Best of 2021: The Crew picks top beers, events and more from an erratic year

Happy New Year from all of us! Even if all of us aren’t in this photo.

These last two years have been a challenge when it comes to finding actual good moments that made us smile, but when we dug a little deeper, we still found enough positive memories worth sharing.

2021 was not quite the oppressive doom-and-gloom year that 2020 was, and as we looked back, there was actually quite a lot that went on out there.

  • Long-time Santa Fe stalwart Blue Corn Brewery reopened as Hidden Mountain Brewing, with a new food menu.
  • Broken Trail officially closed its taproom in Uptown, joining Black Snout Brewhouse and 1933 Brewing as pandemic casualties.
  • It was not all bad news, however, as Bandolero Brewing opened in Clovis.
  • Then three closed breweries reopened, starting with Turquoise Trail, and the other two under new management, as Cantero became Lizard Tail Industrial and Dialogue became JUNO.
  • Kaktus Brewing finished its remodel and reopened in Bernalillo.
  • New liquor laws passed by the state legislature allowed breweries to begin limited serving of cocktails and spirits.
  • Toltec Brewing hired head brewer Brandon Venaglia away from Bathtub Row.
  • Red Door Brewing closed its original location, moving its brewing operations to the Mother Trail facility near the Sawmill District.
  • The Pink Boots Society collaboration beer returned, brewed this time at Rio Bravo.
  • Moonwalk Bev began making its own beer and spirits at the 505 Central food hall.
  • Boxing Bear opened its Firestone Taproom, which by the end of the year became the new hub of its brewing operations.
  • New Mexico United and its largest fan club, The Curse, teamed up with local breweries to release Stay Goalden at Ex Novo and Beyond the Pitch at Second Street.
  • Kaktus’ Farm House Ale Event in Bernalillo became the first outdoor beer festival in the state since 2019.
  • Marble teamed up with Meow Wolf to create Day Ghost Lager.
  • Palmer Brewery and Left Turn Distilling opened The Taproom at Old Town.
  • The Capitol Bar in Socorro began brewing its own beer.
  • Ale Republic rebranded as Rumor Brewing.
  • Lizard Tail’s rapid expansion continued with the opening of its Nob Hill taproom.
  • Steel Bender, Second Street, and Sierra Blanca teamed up again to create the charitable One for Five collaboration IPA.
  • Sandia Hard Cider launched Late Shift Lagerhaus at The Craftroom.
  • Four New Mexico breweries — Ex Novo, Marble, Ponderosa, Second Street — brought home medals from the Great American Beer Festival.
  • Bad news still happened as Quarter Celtic and B2B Garden Brewery were both broken into and vandalized.
  • Up north, Ullr Fest returned to Pajarito Mountain, and Santa Fe Brewing relaunched Oktoberfiesta at its remodeled main location.
  • Local breweries went all out for Halloween, including the return of the Stranger Things Carnival at Tractor Wells Park.
  • The New Mexico Brewers Guild brought back the Beer Premier, this time at Nexus Blue Smokehouse.
  • The NM IPA Challenge returned, though one round in Farmington had to be canceled, with Boxing Bear winning its fourth title in six years.
  • Ex Novo was able to finally open its spacious outdoor beer garden, The Corral.
  • Outpost 1706 became the second taproom to open in Old Town.
  • Turtle Mountain North will officially open to the public on New Year’s Eve.

Yeah, we stayed busy this year. As 2021 comes to a close Friday night, I figured it was time to poll the rest of the Crew and see what memories of beers, events, and more they will take forward. We did not hear back from all of our members (vacations still happen), but here are some of their choices for the best of 2021.

AmyO: Well, I’m still out on the road. I tried to think of something (specific), but mainly it’s just being able to get back to breweries after getting fully vaccinated. Then we started traveling because we missed the first six months of a companion pass on Southwest while not fully vaccinated. But, two beers that stood out to me were Canteen’s Panama Joe Rum and a barrel-aged vanilla stout at Casa Vieja.

Andrew: My five favorite new NM beers from 2021 were Benji’s Toast (Marble), Super Bad Ass Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (Icebox), Fresh Hop Mass Ascension (Ex Novo), Coffee Club: The Catch (Bow & Arrow), and Seca Stout (Sidetrack). My favorite beer events/memories were road tripping to visit the breweries of Southern NM, Marblefest, and Oktoberfest in Red River.

Stoutmeister, Brandon, some random flag, and lots of wind in Colorado Springs.

Brandon: Favorite live music experience at a brewery—Nil, Itami, & Lilith at Lauter Haus: Okay, this is an unfair bias, but it’s completely valid. Back in April I started playing bass with some friends for a band called Itami, who just started a few months prior. In October, we got the chance to play at Lauter Haus Brewing in Farmington with our friends in Nil and Lilith. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but it’s pretty uncommon that you’ll find a lot of breweries willing to host a loud sludge/metallic hardcore band, so the band was hyped. But, Lauter Haus did (shoutout to Aaron for setting it up), and it was a great show — well attended, fun hangouts, and great beers to top it off. A solid night in my book!

Favorite seasonal beer styles—Luck o’ the Irish this time around: My notes and memory send me back to being able to sample some St. Patty’s Day styles in person with a few of us together again finally, all of those stouts and reds were on point in 2021. Steel Bender and Quarter Celtic knocked em out of the park. Many places had a lot of traditional food or snack pairings to tie it all together! 

Favorite sports/beer moment—NM United away match at Colorado Springs Switchbacks: It was my first NM United away match, and getting to share it with Stoutmeister, Erin, and even being able to drag our good friend Wes (former Ex Novo brewer) along made for an epic road trip. We took all of the NM beers possible, walked into enemy territory, and cheered the lads on to a 3-1 away win, spoiling the Switchbacks’ first match in their new stadium. That trip brought about tons of great memories and inside jokes! 

Erin: Honestly, my favorite beer memory this year was watching the Ex Novo crew win their GABF medals. The explosion of excitement when they announced the silver medal in Oregon and the gold medal here in NM was a sight to be seen. I was thrilled to see the genuine gratitude and pride of the folks who worked so hard to craft Threat Level: Turquoise and share it with the public. From the taproom erupting in cheers, the owners and brewers letting loose and spraying beer all over each other, to the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on (head brewer) Dave Chichura’s face, the whole evening was a celebration of hard work and dedication, and a snapshot of this beer community at its finest.

No idea what we were doing with our faces in this photo from our Halloween in May gathering.

Franz Solo: (he picked all of his favorite beers by brewery)

Bow and Arrow: Coffee Club: The Catch (Collab with Cutbow Coffee). The aroma on this one was one of the very best I’ve experienced in a coffee beer of any kind, and the balance of coffee and stout flavor was simply stellar. I also happened to have tried Beer League #3 Italian Pils with foraged wild Neomexicanus hops from the Jemez, which is very cool on its own and was absolutely delicious.

La Cumbre: Father Nelson, Full Nelson, Project Dank (all of them). Yeah, I love hops, didn’t you know? Enough said. These are awesome. La Negra. This year’s was particularly good on draft, hitting all of the flavors I adore with an excellent mouthfeel and finish. Volks Weisn. This one was such a stunner of a märzen, which I really hope Jeff decides to brew again. I may need a case.

Marble: Cahoots Series DIPA. There were loads of tropical candy on this one, and it was one of the finest IPAs of the year to my taste. Marble Reserve, Imperial Stout, Heller Bock. This malty trio were all up to par on the excellent bar set by last year’s editions.

Sobremesa: Odd Yiere wine barrel-aged Biere de Garde, Hilltop Helles. Odd Yiere was just delightful all around, with yeast esters and wine barrel notes making for a luscious combination of flavors. What can I say about the helles? The man, David Facey, knows his lagers, and this one really hit the spot in the summer heat.

Boxing Bear: VantaBlack, Bear Knuckle, Mandarina Bavaria Lager, The Red Glove. The usual suspects, I suppose, but these were all quite quite good, measured up well to my memory of years past. The Mandarina Bavaria Lager uses one of my favorite newer German hops and paired with a crisp lager base made for an excellent springtime brew.

Ex Novo: Threat Level Turquoise, She Sells Seashells, Nevermore, Intergalactic Pale Reality (one of the best pale ales I’ve had in a long time). This list could be a lot longer, there were so very many stellar releases from Ex Novo this year. It was hard to pick favorites, but these were them. Props to Intergalactic Pale Reality for reminding me just how great a pale ale can be, certainly a style which has languished in the haze of late and which I hope makes a return to popularity (I’ll definitely be brewing some this year).

Canteen: Helles Awaits, Panama Joe, Panama Joe Rum, Wicked Raven Imperial Stout, Export Lager. I could’ve picked quite a few others to add to this list. Zach Guilmette and crew are making some amazing brews these days. Panama Joe has been and continues to be the bar for coffee stouts in town. This year was no different, and with the addition of the rum barrel-aged version, I’m both extremely caffeinated and a wee bit buzzed by the delicious results. Oh, yeah, and Wicked Raven is also excellent, not to mention just how many stellar lagers these guys made this year.

Second Street: Oktoberfest, Brown Ale, Skookum. That Oktoberfest absolutely deserved to medal at GABF, and the Brown and Skookum are always excellent ales in the same malty vein. 

Quarter Celtic: Burque Biergarten, Amber Lager. Wonderful lagers to go with wonderful fare. These were just lovely in the summertime on the patio while we enjoyed the afternoon.

Steel Bender: Amelia, Hop Fink Haze Pacific Sunrise. Amelia showcased Bob Haggerty’s love of Belgian yeasts and really knocked it out of the park for the style. I look forward to more of his Belgian-inspired adventures in the future. Pacific Sunrise is one of the most delicious and interesting newer hops I’ve tried in the past couple of years, and man was it refreshing.

Bosque: Scale Tipper. Ye olde stalwart lived up to my memories and brought hope for the continuation of the IPAs I enjoy the most (clear, bitter, flavorful).

Sidetrack: Kellerbier. This libation was consumed just prior to the only show I attended this year (Red Mesa at Launchpad!) and was excellent on a hot evening in the hidden nook around the corner on the patio. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to expand my list a bit next year, but keeping my daughter safe is my first priority. So for those places I missed this year, my apologies, and I hope to be out more in 2022 (gods and plagues willing).

The Second Street brew team when they learned they had won a gold medal for Oktoberfest.

Luke: Up here in Santa Fe, 2021 certainly felt like a mixed year. On the one hand, we felt way over COVID and were looking to get out and put this thing behind us like a bad night out. But, on the other hand, we were very much still dealing with it, and it shaped how we did everything this year, like outdoor and masked events. But, that didn’t stop us from figuring out how to safely shake our vaccinated tail feathers. My favorite moments/events/bright spots of 2021 include, but are not limited to:

1) Celebrating Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ fifth anniversary, outdoors, beneath a huge tent, with the whole crew, a dunk tank, and a champagne gun (don’t ask).    

2) The return of Metal Mondays to Tumbleroot. Even as masked events, they were ragers with some hard-hitting music, which, to be honest, hit a little different this year.

3) Being at Second Street, in the back, drinking Oktoberfest, as they won GABF silver for Oktoberfest. That was special.

4) The IPA Challenge, outside, on the Beer Creek Patio, surrounded by so many great people. As you know, there’s no better place to socially distance a party than that patio. The thing has its own zip code. 

5) Lastly, my favorite moments have been the one-on-one’s with good friends, just sharing a beer and getting to know some of my friends much better. Maybe it was the whole “trying not to take these things for granted” aspect of it, but over a beer, or brought together by beer, I’ve definitely gotten closer to some of the people in my universe, making good friendships, great ones.

6) Oh! Also, zooming our buddy Wes (formerly of Ex Novo) out in Texas rounds out the bright spots in my 2021. Shout out to him and his new pup, Goose.

As for beers, there were a lot to choose from this year, but I would say a few of my favorite beers came from Hidden Mountain, that should remind us all that they may have changed the menu and the name, but their brewer is still hammering out home-runs like his Vanilla Porter, Hoppiness is You Hazy Pale Ale, and most recently, the monstrously decadent Without a Trace imperial stout.

In 2022, I look forward to nights back at Chile Line with live music and comedy, getting an education in hip-hop at the SFBC Brake Room, and actually having a meal inside Beer Creek for a change. I hear people enjoy that, too. Oh yeah, and Winterbrew ’22 anyone?

Maureen: I think the main thing that stood out to me this year was the resiliency and adaptability of all the breweries to keep going, post-pandemic, even when it meant making difficult choices and changes to their normal operations. I’m especially glad that Turquoise Trail not only made a comeback after their closure early this year, but went on to be voted best new brewery in Albuquerque the Magazine. Their red chile beer was also definitely a big stand-out for me this year. Otherwise, the Boxing Bear patio on Tramway kept me going for much of the year. They had so many good beers, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I especially enjoyed the peanut butter chocolate milk stout from early this spring. 

Reid: Well, I’m not much of a note-taker or diary writer when it comes to my beers, so this is always tough. I’ve certainly had a bunch of good local beers. Since we’re mostly familiar with Albuquerque’s offerings, I’ll call out Bathtub Row’s Extra Stout, a special brew they made earlier in the year. It was quite good.

And, we tried to get out for more events during the year. Two that stand out in general are Santa Fe Brewing Company’s remodeled headquarters space, which hosted a wonderful Oktoberfiesta.  Also in Santa Fe, Tumbleroot got back into the swing of things, first on their nice patio and then back to indoors. In particular, we always enjoy seeing local band Nosotros there. Tumbleroot also has special beers like their Dry Hopped Tripel and Imperial Stout, which you can often buy in bottle form and enjoy on the premises.

Ullr Fest, and just the return of beer festivals in general, was a big highlight for all of us.

Stoutmeister: I will try not to go overboard here, but there was a lot of good packed in amidst all the doom and gloom of 2021. Perhaps my favorite thing was just going out and interviewing people again in person, sharing beers and stories after the digital recorder was turned off. There were concerts again, and props to Sister Bar for making sure everyone attending was vaccinated, and we could all gather in person to watch the Isotopes, New Mexico United, and the Lobos.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite moments.

Best Save: Our buddy Dan Hicks stepped up and hosted the 10th edition of our Stout Challenge, keeping that tradition alive. Oh, and Canteen won for Dark & Lusty, just in case anyone forgot.

Best Attempted Save: While interviewing Hannah over at High and Dry, we saw a roadrunner get hit by a car. She carefully scooped up the bird and put him/her into a box, and I took the wounded fellow to the wildlife rescue center down off Rio Grande. Sadly, they could not save him, but it was still a small moment of compassion for the two of us. We raised pints to the little one for the rest of the year.

Best Brewery Road Trip, Part One: Luke picked up Andrew and I and we hit the road to Southern New Mexico. We hit up the Truth or Consequences, Little Toad Creek, and Icebox Boneyard Cantina taprooms in Las Cruces. Then it was off to 575 Brewing in Alamogordo, Cloudcroft Brewing, Lost Hiker Brewing in Ruidoso, and Bonito Valley Brewing in Lincoln. It was April and we got snowed on, too. The MVP of the trip ended up being the giant order of Raising Canes chicken fingers that Andrew ordered in the middle of the first night, since it turned out the next night that Ruidoso mostly shuts down around 9 p.m.

Best Reunion with Brewery Folks, Part One: The tailgates at New Mexico United games across the street by the UNM track and field stadium were a great place to see so many of our brewery friends in person for the first time in a long time. Heck, Second Street head brewer Tom Ludzia is pretty much the mayor of that parking lot at this point.

Best Brewery and Metal Band Collaboration: Red Mesa and High and Dry created the Disharmonious Red IPA as the band recorded a live concert for online viewing in the spring. Once things opened up again, the first concert that I attended at Launchpad was headlined by Red Mesa on June 11, and all the guys in the band could not stop smiling throughout the performance. Live music was back, and for the first time since early 2020, I was drinking a brewery’s beer (La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, in this case) from a tap outside the brewery.

Best Brewery Road Trip, Part Two: Brandon covered that above with our trip to Colorado Springs and Denver.

Best Reunion with Brewery Folks, Part Two: The first Guild Social on June 29 finally gave everyone a chance to see each other in person again at Boxing Bear Firestone.

Best Hoppy, er, Happy Moment: Erin and I were at Ex Novo when it turned out to be Hoppy Grandma’s 102nd birthday party. Though she passed away at the end of the year, it was special being able to see her simple joy for people and local beer through the lens of her granddaughter’s camera throughout 2021 on Instagram. Raise one to the Carmens!

Best Returning Beer Festivals: There was Marblefest, Ullr Fest above Los Alamos, Oktoberfiesta at Santa Fe Brewing HQ, Beer Premier at Nexus Blue, and all the rounds of the NMIPAC. Now we look forward to WinterBrew and hopefully more of our favorite events returning in 2022!

Best Beer Trip way out of State: I got to visit relatives on the East Coast for the first time since 2017, and my cousin-in-law and I made sure to hit up some of the best breweries within a short driving distance of his home. We also opened a Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) and Sam Adams Utopias (26% ABV), and then didn’t move from the couch for a while.

Best Crew Gatherings of the Year: It’s too hard to pick, so I’ll just say anytime a bunch of us could get together in one place was awesome. A special shout out to Andrew for procuring some pFriem Kolsch bottles and Franz Solo for cooking up some jaegerschnitzel to go with them. We also held a La Negra/imperial stout night, a holiday bottle share, and a Festivus party.

Best Beers of the Year: In a year in which I recorded my 5,000th unique beer check-in on Untappd, there were a lot of beers to recap. Here’s a few, and I’m sure I’ll still miss some good ones — ReSource’s Bert Lips Schwarzbier, Canteen’s Imperial Stout (Taylor Garrett Whiskey collaboration edition), Sidetrack’s Bock Bock Who’s There, Casa Vieja’s Stout of Perseverance (a recipe collab with the Crew), La Cumbre’s Munich Dunkel and Volks Weisen, Red Door’s Pining for Maple Breakfast Brown, Ex Novo’s Ruminator Doppelbock and Threat Level Turquoise, Steel Bender’s barrel-aged Black is Beautiful, Gravity Bound’s You Can’t Park Here (name of the year candidate), Bosque’s Scale Tipper, Toltec’s Shaman Stout, Ex Novo’s V for Vienna served in the liter mugs at The Corral, Quarter Celtic’s Off the Cuff Baltic Porter, High and Dry’s Disharmonious Red IPA, Second Street’s Breaking Plaid and Oktoberfest, Icebox’s Super Bad Ass Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Lost Hiker’s Midnight Squirrel Oatmeal Stout, Cloudcroft’s Dark Irish Red, Rio Bravo’s Putin Royale, Kaktus’ Helles Lager, Boxing Bear’s Dr. Ink Me IPA and Metal Head Stout, Nexus’ Lush Imperial Stout, Marble’s Turkish Coffee Stout and Reserve Ale, Sidetrack’s Oak-toberfest, Ponderosa’s Italian Pilsner, Bow & Arrow’s Coffee Club: The Catch, Canteen’s rum barrel-aged Panama Joe and Helles Awaits, Tractor’s Turkey Drool, Ex Novo’s Nevermore, Hidden Mountain’s Whiteout Stout, Turtle Mountain’s Get Bock Inside.

All right, that is it from us for 2021, save for a quick Friday story with the special holiday hours for all the breweries.

Happy New Year!

— Stoutmeister and the Crew

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