No compromise: A conversation with the owners of Boxing Bear

Boxing Bear’s ownership trio, from left, of Kevin Davis, Justin Hamilton, and David Kim talked to us about what brought them together to create a brewery all those years ago. (Photo courtesy of Boxing Bear)

We are continuing our quest to get to know the people behind the beer in our amazing New Mexico brewing community, and this week we had the pleasure of interviewing Boxing Bear co-owners Kevin Davis, David Kim, and head brewer/co-owner, Justin Hamilton.

What was the path that led you to open Boxing Bear?

Justin: The last job I had before Boxing Bear was head brewer at Chama River Brewing Co. Boxing Bear was created when Kevin, Dave, and myself saw potential for another craft brewery in Albuquerque. We talked and planned for over a year before moving ahead and taking the jump.

David: (Kevin and I) coached JV baseball at Albuquerque Academy together for five years and became friends.  Kevin would sometimes enjoy my homebrew, but it took a few years for me to convince him that he should pick up the hobby as well.  Kevin doesn’t do things on the small side. He went from a hobby homebrewer to a homebrew shop owner (Southwest Grape and Grain) in something like a year and he soon started talking about wanting to open a brewery. While both Kevin and I loved homebrewing, we knew we needed to find a professional brewer to run our brewing operations. We were both fans of the beer Justin was producing at Chama River and were very happy when he decided to join our venture. I continue to teach science full-time at Albuquerque Academy, so Kevin, Justin, and Jay (Knigge) continue to run the day-to-day operations of the business.

Kevin: I’ve always tried to do what I enjoy … whether it was driving a tractor trailer for 22 years or making ice cream. When you enjoy what you do it really isn’t work, and I’ve always been lucky in that regard. It has been a fun ride so far, in a very difficult and competitive market.

What first inspired your love of craft beer?

Justin: My love of craft beer was probably first inspired by visiting liquor and grocery stores when I first had a fake ID. I started trying any type of beer I could find just out of curiosity of what was out there. I soon learned that craft beer was full of flavor and super interesting!

David: The first craft brewery that really got me interested was Phantom Canyon in downtown Colorado Springs. They opened during my junior or senior year in college and that’s when I learned what craft beer was really all about. When I first moved to Albuquerque in 1999, a friend from college was one of the four owners of Santa Fe Brewing Company, and he taught me about the brewing process. He also helped to advance my love of craft beer. I finally started homebrewing myself when my wife bought me a homebrewing starter kit as a birthday gift in 2001. 

Kevin: Fat Tire was my gateway beer … and Marble Brown got me hooked on local craft beer.

What is the toughest thing about owning a brewery?

Kevin: The saturation of the the market has changed things for everyone. The key is to not compromise your business model and stick to your guns. If your product is consistent, the customers will reward you. I think the knowledge that Justin brings and the passion that (assistant brewer) Dylan (Davis) puts into his work are the key factors to our success. Jay Knigge has been huge for our brand, and that is why he’s become a partner. We also have a leadership team that is second to none at our brewpubs. Couldn’t do it without people like Fee, James, and Vince. But, it takes more than just good beer, you need a great business plan, and the wherewithal to take risks based on your level of confidence in the brand.

Where did the name Boxing Bear come from?

Justin: The Boxing Bear name came from the two dogs I had at the time we opened the brewery. My pitbull, Sal, looked like a small bear and my boxer, Danka, would box at Sal with her paws sometimes. When she did this we would say, “She’s boxing the bear!” I threw the name out as an idea when we had an initial meeting for the brewery, and it just seemed to stick out as fun and unique. All of the Boxing Bear partners are huge dog and animal lovers so it seemed to fit with our general concept of the brewery. 

Justin Hamilton has had some fun over the years winning trophies, like the NM IPA Challenge here, and some big medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.

What is the most exciting thing about being a professional brewer? And about being a brewer at Boxing Bear?

Justin: The most exciting thing about being a professional brewer is being able to create and produce something that a lot of people will get to enjoy. Also being able to sit down at the end of a long day and enjoy a product that you’ve made yourself. Boxing Bear is great because we’re still a small brewery with a small crew. We work REALLY hard to keep up with trends and competition alike.

Any intriguing recipes coming our way?

Justin: We’ll have some awesome stuff coming out soon including a special collaboration with glass artist and friend Rashan Jones, a few specialty hazy IPAs, as well as our annual releases of beers like Scotch Rocket and Vanta Black.

What visions do you have for the brewery in the future?

Kevin: We want to keep it small. No plans for signing on with a distributor or ramping up production to keep up with the big dogs. If we can get to 5,000 barrels, we’ll be in the sweet spot of our business model.

* * * * *

The business acumen of Kevin, David, and Justin, as well as their refusal to skimp on the quality of the beer they produce has made Boxing Bear one of the major names in brewing in the Albuquerque area. Their annual Vanta Black Russian Imperial Stout release is something Dark Side always looks forward to, so do your best to beat us there, or there may be none left!

Fun side note: Kevin gave me my very first job, at Dairy Queen, when I was 15 years old. We would have employee meetings where we’d have to practice making the “perfect” soft-serve cone over and over until we got it right. Even way back then, Kevin refused to compromise on the quality of the products his employees served customers, and that clearly still rings true today.

May the beer be with you … always.

— Erin

Working those grain out muscles.

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