Rio Bravo set to launch official beer of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

The official beer of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta debuts Friday at Rio Bravo.

If the New Mexico State Fair can have its own official beer, surely the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta can have one, too. For its 48th edition that begins on October 5, the Fiesta will feature Splash & Dash American Pale Ale from Rio Bravo Brewing as its first official beer.

Rio Bravo co-owner Randy Baker and head of brewing operations Austin Giorgetta sat down to talk about Splash & Dash in advance of Friday’s launch party that runs from 4 to 7 p.m. at the brewery.

“It just took a little bit of maneuvering,” Randy said. “(My wife) Denise and I, we’ve been involved over the years with various organizations and programs. We just felt that the Balloon Fiesta is a marquee event not just for the state but the city of Albuquerque. Here we are looking at all the years they’ve put this thing on since 1971. In fact, I worked the third year when it was at the State Fair(grounds), selling programs for the Mile High Little League. That’s how long I’ve been going to the Balloon Fiesta.”

The Bakers have business connections throughout the city, so it should come as no surprise that they knew someone, or multiple someones, working with the Fiesta.

“We contacted the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and discussed doing a collaboration beer that would be a good representation of Albuquerque, the blue skies that we have, the crisp air that we have during the Balloon Fiesta,” Randy said. “October has always been a great time to have the Balloon Fiesta. We figured that working out something with the Balloon Fiesta people to have our beer our there would be a great start. So that’s kind of where it started started.”

Once the deal was in place, it was up to Austin to come up with the beer recipe. He settled on making an American pale ale.

“I think it’s an underrated product or style that’s in the market,” Austin said. “You can gear that APA to the hophead and you can also capture some novice drinkers. We wanted to please the majority and we didn’t want to do another IPA. That’s how we came up with that. We rounded the beer to be smooth and drinkable for the non-IPA drinker, but also include some flavorful, exploding hop characters that you can get.

“When you drink the Splash & Dash you’ll get the tangerine/orange characters followed by the sweet, residual sugars that are in there, coming in at 5.7-percent ABV. I think it’s pretty delicious. APA’s have always been my secret (crush), to say the least. So being able to brew one and collaborating with everybody being behind it was pretty amazing.”

Randy had samples poured for everyone at the table. The beer does have a citrusy hop character up front, with a stronger mouthfeel than most pale ales, and a smooth, dry, yet subtly sweet finish to it.

“It’s not like a lot of other American pale ales where they just want a subtle IPA,” Austin said. “I think it’s a little bit more complex, a little bit more sexy. It has an almost IPA-hop-like integrity, but it still has that smoothness to be enjoyed by someone who wants more malt character.”

Even Randy, who tends to be rather selective when it comes to the beer that he drinks, found Splash & Dash to be unique.

“I think it’s different enough,” Randy said. “That one has body to it, a nice, light character to it. I like the finish on it.”

The beer is named for a technique used by some of the more daring balloonists who fly low over the Rio Grande, splash down their gondolas ever so briefly in the water, and then dash away.

Austin said the goal is for plenty of people to want to grab the beer and dash away to enjoy it.

“It will also be for right now year-round retail,” he said. “The objective is to really have a beer that captures the market, speaks home to Albuquerque with the Balloon Fiesta, and might even expand across state lines. That’s what we really hope for, not just co-branding with the Fiesta, not just bringing in balloonists, but also trying to reach other people.”

Another specialty can release highlights Rio Bravo’s relationship with UNM athletics.

Splash & Dash is one of three new specialty can releases at Rio Bravo. Lobo Louie’s IPA, a session style, and Basic Witch Pumpkin Space Latte are also available, part of a continuing trend of adventurous new brews coming out from the brewery.

“Last year we came in and talked about how I was trying to redesign the entire menu,” Austin said. “I estimated it would take almost an entire year. To me we’ve finally come to that point our can product is popping out at you. Our names are fun. We had a beer called Squirrel Nuts, a peanut butter hazelnut (brown). People keep asking about that (coming back).”

Splash & Dash will be available at the Fiesta starting on October 5 in six-pack cans. The launch party on Friday at Rio Bravo will feature appetizers, beer tastings, and six-pack sales. It will be followed by Le Chat Lunatique performing at 7 p.m.

Thanks to Randy and Austin for the interview and the beer tasting.


— Stoutmeister

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