Dispelling a few myths ahead of the final round of the NM IPA Challenge

Yup, another picture of a sample tray, but this one is all retro from 2012, the first year we covered the final round.

As everyone that follows this site should know by now, the third and final round of the 2022 New Mexico IPA Challenge is Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Santa Fe Brewing’s taproom inside Tin Can Alley. Some tickets are still available online.

It’s been a bit of a tumultuous NMIPAC so far, and after covering this series of competitions for 11 years now, we are still finding a lot of people are still making the same mistakes in their perceptions of this event as they did before we started this website. And, that was before everything got screwed up in the first round for poor Second Street.

All right, then let us dispel some of the myths and misperceptions of the NMIPAC before everyone gathers Saturday afternoon. Consider it sort of a public service on our part.

It’s all rigged! No, it’s not. If a group of people as prideful as brewers thought something was rigged, they would have quit participating long ago. It does not benefit the NM Brewers Guild to rig this event. If anything, it would mean a different small brewery would win every year, rather than the general dominance by the mid-sized breweries of New Mexico. Since 2009, only four — Canteen (then Il Vicino), Bosque, Boxing Bear, Hidden Mountain (then Blue Corn) — have won the trophy at the in-person NMIPAC. If the goal was to spread around the love and give places a positive boost, one would think there would be just a wee bit more variety. Except, it would be a negative, because no one likes a cheater. Don’t believe us that no one likes a cheater around here? Ask any Albuquerque baseball fan about former local standout Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros.

This is a very serious event for the breweries and must be treated as such. No, this is a fundraiser for the Guild, with an emphasis on fun. Are the brewers competitive? Sure, but in the end they know this is just about bragging rights. There is no cash prize at the end. Sometimes it’s just a chance to test out a new recipe in a blind taste test, where people’s perceptions about your brewery (good or bad) won’t influence their opinion. Mostly, though, this is about raising money for the Guild. It’s the biggest fundraiser held all year. Where does the money go? To help pay the lobbyists who represent the Guild at the state legislature every year, for one thing. So again, there is absolutely zero financial incentive for anyone to rig this event.

There must be a lot of non-IPA drinkers voting outside of Albuquerque based on these results. Over the last 10 years, all of us in the Crew have learned that the palates of New Mexicans outside the biggest city (and Santa Fe) are quite different. They tend to prefer lighter beers, sweeter beers, and the like. They’re a lot closer in taste preferences to Texans than Burqueños. We see this complaint every year when people cannot understand the low vote totals for some (usually the breweries they like) and higher vote totals for others (usually the breweries they don’t like) at the rounds held outside the metro area. Hazy IPAs outsell West Coast IPAs by a significant margin in southern and northern parts of the state when compared to Albuquerque. Just remember, the final round is always in the Albuquerque metro area, and usually has more people voting than all the previous rounds combined. It evens out in the end.

How can my favorite brewery’s IPA, the best ever made, not be dominating this competition? This is one we feel like we have to explain every year. The beers poured at the Challenge are almost always a special batch brewed just for the competition. So no, that’s not Elevated or 7K or Mass Ascension being poured as one of your 16 samples. It’s often a brand-new recipe, or maybe a modified recipe of an existing IPA. Since a lot of times the brewers themselves have a hard time picking out their own beers in the blind format, there’s really no point in every non-brewer trying to guess which beer is which, especially when odds are, you’ve never had it before.

But, the brewery that I think is the best at IPAs is not doing well, so clearly something is off here. Here’s an interesting stat: the three largest breweries in the state in terms of annual barrels produced — Santa Fe, Marble, La Cumbre — have never won this competition. Different breweries of all sizes tend to put more, or less, into this competition. Some are quite willing to spend lots of extra money on the rare hops they want to make an IPA that could potentially win big. Others are not, for various reasons, but it usually comes down to money. Some breweries simply can’t spend extra to make a beer for a competition where they do not make any profit. Others would rather save their new recipes for a profitable release. Basically, everyone tries to make a good IPA for this competition, but clearly some try harder than others. It’s just not every year, however, as the voting shows so far with four-time past winner Boxing Bear.

I cannot believe that brewery I don’t like is doing so well, so that invalidates everything. In an era of 90-plus breweries in New Mexico, we get it, first impressions are everything when it comes to a new-to-you brewery. The funny thing is, some breweries that start off poorly get better over time. Sometimes there’s a change in the head brewer, sometimes more funds are raised, or sometimes the public’s tastes just for changes. So while you might be shocked that a brewery you once tried is doing much better with its IPA than you could have ever expected, it could be that the brewery has really and truly gotten better at making beer. Or, maybe they just struck gold with this one new recipe. The only way to find out will probably be to go revisit the joint sooner than later.

So yeah, as we have said since 2012, this competition is just for fun, it’s a great fundraiser, and no one should take it too seriously (or too personally). Just keep an open mind, a clean palate, and don’t forget some pretzels. Who knows? You might be surprised by the results Saturday, or maybe it will turn out like how it has in most years, with a past champion (re)claiming the trophy.

If you still disagree with any of the above, yell at us on social media.


— Stoutmeister

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