After a relatively static period during the height of the pandemic, a new shuffle of head brewers is underway in New Mexico.
“There was very little mobility during the pandemic,” said La Reforma co-owner John Gozigian, who has just hired a new head brewer/distiller. “Now that things are getting back to normal, for a long time, breweries weren’t hiring, because they didn’t need to. Now demand is back, production is going up, and a lot of positions are there to fill. It’s creating turnover.”
What started with the departure of Ted O’Hanlan from Bow & Arrow at the start of the year, with Kevin Davis arriving to succeed him, is now extending to seven other breweries.
For La Reforma, at least, it turned out to be a fairly quick search, as a former head brewer was on his way back to New Mexico and needed a job. Gozigian said he learned this from a conversation with Tractor Brewing president/co-owner Skye Devore, who was having drinks with friends at La Reforma.
James Warren, the former head brewer at Blue Corn (now Hidden Mountain) in Santa Fe, is returning this summer.
“I reached out to Skye about a completely different job, not with Tractor, to get her opinion on it,” Warren said in phone interview from across the country. “During that process she said I think John is looking for somebody. John called me half an hour later. As soon as I knew (it was with) John G, I knew I wanted the job. We knew each other for a long time. I just know him and Jeff (Jinnett), when I come back, I want to work for you guys. I know we can do some good things.”
Gozigian was all too happy to discuss the job with someone he already knew.
“We reached out a few times, talked about the details of the job,” Gozigian said. “We talked about his needs. His wife is a veterinarian and she’s been working for a couple years now. They’ve been moving around, doing residencies. They’re currently in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I guess she interviewed with a place here, got hired, so they’re coming back. They have a baby now. She’s working full-time. So he needed a schedule where he works four days a week. I said absolutely. When you’ve got a guy that’s that accomplished, he’s done brewing, distilling, production, he can make his own schedule. We talked, came to terms, and that’s about it.”
Warren even has a past connection to La Reforma, making him an even more natural fit.
“I’ve known James for quite a while now,” Gozigian said. “I respect him a lot. He actually helped us get our distilling program off the ground when he was still living here. It’s so natural for him to take over. He has production distilling experience, and he obviously comes with brewing experience.”
Warren will succeed founding brewer Robert Buskirk-Lechner.
“His last day is (this) Friday,” Gozigian said. “His fiancee just finished her PhD. They have feelers out in two places, Boulder, and then Raleigh. She has offers at both. They’re waiting for one last piece of the puzzle to make a decision, but they’re going to go to one of those two places. If they do go to Raleigh, Robert has to go to the brewery where James was working. That would be perfect.”
“He’s a great brewer,” Warren said of Buskirk-Lechner. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’m excited to walk into a brewery that’s been so well taken care of the last few years.”
Warren and his family are not scheduled to move back until July, but Gozigian said La Reforma is set up to carry on for the next two months plus.
“For two-and-a-half months, Marisa Sandoval is going to be running the show,” Gozigian said. “She’s going to have her hands full. She and Robert worked really hard on spirits, really hard on the core styles of beer. At least on the brewing side, she’ll have several beers to finish. She’ll have to get a couple of the lagers going a couple weeks before James gets here.
“Otherwise, she’ll focus on distilling, because our batch size is so much smaller, so she’ll have to do that more frequently. We’ve also gotten into wholesale, so our turnover is greater.”
Warren said he is looking forward to tackling both the brewing and distilling at La Reforma.
“The beer, it seems like the core brands haven’t hanged much,” he said. “They’re more traditional style beers, something I really enjoy. The spirits, too, I don’t want to say simple, but there’s no gin, at least for now. They’re straight forward. They fit their menu. I think that’s really awesome. I haven’t gotten to work with a lot of agave, so I’m excited about that. Rum, all that, I’ve done plenty of times before. I’m excited to be working on a smaller still, too. Hopefully get to have a little fun, try some new things.”
Warren is also looking forward to seeing everyone in the New Mexico brew scene that he knew from his time at Blue Corn.
“The New Mexico brewing industry was so friendly and helpful,” he said. “So many good people. I’m looking forward to getting back to that. I miss the hell out of a lot of people. I probably texted Zach (Guilmette) from Canteen a dozen times.”
So while things are looking good for La Reforma, there is plenty of turnover elsewhere. In the Albuquerque area, there are head brewer job postings for JUNO, Red Door, and The 377. We know where Red Door’s Matt Meier is heading, but will await the official announcement. We do not know where The 377’s Lyna Waggoner has gone. The brewing at JUNO was being split between multiple people, including Ian Graham, who is a co-owner of the former Dialogue Brewing. Graham now spends the majority of his time brewing with David Facey at Sobremesa, so we can understand that JUNO is looking for someone to take over that position on a full-time basis.
In Santa Fe, both Hidden Mountain and Rowley Farmhouse Ales have their head brewer jobs listed, though per our writer Luke Macias, new brewers are already en route to take over at both places. There is also a head brewer job listed for Truth or Consequences Brewing down south.
Throw in three assistant/shift brewer jobs listed as open at Flix Brewhouse, Red River Brewing, and Rio Bravo Brewing, and it is clear that a lot of movement has begun, and figures to continue for the remainder of this year.
The Crew will keep covering all of the big moves as they happen.
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