Oh, it is that time of year again. The time of year the Crew likes to forget Twitter exists, because the ludicrous arguments, they will be upon us again. This time around, we are gonna ignore it all as best we can and focus on the beers and the fun. Yes, it is time for the annual New Mexico IPA Challenge.
The preliminary round returns to Duel Brewing’s taproom in downtown Albuquerque this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. There will be three separate trays of 13 beers each (one tray per guest), with the top 11 vote getters from all the trays advancing to the final three rounds alongside the four host breweries (Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, Bosque).
To make sure we had all the facts lined up properly for this 17th NMIPAC, I sat down with NM Brewers Guild executive director John Gozigian last week.
“A couple things are different,” he said. “This will be the first one ever — I don’t know how interesting this is to the general public, but — where we’re pouring 100 percent through brewery tap systems, not using jockey boxes this time around.”
Duel gets to host again due to the fact it has 40-plus taps available, more than any other brewery in Albuquerque. Why are taps better than the old jockey box format?
“Pouring through a draft system, there’s no substitute for that,” John said. “You have all beers pouring under the exact same conditions — same temperatures, same pressures, same length of runs, et cetera. It removes that one variable from the equation that has been an issue in the past. The last time we did the elimination round with jockey boxes (at Rio Bravo in 2016), I think we had seven different jockey boxes. Every jockey box pours differently.”
The sheer number of participating breweries continues to climb. John noted there were about 32 last year, and the 43 this year is actually down slightly from the original list of 46. Three breweries — Ale Republic, Eske’s, Little Toad Creek — have dropped out.
“I think what happens is when you start talking about the IPA Challenge in April everybody’s on board, but then you get to July and everybody’s capacity is pushed to their limit, especially for the smaller breweries,” John said. “In the case of Little Toad Creek, they have a big brewery, but they just opened a new taproom (in Las Cruces). They’re pretty busy, so they’re kind of stuck right now. When the rubber hits the road, they realize they’re not going to be able to knock out a beer in time, which is fine.”
Here is the full list of participating breweries, including where some finished in the final round last year, and those who are new to the competition:
- Bathtub Row
- Blue Corn (15th, only brewery outside ABQ to win, back in 2013)
- Bombs Away (new)
- Bow & Arrow (9th)
- Boxing Bear (1st, also won in 2016)
- Broken Trail
- Canteen (4th, won six total as Il Vicino Brewing from 2004-05, 2009-12)
- Cloudcroft (new)
- Flix Brewhouse
- High Desert
- La Cumbre (10th-tied)
- Lost Hiker (new)
- Marble (6th)
- Picacho Peak (14th)
- Ponderosa (12th)
- Quarter Celtic (3rd)
- Red Door
- Red River (new)
- Rio Bravo
- Rowley Farmhouse Ales
- Santa Fe
- Sierra Blanca
- Spotted Dog
- Starr Brothers (5th)
- Steel Bender (10th-tied)
- Three Rivers
- The 377 (13th)
- Toltec (new)
- Tractor (8th)
- Tumbleroot (new)
- Turtle Mountain (won in 2007)
- The Wellhead
Among the breweries with byes, which they get since they are surrendering four-plus hours of regular business hours and the profits that come with those, Bosque was second last year (and previously won in 2014-15), Second Street was seventh, Duel was ousted in the preliminary round, and Taos Mesa did not participate in 2017.
The first round, set for July 18 from 4-8 p.m., will actually be at the Taos Tap Room, located in downtown, rather than at the mothership brewery far outside of Taos.
“We’re going to Taos Mesa Brewing Company’s downtown taproom, so that’s the first time we’ve had it at that location, which will make for a nice trip to Taos for anyone that wants to go,” John said. “I actually got a really good deal on rooms. The Taos Inn, I got rooms for like $90 a night, which is unheard of.”
Having the round at a location where people can easily walk home or to their hotel makes a lot more sense than putting it in a more isolated location, which is part of the reason that the last time the NMIPAC was held in Taos, only about 20 people participated.
The second round is set for the new Second Street Rufina taproom on July 21.
“Then we go back to Second Street, Rufina, another great location for the IPA Challenge,” John said. “They have a lot of interior space. They have a draft system we can use for all 15 beers for round two there. We’ll have the patio open, too, but they do have a lot of interior space.”
Then comes the grand finale on July 28, which figures to draw even more interest than usual for the venue.
“The final round, this is the big one, it’s going to be in Bernalillo at Bosque North,” John said. “I just thought about it today, for the final round, you’ll be one of the first people (to visit) that location, because they won’t even open until two days later. It will be like a sneak peek for the Bernalillo location, for their draft system, their beautiful new facility.”
If you want to make sure you have a spot at the final round, get a ticket ASAP.
“The ticket sales are strong,” John said. “It will be a draw. I don’t think you just hold it anywhere in Bernalillo. This is Bosque, and it’s brand new. Our ticket sales are double what they were at this point last year, and last year we sold out every round. We’re doing the same number of tickets again this year; it’s just going to sell out faster.”
It should be a close competition again this year. The last two years saw the closest finishes in NMIPAC history, with Boxing Bear edging out Bosque by three votes (104-101) last year and nipping Canteen by two votes (81-79) the year before.
“We’ve got Boxing Bear defending their title, a two-time winner,” John said. “It’s going to be hosted by Bosque, which is also a two-time winner, three times if you count when John (Bullard) was at Blue Corn. I’ve been tasting a lot of beers. Everyone is going really heavy. Everyone is going after Boxing Bear with some really heavily hopped beers, up to 10 pounds per barrel of some expensive hops. Everyone is investing in this beer.
“This could be the year, who knows, where we have a New England-style IPA win it. There are some good ones out there, too. It’s typically been a West Coast-style IPA event. Depending on how forward-thinking people are on one hand, or how traditionalist they are on the other hand, or just how many new people we have coming into the IPA Challenge this year. You have a certain expectation of what an IPA Challenge beer tastes like. A juicy, hazy New England IPA would probably be an outlier. I think it will probably be a good bellwether as to which way the trend is going.”
This could bring out the usual “IPAs are passe” comments from folks, and maybe the style is not quite the king of craft like it once was, but this remains primarily an IPA town and an IPA state.
“The market is definitely moving away from IPAs to some extent,” John said, noting some non-IPA top sellers at local breweries. “You look at Bosque and their Elephants on Parade, Marble with Double White. La Cumbre is still the (Elevated) IPA, obviously. But, I think this is still an IPA town. When it comes to the IPA Challenge, it’s a big event and people care about it … too much, some might argue.”
As we noted above, the NMIPAC, and beer competitions in general, can sometimes bring out the worst in beer drinkers, especially online. John would just like to remind everyone, just as he did the breweries, that the point of the NMIPAC is two-fold, and neither should get anyone’s blood boiling.
“This has primarily been a fundraiser for the Guild so that we can continue our promotional and lobbying efforts,” he said. “It’s (also) a good-natured competition, it’s fun to win, we always rib each other over it, but we never took it that seriously.”
So yes, let us all go have fun, and support the Guild, which in turn supports its member breweries. The Crew (should) have at least one reporter at every round, so look for instant results on social media as soon as they are made available, and stories soon afterwards.