Broken Bottle takes a breath before revving up for busy 2014

Posted: December 20, 2013 by cjax33 in Look Back/Look Ahead Series 2013-14
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Welcome to our sixth entry in the Look Back/Look Ahead Series for 2013-14. This series is designed to give a recap, from the breweries themselves, of 2013 while also previewing all that is to come in 2014. We have already visited La Cumbre, Bosque, Kaktus, Marble, and Sandia Chile Grill, so click the links if you missed the stories.

After stopping at SCG on Wednesday afternoon for an interview, I, Stoutmeister, willingly drove across Paseo del Norte to reach Broken Bottle to interview brewer Donavan Lane. And yes, for those who have not experienced the hell that is PDN/I-25, it is pretty much as awful as you would expect. At least it wasn’t rush hour. Following that harrowing journey into the abyss, Donavan and I sat down in the brewery and talked about how BBB’s second year went and what to expect in 2014.

It was a busy year for Broken Bottle as they settled into a good weekly routine of events and series of popular seasonal beers.

It was a busy year for Broken Bottle as they settled into a good weekly routine of events and series of popular seasonal beers.

Reflecting on 2013

Broken Bottle celebrated its one-year anniversary back in April, and with more time to look back, Donavan said the difference between 2012 and 2013 was quite apparent.

“Well, we opened in 2012 and we were only open about eight months,” Donavan said. “That was a good learning experience … learning how to brew on a bigger scale, learning how to deal with different issues. We kind of got through 2012 and by the end of it we worked through most of those issues. 2013 was kind of a step back and breathe a little bit, things are running smoothly.

“Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of issues that came up in 2013. That learning curve and adjustments and growing, changing processes and stuff like that. Really the big thing in 2013 was our first full year open and we just kind of settled in and got into this groove of things. We worked through most of our issues where things were running fairly smoothly and we were able to enjoy it more than 2012. Beyond that, we took time to look at the next steps of what we’re going to do as a business, where we’re going forward, what our plans are for growth and how do we achieve those. And then take some of the steps to achieve those plans.”

Achieving greater consistency in the beer was a goal for 2013, one that Donavan said he was able to deal with more easily than the year before. Still, BBB did not bat 1.000 on its beers.

“We get to the point where we’ve worked through issues, we feel things are consistent and then have this random batch where something goes wrong,” he said. “You think you’ve worked through everything, you think you’ve worked through every possible aspect that changes anything, and then you’ll have that random batch where something goes wrong. It may be one of your regulars where you’ve made it 20, 30, 40 times. You’re left picking your brain, trying to figure out what went wrong. Why did it come out different this time? Some of it is just a head scratcher. It’s not up to standards, so I’m going to dump it. We had very little of that in 2013. We worked through most of those issues in 2012.”

Seasonals like this Fat Willy's Smoke Stout became very popular at Broken Bottle this year.

Seasonals like this Fat Willy’s Smoke Stout became very popular at Broken Bottle this year.

More than anything, BBB has become known for its eclectic collection of experimental and seasonal beers.

“I think that’s kind of to some extent what people came to know us for and kind of our following,” Donavan said. “People love our seasonals, the unique things we try. We just had our Drunken Hobo Milk Stout and that sold like crazy. Early in the year we had a Toffee Stout, that sold like crazy. Some of the ones we did last year and even the recipes from home brewing are like the Sol Rosenberg Ale, which is a nut brown but uses sunflower seeds, and every time we put it on tap we have customers come in and fill growler after growler. The Tom Selleck Ale, our cranberry ale, we have customers that wait for it.

“As far as ones that sold slower, off the top of my head … we did Tingley Peach a while back. It was a peach ale but the peach flavor didn’t come through quite as much as I hoped for. I think the combination of the peaches not being as sweet, not as ripe, it didn’t sell as well. Overall most of the seasonals sell like crazy. The last three months it seems like every week I need to get one or two more seasonals fermenting, we’re flying through them.”

Live music was a popular and regular event at Broken Bottle, even featuring Brew Crew member E-Rock.

Live music was a popular and regular event at Broken Bottle, even featuring Brew Crew member E-Rock.

The popularity of the seasonals is only one part of BBB’s effort to establish a solid customer base. Perhaps and even bigger reason for that has been establishing a routine in terms of what is going on night by night at the brewery.

While Mondays and Tuesdays are typically slow everywhere, no matter the special events, the rest of the week has certain regular events that tend to draw in big crowds. From Open Mic night on Wednesdays to karaoke on Thursdays, live music on Fridays and/or Saturdays, and then football games and special TV show (Breaking Bad, Walking Dead) viewing parties on Sunday, all have helped create a large swath of regular customers.

“In 2013 I think a lot of it was still establishing that regular customer base,” Donavan said. “The consistency was not from a beer standpoint but what to expect from here on a day-to-day basis.”

Preparing for big things in 2014

Like almost every other brewery in town, BBB wants to grow in the coming year. And like most of those other breweries, it faces issues with the size of its current brewing system and the space in which there is to brew.

“2014 for us will be the year of a lot of changes, a lot of growth,” Donavan said. “In November we got our wholesalers license from the state. The last couple weeks I’ve been going out and talking to restaurants and bars. In 2014 we’ll start distributing to restaurants and bars.”

The very creative new tap handle for BBB beers that will be served at bars and restaurants in the area.

The very creative new tap handle for BBB beers that will be served at bars and restaurants in the area.

With distribution will come the need for an increase in production capacity. That in turn could lead to a change in venue to accommodate the need for more space.

“October was two years into our three-year lease, so for the last two months we’ve been talking to the landlord about what we’re doing going forward,” Donavan said. “Whether it would possibly be remaining here or looking at a few different properties to make a move to. We’re talking to the landlord if possibly the distribution takes off on the scale we’re hoping to possibly taking over one of their other vacant spaces and bumping up our capacity on the brewing end.

“All of the decisions will be made in the next two or three months. We’ll set our path for all of 2014 there. Right now we’ve got a lot of different things in play. We’re waiting for some proposals back from our current landlord. We’re meeting with two different property owners looking at other possibilities. By the end of January, most likely we should make those decisions whether we’re growing here or looking at a new place.”

Whether BBB stays in its location off Coors or moves elsewhere on the West Side, increasing the size of the current brewing system is definitely on the table.

“We brew on a two-barrel system, so we’re looking at the possibility of upgrading that to either a five- or seven-barrel system,” Donavan said. “Still on a smaller scale compared to the big guys (but) for us it would be a step up. It would allow us to keep up with here and get out to other places. On our current system the reality is if we sign up with too many restaurants we’ll very quickly hit out limit with what we can provide here and what we send out. A five- or seven-barrel system would double or triple what we can put out. It would give us a lot more room for growth without having to spend 70 or 80 hours a week here.”

Franz Solo always likes taking BBB beers home (since he lives nearby), but the option of bottles/cans instead of just growlers would be nice to have.

Franz Solo always likes taking BBB beers home (since he lives nearby), but the option of bottles/cans instead of just growlers would be nice to have as well.

Broken Bottle has also been talking to a new local company, Mother Road Canning, which will bring a small canning line to the smaller breweries around town and help can or bottle their beers. Having beer on bottles/cans could be a smart business move, Donavan said.

“We’ll see if we can’t work something out that’s a beneficial deal for both of us,” he said. “Then with that, initially we would sell out of here. You would be surprised how many people come in and say I’d like to buy a six-pack instead of a growler. I want to open one and drink it tonight and not worry about the rest. With a growler once you open it you have to finish it in a couple days.

“Initially we’d do it to sell out here. Then we could approach the smaller grocery stores, possibly. We could sell at a few restaurants and bars. You could try to sell kegs, but they don’t have any open taps. If they don’t want to drop anyone they have, but you can sell them a case of bottles. It gets your foot in the door. If they sell well and like your product, maybe down the line you can get a keg in there.”

The Crew will keep on top of BBB’s big meetings in the next couple months and let everyone know what is ultimately decided.

* * * *

A big thanks to Donavan for taking the time to chat and, of course, for the pint of the delicious Elixir, a vanilla cream ale that is quite the decadent late afternoon treat. Head over before they run out, as I just missed out on the last of the milk stout.

A busy weekend lies ahead as I will be interviewing Ken Carson of Nexus in a short while, followed by the Dark Beer Festival at Bird of Paradise, which is today at 6 p.m. (we get to go at 5 p.m., another perk of this whole writing-about-beer gig) Saturday will feature the New Mexico Bowl, something I actually get paid to write about, followed by Solstice Blackout at Il Vicino. There will be plenty of shenanigans for the Crew’s hush-hush, double-secret probation holiday party on Sunday.

As for the remaining Look Back/Look Ahead stories: Monday — Tractor, Tuesday — Nexus, Wednesday — no stories, both E-Rock and I are taking the day off, Thursday — Il Vicino, Friday — Turtle Mountain. Still waiting to hear back from Back Alley, Cazuela’s, and Chama River, so those may have to wait until January.

Enjoy your weekend, folks. Just remember not to overdo it.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Comments
  1. […] Broken Bottle takes a breath before revving up for busy 2014 […]

  2. […] Broken Bottle takes a breath before revving up for busy 2014 […]

  3. […] is to come in 2014. We have already visited La Cumbre, Bosque, Kaktus, Marble, Sandia Chile Grill, Broken Bottle, Tractor, and Nexus, so click the links if you missed the […]

  4. […] is to come in 2014. We have already visited La Cumbre, Bosque, Kaktus, Marble, Sandia Chile Grill, Broken Bottle, Tractor, Nexus, and Il Vicino, so click the links if you missed the […]

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