No one can dispute that Bosque Brewing is in the midst of a great year. They opened two taprooms, won the National IPA Challenge, won a second straight New Mexico IPA Challenge, have bottled two beers (with a third on the way), and, oh yeah, just won their first gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
Or as brewer John Bullard put it succinctly, “It’s huge.” John was gracious enough to take some time out of his insanely busy brewing schedule to sit down and chat about his first gold medal. We were soon joined by co-owners Gabe Jensen and Jotham Michnovicz over some pints on a busy afternoon at the brewery.
NMDSBC: Gold medal. Tell me about it. You’re sitting there, that category comes up, they announce the bronze, they announce the silver, are you sweating more as each one was announced and you haven’t heard your name?
John: Absolutely. Melvin and Comrade are both fantastic breweries. Both of them are known for the IPAs they make. I see both of those come in and I say if we can make this it will be amazing. And we did. It felt good, it felt really good.
NMDSBC: You won two silvers at Blue Corn (in 2013)?
NMDSBC: And then you won bronze last year for Acequia.
NMDSBC: So this is your first gold.
John: This is the biggest achievement of my career so far.
NMDSBC: What does it mean to you as a brewer? Because of that prestige of GABF, it’s one of 6,738 beers entered into the competition. You came away with one of 92 gold medals. Just talk about that, the odds are stacked against everyone at this sort of event. You never know what kind of judge you’re going to get. What does it mean to you to come out of there with the biggest prize?
John: It’s huge, it’s absolutely huge. I don’t know what else to say. It’s the biggest. It took a few days for that to sink in. A lot of respect comes from that, and that helps a lot. Especially being a younger brewer, in Albuquerque I’m one of the younger brewers, of course. That helps a whole lot with gaining more respect from a lot of my, I guess you could call them colleagues. That’s a good thing.
NMDSBC: Overall, I say only four medals, but the state next to us (Arizona) has three times to the population and they only got four also. You’ve been up there before, you’ve sampled a lot of the beers. Is the competition getting that much harder? Was it like to compete with everybody from all around the country?
John: I think it is getting harder. You do see a lot of new names. You see a lot of the same names over and over. You see a lot of the same brewers over and over. It’s getting harder all the way across the board. There’s more and more entrants. People are striving to make better beer.
NMDSBC: You see a lot now where someone helps to win an award at one brewery and then they go and open their own brewery and try to win one there, too.
John: There’s a lot of that. We’ve seen that …
NMDSBC: Around this town, exactly. … You look at the general IPA category. There was a little chat room on the video broadcast and when that one was announced, people were going “where is that brewery?” It’s almost as if anybody can win it with the right beer.
John: That’s what’s helping the most. We’re building a reputation (here). We’re building a reputation for the hoppy beers, but also the quality for all the beers we’re making.
NMDSBC: I assume you guys timed out the release of Acequia in bottles based on what happened at GABF last year (a bronze medal). Or was that just a stroke of good timing?
Gabe: Some of it is just that’s when the wet hops are available. We learned last year both with New Mexico IPA Challenge, we were out of Scale Tipper, and then after the National IPA Challenge. This year we need to have this beer even if they place or do well, we need to have these beers on tap. We learned that. It’s hard, though. You can see right now we don’t have six beers (on tap). We had to make sure we had those beers first.
NMDSBC: When they were announcing the award they said to have that many wet hop beers this early into harvest season was impressive. Was it a stroke of luck that you guys were able to get that stuff in time to get the beer ready?
John: It was right down to the last minute with that beer. We even rushed that beer to get it in bottles and to the competition. The guy that delivered the hops was late. We turned that beer around faster than I normally would, so to see it win also makes it feel that much bigger.
Gabe: The other thing is that all three breweries that medaled, they all got it from the same farm, right?
John: Yeah, as I understand. I know Comrade got the hops from there. They were pretty sure Melvin got their hops from the same exact farm. … (The farm owner) sent me congratulations in an email. He said I’m so happy for you.
NMDSBC: So as I originally asked John, gold medal, can you two put it into words what it means to you?
Gabe: I’m just … some of it … pride, (but) I don’t know if it’s the right word. But I’m proud of everyone. I’m proud John. He does what he does, which is win. That sounds a little bit cocky, he makes good beer. A lot of people make good beer, but he tries to win as well. I think that in turns means we won fairly, which is cool. It also makes you want even more. It’s like OK, it’s awesome, we did that.
You’ve been in our brewery, you’ve been in other (bigger) breweries. We don’t have much room in there. We wish we had more space so we weren’t turning out lagers in the time we’re turning them out.
John: With that scenario and that setup next door, to do what we’re doing makes it feel that much better. If we can do it with that, we can do it something better.
Gabe: It’s a sense of accomplishment and a sense of frustration, sometimes.
NMDSBC: But by doing that and getting these sorts of wins, winning IPA challenges, National and state, and now winning this, do you see an increase in profit? Do you see an increase in demand? I know that taproom down in Las Cruces, based on what the people in the Borderlands Craft Beer Community (on Facebook) tell me, stuff is just flying there.
Gabe: That place is crazy busy. Does it increase profit? We’re not worried about paying bills anymore. But at the same time we’re like that’s great, let’s pay our bills, but there’s so many more things we want to do. I know that’s not what this (interview) is about, but it fuels us. I guess for a brewery you’re never satisfied.
NMDSBC: I don’t think any brewery is ever totally satisfied.
John: I don’t think you can be.
NMDSBC: It’s like you talk about an athlete in a sport like baseball, where you play every day, you can be satisfied for an hour. “We won, cool, now let’s get ready for tomorrow’s game.” It’s the same thing for beer. You make a good one this time, but you have to brew another tomorrow. Or you have to brew this one again, but you find out you’re out of this malt or that hop. Then you just yell, “La Cumbre!” Oh, Jeff (Erway) and his hop contracts.
John: That’s the truth. We’re getting there man, next year and the year after, we’re getting a lot of the varieties that we’ve always wanted. This year has been tough with a few hop varieties. Next year we’re all on board with what we want.
NMDSBC: Do you have any particular categories, maybe where you tried the beers, and say I want to go for that one next year?
NMDSBC: There you go.
Gabe: If no one can win a gold, you’d like to go for that one. (Laughs)
John: But no, not really (any categories). You’d like to win for one of your house beers. At some point you’d like to see your house beers in package form. And of course a win with any of those house beers would really support that package sale.
Jotham: That was really interesting about this year’s competition, there were something like 450 new breweries that entered this competition this year. There were a lot that medaled that I’d never heard of. They said there was something like 1,500 breweries that entered (1,552 to be exact).
Gabe: There were more (new) breweries around than (total breweries) when we opened.
Jotham: Back to that wet hop category, after the awards ceremony, we had all of these guys coming up to our booth. We had been going around to all of their booths before that, checking them out, seeing what our comeptition was like. To have Melvin come up and seek us out, to have Comrade come up and seek us out, like you were asking earlier about it fueling profits, I don’t know if it fuels profits as much as it gives us a little bit street cred. I think that and in turn people’s confidence (in us), it’s kind of a trickle down effect. You’ve got to win over the other breweries first before you can win over the general public.
John: Like I was saying, winning this medal gets us a lot more respect from the brewers around here. But we’re earning respect from brewers nationwide. We had somebody from Portland that came to us and told us that we’re building a reputation in Portland with the beers we’re making. We had someone from Denver, too, but that’s closer.
NMDSBC: Yeah, but it’s Denver, there’s probably a lot of brewers in Denver still seeking respect from their peers there are so many places up there.
John: People from completely different breweries, even sour breweries, were complimenting the beers we’re making. We’re getting respect from people all over.
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Thank you again to John, Gabe, and Jotham for taking the time to chat. And for the Oktoberfest and Acequia pints, too. All of us in the Crew congratulate them on their victory and truly appreciate all they are doing for bringing positive recognition to our entire craft beer scene in New Mexico.