I hadn’t been to 32 Bisbee Ct. since Tumbleroot reopened their smaller taproom and started serving from it again in May of last year. Previously, the garage bay of their brewing facility was the only door of that location open to the public. Their Agua Fria space, one of the largest taprooms in town, had also been reduced to patio service only during the pandemic.
When lead brewer Andy Lane and owner Jason Kirkman invited me to meet them at Bisbee Ct. to chat about Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery’s Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry, I was thrilled to make the short trip.
Throughout the pandemic, Tumbleroot had remained closed longer than most of the other breweries in town, only opening when all of their people felt comfortable enough to do so. During this time, Kirkman and company were truly tested as the rules continued to change.
“It was a challenge and a real learning experience,” Kirkman said. “Adapting and taking advantage of new opportunities, and really continuing to redefine the business somewhat, because, as you know, the backbone of our business, we couldn’t really participate in.”
Kirkman is referring to their music venue and the many events and shows they regularly hosted at the Agua Fria location. The larger of the two taprooms was shut down for much of 2020, all the way through the end of March 2021, and they didn’t start hosting live music, albeit, outdoor-only live music until late spring/early summer. And, even then, bands were cancelling shows left and right, for reasons related to the big C.
It wasn’t until after the first couple of waves had come and gone that Tumbleroot had slowy begun to gain momentum again, picking up some of the national (musical) acts like those that had originally been headed to Meow Wolf, as well as several AMP concerts due to their advantageous venue size. But, then again when Omicron hit, they had to back off from hosting larger events for a time.
“It’s been a lot of stop, start, stop, start, for live music,” Kirkman said. “It really hasn’t started feeling kind of normal and solid on that front until (February 2022).”
During that time, however, Tumbleroot focused its efforts on creating a better outdoor space, with a large, shaded area and stage, both of which they built by hand in March 2021.
They also focused more on branching out through distribution as they handed much of their spirits and beer package sales over to an outside distributor. And, it’s been working out nicely for them, moving their product into new markets.
“We don’t have to worry about the nuts and bolts of it,” Kirkman said. “We don’t spend as much time out dealing with the accounts, but we still do that. It’s important, and it’s kind of integral to our brand having those personal relationships.”
And, Lane and Kirkman both agree that it’s also a lot less driving time in an era of rising gas prices.
Hiring a salesperson has also had a good impact on their sales, but Tumbleroot is still self-distributing to stores like Trader Joe’s, and that’s just one of many relationships that has grown over time.
“All three branches in the state have really embraced Tumbleroot, especially the Santa Fe branch,” Kirkman said.
And, when House Bill 255 was signed into law earlier in the year, one of the changes allowed NM distillers to distribute their spirits to other breweries’ taprooms and restaurants with the new license.
“That was huge for us,” Kirkman said. “We went from gins being our top sellers, to, all of a sudden, Agave spirits being at the top.”
Previously there hadn’t been reciprocity between wineries and breweries with distilleries attached, only between wineries and breweries (sans spirits). Now, an establishment with a beer and wine license can spend an extra $500 and get an additional license which allows them to sell New Mexico-made spirits, Lane told us.
Currently, Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Tin Can Alley, in Albuquerque, is one of Tumbleroot’s largest accounts.
Though it is getting better, Tumbleroot shared many of the supply chain struggles as their fellow brewers and distillers throughout the year. While they have a pretty unique shape to their cocktail and beer cans, they still faced delayed shipments and other odd issues, such as having to order more materials than they need, or having to order before they’ve even run out of what they have in stock to keep with shipment continuity. Just placing orders for shrink sleeves (their version of the beer can label) has been anything but a normal process and has become increasingly hard to predict.
“We have no trend data on how this stuff sells, and how much of it we’re going to sell. And then, we have to order the cans for this product eight weeks ahead of time, or more. How are we going to know what we need? So it was blind ordering,” Lane said.
Lane also told us that as far as brewing supplies, there was thankfully a bit of a hop surplus this past year, if anything, as the farmers had continued growing during the seasons the brewers had stopped or slowed production.
“We actually had some really good choices for awhile,” he said.
Kirkman added that acquiring malts, on the other hand, was not as simple. The specific Weyerman malt they typically use for their Oktoberfest was not available this time around.
With the many issues they faced, Tumbleroot remains hopeful for a better 2022. They got through the past year with a lot of hard work, a little luck, and some good timing.
“We worked really hard,” Lane said. “And, at the same time, we had some really good things that pushed us, like the State Fair. That kind of thing worked in our favor to really push our brand and to sell a lot of products for us. That and getting into certain stores and chains was huge.”
If you recall, Tumbleroot was asked to produce a cocktail and a beer for the State Fair in September 2021. Just in the nick of time they delivered an Angry Mule and Blue Corn Lager for the event, which was not just big for the brewery, but huge for the state as it helped signify the return of many such large-scale events.
Kirkman told us that making it through another tough year was due to Tumbleroot’s ability to remain nimble. With the variety of products they offer, they were able to shift their focus from music venue to production, and from on-site sales to wholesale.
For 2022, the Tumbleroot team is just looking forward to feeling a little more normal again. And, with more shows returning to the Agua Fria location and festivals coming up, it is starting to feel like a return to the way we were.
Kirkman would love to have the taproom open six days a week, reasoning that as their show schedule at Agua Fria becomes more consistent again, there will be more consistency at their taproom again.
And, already with a great string of shows under their belt, from traveling Indy Troubadores to DJ dance parties, from the Latin stage-explosion of Nosotros, to the third (or fourth or fifth) face-melting return of Metal Monday, peppered in with sold-out comedy shows, fundraisers, and even hosting 2022 Grammy winning soul-channeler, Cedric Burnside, Tumbleroot is back behind the footlights, and happy to be there. For a full schedule of upcoming shows, visit their website.
As we inch nearer to the old normal, Kirkman said he is also looking forward to getting out in the open air again, to do a bit of traveling, to meet people and help further the brand, whether it’s in our state or a couple of our next-door neighbors.
In May, Kirkman said he plans to head down to El Paso for the Sun City Beer Festival, which was one of the countless other festivals to have been postponed the past couple years. Kirkman said he sees this as an opportunity to meet more craft beer and spirit aficionados, and build a few new relationships, since Tumbleroot did just launch in West Texas in February. He said they’ll do a couple other events in that area to just get the brand out there, since New Mexico craft beer and spirits tend to do very well in the area.
They also have plans to work with a Colorado distributor to get their spirits into the southern part of the state.
However broadly they aim to expand, Lane said he still believes there’s still so much growth to do right here at home.: “That’s our number one focus. But, at the same time, there are healthy ways we can start expanding, and we’re just trying to do it the right way.”
And on that note, I can confirm that Tumbleroot is one step closer to opening their third taproom on the north side of Santa Fe. Dark Side will absolutely have the story for you as they get closer.
With a bit less worry over the business’s future, and a few positive prospects on the horizon, the Tumbleroot team is more able to appreciate the little things, the bright spots and the small victories, and get back to the parts of the job that let them experiment and create again.
For both Lane and Kirkman, it’s still the best part of what they do. Both problem solvers at heart, taking on new projects in the brewhouse and figuring out how to make them work is what gets them going in the morning. Whether it’s coming up with brand-new ways to infuse flavors into old beer styles, or creating their own amari (that’s plural for Italian bitters), or taking what they’ve learned from herb and spice extraction and hand-crafting liqueurs just for their bar’s use, that’s more their speed.
“For me it’s little things like picking juniper and spruce tips every October that makes it not feel like we’re just manufacturing without soul. It puts soul into everything that comes out of the brewhouse,” Lane said.
Speaking of which, in the next couple of months, be on the lookout for plenty of new cocktail creations as the bars come back in full force. On the beer side, because we are a beer blog after all, look out for Tumbleroot’s Blood Orange Hibiscus Wheat ale, a hoppy pilsner, a fresh batch of imperial red, and possibly a new West Coast IPA.
Besides exciting new creations, I asked what they’re looking forward to most for the coming year. Kirkman said his answer might be boring, but it’s stability.
But, with a collective deep breath, I think we’re all on board for a little stability in our world in the coming months. Amen to that. Though stability is at the top of his list, Kirkman said he also wants to see the Tumbleroot brand grow as organically as possible, and the taproom become a place that continues to create community.
Lane said he is happy to have live music back in his world.
“It’s great to look at some of our shows that are coming up and say, I get to see that person live, and everybody’s starting to feel more comfortable and get out as well” he said. “And, the patio, there’s something about that patio. When it’s a nice day outside and it’s vibing, it’s a great place!”
“And, the lights at night are magical,” Kirkman added.
For Tumbleroot, adaptability has allowed them to thrive in harsh conditions. But, it was also the adaptability of the folks who continue to support them that allows them carry on. If it wasn’t for the people coming out to buy package beer, spirits, and hand sanitizer out of the Bisbee Court garage bay during the summer of 2020, Tumbleroot might not have made the progress that they have, like buying their canning line to aid the hard pivot to production-focused brewing and distilling. And, if it wasn’t for the folks who came out to patio show after patio show, and to indoor events, whether masks were required or not, or came out for quiet Saturdays with cocktails or sushi on Wednesday nights in 2021, Tumbleroot might not be in the position to keep putting great shows on that stage in 2022.
The team at Tumbleroot is grateful to their many supporters, for their dedication to the brand and to the venue. And, though it may sometimes go without saying, we too are grateful for the brewery’s hard work in keeping their dream alive, keeping something creative (and delicious) in our glasses, and keeping music in our community. To Tumbleroot’s healthy growth for 2022 and beyond, and to yours my friends and readers, cheers!
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