If last year proved anything, it is that Albuquerque has reached the point where it can support two beer festivals at the same time. There was much rejoicing about this, as the two events — BearFest at Boxing Bear and Blues & Brews at Sandia Casino — ended up attracting different crowds, thus not truly competing with one another, but in a way complementing one another and giving people options.
Of course, competition was never the intent for the Boxing Bear staff.
“There was a lot of confusion out there as to why we’re doing it at the same time as Marne (Gaston) is having her festival,” said Boxing Bear co-owner Kevin Davis. “It has absolutely nothing to do with competition. With us, it’s all about logistics. If we tried to do our festival on a Saturday, I’d have about 14 tenants in this shopping center coming after me. I’d have to wear Kevlar armor. It would be very, very bad.
“Everybody is closed on Sunday; the only other person open is Little Anita’s and they close at like 10. We invited them to come in, but they declined, they said, ‘Nah, we want to go home.’ So, that’s kind of why we have that (scheduled as is). Everybody is saying, ‘Why are we trying to hurt Marne?’ We’re not, this is why we have to do it.”
“It’s literally the one day out of the year we have to do it,” said head brewer and co-owner Justin Hamilton. “It’s coincidence the last two years. We’re not checking their schedules. It just came out on the same day twice.”
This year, BearFest will be back at Boxing Bear on Sunday, starting at 1 p.m. for VIP ticket holders and 2 p.m. for general admission, running until 6. GA tickets currently cost $25 while VIP are $35; they can be purchased at the brewery or online. The price of each will rise to $30 and $40 on the day of the event.
“Your entry is going to get you a commemorative pint glass,” Justin said. “You’re going to get five tickets, four of those tickets are for 4-ounce samples, one of those tickets is for a pint of your choice. From there you can purchase pints or purchase samples, depending on the brewery. We kind of leave it up to them if they want to sell samples.”
“We want to avoid the unlimited word,” Kevin added. “Because to get your permitting done, it’s getting more and more difficult with all of these festivals, they’re really cracking down on them.”
Kevin told us just to get permitted for a festival, even before adding the alcohol-related requests, it can come out to a half-inch of paperwork.
Luckily, all that paperwork is done and everything is ready to go.
“As far as what’s new to Bearfest this year, we’ve expanded everything,” Justin said. “We’ve expanded the amount of breweries we’re going to have (to 12), the amount of space we’re going to have, the amount of food trucks and vendors we’re going to have. We’re just really trying to kind of push the limits of the festival we did last year, which was kind of testing the waters. It did really well. We’re making improvements and hopefully changing it to incorporate more people in general.”
Another big hit was the band, but that should not be a surprise since it was Red Light Cameras. The good news is they will be back, only Amanda won’t have to jump around on stage while singing her heart out for hours upon hours. Burque Sol will also be performing, so the more local music, the merrier.
Two issues that arose last year have been dealt with in advance. Since Boxing Bear is right along the Bosque river trails, lots of folks biked over, but parking was at a premium. This year Justin said they will have a bike valet. Considering how popular that was at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival, it should be a hit here, too.
Kevin added that he got some bad advice on the number of porta-potties to have outside, leading to some long lines as the beer hit many bladders. This year they will have four times the number, ensuring more time for folks to have fun drinking, eating, and listening to music.
Speaking of food …
“We’ll have about seven total,” Justin said. “I think there’s going to be about five trucks and two carts. We’ll have a lot more food options this year, also different options than we had last year. It’s going to be a good spread. We tried not to get any two trucks that have the same type of food.”
The list to date: Macs Steak-In-The-Rough, Smoke Outs Top BBQ, Nosh Wagon, Phat’s Beats and Eats, Joe S. Sausage, Italian Ice Truck, CCR Roasted Corn
In addition, local vendors Urban Hats and Boots, High Desert Flame Works, and Tapped Life will be there.
Another cool feature will be a solar-powered retro video game tournament. No, seriously, that will be happening.
“Right around the corner we’ve got Gamers Anonymous,” Justin said. “They’re going to partner up with Positive Energy Solar. They’ve got a solar-powered like, almost like a U-Haul truck with panels on it. They’re going to pull right up to a tent and Gamers Anonymous is going to plug into that. We’re going to have a retro gaming tournament while you drink beer.”
Among the games Justin heard could be in the mix are Street Fighter, GoldenEye, and a whole lot more.
“There will be a lot of good stuff,” he said. “The lines will probably be high, (but) hopefully a lot of fun. I don’t know if anyone’s done anything like that before.”
As for the breweries, among those returning alongside the hosts are Bosque, Canteen, Chama River, La Cumbre, Santa Fe, and Turtle Mountain. Bathtub Row, Blue Corn, and Second Street will be coming down for the first time.
“That’s another reason, we wanted it to be local, but we wanted to showcase (all of) New Mexico,” Justin said. “Those guys are nice up there, they do a great job with their pub, so we thought we’d bring them down here. They had a lot of interest in it really early, so they were lucky to get in and we’re happy to have them.”
Justin said he also hopes some of the beer lovers who live up north will follow their favorite breweries to the festival. Folks can always grab a hotel for the night and drive up Monday since it is a holiday.
Also new to the fest are two places that opened this year — Quarter Celtic and Starr Brothers. The latter was a late addition after what Kevin said was a “late, unexpected vacancy.”
“Justin was instrumental in the training of Starr’s head brewer (Rob Whitlock), so we kind of feel a little kinship with those guys,” Kevin said. “We wish we could get guys like Red Door and Rio Bravo and some of the newer breweries out there, but we don’t have the room. We’re packed in there. We have to wait till somebody wants to leave.”
If you have been reading up to this point you are probably champing at the bit for the most important bit of info, namely who is bring which of their beers. As of press time, we had heard back from 10 of the 12 participants. If others send us theirs later, we will update this list. (Note: Beers with a * won a medal the World Beer Cup.)
- Bathtub Row: Gose, Orange Blossom Belgo Pale, Hoppenheimer IPA, Organic Farmhouse
- Blue Corn: NM Red, Two Lanterns ESB, Quad, 40K Honey Wheat
- Bosque: TBA
- Boxing Bear: Chocolate Milk Stout* on nitro, Black and Blue Sour, Bear Knuckle IPA, Blood Orange Pale Ale, Body Czech Bohemian Pilsner, Hairy Mit Hefe, Ambear, Uppercut IPA
- Canteen: The Hop Baller IPA, That’s How It Gose, High Plains Pilsner*, Pecos Trail Brown
- Chama River: Class VI, Jackalope IPA, Sturer Bock, River Gose
- La Cumbre: BEER*, Elevated IPA, Strawberry Gose, A Slice of Hefen, VMO #2, Red Ryeot, No, You’re a Dort
- Quarter Celtic: Sangria Wheat, Saoirse Hefeweizen, Mo’r Buck IPA, Irish Extra Stout
- Santa Fe: TBA
- Second Street: Trebuchet*, Rod’s Steam Bitter, 2920 Pilzner, Agua Fria Apricot, Railyard Red, Cream Stout
- Starr Brothers: Problem Child Porter, Thunderr Ale (West Coast Transplant IPA), Red Zepplin, LA Woman California Blonde Ale
- Turtle Mountain: Bien Tu Helles Bock, Hopshell IPA, Heidelberg Helles
All in all, it should be a blast once again. Look for some of the Crew in the crowd and be sure to say hello. Just remember, no one finishes the elusive Trebuchet without us.
Thanks to Justin and Kevin for taking the time to chat.