Albuquerque has been building a name for itself as a craft beer haven for years, earning national accolades as a “beercation” spot and landing on Travelocity’s Top 10 “Beer Destinations” in the U.S. Local critics have often questioned when Albuquerque’s beer scene would reach its saturation point, but New Mexicans seem to have maintained a thirst for what craft breweries can provide. There are nearly 30 breweries in Albuquerque, with new ones popping up all the time.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic settled in on New Mexico and the Governor issued stay-at-home orders that would keep people out of taprooms and off iconic brewery patios, restaurants and bars across the state questioned how they’d weather the storm. What will the beer scene in Albuquerque and surrounding areas look like when the state allows breweries to return to service as usual?
Big Plans for a Big Brewery
Bosque Brewing Co. started as a small, six-person operation out of 1,800 square foot retail space. As of early 2020, the brewing company ran six locations, including restaurants with local, high-quality food designed by a chef, a pizza restaurant that aims to build a unique community and taprooms across New Mexico. They have a 30 barrel beer production facility in Bernalillo and have increased package production over the years to include distribution across the state. The craft beer favorite has also expanded beyond the standard IPAs or pilsners into more alcoholic offerings, such as cider and hard seltzer. The company also employed more than 200 people as of mid-March.
Their plan for the next year was to add four more taprooms and nearly 150 more employees by mid-2021. When the order came for restaurants and bars to close at the start of quarantine, all of those plans ground to a halt. Instead, Jotham and his colleagues were about to learn just how well they could run a business during a serious crisis.
Brewery Leadership Rises to the Top in a Crisis
Bosque was lucky to have the infrastructure in place that would allow them to serve takeout food orders at their restaurants as well as package alcohol sales. However, with their main sales drying up fast, they had to cut their staff down to about 30 management positions who were suddenly tasked with running operations at their locations and keeping the larger infrastructure of the business in place.
In the beginning of quarantine especially, no one knew how long or how deep the shutdown would be. The leadership at Bosque had to make guesses quickly about what would keep their business afloat during the pandemic. They were able to ramp up package production to increase sales. But for the most part, they simply told their management team what they needed to do, and watched them take care of business.
The team added delivery options through GrubHub and increased curbside pick up capabilities. They were also able to secure some of the federal money for small businesses, which allowed them to hire back some of their employees. Overall, the leadership was able to use its collective power to keep the restaurant group running as smoothly as possible while restructuring and adjusting to a fluid situation.
Using the Downtime to Reflect and Regroup
Bosque Brewing has seen explosive growth over the past few years. As Jotham pointed out, it feels like the number of employees has doubled every six months. What works for six employees doesn’t work for 200, and this was becoming apparent as the restaurant group headed into the pandemic.
One aspect of the shutdown that has been positive for Bosque is that it forced them into a period of reflection. Instead of putting out the fires that come with exponential growth, the leadership was given the opportunity to reassess their operations and make plans that could be more conducive to scalability. They’ve been able to throw out old, bad practices, come up with better training processes, and create new positions so that when they are able to open up again, it will be a better, smoother operation. Branding has also come to the forefront, and they’ve been able to continue building the look and feel of their brand as they increase their package beer sales.
A Vision of the Future of Beer in New Mexico
Right now, larger breweries have responded to the crisis by increasing their production to sell canned beer and growlers wherever they can, including at grocery stores and their own taprooms. Smaller breweries who were not ready to produce beer at that capacity may be feeling the hurt right now, and there may be a lot fewer of them going forward.
After the pandemic is over, Jotham is excited about how Bosque is going to look. He’s ready for the public to see a new and improved company that offers better service to their long-standing customers. New Mexicans have at least one brewery they can look forward to having now and in the future.
You can watch the interview below.