The most obvious evidence of Bosque Brewing’s big 2015 came in the form of the successful opening of the Nob Hill Public House. Or, perhaps it was in all of those bottle releases. Then again, maybe it was their victories in the National IPA Challenge and New Mexico IPA Challenge, plus a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Heck, it could be seen in a simple number — from 2014 to 2015, the total number of Bosque employees went from 12 to more than 50. Anytime a business can quadruple its work force, it suggests a pretty darned good year.
To recap all of that for the second entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series (click here for the first entry on La Cumbre), as well as previewing what is to come in 2016, I sat down with owners Gabe Jensen and Jotham Michnovicz, head brewer John Bullard, and general manager Jessica Myers at the San Mateo taproom on Monday. Armed with pints in hand, some snacks on the table, and collectively impressed by Jessica’s ability to endure the setting sun in her eyes the whole time, we hashed out all that was and got some idea of what is to come.
“What did happen in 2015? We opened Nob Hill in the first 10 days, three weeks after we opened the taproom in Las Cruces,” Gabe said. “We were just laughing about how we’ve gone a full year without opening a new taproom. But, don’t worry, we’ll make up for it next year.”
Nice teaser for later on, Gabe. He continued, “We increased draft distribution by 250 percent, is that right? (It was.) We increased staff from about 12 people on payroll to 50 on payroll and spent the rest of the year dealing with that. Learning how to run a machine instead of a nice mom-and-pop brewpub that we had. I think we finally hit our stride (knocks on wood), I think the taprooms are running smoothly now and found their place in their respective markets. Now we’re ready to do it again.”
Of course, having award-winning beer was the key to the overall growth.
“We learned a lot this year, man,” John said. “We’ve made a lot of different beers. We learned a whole bunch from it. That’s going to result in us making better beers next year and we’re going to keep playing around with and making new ones.”
From the big hoppy beers, like Scale Tipper (the NIPAC and NMIPAC winner) and Acequia (the GABF gold winner), to the malt monsters like the recent Third Anniversary Baltic Porter and Barrel-Aged Jet Black Winter, it was quite a year for Bosque.
“All of them are good for the brewery,” John said. “The New Mexico IPA Challenge is just fun, it’s just a fun one. So many people are getting really serious about that, it’s not as fun as it used to be, and that kind of sucks to see. National was really cool. To take that from people I’ve looked up to for so many years is great. And the gold medal in Wet Hop IPA (category) is fantastic. That’s definitely the biggest achievement for Bosque so far and for my career. It’s cool.”
Beyond just making those beers, there has been the added challenge of getting them into bottles and getting those out to the public.
“Just coming up with new styles that we think that beer drinkers will accept has been kind of tricky,” John said. “We’ve had some interesting beers in our bomber lineup, our 22-ounce bottle lineup.”
“It’s been interesting juggling how much of that should we try to sell in taprooms, how much of that do you sell to liquor stores,” Gabe added. “It seems like they do better at the brewery than they do at the other taprooms. Learning all of those things like oh, we can’t just take our slowest taproom and multiply it by three. For whatever reason, this one sells the most package of anywhere. Just learning that, the different ebbs and flows of each taproom, especially when it comes to package.”
Bottle sales have been better at San Mateo than at either Nob Hill or Las Cruces. Part of that is likely due to the variance in the crowds at each place. It is just something else the staff has learned about this year, how to treat each taproom equally, while understanding the differences in the customer base at each location.
“I’ve been trying to figure it out,” Jessica said. “That’s been kind of my thought process towards releasing bombers. How can we get even the information out? Nob Hill is set up differently, too. When you come into this taproom you can see the information from anywhere you’re sitting. Nob Hill is totally different. Cruces, they’re not used to picking up bombers at a liquor store, much less in a taproom. So there’s that. I guess we weren’t necessarily expecting that in Cruces. I’m not sure what the main thing is, other than that people come here as a destination. We sell more merch, more bombers here.”
Gabe noted that cider sales are higher at the other locations, while San Mateo seems more geared to the pure beer drinkers, the type more likely to take a bomber home when he or she is done for the night.
The taproom experience, and all that entails, has mainly been in Jessica’s hands this year.
“I think Gabe said it well, it’s just trying to figure out to manage 50ish employees on the same page at all times,” she said. “Now we have different departments that run separately but need to be in pretty good communication all the time. I think that was the major hurdle that we recently got over is communicating across all departments. The (distance) between here and Las Cruces adds a little bit of confusion some times, but overall we’re starting to hit our stride. There’s a sense of everyone is on the same page and we’re all pointing due north with our goals and values. Really we’re trying to provide, on my end, is a world class consumer experience across all three taprooms.”
One small, but popular aspect of that improved customer service was the recent decision to replace those heavy, almost immovable chairs at Nob Hill.
“We’re definitely trying to improve the customer experience at all three taprooms,” Jessica said. “Some are easy fixes like chairs, others are taking more time. Overall, the small the things we can do to make our customers comfortable we’re absolutely working on. We needed more seats in there, too. We added 20 to 25 seats in there, too, with the new chairs. If anyone wants to buy a chair, they’re on sale!”
“It’s kind of funny, because as they left, everyone seems happy, but they asked, ‘Can I buy one?’” Gabe added.
As for Jotham, his role has evolved this year into being the brewery equivalent of a super utility player in baseball. Any job that needs doing, he can pretty much handle it. Well, except for maybe brewing, but odds are if John ever needed the extra help, Jotham would be there.
“Honestly, it’s been kind of a junk drawer role,” Jotham said. “We all just do things, if that makes sense. I really don’t know how to put that into words, exactly. I know it’s just grown like crazy over the last couple of even months. It’s really hard to say. We’ve added an accounting department that’s taken over a lot of our bookkeeping and helping us run a tight ship. Distribution is growing, we’ve been working a lot on our taproom ambiance, and just the way we do training for servers. All of that stuff, we kind of jump back and forth between it. I do a lot of our social media. We’re trying to grow all of that. I really feel like I jump back and forth between a lot of tasks.”
The last major task of 2015 will be rolling out the delectable Imperial Coffee Brown on tap and in bombers this month. All of us who attended the Bosque Insider event last week got to sample this criminally smooth, flavorful offering. It marks a wonderful way to cap off a banner year.
2016 to potentially feature, well, a whole heck of a lot
The Bosque to-do list for the upcoming year is a long one, to say the least. The staff could not go into too many details, yet, but there could be quite a few exciting developments to come.
“I don’t know if I can say a whole lot more than I said at the Insiders event,” Gabe said. “Let me tell you what I can say now. I’ve just learned not to jump the gun before the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. The I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed for expanding this taproom, which I think is one of the most needed aspects of what we’re going to do in 2016. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m even hearing Tuesday nights are (overcrowded). We have people walking away. We don’t even have a place for people to wait. So I’m super excited about expanding this taproom, serving this neighborhood a little bit more.”
That expansion will come to the south of the current taproom as Bosque will move into Suite H. The entire south wall will be knocked out, fully merging the current taproom with the added space. Gabe said he hopes that project will be done fairly early in the new year.
As for the other two locations, plans are afoot there as well.
“We’ve been talking about the kitchen in Nob Hill, some other upgrades we’re doing there, mostly aesthetic,” Gabe said. “But the kitchen is huge. Every time I taste something from Patch (Patchell, head chef), I get more and more excited. It’s just a matter of time to get all of that stuff done and in a professional matter.”
Though there have been delays, Bosque is still planning to move its Las Cruces taproom to a bigger location within the same complex across the street from New Mexico State University. Jotham said the new location will have triple the space of the current suite.
“We’re including a kitchen, too, which is nice for being able to play around with the menu at Nob Hill, too (in advance),” Jotham added. “In the next couple of months we’ll be able to roll out something similar in Las Cruces, too.”
Then there is the persistent rumor that Bosque is looking around for a fourth taproom location, possibly within the Albuquerque metro area, or possibly in a location elsewhere in the state. That move will likely come later in 2016, if at all, as currently the plan is to take advantage of the current legislation change that will enable Bosque to smoothly transition from one Las Cruces taproom (and liquor license) to the other without a significant shutdown in between.
“We don’t have any specific (location), there are a few possibilities on that,” Gabe said. “We’re not afraid of taprooms, we love our taprooms. (We’re) not overly cautious or anything, especially now that we’ve gotten out there, we’ve done it and we know what we’re doing, I feel like. We’re ready to try it again. I’m hoping to have a decision about what it will look like in the first quarter of 2016. We’ll take a few months after that.”
Gabe added that he wants a location that will garner the same type of popular following that Bosque has created in Las Cruces, but for now, we will all just have to keep guessing where that might be.
Of course, the biggest move in 2016 could be the solution to what Jotham calls “strip center brewing problems.” Basically, Bosque has maxed out their space in the current brewing location. They will cap 2015 at about 7,000 to 7,500 barrels, with no room left to add more tanks to increase production. Any hope for more regular bottling, or even the thought of beginning to package the popular house beers like Riverwalker IPA or Scotia Scotch Ale, is on hold until brewing space can be increased.
John said his greatest wish for 2016 is “just to brew more beer.”
“This place is so cramped in day-to-day operations, you’re really stepping on each other’s toes,” he added. “So to spread out would be awesome.”
Or as Jotham interjected: “He’s being nice right now, I think what he’d really like to say is I’d like to have a real brewery instead of a strip center brewing company.”
That means finding a much larger place to serve as a full-on production brewery. Gabe said they have considered the two main options, which is finding an existing building to convert or building one from the ground up.
“We’ve looked at everything,” Jotham added. “It’s hard to retrofit an old building. There’s a lot that goes into it. Reinforced concrete floors that are sloped. You’re worried about ceiling height. There are a lot of factors to consider. And there aren’t a whole lot of buildings that are existing out there that fit the bill.”
That will be the biggest project of 2016, if it comes to fruition. We can all certainly hope that will be the case.
On some smaller notes, Jessica said fans can expect more Bosque Insider events and more customer-centric changes and updates at the taprooms. John added that one notable upcoming beer is the Scale Tipper Lager, an IPL. That will only be available on tap when it is ready soon. The brewery staff will decide on their next bottled beer in January.
Overall, it sounds like 2016 will be just as busy and exciting for Bosque as 2015 was. Fans of their many excellent beers will surely rejoice.
Thank you to Gabe, Jessica, John, and Jotham for taking the time to sit down and chat amid their busy schedules. And of course thanks to all for making Bosque one of the premier breweries in our humble state.
Until the next entry in this series …