Archive for the ‘Brewery Issues’ Category

The ups and downs of having a full kitchen, or not, continue to vex many local breweries.

A small news item crossed our desk today (Monday) when we found out that Turtle Mountain is adding new items to its food menu. This is something that happens all the time in the restaurant business, where the palates of diners and their interests ebb and flow, often unpredictably. While several of the dishes look like things we have to try (hello, Ruidoso Ribs), it got us thinking again about the ongoing issue of breweries and food.

A few years back, the success of Marble and La Cumbre seemingly heralded the new model would be kitchen-free, relying instead on food trucks and neighboring restaurants. The brewpub was a dying breed, but a funny thing happened on the way to all of this happening. The brewpub did not die, it just had to be revamped and reborn, much like the restaurant industry as a whole (though that whole is far slower to adapt to change, as we see in the current decline in the national chains as more and more close here in ABQ and other parts of the country).

The most recent trend has seen breweries that previously had little or no food expanding to full kitchens. Bosque just had a few appetizers and panini-press sandwiches, until the decision was made to go the full kitchen route. The opening of the second, larger Las Cruces taproom saw the arrival of a full kitchen down south, while Nob Hill has recently expanded into the old Wise Pies space so it can also have a full kitchen, much like the original San Mateo location (and that full kitchen will head to the new mothership location being built along the Interstate 25 frontage road).

Boxing Bear expanded its kitchen and menu, while Tractor added a small food menu to its new Four Hills taproom. Now comes the word that Tractor will turn the old merchandise nook at Wells Park into a small food area as well (if you went to the Stranger Things Arcade Carnival before Halloween, you saw a preview of this).

Rio Bravo had long ago kept a space for a future kitchen, located just on the south side of the main bar area. After struggling with food trucks (more on that below) for a while, the decision was finally made to essentially outsource the in-house food production to The Burger Stand, which already had locations in Taos and Santa Fe.

As more new breweries seek to open, most, if not all, are advertising that they will indeed have in-house food. The most recent new brewery to open, Bombs Away Beer Company, did not open with any food, but its owner already mentioned that he has a space set aside for what seems like an inevitable addition of a small food prep area.

The need for in-house food is seemingly being driven by two things. First, the consumer demand is there. Second, the food truck situation in town has been slipping, from what a number of brewery owners have told us. Many of the best food trucks have either shut down or been so successful that they have been able to open brick-and-mortar restaurants. The best of what remain are now stretched thin across the metro area due to the proliferation of so many taprooms and breweries. While established, large breweries like La Cumbre, Marble, and Tractor are still able to keep the best of the best food trucks parked outside, other breweries have struggled immensely to fill out their schedules with reliable trucks.

Food is still a tricky thing for breweries. A kitchen, whether limited or full, adds another layer of inspections and regulations, many of them even tighter than what exists for beer production. Having food on site is no guarantee of increased business. It certainly did not save the Firkin Brewhouse or Albuquerque Brewing, or perhaps most prominently, Chama River. Even places with well-established reputations for having top-notch kitchens, like Nexus and Turtle Mountain, are constantly having to adjust and adapt to the changing tastes of consumers. One could debate whether or not people are even pickier about food than beer, but it often seems that way around Albuquerque.

It can also be debated as to where the food-versus-no-food debate falls geographically. Desert Valley opened its West Side taproom with a full kitchen and has gone to great lengths to promote it as a food-first establishment. After initially opening the Nexus Silver taproom sans food, the decision was recently made to begin serving food there. It can be argued that food is almost necessary in areas with a denser neighborhood population, like Nob Hill or the Northeast Heights, as opposed to the more nightlife-oriented aspects of downtown, the Brewery District, and Wells Park (though things are changing at some of the breweries located in that district).

The issue can then become how customers view and treat brewpubs versus breweries. Reading the less-than-kind comments online for many brewpubs, they often seem to focus mainly on the food itself and the service, rather than the beer. Food seems to be more polarizing than beer, while the expectation of service is often higher in what many regard as more of a restaurant than bar setting. It often seems that for every benefit about having a kitchen, there is a significant drawback as well. Finding the balance in between is an ongoing challenge, with no easy answers.

What is the future of the brewpub model? Cantero Brewing is gambling that it will be of the popular farm-to-table variety, as the forthcoming brewery fights to overcome the fact it took over the old Firkin space, one of the least desirable physical locations for any brewery. The other newcomers will have to make up their own minds.

As always, we want to know what all of you think, so we designed a rather simple poll below. Add your comments here or on social media. The more the breweries know about what we want from them in terms of food is better for everyone involved.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Even for the soft opening, the taproom filled up quickly.

The noise levels inside many of our breweries, new and old, have become an issue for many customers, including a pack of beer writers who have listened to a lot of metal over the years.

Recently one of the first questions we were asked about a just-opened brewery came as a bit of a surprise. Rather than ask about the beer or hours or something like that, our reader asked us this simple question: “How loud is it inside?”

While we could answer “not too loud,” we did so by comparing it to other places. As more and more people flock to the breweries and taprooms, the volume is clearly becoming an issue for many people. Throw in live music and/or music being pumped in over the sound system, and some places are almost deafening. This is starting to become a major issue, especially for those of us whose ages are creeping upward and whose long histories of listening to heavy metal way too loudly is coming back to haunt us. In truth, even some youngsters in their 20s have been complaining to us about the noise levels, so it’s not just us almost-40 curmudgeons for a change.

Boese Brothers, in particular, was excessively loud when they first opened. The double whammy of high ceilings and lots of windows combined to make it a torturous sound chamber. In response, the staff put special sound padding underneath the tables. They did not want to change the look of the place by putting padding on the walls or ceiling. Having stopped in there after a metal show the other night (and yes, I wore my ear plugs at Launchpad, sparing what’s left), the volume from the music and customers was still rather loud. I was surprised Brandon and Porter Pounder could hear me, but that had more to do with the fact those knuckleheads didn’t wear ear plugs for the 1349 show. (Norwegian black metal, look ’em up.)

Marble downtown has long had a reputation as an impossible place to hear people when it gets crowded. It has gotten better after the taproom renovations earlier this year, but on a jam-packed night recently we had to retreat to the frozen patio once Le Chat Lunatique started playing inside, or else hearing each other would have been impossible. (Which was a bummer, because we like that band as a nice change of pace from the metal.)

A recent gathering at Tractor Wells Park saw the staff actually crank the music louder inside once a large crowd had formed. The downside, of course, was this crowd was meant to be a social gathering for young entrepreneurs/event organizers. It is kind of hard to meet and talk with new people when some hipster band is being blasted over the speakers.

Finding a solution for the breweries figures to be tough. It is not cheap to put those insulation-like pads up top or down below (take note that Quarter Celtic was already putting those in place, due to their large windows and high ceilings), especially for established places. Many breweries are proud of the look inside their taprooms, having worked hard to create a certain visual vibe to go with their beers. They are loathe to slap up padding on the walls or ceilings that could change this.

Some solutions — enough with pumping in tunes from Spotify/Pandora/someone’s iPod, or at least turn it down — might seem easier than others. (And no, we’re not going to get into a debate over musical styles; obviously the breweries in town do not ever play the music the Crew listens to, but that’s OK, we still show up for the beer.) In some cases, there may just be nothing places can do. Some have installed all the sound padding they can, yet it remains terribly loud once the joint fills up.

We want to hear from all of you, however. What solutions would you propose to turn down the volume? Are there some cost-effective ones that breweries could try? Should us old folks just stay home during peak hours/weekends? What works best for the breweries and their customers?

Fire off all the ideas you can think of, be it by commenting below, on Facebook, on Twitter (@nmdarksidebc), or email us some ideas at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com. If you have some good ideas, we will of course share them with the breweries where you think the noise is becoming unbearable.

And after you are done with that, go out and have fun this weekend. Remember, Victory at Sea Day at Nob Hill Bar & Grill kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday. Otherwise, there will be plenty of fun events and good beers to drink at the breweries all weekend.

Just don’t be ashamed to take some ear plugs with you.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister