Bosque overcomes the many challenges that come with rapid growth

The growth at Bosque was rather obvious this past year, considering that this big ol’ beast finally opened its doors.

It can be tough to get the bigger brewery command staffs together in one place. The chance to get everyone at Bosque together at once was too good to pass up when it was offered a couple weeks ago. By the time the interview was supposed to roll around, however, the universe decided it was time for my annual cold.

Still, the staff was game, and with plenty of cold medicine in my system, I ventured to Bosque North on a lovely afternoon to catch up with managing director Gabe Jensen, director of operations Jotham Michnovicz, director of culture and engagement Jessica Griego, and director of brewing operations John Bullard. The very building we were in was the crowning achievement of 2018 for Bosque and a good place to start this entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.

The new brewery was up and running by early July, and the taproom portion opened at the end of the month.

“It feels like it’s longer ago than that, or, it just happened, I don’t know which one,” Gabe said.

“It’s a little weird, sometimes I forget about Bosque North being in 2018,” Jessica added. “That is a big one.”

These are busy people, always looking forward, so let us cut them a little slack when it comes to trying to look back. It was up to John to get the ball rolling.

The canning line was pretty much in constant use since Bosque North opened.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Lots of new equipment and stuff that I’ve never ran before, trying learning how to run it, finding new employees that can run it. We’ve built up a really strong team, so that’s been good. Then taking all of Colorado beer back has been a challenge, too. It all happened at once, but it’s been great. It’s going really good.

“Yeah, nicer equipment, working floors, everything. The facility is working better than I had hoped.”

A facility is only as good as the people working inside it, John added.

“We do have people that are very specialized in certain areas of the brewery,” he said. “So if we do have problems, on the brewhouse side or the cellar side, there’s somebody there that can make really good decisions.”

One of the good decisions made this year was for Bosque to get its winemakers license, enabling it to add cider to the menu.

“Most of the brewery employees were excited about it,” John said. “I was really excited about it. It’s just another whole beverage to make. It’s completely different from brewing beer. It’s a whole new beverage to make and learn, discovering processes, and stuff. It’s fun.

“We have some more different ciders coming up. We’re going to make some fruited ciders. We have a guava cider coming up. We’re going to play around with some ciders, find one that sells well, and make it stick.”

Cider will soon be available in cans, joining other popular staples like Elephants on Parade, Scotia Scotch Ale, IPA, and Lager.

“I’m excited about cider, and our customer base is, too,” Gabe said.

Keeping up with that demand has been a challenge that Bosque has already overcome.

“The first one sold faster than we anticipated,” John said. “Tim (Woodward), our production manager, had to redo his schedule a couple times to make enough cider, make sure he could fit it into his schedule and get it completed before we ran out of it. Sales are great, and it’s a good product because it doesn’t cannibalize any of our other sales. It’s a completely different product.”

One of the Crew’s favorite Bosque specialty can releases was the Fresh Start.

Bosque has also joined the ranks of breweries putting seasonal/specialty beers into cans for limited runs. It should come as no surprise that Scale Tipper IPA ran out the quickest.

“That was our best seller,” John said. “It’s been fun. The team really likes it. It boosts morale on the team to finally get some of these awesome special beers that we’re making into a different format. It’s really cool to see. Some styles sell a lot stronger than other styles, so we’re going to kind of focus on what we can really sell, what people are really excited about. So it’s going to be a lot more hazy beers, Scale Tipper, and just more beers with real intention behind them.”

The brewing end of the business hummed along once Bosque North was done in 2018 — with 100,000 cases sold, 20,000 more than expected, Jotham said — and should continue into this year. That does not mean everything has run smoothly in Bernalillo. Bosque tried a different concept with its smaller kitchen, which did not work out, ultimately forcing the staff to shut down the kitchen and expand it to offer an experience closer to what fans came to expect from the San Mateo and Nob Hill locations.

“I think there’s a couple perspectives on that,” Gabe said. “As far as the space, everyone loves the space. I mean, these views, right, they’re amazing. Now that the road is done, the access is great. But man, that kitchen was a struggle. I’ll take 98 percent of the blame for the concept that we tried to roll out, (and) that our customers decided (they preferred) what we’ve always done, which I get. I go back and forth about you want to be innovative.”

While the brewing side went smoothly at Bosque North, adjustments had to be made with the taproom’s kitchen.

Jessica said the original goal was to not overwhelm the small kitchen, going with the counter service model and small-bite dishes as opposed to table service and heartier plates. When the customers spoke up against that model, the staff had no choice but to make the adjustments.

“The business far exceeded what we thought was going to happen,” Jotham said. “I think we kind of planned for a really busy Nob Hill kind of situation, and we ended up double that at the beginning in terms of food. It was really difficult to handle that out of a small kitchen. You win some and you lose some.”

At the very least, the kitchen expansion/remodel went smoothly and finished on time.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Gabe said. “I think that’s all we can do is keep learning as we go, and be adaptable and be transparent when we make a mistake, and move forward. I feel like we corrected it pretty quickly. I was really impressed, we finally had a construction project go like it was supposed to. We told people two to three weeks and they (laughed). And then, they busted that out, they killed it. Now it’s kind of like a prized possession, that kitchen.”

Things have run a bit smoother at the other Bosque taprooms.

“Cruces is Cruces, man, everything just chugs along, sells a lot of beer,” Gabe said. “It’s amazing what they can do from three hours away. We’ve got a great team down there.

“Nob Hill, as we look to the future and what taprooms will look like, I have to say that will be our model. I think it captures everything we’re trying to do in a taproom, for the most part.”

The original location on San Mateo, just north of Alameda, has actually seen a downturn in sales, which Gabe attributed to a number of factors.

“San Mateo, honestly, it’s taken a little hit,” he said. “I think some of it is (due to) here, but I think more of it is there are so many choices in this town now. Some have a patio and a view. If you go to San Mateo on a Wednesday night, it feels great, the buzz is great, it’s full, but the revenue is not where it used to be. I think people are like, look, I can go to Bernalillo, I can go to X, Y, or Z taproom, I don’t have to pack into this place and stand and wait for an hour like they used to.

“That’s why we’re changing what we’re changing over there. I think it’s served its purpose. It’s not a bad apple, but I think both brewery side and taproom side we can do a little bit better, we can do a little bit bigger, we can be a bit more efficient, and that’s why we’re rebuilding it.”

John Bullard and Jessica Griego were all smiles at the Great American Beer Festival in September, where Bosque won a bronze medal for Pistol Pete’s 1888.

Ah, yes, the long-awaited Open Space project, which will replace the San Mateo taproom and become a new home to the 10-barrel specialty/seasonal brewhouse, is still planned for the future. As to just when that project will be ready, it remains a bit up in the air.

“The status is that we’re really trying to move along, but we’ve had some hurdles,” Jotham said. “Basically, what we did is … we made some last-minute decisions when we were already in preferment with that building. It was ultimately a decision to try basically like a retooling of what we knew we wanted accomplish with that space, without building the Taj Mahal, without going way overboard. We didn’t need three levels. It was very clear to us after opening Bosque North that multi levels are just difficult. That’s all there is to it.

“We just needed to scale it back and make it something we would be proud of without overspending. I don’t know what the status is. We’re about to order the building so we can get started again. Really, it’s just a matter of ordering that and breaking ground, but we can’t break ground until the financing is wrapped up. You know what I mean? There’s a few more hurdles before we break ground.”

A two-story building on the Interstate 25 frontage road still sounds like a winner. We all just have to be a little more patient for it to arrive (and, yes, the current federal shutdown could impact permitting, Gabe said).

The future home of Restoration Pizza by Bosque Brewing, across the parking lot from Cabela’s.

The other Bosque project of note, Restoration Pizza, is much closer to opening its doors.

“We’re under construction for that and plans are moving along really quickly,” Jotham said. “We’re targeting like a mid-March opening right now. That could be, give or take a couple weeks, but the contractors are moving quickly and not really experiencing delays like we did here. There’s always going to be a little bit of a delay, but nothing crazy.”

Jotham noted that it could be the first time Bosque has signed a lease and then opened just a year later. While that brought smiles to the staff, the purpose of Restoration — to provide gainful employment for members of the community with physical or mental disabilities — is what really matters.

“We’ve been meeting with all kinds of different community partners, and developing the relationships with a lot of the employee base we’re looking to hire,” Jotham said. “It’s been really cool, we’ve had tons of positive response from that. … Everybody is just excited. I feel like we’re going to have a lot of good partnerships come out of this.”

Those partnerships are being forged by the main command staff and many of the new hires working in the Bosque administrative offices located on Innovation Way in Rio Rancho, which opened last summer.

“On the admin side well we made some really key hires last year that have helped us with the growth, to the point where we aren’t working 60- to 80-hour weeks all the time anymore,” Jessica said. “When you open something new it’s a good time for everyone. We have an HR (human resources) manager now who’s really been able to help us with the pre-work to get Restoration Pizza open and developing the relationships with workforce partnerships.”

The Bosque administrative offices have been filling up with new staff members.

Jessica said that in addition to working on the branding for Restoration Pizza, the staff has also been hard at work at making some changes to the Bosque branding.

“We’re doing a brand refresh, that’s almost done, so we’re launching it in phases,” she said. “We’ll have a new look that’s very us, but it’s refreshed and updated. We’re doing new staple cans designs, new specialty beer designs. I’m excited about that as well. It’s a nice refresh from the last several years, we’re paying homage to where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

One brand that does not necessarily need a refresh is Pistol Pete’s 1888 Blonde Ale, which brought home a bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival in September, and remains a big hit with New Mexico State fans in Las Cruces.

“That’s going great, it’s been really fun,” Gabe said. “We sell a decent amount of Pistol Pete’s. Obviously we sell more in the south than we do up here. I love that beer.

“We’re hoping to come out with that in different formats that are more conducive to sporting events. I’m pretty excited about that. It was fun to be at one of the games and just seeing that can in everyone’s hand, even in the hands of a lot of people from Albuquerque.”

Beyond all of that, Gabe has a few other long-range plans in the works for Bosque, though none are quite ready for the full details to be released.

“We’re looking at other markets as far as taprooms,” Gabe said. “With production, do we go outside of the state? We finally have a place where we have the capacity to make more beer than we are selling. We haven’t been at that point where we can make more than we can sell. Now we have a decent amount of capacity. We can try to ease into that and see where that goes. We definitely have our sights on some other things.”

“We have the infrastructure to support that, from the brewery to the team to the equipment, everything,” John added. “We can create a lot more beer.”

In the end, that is probably the one thing all Bosque fans want to hear, that there is more beer coming. A huge thank you to Gabe, Jotham, Jessica, and John for taking the time to chat, and for buying lunch (cold medicine meant no beer, so you know it was serious for me). I can only hope that none of them caught this cold, but I am sure I would have heard if anyone did.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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