Well now, wasn’t that just a fun way to spend a Saturday? The seventh annual Hopfest went down at Isleta Casino, with a lot of beer choices (seriously, a lot) to sort through. For all four original Crew members, plus at least two from the Bullpen, and our assorted friends, we’re pretty sure we collectively tried about half the beers. The sample glasses seemed a little bigger this year, so things got kinda … fuzzy … toward the end. Luckily, Brandon’s awesome lovely super girlfriend Taylor was able to drive us home (while adding to her ever-lengthening list of beers owed to her after the baby arrives next year). Hopefully everyone else got home safely, be it via a designated driver, the RailRunner, a taxi, or just by staying overnight at Isleta.
So long after our annual post-Hopfest noshing at Two Fools, I sat down with my heavily marked-up event program and got down to the business of adding all those beers to Untappd. It took a while and the better part of my battery (hence why I waited till I got safely home). As per usual, here are the best beers of the festival, in my humble opinion, and the opinions of the others who were present (well, mostly Brandon and I; Mrs. Solo and Porter Pounder were back hard at work all week). Sorry for taking so long to get this posted.
Before the listing, a special thanks to everyone involved in Hopfest. From the tireless work of organizer Marne Gaston, her right-hand woman Monica Mondragon, and their army of volunteers, twas a nearly flawless afternoon. Thanks to all the brewery reps who were there as well. We enjoyed catching up with some of you when we had the chance.
And now the Best of the (Hop)fest beers, or what you should be seeking out at local breweries or beer stores or beer bars. We divided them between local, national, and international.
There were a fair number of local breweries who participated, including Back Alley, Chama River, Pi, Ponderosa, Red Door, Tractor, plus NM Craft Brewing came down from Las Vegas, and stalwarts like Santa Fe Brewing, Rio Grande/Sierra Blanca, and Taos Mesa were in attendance as well.
Back Alley Draft House’s Marzen: A pleasant surprise among all of the Oktoberfests floating around. A slightly sweet malt presence with plenty of earthy hop aromas and flavors, and a burst of spices that hit the palate. Unlike a lot of marzens, this one actually retains flavor profile well if you sip it slowly, as I found when I got sidetracked with meeting some of our readers. Hopefully Addison will keep this one floating around long enough for some of us to come enjoy a pint before the weekend! — Brandon Daniel
Pi Brewing’s Vanilla Bourbon Porter: Charlie and Greg both told me about this one ages ago, so I had eagerly anticipated trying it. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. In fact, it might have been my favorite beer of the entire festival. The bourbon, porter, and vanilla flavors all exist in harmonious balance. Obviously this won’t be on tap regularly, but if you hear (via The Week Ahead in Beer) that this is available at Pi/Nicky V’s, haul ass to the west side and get some. — Stoutmeister
The first words out of my mouth after tasting this consisted of a string of four-letter expletives that aren’t suitable for anyone’s ears. That should tell you enough, but if it doesn’t then just know that this is a smooth dark mistress with loads of cocoa notes that pop from the vanilla and the bourbon notes take it over the top. Makes you want to make love to a barrel. — BD
Red Door’s Threshold IPA: Reader and friend of the Brew Crew Lonnie King wrote on Facebook, “It was deliciously hopped, bright and clean flavors up front. Also had an even malt finish. Four stars out of five. I just hope the quality remains consistent through the years.”
Stumbling Steer’s Imperial Stout: Oh, Kirk, you’ve done it again. The Steer’s Imperial Stout is always pretty damn good on its own, but they threw in something a little extra, put it on cask, and served up a big ol’ coffee-flavored blast of stout-y goodness. We also chatted briefly about the progress on the Steer’s in-house brewery. It’s moving along, but Kirk didn’t want to set a date for it to be fully operational. — S
Dukes of Ale homebrew competition
The beer-centric folks of the Dukes of Ale homebrewing group were back to their usual antics at this year’s Hopfest, offering up five unique beers brewed by members of the group and served up to the public at the event to decide the favorite. Now, you will have to forgive us at this point, as we fell prey to the clutches that every beer writer does at these events … by which I mean, we were somewhere around Albuquerque when the beer began to take hold. That’s right, our memories got fuzzy and we weren’t in note-taking mode, so the collective of DSBC can’t recall ALL of the beers. The few that we can recall consisted of an Oktoberfest, an English-style Porter, and an American Pale Ale. I personally enjoyed the traditional English-style Porter for sticking to its roots in the classic ingredients that the style originated from long ago. My favorite of the lot was the American Pale Ale, which was a very well-executed example of the style. It possessed just enough pale malt bitterness, coupled with a little bit of residual sweetness, and a bright and clean hop profile that made it very well-rounded. Hats off to the Dukes of Ale for another solid year. — BD
While some of the mass-distributed beers were more of the same, there were some notable new brews (or at least new to us) that were available. And at least a few longtime Crew favorites.
Boulder’s Shake Chocolate Porter: One of the ultimate dessert beers, a giant blast of chocolate that somehow does not become overly sweet (looking at you, Odell’s Lugene). I do believe it’s on tap at Two Fools if you need to get a fix out of something other than a bottle. Though the bottles are still pretty good. — S
If you have not tasted this treat, I advise you to do so after eating, so as not to ruin your appetite. That being said, this is basically the adult equivalent of drinking a chocolate milk shake, if a milk shake had alcohol in it. That means it is a very tasty treat. Nuff said. — BD
Clown Shoes’ Crunkle Sam: Big and boozy, just the way I like a monstrous barley wine. This one offered a serious punch to the mouth. And probably contributed greatly to my general fuzziness of brain. — S
Dry hopped with citra, eh? I’ll take it. Although the citra hops don’t shine through quite as well as I personally would like, this is overall a delicious barley wine, with a smooth malt body, and plenty of oak and vanilla notes to make this a diabolically smooth drinker. Seriously, this along with Stumbling Steer can easily account for my hazy recollections of the day. — BD
Mad River’s Steelhead Extra Stout: Probably the best traditional stout I had all day. It’s big and bold, roasty yet sweet, and pretty much everything you want in a dark elixir. — S
A simply delicious beer. Creamy with enough sweetness to balance out a hefty grain bill of roasted barley and chocolate malts. It stands up with a nicely laced head and very subtle spice in the back from the hops, but they do not overtake the dark heart of this beer. If it were any smoother, they would have to use this to make NHL ice. Say, now there’s an idea … — BD
Magic Hat’s Wilhelm Screamer Pumpkin Ale: It is barely September and you are probably already sick of hearing about pumpkin beers. No? Good, because Magic Hat has an awesome one here. This is a balanced pumpkin ale, teeming with fresh pumpkin in every batch, then spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon to create that pumpkin-pie-in-a-bottle flavor. Plenty of pale malt and earthy hops are still present to let you know what you are drinking. One of my personal favorites so far this season. — BD
Mother Road’s Lost Highway Black IPA & Red Rye Ale: I already wrote a few months ago about how much I enjoyed Mother Road when I visited Flagstaff. It was definitely the class of a small but quality brewing scene. Lost Highway was my favorite of their house beers and it’s still top quality. It leans toward the maltier side of black IPAs, though there are enough hops to keep you awake. As for the Red Rye, that was a new one for me. The rye was a bit more subtle than I had expected, though they were running it through a Randall with fresh-picked Cascade hops, so that certainly altered the original flavor. I’d love to go back and compare this version to the original.
Feel free to chastise me for not making it to Flagstaff more frequently, as this was actually the first time I had tried Mother Road Brewing. Thumbs up to both of these beers, as they were both very tasty. Lost Highway is a burst of roasted malty goodness, lots of caramelized sugar notes and dark malts abound, with a resiny and slightly tangy hop punch that lingers in the finish very nicely. Sharing the name of a David Lynch film doesn’t hurt either. The Red Rye is a solid American-style red ale, with a nice punch of fresh hops (picked a week before brewing, according to Mother Road beer ambassador Dan Choiniere). The rye is subtle but present and helps add to the overall punch of this beer. Did I mention it is punchy? Good. — BD
Squatters’ Wee Peat Scottish Ale: Been wanting to try this Scottish for a while, so it had a lot to live up to, especially with the quality of other Squatters beers. It has some nice peat-smoked elements, with that sweetness on the back end from the malt bill one would expect from a quality Wee Heavy. — S
Squatter’s always offers a solid selection; the Wee Peat Scottish Ale is in that category. Although a bit thin in the mouthfeel for my taste, it packs plenty of caramel, very low hop profile and slightly smokey notes from the roasted malts. A fine Scottish if you are in the mood for one that doesn’t require a spoon to drink. — BD
There were a lot more beers brought in from around the world, including a whole slew of foreign ciders.
Thistly Cross Ginger Cider: With all of the ciders floating around that day, I figured some praise was due to a category that I usually am quite apathetic to. The Ginger Cider was delicious, boasting a slightly dry body that had plenty of spice character and was not overly sweet. I found a cider I enjoyed, go figure. — BD
Radeberger’s Braufactum Roog: This is not the name of a Star Trek villain, but instead a rauchweizen, which takes a smoky rauchbier and mixes is up with a weizen. The smoke mutes the bitter wheat flavor, while the wheat in turn keeps the smoke from being too intense. It just ends up a nicely balanced beer. — S
One last note
Bullpen member Amy O had this story to share: “We stayed at the Airport Sheraton, which was the overflow hotel after Isleta sold out. Sheraton completely dropped the ball on the shuttle service they were supposed to provide. They said they didn’t agree to it and refused to shuttle us — which made us very unhappy campers — why else would we book a hotel as a local? I refused to drive myself or pay for it, so I had to spend a long, grueling time arguing with them and they finally agreed to send us in a taxi that they paid for. I found Marne as soon as I got there and she got it straightened out in time for some of the others to shuttle in and she made sure they shuttled us back, so I give an extra big THANKS to Marne. My favorite beers of the day were The Stumbling Steer (imperial) stout and the Red Rye from Mother Road. I was surprised about the mead from Sandia Chile Grill. I didn’t think I would like it, but it was pretty darn good. Pi’s West Coast Red was another favorite in our group. We were pretty impressed with their beers. All in all, a super good time. It was so much beer I totally started to lose names of what I liked! Loved the event.”
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Another Hopfest is in the books. We hope you all had as much fun as we did. We will see you around the breweries for the next couple weeks before we all gather again at NM Brew Fest on Oct. 11.