LAS CRUCES – As restaurants have made the switch to curbside and delivery services amid business restrictions meant to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, local breweries have adapted given state limitations.
New Mexico state law doesn’t allow liquor or alcoholic beverages to be sold curbside or delivered, only on a business’ licensed premises.
Asked last week whether she’d consider a measure to temporarily allow curbside or delivery alcohol sales for liquor stores and other establishments while in-person service remains shut down, as has been done in other states, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she’d support it but also said she didn’t have the legal authority to authorize it.
Some local craft breweries have found ways to get by under existing restrictions, through to-go growler sales and takeout options.
Most of the staff has been laid off from Little Toad Creek Brewery in downtown Las Cruces. Now, it’s down to co-general managers Carol Ayon and Michael Ponce doing almost all of the day-to-day work.
In addition to curbside food service, Little Toad has adapted to the coronavirus situation by implementing a growler exchange program.
Because of the state liquor laws, people must pick up growlers and spirits by the bottle on Little Toad’s patio, within its premises.
“It makes it easier for people to come in no matter where they have their growler from,” Ponce said.
Customers can bring in any 64-ounce growler to exchange it for a new growler of beer. As long as it’s amber-colored to prevent the beer inside from skunking, it doesn’t need to be a growler that came from Little Toad Creek.
“If we’re accepting other people’s growlers, then we’ll have more customers willing to come in and just trade out what they have available,” Ayon said.
The business has also been selling homemade hand sanitizer in 32-ounce bottles, which was made in their distillery in Silver City.
At Bosque Brewing Co., which has two Las Cruces locations, the business has implemented takeout food service and to-go sales of six-packs and growlers. Before COVID-19, customers could bring in any growler to be refilled, regardless of its origin.
Now, as a sanitary precaution, the brewery is only selling new growlers out of the business, not taking used ones.
“We still want to protect the customers from any outside contamination that could be brought in,” said Dakotah Vaughan, the Las Cruces district general manager for Bosque.
The way Bosque sells beer has changed, she said. The brewery has seen more package sales rather than beer from the tap. Before, Bosque could go through a keg of their popular Open Space Haze IPA in a weekend. Now, Vaughan said, the same keg could take more than a week to empty.
To incentivize customers further, Bosque is offering merchandise discounts, discounts on personal kegs and $20 gift cards to customers who spend over $100.
Both Bosque locations, on Telshor Court and University Avenue, had to furlough staff, but Vaughan said there’s plans to bring people back once restrictions are lifted.
Vaughan said Bosque expanded its to-go options and presence by moving its takeout service onto GrubHub during this time. After the pandemic, they may keep the option around.
High Desert Brewing Co. on West Hadley Avenue is another local brewery doing curbside food sales and growler exchanges. For sanitary purposes, High Desert has limited used growlers to its own during the pandemic, according to owner Donna Almarez.
Almarez said the local brewery is just “trying to survive” the current health and economic crisis. The brewery already had a to-go food system in place before COVID-19, and according to Almarez, beer sales remain.
“We’re still selling enough beer to still be brewing,” said Almarez, adding that High Desert has 11 beers on tap right now for growlers. Customers can collect their to-go growler on the outdoor patio, which is still on the premises.
Almarez said while many employees’ hours have been cut, some have found part-time jobs to make up the difference.
Icebox Brewing Company, with two Las Cruces locations, is similarly offering 64-ounce growlers and 32-ounce single-use aluminum cans of beer to go. But general manager Brian Weidauer said the COVID-19 situation accelerated a long-term goal of Icebox’s — to get into the canning business.
Since the pandemic caused closures, the local brewery has purchased and began using canning equipment to begin producing six-packs of beer for the first time.
Weidauer said Icebox would love to be 100 percent open right now. But the pandemic forced Icebox to offer a new option to make the most of current restrictions.
“Now we have time to learn the process of canning and start doing it,” Weidauer said.
Michael McDevitt can be reached at 575-202-3205, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.
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