The last few weeks have been exceptionally busy for the staff at Boxing Bear Brewing. It has not just been the mad rush to finish the brewery’s first offsite taproom, which opens today (Wednesday) at 1710 Central Ave. SW, next door to Amore Pizza. There has also been the arrival of a new canning line, plus additional equipment in the brewery, and the time needed to learn how to use some of that.
Oh, and did we also mention that head brewer/co-owner Justin Hamilton’s wife is about two weeks from her due date? Add it all up and it was a wonder that Justin found the time to sit down for the better-later-than-never Boxing Bear entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series.
“It’s been a crazy ride in 2019,” Justin said. “I’ve definitely been packing the brewery. Last week we got three more 20-barrel fermenters and a 20-barrel serving vessel. (Today), actually we have another bright tank and another fermenter coming. Since we ordered that much equipment that comes on two different shifts, which kind of screwed us a little bit, because it would have been nice to put everything in at the same time last week.
“It’s been a whole lot of madness. We literally pulled in those four tanks, it was the second exact time the Wild Goose employee showed up to train us. We moved four tanks inside and then proceeded to set up the canning line in the same day. It was pretty nuts. That being said, we did all right.”
With Uppercut IPA and AlbuMurky Hazy DIPA now in cans, and the doors to the taproom opening to the public, it makes for a good time for Justin to reflect on how it all came together.
“We’re starting to hang a lot on top of making sure our taproom was getting finished up,” he said. “We had a lot of us doing a lot of jobs the last month. Last week was probably the apex of it, where it came to head where we were trying to get everything done at the taproom while we were trying to learning canning in the brewery and the equipment showed up literally all on the same day.”
While last week was more about training and moving very large objects into place, this week has found Justin spending more time on his computer.
“This week almost feels crazier almost because I have time to think about it,” he said. “I’m just in that have-to-get-things-done mode. I can get stuff done without (going on) autopilot. I’m trying to play catch-up now. Now it’s scheduling and trying to figure out how it’s actually going to work, which is the hard part of it.
“That’s been fun, trying to figure stuff out, and see how things are going to go between canning and a second location. We’ll obviously need to brew more beer and keeping up with that, how much sales are going to change, or what that’s actually going to count to is going to be interesting, considering we only have the 10-barrel system.”
The taproom will even have more taps than the brewery, with 20 versus 16. Justin said fans can expect certain beers to only be on tap at one location, which should keep things even more interesting.
“It will allow us to burn through some specials and put some other stuff on that’s not available here (at the brewery),” Justin said. “There might be beers that aren’t available here that are at the taproom, and vice versa. You might see that trend where if we have a special where we have a couple kegs left over, it might go down there, or random barrel-aged stuff to keep those taps full. We’ll have to make sure that everyone knows on social media where stuff is, post pictures of beer boards on a regular basis.”
The taproom is taking over the space formerly occupied by 5 Star Burgers, directly across from Amore Pizza. The interior has been changed quite a bit, with the kitchen removed.
“The taproom looks great,” Justin said. “We changed a lot from when it was 5 Star. We took out the entire kitchen. So that whole area that was kitchen is now a game room. We have a pool table, we have a really nice shuffleboard, we’ve got a couple of foosball tables, and a couple of dart boards. The whole back area is just a gaming area for people to enjoy, drink their beer.”
Justin said the mothership gets much of its business on the weekend, when customers are less afraid to battle the traffic on the bridges over the Rio Grande. The goal is to make the taproom more of an everyday destination, he said.
“It’s right in the heart of the city, around downtown,” Justin said. “People will be able to get out of where they work without being stuck in that void, but just far enough to be able to enjoy yourself and be able to get home without traffic and all that. I think it’s going to be a nice play for people to go after work and on the weekends. We want to be able to showcase that area. I feel like that whole area has been dying for another craft beer bar for a long time since Draft Station shut down. 5 Star Burger and Amore were kind of filling that void. It’s only to a certain extant, it’s not the same feel as a pub.”
Amore will bring pizza across the pathway between the two businesses, in a very similar way to how it works between the Amore next to Santa Fe at Green Jeans, or how the two Slicer Parlor locations work with the neighboring Marble and Tractor taprooms in the Heights and Nob Hill, respectively. Justin said they will also work with other area restaurants and businesses, and make the taproom into an event location for people in the surrounding area.
“We’re really looking forward to getting into another part of town that’s going to be different and recognizable, and within range of most people,” he said. “I think that’s a big thing. Everyone wants to come out here, but the separation of the city, people don’t want to drive anywhere. Hopefully this will fill that void of Boxing Bear draft beers and specialties. You don’t have to cross the river.”
Of course, folks up in the Northeast Heights might still find that to be too far of a drive, but they just need to have a little more patience.
“Being that we’re so busy and we’re so good at being busy, we’ve actually just signed another lease,” Justin said. “We’ll have more information about it (later), but it’s an east side location. We’re kind of spreading out what we’re trying to do. This taproom is going to be a big one for us.”
This taproom will replace the seemingly forever-stalled Snow Heights Promenade project at Menaul and Eubank, though in a different location (we were asked not to say exactly where, at least not yet).
“We basically signed the lease last week, a great location that we’ve been looking for,” Justin said. “When we talked last (year) for our last Look Back/Look Ahead, I said if we can get two taprooms going in 2019, it will be good. I don’t know if it will be open in 2019, but we’ll have that second location and be working on it in 2019. If it’s not open in 2019, it will be early 2020.”
Justin said this property developer is far more enthusiastic about craft beer, and knows the value of having a taproom being an anchor tenant in a new development.
“We’ve got a (landlord who’s) enthusiastic and really wants to work with us, which is something we didn’t really have with the other one,” he said. “It was more just location location location. This one has a good location, a good landlord, and enthusiasm behind the project.”
Justin said co-owner Kevin Davis spent most of 2018 writing letters of intent to various property owners around town who had expressed interest in adding a taproom.
“He did so many of those it was boilerplate,” Justin said. “We found this last location, submitted our LOI, and they turned around and sent us a lease. We were like wow, OK! That’s what we’re getting into this year.”
Back at the brewery, the focus is on making sure the staff can keep up with the increased demand for beer, both on tap between two (eventually three) locations. There is also the issue of canning, which Boxing Bear jumped into with its own small canning line.
“Since we’ve opened, we’ve had a nonstop request for cans,” Justin said. “That’s why we started doing bombers, because it’s literally less than 10 percent of the money required for getting into canning. I think that’s the big thing, people don’t really understand what it takes to can. It’s (the cost of) two-thirds of our brewing equipment is what it costs to get a little canning machine.”
Boxing Bear finally bit that financial bullet and installed the Wild Goose canning line this month.
“Everyone is doing mobile canning, and we thought about it,” Justin said. “We wanted to do it ourselves. We wanted control over the quality and to build a lab for ourselves that was going to allow us to watch our diluted oxygens and actually do some quality control and assurance on the package, which we’ve done before, but not to the extent that we’re going to be doing in cans.”
Other equipment included a machine called a depalletizer, plus a label maker, since that saves money in not having to preorder lots of preprinted cans.
“You can get into canning cheaper, but to do it the way it’s done in the craft industry is kind of demanding,” Justin said. “It’s expensive. You need a labeler to print cans so you can do shorter or longer runs, it allows for fresher beer and allow us to do multiple styles. All you need is a label.”
Boxing Bear is never going to reach the level of a Marble or La Cumbre in terms of flooding the market with cans, but Justin does see a fairly consistent supply of products coming off their small line.
“Our plan is to keep production small and tight, and provide a product that’s going to be really fresh,” he said. “It’s going to allow us to keep something in a can that’s fresh and doesn’t sit on the market for months. That’s really what we want with the ability to do short runs and can as much as we need to. It’s going to be interesting to see how it affects our weekly scheduling, because we’re going to be trying to can every couple of weeks or so. It’s going to be a little wild, but we should get the hang of it pretty quickly. We did pretty well in our first run, and the second run should be even better, and we can go from there.”
With so much already underway and more to come, the entire Boxing Bear staff will work hard to stick to their goals for the rest of the year.
“I think scrubbing tanks in every corner of our brewery as fast as we can, keeping beer fresh, having more locations, putting beer in cans, and just seeing where this goes (sums it up),” Justin said. “Hopefully a year from now we’re keeping up with all that, doing well, and seeing where things go.”
It is certainly good to see one of our more accomplished breweries making big strides to expand its business and stay relevant in a crowded scene. The taproom on Central is a great addition, and it should be a lot of fun to see many of the brewery staffs descend upon it to satisfy those competitive urges on the pool table, foosball, dart boards, and shuffleboard (seriously, though, be careful if you are going to challenge some of those folks, there are a few ringers in there).
We will keep everyone up to date on the Heights taproom when that becomes available. Let us just say that it should be a great location, with a good landlord and a great vision for the development.
More beer with a punch is always a good thing. A huge thanks to Justin for finding 30 minutes to talk.