A quartet of New Mexico breweries, including two first-time winners, captured medals at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony on Friday evening.
Ex Novo Corrales and Ponderosa each won their first medals, and in both cases, those medals were gold. Ex Novo, whose sister brewery in Portland won gold last year for Perle Haggard, took the top prize in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category with Threat Level: Turquoise. The Portland brewery did not come away empty handed, taking silver in the International Pale Ale category with Intergalactic Pale Reality.
“It’s great that we got a medal from both places,” Corrales head brewer Dave Chichura said while laughing. “Damn, maybe we know what we’re doing.”
Chichura and the rest of the staff were trying to watch the online broadcast in their busy taproom, so they weren’t quite able to follow along and react immediately.
“At one point, one of the guys on our team, as it was getting toward (the category), he yells YES,” Chichura said. “He was watching on his phone. I thought he was messing with us. I thought that was a really cruel joke. Then we saw it — Threat Level won gold. It was hilarious. I really thought he was playing a real cruel joke. Somehow his feed was faster than the one we were watching. We erupted. It was myself, and Joel, and Devin, and we have a guy out from our Portland brewery, where we also won a medal, Hudson, he was there. Cary, our packaging manager was there, and I think Andrew was there, too. We’re all in the place and (doing) the usual things, hugging, high-fiving, cheers-ing.”
Ex Novo founder Joel Gregory replied to us via email.
“Tonight was amazing, we nabbed two medals in tough categories and our first for a beer out of Corrales; a gold no less,” he wrote. “It came at the perfect time after a long week, short-staffed, but with such a great crew that cares so much about producing top-notch beers. Happy to represent NM with this win!”
Chichura said winning in a hop-forward category with 140-plus entries was no small feat.
“It means a lot to me, personally,” he said. “Not just because of the last year has been nutty for everybody, but just to get a medal in a competitive category, where there was close to 150 entries. That’s some strong competition. It’s a different beer world than it was even a few years ago, and then a lot more than several years ago.”
Chichura said Gregory deserves some credit along with the brewing team.
“What I credit even any thought or hope of this beer garnering anything, it was Joel, he thought this would be a good one to put in,” Chichura said. “So I put it into the competition. I want to put it into American Strong Pale, not IPA. I got a note from Ryan Buxton, our head brewer in Portland, ‘Hey, this beer is good.’ … It’s always unexpected. I never going into any competition expecting anything.
“It’s especially gratifying, dealing with all the things. Dealing with the pandemic, and just the ebbs and flows of the world. To be able to still ply your trade and make beer, and make beer that people like, and that is something worth a medal, it’s nothing I would ever deny. It’s just a great thing. I’m happy for all of us. That was a team effort. I’m pretty sure I didn’t mash in, knock out, dry hop, transfer, or package that beer. That was our team. It’s a team effort.”
As for Ponderosa, the brewpub took the top spot in the Hoppy Lager category with its Italian Pilsner.
“It was funny, I had completely forgotten those (awards) were tonight,” head brewer Antonio Fernandez said. “I finished up my brew at work, got home, finished cooking up some dinner, and then everyone started texting me, Austin (Giorgetta) from Rio Bravo first, and then everyone else.”
Once Fernandez got over the surprise, he was able to reflect on the accomplishment.
“It feels really good,” he said. “It’s my first medal at all, and that it’s a gold is amazing. What’s really amazing, I’ve been drinking on this beer, it’s ready to go on tap in the next week or two. I’ve been thinking the more I’ve been drinking it, it’s the best beer I’ve ever made.”
A pair of silver medals went to two veteran breweries. Marble earned its 12th medal overall, and first since 2017, in the Extra Special Bitter category with Eastside Special Bitter. Second Street picked up its fifth medal overall, and its first silver, with Oktoberfest in the German-Style Marzen category.
New Mexico breweries have now combined to win 92 medals since 1991, and 59 of those have been in the last 10 competitions, including this year.
“To me, it’s confirmation what a lot of us craft beer drinkers in the state know,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the country, I’ve been everywhere around the country. As good as all those beers I’ve had at other places, I’ve always thought the beer here in New Mexico is world class, it stands up to anything I’ve had at any of the renowned breweries. We just don’t get the credit, yet, but I think we will.”
Among the four medal winners, only the Italian Pilsner at Ponderosa is not currently available, but it will be out soon, as Fernandez said. You can find cans of Ex Novo’s Threat Level: Turquoise and Second Street’s Oktoberfest at both breweries and select local liquor stores. Eastside Special Bitter is still on tap at all three Marble taprooms.
Luke will have reaction from the watch party at Second Street in a separate story later. If we hear back from Marble’s brew team, we will update this story with quotes and reaction. Otherwise, we will track them down next week when they get back from the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver. They are entitled to a wee bit of celebrating up there, right?
Congratulations to the winners and to all the New Mexico breweries that entered beers in the competition this year.
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