The second annual Santa Fe Open brewing competition was another success

Posted: November 17, 2015 by Luke in Beer in Santa Fe, Events, Interviews, News
Tags: , ,

Rowley Great Second Event

Organizer and brewer John Rowley addressed the attendees at the plenary session at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. (All photos courtesy of the Santa Fe Open)

The Santa Fe Open brewing competition has once again come and gone, and this year the event was bigger and better than the first. Envisioned by the Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewers (the local Santa Fe homebrew club) in 2014, this event has been held in early to mid-November for home brewers and professional brewers alike, to submit their best and most interesting beers to be evaluated by some of the finer judges out there. It’s homebrewing at its finest. It’s brewing at its finest. And it’s the best, most rewarding brewing competition currently in our state. Recently, I caught up with one of the major organizers, the very busy John Rowley, whom you may know as head of the soon-to-be brewery, Sub Rosa Cellars, in Santa Fe, which is now confirmed to be moving forward, by the way. John is also the club president of the Sangres and a hell of a nice guy, willing to sit down and talk to you about beer any day of the week. I asked him a few questions about this year’s competition and he was happy to oblige.

Rowley Medal

We’re not sure what’s happening in this picture, but medals and swag, everyone wins!

DSBC: How did the Santa Fe Open Brewing Competition go this year, on the whole?

Rowley: We had a great event this year, with almost no issues. The biggest issues were Jim forgetting the medals for the awards ceremony, us forgetting to label the medals in advance, and a couple of flights where the judges didn’t match the flight sheet summary scores with adjusted scores on individuals score sheets. Math matters. I’ll take these small issues over any major problem any day of the week.

DSBC: How did the event change from last year?

Rowley: We expanded the event quite a bit over last year as we added a plenary session, where pro brewers gave lectures to a group of about 25 attendees. James (Warren), from Blue Corn, gave a great lecture on the art and science of brewing. This was followed by Steve Stowell, of Colorado Springs, who drove down just for the day to give a talk on opening your own brewery. He’s the owner of a new brewery there called Triple S Brewing and was a judge for us last year. He’s a super guy and gave a great talk. Our keynote address was given by Jeff Erway and was relating to Chico yeast and hop additions. He nailed it, as everyone was really excited about his talk. A group of us met up at the RIS (Russian Imperial Stout) release at Blue Corn on Thursday and Jeff’s talk was a topic that was brought up. He did a great job and that was definitely a major highlight of the event. Next year we will film the talks and post them on our Facebook page, as we didn’t consider this in time for this year.

Erway Session

El Jefe talkin’ hops and yeast.

DSBC: Last year you had some auxiliary events, parties, etc. What were those like this year?

Rowley: We had events at Fire and Hops, sponsored by Upslope and Bosque, the Pro Awards Ceremony at the Cowgirl sponsored by La Cumbre and Ballast Point, as well as a judge wrap-up mixer at Santa Fe Brewing, sponsored by Santa Fe Brewing Company. After the technical talks, we had a food and beer pairing with local vendors Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits, the Cheesemonger, Savory Spice Shop, Barrio Brinery, and Santa Fe Honey Salon. This was particularly well received, and was incredibly tasty. We also smoked 65 pounds of Boston butt, as well as 35 pounds of chicken and held a potluck just prior to the Awards Ceremony. Ballast Point, Bathtub Row, B2B Bistronomy, Tractor, and Odell all provided us with kegs of really nice beers for this event.

It was easily the best competition I’ve even been involved with in the state of New Mexico. Our goal is to raise the bar here in New Mexico, and I am positive we’re doing just that. We are committed to growing this event into a charitable annual competition, but with something for everyone. Not everyone is looking to enter beers in any given competition, but there is a place for everyone when you involve the community with ancillary events like the plenary session or the food and beer pairings.

DSBC: Were there any major issues you had to deal with?

Rowley: Nothing major, but like I said earlier, some issues with forgetting the medals and labeling them in advance. Also some judges not being square on their numbers. Otherwise no major glitches.

DSBC: What was the turnout for your events?


This competition really does have the best prizes. Oh, and congrats here to Majin!

Rowley: Overall, we had 288 entries, including pro entries. This was down about 50 from last year, but we also limited our entry window to three weeks, whereas we had it open for three months last year. We grew our pro category this year from about 13 entries last year to 24 this year. I think with our strong prizes, we will continue to grow the event in the future.

DSBC: Would you say there were more or less people involved this year?

Group Photo

From left: Dude I don’t know, because I miss meetings, Judge Director Jim Steinbach, Tyler King, and David Gunter.

Rowley: We actually had the same number of judges, with a couple less stewards this year. Our core team of Jim, David, Phil, Karen, Ken, Jason, Tyler, ChanPaul, and myself has not changed. Tyler took bigger role this year, as he has been more involved with the club and has been stepping up. Jason also hit the pavement hard, and Nate continued to be involved in a secondary sense. We have a great team and everyone has a well-defined role.

Phil Rickert 1

Home brewer Phil Rickert played a major role in the success of the Santa Fe Open.

DSBC: How did the actual competition go with the judging process, etc.?

Rowley: Judging took place over three days at the Alumni Hall at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Jim, being the Judge Director, was in charge of the flights and setting them up. This is actually pretty challenging, as he’s got to make everything line up, which is not always easy. I think he did a great job as this year’s event ran really smoothly with no real issues.

DSBC: What range of beers did people submit?

Beer Flights

Pro Best of Show table.

Rowley: We received entries in every category listed in the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines except for Category 27 Historic Beer and Category 31 Alternative Fermentables Beer. Also, all four mead categories were well represented, as well as the two cider ones.

Jerome Mondragon Meads and Medals

Jerome Mondragon can’t be beaten for his Specialty Meads!

DSBC: What beers stood out to the judges this year?

Good nose

What’s the nose like on that one?

Rowley: As the competition coordinator, I don’t personally get to do any judging during this event. I really enjoy judging, so this is really tough for me. But, I was fortunate enough to get to sample beers as they came off the Best of Show tables. The beers that really stood out to me were La Cumbre’s German Pilsner entry on the pro BOS table, Leif’s “lambic” and the Blue Corn’s Apple Brandy Barleywine, as well as dry and ginger cider on the pro cider side. For AM, the ones that I thought stood out were both the IPA’s, Tim’s Gueuze, Jason’s Hefe, Jeremy’s Ice Cider, Krista’s cider, Scott Carpenter’s Wee Heavy, and both winners, the rauchbier from Warren and the winning Cyser.

DSBC: Were there any surprise wins or losses this year?

Rowley: No, not really. I think the results were well deserved.

DSBC: Any really hard to judge categories?


Judges take their work seriously!

Rowley: I think the larger categories are always more difficult as you need to combine results into a mini-BOS. These went well. Under the new guidelines, we have 12 more categories over the 2008 set (including mead and cider). With the two unentered categories mentioned earlier, that left the AM BOS judges with 38 samples each, which is more than I have ever seen for a BOS round. Check out the pics of the AM BOS table on our Facebook page and you’ll see how crazy that looks.

Amateur BOS

Amateur BOS? (Courtesy of their Facebook page)

DSBC: Have you made any plans for next year’s brewing competition yet?

Rowley: No, but we will have a “lessons learned” meeting soon to address the issues of this year so that we can do better next year. We are still working to wrap up this year’s event and should have scoresheets out in the mail next week.

DSBC: How can people stay in touch to find out about upcoming competitions?

Rowley: Locally, I would say to get involved with your local club. All the clubs are tied in and we all know what the others have planned, such as the upcoming ABQ Holiday Competition. That’s a fun event and a group of us will be going down to judge. I think I may not enter as I don’t have much beer to enter right now as I’ve been too busy to brew, but I’ll definitely be there to judge. For national events, check out the AHA competition calendar regularly and you’ll be able to see what is going on elsewhere. You can also like us on Facebook at and you’ll be notified of anything going on with the Santa Fe Open.

DSBC: Anything else you’d like to add about the Santa Fe Open?

Rowley: First off, I really want to personally thank James Warren, Steve Stowell, and Jeff Erway for coming out on Sunday to support our vision of the Plenary Session. That was both informative and entertaining for everyone involved. Besides our awesome sponsors, I want to thank Warren Lail for his help with the poster (and) Jen Allen, for helping us distribute posters in ABQ, The Dukes (of Ale) who came up to help with bottle check-in, Kevin Fleming, for his support with some ABQ tasks we couldn’t get done in a timely manner, as well as yourself, Luke, for your support. We can’t do this without everyone’s support and we really appreciate everything.

BOS Pro winner James Warren

Blue Corn brewer James Warren, left, wins Pro Best of Show for his Apple Brandy Barrel-aged Barleywine! He’s taking the New Mexico Cup back to the brewery. Congrats, James!

* * * * *

In its second year, this battle of the best home brewers in the state (and out-of-state) has become much more smoothly run, much more stiff (as far as competition goes), and much more rewarding for all involved. I said it earlier, a competition like this is home brewing at its finest. It’s brewing at its finest. A competition like this brings together a large community of brewers and beer lovers. Brewers from all over meet to chat about their favorite craft, share stories, and pass along pointers.

If you think about it for a second, this is exactly what GABF is all about, just on a local level, and perhaps more accessible for people who maybe don’t own a brewery, but still love making good beer. More importantly, competitions like this make better brewers of us all. The brewers take the judges’ notes, good or bad, and if they’re smart, they learn from them. A judge will tell you how you missed the style. A good judge will tell you exactly what your grain bill was lacking. A great judge will even tell you how you might tweak your brewing to better hit your targets. And it’s through this process that judges make brewers better, who in turn make better beer. Brewing competitions are good for the industry.

Another thing I’ve said before, they can turn a hobby into an obsession. And, on occasion, they can turn an amateur into a pro. Take it from Rowley, I’m sure he wouldn’t be moving forward with his brewery without a few good (and bad) comments from some solid judging sessions. He may also have a medal or two on his wall. For a list of all medals and winners click this LINK.

To better beer, and to the kind of competition that our craft beer-centric state deserves, cheers!

— Luke (Craft Crusader)

For more #CraftBeer info and #NMDarkSideBC news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!

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