Ex Novo Brewing is unique among local breweries in that it has a twin sister brewery located more than a thousand miles away in Portland, Oregon. During the online-only 2020 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony last week, it was the Portland brewery that was credited for what turned out to be the first medal-winning beer in Ex Novo history, but both locations are sharing in the celebration.
“That was our first GABF medal,” Ex Novo founder Joel Gregory said. “We haven’t entered every year, but most years. Lots of times sitting in that big arena, hoping for it, but never getting it. I usually don’t get too down in that insanely competitive competition. Nobody in their right mind would ever expect to win a medal, but when it happens, it’s pretty sweet.”
Gregory and his wife, plus Corrales head brewer Dave Chichura and other staff members, gathered in the taproom last week to watch the ceremony unfold.
“Me, Dave, and Sara were watching it with a few of our staff, streaming it on the TV in there,” Gregory said. “My friends up in Oregon were doing the same thing. They had a house cam filming them, watching them react to the medal. I wish we had that, because we kind of lost our minds for a few seconds, made a lot of noise. People were asking what happened.”
That the victory came for one of the year-round staples in the Ex Novo lineup was even sweeter. Perle Haggard claimed gold, albeit in a different category than the brewery had entered it into in the past.
“It’s a beautiful beer,” Gregory said. “I think in general it’s the beer we all drink mostly, the brew we like caring the most about. Whether it’s been the best seller or not, it’s always kind of been a passion project, starting with Ryan (Buxton) up in Portland who named it a while ago, created it, and has been working on it the most.
“It’s interesting that he entered it into the (Bohemian Pilsner) category this year. We’ve done German Pilsner in the past. He’s been tweaking the recipe and dialing up the bitterness a little bit in the last year and a half. It fit a bit more in that category than before, and apparently the judges agreed.”
Gregory also said it was a departure in the strategy of years past, where Ex Novo entered more one-off seasonals than any house brews.
“We almost never even think that … we focus on the one that should be cool for competition,” he said. “But, 100 percent, there have been beers where I don’t really want to win a medal. Sure, you want to, but I don’t want a demand for a beer that’s all done. To win for a year-round canned beer is nice.”
Just as it has been for their fellow New Mexico winners, the medal provided a bright spot in an otherwise difficult year.
“Yeah, it has to be, I think it has to be,” Gregory said. “Really between that and when we did the All Together IPA and did a big release, and people showed up for it to support the cause blew my mind. This beer has done really well in New Mexico as the No. 2 (seller), it’s not No. 2 in Oregon behind our IPA, it’s been fun to watch its trajectory, and Premier (Distributing) has done a great job getting it out into the market. I don’t know if this will affect it at all, but it can’t hurt.”
Overall, things are going fairly well in Corrales, which has helped in part to make up for the tougher times at the Portland brewery and its pubs.
“The New Mexico operations, sales and et cetera, are in a good spot right now,” Gregory said, knocking on the wood of the patio table. “Distribution has gone well. We’re in a really scary spot with cans, as I let you know about. It’s like if one thing goes well, we’re super stoked that our can sales have taken off, then it’s like nope, now we’re afraid we may not have enough cans. All these printed cans that we normally have (aren’t here); it’s not ideal.”
Draft sales have been going well of late, but the upcoming change in the weather might slow things down more than just a bit.
“The taproom this year, since we’ve been able to open back up, it’s been awesome,” Gregory said. “The patio is a huge win for us. But, we’re all looking at next week, Monday and Tuesday it could snow, no one is going to sit out here. It’s just going to be these huge swings (of weather). This weekend we’ll probably be super busy. Next week, we have no idea. We’re trying to lean into the wins we’re able to get and if we can squirrel something away for the time it’s not easy. Same goes for the Oregon (compared to) New Mexico stuff. It’s been rough up there.”
The devastating forest fires in Oregon, coupled with the pandemic and economic slowdown, have certainly been a factor.
“It might has well have been, the smoke density was unbelievable for a week, you couldn’t go outside,” Gregory said. “That winter is longer and darker and more dreary than ours, so it’s going to be a rough go. Any success we’re able to have here packaging can help Oregon weather the storm.”
We wish both branches of Ex Novo the best going forward. A big thanks to Joel for the interview and a pint of the Perle Haggard.
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