Boxing Bear reflects on winning major GABF award in strangest way possible

These were some seriously happy brewery staffers after they brought home a fairly major award.
These were some seriously happy brewery staffers after they brought home a fairly major award.

Way back on Saturday night, I was peacefully sitting at the Rhein Haus in downtown Denver, enjoying some schnitzel and a mug of Prost Marzen, when I received an inquiry from NM Brewers Guild director John Gozigian. He had heard something was up with Boxing Bear winning an award at the Great American Beer Festival that had not been part of the awards ceremony earlier in the day. I had no idea what was going on, when on cue, an email arrived from the Brewers Association.

The contents of that email were available for me to share (I was writing on the bar top at Rhein Haus, surrounded by some bemused customers and bartenders) in our GABF awards/medals recap story. Shortly after finishing that update, I was invited by the Boxing Bear staff to join them for a celebratory event at Appaloosa Grill. Before things got particularly, um, festive, I got head brewer Justin Hamilton to talk about how he found out that Boxing Bear was suddenly named the GABF Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.

“Shortly after the afternoon members session (ended), I got a text from one of the GABF organizers,” Justin said. “She texted me and said can you give us a call, one of these two guys. I kind of missed the text (initially) because my phone had died. I (later) called the first number and he didn’t answer it. I called the second number and he answered. He said he a couple questions about how you basically signed up, what you’re categorized as.”

Justin informed him that Boxing Bear had listed itself as a very small brewery, based on barrel output in 2015.

“He said you brewed a little over 850 barrels last year, yeah, but you also have a kitchen,” Justin said. “Yeah, we have a small kitchen. So, you have food and (thus) you’re a brewpub. OK, we’ll take that into account and call you back. I hang up and tell my wife, man, I just got a weird phone call.”

By this point it was 5 p.m. and time for Justin to return to the Boxing Bear booth inside the Denver Convention Center. Before he could leave his wife and daughter behind to leave the madness, the next phone call arrived.

“I have to go to the night session and I’m literally on my way out the door when I get a call from one of the organizers,” Justin said. “It’s nothing official yet, but we wanted to let you know the whole story about Karl Strauss being in the wrong category. Basically what it leads to is that the opening is for you and you were mis-categorized as well and now you’re now the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year. I throw my sweatshirt down and start screaming, fuck yeah! I had to apologize for yelling (to my wife).”

Fear not, Justin’s daughter is too young to start repeating what her daddy said.

A rare moment where the line was not stacked up at Boxing Bear during the Saturday afternoon session of GABF.
A rare moment where the line was not stacked up at Boxing Bear during the Saturday afternoon session of GABF.

From there, it was time to let the rest of the Boxing Bear team know what was happening.

“I text these guys you need to meet me at the booth right fucking now, I have huge news,” Justin said. “I literally sprint, I haul ass, I run all the way to the booth, and nobody’s there. I’m just like oh, shit, oh, shit. I start calling people and nobody’s answering. I get a hold of Dylan (Davis, assistant brewer), who’s like yeah, we’re headed over there. Get your ass over here right now! I told him, dude, I’m going to tell you right now, we just won Mid-Size Brewpub of the year. He’s like shut up, no, whatever. I said something went wrong, we won that shit. I’ll be right there! We tried to hold it under our hats until the official release came out.”

A certain local beer writer then informed Justin that it was official, then the celebration was on.

“To be the second brewery in New Mexico to pull off a brewery of the year (award), and it’s only in our second year, we’re super proud,” Justin said, referring to Marble’s 2014 award. “We couldn’t be any happier.”

It was the perfect capper to a day that had already seen Boxing Bear claim gold medals for The Red Glove in the Double Red category and Chocolate Milk Stout in the Sweet Stout category.

The latter was a repeat medal winner, while The Red Glove was the big surprise of the day.

“After bronze and silver, I’m like, we’re done,” Justin said. “Then I heard The Red. Then Glove came out and I just jumped up.”

“I didn’t even get it until everyone else around me congratulated me,” Dylan added.

Justin called the entire awards ceremony a whirlwind.

“I think at the end of that awards ceremony I feel the same if I won nothing or won Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year,” Justin said. “It’s so draining emotionally. It’s hard, it’s hard, man. You sit there waiting for every category to come up. It’s rough.”

The team with Charlie Papazian after winning gold for The Red Glove. (Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association)
The team with Charlie Papazian after winning gold for The Red Glove. (Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association)

Still, winning for The Red Glove felt especially rewarding.

“We worked really, really hard following the judges’ guidelines,” Justin said. “We entered Red Glove last year. We got our remarks back from the judges and we literally, from judge to judge, and took their remarks super seriously. We changed our entire recipe for The Red Glove. We knocked it down in alcohol, changed some of the bitterness. We did a lot to it. It felt good.

“That was a really good win for us because it’s not another stout. I want to win in different categories. Me and Dylan talked about this at CBC (Craft Brewers Conference), where we want to be known for a variety of categories and styles. Being an IPA guy would be great, but we got that a little bit this year.”

“We want to be (known as) good beer guys,” Dylan added.

Something tells me a whole lot of people already know Boxing Bear as just that. If they did not before, they sure do now.

Stop by Boxing Bear this week and make sure to congratulate everyone on this amazing accomplishment. Oh, and fresh batches of Chocolate Milk Stout and The Red Glove are coming soon. Once the celebrations were done, Justin and Dylan were back in Albuquerque and brewing as fast as they can.

Congratulations to Boxing Bear, it was a well-earned victory, even if it did not come in a traditional way. Thanks for the interview, the drinks, and the general awesome finish to a great weekend.

I will have a final wrap-up of GABF news, notebook-style, on Tuesday.


— Stoutmeister

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