The New Mexico brewing scene is full of incredibly talented women, and Ali Cattin, the operations manager at Red Door Brewing Company, has steadily become one of the main players over the last few years. Ali sat down with me in their (relatively) new brewery and office space in the Sawmill District to share the story of how she got involved in the brewery life.
A graduate of UNM’s Culinary Arts program, by June 2016, Cattin had been working in kitchens for almost eight years.
“You look at people who have been in the (restaurant) industry for 20 to 30 years longer than you and you’re just like, ‘I don’t wanna be that,’” she said.
Burnt out on the industry, she was trying to shift gears to another career path. Despite her best efforts to avoid the food industry, she ended up waiting tables at Five Star Burgers on West Central.
“My boss at the time kept trying to promote me and I kept saying no … then I finally said yes and I started bartending and doing a lot of ordering for the bar. One of the girls I worked with said, ‘Hey, Red Door is hiring a taproom manager, you’d be perfect for that,” Cattin said, “I had a really good interview and they called me the next day and said, ‘We’d like to offer you the position if you’re still interested,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m still interested! I’ve wanted to work at a brewery forever!’”
Cattin’s career with Red Door was full-speed right out the gate.
“My boss left and Matt (Biggs, owner) said he wanted me to do that job,” she said. “We found the (taproom) spot in Clovis, and I spent six months driving out, overseeing construction, hiring the managers, getting our remote taproom up and running. And, it’s just been crushing it ever since. At the time, it was the only thing in Clovis, with a town of 40,000 with 10 to 15,000 on (Cannon Air Force) Base. So we just opened our second location in Clovis, on Main Street. It’s open air, (and) the food truck that was at Candelaria, we took it out there so it has a second life being parked inside.”
She does recognize that it isn’t necessarily this welcoming everywhere.
“I think it’s the culture of the brewery you’re in, and then pretty quickly Biggs putting me in a position and saying ‘Here, you build the culture,’” Cattin said. “You tend to hire people like you, and we have a nice mix people who play in the Red Door Fantasy Football league and who go to poetry readings … and sometimes they’re the same people! I definitely think if you look at the staff Downtown versus the staff in Clovis, they’re very different, but we tend to put a lot of focus on whether or not people fit in with what we believe, with what we think is OK. There have been a couple people over the years who I’ve had to let go because it wasn’t the right fit. But, overall I feel really lucky.”
Like we’ve all come to understand in this industry, the pandemic stirred up the roles and responsibilities of brewery staff, and Cattin was no exception.
“At one point it was just me, Matt Biggs and (head brewer) Matt Maier, who was the only one left in the brewery brewing, and I was the only one doing taproom sales. We opened for a couple hours a day, and I was just filling growlers,” she said, “Matt Biggs was furiously just filling out grant applications. We ended up getting PPP (Paycheck Protection Program). Matt is REALLY good at filling out paperwork. So we ended up getting some help that carried us through, and putting us in a better position coming out of this.”
As another effort to keep things afloat during the darkest days of the pandemic, Red Door recognized the hesitance of some breweries to deviate from their core beers, and decided to offer a rotating series of beers that used the same base but incorporated different ingredients in each batch. Thus, the Paleta Series was born.
“A couple of us had been out to Wren House in Phoenix, and we were like this is delicious, we should figure out a way to this. We kept bugging Matt Maier and he eventually said, ‘Fine. I’ll brew Berliner Weisse’ and I said I’ll order the fruit, I’ll mix the fruit, I’ll figure out the flavors,” Cattin said. “We’d spend 15 minutes behind the bar kicking the keg back and forth to roll it, then once it was nice and homogenized, we’d can the whole thing down and it would be nice and homogenous from the first to the last pour. Especially in the beginning (of the pandemic), that got us through. We were selling out.”
Moving into their new production/distribution facility has been an exciting challenge. With operations, brewing, distilling, and canning (their own Red Door products, among others) all in one building, they’re already feeling cramped in their new quarters.
“We’re still getting our feet underneath us, and getting all the equipment up and running. And, there’s been a spike in distribution, so we’ll do an entire batch of Cream Ale, and it’ll all go into cans and go out the door,” Cattin said. “An entire batch of West Coast IPA just went into cans the other day, and our taprooms won’t even see any of it. … At a certain point we’ll need a bigger brewhouse so we can do bigger batches.”
As a woman in the brewing industry, Cattin said she has loved her experience at Red Door, minus a couple of assumptive vendors.
“I hear stories from other women in the industry and I think, ‘God, that sounds awful.’ I’m so glad I’ve never had to deal with that,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky. These guys are pretty progressive. Never once have they doubted my abilities. When I first got here (to the Sawmill location), my desk was the one up in the front and people kept assuming I was the receptionist and I was like, ‘Look motherfucker … if I was the receptionist I’d be a lot nicer.’”
Serving on the board of directors for New Mexico Brewers Guild has also proven to be a great way to meet and support other strong women in the industry.
“There’s a strengthening and camaraderie with the women in the industry and you realize there’s a lot of dudes brewing, but the women run shit,” Cattin said. “There’s the Guild board of directors text thread which is informative, but if I really need to get something out there quickly, I send it to the women.”
We would also like to note that on one of the first NMBG Zoom gatherings at the beginning of the pandemic, this chef turned brewery queen shared her recipe for a super easy, and absolutely delicious beer bread. So delicious in fact, we feel compelled to share it with you all:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsbp sugar
- 4 tbsp melted butter
- 1 3/4 cup NM Craft Beer
- 1/2 New Mexico Hatch Green Chile, sautéed
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
So grab an apron, bake some delicious beer bread and enjoy a Red Door brew to toast to Ali and her amazing contributions to the NM beer industry. Plus, keep an eye out for exciting New Mexico Brewers Guild events to come in 2022, starting with WinterBrew (get tickets here) this Saturday afternoon!
May the beer (and the Betty) be with you, always.