If the new executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild looks familiar to anyone, it would probably to the former loyal customers of one of our state’s classic brewpubs, Chama River, that is sadly no more.
That alone is the first sign that a lot has changed since Tess Vidalis left New Mexico, and Chama River, around 2013 before returning last year. Now she is taking over the role previously held by Leah Black.
After a bit of email back and forth, Vidalis and I were able to meet up at last week at Palmer Brewery to discuss her somewhat unique career path, what led her to the job with NMBG, and what she hopes to accomplish in the role.
“It was very unique,” she said. “In college, I was working at Chama River. I was studying biology (as an) undergrad, and I ended up working there for like six years. I had a great time, I loved all the people, it was super fun. It’s what really got me into the craft beer in New Mexico.
“I did that, and (then) went off and realized I needed to start doing something with my degree. I did research, I was a neuro researcher for a number of years. I ended up transferring into something clinical. I was a neuro-physiologist.”
While healthcare usually pays well and is an in-demand field, it can also be quite draining.
“Over the last couple of years, I have really missed doing something more community based,” Vidalis said. “I’ve always spent time volunteering with different organizations since I was a teenager. I felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed out of healthcare anymore. Once we moved back, after consulting with my husband, I decided not to take my offer back with the team in New Mexico, and just kind of actually dedicate myself to looking for something that was more community based. I really like the small organization type of thing. It’s definitely something that I am passionate about.”
Luckily for Vidalis, and the Guild, a friend-of-a-friend took notice of her return to New Mexico. And, not just any friend-of-a-friend, but one who works for Red Door Brewing and also currently sits on the NMBG board of directors.
“A month later, I was thinking I would have to work my way up, really just dig deep, look into old contacts to find something,” Vidalis said. “I got a call from Ali (Cattin), and she was like, hey, we have this position, I’ve heard that you don’t have a job, and it sounds like it’s exactly what you’re looking for, and you should apply. And so, I did, I did my interviews, I guess they liked me.”
While Vidalis did not know Cattin too well, but clearly well enough, Vidalis does know plenty of other people in the craft beer industry in our state.
“It’s interesting, because I started working at Chama when I was 20 years old,” she said. “I wasn’t even 21 when I started working there. I feel very lucky that I was introduced to such good beer right from the start. I also thought it was a very, very pivotal time in the New Mexico craft industry. Ted (Rice) was just leaving, Jeff (Erway) was just coming on. I got to work with John Bullard and Justin (Hamilton), and all of these people that are now heavy hitters in New Mexico craft beer. I learned a lot from them. I’d always go back in the brewhouse (area) and chat with them, learn from them. It was a good time.”
Vidalis did not have too much time to settle into her role. There was WinterBrew, where she got to make her debut interacting with the public for the first time, plus a legislative session was going on over at the Roundhouse.
“I feel like things have pretty much gone (according to the job) description,” she said. “I felt like I knew this community. I’ve been passionate about beer in New Mexico for 14, 15 years now. Just having that background, and still maintaining a lot of those relationships, and having experience in a lot of the tasks I’m now delegated with, I feel like it was a natural transition. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy one. I am holding the weight of NMBG on my back right now. I am the only employee. I’m definitely still learning. There’s a ton to learn. There’s also a ton of new breweries since I’ve been super active in the community. That’s been one of the biggest things, meeting new people, tasting what they have to offer, hearing what they have to offer.”
When Vidalis left New Mexico, there was maybe one-third of the 90-plus breweries scattered around the state. The rapid growth of the craft beer scene was something that did, and yet did not surprise her.
“Yes and no,” she said. “I think it’s surprising because we are such a small populated state, but it’s also not surprising because this is New Mexico’s vibe. We’re passionate about things that are New Mexican (made). When you have people that are producing such great stuff, it’s just natural that we’ve really gotten into it.”
Now that she is settling into the job, Vidalis said her main goal is to “really create more visibility between the New Mexico Brewers Guild and the public.”
“I know for myself, even having worked in the industry, I didn’t really know who they were and what they really did,” she said of the Guild. “I want to bring into the light a lot of the legislation we’ve helped pass, the role that we take in helping out the community. I think it would be really beneficial, not just for us, but the community as a whole.”
One new way to do that is the introduction of the Enthusiast Membership, where the public can tap into the industry (pun intended) in new and exciting ways.
“We’ve launched the Enthusiast Membership, as you know, and so, I would really, really like to get that going,” Vidalis said. “I think it would be a great opportunity to get people involved in breweries that they didn’t know about, or maybe they did but didn’t try before. It gives them a lot of incentive to really travel around and start tasting even more beer.”
There is a basic description currently posted on the NMBG website, which includes how to sign up, and Vidalis sent us some additional details via email. The cost is $50 for one year, and it will include specific discounts and special offers at participating breweries, discounts on NMBG-hosted festivals/events, and merchandise, plus invitations to Guild socials, a special newsletter, invitations to future seminars and special members-only events, and other perks and special offers to encourage beer lovers to travel throughout New Mexico and visit the many breweries beyond just the Albuquerque and Santa Fe metro areas.
“Our hope is to inspire our craft beer lovers into seeking those untapped discoveries, bring awareness of the efforts of NMBG to the forefront of the community, and to keep our members excited and informed about everything NM craft beer,” Vidalis wrote.
Beyond that, Vidalis said that the current legislative session in Santa Fe has been mostly quiet on the craft beer front. The medical sick leave bill and one of the tax bills look like the only ones that will have an effect, and most of that will be behind the scenes and not really affect the day-to-day operations of breweries and other businesses.
That all sounds like good news to us. I want to send a big thank you to Tess for driving down from Santa Fe and taking the time to sit down and chat over lunch and a beer. We all look forward to another positive working relationship with the NMBG executive director.
Oh, and if any of you have any questions for Tess, message them to us and we will be happy to pass them along. Yes, even if it’s just something along the lines of “do you remember me from Chama River?”
3 Comments Add yours
A nice intro of Tess, who did a great job with the Winterfest as the first festival for 2022.