Boxing Bear shakes up the collaboration game with a new artist-inspired series

Rashan Jones of High Desert Flameworks, left, and Boxing Bear’s Justin Hamilton show off their new collaboration, Just Jonesin’ Peach Cobbler Ale.

Plenty of breweries have collaborated on beers over the years here in Albuquerque and parts beyond. Now it may be time for a new sort of collaboration, and not just something involving beer writers like us.

Boxing Bear Brewing and local glass-blowing artist Rashan Jones of High Desert Flameworks have teamed up for a collaboration brew called Just Jonesin’, a peach cobbler ale that debuts this Saturday in four-pack cans and on draft at all three taprooms.

The collaboration came about as a result of the longtime friendship between Jones and head brewer/co-owner Justin Hamilton, but also as a way to shake things up on the collab front.

“This was a collaboration that I’ve kind of had an idea for doing for a while,” Hamilton said. “We wanted to kind of do something outside the box as far as what collabs we’ve been doing with beer. We don’t do a whole lot of collabs anyway. We’ve done a few with (other) local breweries. It’s something we wanted to try where we do a collab with a local artist, something outside of that brewery box. When we thought about this, my immediate idea was to go to Jones.

“It was just a no-brainer. He’s been a huge supporter of our brand since day one. Not only that, his artisan (skills) and his ability to be the best in his craft, matched one of our potentials as well. We’re trying to do the same thing, do the best at what we can do. With that coming together, knowing that he’s always in our taproom, not only that, but there’s all the behind the scenes connections with Jones. Like family connections, friend connections.”

Hamilton and Jones said they have known each other for almost 20 years, and the friendship they already had soon became a symbiotic business relationship as well.

“I’ve always seen and known Justin’s work,” Jones said. “I’ve been drinking beer for a long time. I was really conscious of what he had going on. When they first opened like five or six years ago, they were doing the Bearfest pretty seriously. That was the first time they invited me out to have a booth, start blowing glass live on site. I had just opened my studio, so I had a chance to get out of the studio, and just explain what we had going on.”

Teaming up with Boxing Bear to create a beer was a natural outcome of that evolving partnership.

“Like Justin said, to be able to work with someone at the top of their field makes me feel really, really good,” Jone said. “There’s a couple different breweries in town, but I show a lot of loyalty to this one. I feel they put out the best beer. They pay the most attention to their craft. For what I’m doing, if I’m not paying attention all the time to the details there’s cuts, there’s burns, there’s bruises. I respect people that understand that process. As they’ve grown their brand, they’ve always been really great at partnering with me and growing mine. They’re kind of like my big brothers in the industry.”

Jones’ connection to craft beer came about years ago.

“When I got into cup making, probably about 10 years ago, there’s a lot of different things in making glass, and cup making was something I wanted to focus on, because I really enjoyed it as a passion,” he said. “Also, then Albuquerque then really started coming on as a ‘beer city.’ All these breweries were opening all over the place. As far as my origin story, I got some of my first designs at a another brewery across town. My studio is right by there. To be able to take the designs that I used to draw 10 years ago, and make them, and have a cup filled with a beer made by Justin Hamilton …”

Jones trailed off with a big smile on his face, before continuing along with the story. The two of them were talking back and forth via social media about the collaboration, prompting a face-to-face meeting to start nailing down the specific details of what they wanted to make. The type of beer that Jones wanted to focus on ties directly into what he does for a living.

“When I’m working glass, I do drink,” he said. “Beer matters to my craft. Not everyone that blows glass drinks beer, but when I’m sitting there making beer glasses and I’m stressing out because things aren’t going right, I do reach for a nice cold one. More than likely it’s going to be a nice cold one from Boxing Bear, because I do think they have the most attention to their craft right now.

“We started vibing about different beers, and Justin started reading off different flavors. Man, something fruity and light. I can’t drink a stout when I’m on the torch. To get glass moving, you have to get above 2700 degrees. My ambient temperature is right around 109 or 110, that’s the average. We need something cold and refreshing. We’ve got to make a torch fuel.”

Hamilton said he knew that Jones regularly consumed a lot of Black and Blue Tart, so they started in that general area, rather than go for something heavy in ABV or hops or anything of that sort.

“Justin was really, really open to my ideas,” Jones said. “What kind of foods do you like? Honestly, I said something fruity, not too high in alcohol content so I can get through the day. He starts reading off fruit names, things he could order. Honestly, I was about to stop him at mango.

“It was mango or guava or something. His Guava Gose from like a year or two ago was one of my favorite beers on earth.”

Ultimately, though, it was another voice in Jones’ ear that set the stage for the beer that will debut Saturday.

“We can do a guava wheat or something, so I’m listing all these fruit names and I get to peach and he says stop,” Hamilton said. “My wife told me to ask for peach.”

“She’s like never mind your weird stuff, if peach is available people are going to like it,” Jones said, laughing. “You love peaches, it’s the right season. I locked in on peach. We started talking a little bit about different things we could do with it. The brown sugar was a no-brainer. Adding the lactose was genius. It gives it not too much of a tart, not too much of a sour. It cuts into the sweetness people think there might be.”

The can art is on point for this beer.

“There’s a lactic acid addition in here that’s less than what we put in our Black and Blue Tart,” Hamilton explained. “This we put just enough in there to get a perception of what you get from the fruit skin.”

“If you’ve ever bitten into a real peach, not the sliced ones in cans, that light bitterness you get from the skin … yeah, you nailed it, bro,” Jones added.

Without many events to showcase their creations, artists and other creatives have felt the pinch of the pandemic just as much as brick-and-mortar businesses. Breweries, long a great resource for artists in this town, have likewise been forced to cut back on hosting events or small gatherings on their patios.

Going this route, then, still helps someone like Jones get his name out there and keep it out there.

“The word I’ll pick is invaluable,” he said. “The opportunities that have arisen because I’ve worked with Boxing Bear in the past have always been terrific. I have people who buy works from me now that say hey, I saw you at Bearfest. There’s a certain type of people that are going to take a look at your product, but others aren’t going to get into it until it is ‘mainstream.’ Boxing Bear has helped me take the cup making I’m doing in the city and make it mainstream, not just here in the city, but in the country.”

Jones even gave the example of how he was contacted by New Mexico United owner Peter Trevisani after a live demonstration at Boxing Bear. Jones now makes glassware that is sold at the team store in Nob Hill.

“I’m happy for all the local people who’ve seen me at Boxing Bear, I’ve helped entertain their kids and made a lot of dinosaurs, that’s been terrific, but the corporate looks, the large national looks have also been terrific,” Jones said. “I’m just thankful, man. At a time where I’m not doing a lot of art shows, we’ve got a couple hundred cans back there. For me, it’s the same kind of exposure I’d get from an art show.”

This collaboration has the potential to be the start of a new series of special brews made with local artists and creatives, which is something important to both Boxing Bear and the community.

“One of the more exciting things from the first meeting was not just necessarily this collab, but hearing that Boxing Bear was looking to potentially partner with other artists in the future, expanding the brand in a way,” Jones said. “That’s huge and it’s limitless. Because if you have such a huge bank of makers and creative people, you and I get along great, but there’s other artists out there who are almost as cool as us.”

“We’re just trying to open that box a little bit,” Hamilton added. “We love our industry. We love the people that are making beer in New Mexico. Everyone is on a really good level right now. The collaborations are going to make good beer. Working with artists is next level for us.”

Head on over to any Boxing Bear location this weekend to grab a four-pack of Just Jonesin’, or just enjoy a pint on the patio.

A big thanks to Justin and Rashan for the interview. It was a lot of fun talking to a couple of old friends who clearly have a blast working together.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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