It was Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ day in Denver.
The Santa Fe brewery claimed three medals and the Small Brewpub of the Year award at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival on Saturday morning.
RFA took home gold for Meier in the German-Style Sour Ale category, silver for Agent Orange – Apple Brandy Barrel in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category, and bronze for Cote d’Or – Double Cerise in the Mixed-Culture Brett Beer category.
“I thought it might happen at that point,” owner John Rowley said after winning the gold. “I think three medals is probably where that line is. I didn’t see anyone get four. … It happened and I’m really excited.”
This marks the third time that a New Mexico brewery has earned a brewery of the year award, following Marble’s Small Brewery of the Year (2014) and Boxing Bear’s Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year (2016).
“The brewpub, the brewery of the year, that’s amazing,” Rowley said. “That brings it (back) to New Mexico, I like that. I’m excited to win that.”
Each of the beers had its own special story.
“The first beer (Cote d’Or) was a mixed fermentation saison aged in pinot noir barrels,” Rowley said. “When that’s done, we blend it to a style that we like and age it on montmorency and bing cherries. That’s a bottle-conditioned (beer), it takes two years, so that’s not a beer I can make a lot of. That’s a beer we had last year. This year we released one with a bigger saison base with more cherries, so that was grandissant. That beer was a little different.
“These beers really take a long time to mature, so they get better and better. That beer I thought was tasting really well before we entered it, so I thought let’s put that in, even though it’s a last-year beer. We’ll circle around to it again.”
The silver-medal winner was an old recipe given new life.
“The other one was Agent Orange, which is my Flanders red,” Rowley said. “So that beer won a lot of medals as a home brewing beer. … Really great recipe, we only made it once, but we have a lot of barrels of it. That one was apple brandy barrel-aged. We got a lot of barrels from Santa Fe Spirits. There was one barrel that was just perfect, so I entered that beer.”
If customer excitement was a harbinger, then Meier winning gold should not have come as a huge surprise.
“The gold medal was Meier, which is a Meier lemon gose, but we entered it as a traditional gose,” Rowley said. “It’s not too lemony. We mashed with lemons for a pH adjustment instead of using acid, which gives you a nice, bright lemon note, which is really good for that style. It’s just that and sea salt, no coriander, I don’t like coriander. It went super fast in the taproom. We only had six or seven barrels of it. We’re going to brew that again.”
Four other New Mexico breweries brought home one medal apiece.
La Cumbre picked up a silver for Acclimated APA in the American-Style Pale Ale category, which had 169 entries.
“It’s awesome,” said director of brewing operations Daniel Jaramillo. “We canned it this past year, so hopefully it means good things for the future for that beer.”
If the response at the session, where the supply of Acclimated ran out two hours before it was over, was any indication, La Cumbre is in for some good times ahead.
Sierra Blanca’s Cherry Wheat medaled for the third straight year, this time taking a silver in Fruit Wheat Beer. It previously won a bronze and a gold.
Two first-time winners picked up bronze medals. Toltec won for Shaman Stout in the Oatmeal Stout category, while Tumbleroot snagged a medal for Double Brown Ale in the Other Strong Beer category (which saw Starr Brothers win its first medal last year in that same category for Lampshade Porter).
“It’s weird because all the other beers we did were (specific) to category, (but) that was a wide-open category,” co-owner/master brewer Jason Kirkman said. “When we did that beer, we didn’t know where to put it. I guess we did well.”
If anything, the medal showed that there is no disputing that Tumbleroot is aiming to be a great distillery and brewery.
“Hopefully it shows people how seriously we take our beer,” Kirkman said. “It’s not beer first or spirits first. We put a lot of love into both sides of the operation.”
If and when we get a hold of Toltec and Sierra Blanca, look for future stories. It was another solid medal haul for New Mexico at GABF. Now it’s time to kick back and breathe a little.
Well, maybe we can have a little more beer.