The great haze vs. clear debate will be settled at NM IPA Challenge final round

Get your palates ready. The hops are coming.

After two wildly different results from the first two rounds of the 2021 New Mexico IPA Challenge, everything will be decided Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 at Boxing Bear’s Firestone Taproom.

Normally, we would include a ticket link, but the final round has sold out online as of Friday morning. Huzzah to that news! There will be a very limited number of additional tickets for sale at the door, per New Mexico Brewers Guild executive director Leah Black, but get there early as they will also sell out fast.

So, as per tradition, we start this story with what any first-time participant needs to know. If you have been to an IPA Challenge or two in the past, you can skip this next part.

First-timers survival guide

Welcome to the NMIPAC final round. Upon entering the brewery, which is located at 8420 Firestone Lane (off Jefferson, east side of the street, about halfway between Alameda and Paseo del Norte), you will get a tray of 16 IPA samples. Find a table, sit down, and begin.

There is no perfect strategy for drinking, so pace yourself. There are three hours, after all. The only concern many people have is with the beers warming up too fast, but the temperatures should be nice and cool, inside and out, this Saturday (as opposed to the usual July timeframe for the NMIPAC).

Our usual advice is to smell all 16 beers, in whatever order you choose. Get an idea of what to expect from each beer. Take notes, and there should be paper and pencil available from the Guild (or bring your own notebook if you tend to get wordy).

After that, begin tasting. You can go in order, one to 16, or reverse order, or be as random as you wish. Taste all the hazy ones first, or the clear West Coast ones first. It is all up to you.

It is best not to try and guess which brewery is represented by which beer. Heck, the brewers themselves even have trouble doing that. Just analyze them independently (that is the point of this being a blind taste test) and rate them on whatever standards you can prefer when it comes to IPAs. There are no right or wrong answers. This is your opinion, and yours alone.

Just remember when you cast your vote, you will get a full pint of that beer. In other words, just remember that if you pick a beer because it’s “the most hoppy/bitter,” and you don’t really like to drink that usually, you are gonna get stuck with 16 ounces.

Finally, be careful after the competition. It might be best to carpool, find a designated driver, or take an Uber/Lyft to the taproom, particularly if you live far away. The parking lot is not huge.

Oh, and chow down beforehand. Tantrum BBQ will be parked outside, but we do not know when they will be set up and serving, so make sure you have some food in your stomach before consuming all those IPAs.

Above all else, have fun. This is a fundraiser for the Guild, and is not meant to be taken too seriously. It is certainly not a proper scientific judging of beers (or it wouldn’t be left to the general public). It is a celebration of the creativity and camaraderie of local brewers, and for them it just comes down to bragging rights. Don’t get mad if your favorite brewery comes up short. They won’t be upset, and neither should you.

Any questions? Just message us, or heck, look out for anyone in a Brew Crew shirt at the event.

The newest Boxing Bear taproom is off Jefferson between Alameda and Paseo del Norte.

Reviewing the final details

All right, NMIPAC veterans, back to the rest of what you need to know.

The first two rounds were wildly opposite, with the hazy IPAs dominating in Las Cruces, and the clear West Coast IPAs taking the top spots at Beer Creek outside Santa Fe. Here is a review of the standings after the second round.

  1. Icebox Brewing 15 + 6 = 21
  2. Nexus Brewery 16 + 4 = 20
  3. Second Street Brewery 9 + 11 = 20
  4. Three Rivers Brewery 6 + 11 = 17
  5. Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery 16 + 1 = 17
  6. Hidden Mountain Brewing 2 + 13 = 15
  7. Boxing Bear Brewing 1 + 13 = 14
  8. Thirsty Eye Brewing 6 + 5 = 11
  9. Quarter Celtic Brewpub 1 + 7 = 8
  10. Canteen Brewhouse 4 + 3 = 7
  11. Ex Novo Brewing 2 + 5 = 7
  12. Red Door Brewing 3 + 3 = 6
  13. Palmer Brewery 2 + 3 = 5
  14. Sobremesa 4 + 1 = 5
  15. Lava Rock Brewing 3 + 1 = 4
  16. Turtle Mountain Brewing 1 + 1 = 2

It is quite possibly the closest grouping at the top that we have seen rolling into a final round. No one has separated themselves from the pack. The five West Coast IPAs in the competition are Boxing Bear, Ex Novo, Hidden Mountain, Quarter Celtic, and Three Rivers. Hazy IPAs occupy four of the top five spots.

The only time a hazy has ever won was last year, when the NMIPAC was a take-home event, and Rio Bravo prevailed. The highest finish for a hazy in an in-person NMIPAC was when Ex Novo finished in third place with one in 2019.

A lot of this has led some of our readers to express a desire to see the NMIPAC split into separate competitions for hazy and West Coast IPAs. Even some of the Crew has suggested such a division, but it is already hard as can be to organize a single NMIPAC. Remember, you are asking breweries to give up part of their Saturdays, usually during the busiest time of year in the summer. This event raises money, but it also costs money. The breweries are essentially giving away IPA for free (all proceeds go to the Guild), and oftentimes, these IPAs are the most expensive beers they brew all year. With the rising costs and general scarcity of everything from ingredients (hops, malt, yeast) to supplies (aluminum cans, spare parts, full-size equipment), it is probably not feasible to double the number of NMIPAC rounds for 2022, barring a huge economic turnaround for the entire industry and all associated industries.

Still, we think it might be fun some day to have split competitions, so it might be something to revisit in 2023 or 2024.

Anyway, that is pretty much everything you all need to know. As we told the newbies, if you have any questions, just message us in all the usual ways.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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