It has been another crazy, mixed-up year, and recent holiday season. But, despite all the ups and downs this year, Palmer Brewery and Cider House has successfully reopened (following the COVID shutdown) one taproom up north in Raton, the Gate City Craft Bar, and opened the new Taproom at Old Town at 546 Romero St. NW.
I checked in with owner/brewer Rob Palmer to find out how it’s all going. I chose a time early in the day when the brewery wasn’t open because it was crazy busy in there my last couple of visits. I didn’t want Rob to feel pulled in different directions, and I also wanted to keep it fairly brief so I didn’t take too much of his time.
I asked my prepared questions about supply issues, staffing shortages and the like, and got a couple of surprising answers.
So, I asked Rob something I have inquired about several times before: Is he going to get any help with the brewing? He looked at me sheepishly, and for the first time, said he is going to have to hire someone. Oh, my, I didn’t expect that answer to actually change! Rob said that it is the part he enjoys about the business, making the beer. But, it’s getting to the point where he can’t do everything himself. With all three locations staying very busy, they just can’t keep up with supplying them all.
I asked him if it was much harder than he thought it would be. He said Old Town really changed the dynamics. They recently purchased some new brite tanks and a couple more fermenters. It was majorly necessary, Rob said, because they have been running out of beer all the time. He does have a bartender who is really interested in helping out with the brewing. He has been in the industry for a while and he wants to come in and give Rob a hand.
Then I asked Rob about staffing issues, expecting to get the usual answer that most employers, not only breweries, are giving. But instead, he said it’s going well. I thought maybe I had heard him wrong. According to Rob, they pay the staff well above minimum wage and they make good tips because they are busy. When they reopened, they had a hiring blitz and hired six or seven more people, and they are all still there. Rob said he is happy and says they have really good staff now. I told Rob that is amazing even in “normal” times. Rob said it’s a little harder for the kitchens they lease out space to staffing-wise. He said having great staff frees him up a lot more to do what he needs to do in back, versus helping out up front.
Also, they come up with a new menu for cocktails quarterly, and the bartenders all hang out for a couple of hours and try out new stuff. Then everybody comes to a consensus; there’s buy-in there for the employees.
As far as supply chain issues, they haven’t had many issues so far since they do not can their beer. They just do crowlers, and Rob said those are still easily available at the moment. But, Rob does know that grain prices are going to be outrageous next year. It’s a bad crop, both in quality and yield, for both the U.S. and Canada. It was tough to get yeast and other ingredients when everybody reopened, but that seems to be getting better. Everybody in town is very cooperative and giving with what they have got, though, Rob said. I couple of times when he ran out of yeast, he got some from Starr Brothers, and he got some from Marble. Everybody still plays well together in the brewing scene.
According to Rob, the biggest challenge right now is just having beer on tap. He is looking forward to getting his new fermenters on line. Also, they have to plan the brew days because of the distilling side (partner Left Turn Distilling shares the space at the original location at 2924 Girard Blvd. NE). They can’t both use the boiler at the same time.
As far as new beers coming up, Rob said he plans on having more IPAs on tap. They didn’t always have them a lot in the past. But, the lagers are killing it, Rob said. He said he doesn’t normally enter contests and beer competitions, but he entered some in the World Beer Cup this year, just to get some feedback, and he will see how that goes. He can do seven barrels of another beer and it will last a month or two, but he does seven barrels of one of the lagers and it is gone in three weeks. He said that’s as far as he is “looking ahead” right now, just trying to keep all the taps flowing. Rob wants to get more creative on some beers, and maybe do some more collaborations, but he just needs to get caught up first. I feel like maybe we all need to take a breath and get caught up on things in general.
One additional congratulations, Rob also got reelected to the Brewers Guild board of directors, along with Ali Cattin of Red Door. They will be around two more years and then they cannot run again immediately. You have to step away for a year and then you can run again. Term limits exist, even at the Brewers Guild. They will soon be announcing the new executive director. (Note: Read the Dark Side story on outgoing executive director, Leah Black.)
Cheers to New Years!