Lizard Tail Brewing intends to turn things around by going back to basics

After a tough year that included getting back on the brewhouse, Lizard Tail owner Dan Berry does see hope on the horizon.

If nothing else, we always have to give Lizard Tail owner Dan Berry points for his honesty. He never hides behind any sort of blind optimism, but instead comes right out and tells us exactly how things are going for his brewery.

“We got owned,” Berry said of 2022. “We did not make money, I can say that. It was a rough year for us. There’s lots of reasons behind that, I’m sure. Our marketing was not up to par. I think the pandemic is still playing into things. It’s a different world.”

Lizard Tail took the big gamble in 2020 of moving its brewing operations to the former Cantero Brewing space at 3351 Columbia Dr. NE, while also adding a taproom in Nob Hill at 3417 Central Ave. (an odd street address, since it does not face Central, but instead the alleyway that runs between Tulane and Amherst).

At least the original location at 9800 Montgomery Blvd. NE is holding up.

“That one’s doing great,” Berry said. “We make money there. Nob Hill was doing well, then it started tanking again. It’s a tough location, hard to find. In the winter it’s like a little cave, a little ice cave. We have heaters and stuff, but I think people are less likely to walk around (the corner) when it’s freezing outside.”

Staffing three locations has also proven to be a challenge.

“We sent out 87 W-2s,” Berry said. “We have 20 employees. A lot of turnover. About 12 of those employees have been with us for a long time, so we only got eight new employees out of all that (turnover). That’s one in 10, about?”

The gray skies over Lizard Tail is a bit thick on the metaphor, but we can’t control the weather on the days we visit.

But, amid all of that, Lizard Tail is still standing, and Berry said he is beginning to see signs of hope for a turnaround. That starts at the brewery, dubbed Lizard Tail Industrial.

“I think we finally got our (food) menu down,” he said. “That was a big thing. I have high hopes for 2023 because we have a good kitchen staff, and that’s something we’ve never had. We’ve finally got the kitchen together, this couple, Adam and Tara, they’re doing great. They have a really nice happy hour. That’s been doing really well.”

Lizard Tail also saw the departure of head brewer John Ruyak about six months ago. That forced Berry to get back on the brewhouse, but in a way, it turned out to be a reinvigorating experience.

“I’m back in the mess of it all, which is great,” he said. “I love it. That’s why I got into (owning a brewery) in the first place.”

Berry said a big focus for 2023 will be in not just rewriting some beer recipes, but also in redoing aspects of the process. Issues this past year included having to dump an entire batch of pilsner that went bad, and watching the last batch of hefeweizen go from properly cloudy to clear.

“Since I got thrown into this mess again, I’d like to figure out that brewery,” he said. “We’re going to change the (beer) menu again. A lot of it was an eye opener. We had to go in and clean a lot of it. I don’t ever want to dump that much beer again. You can cry over spilled beer.”

Lizard Tail did win a medal for its pilsner at the Great New Mexico Beer Festival last summer, and Berry said he would like to enter into more competitions for the first time in the brewery’s history.

“That’s the first beer we ever entered,” he said. “I don’t know why we don’t do more competitions. That’s another thing I want to get into this year is GABF (Great American Beer Festival). I don’t expect to win a whole lot, but I’d like some good feedback.”

Though we visited before it was open, the crowds are coming back to Lizard Tail Industrial with new events and a new food menu.

In reworking the beer menu, Berry said he also wants to tap into more aspects of what it means to be a New Mexico brewery.

“I want to get a lot more exciting seasonals,” he said. “There have been some seasonals that we’ve done for a while that aren’t selling anymore. I have 30 years worth of brewing to pull some things that I think will do really well. Things that reflect New Mexican tastes. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag on anything, but like the biscochito brown. Biscochitos are a New Mexico staple. I have some other recipes like that, New Mexico cuisine (based).”

Beyond that, each taproom will aim to play to its strengths. The Heights location now has a patio that should be popular in the warmer months, Berry said. He is also allowing his manager at the Nob Hill taproom take point in terms of aiming the events there more at the college crowd and other younger people who live in the neighborhood.

Industrial has some new events that are already drawing in crowds, along with the new happy hour and food menu. The key for himself, Berry said, is just making sure to not indulge too much in that food menu.

“The food is phenomenal; I have to have some willpower when I’m here,” he said, smiling and patting his stomach.

Trust us, we know. It doesn’t slide off like it used to when we started this website 11 years ago.

A big thanks to Dan for the interview and the sample of the tasty new Mocha Stout.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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