Among the six different New Mexico breweries who won medals at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend, Blue Corn and Chama River sit slightly apart from the rest. Both breweries brought in new head brewers this year, meaning for Blue Corn’s James Warren and Chama’s Zach Guilmette it was the first time either had taken the stage in Denver to receive a medal as the man in charge. Needless to say, “stoked” is probably an understatement for how they both felt when their medals were announced.
“All I do remember is after we won, I didn’t hear anything about the next seven categories,” Zach said after hearing Class VI Golden Lager won gold in the Bohemian Style Pilsner category. “As they kept announcing winners I was in shock, texting friends and getting texts from people. I was just enjoying that moment.
“Because leading up to that moment, you know how hard you worked, and every brewer in that auditorium feels like they have a shot. You worked so hard all year long for that one event. There are some great beer festivals and competitions throughout the year, but that’s the best competition to be a part of because you know not only is everyone there, but they’re all going to try to bring their best. You’re up against some of the best beers in the country. All you can do is sit in nervous tension, not even enjoy yourself until you finally hear your name called. Then there’s a small sense of relief for the rest of the (event).”
That sense of relief took a little longer for James before he heard Blue Corn’s Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout lived up to its name in the Oatmeal Stout category.
“Oatmeal stout was category 85 of 90,” James said. “The other four beers I’d entered had gone by, so I was kind of feeling a little bummed out, really. I was sitting there, just waiting for the last category to get around. I started looking around, thinking maybe I’ll get another donut. Then you hear your own name called, freak out, and just go ‘awesome.’ I don’t know if it’s even kind of hit me yet. I got right back here this morning and right back to it. It’s an awesome feeling. I’m glad I’m able to be a part of all the medals for New Mexico, all the golds, too.”
The GMOS won silver in 2013 when John Bullard (who helped Bosque Brewing earn its first medal with a bronze for the Acequia Wet Hop IPA) was still running the show at Blue Corn. Its name stemmed from winning gold way back in 2007, before even John was there. That name caused James to endure some initial grief, only for things to turn around.
“There were a few other brewers who were giving me crap about the name of it,” James said. “One brewer came back and apologized to me, told me he was wrong to make fun of the name. Said it was good luck. He said next year you ought to name it Small Brewpub of the Year Stout.”
Zach was up on stage for the second year in a row. With Il Vicino last year, Zach helped that team win a gold with his recipe for Panama Joe Coffee Stout.
“With Il Vicino, to win that gold medal for me personally, it was a big sense of accomplishment to get to that point,” Zach said. “But honestly, winning a gold medal this year with a Bohemian-style pilsner because that’s a specific style with specific guidelines. We’ve been brewing it for a couple hundred years. It definitely takes more work, more research, more practice.”
Of course, the one slight downside to having a lager win gold is an increase in demand for a beer that takes a while to brew.
“We’re already seeing an increase in Class VI Golden Lager’s sales,” Zach said. “People want that beer. So it’s always a challenge keeping up with a beer that as a lager it takes five or six weeks. There’s no shortcuts in making a lager. It’s always that balance between having enough and making sure what you have is still that gold medal caliber.”
James said in an email that he is planning to bring his stout to the NM Brew Fest on Saturday, but the demand is so high in Santa Fe that he is not sure he will have enough. Prior to that, James said that Blue Corn’s booth at GABF was slammed on the final night last Saturday by people looking to sample the stout.
“Yeah, we did,” he said. “You put up a sticker for the gold medal on your board behind your booth. So there were all these people running around looking for those. We got a big crowd after that.”
Both Zach and James said they were proud to be a part of New Mexico’s haul of eight medals, including a record five golds.
“It’s definitely a huge thrill,” Zach said. “I’m glad that I can share in the incredible increase in quality. I’m just happy to be a part of the growing beer scene and the great brewers we have in New Mexico. That was honestly one of the reasons I moved back to New Mexico. I brewed in Vermont, but you could see the growth in the New Mexico beer culture. I think would could all see it developing, the quality going up and up. For the year we’ve had as a state, all the medals, it’s a confirmation of what we all know, the quality of New Mexican craft beer rivals the best in the nation.”
Head on over to Blue Corn and Chama River to enjoy both gold medal-winning beers while there is still some left. Make sure to toast the brewers while you’re there. And then cross your fingers that both beers will be at Brew Fest as planned this Saturday.
Congratulations to James, Zach, and all the GABF winners!