Over the course of our winter mini-break, several of us in the Crew started discussing what were our favorite local craft beers of 2019. Normally, we tend to not express our opinions publicly, so as always, please take these merely as our individual likes, and humble suggestions for those beers still available. It is up to each and every one of you to select your own favorites, and please, share those with us.
What follows is a somewhat surprising insight into our varied preferences as beer drinkers. Sure, there are a lot of big stouts, but we all enjoy a little variety in our lives, as do most people.
I thought about this on the drive back from Mexico. I couldn’t really come up with one particular favorite. I noticed this winter I have not been drinking as many heavy, malty beers, but for some reason more crisp or hoppy beers. I have no idea why. I would say the Trampled by Tangerines wheat beer from Nexus stood out. But also, not being a lager person in general, I kind of flipped out when Ex Novo came out with The Most Interesting Lager in the World. I even bought some in cans. Yes, a lager. Weird. As far as the dark and malty ones go, though, I would say Palmer’s barrel-aged Cockness Monster is the one I probably drank most when I was out and about.
- La Negra, La Cumbre Brewing: Always a great beer, but this year’s batch was incredibly complex and nuanced, can’t wait to try a bottle of it as it ages. Wonderful stuff.
- Kill The Sun Horchata, Ex Novo: Yeah, yeah, another RIS … back off, I love the dark beers. The vanilla and cinnamon contrast well with the barrel-forward character in this beer and set it off to the next level.
- Helles Lager, La Cumbre: Yes, now I sound like a fanboy, no care. This beer is one of the most crisp and flavorful beers of the season, a perfect session brew that is faithful to the old country style.
- The Winchester, Quarter Celtic: Biased because this was our collaboration beer? Nope. We’re objective enough to say if it had went sideways, but this came out as a solid cross between an old-style ale and an English pub beer, drinking easy, almost dangerously. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?
- Darkest Cheer, Bow & Arrow: This collaboration with local mad scientist Majin Garcia and Bow & Arrow knocked down some walls. I love hazelnut, and this beer utilized it in a way that you don’t find much or that just doesn’t show through enough. Flavors that swing for a KO.
- Quarter Celtic’s Winchester: Yeah, yeah, blow your own trumpet and whatnot … but this turned out even better than I could have hoped for. Delectable and rich with many layers of flavor hearkening to sitting by a roaring fire by candlelight in winter. Excuse me while I have another glass.
- Canteen’s Sichler Chile Lager really hit the spot for me this Oktober, a lovely crisp lager and just the right amount of green chile aroma and roast flavor balanced with a bit of bready malts. Zach really kills it with his lagers and pilsners.
- Wet Hop Eliot from Ex Novo was simply stellar, a veritable dank forest of the lupulin goblins that stole my heart all those delicious years ago.
- Boxing Bear’s Vantablack: See my review from a few years back. Enough said, it’s awesome.
- La Cumbre’s Wet Hop Elevated: You want hops? You got it!!!! My kind of IPA, bitter, dank, juicy and glorious.
For me, there were a bunch of really solid brews up here in Santa Fe, but just a handful of really standout beers for 2019. I’ll list my favorites below in no particular order.
- Keymaster IPA: Tumbleroot’s IPA Challenge beer was a cut above the rest for me. It was exactly what I wanted, every time I ordered it, even when I wasn’t in the mood for an IPA. It was just so well-done, in my opinion. It hit so many of the marks for my palate, that it felt like crossing off a checklist of the perfect IPA. I went back for it a few times. I hope this or something like it comes back to the brewery as a seasonal offering.
- Second Street made some excellent fall and cold-weather beers this year. I really dug their Black Shadow Porter. A lot. One of those no-brainer beers where I told the bartender, “I’ll help you guys drink this until it’s gone …” Eye roll, I know. Also, Second Street’s Oktoberfest this year named Oktoberforest, signifying their partnership and support of the Nature Conservancy, and it was just a really drinkable beer. In fact, I’m still drinking it. I bought enough six-packs to last me through the winter. OK, so the first couple weeks at least.
- Last but not least, Rowley Farmhouse Ales brewed up some winners (literally) this year. A couple of their beers really knocked me out of my chair. While I really enjoyed the gold-medal-winning Meier back when I had a glass in July, the beers that really blew me out of the water were Agent Orange Apple Brandy variant, and their big bad barleywine. “Body Isn’t Life” Barleywine was an epic beer, so excellently executed; RFA has done far more than simply loading their mash tun to capacity and cramming it into a barrel. They truly chiseled a big boozy work of balanced art out of grain — and with such a name as to make them instant internet trolling legends. Have a glass, just don’t make any big plans later on. Yowza.
- Blue Corn’s Simcoe SMaSH was the first SMaSH beer that I was thrilled to drink. And I mean thrilled. It certainly showcased what brewmaster Paul Mallory does so well when he keeps it simple. Special shout outs go to:
- Chili Line. The beer at Chili Line continues to get better and better, and I was very pleased each time I dropped by this year.
- Beer Creek: It certainly was exciting to taste the first few beers from their shiny new brewery. Everything from them has been good so far. These guys will have plenty of exciting stuff for you in 2020. Keep an eye out and a glass tilted. To more great beers in 2020, cheers!
I like tea. I like beer. Put the two together, and it’s magic. Lucky for us, in 2019, the local breweries delivered with not one, but two tea-riffic beers. The first was Marble’s Tea Gary IPA, released around the time of their anniversary party in the spring. It’s been months, and I’m still thinking about it. And, I don’t even like IPA. The second was Steel Bender’s collaboration with Canteen and High and Dry, For Your Sanitea, with part of the proceeds going to benefit the Agora Crisis Center. I was lucky to snag some at Canteen, and my only regret was not going back to get more before it sold out. I’m a sucker for a good collab, and a good cause.
Like Amy, I thought about it some, but not many beers really stood out to me. I also don’t keep any logs of the beers I drink, so you can imagine that whatever I drank 11 months ago is lost to the fog of time. I certainly had many fine beers. The one that comes to mind is “Explored Hypotheticals aka Track Suit Stout,” which was an imperial stout brewed by Steel Bender and Majin Garcia. I tasted it at the Beer Premier in October. It was a real gem.
I could echo some of the same beers listed above, including The Winchester and Kill the Sun Horchata, but I found enough additional favorites by scouring ye ole Untappd archives.
- Churro Bandito, Bow & Arrow: One of several churro-style beers released during the year, it was yet another example of how good Ted O’Hanlan and his team have gotten at making some inspired dessert stouts. The Darkest Cheer listed above by the others was another favorite.
- Over the Porterline, Ex Novo: It was hard to keep track of how many excellent beers rolled out of Corrales this year, but this was pretty much candy in a glass. Yeah, a couple sweet beers to lead off my list, but damn, this one blew us away as a rare dark beer release in the midst of the summer.
- Woodland Paradise IPA and Endless Horizon Tropical Stout, La Cumbre (and friends): This was the year of many great collaboration beers rolling out of La Cumbre, and these two were my particular favorites. Woodland was an excellent hop bomb from LC and Cannonball Creek Brewing of Golden, Colorado, utilizing the delicious Cashmere hop as a prime ingredient. Endless Horizon was made with Beachwood Brewing of Long Beach, Calif., and was a tremendous, flavorful beer that showed you can still make a unique stout without any adjuncts.
- Reserve Ale and a whole lot of lagers, Marble: As usual, Reserve was its excellent self this time around. I also had to highlight the many tremendous lagers that Josh Trujillo and Greg Dupy have been rolling out of the MavLab all year. From Outbound and Brown to the latest Thunder from Dortmunder, and so many, many others, have really showcased the talent of the brewers at creating such clean, classic brews.
- Skookum Single Barrel Release, Second Street, and Truth Serum Barleywine, Truth or Consequences: Two of the best bottles to grace my beer fridge from breweries outside of the ABQ metro area were consumed at different points in the year. Truth Serum arrived via a special TorC tasting at Tractor Wells Park, while bottles of Skookum, aged in a single barrel at Jubilation, are on sale there right now for a limited time. I enjoyed the heck out of both of these barrel-aged beauties, and hope to acquire more in the future.
If any of our vacationing Crew members send in their choices, we will add them to this post. In the meantime, please share with us your favorites from the past year.