Lightning crashes but both brewers conference and festival are big hits

The lines were long and the humidity was high, but overall the first Great NM Beer Festival was a success.

This past weekend brought quite the doubleheader for the craft beer industry, with the New Mexico Brewers Conference on Friday and the inaugural Great New Mexico Beer Festival on Saturday, both held at Balloon Fiesta Park. While nearby lightning chased everyone off the field early on both days, it was still a good weekend for everyone involved.

As I got to attend both events, here is a little recap of what went down, and what can be done to make things better next year.

Sustainability is the word

We didn’t get through all the sessions, but the conference was for the most part a positive learning experience.

Friday’s Brewers Conference did not start without a hiccup or two, but overall it was an informative day, both in terms of what I can share here, and some additional news that will be presented later this week and in the weeks beyond.

Yeah, there’s a notable brewer on the move, and news about what will happen to the now former Toltec Brewing, but that will wait for now.

Anyway, the theme of the conference was sustainability. Between the increased cost of, well, everything, and the now tangible effects of climate change on the brewing industry — diminished crop yields for barley and hops, regional drought — it was certainly a timely set of issues.

Matt Gacioch, the sustainability ambassador for the Brewers Association, provided the opening remarks, touching on all aspects of how breweries can be more environmentally responsible while remaining financially solvent.

Beer Creek’s Rich Headley held court during one of the breakout sessions.

Breakout sessions followed, with Beer Creek Brewing co-owner Rich Headley tackling subjects including the growth of the local barley-growing industry (his wish is to someday have a malting facility located in either the South Valley or Valencia County), the growth of New Mexico’s hop farms, and even how breweries can use less water in the cleaning process in between brews. Beer Creek is the first brewery in the state to offer up a mixed four-pack of beers made with entirely New Mexico-grown malt and hops.

Other sessions focused on CO2 recapture on a small scale, the changing patterns of barley growing seasons, and a presentation by ReSource Brewing co-owner/head brewer Shawn Wright about reducing the overall impact and costs while still producing quality beer.

Beer Creek created this special label that other breweries will be able to use on their cans in the future.

The final three sessions, which would have included a roundtable discussion with all the speakers, were ultimately washed away by the arrival of the monsoon rains and lightning. We did have time to learn about the winners of the first all-local beer competition. Then it was time to scramble to our cars, and after a few more lightning strikes set off the warning sirens, everyone decided to either head home or go to Boxing Bear Firestone for an after party.

For the most part, it was just fun to have so many people from the industry together again in one place.

Working towards great

Newer breweries and breweries from outside Albuquerque like Downshift were extremely popular.

The Great New Mexico Beer Festival took over the same stretch of Balloon Fiesta Park on Saturday. With an estimated 5,000 tickets sold, the crowds were at least somewhat stretched out across the afternoon, so that it did not completely gum up the entrance.

Once inside, we all realized something was different — it was humid. So, so humid. The field was still wet, and a little muddy in places. All that moisture radiated upwards as the sun blazed down upon us until the final couple hours when the clouds returned. The giant water stations were a welcome sight, and there was plenty of seating under the tents for those who needed breaks.

All of the breweries were present by our count, save for Blü Dragonfly Brewing of Raton. Some of the most popular spots were the breweries from the southern reaches of the state, including Milton’s Brewing (Carlsbad), Downshift Brewing (Ruidoso), and Little Toad Creek (Silver City).

We need more mini-golf practice, so a brewery just needs to add this to its patio.

There was a good selection of food trucks, and there were quite a few lawn games available. My friend Tim and I quickly realized that our miniature golf skills had atrophied, but we still completed the “course” that was arranged next to the southern breweries.

We all liked to see how the non-brewery vendors were mixed in among the beer tents, rather than grouping them elsewhere. It did make it tough to spot some breweries who did not have their logos on the canopy tents.

One suggestion for next year would be to expand the field even more (if it is possible). The lines started to back up pretty far as the day went on, and they often had to curve and curl around one another, leaving patrons somewhat confused as to where to stand. The breweries also faced some challenges, with a few places running out of beer awfully early. Everyone was a bit out of practice when it came to preparing for a festival of this size.

Cheers to a good festival with a little Esmerelda Italian Pilsner, which was the last beer to kick at Steel Bender’s tent.

As for some beers worth highlighting, we enjoyed Apex View IPA from Downshift, Sex Panther (Dark Lager) from Late Shift Lager House, Get To Da Hoppa IPA from Beer Creek, Dunkel from Palmer Brewery, and Koenig Lager from Taos Mesa. We would love to hear from the rest of you which were your favorite beers, so leave us a comment or two on social media. And, if there is any other constructive criticism you would like to provide about any aspect of the festival, let us know that, too. We will pass it along to the organizers.

A final thank you to everyone involved, from the New Mexico Brewers Guild, to Dean Strober and Blue River Productions, to the participating brewers and breweries, and to all the craft beer lovers.

Let’s do it again next year, shall we? I just gotta remember more SPF 50 is a good thing. I did not protect my neck.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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