Hopfest in review: Chilling out in The Maple’s Shade

Stoutmeister here, fully recovered from the madness that was Hopfest 2012 down at Hard Rock on Saturday afternoon.

We knew we were in the right place for lots and lots of beer.

First off, a huge thanks to everyone there, from the fans to the employees and volunteers. You all made it a wonderful show. A big thanks to Marne Gaston, who supplied us with Extra Hoppy tickets. For future beer-reviewing purposes, we will always try to obtain these types of tickets, since that initial hour is peaceful and easy to move from brewery to brewery. Once 3 p.m. rolled around, holey moley, the population quadrupled (at least) and our sampling slowed down. In retrospect, that is probably a good thing.

Shilling was along for this ride, as were two lovely young ladies who were just crazy enough to accompany us (the rest of the Crew was either working or, in E-Rock’s case, out of the state for the weekend). We took the Rail Runner down, a brilliant move to save on the hassle of driving and the danger of trying to drive with too much to drink.

There were plenty of nominees for the “best of the fest,” including Back Alley’s The Maple’s Shade (more on that below) and Cassie, whose birthday is Halloween, fell madly in love with Wasatch’s Pumpkin Ale. Almost every beer we tried, save one, ranged from good to great.

With the light crowd for Extra Hoppy hour, we made sure to stop by and say hello to a pair of local brewery staffs who were on hand, Broken Bottle and Tractor. BBB brought their “Incident” Black IPA, which was still excellent, and Tractor had plenty off their regular and seasonal menu, including the Mustachio Milk Stout.

Patrons line up for Tractor samples, but very soon they will be able to get growlers at the Tap Room.

NEWS BREAK: We talked to Skye from Tractor, who updated us on the growler situation. So, after waiting two extra weeks until Aug. 7 to have a final city hearing due to a broken water pipe in the Plaza Del Sol building, and THEN waiting two more weeks for a written response, Tractor has to wait until Labor Day itself, at 5 p.m., to begin selling growlers again. There is this whole “protest period” for a brewery that has heard nary a word of protest during this entire process. But that is the procedure, so Tractor is dutifully complying. Assuming no one jumps out and argues against it at the last second, the crew will dispatch someone (yours truly will almost certainly still be at Isotopes Park for the final home game of the regular season) to cover the occasion. You know, should it actually, finally happen (FINGERS CROSSED!). And it turns out Broken Bottle will (hopefully) also be able to sell growlers at this exact same time!

Anyway, back to Hopfest, I will break the ‘fest down by breweries and the beer we tried in the kind-of-order we tried them in. Shilling and I both recorded our comments on my digital recorder while Cassie and Becca probably wondered if everyone else there thought we were crazy.

Round One in the Premier Stage room

Broken Bottle: Shilling had never had “The Incident” Black IPA before, so here are his thoughts on this seasonal offering: “It was nice. Very mellow black IPA compared to some of the other local guys. You get that dark, smoky flavor at first, then the IPA, the hoppy flavor sneaks in.”

Stoutmeister regales Becca, left, and Cassie, right, with tales of beer festivals past.

Taos Ale House: I sampled The Simple Porter, which was smooth, a little lighter than most smoked porters. It was perfect for the warm summer months.

Silverton Brewery: Once upon a time, the Bear-Ass Brown was a solid example of its genre. This time around, it was, well, terrible. I hate labeling a beer like that, but seriously, it tasted bad. Cassie put it best: “You could clean hospital floors with that.” Shilling guessed maybe it was a bad lining with the portable taps.

Lost Coast: I sampled the Downtown Brown, a beer I have had before, just to cleanse the palate after the Bear-Ass Brown; this brown was smooth, flavorful, and yet not too heavy. Shilling tackled the Great White Ale: “Probably not a beer I’d get on a regular occasion. Still, very smooth, very mellow, light citrus undertones.”

Sandia Chile Grill: We had no idea this establishment, located on the northeast corner of San Antonio and Wyoming, was even brewing its own beer. Now we can’t wait to go up there and try some of their other styles. I grabbed the Smoked Milk Stout, a hybrid between the two genres that blended perfectly together with the tart, smoky bite and the smooth, chocolate finish. Shilling snagged their English IPA, which was a surprise: “Unlike a North American IPA, where it’s usually about the hops, this one was a lot more mellow. You still get an IPA flavor but it’s not like a kick in the mouth.”

Mad River: I highly recommend the Steelhead Extra Stout, a big, burly smoked ale that can protect you in a dark alley. Shilling jumped on the Jamaica Red Ale: “Unlike other reds I’ve had, this one was more mellow. Not hoppy, not pungent.” Shilling also added that the Extra Stout smelled like a charcoal grill, which would make it perfect for a barbecue.

Durango Brewing: They broke my heart by leaving the award-wining Dark Lager at home. I went with the summertime Derail Ale, a double golden ale, but I was too bummed about the lack of Darkness in my life. (sniff)

Round Two in the main room

Back Alley: Downtown’s newest tap room does brew up a few of its own beers, including some with the still-homeless Goathead Brewery. They unleashed the aforementioned Maple’s Shade, a behemoth (11.8-percent ABV) strong ale with layers upon layers of flavor. Shilling: “It’s one of those beers, as far as thickness goes, it puts most barleywines to shame. There was a nice contrail of sugar around the glass.” I called it a breakfast beer, the kind if you wanted to do nothing else all day. This one was my pick for best of the fest, just for how unique and awesome it was.

The line forms up outside Boar’s Nest’s colorful booth.

Boar’s Nest: They are moving closer and closer to opening, but until then, we just appreciate the BN guys showing up at festivals in their tiki-style tent (minus the skeevy Burt’s crowd). Shilling and I tackled the War Pigs Imperial Stout, a Russian-style obsidian monolith with some serious smoky bite, but also a smooth, slightly sweet finish. We tasted flavor, not alcohol, always tough to pull off with any imperial. The ladies went with the smooth, subtle Hotel California Red Ale, which represents a light but flavorful “starter beer” before anyone moves on to start humming Black Sabbath. Boar’s Nest was named the crowd favorite at this year’s Blues & Brews. Now we know why.

Oskar Blues: Just about everybody ended up with OB cans on Mardi Gras bead-style necklaces, which actually were a convenient way for people to carry things around for easy access, like our sampler tickets. As for the beers on hand, it was the usual selection. I went with Old Chub (Scottish), while Shilling went with the Deviant Dale’s IPA: “I’m not much of an IPA fan, but it was the only beer from them that I had not (tried).”

Left Hand: Another old favorite, Becca was jumping up and down to head over to this Colorado favorite. I passed on the ubiquitous Milk Stout for a Black Jack Porter. It was a flavorful beer without too much smoked flavor. Shilling took on the Fade to Black, Vol. 3, a hybrid of porters similar to, but better than, the New Belgium 1554. They added a chile pepper bite to it, making it all the more unique. NEWS BREAK: We found out at the end of the day that the Fiery Foods Festival is adding a chile beer category this year. Broken Bottle is going to try and make a red chile chocolate stout; the Crew will be their taste-testing committee. Wish our tastebuds luck.

Round three, also in the main room, but after the general admission crowd stormed the beaches

Homebrew competition: Southwest Grape & Grain played host to the Dukes of Ale competition. There were four samples to be tried. The Saison was “drinkable,” but none of us are big fans of the genre and the other beers threatened to overwhelm it. The other beers, an Irish Red, Smoked Porter, and Summer Stout, were all very comparable to the bigger breweries’ similar styles. I voted for the Stout, because, well, you probably can guess why.

An event as big as Hopfest has a mascot. But of course.

Odell: Even though we’d had most of the styles before, we stopped anyway since the line was short(er) than any other brewery in our vicinity. Cassie was not a fan of the IPA, while Becca enjoyed the 90 Shilling. You can find Odell beers just about anywhere that good beer is sold. Shilling and I tackled the St. Lupulin, an “extra” pale ale that was very dry but still had a good flavor without overwhelming hops.

Wasatch/Squatters: The two Utah breweries joined efforts at a single booth. Rather than just smirk at the Polygamy Porter package (“Why have just one?” is the slogan) at Sunflower, I actually tried this style and liked it. A smooth, flavorful porter that is almost, but not quite, on par with Left Hand. I already mentioned how much Cassie liked their pumpkin ale; it’s not my usual genre, but I will admit I liked it as well. A perfect blend of pumpkin, nutmeg, and a brown ale as its base.

Ska: I talked up the Nefarious Ten Pin Porter, their imperial, since my visit to Durango earlier this summer. It was burly, with a serious bite up front, just like I remembered it. Shilling chanted “TEN PIN” afterward, so it appears I am not alone. If you can find this in bomber version (it’s not available in six-packs as far as I know), buy it!

Big Sky/Coronado/Green Flash: We hit these last three in the main room in rapid order as the day was winding down and we wanted to make sure we got outside in time to hop on a free shuttle to the Rail Runner station. Big Sky had just run out of Slow Oak Stout (this has happened to me before, @#$%!) so I just had a Moose Drool Brown Ale, their most commonly-found style. It is a lighter brown if you are looking for that sort of thing. Coronado only brought their IPAs, so I snagged an Islander, which is basically an average IPA, with less hops than most of the ABQ-area IPAs. Green Flash was the last stop, with Double Stout still available. This was a solid beer to close the show, similar to the Extra Stout from Mad River. It was big and thick, checking in at 8.8 percent.

We skipped other breweries due to either A) time constraints (sorry Breckenridge, Abita, Deschutes, BridgePort), B) their beers are available everywhere (Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Guinness), or C) we aren’t fans of their primary styles (Blue Moon, Leinenkugel).

Yeah, I know, we probably should have checked out a few, but in the end we all valued not feeling bulldozed the rest of the day. We also skipped the “international section,” all the ciders and since the rest of the NM breweries did not bring anything we had not tried before, we bypassed them as well. Maybe if we’d had E-Rock and his endless thirst along for the ride we would have made more stops, but in the end we decided to pace ourselves and offer the (mostly) coherent review above.

So in closing, all four of us definitely enjoyed Hopfest and hope to be back next year.

Until Septemberfest at Marble on the 22nd of next month, the Crew will be around town, digging up some local reviews and setting our first beer-flavored fantasy football league into motion.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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