It was another banner year over at Bosque Brewing, as everyone might have noticed. There were additional medals and awards, the arrival of six-pack cans, taproom renovations, and more. Do not expect things to slow down anytime soon, either.
I had the chance to meet with head brewer John Bullard, owners Gabe Jensen and Jotham Michnovicz, and Jessica Griego, the director of culture and engagement, at the San Mateo taproom earlier this week. We discussed the ongoing whirlwind of their business over a few pints on a rare quiet day for the quartet.
2016 actually got off to a fairly quiet start, save for two major awards. Bosque became the first brewery to ever repeat as champion of the National IPA Challenge, with Scale Tipper going back to back in March. Bosque then claimed a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup in April for its IPA. After that, well, then things really got busy.
“Since June we’ve had our foot on the gas pedal,” Jotham said. “It was going along easy for the first half of 2016, then it was pedal to the metal.”
“It was like a whole year was jammed into six months,” Jessica added. “At least that’s how I feel.”
One major project completed by June was the expansion and renovation of the San Mateo taproom. Bosque’s original location earned a much-needed makeover, easing its crowded space, at least on most days.
“This was such a big win for us, too, because we were able to get a feel for what our style going forward is going to be,” Jotham said. “The decor in here, we feel like we nailed it. We’re excited about putting it in Bernalillo and Las Cruces, and eventually in Nob Hill.”
Speaking of taprooms, Las Cruces was finding itself packed beyond capacity on a regular basis. That quickly led the command staff to figure out they needed a larger space down south. Luckily for them, one was open in the same shopping center across the street from New Mexico State University as the current taproom. Not so lucky was getting that ball rolling.
“Yes, Cruces ground has been broken,” Gabe said. “Four architects later … once they got started, our current architect has been great. I think they’re pretty close to (being) on schedule.”
Jessica said they should be open in January in the new space, which should come as a welcome relief not just for the command staff, but also their many, many patrons in Las Cruces and nearby El Paso.
“What’s kind of nice is we actually have a template now for how we open taprooms now,” Jessica said. “We’re not flying by the seat of our pants anymore. I’m excited to see how it’s going to pan out.”
John said all the credit should go to Jessica for the overall taproom experience.
“A lot of the focus has gone into the taprooms, too,” John said. “That’s Jess’ hard work. That’s why they look so good, that’s why the service is so good. Like you said, the experience is great.”
Bosque also rolled out its first three beers in cans — IPA, Scotia, Lager — far sooner than expected. With construction finally underway in Bernalillo for the upcoming production facility — “Ground’s broke!” John exclaimed with a fist pump — that forced Bosque to look for an alternative means to grabbing some shelf space. Enter Sleeping Giant, a contract brewery in Denver. In turn, that led to Bosque signing a distribution agreement with Admiral.
Despite a couple early hiccups, it has been fairly smooth sailing for Bosque as far as packaging has gone so far.
“At the beginning there were a couple people that got some low fills or something,” Gabe said. “Those were (vocal) Untappd people, so we’re like, oh, man. That first week I was freaking out, oh my gosh, if these two people got it like that, everyone could. Then that was it, nothing happened.”
“Those cans that he’s talking about, that was a different can manufacturer than Sleeping Giant had used before, so that led to a couple complications,” John added. “The same thing would have happened if we were packaging.”
The real surprise in the cans has been in sales, specifically which of the beers has stood out.
“Scotia is selling better than I expected, better than any of us expected,” Gabe said.
At first, the command staff was unsure of whether or not to even can the popular Scotch ale. Their sales manager convinced them it had to be done.
“I think the only person who truly believed that is Jesse (Hiott),” Jessica said. “He knows (the market). The rest of us, we wanted to do it, we just didn’t know.”
Gabe said even the folks at Admiral wanted Scotia, backing up Jesse. That finally pushed things over the top, and to market it went. Scotia became the first packaged Scotch/Scottish-style ale in New Mexico, which might have helped.
“It’s selling about the same rate as Lager,” Gabe said. “IPA is still, I think, 50 percent of our sales. The other two are 25 and 25, which is weird. We expected that to be a little more skewed toward IPA taking a larger portion of the sales.”
Gabe and Jessica said there has been a learning curve in terms of working with a distributor for the first time.
“It’s not about Admiral’s learning curve, it’s (ours),” Gabe said. “Now someone else has control of what’s getting sold in a lot of places we’ve never been, like Roswell. We didn’t know anything about Roswell, now it’s our fourth biggest market.
“I feel overall it’s been good. We’ve moved a lot of beer.”
Jotham said Bosque chose Admiral over the other major New Mexico distributors for a reason.
“That was one of the big reasons why we went with Admiral, because we liked the fact that they would be they were willing to work with us,” he said. “We told them we never want to short them on product if at all possible. We don’t want to run out at our taprooms, we want to keep the same rotating specialty beers. They were all for that. They had a very similar mindset.”
John and the brewing team have enjoyed the relationship as well.
“Without Admiral, we couldn’t have expanded into a lot of these markets if we still self distributed,” John said. “It would really have been impossible for us to do that. Roswell, we wouldn’t be there. Admiral’s been great.
“Then, we we take back our packaging, we’re already out there. That’s half the reason why we did it.”
All of the success in the market would not come without a strong, stable brewing team. John has spoken throughout the year about what a solid group Bosque has assembled.
“The team is really dialed in back there,” John said. “We’ve had a lot of success with competitions this year as well, and that’s because those guys are working together so well. They’re doing what they love doing.
The team got a boost from the arrival of Tim Woodward, the former head brewer at Turtle Mountain, who joined them in May.
“Tim’s doing a great job,” John said. “He’s taking over a lot more as Jackalope is pushing forward so I can work on that more.”
Another long-time staff member earned a promotion as well.
“Ira (Strain-Bey), we just promoted him to brewer,” John said. “He’s been here since day one. He’s been our lead cellarman. He’s really taking off in a brewer position.”
All the hard work of the brewing team paid off again in October when Bosque claimed two silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival for Acequia IPA and the Lager. Winning for the latter, a house beer as opposed to a seasonal/specialty, was an amazing accomplishment.
“That silver in Lager, I jumped up at that one,” Gabe said.
“That one was the one where we were all looking at each other (shocked),” Jessica added.
John could only smile at the memory.
“That was huge,” he said. “That’s Bosque’s biggest accomplishment and probably my biggest accomplishment of my career so far. I’m more proud of that than any other (award).”
The World Beer Cup bronze for IPA and the GABF silver for the Lager are both displayed on the cans themselves.
“That was pretty huge that we (were able) to do that with (Lager) and IPA, two of the three can styles,” Jotham said.
Overall, 2016 will go down as another successful year for Bosque.
“It’s been a fun year, but it’s been a different kind of year than last year,” Gabe said.
“We’ve been dialing in everything, really, in preparation for improving the taproom experience at Las Cruces and Bernalillo,” Jessica added.
2017 will start big
As noted above, the completion of the new Las Cruces taproom is first on the agenda for Bosque in 2017. After that, the production facility and taproom in Bernalillo will take center stage.
“2017 is all about these few projects we have and then deciding what to do (next),” Gabe said.
The new Las Cruces taproom will have a full kitchen, just like the San Mateo taproom, with a nearly identical food menu, Gabe said. Overall, there will be 2,900 square feet of indoor space, including the kitchen, and a 1,500-square-foot patio outside.
Once that is complete in the first month or two of the year, the staff will be diving headfirst into the construction in Bernalillo. Part of the delay up there was due to issues with Highway 550. Bosque is the anchor tenant of a large retail complex, which will necessitate having its own red light along the busy road. That in turn kept construction from getting going until the State of New Mexico and Sandoval County could figure out where to specifically put the light. With that issue now solved, the same construction company that just wrapped up Flix Brewhouse on the West Side is beginning work on renovating and expanding the old Jackalope building.
“The timing is actually working out nicely that we don’t have to be involved yet in Bernalillo,” Jessica said. “I don’t know how we would do it if they were happening at the same time.”
So far, there have been no changes to the plans to the facility.
“It’s going to be substantially similar to what we’ve seen in the renderings,” Gabe said. “We’ve been hammering out details. The experience there will be different than any other place that we have, for sure. I don’t know how much we want to say right now. It will really be wrapped around the brewery aspect of it. My favorite thing is when you walk in, there will be a 30-foot wide, 12-foot high glass wall that looks into the brewery. I really think that encapsulates what we’re trying to do there. It’s about the beer.”
The taproom will still occupy the south and part of the east side of the structure. There will be a mezzanine level where patrons can also look down into the brewery.
“And then, on top of that, we get to have a Bosque Brewing Company in the Bosque, which was always a dream of all of ours,” Gabe said with a laugh. “To actually be able to do that, we’re excited about that.”
The thought of having a ton of space, especially compared to the current cramped brewing quarters of San Mateo, led to a joke about John being able to ride a Segway around. He could only laugh at the idea.
On a more serious note, John said he expects to hit the ground running as soon as the facility is ready for brewing.
“We’re going to be busier there when we first start than what we previously thought,” he said. “We’re going to have more equipment than what we previously thought. That’s all thanks to the Sleeping Giant and Admiral partnership.”
Overall, 2017 should start out as a busy year with the two construction projects. Once that is done, it is hard to say what will pop up next for Bosque. Based on recent history, though, it can only be more good times for one of the best breweries in New Mexico.
A huge thank you to Gabe, Jessica, John, and Jotham for taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and chat. The Dry Stout and Double Brown were delicious, too.
Until the next big Bosque story breaks, the Look Back/Look Ahead Series will continue with even more brewery entries over the coming weeks.