Bosque Brewing opened in October to become the Albuquerque metro area’s 12th microbrewery. The Dark Side Brew Crew stopped by before they opened for a preview, where we were impressed by their business savvy, but a bit worried in regards to their lack of large-scale brewing experience. Thankfully, for us and other beer lovers, Bosque’s staff proved to be more than capable of brewing up some standout beers.
E-Rock and I, Stoutmeister, stopped by Bosque, now two months old, last week to follow up with the staff and talk about how things have been going, what has surprised them, what lessons have been learned, what improvements are still being made, and what the near future holds for Albuquerque’s newest brewery.
We were joined by owners Jotham Michnovicz and Kevin Jameson, head brewer/owner Gabe Jensen, and assistant brewer Ryan Jameson.
Stoutmeister: It’s been almost two months now, what’s been the surprises, what’s been what you have had to adjust to the most, what has gone according to plan? Take us through these last two weeks.
Jotham: The last few weeks have been a roller coaster. It started off with a bang. It was really busy in here. Then right after Thanksgiving it just died. We kind of had a lull in business for about a week. Now it’s steadily picking back up. Everybody that we talked to that’s a business professional said you’re going to start off solid, you’re going to take a dip and it’s going to suck, and then it’s going to start coming back up. I think we’re in that climbing-back-up phase. We’ve got a lot of fun stuff on the horizon. We’re learning to work out all the kinks of owning a business.
Stoutmeister: Just in terms of public feedback, what are you guys getting the most back from people coming in here, talking to you and commenting on things? What are you hearing the most?
Jotham: Everyone says the beer is super solid, super clean. We love the atmosphere, we love the beer, we love the food. So far we’ve had nothing but an overwhelmingly positive response about the beer and the food.
Stoutmeister: When we met you guys, we got together afterwards and were like they know the business side. But how has the brewing side going so far? Have there been any unexpected challenges besides people knocking out the porter?
Jotham: You know, honestly, the challenge hasn’t been so much on the brew side of things. We’ve been brewing for a long time so we’re pretty confident with our recipes and confident with everything back there. I think the biggest thing is learning new equipment. The recipes are coming out the way we want them. The one thing we didn’t expect is we’re getting quite a bit higher efficiency on this brewhouse than on the smaller scale. We’ve had to adjust a little bit.
Ryan: Not output, but basically the amount of fermentable sugars that have been extracted from the grains. When you’re working on a smaller scale your efficiency can be hampered by how crushed the grain, temperature of the water, thickness of the mash, there’s so many different variables that go into why you can get lower efficiency but our efficiency has gotten better since we’ve been in here. I think kind of dealing with all the moving parts is kind of the biggest learning curve. It sounds dumb, but it’s like the operational efficiency. You’ve got three fermenters available and you’ve rinsed them all, but you’ve got to do an acid wash and that acid wash has to happen in between the time you’re boiling the wort on a certain beer and you’re transferring another beer. So getting all those kind of parts moving correctly and working smoothly I think has been the biggest challenge, not necessarily the recipe crafting or any of that.
E-Rock: I guess now that you’re rolling, how has the breakdown been like? How have everybody’s specialties been worked out?
Jotham: I think we’ve realized that it takes a giant team to run this place. Gabe and Ryan are both our full-time guys that are here. They do the majority of the work. The other three of us kind of split the other ownership responsibilities, like payroll, paying bills, that kind of stuff. But like the day-to-day, we’ve had to hire a manager. We’re actually promoting another person to manager-on-duty to just take care of the day-to-day.
Ryan: I feel like even from the build-out portion of this whole experience it’s been without even discussing it, without even assigning sometimes tasks, we’ve all just fallen into our place. No one even knew what each of us would be fulfilling. Before any of this could happen it was just serendipity. It just came together.
Gabe: I was going to say, we hired him (Ryan) as a bar manager and he’s my assistant brewer now. He had no brewing experience, not that I had any, either, but he came up when we were home-brewing one time.
Ryan: I haven’t been a brewer, but I’ve been a mechanic as well as a bar manager in different bars. We could have seen this as a necessity, but no one really anticipated that having someone on the team who was really familiar with figuring out machines, figuring out different components, the machinery that is a brewery, that kind of lent itself (to me). Those skill sets I’ve already acquired and used in other parts of my life became relevant here. We didn’t know these roles we’ve played at other points in our life would be helpful here. We all just kind of fell into it.
E-Rock: At one point did you (Ryan) start making the move here from bar manager to brewer?
Gabe: To be completely honest, when Jotham, Jared (Michnovicz), and Kevin couldn’t show up to brew because they have full-time jobs (elsewhere). He (Ryan) was available. I think about third brew in was when talked about it. “Would you like to do this the rest of your life?” “Sure!” “OK, good, so you’re hired.”
Ryan: I’d already been cutting back some of my responsibilities at the other two bars I’d been working at. As I started just being there for the brewing, it was just second-nature. I’d been here every day during the build-out. When they started brewing and not everyone could be there all the time, I was like actually I kind of enjoy this. Gabe and I have a really easy time working together and not getting in each other’s way …
Gabe: Which is miraculous in and of itself.
Ryan: Yeah, when they offered I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a dream job. People work their whole life to try and get in that position. So through the whole process I’ve felt blessed.
Stoutmeister: Going beer by beer, which beers have been the easiest ones to brew, which have been the ones that have been challenging or you’ve tinkered with a little more, and what has the public been devouring?
Gabe: The Scotch Ale, since it’s been on, I’ve sold half of my six barrels in about a week, which is by far the fastest I’ve sold anything. A lot of it is because people have been taking growlers home because you can’t drink many of them here (7.8-percent ABV). The Kindling has finally caught up to where I thought it would be. An easy, safe beer, we wanted one of those so one day when we package, which we’re still planning on doing, that we’d have a gateway beer. When we first opened it was like we’re going to have to take this off, no one’s buying it. I think it was because the beer geeks were coming and they don’t want that. Now we’re getting other people, casual beer likers and they’ll drink that up.
E-Rock: Are you getting a lot of people from Honeywell? (which is right up the street from Bosque)
Ryan: A huge part of our business so far has been a lot of the neighboring community workers, blue collar, white collar office folks. The neighborhood, as in the people who live in the neighborhood, but also the people who work in the neighborhood, are really responsible, really receptive and have shown a huge amount of support. We’ve gotten regulars in seven weeks. It feels really good to see familiar faces.
Stoutmeister: You guys are on Google Maps now. Has that helped people find this place and avoid the “which San Mateo” confusion?
Ryan: That was a bit of a concern, but so far, especially with the introduction of us being on Google Maps and all that. People don’t seem to have a hard time finding us. It’s so convenient on the freeway, too, right off Alameda you’re there.
Stoutmeister: I know you guys were talking about that going-home crowd. Have you seen a lot of those commuters?
Jotham: Yeah, we are starting to see that a little bit. I think that’s indicative of the fact that after work, we get a nice crowd around 4:30 or 5 as people start to make their way home.
Ryan: We’re seeing really strong lunch hours from like 11:30 to about 2-ish we’re seeing a huge amount of people in to grab a bite. We’ve expanded our menu, almost doubled it. We’re putting more effort to cater to that. It’s kind of become how do you fit into the community that fits your business? What our community wanted was a tap room, a pub house, but also a place they could set the kids down, have a meal, get a growler, then go home. We kind of discovered we really needed to cater to that.
Stoutmeister: Are you seeing pretty healthy growler sales at this point?
Ryan: I think we went through our initial order of growlers that we had.
Jotham: Our initial order is out. I’d say we’re selling 30 percent of our beer in growlers.
Ryan: I wasn’t so sure what to expect with the half growlers, but they’ve been really going, flying off the shelves as well. I’m really happy with that.
Stoutmeister: You guys have talked about expanding the menu, doing some other things now. What are some of your ideas coming up and in the future to get more people in here and further put your name on the map?
Jotham: We’ve got a couple marketing things going on right now. We’re doing radio ads. We just did a Living Social coupon and that sold out in a matter of hours today.
We’re going to be entering our first competition, the New Mexico Cup, I think it’s called. Have you heard of it?
Stoutmeister: Yeah, we’re signed up to be celebrity judges.
Ryan: Oh, wow, nice!
E-Rock: What beers are you going to enter?
Jotham: I think we’re going to do four offerings. But as far as advertising, we’re still trying to spread the word. It’s mostly word-of-mouth, ground-level marketing as much as possible. Other than doing radio ads and Living Social coupons we’re not doing too much.
Right now we’re shying away from TV ads. But pretty soon we’re going to have a piece coming out called “This is Bosque Brewing” for our Facebook page. It’s a nice little piece on who we are, where we come from.
Ryan: We’re going to use the Alibi and IQ, try to get those to help get the word out.
We’re really proud of our beer and really proud of our food. Already we’re seeing really good response. We want Albuquerque to know about us. It takes a little while, but we’re really encouraged already.
E-Rock: Are you guys considering selling your beers at other locations?
Ryan: I’ve been working in the bar industry for almost a decade so I’ve got a lot friends in bars and restaurants …
Jotham: Friends in low places.
Ryan: Yes, very low, but good friends to know. There’s been a lot of interest expressed already.
Jotham: Our biggest problem is a pretty limited production capacity. So right now, until we have an opportunity to increase our brewhouse capacity and maybe even get more equipment … whenever you start doing any increase in the volume to produce for other restaurants and that type of thing. It eats into your profit margin and the amount of beer so quickly. If you think about it, six barrels is really only 12 kegs of beer, so if you get a couple good accounts you can go through 12 kegs of beer like that. That is on the horizon, but we can’t do it yet.
Ryan: In a positive action to stave off that dilemma, we just recently started renting the space on the other side of Subway as well. We just finished building out the walk-in cooler in there. We’re doing what we can with the means we have at this time. It just means we’re going to have to spend a few more days brewing here a week to build up a bit of a stockpile, if nothing else so we never get to the point where we have to pause on a certain brew for any duration of time.
E-Rock: What’s the relationship with Subway (next door) been like?
Jotham: Per our lease agreement, we’re not allowed to sell above a certain percentage of our revenue in sub-style, deli-style sandwiches.
Gabe: Our total food is about 29 percent of our revenue right now. I like that number. That’s a good number.
Stoutmeister: You don’t want to go to the Nexus 60-40 level?
Gabe: Right, I don’t. If we were selling more beer and then that more food, that’s fine.
Jotham: We really don’t want to be selling a ton of food anyway because it just takes a long time to prepare, we have such a small kitchen.
Ryan: Yes, we are really proud of this menu we put together, but we really see ourselves as a brewery that sells food. We’re going to keep it that way.
E-Rock: So are all the taps hooked up to serving tanks or are some kegs?
Gabe: We have five servers back there. Usually we have them all hooked up, but right now we have a couple beers carbing back there while we finish up a couple kegs. We’ve got seven up there right now, but that will soon be nine. Because we’ve got an Amber Ale coming out this week and a California Commons next week.
Stoutmeister: California Commons, please describe.
Gabe: Are you familiar with Anchor Steam? The California Commons is basically a lager that’s been fermented at ale temperatures. It’s really one of the first American-style beers, like it’s not an import from another country or something. I guess they developed this beer in San Francisco. It’s got a great kind of spicy quality to it.
Stoutmeister: What else are you guys tinkering with or thinking about doing?
Gabe: We’re going to do a Double IPA pretty soon.
Ryan: We’re fairly certain we’re going to do a Double Amber.
Gabe: What I’ve been trying to do is keep Cumulus on tap at all times. Since it’s not a normal IPA, have a different IPA always as well. So we had the Ember and the Bitter Brit.
Ryan: We really haven’t experienced any beer that the public hasn’t embraced wholeheartedly. All right, we need to double the space we have to store. But just for practicality’s sake we can’t keep in constant rotation everything. Like Gabe was saying, we like the fact we get to do a different IPA, keep things mixed up a little bit.
Gabe: Yeah, after the Double (IPA) we want to do a pale ale with Cascade (hops) from De Smet Farms (in Bosque Farms). They brought us some hops. I don’t know if we’ll do it next week or the week after.
Ryan: Personally I’m really excited about that. We want to do as much local as we can. It’s hard to get a lot of ingredients for the process when you’re from New Mexico. So much of it is from around the world. So when we can get hops from right under nose we have to.
E-Rock: So right now what are the beers you would like to keep on tap at all times?
Gabe: Cumulus, Kindling, Mellow Brit, but we’ll probably replace that with the Amber Ale. And then … Olde Bosky. Once we get a little more space in that cooler back there, I might be able to do five or six. But right now four is what I’m finding is doable to always have those and rotation three or four others. Just always having those is you have to be brewing them before you have room for them.
E-Rock: How often are you brewing right now?
Gabe: Two days a week, twice on each of those days. We found we like doing it. It cuts cleaning in half, essentially. You still have to clean between, but it’s a different process.
Ryan: We’re all pretty much living here at this point. There’s really not a time that’s not advantageous to be here, working on something.
Stoutmeister: I know when you guys were getting ready to open, you really hadn’t had time to connect with the brewing community here in Albuquerque. Have you had much time to talk to them yet?
Gabe: All of them, I think all of them now. I’ve had conversations with the majority of the players here in town.
Ryan: Something I was really surprised with, I mentioned before I’ve been in the motorcycle mechanic community, as well as the bartender community, I was expecting something a bit more cutthroat, a little more exclusive. The community in general has been cool, you’re brewing, let’s check you out. It’s been everything from hey, give us a call, if you need help. I think it’s because the craft beer market is so open for all of us, we have this mentality is what’s good for one brewery here in town is good for us as well. There’s so much growth to be had for all of us. Anybody making good beer is really going to be perpetuating the general public’s embracing of craft brewers. Like I said, I was kind of surprised with the general embracing of us as newcomers into the brewing community.
E-Rock: Have you thought about doing any collaboration brews with them?
Gabe: We’d consider it, but right now probably not. It would be really cool, I’d love to do that.
E-Rock: What’s your biggest priorities right now and over the next couple months?
Gabe: We’ve been thinking about expanding since three years ago. The question is, do we expand in this space or get another space? The dream and the plan has always been to have a package brewery, just doing canning. How you do that and how long it takes is always on our minds. We have a weekly meeting about that. The question is do we go in as much as we can and use this (the tap room) to prop that up, or do we leap?
E-Rock: What are your thoughts on bottles versus cans?
Kevin: Eventually what we’d like to do is a package brewery that is all cans. Any of our normal stuff would be all cans. We might do bombers in glass.
E-Rock: What about casks?
Gabe: We’ve got some cool cask ideas, but right now we don’t have the room.
E-Rock: Everyone we talk to, no matter how big they are, the big issue is space.
Kevin: We’ve got 900 square feet back there, and we’re like we don’t have enough space. Then there are places like Marble. It seems like nobody has enough space. But it’s kind of cool that Albuquerque has that many breweries that are doing that well.
Ryan: That’s one of the coolest parts about all of this, for me anyway. We’re coming into Albuquerque’s brewing scene at a very exciting time. A foundation has been laid for a while now and I feel like some momentum is really growing, the Southwest in general but Albuquerque specifically is really coming to a fever pitch with great beer being produced in a lot of different places. It’s an awesome time to be making beer.
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A huge thanks again to the staff at Bosque Brewing for their hospitality and taking some time out of their busy day to talk to us. If you have not yet visited Bosque on San Mateo, just north of Alameda (it’s the first red light west of I-25), head on up there ASAP, it’s worth the trip and then some. If you have not been back in a while, get a move on. In two months they have truly cemented their place among Albuquerque’s finest microbreweries.