2020 really sucked but at least the beer was tasty

Taprooms were empty for a good portion of 2020, such as the one at Ex Novo. (Photo courtesy of Joel Gregory)

Rather than wait until New Year’s Eve or Day, we decided that today (Tuesday) marked a perfectly good time to run our annual Year in Review.

So, did anything happen in 2020? Well, gosh, a lot happened, and it was not all pandemic-related. Here are a whole lotta links to the biggest news stories of the year gone by, some of which you might have forgotten even happened, since this felt like the longest year ever.

January

The year started nice and quiet. We got to go to WinterBrew (remember festivals?) and have some fun. Those were the days.

February

The Stout Invitational trophy, which was the last Brewers Guild event held in 2020.

It was all about the stouts to start the month. The Crew crowned La Cumbre’s Malpais Stout as the winner of our annual Stout Challenge. A couple weeks later, the public chose Flix Brewhouse’s entry as the champion of the annual Stout Invitational at Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos.

The first medals of the year were handed out at the Best of Craft Beer Awards, with Ex Novo (four), Flix (three), and Quarter Celtic (three) leading the way for New Mexico.

If there was a down note in February, it was the announcement that Blue Grasshopper was closing its Wells Park location, and beginning a reorganization that ultimately led to the end of the brewpub and its other two locations.

March

Members of the Pink Boots Society gathered at Canteen to brew their collaboration beer, Essential Pie, back when gathering was still allowed.

Things started off nice and joyous, as the women in our craft brewing scene gathered at Canteen for the brew day for the annual Pink Boots Society collaboration beer. Again, do you remember gathering in large groups and having fun?

And then, along came the Doom of Our Time. Things rapidly changed, as breweries were reduced to 50-percent occupancy, and then reduced to takeout only.

We did one of our last in-person interviews for a while, stopping at the still-under-construction Sobremesa. Shortly after that, the Crew did our first Zoom beer review, as we all accepted the new reality of social distancing.

April

The new Boxing Bear taproom at Tramway and Candelaria opened in the midst of the to-go-only portion of the pandemic.

It was an up-and-down month of many beer runs, some socially distant gatherings in city parks, and little bits of news.

Some brewery/distilleries switched over to making hand sanitizer. Boxing Bear decided to open its new taproom at the The Bridges at Tramway.

The bad news included the Governor switching things up and closing the liquor stores. Meanwhile, 1933 Brewing closed, the first permanent closure among breweries during the pandemic, and sadly not the last.

May

Events had to go virtual throughout much of 2020. (Image courtesy of the New Mexico Brewers Guild)

Red Door shared a mixture of good and bad news, including the closure of its short-lived Roswell taproom.

The New Mexico Brewers Guild and ABQ Beer Week both held virtual festivals and events.

For us in the Crew, we had some fun with our new history series, looking at the state of brewing in our state back before it was a state.

Finally, there was some good news, as breweries with kitchens were allowed to reopen their patios late in the month, but it was also bad news for all the food-free breweries that could not participate.

June

Another Santa Fe Brewing taproom opened inside this new complex in the Northeast Heights.

This was the happy month of the summer. Tin Can Alley, featuring another Santa Fe Brewing taproom, opened its doors early in the month. Then came the news that all breweries could reopen their patios and limited indoor seating as well. That led to the dormant Boese Brothers to return to life, among other breweries that did not want to do to-go-only sales.

We celebrated the arrival of the aforementioned Pink Boots Society collaboration beer, which quickly sold out in cans and on draft at multiple breweries.

Gravity Bound, which had planned to open about a week before COVID-19 shut down everything in March, finally opened up to positive reviews. A few blocks away, Bow & Arrow fired up their new canning line.

July

Farewell to the Tractor Four Hills Taproom, one of many places to close this year.

The good times did not last. As if they needed another hit from 2020, Taos Mesa saw its mothership location catch fire.

Indoor dining was halted in its tracks as case numbers rose.

Tractor made the tough decision to permanently close its Four Hills taproom.

August

The future home of the first Turtle Mountain Brewing offsite taproom since 2012.

There was plenty of personnel movement over the course of the year, with perhaps the biggest move coming when head brewer Wes Burbank left Rowley Farmhouse Ales to become the research and development brewer at Ex Novo.

Turtle Mountain decided the time was finally right to sign a lease for a future offsite taproom.

But, for the Crew, the big moment of the month was the start of our Brewery Patio Bracket Battle, which ended up being our most-read series of stories in our nine-year history.

September

The Crew did the entire 36-can IPA Challenge in one night. Yeah, we were crazy.

Red River Brewing held off Alamogordo’s 575 Brewing for the title of best brewery patio, showing that small-town breweries can garner some big support.

Elsewhere, Bosque opened its new offsite taproom at the Santa Fe Railyard. Nexus offered its customers a unique opportunity to invest in the Blue Smokehouse. Sobremesa opened its doors at last.

One of our favorite annual July events got pushed back and revamped for 2020, as the Brewers Guild sent the New Mexico IPA Challenge home. Rio Bravo’s Dice Roll Hazy IPA ended up the champion by a single vote.

October

The most recent new brewery to open in the Northeast Heights arrived just before another series of shutdowns.

The effects of the nationwide aluminum can shortage began to take hold in New Mexico. That was the bad news, but there was some good stuff to celebrate as autumn arrived.

High and Dry found a virtual way to help local bands and artists. Nexus began canning some of its beers at last. ReSource Brewing became the latest new brewery to open, even amid the pandemic.

The Great American Beer Festival’s competition went virtual, with four New Mexico breweries combining to win five medals. The winners included first timers Quarter Celtic and La Reforma, while Second Street was feeling like gold for the second time in its history.

November

It turned out those three medals from early in the year were just the start for Quarter Celtic.

Surging case numbers in New Mexico and across the country led to everyone going back to takeout only.

While the Crew kicked off our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series with a different brewery than usual, it was a pivot for us as well as the interviews went virtual.

By month’s end, we had learned of multiple closures — Black Snout, Broken Trail, Cantero — that was somewhat balanced out by more medals for Quarter Celtic.

December

Patio seating was restored to 25-percent occupancy, but otherwise it has been a cold, quiet month.

Notable beers of the year

We made a big, beautiful beast of a beer with the good folks at Bow & Arrow.

Charitable beers were a big theme throughout the year. Marble brewed up its Starlight Wheat Ale to help out in El Paso. Multiple breweries created their own versions of the national collaborations Black is Beautiful and All Together IPA. Second Street, Sierra Blanca, and Steel Bender teamed up for a new version of One for 5 IPA. Red Door rolled out Left Paw Lager in cans.

Our friend Majin Garcia collaborated on multiple beers released throughout the metro area, from Screwball Breaks Left at Ex Novo, ApocalypTHICC at Toltec, Darkest Cheer/Darkest Year at Bow & Arrow, and barrel-aged Track Suit Stout at Steel Bender. The Crew also had a pair of collaborations, Czar of Aberdeen at Red Door and Pastry Slayer at Bow & Arrow, with the latter being our first canned brew.

Hazy IPAs brought out the crowds, but lagers seemed to continue their surge in popularity. Ones that we would refer to as “weird beers” were often big hits as well, with Bosque’s Pickle Down Economics becoming so popular that it’s now a year-around offering.

Overall, as we said in the headline to this story, the quality and variety of beers ended up the biggest highlight of the year, what with all the big events relegated to the dust bin of history.

Gazing toward 2021

All of us in the Brew Crew pass along our thanks to the brewery employees and customers for getting our industry through this most difficult of years.

The New Year will be here Friday. COVID-19 is still raging, but there is a vaccine. The general hope is that at some point in the summer, things will be back to normal. What exactly “normal” will be is to be determined.

We know that there will be no WinterBrew and no Stout Invitational early in the year. The Crew will still try to figure out a way to do our Stout Challenge, but those plans to do it while maintaining our distance will be a whole new challenge.

The state legislature will meet for a two-month session starting in January. We expect there will be several bills that could affect breweries.

We will continue to hold out hope that there will be no additional permanent closures, but that seems like a long shot at this point. (No, we don’t know of anything imminent.)

In the end, all we can do is gave thanks to the breweries that have toughed it out. We tip our caps to all the front-of-house workers who have had life the hardest this year, while also acknowledging all the hard work by those in the back, the delivery and distribution teams, marketing directors, and everyone else who had to pivot and pivot and pivot again.

To everyone in the New Mexico craft beer scene, we raise our glasses.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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