NM IPA Challenge goes private before public gets to tally its own votes

Once again, it is time to test those tastebuds with an onslaught of hops, only this time it’s after the professionals whittle down the list of candidates.

The 2019 edition of the New Mexico IPA Challenge kicks off this Saturday with the annual preliminary round, but there are changes afoot. The biggest change is that the preliminary round is no longer open to the public.

“This year, they wanted to make it a little more along the lines of GABF judging,” said Guild executive director Leah Black. “Where it really is blind tasting who gets in the top 15. That’s what we’re going to start with. We had just under 50 entries, and for whatever reason, they didn’t get their check in on time, but we ended up with 45 breweries. From 45 (down) to 15 this Saturday, then for each public round there will be the same 15 breweries there. It will be a buildup to what the hopheads love. You can go to all three rounds if you want to drive. It should be a lot of fun.”

The preliminary round was held at Duel’s Albuquerque taproom and open to the public the last two years, but that venue is gone. It was also a bit of a controversial round, with many in the public (and a couple breweries) failing to understand why the beers were split up between multiple trays, how those votes failed to carry over to the competition rounds, and so on and so forth.

“It’s exciting, we’re having a really fun time working with professional judges on this round, and getting advice how to work on competitions,” Leah said. “It’s all new to me, because I’m not a professional beer judge. I’d like to think I have a great palate, but I’m not a brewer, I’m just a beer enthusiast like everyone else.”

This year, each of the 45 breweries that have put in for the preliminary round will pick one judge, be it a brewer or another staff member.

“It could be a brewer or it could be a bartender or someone they feel is trained or has the palate,” Leah said. “There are certified Cicerone people who are not brewers. It will be fascinating to see who they each select.”

That selected judge will get a tray of 15 beers and pick a favorite, but it cannot come from their own brewery.

“That was something that I had questions about at first, but I realized that’s how the real competitions were,” Leah said. “You don’t get to try your beer. That will be exciting. It will be kind of neat to see whose other styles they like.”

From these industry professionals will come a final selection of the 15 IPAs that everyone will taste for the three public rounds, which are set for July 17 at Picacho Peak in Las Cruces, July 20 at Tumbleroot in Santa Fe, and July 27 at Bow & Arrow in Albuquerque. Tickets are now available for every round, which you can find by visiting the Guild’s official website.

The results of the preliminary round will be posted some time after 5 p.m. on Saturday. As for which breweries made the cut of the 45 combatants, here is the list. We took note of the new participants for 2019.

  • Blue Corn — defending champion, also won in 2013
  • Bombs Away
  • Bosque — 2014 and 2015 champion
  • Bow & Arrow — final-round host
  • Boxing Bear — 2016 and 2017 champion, 2018 runner-up
  • Brew Lab 101 (new)
  • Broken Trail
  • Canteen — six-time champion, most recently in 2012
  • Cantero (new)
  • Cloudcroft
  • Desert Valley (new)
  • Enchanted Circle (new)
  • Ex Novo (new)
  • High Desert
  • Icebox (new)
  • Kaktus
  • Kilt Check (new)
  • La Cumbre
  • La Reforma (new)
  • Little Toad Creek (new)
  • Marble
  • Nexus
  • Palmer
  • Picacho Peak — first-round host
  • Ponderosa
  • Quarter Celtic
  • Red Door
  • Red River
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales
  • Santa Fe
  • Second Street
  • Sidetrack
  • Sierra Blanca
  • Spotted Dog
  • Starr Brothers
  • Steel Bender
  • Taos Mesa
  • Three Rivers
  • The 377
  • Toltec
  • Tractor
  • Truth or Consequences (new)
  • Tumbleroot — second-round host
  • Turtle Mountain

Out of the 43 participants in the preliminary round in 2018, those that did not return this year included Bathtub Row, Cazuela’s, Duel (closed), Flix Brewhouse, Kellys (no longer brewing), Lost Hiker, Roosevelt, and The Wellhead.

We will have a recap of the preliminary round Saturday night, and then have live coverage of at least the rounds in Santa Fe and ABQ in the weeks ahead.

May the best hop bomb win!


— Stoutmeister

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