The plan was simple. Make a beer that Tahoe could be proud of and own as its regional brand. Make it on a large enough scale to put cans on grocery store shelves and taps at bars and restaurants around the lake — maybe even beyond. Keep it small. Keep it simple.
Four and a half years and three locations later, Alibi Ale Works has far surpassed its Plan A.
Though Tahoe beer domination was not the plan when they set out, it seems to be the course that owners Kevin Drake and Rich Romo are now on. Alibi is set to open its third location on Tahoe Boulevard in Incline Village in July. The newest space is less than a half mile from the original taproom, but the two ventures couldn’t be more different. After tackling a small food menu and event space at their second location in Truckee, the newest venture will go all in with a full restaurant menu and a robust outdoor space, and features seating on both a spacious deck and a tiered, grassy lawn, complete with its own outdoor bar to increase the beer garden vibes.
When Drake and Romo describe the evolution of their brewery, they paint the picture that their rapid advancement was born more of necessity than pure ambition. They are quick to clear up the assumption that this route is the symbol of immense profit, but rather that it was a requirement to simply remain a viable business. All of their growth to date has been funded by equity and debt, versus cash flow. But it has allowed them to stay true to the vision for their company, even if that vision morphed over the years.
“Looking back now in hindsight, had we not made that move, we’d been in a world of pain,” Drake said. “You can’t make it selling most of your beer at wholesale, at least at our scale.”
Added Romo, “people think we make tons of money because they see our beer everywhere, but we make fractions of pennies of that can at Raley’s.”
Drake and Romo’s ability to adapt demonstrates their clear understanding of their brand and the market they are in. While it may seem like their business is in hyper-speed, they are selective about the opportunities they pursue. They have been approached by many developers to open locations in strip malls, but they know that doesn’t align with Alibi’s character. When they decided to develop a full restaurant menu, they chose executive chef Aaron Zendner, who is as passionate and innovative with food as they are with beer, and who has lived in the North Lake community for decades.
They also run the renovation of the spaces themselves; Romo’s background in construction, design, and real estate comes in handy. Customers were so impressed with the design of the Truckee location, that Romo said he got three offers to design houses in Martis Camp. That level of involvement is what led them down this path toward creating their own beer halls in the first place.
“We want to have control of the beer from the day it’s made to the day it’s served,” Drake said. “We want it to be served by knowledgeable staff in a nice setting. It’s difficult to maintain that quality and experience when it goes out to bars around town who might not even know who we are.”
While some may wonder why they chose Incline Village, a town they already had an established presence in, they said they had outgrown the purpose of the original taproom as a customer-facing space. Having to maintain daily operations in the same space where they handle manufacturing was actually impeding their production efforts. Now, they can focus the original taproom on churning out kegs and cans, and the new location to serve the guests they will misplace. And while many local businesses choose to expand into Reno, they recognized where their strengths lie.
“We realized our market is Tahoe and Truckee,” Drake said. “We sell a fair amount of beer in Reno, but we have a strong presence up here and it makes sense in a competitive beer market to go deeper at home. Yeah, it’s seasonal. Yeah, the shoulder seasons will be slow, but this is our niche. This is our intention that this stakes our flag on the North Shore for the next couple of decades.”
Alibi Ale Works’ newest endeavor is located at 931 Tahoe Blvd. in Incline Village and will open to the public in July. For more information, visit alibialeworks.com.