Only a band of complete lunatics would attempt to sample all 36 beers in this year’s New Mexico IPA Challenge.
Well, we are those lunatics. Or, we were, since we did this two weekends ago. It just took us a while to process what we went through, how we felt about the entire setup, and actually cast our votes. Oh, we are not going to share which numbered beers we voted for, because in no way, shape, or form do we want to end up influencing anyone else out there.
Anyway, the four of us able to attend out of the Crew were myself, Erin, Luke, and Andrew, back from his California sojourn (do not get him started on things like cost of living or driving anywhere). Since his return, Andrew got himself a swanky condo near downtown, with a spacious balcony patio where we could all gather and fit 12 IPA cans at a time on a single table.
That we even organized this as fast as we did and pulled it off was rather a bit of a miracle for this collective. I may have used the phrase “it’s like herding cats” a few times in the past for the Crew, but hey, this time around we did it.
It certainly helped that ordering the IPAs was easily done through the NM Brewers Guild’s website, something executive director Leah Black worked on for quite some time (which also prevented her from having the time to sit down and talk to us beforehand for any sort of formal preview story).
That the Guild pulled off this entire operation is far more impressive. Leah and the board of directors convinced 36 breweries from around the state to each brew a special IPA during these days of pandemic, and then transport kegs to Albuquerque, where they were canned with help from students in the CNM brewing program. Then those three sets of 12-packs were distributed to points around the state. It was a massive undertaking, and we applaud everyone involved.
For us, it was just a matter of picking up the IPAs from Red Door, and transporting them to Andrew’s in a timely manner the day before we were set to gather. After getting that done, Erin proceeded to number a whole lot of plastic cups for five people (our fifth, a guest contributor, never actually made it that night). We then agreed to just take it one group at a time, and if necessary, hold back any remainders to be tried in the weeks before the upcoming September 30 voting deadline.
Well, as stated before, we were bonkers, plowing ahead through all 36, as our palates were not nearly as savaged as we anticipated. The days of the tongue-melting hop bombs of yore are long gone. There were still some tasty ones, some average ones, and a few that we shall not identify by their numbers until well after those votes are officially counted. In other words, it was an IPA Challenge, with a wide mix of good, meh, and bad.
We were left with questions, ones we will try to ask directly of the breweries later. Prominent among those was how much did the pandemic affect breweries’ budgets? Hops are expensive, after all, so there was certainly a chance that some places did not have enough in their arsenal to really make their IPAs stand out. Others may have gone all-in, some just chose to support the Guild by at least putting something in, and so on and so forth.
Overall, we stayed fairly organized, kept good notes, and managed to have a good time (even if DJ Erin did not play nearly enough metal). I will let the others chime in with their thoughts on the entire experience, save for any direct beer reviews/comments. One responded in a timely fashion, the other two, well, if they happen to get everything sent over at some point, it will be added below.
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When I first heard about the revival of the 2020 IPA Challenge, I was excited, but dubious. I was just happy that it wasn’t cancelled like the rest of 2020. But still, I wasn’t sure how buying cans of each IPA Challenge beer was going to go over. Since I don’t go out much right now, or hang out with many people, I couldn’t see myself handling 36 cans of IPA. And, the thought of maybe not trying every IPA Challenge beer hadn’t even occurred to me. But, how would it be done? Was I going to buy all three 12-packs and space them out over several weekends? Would I try sharing with some friends? How would it go down? That, my friends, was the real IPA challenge this year.
Well, in true fashion, beer did what it did best — naturally it brought people together, not many, mind you, just a handful of friends, from within the “circle of trust,” i.e. friends we’ve been hanging with throughout the whole thing. And so, we gathered, four in total, three Dark Side and one Dark Side emeritus, six feet apart on a spacious balcony in downtown Albuquerque, pouring the beer five ways, four for Dark Side, one for Toots. And, the whole thing went down smoother then a reggae beat on a hot summer night. In the end, it was easy to choose favorites and reasonably easy to vote. The hardest part was figuring out how to get the circle of trust squad together with various busy schedules. It may have been different, but thankfully, the NMIPAC lives on. And to that, I raise my glass.
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For the rest of you, we wanted throw out some questions that we hope you answer in the comments or on social media.
- Did you participate in the NMIPAC this year? If not, why not? (Cost/lack of time/COVID fears/inability to gather with enough friends)
- Was the take-home format enough, or did you miss the gatherings at various breweries around the state?
- Was it easy to acquire your beers, from ordering through the site to pick-up at a brewery?
- How many groups did you manage to get through?
- And finally, which were your favorite(s) in the group(s) you tried, and why?
Any and all feedback and constructive criticism (let us not turn this into another thing to get mad about in 2020, we have enough already) would be welcomed by us and the Guild.
We will have more on the NMIPAC after the final votes, and the beer identities, are revealed next week.
Keep supporting local!