It’s now been a year since the Oldery, the O.G., Second Street on 2nd Street closed its doors for good. Many of us have been wondering how Second Street Brewery, with its two current restaurants and wholesale operation are managing after the loss of the business that began it all.
One sunny afternoon, I recently caught up with owner and brewmaster Rod Tweet, and creative director Mariah Cameron Scee to find out how they made it through 2022, and what kind of position they find themselves in so far in 2023.
“The restaurants’ business patterns have returned to something that looks a lot more normal,” Tweet said.
Cameron Scee agreed, also noting that she’s glad to see that a lot of familiar faces from before are still around.
“It seems like there are certain people who chose the Railyard, and that’s their camp, and there are people that chose (Rufina), and then there are some people that I see at both, but I think for the most part, a lot of our regulars have really chosen to stay with us and give these places a chance,” she said.
The once fresh-faced Rufina had only been open a couple of years when the pandemic hit hardest, and even then, the new building was squeaky clean, bare-floored, almost clinically un-lived in.
“It didn’t quite have the chance to come into its own,” Tweet explained.
Now, with a few good years of swing dance scuff marks on the floors, more maturing greenery hanging a bit lower in the windows, a smattering of show posters collecting in the halls, and of course the big beautiful mural from the OG, the Rufina St. location has taken on some of the feeling from the old brewpub on 2nd Street. Not all, but a good amount.
“I also think having some of the regulars who have a strong history with Second Street, firmly being here actually makes a big difference,” Cameron Scee said. “It keeps the history in one place.”
And, with a bit of the Oldery, and a bit of the new, Rufina seems as if it’s back on track to reaching its full potential.
One thing that came back big in 2022 was live events and music. Cameron Scee told us that and the shows are doing very well. With everything from hip-hop nights, and weekly Americana/swing shows, to indie rock, hard rock, or blues bands passing through, the music program is as solid as ever.
Though Second Street is back to business as usual in many ways, Tweet told us that we’re not necessarily out of the pandemic just yet.
“I think people’s behavioral patterns largely are, but the labor market and supply chain stuff, it’s been changed, almost for good,” he said.
This past year Second Street, just like many other restaurant businesses, has dealt with staffing issues, though Tweet said that they haven’t been too bad.
But, don’t get him wrong. There are plenty of post-pandemic problems affecting Second Street’s daily operations, such as the cost of supplies and the cost to ship them to the brewery. Not to mention the mere availability of supplies.
“You can’t do anything fast anymore,” Tweet reminded us. “I’ve got a chiller module, a large one, built up in Oregon. It should have shipped two months ago, when instead, they’re waiting on basic materials, like the compressor.”
Add merchandise to the list of items not readily available for order. Cameron Scee explained that they will no longer be ordering the same merch items they used to carry, as it’s just too difficult to reliably get a hold of items from previous orders. Say you liked a shirt or hoodie or hat that your friend bought a year ago at the brewery. Well, now you can consider that a limited-edition hoodie or hat.
But, Cameron Scee said that she sees that as a fun challenge to design more of her own unique brewery shirts, and gives her more incentive (not that she needed any) to fire up her screen-printing machine once again. At the time you’re reading this, she should have already printed the shirts that will be available at the Crawfish Boil that is coming up this weekend.
In the brewhouse, work has settled into a nice flow, where the crew is brewing five to seven times a week until they run out of space, churning out 100 percent of Second Street’s beer at the Rufina location.
The old system from the 2nd Street location is currently being stored and sourced for parts and vessels, Tweet told us. For instance, from the old system, they’re bringing a 14-barrel and a 10-barrel fermenter over to Rufina, which they plan to use for smaller batches like barleywines or dopplebocks to create more variety for the bar, as well as testing out new recipes.
“We’ve got some ideas for a couple of new things. It would be great to try them on a (10-barrel) before we just go for it,” Tweet said.
At present, they have no new plans to get the old brewhouse operational again.
“In the beginning, we were going to set up a second site, but this is just much more efficient for us financially to do it all in one space, with all the (brew) teams are under one roof,” he said.
With consistent sales volume and continued growth on the wholesale side of their operations, Second Street brewery is in a comfortable position coming out of the pandemic.
Last summer they had reached a limit with volume that left them in a spot where they had to expedite their long-held expansion plans for capacity. And, so that’s what they focused on in 2023.
They began by expanding their cold storage, separating them into two spaces, with taproom kegs in one, and wholesale goods in the other. Though it may sound like a small thing, it required a lot of planning and effort from the entire crew to complete, and it sets them up for everything that comes next in a big way.
Not long after, they moved on to larger projects.
It was only just a few weeks ago, when I walked into the brewhouse on a secret brewery errand (returning a cask), and Second Street’s brew crew was in the process of forklifting four shiny new 40-barrel fermenters into place, totaling nine new tanks as part their most recent expansion, effectively doubling their capacity.
Fun fact: a handful of those tanks came from Athletic Brewing Co., helmed by co-founder and head brewer John Walker, who, if you recall, got his start brewing at Second Street Brewery.
In 2022, Second Street produced 3,500 barrels. They hope to be producing twice as much by the end of 2023.
But, it wasn’t just the growth of the wholesale operation pushing their capacity to the limits.
“Give the restaurants some credit, too,” Tweet said. “They were getting busier. And now, we’ve got both of those things going on.”
With lessons learned before and during the pandemic, the leadership team sees that the wholesale operation is the growth mode for the company, rather than running multiple full-scale restaurants.
So, perhaps another restaurant is not in the cards for Second Street, but another taproom isn’t off the table, Tweet said. At another location, one currently undefined, it’s likely we’ll find a third Second Street bar, once again filled with fan favorites like Rod’s Best Bitter, 2920 IPA, and a slew of Sloppy Sloths to wet your whistle, but nothing’s etched in stone. It’s a post-it note, at best. But, so was Rufina, once upon a time.
I suggested a taproom in Albuquerque might be cool, and to my surprise, no one chuckled at the absurdity. In fact, Tweet did say they had good Albuquerque market penetration, until the pandemic closed a few of those channels temporarily.
“We could proceed down there, if we had more inventory,” Tweet said.
In 2022, Second Street did make some rather large leaps with Sprouts, bringing them up into mid-level retailer range. And, their recent acquisition by Albertsons in Santa Fe sets them back on the previous growth trajectory.
They anticipate reaching into the Albuquerque Albertsons market very soon, if everything comes together.
And, it seems like things are coming together nicely.
In 2022, Second Street won another accolade for Brown Ale at the World Beer Cup, with a bronze medal.
They brought home a bunch of new awards for their can designs at the Craft Beer Marketing Awards — Gold for Zapparado (16-ounce can), Gold for Barleywine (Can Packaging Design), and Global Winner for Sloppy Sloth (Use of Icon or Mascot).
Cameron Scee said she is happy to note that Kolsch has achieved printed can status. Which, to us lay folk, means that the Kolsch has done very well for itself out in the market. As you can only order printed cans by the (18 wheeler) truckload, you wouldn’t order that kind of quantity for a beer if you couldn’t commit to selling it. Right now, 2920 and Kolsch are the only printed cans on the Second Street roster. Everything else is ordered as a label, sprucing up blank can-vasses as shipments are needed.
And, in a huge win, people are returning to the big events like the Nightmare on Rufina Street Halloween bash and Second Street’s St. Patrick’s Day party, and many more.
2023 will mark the return of Oldery favorite Crawfish Boil this Saturday and Sunday, and Crab and Pilsner, which falls on Father’s Day weekend, will feature 16 pilsners on tap, possibly including a very special guest pilsner. Sorry, though, no spoilers.
In 2022, Second Street kept the ball rolling with fun beers, never really slowing down with ideas, constantly bringing back fan-favorite seasonals, like the Skimboard Sour, Breaking Plaid Scotch Ale, the award-winning Brown, of course, and Ben’s be-sprinkled pastry stout, Dubstep Donuts.
But, they were most excited about their collaborations for good causes and collaborations with just good people. I’m talking, of course ,about the collaborations One for 5 IPA, which they brewed with Sierra Blanca and Steel Bender to benefit Storehouse New Mexico, and the very delicious Consigliere Italian Pilsner that they brewed with their friends at Marble.
They just completed their collaboration with Lava Rock for the upcoming United in Beer festival at Ex Novo on May 13. I can already tell you that they had a tun of fun working on the recipe for the Experimental IPA category.
On the beer horizon, you can bet you’ll be seeing a lot more fun from down under with a New Zealand Pilsner and Southern Hemisphere 2920, and other possible styles featuring the previously difficult-to-acquire hop varieties.
And, we’re assured that there will be oh so many more new cool can designs on the way.
A friend had asked me recently if Railyard and Rufina were doing well enough now to absorb the loss of the of the Oldery, and as a good journalist, I passed that question along to Tweet.
“From a business standpoint, the company is healthier,” he replied. “Together, with the current restaurants, and the growth from the wholesale, we’re hitting a higher number as a company than we were before.”
Before we closed the interview, Tweet and Cameron Scee wanted to thank the customers for their continued support.
“Always a big thank you for all the support over the years, and also for the support as we moved into the package market. Our local hometown Santa Fe has really supported us as we build up, so thank you,” Tweet said.
“And, thank you all the new drinkers of Second Street. I know there are a ton of people in Albuquerque who are buying our beer who have probably never set foot in one of our taprooms, so you know, for people that pick out something new on the shelf and give us a chance, that means a lot to us. So thank you,” Cameron Scee added.
And now, time for my thank yous. Thank you to Rod Tweet and Mariah Cameron Scee, and the brew and cellar/packaging crew for giving me the tours of the facility, and to the managers, bartenders, and servers for making Rufina and Railyard feel like another home away from 2nd Street.
To Second Street Brewery’s continued growth and success, cheers!