By Brad Smith | Mar 30, 2016
Taos, New Mexico
Taos Mesa Brewing, a brewery and entertainment venue on the northern outskirts of the historic New Mexico town of Taos, ended last year with a problem any business would relish. It couldn't make enough of its product to fill the demand.
The answer: triple its annual beer production to 3,000 barrels and plan on more growth. The brewery is opening a new taproom on the main street near the Taos Plaza, has plans to launch a new flagship beer called New Mexico Common using local grains, and is eyeing a new production facility and multi-state distribution sometime in the future.
When Taos Mesa Brewing (TMB) opened in August of 2012 it was using a 2-barrel "frankenbrew" system, says co-owner and CEO Dan Irion. The brand steadily gained a wider audience, fed in part by the live entertainment at its Quonset hut-style brewery near the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. That pressured the four founders (Irion, Gary Feuerman, Jayson Wylie, and Peter Kolshorn) to expand. Sales reached $1.37 million in 2015.
As 2016 began, the brewery completed an expansion and renovation of its "mothership," as Irion calls the original facility. The expanded 6,000-square-foot facility contains a new 10-barrel brewing system, dining hall, music hall, and an amphitheater on five acres. A solar greenhouse heats the building and also preheats water for brewing. There's a new grain silo outside with capacity for 14 tons of barley.
By June, TMB will open a new 3,400-square-foot taproom and pizza joint, located in a former art gallery on Paseo del Pueblo Sur (U.S. 64) at Quesnel, a short walk from the Taos Plaza. There has been a smaller taproom, which Irion calls "more of a pub," operating during the ski season at Taos Ski Valley.
Irion says the next step, hopefully reached for the Christmas holidays, is TMB's Grain to Glass initiative that will result in the locally-brewed, locally-sourced New Mexico Common. The brew will be an ale, the exact style to be determined by the barley produced by Taos-area farmers. Irion says Grain to Glass is a communal effort to nurture the symbiosis among the brewery, Taos Valley farmers and customers who want a truly local beer.
The Grain to Glass initiative also is fueling plans to build another production facility in Taos County in the next two to four years, according to TMB's financial statements. That will require about $2.5 million additional capital, would boost production up to 20 times, create as many as 35 jobs and generate $2.25 million to $7 million in annual revenues. That growth would further stimulate local grain and hop production.
Nearly all of the barley the brewery uses has come from the Midwest. But barley is one of the leading crops in the San Luis Valley, which stretches south from Colorado into the Taos area, and Coors used to get barley from a farm near Questa, N.M. "We have four farmers on 20 acres in the Taos Valley growing our barley this year," Irion says. "That's enough to yield one pilot batch. We need to prove the concept (of using local grain) before we go full on the [new] production facility."
For the time being, hops will continue to be sourced by head brewer Jayson Wylie through normal commodity-market channels, but Irion says the brewery hopes to encourage Taos-area farmers to grow some. He says there is a farmer in the area that has been developing a local hop variety.
Taos Mesa Brewing has bottled and canned a few of its brews, mostly with a mobile canning company out of Albuquerque. Those are sold in the Taos area. If production increases means broader distribution, TMB may have to have an in-house facility. Irion says wider distribution probably would start with the Texas market.
Taos Mesa Brewing is a subsidiary of Musich Entertainment LLC, whose principals include the four founders plus Christopher Mixson, who joined the company in 2015. Another subsidiary of Musich Entertainment is Taos Del Norte Brewing, which owns the new taproom in Taos.
Favorite beers: In the winter, Irion likes Taos Mesa's Superstitious Stout or the Great Scot Ale; in summer it is the Wheeler Peak Wheat. The brewery's Three Peaks Ale, an American IPA, is TMB's top seller. Irion's favorite from another brewer is the Marble Brewery (Albuquerque) Red Ale.
Challenges: No. 1 is managing growth, which includes human resources and financing. "Most of our energies are focused on growth and then day-to-day operations," says Irion. Finding the right employees and skills can be a challenge in a town of 5,500 residents, "but there are quality people in Taos and a lot of people move here because of the quality of living."
Opportunities: Irion says the biggest opportunity is increasing sales. "We've built a good brand and we want to take that brand and monetize it. Taos' name has a lot of cachet and the opportunity is to take our brand and the cachet and take that outside of Taos. There's a big market out there." The recent expansion of the main facility, the new taproom in Taos itself plus the existing taproom at Taos Ski Valley will fill some of the sales demand but TMB is considering further expansion that would mean wider distribution.
Needs: "We need to execute on the projects we have put in motion," says Irion. "Execution is the No. 1 need. If we can execute that will enable us in 2017 to go for the next round of projects."