It has been a little less than a year since Red Door Brewing closed its original brewery and taproom on Candelaria, moving brewing operations to the shared Mother Trail facility at 12th Street and Bellamah. Like so many other things, however, in the last two years, it can seem like a lifetime ago.
I caught up with operations manager Ali Cattin and head brewer Matt Maier at the downtown taproom last week to go over how that big move has affected everything, as well as all the other news in the past year for Red Door.
“I know this is going to shock you, but we went through a lot of change,” Cattin said.
“There’s been challenges, I can’t sugarcoat it too much,” Maier said. “We’re still able to turn out our regular beers, try to keep up with our distributor’s demands as well as the taprooms’ demands. Last year, we were able to do it, but we were under COVID regulations. This year, it’s already March and I feel like we’re already chasing a little bit. So hopefully this summer we’re able to keep up.”
Taproom sales downtown and in Clovis have already topped the 2019 numbers for the first three months of the year, Cattin said.
Last year also saw the opening of a second location in Clovis, Levine’s Gardens, located on Main Street.
“We’ve got the Levine’s space down in Clovis opening in (one week), so there’s more demand on the brewing side,” Maier said. “That’s why I say it feels like we’re a little behind now. The beer in preparation for that place opening should have been brewed by now, in theory.”
“It’s the pessimistic worry side of Matt Maier that’s in play,” Cattin said. “That will be open, depending on the week, like two to three days per week. It’s more of an event space, but we’re trying to expand what they’re offering this year. It’s going to be really busy. It was really busy last year and we had terrible weather. I feel like it was rained out a lot. With even better weather, it’s going to be awesome.”
The main Clovis taproom at Hooks Alley just celebrated its own anniversary.
“I can’t believe Clovis has been open for three years,” Cattin said, though Maier noted she seemed a bit unsure of that at first.
“You’re talking about the pre-COVID days, that might as well be the Paleolithic era now,” he quipped.
Cattin added that they are working on another new “side project” in Clovis, but would not go into any further details yet. Both she and Maier agreed that Clovis has been a big hit for Red Door.
As for Albuquerque, while the downtown taproom has been consistently beating its projections, that has kept the pressure on Maier and the brewing team at Mother Trail. For the most part, they are focused on getting the core brands restocked, so there will not be any new styles in package for a while.
“Honestly, really, no,” Maier said. “Right now it’s just buckle down and get the core brands out there. Try to get ahead of them.”
An equipment issue, which seems to be the norm these days across the industry, has also popped up.
“We’re trying to get the (brewhouse) boil kettle rebuilt,” Cattin said.
“(Conlan Steel Works) basically gutted the burner box at the bottom and is redoing that,” Maier said. “We’re running two days a week on the other kettle, Mother Trail’s, until that can be rebuilt. We’ll have to install it, clean it, fill it with water, make sure it does boil. It’ll be a couple weeks before we can brew on it.
“Once we get that plugged back in and working, then it’s going to be a whole new adjustment in labor having three part-time brewers. If we’re brewing four or five times a week, there’s no time for cellar work, so that will be a new adjustment. But, that will be a good problem to have.”
Cattin added that they are looking to hire another brewer, but that seems to be an issue every brewery is dealing with right now, so Red Door is aware that the demand is greater than the supply of trained individuals.
“I said this back when the pandemic started and we started closing down taprooms, well, everyone is dealing with the same problem as we are, so I don’t feel bad,” Maier said. “And, here we are towards the end of this pandemic, and we’re dealing with different fallouts and different things we’d never seen coming, but we’re dealing with it just like every other brewery is. It makes it a little easier pill to swallow.”
“It still sucks,” Cattin added.
As for the existing beers and ciders, those are still selling well in both cities.
“Vanilla Cream keeps the lights on,” Maier said. “Our top sellers week over week through our taprooms are Vanilla, (Irish) Red, West Coast IPA, New England (IPA), and Mic Czech (Pilsner). It’s just whatever order it goes in, but those are usually always the top five. Our cider has been really popular. In the last year we’ve rebranded that.”
Unhinged Cider, in both original apple and sour cherry, has its own look now.
“That’s done pretty well for us,” Maier said. “The new branding has improved sales over the way we used to sell it.”
Cattin noted that working with the Mother Trail team, with their experience in blending and packaging, has really helped get the Unhinged Sour Cherry right where Red Door has always wanted it in terms of flavor profile and shelf sustainability.
“There’s not a whole lot of exciting new beers down the line, right now it’s just maintain what we have going,” Maier said. “We haven’t been able to do any sours when our kettle has been down, because we don’t have a temperature controller on the other kettle. So that will be the first thing I do when I get my kettle back.”
The popular Paleta Series from 2020 could make a return later this year, though Cattin said she was unsure if Red Door will have the time to reincorporate it, and if the downtown customer crowd is really that into fruited sours.
“It’s a very different vibe down here than it was over at (Candelaria),” Cattin said. “(But) downtown isn’t another dimension.”
Just like the other breweries, Red Door has dealt with supply chain issues and the increased cost of just about everything. Cattin joked that she got sticker shock from seeing the gas receipts from their delivery driver after his last supply run to Clovis.
“Shipping has been rough,” Cattin said. “We’re paying double what we were a year ago to ship stuff out. Yeah, it’s been a pain.”
Maier said that even with the increased costs, his hope is for the brewery to absorb those, rather than pass it along to customers. With lower overhead at Mother Trail than at Candelaria, he said he believed that could work.
On a brighter note, Cattin said she is excited for the return of beer festivals of all shapes and sizes.
“I’ve been signing up for every festival that comes our way,” she said. “It’s getting back out there.”
“Personally, I think the only issue with events is staffing,” Maier said. “Which, you’re going to find that in every story in this whole series. It seems to be a common denominator.”
Red Door is trying to increase its number of employees, but then again, so is everyone else.
“The managers at the taprooms have been running lean, and making it work, but purposely running lean and keeping labor costs under control,” Cattin said. “They’ve been doing a fantastic job. Now we’re getting into the busy season and trying to staff up. You’re putting posts out there and getting less than qualified applicants.”
“Same on the brewing side,” Maier added.
“I’ve been talking to the other women in the industry, and this is running a brewery in 2022,” Cattin said. “This is the business now. I think it’s across all industries.”
For the most part, just finding that stability, that general sense of equilibrium, is the main goal for Red Door for the rest of this year.
“We moved last year, it’s been a process of moving in,” Cattin said. “We’ve had equipment issues, so it would be really nice this year if it would work itself out and we’d find our rhythm again. It’s been an adjustment.”
We will raise a pint of Vanilla Cream Ale, or perhaps the Mic Czech, in hopes that this year will indeed bring a great sense of rhythm to Red Door and all the other local breweries. A big thanks to Ali and Matt for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet up.
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