It has been quite a while since Santa Fe Brewing, the largest brewery in the state by production, has introduced a new year-round beer. In fact, it was when Black IPA went from seasonal to regular, though in that case it was a long-standing beer loved by many. This time around, SFBC went with something new.
This past weekend marked the debut of 7K IPA, the new hop-forward brew named for the 7,000-foot-plus elevation of the city, county, and brewery. SFBC brewmaster Bert Boyce was kind enough to carve out a half-hour on Friday afternoon to sit down at the Albuquerque taproom to chat about the genesis of just why he felt it was time to roll out a new hop bomb into a lupulin-saturated market.
“We wanted to try to make something more modern,” Bert said. “So, we’ve been playing around with the seasonal IPAs — Western Bloc, Autonomous Collective, Hipster Union, and Snowflake. We’re playing around with some different methods, materials, et cetera. We’re just taking a more modern, aggressive IPA, but that’s still very much in our style. When I say our style, I do mean the Santa Fe style and my personal style are aligned on this. I’m not trying to beat anyone over the head. I want this to be super approachable, friendly, drinkable, but just have big aroma and flavor.
“You have to have an IPA to compete in this town. (Happy) Camper is great and it is what it is. It does it for a lot of people, but I felt like we needed to make a statement.”
So how does 7K stack up against its packaged IPA brethren from Bosque, Canteen, La Cumbre, Marble, Sierra Blanca, and Tractor?
“That’s always a very loaded question, because I don’t want to specifically position ourselves against anyone,” Bert said. “We’re trying to make the beer we want to drink. But, that said, I’m going to take the back road to that question. I really like the idea of what a Northeast IPA is supposed to be. I feel the execution is sorely lacking a lot of times. I do believe, in line with my personal preferences for as long as I’ve been in the industry, is that people really don’t want (overwhelming) bitterness. They want flavor and aroma, but they don’t want bitterness and they don’t want aggressive astringency.”
That does seem to be true locally. The days of the IPA Challenge being so hop-heavy that the entries could peel the paint off the walls has been replaced by more balanced, more nuanced IPAs. Heck, that one style that so many beer geeks seem to love has become so prominent locally that it seems as though every brewery has one on tap now.
“That’s the whole juicy IPA phenomenon,” Bert said. “(But) how do you make that happen? It’s not easy. So we did it with a selection of (many) hop varieties and all of the other levers we had to make a beer that was super aromatic and yet super drinkable. I’m not trying to challenge anyone’s palate. You don’t have to like 100-plus IBUs to like this beer. So, I would say, given that, I’d say we’re less aggressive than Elevated. I love John (Bullard’s) beers, so I’d say it’s probably most similar to Bosque. There’s a little Eldo in there. From my palate, I think John uses a lot of Eldo, so I taste some similarities. I think it’s a little more substantial (in mouthfeel) than Marble. Better? Worse? Different? I don’t know. It’s just the beer that we arrived at after making all these other specialties for the last two years or so. (I told the staff) it’s time to make something year-round.”
I am hardly the IPA poet that Franz Solo is, but after downing a couple pints of 7K with Bert, I have to say he hit the nail on the head. His new baby begins with a powerful, yet inviting aroma, a veritable bouquet of fresh hops that draw you in. The beer that follows is flavorful without that overt bitterness. It is somehow smooth for an IPA, yet never loses its touch. There is a strong floral element that produces that mid-palate, in-mouth aroma sensation that gives you a moment of beer nirvana. The finish is clean, with mild sweetness and no bitter aftertaste. For an IPA, 7K is almost a pure hybrid of so many other styles, mixing the best elements of West Coast, East Coast, New England, and more. It feels like it has a heavy malt bill behind it without being heavy in the mouthfeel, if that makes any sense.
“To me, this is the fun in brewing, is tweaking people’s perceptions without changing the reality,” Bert said. “This beer is actually still incredibly dry, but we’ve done a couple things to get the perception that it still has some body. I was thinking about this this morning, I don’t know if it’s because I’m old and grumpy, but I want to drink multiple beers and enjoy them. I’m not into sipping anymore, I want to drink a beer. I think if you make it so substantial, oh, it tastes really good. But, how does it drink? I wanted to make a beer that drank well. Tweaking that perception of sweetness and a maltier body, while still not leaving you feel bloated, that’s where we’re taking a cue from the big guys. They’re not so dumb after all. They make a beer that still is drinkable.”
Though it is officially the first time 7K has hit taps and appeared in six-pack cans, SFBC was able to sneak it out in the market twice already to get some feedback.
“This is actually the third iteration, we just didn’t call the first two 7K,” Bert said. “We kind of snuck them out there. The feedback has been very positive. Usually it’s the aroma, like you said. I think we tweaked our methods enough to get a really strong aroma that is very inviting, but not menacing. That’s what we were going for. It’s big, it’s juicy, it’s fairly soft, well, I wouldn’t say soft, but on the softer side.”
Yeah, that about sums it up. A big thanks to Bert for taking the time to chat on a busy Friday. We look forward to enjoying plenty of 7K this summer and beyond.
We want to know what all of you think about 7K IPA. Leave us a message on our social media platforms or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We expect a wide range of responses to this beer. Once we have several in hand, the rest of the Crew will share their impressions with you.