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Monks’ Corner will no longer call this spot at Silver and Third Street home.

As you’ve all heard by now, Monks’ Taproom, Abbey Brewing Co.’s Albuquerque-based taproom, is closing its doors at the end of business on Tuesday, July 31. Yesterday, I reached out to Berkeley Merchant, general manager of Abbey Brewing, and he had this to say in a forthcoming press release:

“We will miss serving our regular guests and neighbors, and collaborating with our colleagues at Sidetrack, Red Door, Duel, and Boese Brothers. Our experiences as part of the downtown community have brought us great pride and satisfaction, and we have enjoyed serving our guests, being part of the craft brewing community, and supporting the industry in general as charter members of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. However, the challenges of providing a highly memorable guest experience at this specific location at this time have led us to the decision to concentrate on the brewing and distribution of our family of Monks’ Ales while we explore new sites for a future taproom.”

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Co-owners David Gonzales (left) and Berkeley Merchant (right)

Abbey Brewing will continue to brew and distribute Monks’ Ales wherever you currently purchase them, and they’ll likely appear in more stores and markets in the future. Monks’ Taproom will continue to serve beer up through the 31st, and starting today (Friday), they’ll have plenty of farewell specials on all beer, wine, cider, growler fills, merch, and package. Just follow along on their social media channels for the exact specials available. And, be sure to show them your love and support as they transition out of the corner of Silver and Third.

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All hail the Tripel Reserve.

Thank you, Monks’, for always providing a friendly atmosphere in which to drink your delicious Monks’ Ales. May you find a successful place to land, and for the sake of your fans, may you find it sooner than later. To Abbey Brewing Company and the great quality of beer you make here’s to many more years sipping your excellent products brewed in the ancient monastic tradition, cheers!

— Luke

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Follow Luke on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro and be his drinking buddy on Untappd: SantaFeLuke

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Shout out to my man Jason Soto, for the great picture and for keeping the lines of New Mexico clean with Prime Lines. A huge thank you from all of us! Cheers, brother.

The New Mexico IPA Challenge is well underway, and the question of fairness has come up a bit, to say the least. Well, at least from a technical standpoint, rest assured, our IPA Challenge is as fair as it can be because the Brewers Guild and its volunteers have taken steps to ensure that each beer gets the proper treatment, such as the proper cleaning of draft lines before and during the competition.

Draft beer line cleaning is a little known and often overlooked aspect of the craft brewing scene. But, it is much more important than we think. It’s far more important than the temperature of our beer and what sort of glassware it arrives in. (Although our friend Karim may argue with me on that.) Have you ever sat down at a new bar or establishment, and, having seen it on the list, ordered up your favorite IPA? And, upon first taste, you say to yourself, “Is this the same beer? I know this beer. This tastes weird. This isn’t my beer.” But, it is.

We all have, my friends. Aside from other small variables, like how old a keg is, when it comes to taste issues with a well-brewed beer at a bar, pub, or even (to a much lesser extent) brewery, the problem is usually dirty draft lines. Dirty draft lines cause all sorts of disgusting and unsanitary health issues, but often most noticeably to the public, the issue is taste. And, if we’re not in the tasting business, why are we even talking about beer? Without clean draft lines, the beer that your favorite brewers worked so hard to create won’t be the same beer you find in your glass. Can you see why this would be an issue in a competition based on taste?

So, I put it to the folks at Prime Lines, the company responsible for cleaning the lines prior to the preliminary round and then the first leg of the NMIPAC. I wanted to get down and dirty to clear up why it’s so important that someone properly maintains beer lines for this competition as well as for all beer drinking, ever. Amen. Enter Prime Lines co-founder Angelo Oroña.

DSBC: So, tell me a little bit about Prime Lines, who you are and what you do?

Oroña: Prime Lines Inc. is New Mexico’s first and only third-party draft beer system maintenance and installation company. We clean nearly 1,000 lines statewide for New Mexico’s breweries and wholesalers. We adhere to the Brewers Association guidelines for draft system maintenance, as set out in the Draught Beer Quality Manual. This means we clean all lines under contract on a bi-weekly basis to ensure the beer gets from keg to glass as the brewer intended.

Additionally, we design and install draft beer systems for bars, restaurants, breweries and taprooms, including the forthcoming LOBO Taproom on UNM’s Campus!

DSBC: For a new LOBO Taproom on campus? That’s some big news! We’ll be sure to cover that as more news is forthcoming.

Prime Lines has been an associate member of the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild since they founded the company in November 2016.

DSBC: How did you guys get involved with the New Mexico IPA Challenge (NMIPAC) this year? Was this Prime Lines first major involvement?

Oroña: For the last two years, Prime Lines has cleaned and serviced the lines for the elimination round of NMIPAC, held at Duel ABQ. All faucets, keg couplers, and lines were professionally cleaned by our team to ensure the integrity of the beer and the competition. John Gozigian (executive director of the NM Brewers Guild) asked that we clean all the lines prior to competition.

DSBC: So on a technical level, what does Prime Lines do to “level the playing field?”

Oroña: Prime Lines helps to level the playing field by giving each beer a chance to be presented the way the brewer intended. The lines are cleaned with a special caustic solution that is designed to eliminate any organic compounds that may have been left behind from a previous beer that was poured through the line. The beer faucets are scrubbed clean and the keg couplers are serviced to perform as intended.

DSBC: Are you folks cleaning ALL the lines for the duration of the competition?

Oroña: Prime Lines was asked by the NMBG to clean lines for the elimination round of the NMIPAC.  We routinely service and clean the Taos Mesa Taproom, so we made sure to service that account before the first round. I have no doubt the other host breweries will present the beer at top quality! For Bosque’s Bernalillo facility, these IPAs may be the first beers ever to flow through the lines!

For the Second Street Brewery Rufina second leg of the NMIPAC, brewers Tom and Kevin will be cleaning the lines late Friday night after the close of business.“That way they can make sure everything is clean, and flushed, and cold before (Saturday) morning,” front-of-house manager Mariah Scee informed me.

DSBC: What other variables is the Guild controlling to keep this a fair competition from a technical standpoint? Temp? Pressure? Etc.?

Oroña: Each of the beers for this competition is preserved in a chilled environment prior to competition. The beers are served under ideal conditions by volunteers that have experience in beer dispense. Many volunteers work very hard to ensure that the NMIPAC is a great event and fair competition.

In years past, the IPAs of the Challenge have been poured through jockey boxes — the cooler and hose set ups you often see at festivals — due to the sheer number of beers, and the inability of most taprooms to pour all of them (often alongside their own beers). Not every brewery has 24-plus taps.

DSBC: In your expert opinion, what are some of the drawbacks to pouring IPAs through various jockey boxes?

Oroña: Jockey boxes are never an ideal beer dispense option. Maintaining beer keg temperature in the middle of a New Mexican summer with bags of ice is challenging. Variations in jockey box design can also lead to technical issues arising during the competition. Variables such as consistent temperature, CO2 pressure and line restriction all play into pouring a proper beer.

Prime Lines was established to protect the integrity of beer. Our partnership with the New Mexico Brewers Guild on the NMIPAC was a natural fit. We deeply care about draft beer quality and hope to continue to support NM’s burgeoning craft beer scene. We are proud to be on the forefront of clean draft lines and draft beer dispense education in New Mexico.

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With clean lines, we have beer as the brewers intended. Gone, hopefully, are the days of pouring issues mucking up a clear-cut victory. Of course, that leaves the rest of the competition in the hands of those who come out to these events. As with all democratic processes, you can’t complain if you don’t come out and vote. And no, it’s not a perfect system, but it is well run by people who really care about beer. Now it’s at least a fairer fight without pouring issues to worry about.

As for the rest of the competition, I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of the Guild and the Crew, Boxing Bear co-owner Kevin Davis. Via Facebook, he commented, “This friendly competition is about raising money for the Guild, celebrating NM’s great breweries and having a few laughs along the way. Everyone works hard to put on this event… not the easiest job to organize. Kudos to Duel and Taos Mesa for hosting the first two rounds, and thanks to John G and the Guild volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes making it fun. Cheers!”

The IPA Challenge continues tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m. at Second Street Rufina, locatd at 2920 Rufina Street, Santa Fe, NM, 87507. Tickets available here!

— Luke

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This is Luke’s fifth time covering the Santa Fe NM IPA Challenge, and his fifth year with the Crew.

A newcomer takes the top spot at the first round of the NM IPA Challenge.

TAOS — After a long drive through some rather crazy construction zones, I (Stoutmeister) made it to Taos for the first round of the NM IPA Challenge. My reason for visiting was quite selfish, as it meant for a great chance to hang out with my friend Merril for the first time in far too long (she has never been in town during a beer event), but it also gave me a chance for a new perspective.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe dominate the state’s beer scene, as evidenced by 14 of 16 breweries participating in the knockout rounds from those two metro areas. The folks in Taos, and those from towns nearby, have a different perspective on what makes a great IPA. Need proof? Well, how about Red River Brewing’s Bad Medicine Honey Double IPA taking the most votes (23) in the first round of the NMIPAC.

More than 80 people showed up at the Taos Mesa Tap Room in downtown, a nearly four-fold increase from the last time the NMIPAC held a round up here (that was at the Mothership, which is admittedly quite far from town and not a safe ride home or to a hotel for those that drove). It was an impressive gathering, regardless.

This is always harder than it looks.

There were four obviously hazy IPAs on the tray, with a few others that might have been hazy, but not hazy enough, or just IPAs that weren’t clarified properly. I found Bow & Arrow (#1 on the tray) to be the best, but it garnered just five votes. Still, in a more haze-crazed city, it might conquer the masses.

As it was, Red River did a hell of a showing. Second and third were a tie between Blue Corn and two-time defending champion Boxing Bear with 14 votes apiece. I did not mind either beer, though my personal choice was the Simcoe-heavy entry from La Cumbre (#10 on the tray). Merril went with #14, which turned out to be Quarter Celtic. Other than the final vote, we agreed on almost everything (that is another reason we are friends, I suppose).

The first-round leader from just about every NMIPAC that we have covered has never managed to hold onto the lead, so it will be quite interesting to see how Red River fares as the competition moves south. The next round will be at Second Street’s Rufina taproom on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Get your tickets at the NM Brewers Guild’s website. If 80-plus are gonna show up in Taos, expect 100-plus in Santa Fe, so get those tickets in advance!

Finally, we close with a quote from Red River’s head brewer, Chris Calhoun, who could not stop smiling from before the votes were announced until well after.

“I’m pretty surprised, pretty happy,” he said. “When we advanced out of the (preliminary) round, I was just happy to compete with the big boys like Bosque, Boxing Bear, Marble and La Cumbre. This is our first year, so to make to the next round is remarkable. Our honey double IPA is not traditional; we use locally sourced honey. It takes out some of the hoppiness that can overwhelm people.

“But still, to stand out on a tray of 15 (other) IPAs, that means something.”

Congrats to Chris and the Red River team. Now comes the big test to see how the ABQ and Santa Fe crowds respond. Either way, if you have not put Red River on your list of breweries to visit, it should be there now.

Luke will have full coverage from Rufina on Saturday, and then all of us will be at the grand finale at Bosque North on July 28. Look for an updated photo-heavy story about Bosque North soon!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Greetings, New Mexico craft beer lovers. Stoutmeister here with The Week Ahead in Beer. This column covers all the breweries in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, with Santa Fe’s seven breweries, one in Los Alamos, one in Moriarty, one in Red River, and one in Las Cruces also joining the party.

Stoutmeister puts on his serious face to handle The Week Ahead in Beer.

Stoutmeister puts on his serious face to handle The Week Ahead in Beer.

The preliminary round is in the books, so now the rounds that count for the NM IPA Challenge are getting underway starting today (Wednesday) at the Taos Tap Room, with Round 1 going from 4 to 8 p.m. The Crew will have live coverage for this and Saturday’s noon-to-4 p.m. Round 2 at Second Street Rufina. We know a lot of you cannot go north, especially for today’s midweek round, but that does not mean you won’t be able to taste many of the IPAs at their brewing locations. Here are all the ones that we know of that are on tap: Blue Corn, Gatekeeper IPA; Bow & Arrow, Tropic Rodeo; Boxing Bear, AlbuMurky Hazy IPA; Marble, Safeword IPA (Westside taproom only); Quarter Celtic, Gondola Party Starter XH; Red Door, New England IPA; Red River, Bad Medicine Honey DIPA; Rio Bravo, Level 3 DIPA. We do not know the exact identity of the IPAs for Bosque, Duel, Kaktus, Kellys, La Cumbre (yeah, it’s probably Project Dank), Santa Fe, Second Street, and Taos Mesa, but you can ask if you visit them and see if they are available.

On the new beer front this week, there are a few options to check out. Bosque goes the session IPA route with Backyard Campout. Canteen has two variations on its Summer Ale, the regular and the special Valle De Oro version. La Cumbre brings back three favorites in the Fievre d’Abricot, Hell Froze Over (Brown Ale), and Can You Drive a Sticke? Marble goes east for some Cape Cod Gose, plus the new DIPA, Calypso, is available. Ponderosa unveils Premium American Lager. Sidetrack shakes things up with Citrus Punch IPA, Sunburst Pale Ale, and Apricot Tart Pale Ale. Starr Brothers has more Starrgazm IPA and the new Japanese Garden, a hibiscus lemon blonde. Tractor rolls out Dry Cider, Pineapple Cider, Muddlicious Session Cider, Break Pointe Pale Ale, and Acreage DIPA. Turtle Mountain goes dark with Yum Yum Noir.

Up in Santa Fe, things are quiet, but further north in Red River, RRBC has a new Scottish Ale.

Continue reading for all the news that is fit to blog for the week of July 16.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Test Batch #3, left, and Gondola Party Starter XH are two excellent double IPAs now available at Quarter Celtic.

One of these weeks we will all get our acts together and have this feature ready for a Monday run, but alas, this is not one of those weeks. As we noted last time around, this is simply a series of short recaps of weekend beer adventures for different members of the Crew.

Hops were the order of the day for this past weekend, what with the preliminary round of the NM IPA Challenge going down and all. I was not able to attend due to work, but I still managed to set out in search of at least one of the entries that is on tap around town.

My Friday night sojourn led me to Quarter Celtic, where the Gondola Party Starter XH (Extra Hops) is now on tap alongside the Test Batch #3 DIPA. Talking to QC co-owner Ror McKeown, I found out that both had been released with the goal of asking loyal customers which one should be the NMIPAC entry. Gondola was ultimately the choice of the public, though the way he described it was interesting. Most customers actually preferred Test Batch #3, but none of them thought it could win a competition, and thus Gondola became QC’s entry.

Tasting them side-by-side, I found Test Batch #3 to be lighter and sweeter, while Gondola has a bitter back-end kick, with a little less sweetness around the mid-palate. Gondola is certainly more of a traditional West Coast hop bomb, and in the end, the customers were right, as it advanced to Wednesday’s first round of the NMIPAC alongside 15 other IPAs.

— Stoutmeister

Now for the rest of the Crew … Read the rest of this entry »

The final results from the preliminary round. The number on the left is what the brewery was on the tray. The circled number on the right is the voting total. Any brewery with a star advanced, plus Kaktus later got a star to also advance.

The results of the NM IPA Challenge preliminary round are in and the breweries which will continue on to the next round are as follows (votes in parentheses): Marble (29), Boxing Bear (26), Bow & Arrow (16), Blue Corn (15), La Cumbre (15), Quarter Celtic (15), Rio Bravo (14), Kellys (13), Santa Fe (12), Red River (11), Red Door (11), Kaktus (11).

They will join the host breweries — Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, Bosque — which all had byes.

UPDATE: Kaktus did advance, so there will be 16 total IPAs on the trays at the next three rounds. It would be bad journalism if we neglected to disclose that Kaktus also received 11 votes. We don’t know, at this juncture, how the tiebreaker was decided since this was a three-way tie with Red River and Red Door.

Some of the notable breweries to not advance included Bombs Away, Canteen, Nexus, Starr Brothers, Steel Bender, Three Rivers, Tractor, and Turtle Mountain.

Things ran relatively smoothly at this event hosted by Duel in downtown ABQ. The event ran from noon to 4 p.m. with a short line existing around 12:15 and results announced around 4:15. The flow of people/beer was slow, yet steady and efficient.

Because all beers were served from the same tap system, and all lines were cleaned in advance, we have no doubt this was another great NM IPA Challenge event from a quality standpoint. All 43 beers (down from 46) were poured with the same conditions with equal representation. Out of consideration for safety, the samplings were broken down onto three trays, with each individual selecting his/her favorite from his/her respective tray of beers.

The Crew had a nice showing with myself and Luke arriving around 12:15, and then running into Jerrad and Shawna inside. At that point, the inside of Duel was already packed with people. We were resourceful enough to move tables around on the roof deck in such a way that our beers were kept in the shade throughout tasting, while our bodies were burned to a crisp in the sun. Two pieces of constructive criticism: (1) offer additional tables indoors since there seemed to be enough extra space, and (2) set up some cover on the rooftop to keep the IPAs out of the sun.

The next leg of the NM IPA Challenge happens Wednesday at Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom (right off Main Street in Taos). We hope to see you out there to support the NM Brewers Guild. May the best IPA win!

Cheers!

— Andrew and Luke

Bombs Away’s Cathy Racow is not your typical brewing intern.

Retirement is one of those concepts that does not appeal to everyone that reaches that point in life. Sure, some folks are happy to kick back and relax, or travel, or engage in small hobbies to stay busy.

Others, like Cathy Racow, would simply go mad if she were to idle away in retirement. That is the basis of how a nearly 60-year-old former nurse and paramedic ended up interning for the summer at Bombs Away Beer Company.

“I truly believe she will be a future star in the industry,” wrote Bombs Away head brewer David Kimbell when he pitched the idea of a story on Cathy.

Meeting Cathy in person one morning at the brewery, it was quickly apparent that she has more energy and enthusiasm than most brewers half her age.

“Number one, I love beer, like all my life since I was 14,” she said with a laugh. “Number two, I’m retired from public service and it’s absolutely time for me to have a beer. I’m not a stay-at-home kind of person. I enjoy work and I’m not afraid of hard work, which brewing is hard work. If you like to be cold, wet, and smell, this is the perfect career.”

Cathy was a firefighter paramedic and emergency room nurse, and she retired from her career in medicine after many years of selfless service.

“I’ve never had an easy job,” she said. “I’ve always been active.”

With that in mind, Cathy said she started looking for something else to do to remain active. She found out about the brewing program at Central New Mexico Community College and signed up, much to the surprise of her husband and grown children.

“I really love the brewing side,” Cathy said. “I really enjoy the icky part, the science. There is enough science and technology to keep me interested for the rest of my life. It’s also an interactive job, it’s not on a computer. I do better with my hands than with my brain. I don’t like sitting still so much.”

Cathy now has one year of studying and hands-on work under her belt.

“I already have a degree so I’m really more interested in the brewing certificate than an actual AA,” she said. “The CNM program is fantastic, it really is. It’s pretty intense. So what I did, I only have my draft line classes left, but I knew I wasn’t busy this summer, so I wanted to do this internship when I didn’t have classes.”

A previous internship up in Santa Fe helped Cathy land a spot at Bombs Away for the summer.

“I did a short-term internship during school with John Rowley and Rowley Farmhouse (Ales),” she said. “I wanted to work pretty much all summer. I asked my instructor, drafted some ideas, and sort of begged here. David has a really squared away approach to brewing. He’s a real professional brewer. He knows pretty much everyone in town. And he was willing. He’s also going to be an adjunct instructor at CNM in the fall, he’s going to teach the technology class.”

Oh, in case anyone has not been by in a while, Bombs Away is also getting a patio!

Bombs Away was also the perfect setup for a good learning environment, Cathy said.

“I didn’t want to intern at a production brewery right off,” she said. “I’m interested in learning all the aspects. This pub, it’s like my dream size production. It’s a community pub, not (Marble). But that’s cool, they’ve hired five graduates. Marble has been very supportive.”

Cathy noted that CNM graduates are also employed at Bow & Arrow, La Cumbre, Rio Bravo, and Turtle Mountain.

“We’re trying to give people the idea that yeah, you can adopt a CNM student, they’ll try really hard for you, and we are available for adoption,” she said. “I was kind of hoping, too, that after an internship, I would be more helpful as a rookie at a brewery than not.”

The biggest challenge Cathy has faced working at a brewery has been the same she faced in the classroom.

“The more challenging thing is getting definitive answers on some of the mathematical problems, because everybody has a different way to approach it, or a different system,” she said. “Some are more empirical, especially with yeast production. Calculating out gravities and malt bills and stuff, that’s not easy, but people pretty much agree on that. But, as far as yeast propagation (that) is probably my biggest thing. I was really interested in quality assurance, microbes, because of my (medical) background. I went to a seminar at (Colorado State) this summer. That really cleared up a lot of my questions.”

At an age when most people are looking forward to the end of their careers, Cathy said she is happy to be back at the bottom of the ladder.

“I’m a complete rookie (and) I’m OK with being a rookie,” she said. “I’ve been a rookie at everything all my life. That’s part of life, you always progress. I’ve never had a problem being back in that role. I really want to keep going to CNM. They’re a legit little college. Complete, complete support.”

Working at Bombs Away has also been a positive.

“That’s why I love this, this is about bringing community (together) and enjoying yourself,” Cathy said. “Especially pubs like this, they’re not shady. It really is a community pub. People come from Sandia Labs and Kirtland, they enjoy themselves, have a couple beers, and head home.”

New Mexico has truly become home for Cathy and her family, she said.

“This is the second time I’ve lived in New Mexico,” Cathy said. “I fell in love with it the first time. Finally my husband retired and we came back. I love this area, I know it sounds crazy, this is a crazy place, but I enjoy it a lot. Albuquerque is for real, people here are real.”

We wish Cathy, and all of the talented CNM brewing students, the best of luck now and in the future. And, let this be a lesson, that age means nothing when it comes to having a passion to brew.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Greetings, New Mexico craft beer lovers. Stoutmeister here with The Week Ahead in Beer. This column covers all the breweries in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, with Santa Fe’s seven breweries, one in Los Alamos, one in Moriarty, one in Red River, and one in Las Cruces also joining the party.

Stoutmeister puts on his serious face to handle The Week Ahead in Beer.

Stoutmeister puts on his serious face to handle The Week Ahead in Beer.

Before the NM IPA Challenge kicks off with the preliminary round on Saturday at Duel ABQ, a whole lot of the participating breweries will be tapping their entries. We had all wondered if a few more hazy IPAs would be featured this year; it turns out, there may be a heck of a lot of the New England-style brews. If you would rather juice up than go on a (hop) bomb run, there are gonna be options this year. This does not mean, however, that the West Coast-style IPAs are going away. Want to test them out before the big event? You can get your haze fix with Tropic Rodeo at Bow & Arrow, AlbuMurky Hazy IPA from two-time defending champion Boxing Bear, Tuttle IPA from Canteen, and Red Door’s New England IPA, which is back on tap. For the traditionalists out there, try New Mexico Snow IPA at Nexus, Gondola Party Starter XH (Extra Hops) at Quarter Celtic, Level 3 DIPA at Rio Bravo, Skull Crusher DIPA at Steel Bender, Gatekeeper IPA at Blue Corn, and Justice Dispenser at Rowley Farmhouse Ales. As more NMIPAC entries appear on tap, we will keep you updated.

On the new beer front this week, there are a few non-NMIPAC options to check out. The Boese Brothers/NM Hard Cider/Desert Dogs/Milton’s/Sidetrack collaboration, Sour Relationship, has returned. Bosque battles on with Foolish Warrior. Boxing Bear will have more Black & Blue Tart on tap and for sale in bottles this weekend. Canteen has a fresh batch of Blood Orange Wheat. Marble passes along Safe Word IPA, plus White Out returns for another run. Quarter Celtic also has some Test Batch #3 (DIPA). Red Door unveils the first beer from its assistant brewer, Jason’s Bloody Gose.

Up in Santa Fe, Blue Corn has more barrel-aged Cosmic Darkness available. Rowley Farmhouse Ales sent us a big update with Agent Scully – Season Two, Episode 1 (IPA), Mo’schwecka (Brett Saison with Motueka hops), and Almost Native (Oaxacan Gose). Further north, Red River gets a little twisted with Cat Skinner IPA.

Continue reading for all the news that is fit to blog for the week of July 9.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Crew ventured far and wide for beer over the weekend, but at least two of our members found themselves at the new Tractor Westside Taproom.

For the first time in a while, the Crew is trying out a new weekly feature. We may, or may not, keep the name Weekend Beer-cap, but the idea is that each of us in the Crew will relate a quick tale of our favorite beer-related experience from the prior weekend. In the future, this will usually run on Mondays, at least in those weeks where enough of us have something to write about.

On with the show.

West Side is the best side?

This past week was filled with hot dogs, fireworks, and a slew of interesting occurrences. Some of the more delightful of those included making it over to Tractor Brewing’s new Westside Taproom. The entire venue is open to natural light, with massive vaulted ceilings and windows to match. We were able to stop by Toltec Brewing as well this week, enjoying their Altbier for the first time, with impressive and complex malt character as ABQ endured the heavy rain.

— Jerrad

Holiday bonus

Check out the new pilsner at Rio Bravo if you get the chance.

This was an unusual week with a holiday right in the middle. It was like having half a weekend extra, which did not suck. It was not enough time to go away somewhere, but we did spend the night of July 3 at Route 66 Casino, just for something silly to do. I can happily report that Thunder Road Steakhouse & Cantina inside off the casino floor has multiple (it looked like around 10) local beer taps. So we enjoyed some of those as well as nachos.

When we checked out of the hotel the next morning, we continued our mini-staycation with a road trip up Unser to the new Tractor on the west side. That is one great space! All three of us road trippers chose the Imma Pale Ale. Then we trekked over to Nexus on Pan American to get a snack to hold us over until a 6 p.m. holiday barbecue. At Nexus we filled up growlers of Red and IPA for the night’s festivities. All in all, a very nice holiday.

On Friday evening, we went to Rio Bravo to see a friend play music. The brewery was more crowded than I have seen it on previous visits. We sampled some of the newer beers, and they were pretty good. The pilsner, in particular, was super clean. But, me being me and all, I still ordered a barrel-aged stout.

Saturday night we went to Dukes retro night at Isotopes Park and sadly watched the “Dukes” lose a nail biter to the Tacoma Rainiers. I drank Odell, sorry!

— AmyO

Don’t waffle on visiting Bow & Arrow

The picture may be slightly out of focus, but the Waffle Bandit Stout was on point.

This is not a time of year for many special releases on the darker side of the beer spectrum, so it was quite nice to see Bow & Arrow recently release its new Waffle Bandit Stout. With a spot of free time available, I finally headed over to the brewery to check it out. At only 5.7-percent ABV, one can enjoy more than a single pour, but man oh man, I do hope they craft an imperial version and barrel age that sucker. For now, the current iteration will do just fine. The nose is all maple and waffle dough, and the initial flavor is almost overpowering in the sweetness. As the beer warms, though, it creates a three-layered approach. The maple holds up front, though it is not cloying or overpowering. In the middle is the big stout roast, chewier than the ABV would indicate. On the back end, the Belgian yeast esters pop to the surface. There is a lot going on in this beer, and I will certainly head back to Bow & Arrow for a second tasting just to make sure my palate did not play any tricks on me.

— Stoutmeister

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That’s all from us for this week. Expect lots of tales of hops, or possibly of getting away from hops, next week!

Cheers!

— The NMDSBC

The hounds are after the Bear this year.

Oh, it is that time of year again. The time of year the Crew likes to forget Twitter exists, because the ludicrous arguments, they will be upon us again. This time around, we are gonna ignore it all as best we can and focus on the beers and the fun. Yes, it is time for the annual New Mexico IPA Challenge.

The preliminary round returns to Duel Brewing’s taproom in downtown Albuquerque this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. There will be three separate trays of 13 beers each (one tray per guest), with the top 11 vote getters from all the trays advancing to the final three rounds alongside the four host breweries (Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, Bosque).

To make sure we had all the facts lined up properly for this 17th NMIPAC, I sat down with NM Brewers Guild executive director John Gozigian last week.

“A couple things are different,” he said. “This will be the first one ever — I don’t know how interesting this is to the general public, but — where we’re pouring 100 percent through brewery tap systems, not using jockey boxes this time around.”

Santa Fe Brewing’s James Warren and others pour from jockey boxes at the NMIPAC in 2016.

Duel gets to host again due to the fact it has 40-plus taps available, more than any other brewery in Albuquerque. Why are taps better than the old jockey box format?

“Pouring through a draft system, there’s no substitute for that,” John said. “You have all beers pouring under the exact same conditions — same temperatures, same pressures, same length of runs, et cetera. It removes that one variable from the equation that has been an issue in the past. The last time we did the elimination round with jockey boxes (at Rio Bravo in 2016), I think we had seven different jockey boxes. Every jockey box pours differently.”

The sheer number of participating breweries continues to climb. John noted there were about 32 last year, and the 43 this year is actually down slightly from the original list of 46. Three breweries — Ale Republic, Eske’s, Little Toad Creek — have dropped out.

“I think what happens is when you start talking about the IPA Challenge in April everybody’s on board, but then you get to July and everybody’s capacity is pushed to their limit, especially for the smaller breweries,” John said. “In the case of Little Toad Creek, they have a big brewery, but they just opened a new taproom (in Las Cruces). They’re pretty busy, so they’re kind of stuck right now. When the rubber hits the road, they realize they’re not going to be able to knock out a beer in time, which is fine.”

Only a select few will advance from the preliminary round.

Here is the full list of participating breweries, including where some finished in the final round last year, and those who are new to the competition:

  • Bathtub Row
  • Blue Corn (15th, only brewery outside ABQ to win, back in 2013)
  • Bombs Away (new)
  • Bow & Arrow (9th)
  • Boxing Bear (1st, also won in 2016)
  • Broken Trail
  • Canteen (4th, won six total as Il Vicino Brewing from 2004-05, 2009-12)
  • Cazuela’s
  • Cloudcroft (new)
  • Flix Brewhouse
  • High Desert
  • Kaktus
  • Kellys
  • La Cumbre (10th-tied)
  • Lost Hiker (new)
  • Marble (6th)
  • Nexus
  • Palmer
  • Picacho Peak (14th)
  • Ponderosa (12th)
  • Quarter Celtic (3rd)
  • Red Door
  • Red River (new)
  • Rio Bravo
  • Roosevelt
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales
  • Santa Fe
  • Sidetrack
  • Sierra Blanca
  • Spotted Dog
  • Starr Brothers (5th)
  • Steel Bender (10th-tied)
  • Three Rivers
  • The 377 (13th)
  • Toltec (new)
  • Tractor (8th)
  • Tumbleroot (new)
  • Turtle Mountain (won in 2007)
  • The Wellhead

Among the breweries with byes, which they get since they are surrendering four-plus hours of regular business hours and the profits that come with those, Bosque was second last year (and previously won in 2014-15), Second Street was seventh, Duel was ousted in the preliminary round, and Taos Mesa did not participate in 2017.

The first round, set for July 18 from 4-8 p.m., will actually be at the Taos Tap Room, located in downtown, rather than at the mothership brewery far outside of Taos.

“We’re going to Taos Mesa Brewing Company’s downtown taproom, so that’s the first time we’ve had it at that location, which will make for a nice trip to Taos for anyone that wants to go,” John said. “I actually got a really good deal on rooms. The Taos Inn, I got rooms for like $90 a night, which is unheard of.”

Having the round at a location where people can easily walk home or to their hotel makes a lot more sense than putting it in a more isolated location, which is part of the reason that the last time the NMIPAC was held in Taos, only about 20 people participated.

The second round is set for the new Second Street Rufina taproom on July 21.

“Then we go back to Second Street, Rufina, another great location for the IPA Challenge,” John said. “They have a lot of interior space. They have a draft system we can use for all 15 beers for round two there. We’ll have the patio open, too, but they do have a lot of interior space.”

The first chance for many beer lovers to see inside the now completed Bosque North will be at the final round of the NMIPAC on July 28.

Then comes the grand finale on July 28, which figures to draw even more interest than usual for the venue.

“The final round, this is the big one, it’s going to be in Bernalillo at Bosque North,” John said. “I just thought about it today, for the final round, you’ll be one of the first people (to visit) that location, because they won’t even open until two days later. It will be like a sneak peek for the Bernalillo location, for their draft system, their beautiful new facility.”

If you want to make sure you have a spot at the final round, get a ticket ASAP.

“The ticket sales are strong,” John said. “It will be a draw. I don’t think you just hold it anywhere in Bernalillo. This is Bosque, and it’s brand new. Our ticket sales are double what they were at this point last year, and last year we sold out every round. We’re doing the same number of tickets again this year; it’s just going to sell out faster.”

It should be a close competition again this year. The last two years saw the closest finishes in NMIPAC history, with Boxing Bear edging out Bosque by three votes (104-101) last year and nipping Canteen by two votes (81-79) the year before.

“We’ve got Boxing Bear defending their title, a two-time winner,” John said. “It’s going to be hosted by Bosque, which is also a two-time winner, three times if you count when John (Bullard) was at Blue Corn. I’ve been tasting a lot of beers. Everyone is going really heavy. Everyone is going after Boxing Bear with some really heavily hopped beers, up to 10 pounds per barrel of some expensive hops. Everyone is investing in this beer.

“This could be the year, who knows, where we have a New England-style IPA win it. There are some good ones out there, too. It’s typically been a West Coast-style IPA event. Depending on how forward-thinking people are on one hand, or how traditionalist they are on the other hand, or just how many new people we have coming into the IPA Challenge this year. You have a certain expectation of what an IPA Challenge beer tastes like. A juicy, hazy New England IPA would probably be an outlier. I think it will probably be a good bellwether as to which way the trend is going.”

Everyone is gunning for the Boxing Bear brewers this year.

This could bring out the usual “IPAs are passe” comments from folks, and maybe the style is not quite the king of craft like it once was, but this remains primarily an IPA town and an IPA state.

“The market is definitely moving away from IPAs to some extent,” John said, noting some non-IPA top sellers at local breweries. “You look at Bosque and their Elephants on Parade, Marble with Double White. La Cumbre is still the (Elevated) IPA, obviously. But, I think this is still an IPA town. When it comes to the IPA Challenge, it’s a big event and people care about it … too much, some might argue.”

As we noted above, the NMIPAC, and beer competitions in general, can sometimes bring out the worst in beer drinkers, especially online. John would just like to remind everyone, just as he did the breweries, that the point of the NMIPAC is two-fold, and neither should get anyone’s blood boiling.

“This has primarily been a fundraiser for the Guild so that we can continue our promotional and lobbying efforts,” he said. “It’s (also) a good-natured competition, it’s fun to win, we always rib each other over it, but we never took it that seriously.”

So yes, let us all go have fun, and support the Guild, which in turn supports its member breweries. The Crew (should) have at least one reporter at every round, so look for instant results on social media as soon as they are made available, and stories soon afterwards.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister