re a little too esoteric. They’re technically complex to make, and Ian Graham knows how to make them. He can make a great Belgian, but they’re not a style that Albuquerque is really into. My philosophy is to make the styles of beer that people like, make them well, and then shake it up a little, but not a lot.”

JUNO will also carry products from Leaf & Hive and Sandia Hard Cider to accommodate non-beer drinkers, and there is an espresso machine for anyone who does not want to have alcohol. A new kitchen is currently under construction as well, and will eventually serve pizza, sandwiches, and even a Sunday brunch is being planned.

“I think the fundamentals, where we started here, the vision here, is to have a nice space that people want to come to, and have an expansive community around it,” Marks said. “Whether it’s the beer, arts, music, and to have good beers that people want to drink. They want the experience. They want something new. All the reasons the customers have kept the breweries alive are the reasons we want to do this.”

Things seem to be tilting in the right direction for JUNO going forward.

We certainly salute the new owners of JUNO for taking on the task of finally maximizing the unrealized potential of the Dialogue space, and I thank Jason Marks for quickly agreeing to do this interview on short notice.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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