For my final interview of 2017 (more are coming in 2018, fear not), I sat down with three key members of the command staff at Bosque Brewing to try to somehow recap an insanely busy year and preview what is to come in the next 12 months. Managing director/owner Gabe Jensen, director of operations/owner Jotham Michnovicz, and director of culture and engagement Jess Griego all joined me over some pints at the San Mateo location last week.
The challenge was to recap all that went down in 2017, when Bosque opened a bigger Las Cruces location, expanded its Nob Hill Public House, added another canned beer (Elephants on Parade), added another year-round beer (1888), and just managed to stay constantly busy.
“I think Jotham had a lot to do this year, so I think he should go (first),” Gabe said.
“We opened our Las Cruces Public House and then we re-opened the little beer bar (next door),” Jotham said. “Then we expanded Nob Hill. Then we’re about a quarter of the way through the Bernalillo production facility construction. Open Space (the replacement for the San Mateo location) is in the works now. We purchased the land. It’s fully entitled. We have renderings. We’re pretty close to being done with the floor plates. We’re hoping to break ground with that one before you know it.”
In many ways, the success this year for Bosque was due to things the public did not see.
“I just think we’ve gotten really good at separating our responsibilities,” Jess said. “Trusting each other to do what they’re good at, adding new people onto our leadership team to take over things we know they’re good at so we can focus on bigger picture stuff.”
Jotham agreed, calling 2017 “a year of specialization.”
Gabe said it all came down to the past lessons the staff learned.
“We finished this (San Mateo expansion) about halfway through 2016,” he said. “I think it really, although it didn’t happen this year, in some ways it feels like it did because it was really the blueprint of a lot of what we did. Doing it once here, expansions, kitchens, changing up roles, like Jess was saying, for 2017 for us was marked even more by what happened behind the scenes.”
That was apparent in how Bosque handled the opening of its larger Public House in Las Cruces, while also renovating and keeping the original smaller beer bar next door. What could have been a logistical nightmare was anything but that.
“One of the cool things is that our team has become so big, that we can really hand off a lot of projects or tag-team a lot of projects,” Jotham said. “When we did Las Cruces Public House in April, Gabe, Jess, and I did a ton of time doing that, making sure that it happened and kind of quarterbacking (from afar).
“So then we expand Nob Hill just a couple weeks ago, and I wasn’t even there for the opening night. I did a lot of leg work in the construction process, but then whenever the time came to open the doors and unveil the space, everybody already had everybody trained and everything in place, all the details taken care of. We were able to go away for Thanksgiving and not even be concerned that that taproom had just expanded.”
Jess gave a tremendous amount of credit for the success in Las Cruces to district taproom manager Dakotah Vaughan.
“Again, it just goes back to really entrusting people to do what they’re good at,” Jess said. “We only offer advice and commentary when it’s asked for, but really just letting our district taproom manager Dakotah Vaughan, to do her thing down there. She’s in touch with us daily sometimes. We have a mutual trust there. There’s issues to overcome, storage, getting beer down there twice a week. We knew those were logistical things that we knew we could resolve. Getting our beer to our Las Cruces who love it, that’s our (main) goal. The goal is to just get beer in front of people who want it. We have a really great team down there.”
The team at Nob Hill also did a great job with that expansion, Jess said. Bosque took over the entire building, breaking down the old wall between its space and the former Wise Pies Pizza location. It also enabled the staff to install a full kitchen, giving Nob Hill the same menu options as San Mateo and creating more of a uniformity between the two Albuquerque locations.
“It’s cohesive,” Jotham said. “All of those things together feel like Bosque now. Before they were kind of disjointed. We felt like we had these different personalities with each place. Now the ambiance and the decor is very similar.”
On the beer side of things, 2017 marked the last year that Bosque will be contract brewing at Sleeping Giant in Denver. Once the Bernalillo production facility is up and running, all Bosque packaged beer will be made in New Mexico.
“There’s been a little bit of stress,” Gabe said. “I’ll start by saying I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but Sleeping Giant, they’re really great. That being said, I’m really glad that we’ll be able to bring it back in house. The logistics were way, way more overwhelming, there were so many more moving parts to it than I ever imagined. In the summer I was ordering beer for January and I missed it. November was our best month with Admiral package-wise and draft-wise. We were out of IPA for two weeks and Scotia for one of those weeks. We won’t let that happen when we’re making it ourselves.”
At the very least, with so much of the heavy production elsewhere, it has freed up brewmaster John Bullard and his staff to keep making innovative and fun one-offs and seasonals. John and company actually had the day off when I visited, one of the first they have all had in a while.
“It’s because they’ve been working so hard,” Gabe said. “I think it’s easy for them to do and they love what they do. They get to really enjoy the fruits of what they do. That’s really what it’s all about. …
“(John) has fun making it and fun drinking it. I think we’ve been able to get back to there. That’s where we’re really going to be able to have a lot of fun and do a lot of fun stuff with all our customers once we have Bernalillo open. We can keep making IPA every day but still have the space to just do what craft beer was the reason why we got in this, because it’s fun and enjoyable.”
Another fun beer for the staff has been 1888, the blonde ale made in conjunction with the New Mexico State athletics department. That all came together in part because most of the Bosque leadership team is either from Las Cruces and/or graduated from NMSU.
“I was joking with Gabe that I pictured eight-year-old Gabe just like freaking out that he gets to work with NMSU athletics,” Jotham said.
“That’s pretty much how it worked out,” Gabe said. “I grew up in Cruces, I grew up an Aggie basketball fan, especially. I take some credit with the football team going to a bowl; it’s the first year they’ve had an official beer and the first year they’ve gone to a bowl (in 57 years). I’ve got to imagine there’s a correlation there, if not a correlation, a causation. It’s been fun for me just reaching out as an Aggie fan.”
Gabe said that doing the 1888 has helped erase any stigma that Bosque was some sort of northern interloper intruding on Las Cruces. It has further helped the brewery grow and take off with customers in Southern New Mexico.
“With the 1888, it came about because we donated some beer to an event a couple years ago,” Gabe said. “They didn’t reach out to me or Kevin or Jotham, they reached out to Dakotah. She put us in touch. After that our relationship grew. IMG, the licensing company, called and they were thinking about consumables. They knew we made beer and were alumni. It works with the fight song. Now that it’s out and down there, it sells like crazy. … It’s been fun. I’m looking forward to getting it packaged. I think it will do well.”
The 1888 will be the first new beer to be packaged at Bernalillo in 2018, joining IPA, Scotia, Lager, and Elephants on Parade.
Production comes home and home moves up the road in 2018
Clearly the two biggest projects for Bosque in the coming year will be Bernalillo and Open Space, the replacement for the San Mateo location. The time table for the former has not changed yet, while the latter has been pushed back a bit.
“Bernalillo is going to kick off, we’re hoping that’s going to be ready at the end of the first quarter, hopefully it doesn’t go into the second quarter, but we’ll see,” Jotham said. “Then, we’re looking at Q3 for the Open Space Project.”
For those not familiar with financial quarters, that means March/April for Bernalillo and some time between July and September for Open Space.
“Those are two of the biggest projects we’ve ever done,” Jess said.
Construction is well underway at Bernalillo after Bosque had to wait seemingly forever for the State Department of Transportation to sign off (due mainly to its construction plans for widening Highway 550).
“They’ve got all the structural seal in place,” Jotham said. “The site utilities are pretty much all the way in now. They’re going to start grading and paving really soon. Interior framing is already going up. The equipment is going to be moved in (this) week. It’s a humongous facility, there’s a lot of moving parts, but at the same time it’s a brewery. You’ve just got to put some tanks in there. A lot of it is the equipment installation before it becomes functional. Otherwise it’s just walls and drains.”
Gabe and Jess both added that no one on staff is losing sleep over Bernalillo like they used to with past projects.
“Obviously, it’s the biggest projects, but for me it’s not that overwhelming,” Gabe said. “We’ve done a lot of the hard work on Bernalillo (already). Then the Open Space Project on Venice, that’s a lot of extension (from what) we learned a lot with Bernalillo. I know what they’re asking when they ask for certain things. The four of us sitting in the architect’s office, it’s been fun doing a ground-up project.”
Jess said it was fun watching John going over how he was setting up his brewery at Open Space, truly building it from scratch. In many ways it was the culmination of all the past hard work.
“We used to be upset that we didn’t have enough money to do what we wanted in the beginning,” Gabe said. “Now, looking back on it, we all are glad that we had four or five years to really figure out what it is we’re trying to do. Now with the big spaces we’ve done it a couple times. I’m really excited about the space for the brewers and for the customer side, just to be able to sit there and enjoy (themselves). We’re going to be able to provide that in a way that we’ve been trying for a long time, too. That’s been a driving factor. 2018 is going to be interesting in finally getting to this point of finally getting to this point.”
Gabe did add that while the staff might take a breather for a bit once Bernalillo and Open Space are complete, Bosque will never pass up a good opportunity should it come along. There will be two separate small brewer licenses, creating the opportunity to add more taprooms. Gabe mentioned another in Albuquerque is possible, while Santa Fe and other New Mexico towns will also be considered.
“Some of what we do, I wouldn’t call it reactionary, but we’re constantly evaluating things,” Jotham added. “If there’s a new opportunity that comes up that seems exciting and doesn’t seem like it will be too much work, then we usually will at least pursue it a little bit. We’ve evaluated other projects and have actually gotten far down the road on a couple of them, then we decided it doesn’t live up to our values, live up to our beer.”
For the start of 2018, the focus will remain squarely on getting those two big projects done, while also making sure the customer experience at all the existing locations will continue to be top notch.
“The buildings are cool, but what they accomplish is what we’ve been trying to accomplish from day one,” Gabe said. “We came in here wanting to do something to the best of our abilities. Jess always talks about outdoing ourselves. We’ve had a lot of reflection time this year. Why are doing what we’re doing? What is the growth strategy? Are we growing just to grow or is there something behind it?
“It stems from wanting and desiring a place to make and drink fun, good beer. There’s this intersection of place that when we first opened it was fine for what it was. Then we expanded this and we created the new space in Cruces and then Nob Hill. I think it’s almost the culmination of that. This year, these huge spaces are filling up, yet it’s still comfortable, it’s not jam-packed. It doesn’t feel stuffy. It’s not just like a restaurant.”
All of us in the Crew cannot wait to see these big projects finally come to fruition. It has been fun being there from before day one with Bosque, back when we toured the unfinished San Mateo space. To see where the brewery has come since then has been an enjoyable ride for us as well. A huge thanks to Gabe, Jess, and Jotham for taking the time out to talk last week. We cannot wait to tour Bernalillo and Open Space in 2018.
Until then, I will just have to keep stopping by and drinking the Fresh Start Breakfast Ale until it is gone and then I can bug John to make some more.