Will Moorman is a patient man.
At least, that is what we figured after the head brewer at Flix Brewhouse had to wait a very, very long time to resume doing what he loves compared to others whose breweries were shut down for only a few months or weeks during the pandemic. Flix, in contrast, was shut down for more than a year, as movie theaters were among the last places that were allowed to reopen in much of the country.
The movie theater brewery on the west side of Albuquerque reopened officially on September 30, a full 18 months since it was shut down along with every other movie theater in mid-March 2020. It should come as no surprise, then, that a lot went into getting the entire place up and running, far beyond simply turning the lights back on and unlocking the doors.
“No, not even close,” Moorman said. “When we reopened here, a lot of the people who reopened this store were also reopening other stores. Before this store was even a consideration, I spent four months in San Antonio, hiring Wes Burbank, actually, to be head brewer out there, set him up for success. Then it was on to the next store, and onto the next store. While opening Flix Albuquerque, I was dealing with glycol issues in Indiana, and boiler issues in Wisconsin. It’s been nuts. I wasn’t the only one dealing with these problems, right? This whole team has been dealing with all of this.
“And, just like everyone else at the time, we’ve been having a really hard time hiring. So, there were days where I would come in and be ready to brew, and I would get the call, hey, we need you running food. Cool, then we’re running food. Hey, all of the pressure on all of the toilets don’t work anymore. Cool, I’m going to be the plumber today.
“I wouldn’t say that I look back on it fondly, necessarily, right? It was absolutely fascinating and interesting. I wouldn’t want to do it again. Maybe that’s what it is, I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I do look back on it fondly. Maybe that’s the best way to describe it.”
Like many other breweries, the staff at Flix felt that they came out of the pandemic stronger than before.
“It’s been really interesting, really tough,” Moorman said. “Now that we’re back up and running, I feel like we’ve been through the worst thing that any business can deal with, right? It was especially hard as a theater with no new movies coming out when we were opening up. We had a couple movies, but people still weren’t sure if they felt safe going to the movies. We take COVID precautions very seriously here and we started when the shutdown even started. We wanted to make sure we were set up for success, that people could come here safely, and that people actually wanted to come.”
That ended up being the biggest concern for everyone involved, whether or not the public would flock back to movie theaters.
“It was a huge gamble there,” Moorman said. “When we started opening our doors nationwide we didn’t know what to expect. And, it’s been amazing, the response has been amazing. People are ready to go back to the movies. We feel like we’ve done a really good job. We’ve absolutely had our challenges. Thinking of San Antonio, the day that we reopened, the projectors all went down like at 7 (p.m.) when our first film was slated for 7. I had to go up and give a speech, like, Flix started in … let’s see how long we can drag this out. It’s been fun, lots of hats to wear.”
As one might expect, there have been plenty of changes at the Flix in Albuquerque, and really the entire company nationwide. That included the person sitting next to Moorman during our interview, his new assistant brewer, Jared Romero, who previously worked at The 377 Brewery and on the packaging line at La Cumbre.
“Just like everybody else, we lost a lot of people, and we gained a lot of people,” Moorman said. “It’s been fun to work with a new team of brewers specifically. Jared is our new assistant brewer here, he’s been absolutely kicking ass.”
“Thank you,” Romero replied.
“Eventually, the goal is for Jared to potentially take over Flix Albuquerque, as I move into a more managerial role for the entire company,” Moorman said. “Right now, I have a new job title. I’m technically the regional head brewer for Flix Brewhouse, meaning that I am operating as head brewer of Flix Albuquerque and overseeing El Paso, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio, in addition to my own store. As things continue, my goal is slowly add more and more stores until I’m overseeing everybody, at which point Jared will be trained up and ready to take over ABQ.”
There is no specific timeline yet for that transition, so for the time being, Moorman will still be behind the glass, working on the brewhouse here in town. Romero, in the meantime, will spend his time learning all he can, and has already proven to be quite capable whenever Moorman has to jet off to another Flix location.
“It’s been interesting,” Romero said. “We do stuff differently than other places where I’ve worked. It took me a minute to get the hang of a lot of the ways that it’s run here, but honestly, it makes a lot more sense. It’s somewhat more intuitively laid out. But, aside from that, I’ve been loving it. Will’s wonderful, probably one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.”
“The interesting thing about Jared coming on is that I’ve had to travel a lot, and I think the first time I had to take off was what, two weeks after you started?” Moorman added. “There’s this huge learning curve to any new brewhouse. We’ve all made mistakes. Jared has made a handful of mistakes here and there, but I’ve never seen somebody recognize those mistakes and take off running in the right direction with so little guidance. Which is more so a denigration of me not being here. … Jared has been an absolute pleasure to work with, so far. Nobody poach him, please.”
While that change has gone well for Flix, there was still a lot to fix and upgrade to get things ready for the reopening. Just before the shutdown, there were electrical issues with the boiler, which ultimately necessitated a partial re-wiring of the building. It was one of several big projects that had to get done before the doors could open.
“Luckily, we were able to work with a company to get all of that replaced, and get our boiler up and running,” Moorman said. “We had beer on in, I think we had about a two-week window, we had beer on by night one. That was one of the more wild challenges that we had to deal with.”
Once the brewery was ready to go, all the brewers at all the Flix locations began working on updating the core beer lineup and more.
“Yes, that was another big initiative that we got pushed through,” Moorman said. “When we closed, we were trying to see how unified nationally each of our units could be in terms of beer. So that meant adding more core beers to our lineup that we serve at every location year round, but it also meant doing a ton more national seasonals, like an Oktoberfest or we did a Helles that everybody brewed for two months out of the year. We tried it, we wanted to see how it worked, and it was a nightmare. Running out of tap space, nobody was brewing local specialties to make room for all of these national seasonals, it was kind of a bummer.”
The new core lineup consists of 10 Day Scottish Ale, Lucha Libre Mexican Lager, Luna Rosa Wit, and Nebulas Hazy IPA. The rotating seasonals, like the current Island Boy Tropical Stout, are made almost solely from in-house recipes, as opposed to those shared among all Flix breweries.
“So I think what people are looking for now isn’t knowing that they can get seven of the same Flix that they go to nationwide, but knowing when they come here that this a real craft brewery, it’s not some corporate, bullshit gimmick,” Moorman said. “Each one of our locations has a brewery. We are not fed recipes from some corporate machine. Everything you taste from Flix in Albuquerque, every award we’ve won was brewed in house, and came from a recipe here. I think there’s kind of been this stigma to Flix that just because we’re a movie theater, because we’re a (national) corporation that we aren’t maybe necessarily true blue, or maybe we’re not part of the craft beer industry. That kind of hurts. You’re brewing the beer and pumping your heart and soul into it.”
The local fans of Flix seemed to appreciate this new approach, particularly for one recent seasonal that seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye.
“It’s like that biscochito beer we did for Christmas,” Romero said. “Will came to me one day and said I want to do a winter warmer, so we put our heads together and started working on this recipe. It sold out in two weeks.”
“I got so many angry texts and phone calls, you’re out already?!” Moorman added with a laugh. “We try stuff, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, but that ended up being a good thing.
“We’ve been part of this community for five years, with two years being shut down, but we care a lot about New Mexico craft beer. We do a lot to support that. Maybe hopefully people will see us in 2022 as part of the community.”
One thing that Flix will continue to do is create beers that fit with the big-ticket movies as those are released in 2022.
“The really fun thing about this year and next year with Hollywood was 2019 was a slow year, but 2020 was slated to be an awesome year, movie-wise,” Moorman said. “2021 was slated to be an even better year movie-wise. All of those movies still exist. All of those movies are still coming out, but they’re having to jam them back to back to back. ‘The Batman’ hits in March, which looks incredible. We’ve already brewed The Dark Knight Schwarzbier, and from there is banger after banger.”
Other beers on deck include a craft malt liquor called Enter the Maltiverse, which will be tied in with Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, plus a blood orange hazy IPA called Vampire Juice that will be tied into the upcoming Morbius, starring Jared Leto.
“The goofiest beer names often lead to the best beers,” Romero said.
We can raise a pint to that, and are quite thankful to see our favorite movie theater back up and running. A big thanks to Will and Jared for taking the time to chat on a busy day. We look forward to all the goofy, wonderful beers coming up with all the big movie releases, and to just being able to chill out with a pint in a theater again.
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