One of these years, Bosque Brewing is going to stop expanding, content to settle down with what it has already built.
2020 will not be that year, however, as I found out when I sat down with Bosque owners Gabe Jensen, Jotham Michnovicz, Jess Griego, and John Bullard for our latest Look Back/Look Ahead Series entry. There are two more taprooms in the works beyond the two that were announced this past summer, and the one that opened recently in Las Cruces. To get to what is coming, we first went back over all that happened in 2019.
“It was a bit of a blur,” Gabe said. “We opened Restoration Pizza, which was really hard, I would say. But also, at this point being able to look back at it, it feels really good. It’s working. I think we’ve found our stride there. It’s running fairly well, really well, actually.”
Restoration was a very different project than anything Bosque had done before.
“I think we had a lot of Bosque expectations on Restoration when it opened,” Jotham said. “Realizing how different it was from what we’ve been doing. We really did launch a new brand. It’s not Bosque, it’s not the same thing at all. The customer base is very different, the vibe in the taproom is very different. It’s much more family-oriented than our taprooms are, even though we have a lot of families there, it’s a very different atmosphere, a very different mindset.”
The sales figures are different, too.
“Operationally, too, it’s a different animal,” Gabe said. “It’s a different customer base. What do we sell, 30-percent, 40-percent beer there, compared to other places. I think it’s 30, which is pretty much flipped from our other places. A lot of them are coming closer to 50-50 now. But, there was a learning curve, letting it become its own thing.”
Besides Restoration, Bosque opened that aforementioned third taproom in Las Cruces, which is generally referred to as Telshor, based upon its address of 2102 Telshor Ct.
“We opened Telshor, that was awesome,” Gabe said. “We did it fast from the time we got our lease done. We did it on time, we did it pretty much on budget, and it’s doing maybe a little bit better than we expected. That’s really good.”
The beer itself has been flowing all year, but the patterns of what sells where present an ongoing challenge for John and the brewing staff.
“It seems like our hoppier beers and such sell better at Nob Hill, which is interesting,” John said. “A lot of our fruit-forward beers and stuff like that do well here in Bernalillo. It’s different, for sure. We sell more 1888 here than we do in Las Cruces in the taprooms. Package is huge (down there).”
Open Space Haze and Jetty Jack Amber Ale also came out in cans this past year, and are now heading into mass distribution. Bosque also stopped brewing its specialty beers at its former location, now La Reforma Brewery, and has consolidated all production in Bernalillo.
“It’s going good, it’s going really good,” John said. “We have a robust specialty beer program. We have a lot of control over process at Bernalillo, so we’re making some really great beers. It’s a lot of fun back there.”
That is included the introduction of the Limited Libations Series, exclusive to Bosque North.
“I have a little 1-barrel fermenter that we’ve been playing with, trying to make really one-off beers on,” John said. “It’s stuff that we’re not confident enough in to make 30 barrels of it. So we applied those ideas to one barrel.”
Some of those beers will be bumped up to 30-barrel batches in 2020, and there are plenty of other new brews in the works as well.
“We have some inspired pastry stouts coming, so that’s going to be fun, too,” John said. “We’re just trying to really play, just have fun, so many good beers, and beverages. We’ve been playing with ciders, too. We had a mango cider that was really good. We’re designing a Moscow mule seltzer. It’s going to be fun making different beverages.”
Bosque will introduce a new mixed 12-pack of seltzer varieties quite soon, with tangerine, mango, pineapple, and lemon-lime versions of New Leaf. Many of the new seltzers, beers, and ciders have come as a result of extensive research on the part of the staff.
“Mercedes put together a good sensory program as well this last year,” Jess said. “It’s been cool having everyone sit around the table and talk about how beer is holding up, and that’s how we decided on all of our seltzer flavors as well. Lots of blind tastings and a ton of panels to dial that in. We decided as a group what would be best. It’s cool to see how all of (John’s) team integrated into the decisions that in the past weren’t as strategically made.”
The goal is to better serve the customers at all the different Bosque locations, as well as those who buy the packaged options to take home.
“I’ve just been noticing what we’ve been talking a lot about at the beginning of this year is who is our customer,” Jess said. “I think we have so many different areas of customer bases, which is really exciting for us, because that requires being tuned in to what people want (in one place) and understanding that that may not align with someone who is also a very dedicated customer (somewhere else) to the same company. I think like John said, by dabbling in multiple beverages we’ve been able to get a better sense of what people want. That can be 10 different people sitting at the same bar, and being able to accommodate all of those individuals is something I’m really proud of.”
Jess also wanted to highlight the hard work of the staffs at the Bosque Public House in Nob Hill and Bosque North.
“We didn’t talk about Nob Hill and Bosque North that much,” she said. “It’s good to give a shoutout to them. They’ve been really stable locations for us.”
The traffic woes on Highway 550 outside North, due to seemingly endless construction, have largely abated after a rough stretch to finish 2019.
“You asked about traffic up here,” Jess said. “It did cause a little bit of turmoil. It started in October, but things have stabilized, traffic is a lot better. Our co-workers here really held it down, kept good attitudes through it all. Going back to this model working for us, it was nice to have other locations help when that happened. It helped all of our locations keep growing.”
The food is also a big part of the taproom experience, and that saw some changes in 2019 as well.
“We did a whole new menu, it’s the same menu everywhere, obviously except for Restoration,” Jess said. “That went so smooth, too. That felt like it was going to be pretty (challenging), but I went over pretty well.”
Menu consistency is a big part of the ever expanding number of taprooms.
“People who only go to Nob Hill might have thought that we only changed Nob Hill’s menu,” Gabe said. “The same thing you get at Telshor, you can get up here. That’s helped internally and externally, just on expectations. I’m excited, I’m happy about the menu as well. We got rid of some favorites, but we added new favorites. That’s always the process in this world.”
Of course, some new items are more popular than others.
“Cheese curds,” John added with a smile. “So good. Fried cheese curds, not cheese curds, but fried cheese curds.”
“One of the most amazing things that came out of that (revamp) was the beer queso,” Jotham said. “We use it in a lot of different applications. It’s kind of like the Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, which is like ‘I put that shit on everything!’”
“We’re dipping the cheese curds in the queso, it’s pretty amazing,” John added, still smiling.
On a more serious note, the Bosque owners did a lot of work behind the scenes to keep the entire operation running smoothly.
“I think last year we did a lot of soul searching,” Jess said. “As much as we were doing externally, I would say what was happening internally was almost more exhausting. We had to just really look at what are we doing, how do we do it, how does that affect the company, what have we missed to have a strong foundation for what’s coming next year.
“We’ve got Quinn (Wingerd) on as our CFO. He’s been instrumental in setting us up for success this year. There was a lot of eyebrow-raisers, I think, when we explained why we did certain things. There was a lot of introspection over the last seven years, especially this last year.”
All of that will pay off in 2020, or so everyone hopes.
First up among the new taprooms will be the Market Station spot at the Santa Fe Railyard.
“Santa Fe is progressing well,” Jotham said. “We are just finalizing the permit for our first location. We’re finalizing the permit and we’re supposed to break ground any day now. I’m really excited about that taproom. It’s going to be be fun. The fun thing about our taprooms is they all have kind of a different character. This time we’re going into a space that was previously occupied by Flying Star, so it’s got some of the stuff that’s left over in there is going to change the ambiance in there. We’re going to have some booths, which we really like. Just like our Telshor location, it’s a little more comfortable, with a more intimate feeling.
“The vibe in that shopping center is really changing, too. They’re adding a restaurant above us and a tech firm above us, (plus) a distillery. There’s a brewery going across the street (The Nuckolls Brewing). There’s been a lot of buzz in that area right now.”
Bosque will be the first Albuquerque brewery to open a taproom in Santa Fe in quite some time. Of course, one taproom in the City Different is never enough.
“It’s going to be on South Cerrillos,” Jotham said of a second Santa Fe location. “We’re opening next door to Dion’s. That one is going to be just a beer bar. We’re going to partner with Dion’s, so you’ll have the ability to order pizza from our taproom. It’s going to be a big beer bar, I think it’s 4,400 square feet. The design is almost done. I just finalized the floor plan. I think it’s going to be a quick build. That one should open right after the Market Station one in a couple months. It’s kind of the general timeline right now could change, but that’s what we’re hoping for.
“That one is cool because Santa Fe is really diverse in their demographics, also. We’ll have the more touristy, Plaza, in the Market Station area. Coming back down to South Cerrillos, there’s a lot of young families that live down there. I think it’s probably more of a local crowd. It will be fun to tap into both of those demographics up there.”
All right, two Santa Fe taprooms sounds pretty darned awesome. But what about all those poor, thirsty Burqueños on the Westside?
“We went back to the drawing board, well, not back to the drawing board, but we had a certain budget when we started,” Jotham said. “This is what we always do, we design the Taj Mahal and try to work our way back from there. Whenever the budget went to double what it was supposed to be, we said all right, let’s do some value engineering. We’ve gone back, kind of reworked it, now we’re back in line and just waiting on the final designs.”
“We hope to break ground before the end of March,” Gabe added.
The biggest part of the redesigned taproom will be on the brewing side, which has been downsized.
“It’s going to be a pilot brewery,” John said. “With the additional capacity that we have here (at North), we scaled the brewery back a little bit over there. We’re going to continue to churn most of our specialities out of here, our canned specialities out of here as well. Over there, we’ll really play around. We’ll have a 5-barrel pilot system. It was originally going to be a 15. I’ll be messing with barrels over there, too. It’s going to be a fun place.”
Barrels are good, so that all seems pretty good. We look forward to seeing those shovels hit the dirt at St. Joseph’s and Coors.
The Northeast Heights has its fair share of taprooms, but most seem to be on the edges, either along Tramway or closer to Interstate 25. The interior has Marble Heights and Lizard Tail, but not much more. At least not until Bosque opens its eighth location next door to House of Soccer and the Barley Room.
“There’s one more, Eubank and Spain,” Gabe said. “It’s the old Godfather’s Pizza. Well, it’s in the (building) of the old Godfather’s Pizza. We’re almost doubling the size. It’s going to be 5,750 to 6,200 (square feet).”
The exact location is 5210 Eubank Blvd. NE, in the Promenade shopping center that takes up the southeast corner of Eubank and Spain. The specific building lies in the southwest corner of the shopping center, right along Eubank.
“We’re taking what’s existing there and be completely be revamped,” Jotham said. “It won’t look like that at all. It won’t look like an old bank turned into a pizza place. We promise.”
“I’m pretty excited about that one,” Gabe added. “It will have a lot of outdoor space. Both that one and Westside will have a lot of outdoor space. That’s something we’re pretty excited about.”
That covers the taprooms, leaving just the beer that will fill them. Fear not, John has many, many plans, including more specialty beers in cans.
“We have quarterly releases through Admiral (Beverage Company) that we’ve committed to,” John said. “And then, we’re going to do a few that will only be released in-house with 16-ounce cans. The Co-op Series that we’ve done in the past, where employees can submit their ideas, their weird ideas, and we choose some of those ideas and brew them, we’re going to package four of those.”
“That will be the first time we’ve packaged anything (in that series),” Jess added. “It’s been a really cool program that’s just been super fun for everyone involved the last two years. This year we decided to up the ante and package. They’re going to help with the design and labels, even have more say in that type of product.”
“We got some really kick-ass beers out of that series,” John continued. “That lavender blueberry gose was crazy good.”
Another popular beer, Space Lion IPA, brewed in honor of a Bosque Las Cruces employee, will return in cans as part of a larger campaign to raise funds for suicide prevention programs, Jess said.
All in all, Bosque remains an exceptionally busy, forward-thinking brewery. As written above, every time it seems like this is the year things will quiet down, they go and open more taprooms, introduce more beers, and find more ways to give back to the community.
A big thanks to the amazing quartet of Gabe, Jotham, Jess, and John for the interview (plus lunch and an Olde Bosky Porter). It is always appreciated.