Happy New Year’s, friends. 2012 was a big year for us. It was the start of the Brew Crew, we got to meet many of our local brewers and brewery owners, we got to check out many of our local beer festivals as well as the Great American Beer Festival, and we got to watch three new local breweries open with success. Oh, and not to forget that we survived the world ending three different times.
When you look at the year like that, it doesn’t seem like much but this is what all went down in the Year of the Apocalypse That Wasn’t.
Earlier this year, the core members of our group came up with the idea for what is now the Dark Side Brew Crew. Stoutmeister (Chris) came up with the name at 3 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2012, while finishing off a growler of Tractor’s Smoked Porter and staring up into the night sky. He texted me the name and we were off. We all gained a new hobby (and something to keep Chris busy during the baseball off-season) with something that involved one of our favorite things — beer! In no time at all, our blog and Facebook page went public, and the Brew Crew was born. We have gone from having our friends and family follow our shenanigans to gaining 150-plus followers on Facebook and our blog, many of whom we end up meeting whenever we are out at the metro area’s many breweries.
With the expansion of our postings to Twitter and Reddit, we’ve been able to reach readers all around the world (Editor’s note: Jon isn’t kidding; we’ve had folks from as far away as Latvia, the UAE, Bangladesh, Togo, Slovenia, and Kenya check out the site. — Stoutmeister). It is something that we are still blown away about.
Many of the Crew members have been able to be a part of many of the local beer festivals including Blues & Brews (Stoutmeister and E-Rock), Hopfest (Stoutmeister and I), Brew Fest (Brandon), the IPA Challenge (Stoutmeister and E-Rock), and Septemberfest (Stoutmeister). It has all given us a chance to try many other beers from around the state and country, plus it also allows us to step back and watch how our fellow Burquenos swarm the booths with great enthusiasm.
Stoutmeister and E-Rock were able to cross off a huge bucket list item by representing the Brew Crew at VALHALLA, the Great American Beer Festival, in Denver back in October. They slowly conquered the regions of hard-to-find beers for Albuquerque residents. Franz Solo was able to show us some of the great breweries in the Midwest, while I uncovered a hidden gem in the Denver Bicycle Cafe, and we can’t forget the folks up at Taos Ale who were kind enough to save us the last two pints of a nitro Irish stout on a visit from Stoutmeister and E-Rock back in April.
We have been all over the Southwest (Stoutmeister and E-Rock have also trekked to Durango and down to Phoenix/Tucson), yet there is still so much more out there to visit we know we are not done yet.
We were able to meet some of our top brewers and brewery owners, including Brady at Il Vicino, Ken and Manuel at Nexus, Dave from Tractor, Nico from Turtle Mountain, and Jeff from La Cumbre. All of these folks have been awesome and we are honored to have been able to meet them and talk about beer and the history of our craft beer scene. We have also been fortunate enough to meet the folks from ABQ’s newcomers, Broken Bottle Brewery and Bosque Brewing Co.
And of course we can’t forget the Tractor growler fiasco. Stoutmeister dedicated many hours a day brushing up on our local laws, neighborhood association ordinances, contacting our friends at Tractor and the City of Albuquerque, and attended many of the government meetings. Stoutmeister really stepped up and did a fine job covering this topic, putting that old journalism degree of his to good use (well, besides his excellent coverage of the Albuquerque Isotopes and the occasional high school/UNM sports story for the Journal).
I threw it out to the other Crew members to share their favorite memories/experiences of 2012. Here is what they had to say.
Stoutmeister: You know you have made an impression when folks start referring to you by your blogging nickname when they see you at a brewery. This has been a wild first year, a little uneven and sometimes frustrating, but all in all I like where we are at with the Crew and where we are going in the future. I have been the prolific writer of the group because, well, I am a professional writer, plus I do not have a full-time job at the moment or a girlfriend/wife who actually makes me do valuable things in my spare time. But what is truly more valuable than enjoying quality beer? To recap the year, things took off for us with Tractor’s misfortune of running afoul of Nob Hill’s arcane regulations. It took me back to Reporting Public Affairs, a pain-in-the-ass journalism class and my lone “C” grade in my major. Hey, at least I didn’t fall asleep at any of those Environmental Planning Commission Meetings like I did at the Oro Valley (AZ) Town Council meeting back in 1999. It was a wild ride with Tractor, but everyone stayed strong on their end and came out victorious. Through it all we made friends with the friendliest bar staff in town, and maybe someday Lauren will invite us to appear in a Lynette video.
Anyway, beyond that the haphazard, but still fun, Super Bowl beer battle was a highlight as we debated what truly makes my favorite beer style (if you haven’t guessed by now … oy) great. From that February fun we moved into March, when E-Rock and I visited breweries and baseball games throughout Phoenix, followed by my solo trek to my college town, Tucson. Arizona has a ways to go to catch up to New Mexico (can’t say that about much else besides beer, so, yay!). April kicked off with our Taos Trek, where we visited the awesome little breweries Blue Heron, Comanche Creek, and Taos Ale House. Eske’s was a disappointment, but hey, I’ll take a 3-for-4 trip anytime. May saw the arrival of ABQ Beer Week, an awesome event I mostly missed as the darned Isotopes were in the midst of an epically draining 12-game (they’re usually 8-game) homestand. Matt Kemp even had to show up and rehab with the Topes, causing me to miss half of Blues & Brews. I know, I know, priorities and all.
June saw E-Rock and I back on the road (we like the same music, thus we do fine in the car together), this time visiting Durango and enjoying once again 3-of-4 breweries (sorry, Steamworks). We stopped at Farmington’s 3 Rivers on the way back; I have no idea why I never wrote it up. Darn, we’ll have to go back. In July I was asked to write for Tractor’s blog, which was more fun that I thought it would be. We then drove out to Rio Rancho and joined Nico Ortiz for a long, fun, informative talk about Turtle Mountain and brewing in ABQ.
After the IPA Challenge we seemed to hit a collective wall, but the Crew regrouped heading into the fall, even with Shilling and Brandon back in school. We hit Hopfest (big thanks again to Marne Gaston for the special passes) and Septemberfest, met with the staff of the soon-to-open Bosque Brewing, celebrated the return of growlers at Tractor, and then of course came VALHALLA. We followed that up with more in-depth interviews with Jeff Erway at La Cumbre and the Fab Five (up from four) at Bosque. We will have more of those interviews, plus possibly some actual videos (courtesy of our resident filmmaker, Derek) in 2013.
Overall, we may not have been the most consistent group of writers, with some weeks featuring an onslaught of posts and others almost none, but I think for a first-year, multi-writer blog we did pretty well. I am looking forward to our one-year anniversary coming up in January (the full details/date will be posted soon), plus the New Mexico Cup (yes, we’ve been tasked to serve as “celebrity judges”) in February, another Super Bowl-timed beer battle, and plenty more. I could not have asked for a better Crew to work with on this little passion project. Thanks, guys, now let’s go out and kick this thing to the next level in 2013!
Brandon: I feel I should start this by saying that I am in no way a professional writer. Technical writing was never a strong point of mine; thankfully we have Stoutmeister as our trusty editor to clean up the bad grammar in our posts after we’ve had a few pints! I had been trying my hand at other writing projects that weren’t going so well, so this was a perfect attempt to try something new and write about something I love: delicious pints of beer. Although I have known Derek and Shilling for a while, I actually met the other Crew members just around the time that we started. I was introduced to everyone over (you guessed it) a beer, specifically a nice pint of Malpais Stout from La Cumbre. I remember it like it was yesterday (sniff) … I’m getting sentimental, so I’ll move on!
Though it has been a hectic year for me personally, I’ve had an amazing time working with every member here at NMDSBC. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to write with and hang out with. Starting off with the Brewology series was something extremely fun and I enjoyed bringing info and the minimal experiences I have in homebrewing to you, our readers. Although I haven’t been able to brew these days, mainly due to a full work and school schedule and limited space at home, Derek has been brewing fairly regularly and is continuing the series. He has already produced some tasty batches, so keep an eye out for future posts from him. Aside from that the weekly (usually) Saturday Night Sixer column gives me a chance to share some great craft beers from outside of our mini beer mecca here in New Mexico, and more will be coming in the new year. I had a chance to sit down and talk to some great folks around the beer community, such as Chris Chavez and Donavan Lane at Broken Bottle Brewery, and Jeff Erway at La Cumbre, all of whom are great individuals who live the dream of making great beer. I have to say that covering the NM Brew Fest was a personal highlight for me. Getting to sample beers from New Mexico’s best, and some from beyond the state, was a great experience. It also was an exercise in how to properly cover a beer festival without having a few too many, as my handwriting deteriorated as the day wore on. Nonetheless, it was wonderful and I look forward to covering more events — with a voice recorder next time!
This next year is already shaping up to be exciting for us. Our first anniversary is rapidly approaching, and we have kindly been asked to serve as celebrity judges at the NM Cup Beer & Wine Invitational in February; that last part alone makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! We will have some other things in the works, new features on the site, and hopefully a new look for it here in the near future. I couldn’t be happier to do my part to spread the word about our great craft beer scene here in NM and all the wonderful craft beer across the country. Cheers!
E-Rock: I was one of the last members to do my recap of 2012, so I had the advantage of reading everyone else’s pieces. As such, I’ll skip the brewer interviews and festivals that everyone else already talked about and head straight to the other stuff.
My favorite aspect about being in NMDSBC is that I get to be an active member of New Mexico’s craft brewing community. I posted very few posts the first few months that the blog was up. I was finishing up my masters’s degree in math and it took me forever to write posts. I kept telling Stoutmeister that I would start week a weekly column when I finished my degree in May.
When May rolled around, Albuquerque-area brewers were beginning preparations for Beer Week. There were multiple tastings occurring every day around town for the span of about nine days. The only Brew Crew members that could cover any of Beer Week were Franz Solo and myself. Since I didn’t have any more excuses not to write, I found myself going to several tastings a day and then having to go home and write something. I took that experience and channeled what I learned into maintaining a weekly column.
The first Monday after Beer Week, I wrote my first Week Ahead in Beer. My initial idea was to do a beer listing that was similar to movie listings in the newspaper. I asked for any ideas that might beef up my column a bit. Stoutmeister suggested calling up each brewery a half hour before they opened, put a short write-up on a beer or two for each brewery, and throw together a little intro to each week.
I started by gathering phone numbers and operating hours of each brewery. Originally, I just asked each brewery about new beers that were being tapped that week. Eventually, I decided that I would keep track of seasonal beers. For newer breweries that did not have any set regular and seasonal beers, I listed all of their beers. At first, I didn’t know if I was annoying busy brewery staffs just to create a column that no one reads. In time, word got out and I learned that many brewers were reading my column to keep up with what other brewers were doing. I also had the privilege to meet other readers who recognized me from my picture that accompanies my column each week.
Nowadays, I look forward to my weekly calls and talking to a lot of the friendly beeristas (a term coined by Stoutmeister) around town. Other than my weekly column, I usually just add little blurbs to group posts and try to join other members whenever they visit different breweries. I want to expand my column to include breweries and tap rooms in other New Mexico cities and towns. 2012 was fun, but I am looking forward to the possibilities, challenges, and people we will meet in 2013.
Franz: Well, this is Stoutmeister writing Franz’s piece. As some have noticed, one of our founding members has not written much lately. We hope he will have more time to write in 2013, but he is married, just bought a house, works full-time, and his wife works full-time and is back in school. So to say Franz is busy is an understatement. Basically, he is the complete opposite of me in terms of having free time to write.
From time to time, he has managed to join us at places like La Cumbre, Il Vicino, and Broken Bottle. He is still planning to host the Super Bowl party/Beer Battle II in February. We will just have to come up with a way to ensure he can contribute with the small window of time he has to write every week.
The best news, I suppose, is that he is still drinking great beer whenever he can (his wonderful wife even let him have a beer-only refrigerator in the garage). He has not had to sacrifice in that regard.
Derek: 2012 has held some really special memories for me. Not only have I joined the amazing group of writers/bloggers/brewers at the New Mexico Dark Side Brew Crew, but I really stepped up my game in my own home brewing and adventures in experiencing all types of crafted beers from all over the country.
I joined this group as a resident home brewer. I’ve created a handful of tasty selections from amber to pumpkin ale to chocolate stout. I even had the privilege to help two of our other members learn how to brew themselves, and help them create some tasty concoctions.
My most notable home brews of the year were my Pumpkin Ale, which I have also written a step by step guide for the NMDSBC site for anyone who wants to learn to brew their own beer, and a very heavy Scotch Ale, one of those nice, let it sit and age for half a year before you even get to taste it, kind of beers.
As I’ve traveled to various parts of the country I was also able to experience and review some microbrews outside of our home base here in Albuquerque. Primarily on my trip to Florida I had the chance to review 7th Sun Brewery and Orlando Brewing, and found some really amazing beers from each. Also, while I was there I was able to taste on tap other local brews from the region whose breweries I wasn’t able to visit.
2013 is going to be exciting for us in the beer world. We’re working on our first anniversary party and our first collective NMDSBC batch of home brew. We’ll be judging beer for the NM Cup in February. Beyond all that, I’ll be traveling to various parts of the country again and am really looking forward to comparing each of their resident and local styles with what we have here. This group is always moving forward and tasting and experiencing all over, and there will be so many more home brews by the group as well. The upcoming year looks bright for us all!
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2012 was our first year and a very successful year at that, if we do so say. We will continue bringing you more beer news and reviews in 2013. Look for us at Winter Brew in Santa Fe on Jan. 25 and at the inaugural New Mexico Cup on Feb. 16. Beyond that, we might be making some road trips to check out breweries across the state, from High Desert (Las Cruces), Mimbres Valley (Deming/Las Cruces), the Wellhead (Artesia), Roosevelt Co. Brewing (Portales), NM Craft Brewing (Las Vegas), and all the breweries in the Taos area, including Blue Heron, Taos Ale House, Taos Mesa, and Comanche Creek. A return trip to VALHALLA could also be on the horizon, plus we imagine there will be a few other side trips to various parts of the country.
The Week Ahead in Beer, Saturday Night Sixer, and other regular or semi-regular features will also continue. We hope to have some beer videos up on YouTube later this year, plus expect more in-depth interviews with local brewers and brewery owners.
To all of our readers, we would like to thank you for all of the amazing support for making our first year so successful.
— Jon “Shilling”