It is probably not the best sign that a full week has passed since WinterBrew, and those of us in the Crew who were in attendance are finally typing up our best-of-the-fest lists. As always, it was an amazingly fun event and a great time with so many of our beer geek friends and industry compatriots. It is also a festival loaded with some big, big, big beers, the kind that leave you wondering things like “did I try that beer or not?” and “did we lose Andrew again?”
Before I let Luke and Andrew recap their experiences, I wanted to say thank you to the NM Brewers Guild for organizing this event, which I must say seemed to run even more smoothly this year than in the past (and it has always run pretty smoothly by festival standards in New Mexico). Thank you also to the participating breweries for not just bringing us the same old beers, even if it left us in a sordid state afterwards.
Anyway, onward and upwards, with some of the best of the fest (listed alphabetically by brewery). I am not including awesome beers like the latest version of the Sin Barreras Imperial Molé Stout from Rowley Farmhouse Ales, because that was just an event-only pour. However, it should be noted that anytime you see any variant of that wonderful beer being made available at RFA or anywhere else, GO GET IT. So bleeping good. The rest of these beers should be currently available at breweries, or they will likely be the next seasonal/specialty brew to be tapped.
- Bosque: Fistful of Churros is a delightful brown ale that tastes like, well, you can guess. The nice thing about this beer is it checks in on the lower side of the ABV scale, so you can double up on dessert beer and not require a Lyft or Uber to get home. It should be available soon at all locations.
- Bow and Arrow: Breakfast Bandit, the coffee-and-donuts imperial stout, is still available, but not for much longer. Go get this wonderful beer, for if nothing else, it will make room for the next beer in the Bandit series to become available. The Buffalo Plaid Baltic Porter is another top-notch dark beer on tap.
- Cloudcroft Brewing: My first beer from these guys was an Oatmeal Stout, which is nice and roasty and creamy, like a good version of this style should be. Definitely gonna make a trip south soon, weather permitting.
- Lost Hiker: When some notable Albuquerque brewers tell you to make a future trip to Ruidoso, you definitely listen. For this event, I snagged some Snowpocalypse, a delightful winter warmer that belongs in your glass by the fireplace while in the study, which smells of rich mahogany.
- Marble: It was a double dose of goodness from the good folks from 111 Marble Avenue, with the Coffee Porter and Sympathy for the Pork Chop, a smoked märzen, hitting the spot with their roasty toasty tastiness.
- Second Street: You can still find the barrel-aged version of Skookum Barleywine in those specialty packs for sale at the brewery and liquor stores such as Jubilation. Trust me, it is quite worth it. The MBV Stout was also a nice respite from the high ABV beers, and this delectable dry Irish stout made its way into my glass as my full pint.
- Sidetrack: The Dark Engine Stout is always a delight, but this time they threw it in the cask not just with cacao nibs, but with some coffee from Zendo. Whenever they do this again at the brewery, we will be first in the door.
- Starr Brothers: There were no cookies to go with it, sadly, but Zombies in the Manger Biscochito Stout was still a hit. You can get it at the brewery for a limited time, but we cannot guarantee cookies there, either.
- Truth or Consequences: This was the brewery that I kept meaning to get back to, but for some reason never did. My apologies. I did truly enjoy the Good Juju, an American brown ale, and another Crew member was down in TorC informed me that we are now in possession of a bottle of Truth Serum Barleywine. Woots!
- Tumbleroot: I have been advocating for some time for a local brewery to put some barleywine in a rum barrel, which I had out at Tustin Brewing in SoCal once, and finally, someone listened. Actually, the Tumbleroot folks just did it on their own, and I think them for creating a lovely elixir in Captain SMASH, which is a single-malt, single-hop barleywine. The rum-barrel version is just the first of four, with future versions coming soon from agave, gin, and whiskey barrels.
- Turtle Mountain: Mick Hahn brought the big guns to Santa Fe, with Stockholm Syndrome being a particular standout. A big, chewy Baltic porter was actually my first beer of the fest, and it was all downhill from there. I later tried the Deep Depravity Barleywine at TMBC, and it is also worth the trip to Rio Rancho and construction chaos along Southern Blvd.
Rather than ramble on further, I turn this over to Luke and Andrew, my cohorts for the evening. As usual, Luke has a lot to say. Andrew, well, it was a tough night for him. Also, I am not taking responsibility for leaving a mostly dead, unnamed-for-his-sake brewer on the Rail Runner, but since he liked a photo I shared on Instagram the next day, I know he is still alive.
A recap of the past and a request for the future
WinterBrew this year was just as big as it ever is, with only a few glaring breweries missing, including some Guild members not on the roster. That seems a true crime to me. However, the event was a blast, as it always is, despite my showing up two hours late due to having to work. I was quickly caught up as to which beers were worth trying, and which were worth skipping. All the brewers and pourers were in fine form, happy to share their beers and the stories behind them.
I enjoyed several exciting beers from Starr Brothers and Second Street, bringing their Biscochito Stout (Zombies in the Manger) and Skookum Barleywine, respectively. With Second Street’s second location, they were able to pour more beers than ever before, and the people took notice. And, they certainly weren’t your average fest beers. In fact, many of the beers poured were not average at all.
Tumbleroot’s Captain Smash, SMaSH Barleywine was big and exciting, and Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ Raspberry Molé Stout Sin Barreras, rang a few bells in the Crew. Certainly they woke us up and made us do a double take.
There were some excellent beers all around from the smaller new breweries like Lost Hiker, Cloudcroft, Red River Brewing, and Truth or Consequences Brewing, but it was an old veteran that really brought it home, to me. My best of fest goes to Turtle Mountain. Their whole lineup was big, mean, well-executed, fun, and exciting. They definitely understood what it was to show up ready to pour at a brewfest. Now, I didn’t get around to every booth, but of the ones I did, there were some hits, some misses, and a couple really lame disappointments, but the festival was just as great as it ever was. It was another fine example of why it sells out every year.
But, if I might make a suggestion — and of course, I may not — it’s time to grow, time to move to a new venue, unless the Farmer’s Market can accommodate more than 700 people and 18 breweries. But, that is just a suggestion pieced together from whisperings in and around the industry. To amazing festivals that showcase what we do best, in the most fun way possible, cheers!
(Now, how about a big old stream of photos?)
Nothing good comes from Denny’s at 2 a.m.
Notable memories for me were, (1) getting my glass filled with the crazy barleywine at the Tumbleroot table, only to set it down for a photo and have some lady knock it onto the floor where it smashed into pieces before I was even able to take a single sip. (2) Taking an Uber to Tumbleroot’s after-party with the two Bosque folks, except our Uber had mixed up their directions and dropped us off on the Plaza, which resulted in requiring another Santa Fe Uber just to get to Tumbleroot. (3) Ordering a mysterious sandwich to-go from Denny’s at 2 a.m. and then having to find it in the container it came in, since it was covered in chile and cheese, etc., and then Luke proceeded to eat the whole thing with his hands.
(However, don’t we eat all sandwiches with our hands? — Luke)