Canteen and Rio Bravo share a little British hardware

From circa 1995, a young Ty Levis, left, now of Rio Bravo, and his father Michael Levis, right, the founder of Santa Fe Brewing, pose with The Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, at the old Galisteo location for SFBC. (Photo courtesy of Ty Levis)

New Mexico is back in the winners bracket at the Great British Beer Festival. After back-to-back years without a medal, two Albuquerque breweries shared bronze in the Michael Jackson Awards for best American cask beer. Both are new winners at the GBBF.

Canteen and Rio Bravo wound up in the third place tie with two wildly different beers. Canteen sent its Strawberry Basil Gose, while Rio Bravo sent its Grab Em By the Putin, a Russian imperial stout.

“What are the chances? Obviously better than we thought,” said Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette of the tie. “I think it’s just fantastic that I tied with a brewery that’s right down the road from all of us. That’s thrilling, especially when it’s here in Albuquerque, you feel be proud that you can be a part of some of the successes that the more well-known breweries are achieving.”

New Mexico had three past winners from La Cumbre (gold in 2014) and Marble (gold in 2012, silver in 2013).

“We couldn’t get farther opposite,” said Rio Bravo head brewer Ty Levis. “You put that (stout) next to the Strawberry Basil Gose. I didn’t try it, but it sounds amazing. You can just imagine it being really good if it’s well done. You look in there, it’s 100 casks (competing). We’re happy to get our name on the board, seriously.”

Most American breweries still IPAs to England, where the hoppier American style is gaining more popularity. Sierra Nevada won the silver with its Hoptimum. Still, the gold went to Franklin Brewery’s Dragon Queen, a Belgian golden strong, followed by two more non-hop-forward beers sharing the bronze.

“It’s really thrilling because it’s not often that we send over send beer over to London,” Zach said. “It’s fun to try something new. We’re so used to doing beers the way we drink them here in America. To try and create something that you think that they may like in London, it’s just a fun challenge. To me it’s about finding a trend as well. I think that fruited goses have been trendy this year. There are breweries here in town that have done well with IPAs in years past. This year Sierra Nevada got silver with an IPA. But you can start to see the diversity in who’s winning.”

Ty said he was also looking for something different to send over as well.

“We put in Level 3 (IPA) last year,” he said. “That was our very first entry in the IPA Challenge. We took the same cask and added extra hops in the cask and then sent it. It made it. We got some good feedback. When I was thinking of a cask ale (for this year) I knew this was sleeping upstairs. We’re almost out of the regular non-(barrel-aged). I decided it was time to pull them down and check. I was like, wow, this is amazing.”

Both beers were highlighted by the folks behind the American cask bar on Twitter, a group that includes Albuquerque native Carlos Garcia, who handles the organizing and shipping of the beers to England. Strawberry Basil Gose was actually the first cask to run dry on the opening day of the event, a good sign if there ever was one. Zach was aware, but said he was not trying to pay too much attention.

“I’d heard through the grapevine that the cask had blown early or what not,” Zach said. “But at the end of it, I can’t pay attention. It gets me so nervous to watch stuff. I’d rather just wait and see what happens. I was actually at home Saturday, smoking a brisket and drinking some beer on the porch. That’s when I found out, so I was pretty excited.”

Ty said it was lucky that the beers got there at all. They were transported first to Boston, where a dock workers strike had them sitting around for a while before things were finally settled and they went on to London.

Luckily, the beers made it over just fine, and now some hardware will be coming back to both breweries soon.

“I like that, it really shows that it’s as much the flavor of the beer as it is the balance and the style itself,” Zach said. “I think what’s fun is that when we enter beers at GABF, we’re going against all these other beers in the same style. The cask event is pretty fun because it’s whatever you feel like doing, whatever creation comes to mind, you’re going up against great breweries from across the country. We’re putting in lots of different things, interesting stuff.”

The last of the barrel-aged Putin is still on tap at Rio Bravo, but the supply is limited. There is probably a decent chance that Canteen may bring back Strawberry Basil Gose for another run in the near future.

Until then, thanks to Zach and Ty for taking time out of their busy schedules. Congratulations to both breweries.


— Stoutmeister

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