Boxing Bear reclaims the crown for its 4th NM IPA Challenge victory in 6 years

The trophy is back in familiar hands with, from left, Boxing Bear’s Justin Hamilton, Jay Knigge, and David Kim and his poorly placed hand.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, at least as far as IPAs go, as Boxing Bear Brewing won its fourth New Mexico IPA Challenge trophy in the past six years. A clear, West Coast-style IPA was triumphant, which was impressive considering 11 of the 16 finalists were of the hazy variety.

“We’ve seen the rise of the hazies, the lighter IBU IPAs, and we’re putting a lot of those on tap anyway, but I think the confirmation is that people still want that bitter, clear, West Coast IPA with a little bit of Crystal malt in it, it kind of gives me a little bit of comfort that people still know what makes a true IPA,” said Boxing Bear director of brewing operations Justin Hamilton. “The rest of these are still in the IPA family, but let’s be honest, when you think IPA it should be something bitter, clear, and over 7 percent (ABV).”

A total of 175 voters cast their ballot for the final round Saturday afternoon at Boxing Bear’s Firestone Taproom, with the hosts leading the round with 34 votes and taking the title with 48 total. It was an impressive comeback after Bear Knuckle IPA had just one vote in the first round at Icebox Brewing in Las Cruces earlier this month.

Three locations, three very different voting totals from round to round.

“Honestly, it could have gone any direction, that’s how IPA Challenges go,” Hamilton said. “You watch them from previous years, the first two rounds are all over the place, and Albuquerque is the decider. We didn’t know which way it was going to go, but we had enough hope to think that we could still win. So, we had the home-field advantage, but we also had one of the few actual West Coast IPAss in the mix, which is funny because we’re used to seeing specialty beers, hazy IPAs, see everything else going out for these types of competitions and we did Bear Knuckle again. It’s really cool to see Bear Knuckle come out (on top) again as a really big, clean, hoppy, well-placed West Coast IPA.”

Nexus Brewery did take second place with a hazy entry, piling up 37 total votes, including 17 on Saturday. Three Rivers Brewery (West Coast) was third with 34 votes, and Icebox (hazy) came in fourth with 31 votes.

“We did that I think two or three years ago, we entered a hazy IPA,” Hamilton said. “It was our Albu-Murky. I think we we got second with it. It’s still a great beer. But, the fact is the West Coast IPA is still dominating a West Coast IPA competition is what’s comfortable. People are still saying this is what the IPA Challenge is all about. It’s about having a clear, bitter, West Coast-style IPA. That’s a nice confirmation about what the New Mexico craft-drinking public wants.”

There was plenty of space at the start, but it filled up fast, and in the future it will be filled with a brewhouse, fermenters, and a canning line.

Overall, the event went smoothly, with plenty of space still available in the future brewing area for Boxing Bear in the back of the taproom. Hamilton said the plan is to start moving the equipment over after Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, it was another positive turnout from New Mexico beer lovers, especially this was the first November NMIPAC in history due to the public health restrictions over the summer. Rio Bravo won a take-home-only competition in 2020, while Boxing Bear had won the last in-person competition in 2019, and titles before that in 2016 and 2017.

Boxing Bear is also the first brewery to win on its home turf since then-Il Vicino won at the Canteen in 2012.

The haze had the numbers, but the clear still came out on top!

We would like to thank everyone, from New Mexico Brewers Guild executive director Leah Black and her all-volunteer team, to the Boxing Bear staff, to every single beer drinker that came out to support this event at all three rounds.

It was wonderful to see a little sense of normal in a world turned upside down.


— Stoutmeister

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