Bosque Brewing chief operating officer Jess Griego faces so many challenges on a daily basis that taking on all of our “tough” questions for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series must seem like a mini-vacation.
We met up at the Bosque Nob Hill Taproom on Wednesday to try to wrap up everything at all six locations that went down in the past year, and everything that is to come at what will soon be eight locations in 2022.
“The beginning of the year was a continuation of 2020,” Griego said. “We were expecting that. We were hoping that by March things would be behind us a little bit. At some point you just have to coming to terms with the fact that you can’t put a timeline on things. Even though March didn’t necessarily turn the way we were hoping, we weren’t surprised.”
A big move that probably went unnoticed, including by the Crew, since it did not involve a taproom was the move of Bosque HQ.
“We got a new office in February,” she said. “We moved all of our administrative staff to Journal Center, which was really nice. It did feel like a fresh start. We’re starting to really build our team again. We were working with a skeleton crew during COVID, especially on our administrative side, so we were able to use the winter time to start strategizing for eventually reopening fully and what that looks like. All of our expansion plans were put on hold, and some of them are still on hold, some are moving forward.”
Griego said that most of early 2021 was spent in preparation for a hopeful full reopening, which finally did occur in the summer. She noted that unlike other breweries, Bosque has to contend with different issues in four separate towns — Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe.
“Some locations have bounced back faster than others,” Griego said. “Managing and monitoring all of that (is a challenge). We’re trying to deal with the day to day, taking things as they come, but also planning for the future.”
While facing the separate issues at each taproom, Bosque North was still churning out of plenty of beer in package.
“In terms of beer production, (we’re) just making sure we’re continuing to stock Admiral (Beverage) appropriately,” Griego said. “At that time, we were still really off-premise heavy, the majority of our beer was going into cans instead of kegs. Our production team was great at handling that.
“As we reopened in the summer, we had to really transition, back off canning and make sure that we can fill the supply chain to our taprooms with draft beer, as well as to all the on-premise accounts that were opening across the state. That took a lot of time and energy and forecasting for Tim (Woodward) and John (Bullard). It’s been just kind of been throwing a dart with your eyes closed for a while now. They’ve gotten really good at handling that, trying to avoid shortages in all the places our beer is currently available.”
As the restrictions were lifted in May, brewmaster/chief production officer Bullard and his team began to zero in on the draft beer lineup.
“We really focused on trying to bulk up our specialty board during that time, too,” Griego said. “We were getting a lot of feedback from consumers, we’re not seeing as many specialties as before. That was hard to brew that many beers and not know whether that beer might go down the drain if we got closed down again. We were really able to start focusing on having a more robust specialty board for our taprooms. We’ve been trying to keep at least 10 on at any given time. The goal is always 12.”
By June and July, things were looking up for Bosque, and many other breweries. The biggest issue then was just making sure there were enough servers, beertenders, and kitchen staff to keep things humming along.
“The summertime we started seeing a bunch of traction,” Griego said. “Revenue was going up. All of our taprooms were starting to feel normal again, whatever that means. When the mask mandate was ended, that was a big shock to us, (as) it really felt like things were behind us. June and July were great. We had similar issues as everyone in the industry with staffing. We were able to dedicate our entire HR team to recruiting and hiring, along with our (taproom) GMs. It was a little iffy there for a minute, but we were able to get staffed appropriately during that time, and that’s actually helped us continue through the rest of this year. Credit goes to our HR team to get the taprooms staffed.”
Some of that cautious optimism began to fade at the start of autumn, with the COVID delta variant running rampant, and the supply chain problems also began to mount.
“After that, it was September/October when we got the mask mandate again,” Griego said. “You started to feel it. It feels frustrating, disappointing. Everything is just more difficult, more expensive. Having a ton of new staff is great, but there’s a lot of training that goes into that. We’re trying to set everyone up for success, but we’re still not sure what the future holds. It’s a lot of pressure on everybody, you just have to acknowledge that.”
Woodward, the production manager in the brewery, has been the point man when it comes to navigating all things supply chain-related for the brewery. One major problem that emerged late in the year, namely the new regulations from Ball Canning, will not affect Bosque.
“Tim is doing a really good job of staying as much on top of that as one can,” Griego said. “Luckily, through our distribution agreement with Admiral, we have cans sourced through Crown, so we haven’t had the same issues that our peers are having who are purchasing cans from Ball forever. That hasn’t been an issue.
“We’re still seeing price increases on everything — cans, lids, labels, ingredients. Fruit has gone up like almost 200 percent, and when one of your top sellers is a fruited wheat beer (Elephants on Parade), there’s an issue there. All of that is really affecting the bottom line, and just overall efficiencies that we’ve worked so hard to dial in. A lot of that has just been trying to stop the hemorrhaging as much as we can, plan as much as we can. We’ve backed off a little bit on specialty can releases for that reason. Let’s just do what we can and not overextend ourselves.”
Ah, yes, food items, and operating multiple kitchens in general have proven to be an almost bigger headache than anything relating to brewing operations.
“It’s been unique,” Griego said. “While we’re not having the canning issues, we’re having the running a restaurant issues. It’s different for every (brewery).”
Between labor shortages and price increases almost across the board, the food side of the business will remain a challenge going forward.
“Margins in the brewery are way better than in the taprooms in terms of food,” Griego said. “Talking about food, our food vendors, availability, price increases, that’s where it’s been really difficult. Having the taproom/brewpub model where we do a significant portion of our sales in food, it’s been tough. We did revamp our menu. We just recently rolled out a new menu with all of those price issues taken into consideration. We’re really trying to do what can on our end to mitigate some of the supply chain issues. It’s happening everywhere across the business, but the restaurant margins are so low, if anything increases by 10 percent, you feel it.”
New canned beers and new taprooms are on deck
While Griego noted that specialty can releases were few and far between in 2021, Bosque is already working hard on planning things out as far in advance as possible for 2022.
“We’ve never been more prepared in terms of having a schedule for what we have coming out, (including) what we’re releasing (through) Admiral, and what we have at taprooms only,” she said. “I’m really excited about that. While we’ve been in a slow period in terms of new innovation right now, we’ve been really focusing on making sure that we can bounce back in 2022 and really build in those increased costs into our pricing. Building and planning for labels that we have, or anything that takes time to come in, that’s out of our control. We have a beer that we’re releasing in February, and I already have labels ready to go. (We’re) just trying to be be really ahead as much as we can so we’re not at the mercy of the supply chain, not just the timing but the price increases. Every day something has increased 30 percent, 40 percent. It’s hard.”
Some of the beers that will be appearing are past favorites that customers loved on draft but were never previously canned, plus some past favorites will be making their packaged return.
“That’s actually the whole plan for 2022,” Griego said. “We’re making beers that have been successful on draft, but that we’ve never released in cans. The first one we’re releasing is the Native Lands collaboration with Bow & Arrow in January, but then the Bosque-specific release after that will be Brewer’s Bruises, which was in our collab series beers that Nicole from this taproom developed and designed, a blueberry/lavender sour. Then we have a Mexican lager with salt and lime in May. We might bring back some glitter in the summer. We’re doing some specific beers that haven’t been released before. We’ll probably do Scale Tipper, and then we have Spacelion, which we do every year, but we’re trying to mix it up.”
Bosque will also be switching its specialty beers to the same 12-ounce cans as the year-round lineup. That will make things a little easier on the brewing team, since it takes time to realign the canning line for different sizes. It will also help in terms of package displays at retail outlets, and anything to make the lives of everyone a little easier is something to be celebrated these days.
“We’re really working on how can we take action on things that we have complete control over to make life easier,” Griego said. “Because it’s not easy right now.”
As for those new taprooms that we have teased a couple times already, those were two of the three announced prior to the pandemic, but put on hold for quite some time. Now things are moving forward for one in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe.
“Eubank broke ground a few weeks ago, so we’re finally moving forward on that one,” Griego said. “We’re super excited. We’re projecting March-ish for opening, but who knows? That’s when my second daughter is due, so perfect timing. We have a really great team, though. We’ve been able to really bulk up our command staff in a way that feels a little bit top-heavy during COVID, but as we start moving on these projects we’ve had scheduled since pre-COVID, I’m really excited to see what our team can do.”
The specific location of the taproom is 5210 Eubank, on the edge of the Promenade shopping center at the intersection of Eubank and Spain. As our photo above shows, construction is indeed underway.
Further north, another taproom is in the works.
“Our ‘Santa Fe Two’ on Cerrillos is slowly moving,” Griego said. “We’ve been told May from our contractors on that. That will just be a beer bar. It just makes sense there. We had a lot of success with our beer bar in Las Cruces when we moved down there in 2014-15. Nothing’s easy, but we can pull that one off.”
We do not have an exact address for that location, but it is our belief that it will be located near the Dion’s at 4980 Promenade Blvd., across Cerrillos from the Walmart Supercenter.
Griego said she did not have any updates on the Westside location in Albuquerque that was announced in 2019. That location was supposed to house a secondary brewery for Bosque, and a pilot system could still happen, though it would not necessarily still be located there.
“We’ve talked about a few different options,” Griego said. “Right now we still have a ton of capacity out of North, so we’re not concerned about capacity just quite yet. The timing isn’t too concerning with the Westside being on hold. John would love a pilot brewery, obviously. It’s definitely on our wish list, but it’s not necessary to get through the plans we currently have.”
After being arguably the most successful Bosque property during the lockdown days of the pandemic, Restoration Pizza will be an even greater priority and area of focus for the company in 2022 and beyond.
“We’re really working on building our Restoration Pizza brand,” Griego said. “I don’t have any official announcements about that, but that’s we’re turning a lot of our focus. Gabe (Jensen, CEO) right now has taken over Restoration Pizza as a brand, as a concept, doing his entrepreneurial thing, working on growing that. I’ve moved into a COO role at Bosque, really focusing on operations for the Bosque brand specifically. I’m still helping with Restoration, but we’re kind of creating two different brands and identities with those.
“That was really the point with Restoration. Out of necessity, we had to bring them back together during COVID just to survive. Where we’re really planning on growing in the future after these last couple of Bosque projects are done is the Restoration Pizza brand. There’s just so much opportunity there to engage the community and continue to create opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them. It’s really important to us, focusing on growing in the future.”
Griego and her team are certainly hoping that 2022 will be a historic year for Bosque.
“Next year is our 10-year anniversary, so we’ll be doing quite a bit of celebrating throughout the year as it relates to that,” she said. “We’re working on launching a new Bosque Insider customer loyalty program in 2022 as well. We’re excited about that. It will be much more interactive, not just a card you keep in your wallet and get a discount. We’re really working on making that an experience that has value.
“We’re continuing to update our menu. We’re working on beer and food pairings moving into 2022. We’re just trying to refine what we’re doing to be better versions of ourselves. We have opportunities pretty often, and we’re being really strategic about what we pursue, not just opening something to open it. We’re trying to be in significant places in New Mexico. This taproom is right across from UNM. Our Las Cruces University taproom is right across from NMSU. The Jackalope building in Bernalillo is historic. We’re on the Santa Fe Railyard. We’re really looking to exist in areas of New Mexico that matter to people.”
While things are by no means easier for Bosque than any other large brewery in New Mexico, the leadership there seems to be striking a more positive public tone, albeit as cautiously as one should in this era. Still, we look forward to another two Bosque locations (particularly the one at Eubank and Spain, which is quite close to where some of us live) and more unique Bosque beers on tap and in cans.
A big thanks to Jess for taking the time to meet up, and we all pass along congratulations on the pending arrival of Baby Griego No. 2 in March.
Keep supporting local!