After a bit of a hiatus due to Covid-related shutdowns and so forth. Flix triumphantly reopened their Albuquerque location in 2022. They also won gold at the Great American Beer Festival for Lucha Libre, their Mexican-style lager. I (Franz Solo) was fortunate to get to hang out with brewers Will Moorman and Brandon Venaglia to talk all things in the land of Flix for the past year, and looking to this year.
Solo: So, Look Back/Look Ahead 2022 into 2023. Thinking about successes of the past year, obviously the medal from GABF being the cherry, the icing on the top, what other sorts of successes would you consider from this past year?
Will: We dipped into some new styles that we hadn’t brewed before. I guess historically, I haven’t really had the confidence in myself to really branch out and try some more technical or weirder styles that I thought maybe wouldn’t sell as well. But, coming back after shutdown I felt a lot more liberated. I felt like everybody was more willing to be a bit more adventurous. So I know a bock isn’t a super huge stretch, but we did a bock that sold outrageously well here, sold seven barrels in 17 days. We did a malt liquor that absolutely screamed, 21 days for seven barrels or something like that. Since Brandon joined us, he has delved into interesting historic beers that are pretty cool. Authentic Frontier Gibberish, our collaboration with Steel Bender, was incredible.
Brandon: That recipe was very interesting, it was a part of some research that I did which was rather specific to the style that seems to be lost. It’s certainly not on any BJCP list. It’s understandable, I guess, when you delve into the history of it, just about any kind of beer that was brewed before Prohibition has been brewed since. Hazy IPAs weren’t a thing, but IPAs were brewed in America before prohibition.
Will: Being able to brew a bock using corn and 6-row, and have it still be representative of a bock is pretty cool, and it sold like hot cakes. So I’d say 2022 was interesting trying to get back in the swing of things. I hadn’t brewed beer in Albuquerque in 18 months. It was kinda cool to remember what people here like, which is different from some of our other markets. Really, it was about getting those repetitions in again, and it was phenomenal to be able to see old faces here. A lot of our regulars came back with open arms, so that was pretty great.
Solo: The community was certainly ready for a drink and a film, and missing you guys.
Will: 2022 was a bit nuts, we definitely took it on the chin here and there, but we also had a lot of really great successes.
Solo: Challenges of the past year?
Will: Man, supply chain like everybody else, dealing with companies that were also getting back in the swing of things. Even companies that had stayed open that were supplying us with various ingredients were now having to deal with the demand of the entire country reopening. So it was tricky getting a hold of some things, or knowing if we needed to order grain for X, Y, and Z, we should do it two weeks sooner than we would have pre-COVID.
Brandon: Limited options with the shipping companies, since the ball was in their court. They had a lot of control to where we kind of got the short end of the stick a few times, and had some very disgruntled drivers here and there. You understand to a certain extent, but everybody taking it out on each other is just not the way to go. With our suppliers, their hands were tied because there’s not a lot of options in Albuquerque for that last mile of the delivery process. Somebody that can handle shipping from beginning to end is very hard to find. Personal challenges related to the profession in terms of bouncing around employment, life changes that led me here, there were a few things that were out of my control. Fortunately I was able to land here, but I think that a lot of that upheaval wasn’t just me.
Solo: There were a lot of people moving jobs this past year, generally speaking, in the industry and in the job market as a whole. I think a lot of the psychological toll of the last three years is bearing its fruit, so to speak. People need a change, want a change and want a switch or have been forced to make a switch.
Will: I think that it might be even longer than three years. I think maybe the psychological toll of the last decade in this industry, I think things are coming to a head. People are saying enough is enough, I’m not going to deal with these low wages or an absentee owner who’s going to sign us up for a bunch of nonsense that is going to occupy seven days a week for me, so to speak. Now that workers are in higher demand than jobs, people are able to say, “No, I’m going to go work someplace that actually gives a shit about me.”
Solo: Yeah, pays me a better wage and maybe gives me some benefits and start to make that shift as far as the workforce is concerned, which is absolutely necessary at this time in history. It’s gone way too far the other direction, and the old mentalities of “work your way up,” “bootstraps,” and whatnot, just isn’t going to fly anymore.
Will: Yeah, fuck bootstraps.
Brandon: I think that there’s a lot of room in there for improvements, but now that there are these programs like what Antonio (Fernandez is) overseeing at CNM, I think that program is going to give our industry better talent, they’re going to be more prepared for the work.
Will: I think we’re going to see a boost in quality all around as a result, fingers crossed.
Solo: More education can’t hurt.
Will: Yeah, exactly.
Brandon: I didn’t take that route.
Will: Well, neither of us took that route but if we had the available option to do so.
Brandon: Yeah, when I started in the industry it was basically only a couple of places in the entire country where you could get that, UC Davis and a couple other programs around the country. I think the growth on that level is going to help a lot, give us a lot more talent and you would hope that they (the students) can use that to their advantage when getting into the industry. You can’t just pay somebody dirt wages to do all of the dirty work.
Will: Or nothing, like back in the day when we were knocking down doors to say, “Hey, can I please scrub your toilets?”
Brandon: And, that stuff needs to get done, don’t get me wrong.
Solo: But, you need to be paid for your work. You need to be paid a reasonable amount for the work that you do.
Brandon: I think that what we as a community here in Albuquerque need to do is just get better every year. The ones that don’t, they kind of fall by the wayside.
Solo: Yeah, it’s natural selection.
Will: I’m hoping that this not only serves to improve the brewing community, but other tangental industries. They say beer often follows the food scene in a major city, but the beer scene is pretty incredible here. While we do have a nice restaurant scene here, I’m hoping that craft beer may be the leader in this and that the food scene will follow. I’m just hoping this turns into more money for the city as a whole.
Solo: We are seeing the same sort of issues in the food scene, trying to fight against the old norms of how much you’re being paid, versus how much you’re worth, and seeing that same struggle throughout, well, everywhere. Anywhere you look, “we need more workers.” Well, there’s the elephant in the room.
Will: It’s way more intense in the food industry than it is in the brewing industry as far as finding people willing to work. Eating food that you don’t prepare yourself is such a huge part of human culture, that while we may not continue with the current system, I think that we’re going to see a shift in what restaurants look like, and what it means to go out, what it means to purchase a meal from somebody else. I’m excited for that. I think we’ve got some cool stuff happening, but we’ll see.
Solo: Looking ahead to this year, cool things you have on the horizon, hopes?
Will: We’re entering World Beer Cup for the first time, which we’re pretty pumped about. We missed it the last couple of years, feeling pretty good post-GABF gold.
Solo: Riding that wave.
Will: Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Entire Flix wise, we’ve got a lot of talent right now, which is really cool. So we’re trying to foster that culture of craft beer, push for more realization that we are not just a movie theater and a gimmicky brewery, but that we are a brewery that produces some damn fine beer.
Solo: That’s always a delicate balance in a combined business.
Will: I think we say this every year, the beer scene in Albuquerque is extremely robust, full of a lot of talent and we are always trying to not only meet that level of talent in the city, but hopefully raise the bar. We’re not here to say that we’re better than anybody else, but hopefully we’re at least meeting the requirement of a solid brewery in Albuquerque. Just continuing to clean up little things here and there, finding new ways to improve overall quality with better practices, we’re always looking for that. I don’t think it’s a “one single thing” is going to improve the quality of your beer by X amount, but if you focus on these 10 things this year, little things, maybe we’ll get 5 percent better, whatever it may be.
Solo: You’re dealing with a living organism (yeah, beer’s alive, man!), so changing one parameter isn’t going to drastically alter your thing. Looking at the ecosystem of the beer and seeing that this is where it’s doing well, and this is where we’d like it to do better, and then you have to design a living, breathing method of dealing with that.
Will: With Brandon here, I’m really pumped because my last several co-working brewers have been people that I’ve been lucky enough to learn from, but also teach them a lot, too. Brandon is somebody that is 10 times the brewer I will ever be. In my opinion he’s one of the best brewers in the state. I’m learning a ton from him, and he also brings his own perspective of style. I have the styles I gravitate towards brewing that I enjoy drinking, and Brandon has a lot of really interesting styles that he’s into, he’s not afraid to stretch himself. He’s extremely smart about the science behind brewing in every aspect, but the man is also willing to say, “Yeah, I read this 16th century document about this beer that uses all of these weird ingredients, and I think we should brew it!” Initially, my mind is that no one is going to want that, but every time he’s done it, every historic interesting beer he’s brewed has been really fascinating and cool. He’s also into modern styles of brewing. We’ve got a couple cold IPAs this month and next month, a collab we’re doing with Vision City tomorrow. Shout out to Martin (Ulloa) and that whole team over there. I’m pumped about all of that.
Brandon: I’m kind of excited about doing this cold IPA. We’re going to be using some new products with that; it’s coming out in mid-February. That should be pretty exciting. We’ve got a good summer slate of films coming up.
Solo: Give you some good fodder for names and such.
Brandon: That’s kind of a new challenge for me, coming up with these beers related to movies. It’s a fun thing, and it gives it a little different twist than I’m used to. In Los Alamos, they always wanted me to brew something that could relate to a name of some place, and sometimes I would use ingredients from that place which is kind of cool, but oftentimes a little kitschy. Here at least there’s a new twist to that which is rather fun.
Will: I think that’s one of my favorite perks of working at Flix, what’s the most obscure quote or reference we can come up with that has to do with anything about this movie, or that is anti this movie, as silly as we can get. Years ago, when the X-Men movie Logan came out, we brewed a loganberry IPA called “Mister Cuttyfingers,” which is just stupid, but you don’t want to take yourself too seriously.
Solo: Nor should you, I mean, it’s beer! We can be as serious as we want doing the research and crafting the thing, but as far as naming conventions, play with it, have fun.
Will: We have a beer coming out for the new Ant Man movie called “Paul Rudd is a National Treasure,” which I wholeheartedly stand by.
Brandon: My wife actually says that a lot, so that’s how we came up with it. She may just be finding out about this now, that I stole it from her.
Will: Shout out, Megan! A lot of shout-outs here, a whole cast and crew that make Flix happen.
Solo: Well, that’s how good names happen.
Brandon: I actually steal a lot of names from my brother.
Will: We have another Devin name coming out with this cold IPA, “The Spirit of the Yee haw.” What does it mean? Who cares?
Brandon: And, he works for a place, they come up with great names at Ex Novo all the time. They have a whole pool (of participating employees), but he comes up with some pretty good names over there, so I always go to that well.
Solo: It’s a good well. Anything else you want to add?
Will: I’m feeling really hopeful about this year, it seems like everybody in this industry is kicking ass right now. Obviously people are having their challenges left and right. Working in a brewery is never a super easy thing. It seems like everyone is coming into this year feeling pumped, and I’m exited to see what’s going to be the next new style, what are the next trends that are coming up. One last shout-out to Sobremesa, those guys kick ass and if you haven’t been over there yet you absolutely must. They’re producing some of the best beer in Albuquerque.
Brandon: Just going to keep on keeping on here. We have down times and up times. Here it can get really crazy from like, super slow to people banging down the doors trying to get in the next week. I think riding that wave of those challenges are pretty exciting. Hopefully people want to come out, come see a movie (and) have a beer, or just have a beer. I think there’s a lot of great stuff coming up. Come see Cocaine Bear.
Will: Come see Cocaine Bear. What’s the name of the beer we’re releasing for that?
Brandon: Pablo Escobeer.
Will: This is all Brandon and I do, we occasionally brew beer, but we stay up late, puzzling over the worst beer names we can come up with.
Brandon: That one almost wrote itself, because the actual bear that the movie is loosely based on was nicknamed Pablo Escobear.
Will: Just gotta change one letter and we’re good to go, printing money.
So head on over to Flix to have a pint, or watch a film, or a combination of both, and enjoy the delightful naming conventions and offerings alike. Until next time, I bid you good beer, good flix, and good times. Keep it strange and local.
— Franz Solo