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Nom nom barleywine!

Thanks to our friends at Ska Brewing in Durango, we in the crew were delighted recipients of a bottle of their barrel-aged Ska Face Barleywine. A quorum of Stoutmeister, myself (Franz Solo), and Cryptogrind gathered to enjoy this lovely winter warmer.

Take note, Ska Face will be available today (Friday) from 5 to 8 p.m. at Sister as part of a tap takeover by the brewery. Also available are Sour Apple Gose, Pink Vapor Stew, True Blonde, and Bad Hop Contract.

To help everyone make up their minds as to whether or not to attend, we present our rambling discourse from Tuesday evening.

Crypt: I can smell the booze on this from here.

Solo: Holy hell! Bourbon!

Crypt: Bourbon, dried fruit, you get raisin right away.

Solo: Oh yeah, that tart, whiskey sour mash kind of flavor. It’s a little floral initially, too.

Crypt: Smells like corn!

(Laughter ensues.)

Stout: Korn!

Solo: Delicious creamed corn!

Crypt: Not the corn! Ah, Willie’s gonna have his legs broke!

(Further laughter ensues.)

Stout: That’s delicious.

Crypt: On a different level, layers of sweetness.

Solo: You get tart, and then sweet, and then earthy, and then yummy.

Crypt: So the booze I don’t get a lot on the palate, honestly. It’s not overly hot like it kind of smells like it should be. But, it’s pretty complex in the flavor, because there’s a ton of whiskey right up front, but it doesn’t burn. You get a ton of oak and sour whiskey comes through.

Solo: Vanilla is starting to come through a lot as well.

Crypt: There’s like five different kinds of sweetness there with a little bit of caramel, and it’s like if the huckleberries were too tart, you just dust them with confectioner’s sugar, that kind of thing.

Stout: It is not overly chewy, but I still like the mouthfeel.

Solo: Yeah, it fills the mouth, but it is not a single blast at any spot. Rather, it coats everything.

Stout: It does linger and in a good way; there’s not a bad aftertaste to this at all.

Crypt: It has this light toffee and caramel sweetness light coating that’s really nice.

Stout: It’s more the beer itself and not necessarily the barrel.

Solo: And, it just warms you so nicely. It gives me that little bit of chest burn like you get from a good whiskey or strong winter ale.

Crypt: What kind of yeast did they use in this? I’m getting different kind of fruity notes in the finish that are just really neat.

Stout: Well, it’s an English-style yeast that they use up there.

Crypt: It is pretty unique as far as the finish goes.

Solo: Yeah, it is kind of like the dried cherries that my dad has from his yard, but sweeter like they were injected with huckleberries.

Crypt: We should put that on a banana splice, er split.

(We proceed to discuss excellent sci-fi movies including Blade Runner 2049 and The Cell before returning to the task at hand.)

The bottle even came with this handy sheet of fun facts.

Stout: Thank you, Ska.

Solo: Yes, thank you, Ska. The beer smells sweeter than it actually tastes, likely from the slight tart sourness of the whiskey barrel that balances with what would be otherwise a very, very sweet beer.

Stout: Agreed.

Crypt: Purple monkey dishwasher.

Stout: Drink this while skiing Purgatory! This is very much a winter skiing beer.

Crypt: I’d wash it down with a tall, cool glass of hot dog. Wait …

(The late, great Harry Caray then enters discussion, as is typical of these gatherings, and we rambled a bit about the delicious brews and food available in Chicago.)

In conclusion, among barrel-aged barleywines this one is a strong and unique example of a tart and medium sweet, English-style winter warmer, with many distinct and delightful notes of vanilla, sour whiskey, and various dried fruits. The flavor and aroma linger with the best of ’em and the mouthfeel is excellent. We heartily recommend you seek this quintessential winter skiing/snowboarding beer.

Thanks, once again, to our friends at Ska Brewing for sending us a sample!

Skål!

— Solo, Stoutmeister, Cryptogrind

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One big beer year at Turtle Mountain will blend into another in 2018.

Franz Solo here, recapping when I headed up the hill to Rio Rancho for Turtle Mountain’s entry in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series on an unsuspecting Wednesday, and was greeted with a splendid variety of seasonal beers ranging from the tartest pink cranberry sours to the maltiest of burly smooth barleywines. My first interview was with head brewer Mick Hahn.

Solo: So, another year has passed and here we are looking back and looking ahead. You’ve been through a year, what have you learned? What are your successes? What would you like to do better, and what goals do you have for the coming year?

Mick: I’ve definitely learned a lot. I would say I take each batch with the notion of what can I learn from this. We just brewed a new batch of Hopshell IPA yesterday that I completely renovated the hop bill on it based on how we brewed Capspackler DIPA. Capspackler was a very adventurous imperial IPA for us to brew, it got close to 10 pounds of hops per barrel.

Solo: So you’re shooting the upper echelon of what other breweries are doing with their IPAs here in town.

Mick: With Hopshell we’re definitely not pushing up to that, but the way that we allocated those hops in the brew of Capspackler, that had more of an effect on what I’m doing with Hopshell now. How can we make it a little more balanced, a little more flavorful without losing a whole lot? It had a first-wort hop addition, a 90-minute hop addition, and then a 15 and a whirlpool. I don’t understand why we had it so split on the two ends of the boil. It was at 100 IBUs and about 60 IBUs were (lost) in the very beginning of the boil. That seems just wasteful to me; it gives it us real strong bitter punch that lingers as bitterness, but it really doesn’t fill out the flavor of that beer. And then, the hops on the back end gave it a bit of a ‘poof’ of flavor, but it subsides really quickly. So we kind of drew it out and dropped down on the early additions. We dropped the 90-minute addition and brought in a 60-minute addition, brought in a 30-minute addition and built up those hops towards the end instead of just having them on two sides of the brew. I think it will be much more appealing, much more of a consistent beer.

Solo: I’m doing somewhat of the same thing on the homebrewing front where I’m learning that there is a definite rhyme and reason to having a hop addition at one time versus another time, and what different variations in timing and quantity can really do to craft a particular flavor profile in different styles of beer. Especially these days in IPAs where you are likely going for that super juicy and fruit or floral flavor. Now it’s additions at 60 minutes or later and split, so that most additions are made closer to the end of your boil time so you aren’t losing that resin, that passionfruit or mango, and so forth in the face of too much bitterness.

Mick: Yesterday, we got our first round of the new hop bill of Hopshell done and it’s just a 10-barrel batch. Usually the Hopshell is being done in double batches and so we are going to brew another batch next week, (and then) do a double batch and kind of swing the hop bill back to where it was previously, but try to find a good middle ground between the two practices.

Solo: (After taking a sip of Capspackler DIPA) Good lord! What did you have in mind making this one?

Mick: So I did that one as a collaboration with Andrew Krosche (currently at Kellys, formerly of Chama River and Marble), and really we just did it kind of as a way to play around with hops and use a massive quantity of them and see what we could do. So each of us contributed two varieties of hops and we split the allocation, so it was even amounts of each of the four hops throughout. We did a first wort, a 60, a 30, a 15, and a whirlpool addition, and increased the amount of them each time. We started with half a pound of each of them at first wort, a pound of them at 60, two pounds at 30, and then just kept escalating until it was 10 pounds of each for the dry hop, so a 40-pound dry hop in a 10-barrel batch.

Solo: Craziness.

Mick: We yielded a little over seven barrels from it. Ten pounds per barrel is what it ended up being. It is my favorite IPA that I’ve made yet, and it excites me to make more experimental IPAs and really play with hop combinations and see what can evoke. Because for that one we did Summit, Mosaic, Amarillo, and Sorachi Ace, four of the stinkiest hops you can get. And then, they come together to make this insanely juicy fruity beer with resiny pine as an undertone. Capspackler is fantastic and it hides 9.5-percent ABV really well. I’ve heard a few of the servers in here fall in love with it who hate IPAs saying, yeah, this is pretty good. I was the same way, I never liked IPAs until I started drinking double IPAs or imperial IPAs. I think they are a much better balanced beer that showcase the hops in a much better way than most IPAs out there. Really, with Hopshell I’m trying to get it to the point where it’s as balanced and delicious as most of the double IPAs out there. Keeping it at 7-to-7.2-percent ABV, which is still a high-end IPA.

Solo: (After taking a deep quaff of Capspackler) That’s an interesting combination with the Sorachi Ace especially. The other three kind of make sense together, and then you throw that in there and it’s something really unique.

Mick: The Summit and the Amarillo are the two that I threw in, and Andrew had the Sorachi Ace and the Mosaic. We said alright, let’s go!

Solo: Let’s make an interesting tapestry of things that probably hasn’t been done very often if at all.

Mick: I get a little bit of grassiness from the Sorachi Ace and probably from the Summit, too. But, I don’t think it’s like taking a bag of grass clippings and adding them, I think it’s more like your neighbor just mowed their lawn and you can still catch a hint of that aroma and flavor.

Solo: It’s kind of like you went to an orchard and picked a little bit of every type of fruit that they had, and took a bite of each with each sip that you are taking. Pretty cool. It’s like the everlasting gobstopper of IPAs.

Mick: So what else did I learn and enjoy this year? Really, I have had so much fun brewing all of the beers this year. We’ve had a really diverse set of stuff coming out from the three different Yum Yums (kettle sours) we did over the summer, finishing with the Cosmic Yum Yum. We did two beers earlier this year playing around with toasted coconut, those were both a lot of fun, especially the Yum-Yum Colada. I thought that was a fantastic play on kettle sours and fruited beers, that was one of my favorites that I’ve ever brewed. I’m excited to brew that one again this year. We have some ideas for more kettle sours to try and keep expanding with what we’ve got going on. Tying into how we can best utilize our kitchen with the brewhouse, that’s one of my favorite advantages I think we have over a lot of other breweries is having a full-functioning kitchen that is adventurous and knowledgeable and is willing to help us. They get excited about pairing different beers with different food ideas. I want to get their help on more cask ideas and cask preparation, so that we can do some really good combinations of flavors.

Solo: Set up a good meal to go with a good cask.

Mick: Or to say, I picked up different clove, nutmeg, and ginger and oranges this morning, so that I can dose a cask. I think it would be great to have the kitchen on board to either give me those ideas or help in the preparation of the ingredients for the cask. A lot of what I’ve learned this year is the organization of the brewery, things coming in and things going out, timelines. How to maximize the efficiency of the brewery and keep everything looking great and tasting delicious.

Solo: Last year, there wasn’t particularly much in the way of maintenance on the brewery. You had it pretty well dialed in for what you were wanting.

Mick: There was a little bit of stuff where we got our steam piping renovated, because that was around a decade old. We got a new condenser, as well, and I think it has definitely improved the performance of our boiler and our steam jackets.

Head brewer Mick Hahn has had fun playing around with hops in the past year.

We then looked at what beers were being sent to this year’s World Beer Cup.

Solo: So, you’ve got two lagers (Wooden Teeth and Can’t Catch Me), a porter, and a barleywine.

Mick: We’ll do another batch of the porter before we send that one in. We’ve got a couple of tweaks on that one, but I’m pretty happy with how that came out this time.

Solo: Yeah, you’ve got a good solid base on this one. It’s very porter-y, it is not stoutish, it’s a porter for sure. You get that strong first half on your palate, and then the rest just washes back very nicely and cleanly as a good porter should.

Mick: It gives you a lot of fruit, a good amount of chocolate, and a little bit of coffee without getting too roasted.

Solo: In which case this would be a stout. (After a sip of Depravity Barleywine) I remember having this one just before it came out last year and then at this year’s New Mexico Brewfest, it has definitely changed in character over the course of a year.

Mick: I think I’m going to take be taking a keg of it to WinterBrew as well. I love that beer. (Editor’s note: He did take some. It was glorious. — S)

After trying a few other samples and discussing the merits of different types of red or amber lagers, which we both thoroughly enjoy (check out Can’t Catch Me if you haven’t!), we forged ahead looking at Turtle’s successes this past year.

Mick: Probably our biggest success this past year was the acquisition of our distribution license. We finally got that in, it took, coming up on 19 years now. We finally got some kegs that say Turtle Mountain on them. I think we’ve already doubled our total keg count since getting them initially. So we do have our beer pouring at Indigo Crow, that’s so far the only real expansion we’ve done with the distribution license, but little by little we are starting to pour beer elsewhere than the pub itself, and hopefully we will get some more tap handles out and get Turtle Mountain a little more recognized. It is amazing how often at festivals and whatnot (that) we still get people that say, “I’ve never even heard of you.” We’ve been in the same place for almost 20 years, or at least within a quarter mile of the same exact location.

Here be the kegs for TMBC’s first run at distribution.

Solo: People in this town, being that there is so much sprawl and not much mass transit, that is one of the biggest problems for getting out to new places. You’re on one side of town (and) if you don’t have a presence on the other side of town, then often people aren’t going to know about you. It’s just kind of the name of the game for business in this town, which is unfortunate because we have so many gems that get hidden on the hill.

Mick: But, I do enjoy us being a fairly, like you said, a hidden gem. It’s nice to not be overcrowded and be able to actually stand at the pub and have a beer without having to recluse myself to the brewery to escape everyone and too many things going on.

Solo: Yeah, the nice thing about here is that it has maintained that comfortable pub vibe in spite of the onset of changing times.

Mick: Even when we are 20 tickets deep, it is still a comfortable environment and I don’t feel overwhelmed here. Another big success was being able to nix pumpkin beer from our lineup this year and not have to brew that. That made me happy. Really, that just came down to the timeline, we were already backed up on specials coming into September and so that was the easiest thing to swap out.

Solo: We’re going to do a proper Oktoberfest instead.

Mick: Exactly! I would much rather do an Oktoberfest, and then we had the porter coming out and I think Cosmic Yum Yum is a really fantastic take on kind of a holiday beer. It goes great with cranberry sauce. You could sit down and have a turkey leg and a glass of the Yum Yum and be pretty content. We had a lot of fun brewing the Rise of Fall last year and doing a bunch of butternut squash in the oven, but I had a few things we wanted to tweak on that and didn’t really solidify any of them in time to do it. So now, I have a whole other year to make sure our pumpkin beer is great and we will do our best to schedule with some of the farmers so we can get butternut squash (at) the beginning of August. That will be fantastic, so that we can get that beer out by September and not have it sell out before Thanksgiving. That would make me quite happy.

Another big success, I would say, is the updating of the (food) menu. They got that out a couple of weeks ago with some fantastic dishes on there. The ribs are quite tender, you can just pull the bone straight out of the meat, it makes you happy. The fish tacos are fantastic, (and) the pork skewers with the pineapple habanero glaze that they’ve got whipped up is also available on the wings now. They’ve got a couple of other new wing sauces on there. We’ve got our charcuterie board on there, called turtle tidbits, with a variety of cheeses including house-made mozzarella which we are making daily. They’ve also been featuring that fresh cheese on one of the pizzas as well with the pomodoro sauce. We’ve also added the pomodoro sauce and an alfredo sauce both added to the pizza menu, so you can use those sauces as a base and build your own pizza in addition to the couple of new pizzas that have those featured. So we’ve got a handful of new options.

As for the year ahead, our biggest challenge is going to be construction on Southern Boulevard. They’ll be working on it pretty much all year starting in February and going through December. They will tear up on half of the road for six months, and then it will be one lane in each direction for the better part of 2018. Which is not going to make it easy to get in and out of here, so we are working on what we can to make sure that business stays steady through it and it doesn’t affect us too much. I believe Turtle has a loyal enough following that it won’t deter that many people. Hopefully we can win some medals at World Beer Cup and inspire some people to want to come in.

As far as the beer lineup is concerned, I’m really happy with the diversity of it. We’ve got lots of options in beers ranging from 4-percent up to 10-percent ABV, and from 18 IBUs up to 125 or more. We’ve got some stops all throughout it, a bunch of different colors, even pink.

Solo: There’s nothing wrong with pink. This last year was at least here in town an explosion of the kettle sour and it was just everywhere all year round.

Mick: I’ve been doing my best with the Yum Yum variants to keep the kettle sours exciting and not just, well, it’s a fruited gose. I want something with a little more depth, and so I’ve definitely tried with the Yum Yums to push the boundaries of what I can make a beer to be. I love hearing people say, “Whoa, this is beer?” and I say, “Hell yeah, this is beer.”

* * * * *

Shortly after speaking with Mick, I was able to sit down with owner Nico Ortiz and get his take on 2017-2018 for Turtle Mountain.

Solo: So, another year, another look back, look ahead for Turtle Mountain.

Nico: 2017 was a good year. We had Mick for his first full year so the beers are solid. Production remains flat with us being a one-unit place; we don’t have any offsite taprooms to bolster production. We got a new menu out, a revised menu which is good. (In) 2017 we didn’t open any new taprooms, no new much of anything, but I guess with Chama’s closure we now remain the oldest brewpub/restaurant brewery in the (metro area). We have somewhat of a source of pride for that. In 2018, we are finally going to sink some roots in for our taproom. We are still looking just like everybody else is saying, we are still looking at a place. I’d like to keep it on the west side, but the west side from our experience, looking at available spaces is tough. You either have the issue of churches or schools (nearby), and you’ve also got the issue of flat out, there’s just not a lot of available commercial space that is suitable for taprooms. There are issues of zoning; Rio Rancho is pretty uncomplicated with zoning, but we looked at one place that had three different zoning classes in one strip mall.

Solo: Which does happen here.

Nico: One of them allowed the sale of alcohol, but one of them required a restaurant license, no taproom licenses. It was crazy and I said this is the same center, but there were three different sets of rules. It is definitely complicated, but the big thing for 2018 is that the City of Rio Rancho is going to be completely rebuilding Southern Boulevard starting in March and going through March of 2019. That’s going to seriously restrict traffic here. I don’t think it is going to be as bad as the ART project, but 36th Place (where the brewpub is located) only has one way in and one way out, that’s the problem.

The rest of Southern Boulevard, the reconstruction zone you can get at from side streets from the north or south, and so we are busy working with the city to try to get access to the parking lot by the library that we used to have. The timeliness of the taproom is key because as revenue goes down here, we need to bring in the revenue from somewhere else, because a place this big cannot simply cut revenues and expect it to still function. So it is very very important for us to get a portion of that lost revenue back from a taproom because just the mortgage on this place is big. So that’s our big thing for the year. Also Mick, just like Tim (Woodward), is frustrated because we only have one place. The throughput on the beer is really regulated by how much beer we can sell here, whereas if we could kick beer off and sell it to a taproom then that’s good, because he can actually get more beer through the pipeline and have more specials and things like that.

We have our wholesaler license in place. We’re slowly establishing some accounts locally in Corrales and a few in Rio Rancho. We got an order of kegs in so we have some stuff going on, but along with the kegs you have to have a delivery vehicle, you have to have a person cleaning lines, and then you have to have the accounting set up. So it’s not just as easy as simply filling kegs and selling them. The license was the easy part.

Solo: It is setting up the infrastructure as we’ve discussed.

Feast upon the new food items on the TMBC menu.

Nico: Exactly, so 2018 that will definitely happen and we will be peddling more of our wares around the area. In March, we will turn 19, so we are not quite at the 20-year club, but 19 years is still pretty solid. I should have probably been a little farther ahead than where I am right now, but we had a couple of issues. We had a taproom in the East Mountains from ’03 to ’05 that was silly, but I was young at that point. We had a restaurant taproom out in the Mariposa subdivision which was a little too far afield, and then we ran into the 2008 recession. So that was kind of bad timing. The next taproom is going to be well thought out, it is not going to be a calculated risk or an educated guess. We are going to put it someplace where it is going to work. I figure after 19 years I should know what the hell is going on. It took Rod up at Second Street Brewing awhile to get a taproom as well. They are (21) years old and they just finally got their Rufina Street facility.

Solo: Any plans for the anniversary as of yet?

Nico: Yeah, Mick and I are still working on the anniversary, but I think we are going to go back to our very first anniversary beer which was called Amnesia. It was a recipe actually built for us by one of our assistant brewers, kind of an Arrogant Bastard-inspired beer, so it was 8-percent ABV, 80 IBUs (that) used exclusively German Northern Brewer, and it had the unique quality of you have two or three pints of it and you would just forget the evening. It was weird in that I don’t know why it did it only being an 8-percent beer, not like 10- or 13-percent. Mick and I were going through the old recipe book and trying to figure it out. Everyone likes to do IPAs, double IPAs for their anniversary to the point that it’s kind of passé to do an IPA for an anniversary beer. I thought, let’s try something different, so Turtle having 19 years of brewing history, we have a lot of old recipes we can go through. The Amnesia is one of those beers where the last time we made it was years back, and we’ve kind of been integrating some throwback beers into our lineup.

Solo: Arsenal Porter for one.

Nico: Yeah, Arsenal Porter and the (Mr. Hoover’s) Steam, (plus) the Red Rye was an original beer. So it is kind of fun and it takes a little pressure off of Mick to dream up something interesting. The Amnesia is a solid beer and it does hearken back to the people that have been coming into Turtle Mountain all of these years. They will recognize it and it will be good. Then, in 2019 we have our 20th anniversary, so at that point we will have something much bigger. But, for this year we will have a brewer’s dinner, we will have the usual celebration. Not kind of like a week-long celebration that other breweries can get away with, but we will definitely have something good out here.

* * * * *

Good things are definitely in the works for the coming year, with great brews in the pipeline, an updated (and delicious) menu, a taproom hopefully nailed down by summertime, and the 19th anniversary coming in just a few short weeks. Cheers to another successful year on the hill, Turtle!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

These are festive times at Quarter Celtic!

A year and a half under their belts, the mad scientists behind Quarter Celtic continue to refine their beers and business alike, with an eye to more possibilities as the new year comes upon us. Stoutmeister and I sat down with the trio of David Facey, and Brady and Ror McKeown, to see what shenanigans they might be up to in 2018.

David: It’s kind of nice that business is doing what we expected the business to do, and now it’s time for us to start building again.

Ror: So today we were sitting down, looking forward as a group, but we will start with the look back. For us, life has been good, business has been great. The neighborhood has adopted us as their hangout, which is perfect because we’re a public house. We are really appreciative of that. We’ve got a ton of regulars now, which is really fun. Just over the past year we were kind of letting our personalities shape our pub’s atmosphere, so when you come in it just feels right, at least to me. We have a great staff, we enjoy everybody that works here, and everyone has a nice role here. From the front of the house to bartender (and) the waitstaff, and we credit those guys for helping us to build a business, and we’ve got a great group around us, we are very fortunate.

We also have fantastic beers, delicious food, (and) we just came out with a new revision to the menu a couple of weeks ago. These are all things that we just keep tweaking, which is nice, and then for us we need to keep it interesting for us to just want to come back every day and enjoy what we’re doing.

David: We have been doing this so long that we know it has to evolve, and it can’t evolve every five years, it’s got to be a constant evolution. With new menu items and new beers, our algorithm is pretty simple — just look at what people want.

Ror: Now that we’re not the new brewery in town, rather the old grizzled year and a half, we’ve got a ton of regulars and it was all word of mouth, which is fantastic. It still leaves us with plenty of opportunities and obstacles ahead of us, but things have kind of slowed down. In the beginning everything is a mad rush and you are just trying to figure it out on the fly and now it is just about fine tuning all of it, which makes it a little more fun. We feel that our hard work and consistency allows us to be successful; the beer has consistent quality, which is true to style. Food falls right with the beer, put us up against any other restaurant on the food side of things. Service is always the one that takes the longest, but I think since we got an established crew (now). When we started we kind of cut some of that learning curve down a little bit. Life’s been great.

Back to just the past year, in my mind we’ve already (created) some new signature beers that we’ve done like Clark. Brady’s actually the first one in New Mexico, or at least Albuquerque that we know of, to do the New England-style IPA.

Solo: Yeah as far as we know.

Ror: And, we’ve had a good time with those because we’ve done some spinoffs on Clark. Clark was so popular that we did a fresh-hopped Clark, which was fantastic, we got the hops just juiced. Then we did Clark Juiced*, which was a top-three finisher in this year’s IPA Challenge, which was great for a well-balanced beer because it wasn’t a hop forward, in-your-face kind of a thing. We were a bit disappointed we didn’t win with that one, because if we had one we had the asterisk at the end of it and we wanted to go “it was juiced!” That was a whole premise of the thing.

David: Yeah, it was totally a play on the whole baseball thing.

Solo: We definitely caught the whole sports reference there.

Ror: Right now we’ve got the Imperial Clark on draft and so having a good time with the New England style, it has become one of our customers’ favorites, and that’s one that will consistently show up on the beer board.

Mangose, we did the mango gose, and it was really kind of beginner’s luck on that first one. Our very first batch we entered in the Global Warming Open for the world’s most refreshing beer. We just watched the bracket all summer long, basically because instead of the March Madness 64 it was 128 different beers. So marching on through, we got to the finals, we finished in second place, but that’s really good out of 128 beers and that was the first time these guys did a gose so fantastic. We brewed it again since then and it has become a crowd favorite.

Brady: Yeah it was at GABF, and you know what we didn’t enter into the competition …

Ror: We had judges coming up and saying, “Yeah, this is definitely a medal contender,” and we had to say no, no it’s not. Unfortunately we didn’t enter that one, but we brought it to pour. We got great feedback on it, which was nice, and that’s the whole reason we go to GABF is to get that feedback, how you can get better. We were also talking to a few other breweries and we were talking about doing a collaboration called Competition Tears or something where all of the losing breweries get together and make a beer together.

Solo: That definitely sounds fun.

Brady: So this next year we are looking to expand something, we have three or four avenues that we are pursuing.

If there is to be an off-site taproom in the future, it will have a tough task of living up to the character of the main location.

David: So like Ror was saying, there’s a certain time period when you first open where it is just crazy. You’re putting out fires and dealing with the craziness while you are trying to brew beer and run a shift and you are trying to do it all while the chaos is happening all around you. Now, the wheels are turning and everything is pretty smooth. It has given all of us an opportunity to find out what other people are doing both around town and around the country. So we have some ideas on beer-related things that we can do in house, and that we don’t really see anybody else doing too much. Not only in town, but across the country.

Ror: On that note, some of the beers that our customers find as favorites and some of the things that we’d like to go forward with and expand upon (include) Irish Handcuffs. So our imperial stout, we were able to barrel age it, we are trying to find maybe some space where we could do more barrel aging because that’s always fun. Very pleased with how that one turned out. …

A couple of other beers that we really enjoyed this year was the Kill or be Kilt Scotch Ale, that one will be a frequent visitor to our draft system. GFF (Grapefruit Forever), or a GFFish beer, will be back as well. I’m not really a big IPA drinker, but I was really enjoying that imperial IPA.

Brady: We will be brewing a variation on that for the National IPA Challenge since they have the specialty IPA section for that competition.

Ror: A couple of house favorites including the Pedro O’Flannigan’s and our Crimson Lass. Those are two big ones on our wholesale side for the accounts we have, they are some of our top sellers.

Solo: This town wanted a Mexican Lager and an Irish Red.

Brady: Yeah, and all of a sudden there were seven.

Solo: You were trendsetters with those.

Ror: For expansion either it will be a taproom, but also on the wholesale side of things it leaves a lot of opportunities maybe a little different than you would expect out of what you think when you say wholesale. So we are looking at that. Some new spaces potentially in the near future. A lot of exciting opportunities going forward, we are excited how the past year and a half exceeded our expectations. Going into a market that’s heavily saturated, (we asked) so what’s out there business-wise for everyone. So the nice thing about us is that we are a neighborhood pub, we make fantastic beer, (and) we are very friendly with a lot of the other breweries.

Solo: Yeah, the camaraderie is strong.

Ror: That part is still there, even though people are fighting a little more for a share now since it is getting diluted a bit, but for us life’s been good. We really can’t complain (about) we are doing (and) what we like. We didn’t go into this to retire tomorrow, we are doing this because that is what we want to do, and we enjoy working with each other. The nice thing about being open for a while, coming up on our two-year anniversary on St. Patrick’s day, at least people know who we are now. They may not know where we are, but at least they know who we are.

(For those who still don’t know, the brewpub is located at the corner of Lomas and San Mateo at the Northeast end of the underground parking lot beneath ACE Hardware.)

Ror: Early in the year we did the Australian International (Beer) competition, so we got quite a few medals out of that one, so Brady’s beers are definitely popular Down Under. But, we also entered this year’s Beer Wars, strictly for the belt. So I don’t know if you guys saw our video with Macho Man and the Hopster (it is on YouTube, and it is amazing). In the Beer Wars you get medals and it’s a real competition, but if you win the overall thing, you get this big WWE-style gold plated belt. If we don’t win it I think we are going to have to buy one, because I need that for my Hopster costume with Macho Man and Nature Boy. Brady didn’t make it (to filming) that day. But, that would be a fun one where if we happen to win a competition or pull some medals there’s going to be a recurring skit just because it was fun.

Brady: So we still have not received word back from Mr. Full Nelson, because we were going to have Blue Demon go against the Hopster.

Ror: When (La Cumbre) released Full Nelson they did a YouTube video, so we challenged Blue Demon against the Hopster. So one of these days when they are getting ready to release Full Nelson we said let us know and we’ll brew our IPA and we’ll throw them in the ring and then we can do something great.

Solo: I think that’s fantastic.

Ror: Jeff (Erway), bring it. Hopster’s calling out Blue Demon. Our two IPAs in the death ring, the cage.

Solo: Two men enter, one man leaves.

Ror: Thunderdome! So yeah, hopefully that happens because we posted something on that and didn’t get a response, oddly enough. But, check that video out, it’s pretty funny.

Stoutmeister: So what was your reaction to the Australian awards, and what was the important thing about doing that? I know you guys wanted to start to understand where your beers fit best style wise, what categories, and that kind of thing. What did you get out of doing that?

Brady: Well, you enter competitions just to get feedback from somebody, so you look at Australia, I’m assuming, not from being there, from the history books right? It’s a lot of English influence, so a lot of the English and Irish beers are prevalent there, and I think that’s why ours did well because they sort of walk the same line that’s already there.

Solo: Kind of the culture that’s already there.

Brady: Yeah, exactly, but hops are just taking off down there. So I think they are softer, more stylistically correct for that population. We just did well because it is something that they are used to. Although our IPA did OK, too.

Ror: Yeah, we got a silver, actually.

Brady: The only American beer that got a medal in the Australian style (IPA).

Stoutmeister: Yeah, Bosque got the bronze in the Australian style at World Beer Cup in ’16, they got it for their IPA in that competition and that’s why they shifted into that category for GABF as well.

Ror: And, now we are getting ready for World Beer Cup, and you get four styles (to enter), but as the partners go we all like different types of beer and so we are all kind of vying for what we’d like to see go. All good ones, but inevitably you don’t send that one and then you wish you would have. There’s always that second guessing.

Stoutmeister: You always see that beer that wins and say to yourself “we could have beat that one!”

Solo: Well, any parting words?

David: We are making beer in 2018; you got that? That’s all I’ve got.

Solo: Sweet.

Stoutmeister: Actually I would ask is there anything new that you have conceived beer wise?

Solo: Any interesting things that you’re going to be doing this year, like the stoplight Berliner Weisse trio, or something like that?

Ror: Yeah, stoplight was great and that was actually the brainchild of Matt Angel, who has worked for us for quite a long time. He was pushing to do that for years.

Solo: So it finally happened.

Ror: He was having a great time pouring it and all of that.

Solo: I was having a good time because he was having so much fun with it.

Ror: With beer styles, we might have some fun with our Celtic heritage and have some things that are leaning a little bit more towards that, but maybe bigger (higher ABV) styles.

Solo: Splendid.

David: And, I think hopefully our overall portfolio, whether it’s Pedro or MorBuck or whatever else, will improve somewhat significantly. Not that these are bad or anything, but there is always room for improvement, so it is nice that the brewery is kind of evolving because now we are not only (using) different techniques, but we are experimenting with different techniques for certain beers. So our brewing style changes from beer to beer to beer to beer to beer to beer. And, that’s super exciting, and it’s all on the coattails of making better beer, not only research and study. If it adds half and hour, an hour, two hours to your day, it is still time well spent.

Solo: It is evident in the success of your Clark as you were telling us last year. You put in all of that time, all of that research, and you created a beer that was top three in the IPA Challenge. A totally different style from what we are typically used to and that’s saying something, to pull that off in the first year.

David: So I think on the nerd side of things, that is what’s exciting about that for 2018. I read this and you read that, and you put it together and lo and behold that works, that one’s great. We should implement this technique in this beer.

More equipment is on deck for 2018.

Ror: We are also getting little bits and pieces to add to the brewery. When we first opened we had to wait to do some business and save a little bit. We started with a basic brewery and I think we’ve made exceptional beer for having this basic brewery. There are things that you don’t necessarily need, but if you would like to keep evolving then you just keep your eye out and get the pieces when you can.

Solo: So a few minor, well, not minor in terms of your quality of life, but minor in terms of overall cost pieces that you added to your brewery setup to make your lives a little easier.

David: Yeah, make our lives a little easier, or better beer, or hopefully with the right piece of equipment, sometimes it does both.

Ror: Whether it’s a technique or a style or a piece of equipment or some new technology.

David: Like Ror said, you operate in the basic brewery for a while, and it’s totally OK, and then you do get that one piece of equipment for Brady and then it is so much easier. I think we can all agree that we want it tomorrow, but we realize that there’s a great deal of patience that goes into it, so on the business aspect of it there is balancing those two.

Ror: And, for us, return on investment isn’t always in terms of dollars. You buy something and people say (about the beer), “It’s so clean, so crisp; how did you do it?” and if it was that thing we bought, that’s money well spent. In conclusion, if you really want to see what it’s like to run a brewery, check out our videos on YouTube. It’s rough.

* * * * *

My sentiments exactly. True characters to a man, it shows in everything they do, with the lust of the Celts and the dedication that comes of years of experience. Can’t wait to see what they might be up to in their second year, whether a new beer up their sleeves in the vein of the Clark line of IPAs, or what glorious machinations they might put up in video form for a good laugh or three.

Sláinte!

— Franz Solo

Steel Bender brought quality craft beer to a thirsty neighborhood.

The Village of Los Ranchos is my first home. I grew up biking along the ditches, enjoying the wildlife and the omnipresent old school vibes from the historic farming/ranching culture which pervades the area to this day. When Steel Bender opened their quite modern and cutting-edge brewery, it filled a niche that was certainly lacking in the valley. We had very few, if any options for procuring beer and good food without driving across town. Having something in our back yard has just been incredible. The past year has seen an amazing reception for the brewery from the local community and from commuters of 2nd Street, going from one side of the river to the other for work.

They were an excellent host for this year’s IPA Challenge (I thoroughly enjoyed biking down there for the event along the river and some of the old acequias of my youth), and also held the wonderful Balloons and Brews week on their patio during the Balloon Fiesta, which I’m sure will be even more of a success this coming year. As with any new venture, there are always unforeseen challenges that present themselves, and the ownership and staff of Steel Bender have had their share, rolling with the punches to where they are today — a pub with some tasty brews and good food options to boot, with ample indoor and outdoor spaces to imbibe in some of the finer things in life. I sat down briefly with the very busy Bob Haggerty, head brewer for Steel Bender, and this is what we discussed.

The patio is a popular hangout in warmer months.

Solo: So what were your successes, what were your challenges this past year, what are you looking forward to doing in this next year?

Bob: I would say the greatest challenge was keeping up with the unexpected rush of business that we have gotten from the beginning. We were a lot busier than we thought we would be straight from the start and that continues right on to the present. All of which has been great. So that’s kind of been the biggest success and the biggest challenge for us is just that we’ve had such a great response from the community. We’ve had a lot of fun pushing the envelope on some of the different beers that we’ve done, some of the different barrel-aged beers that we’ve done. I’ve got a brett beer on tap now which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve got some barrel beers coming out very shortly before the end of the year. I’ve got a La Cumbre collaboration coming out on, I believe, it’s the 22nd of December called Edith. That’s a barrel-aged kettle sour saison brewed with peaches and spiked with brett. So that should be a lot of fun.

Solo: And then you’ve got your four barrels for Christmas or something like that?

Bob: Four casks of Christmas. So I brewed an American stout, a little bit stronger, it comes in at about 8.5-percent ABV, and I flavored four different casks in four different ways. First one I melted down candy canes and used that as the priming sugar. I got some powdered peanut butter and I made a chocolate peanut butter stout, a peanut butter cup if you will. I did one where I steeped sweet orange peel and cocoa nibs in the priming sugar solution for a couple of hours and then I added that in to flavor a chocolate orange. And then, I did one with cinnamon, chiles, all sorts of other things went into that one so I’m calling that one the cinnamon spice.

It’s a bit festive at the bar, especially when the 4 Casks of Christmas roll out every Saturday this month.

Solo: I love when people do different kinds of stouts, especially during this holiday season and so forth, it is always fantastic.

Bob: Each one of those stouts is going to be served with a little complimentary cookie, so on each Saturday when you come in and get your pint of stout you will get a cookie that one of the guys in the kitchen is going to make. So that should be a lot of fun.

So in the new year we are going to be looking at more packaging, a little bit vague at the moment so no definitive dates at present. We are putting quality first, so we are going to make sure that we are good and ready before anything goes into a can. But, we’re planning on launching maybe three, maybe four different varieties in a can in this coming year. Keep your eye out. We are going to be doing lots of cool stuff, more barrel stuff. I’ve got my mixed culture room and that stuff will be ready to barrel probably mid-year, so look for that probably around Christmas of next year. I want to give that a few good months to really come around. But, we’ll have lots of mixed culture stuff and sours coming. Also, a lot more nitro stuff, getting some tanks in to do some more nitro stuff. Currently I do nitro keg by keg.

Those barrels are gonna be rolling out their contents in the new year.

Solo: That’s a bit of a bear for sure.

Bob: Yeah, so I’ve got some nitro tanks coming in for nitro. I’ve got some bigger tanks coming in within the next couple of weeks, so moving and shaking.

Solo: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bob: Well, just thanks to everybody for all of the support and thanks for coming in, drinking the beer. Just a shout out to everybody who has made us this successful, thank you and Merry Christmas!

* * * * *

Clearly, there is a lot to look forward to at Steel Bender, from sours to nitro to barrel-aged beer of various varieties, as well as canning and distribution, and more fun events throughout the coming year. Cheers to a successful 2017 Steel Bender, we cannot wait to see what your 2018 brings!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Black Note is a beauty, especially on tap.

December is here, and you have one more chance to snag a taste of one of the true wonders of the barrel-aged world with one last keg of Bell’s Black Note on tap at Nob Hill Bar & Grill this evening. This beer, a.k.a. Voldemort, is just as insidious as he who shall not be named. You will not notice the darkness as it creeps over your palate until it is far too late. A thoroughly delicious end, if I do say so myself.

This batch was added to freshly retired bourbon barrels, so it has a good, wet presence of bourbon that extends from the aroma and melts throughout the entire experience. I found hints of light cinnamon, vanilla, and plenty of roast and black malts in this one, with an incredibly smooth, sweet chocolate middle, finished off with fresh bourbon.

This beer does not mess around at all. A quintessential winter warmer with hints of creamy chocolate that coats your entire palate with sweet sweet darkness. But, don’t take my word for it, go forth and enjoy this black diamond of winter’s looming chill and decide for yourself!

You can still find this delicious offering in six packs around town.

For that matter, Bell’s is a brewery that has multiple stouts to choose from, as they put it themselves, a “stout portfolio,” ranging from the somewhat sweeter Special Double Cream Stout to the tart Cherry Stout all the way to Expedition (Russian Imperial) in all of its glory, not to mention Kalamazoo and of course Black Note. These alone are only some of the delightful darkness that has landed in our fair desert oasis on the wings of the tolling of the Bells. But, as I’ve said, don’t take my own musings for it, go forth and explore with your own palates and sensibilities! Deep was the darkness with no light at all, and it was good.

Skål!

— Franz Solo

It has been a busy year for Boxing Bear brewer/owner Justin Hamilton and his staff.

Franz Solo here, continuing our annual series of looking back and looking ahead for our breweries all around the Duke City. I was able to sit down with brewer/owner Justin Hamilton over at Boxing Bear Brewing on a fine Monday afternoon and what follows is an account of a strong and busy year of the Bear.

Solo: So, here we are Look Back/Look Ahead once more, so successes and other things, obviously having two years in a row of hitting that New Mexico IPA Challenge was pretty awesome.

Justin: Yeah, that was really good for us. It was cool to get another one of those under our belt and continue that tradition of breweries being able to stagger their wins year after year with Il Vicino, Bosque, and us. So that was really cool, especially with the increased competition. We’ve never had closer IPA Challenges than we had these last two years, so it was cool to keep that progression going even with so much more people involved and such heated competition. It was really awesome for us to keep that going, especially for the same beer. That was really awesome for us, and then continuing to get into this last GABF, and taking a win with a bronze medal for Featherweight (Session IPA), that was awesome for us. We couldn’t have asked for more, especially with so much more competition.

Solo: How many people were in that category?

Justin: Like 130 or something, but as far as one of the biggest as far as the the medals we won collectively in New Mexico, that was one of the biggest categories entered for a win. So we were super excited. We had a really good year across the board. We’ve been busier, trying to keep this place going and we got more equipment in earlier this year. Our production has finally been able to catch up just the last couple of months. We’ve actually been able to keep specials (on tap longer).

The taps were flowing this year, and the specialty bomber releases were big hits.

Solo: Keeping up with your 16 available taps?

Justin: This is probably the only time we’ve had consistently 16 beers on tap for more than a few weeks at at time. We would have a full board and then we would run out of a special and come back and run out of another special. We’d be down to around 12 to 14 beers on a regular basis. So now it is nice (that) we have the 16 beers on tap at least for now. We will see how things go next year. That’s been a really good thing for us to keep that variety. People always want something different and something new, so it’s been nice to kind of have (a) full winter beer (lineup) on around this time and keeping them on for more than a week or two. It’s been nice for us, and also for our customers who can come back and enjoy the same thing they had (before), as opposed to that stuff just going poof and disappearing. Other than that, we’ve just been trying to keep things moving. It’s been a really busy year up front and in back getting new equipment. We are getting into our third year of brewing.

Solo: Which equipment did you add?

Justin: This year we added two more fermenters and two more brite tanks, so that’s been a pretty big thing for us to help with that gap in production. So now we’ve been able to keep up with doing more double batches of specials and that’s why they’ve been lasting a little longer. Getting into next year our big thing is finding a taproom. We are really trying to find a taproom right now. It’s up and down with progress and where we find potential places. We are trying to solidify something right now, so hopefully getting in next year we will have a better idea of where we are going to be. Our goal is to hopefully have something done by the end of next year. It’s ambitious, but I think it can be done if we find the right place.

It’s getting crowded back in the brewery.

Solo: With everything you guys have done, you take your time, you make sure you are doing it right.

Justin: That’s it, we want to make sure we have a good location that’s got parking, that’s potentially got a patio or a deck, and all of that stuff is like a big part of making sure we continue not only our portfolio of beer but also having a cool place. I mean, we could just set up a draft system in a shed somewhere, but that’s not our style. We want to make sure it’s a solid location. But, with that we also want to start doing improvements on this place. That’s always been something on our minds. Those are things that we are continuing to do. As you saw this last year, we got more TVs, getting an actual sound system indoor and outdoor, getting patio covering, better outdoor lighting. All of that stuff, (such as) continuing to take care of our patio furniture, we will probably get new patio furniture and continue to get new stuff indoors. All of our money gets reinvested. Our profits over the past three years have gone right back into our business. That’s another one of our goals for next year is we would like to start to make a little bit of a profit on what we are doing, as opposed to simply having to re-invest our capital solely back into the business. It’s a cycle where we do well, but then we buy 50k worth of equipment and so that’s good, but we want to keep things improving and also to look for new locations and things like that. Our big goals are looking towards just what we’ve done the last few years where we have a lot of good competitions coming up.

Solo: National IPA Challenge for one.

Justin: Yeah, National IPA Challenge is going to be in February and March. Shortly after that we’ve got the World Beer Cup, and just after that we’ve got IPA Challenge locally again, and then back to GABF, so we’re going to have our hands full next year where every couple of months we’ve got a big thing going on. We still have December left this year and we are trying to do a couple of big events in December, including a bottle release where we’ve got a bourbon-barrel-aged stout that’s our collaboration that we’ve been trying to put together with Jubilation. They actually provided us (a) Buffalo Trace barrel, so that’s been aging for over a year in that barrel, and then we’re going to blend it and bottle it hopefully next week is the plan. So in the next two weeks we will have that and hopefully available some very limited run of bombers, some here, some at Jubilation, but that will be it. We might have a little bit of it on tap, but that will be a really big release.

We are also trying to plan a Festivus party for the 23rd, which just happens to be a Saturday, so we have a beer planned for that. We are working on getting an actual event going that day. So we’re trying to do a couple of fun things in December maybe even another one that we’re trying to put together, but we are trying to end the year with a bang and get ready for January, in which hopefully we might see another special bomber release. We are trying to plan that guy, too. Last year we thought we might put out bombers every month and try to push specialty beers, (but) with our current schedule it’s too much to be able to bottle that many beers that frequently. So we are definitely going to keep up with Chocolate Milk Stout in bombers, and then you will see specialty bomber releases when we have time or if we have something special.

TKO was one of the new beers to earn a bomber release this year.

Solo: So if you’ve got another Black and Blue or Red Glove and such.

Justin: We are talking about if we could get a batch of session IPA and if people were willing to buy that in a bomber, (but) we’re not really sure, I think so myself. Either way, we will have more of that kind of thing coming out on draft.

Solo: I mean you’ve got Founders with All Day IPA in 19.2-ounce cans, so there’s definitely a market for it.

Justin: I love that beer (Featherweight). I’ll drink it in a bomber all day, plus it’s something that you can actually finish a whole bomber of but not be overly inebriated. Some of those big beers like even the heavy barrel-aged ones are great, but …

Solo: It’s better to share, really.

Justin: It is hard to drink a whole 22 ounces of something that’s that rich. Those ones are something that’s meant to be shared. I think a session beer would be something you could enjoy the whole bomber by yourself and it would be great. That’s all stuff that we are trying to work on other than building improvements, potentially (a) taproom, and we really want to solidify our identity more and the culture of who we are. I think we’ve been doing that the past three years, but it seems to never stop the need for that.

Things have been buzzing around the taproom.

Solo: No, it doesn’t. I mean, you start creating an image of yourself and a vision for yourself, and no, you can never stop fighting for that because it will fade far too quickly.

Justin: I mean, Marble’s one of the most established breweries in our state other than Santa Fe and a couple of others, but they never stop marketing. They never stop showing their image and progressing it, and I think that’s something to look forward to creating ourselves. That’s another reason we want keep reinvesting in our brewery. We don’t want to lose our focus and our vision for what this place should be, and it is constant, there is always something. When you open and run a business, you think, oh yeah, that will work here and this will work there just fine, but no, it is constant improvement, so everything changes every few months and that is the hardest part about running any business, especially a brewery. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but I think we are on the track that we need to be on, but we kind of have to play our cards right over the next years and make sure that we are sticking to our plan and also not getting too comfortable. I think if we had the mindset of, hey we did well at GABF this last year, we got (mid-size brewpub) of the year, we’ve been doing good with local and national competitions and all of that stuff, we’ve found our place, (but) I don’t like that idea. I want to continue to strive for excellence so our QC and QA is constantly being revamped, and hopefully from the brewery to the front of house and getting into the kitchen, so that all of this continues to stay relevant and we keep that from becoming stale.

With the kitchen, that’s something we continue to make improvements back there. We are putting out different specials every now and then. We have our core set of sandwiches, which is how we started, but we grow that stuff. We’ve added wraps, we’re adding a really nice charcuterie plate, we’ve been doing tacos and some stuff like that, so we’ve been able to give our customers a little more variety. Myself and John (Campi), the general manager here, are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. The carnitas tacos was just something where we had most of the ingredients here and it was just this idea of we’ve got our pulled pork, why don’t we take that put a little red chile, put it in the oven bake it, and that turned out great. It’s been nice for me having that separation where now I have that general manager so I don’t have to do that position. I can pay attention to what is going on in the brewery portion rather than having to also run the kitchen and all of that other stuff. I almost had time for all of that, but now there’s just no way I could properly attend to both aspects of the brewpub.

Our staff has been changing and we’ve tried to get that more solidified with not only our hiring process, but also our ability to retain our good employees and make this place really function well. Being that we serve a little bit of food, one of the things that we decided to do was table service. Looking back, I don’t know if we would do that again. It’s really hard to keep up with and with a lot of the breweries that we visited recently in Denver, but locally even if they have food they don’t necessarily do table service. It can really be confusing sometimes to especially new customers, especially if it is really busy and we’ve got so much real estate here. People will just show up and sit down and unfortunately sometimes they sit in a spot where you don’t see them and it’s busy and we miss their table and then we get a bad review. So those are all things we are trying to work on. We want to make sure our staff is watching people come in and make sure on busy nights that they are checking the whole place.

Awards season was good to Boxing Bear again in 2017.

Solo: Employee awareness of customers in any good business is paramount to have great success.

Justin: It’s hard since we’ve got corners inside here and outside, so there’s a lot of places where if you are not actively looking for someone, they could easily walk in this side door and sit down and wait and not get service right away. So that’s something that we are really trying to address for us and we are constantly evaluating that, trying to ensure that we have enough people on staff while also have the right people on staff at the right times. It’s all stuff that we have been learning. I knew a lot of this stuff coming into the business, but once you are in charge of it that’s when it changes, when you have to make sure that you are balancing employee coverage with labor costs and all of the rest of that. I’d love to have 20 people on at any given time and each of them just has one table, but that’s simply not something feasible nor affordable in the long run, since none of those employees would make anything from tips with that much staff. It’s just that balance, that’s what we are striving for and working out those little kinks just as every brewery does even five or seven years into it. Being that we are just past three years we are doing well. We are staying on track for what we want to do, but that being said, there’s still plenty of improvement and adjustments to make in lots of areas.

So that’s what we are trying to address and not only that, but like I said, expose ourselves to more people in the city. (We will) hopefully getting some place on the other side of town as far as a taproom will do, and then getting that extra exposure. Because we see that a lot, we see a lot of people that haven’t really heard of us in spite of some of our good successes. It’s exposure. People don’t want to cross the river, I get that (too). I used to live on the other side of town. It’s not easy to do the commutes in this city, especially if you are going and having a couple of beers. It’s not going to make it your priority if you’re going to come out here just to grab a bomber and a growler or something and go back to the other side of town. That doesn’t make that much sense, especially when there’s so much good beer in town. You’ve got Bosque and Marble and La Cumbre out there with plenty of taprooms and other choices, so I get it. If we can help the customer have a little ease of convenience to getting to our products, then I think that’s just going to help us across the board with exposure and everything else. It’s all trying to play the hand that you’ve been dealt and hopefully making the right call, because every year this industry changes. It is more competitive, and also very different every year with what’s going to be on the docket this year. Who knows? Who knows what style, what trends, and what people are looking for as just the taproom?

Seeing some place like Chama River go down scared the shit out of everyone. We all kind of knew what was going on in that place, but we also saw it as a standard that was never going anywhere. And so to see something like that change, I think it kind of shifted the environment for breweries that you are not bulletproof in this society. People have always said that breweries are recession proof, but if you are looking at what is happening now you are seeing a lot of instances where breweries fall off that are just making good beer, and Chama was making great beer! It’s not always just the product, it’s the politics.

Solo: It’s the ability to stay relevant.

Justin: So that’s what we keep looking to is how do we continue to grow this business into something that will actually last a decade or more. These are all things that are constantly on our minds. We are continually meeting and discussing these issues — direction, money, and experience, for not only the customer, but also the brewery scene itself.

Bearfest moved to the ABQ Convention Center for 2017, but it could have a new venue in 2018.

Solo: So Bearfest is another one that you changed up this year.

Justin: Bearfest has been a changing thing as well, being that it grew so much the last couple years. We’re not really sure what we are going to do with that this year. We might be looking at a different venue this time or just changing the whole festival, but Bearfest has been kind of crazy. It’s been really fun the past three years and I don’t know what we are doing for this next year. We’ve been talking about it and throwing ideas around, but it comes down to our ability to find a good location that can host a lot of people that’s just going to be excellent. The convention center worked well, (even though) the spot we had wasn’t the best. There are better locations in the convention center that were already booked, so we are looking at maybe changing that venue at the convention center, or just looking at other places to go. In the future I could see us continuing that, hopefully in some place that will hold enough people and will …

Solo: Allow you to do what you want to do?

Justin: Yeah, and also we will have to evaluate how many breweries we (invite), because I think last year we had so many breweries that some people kind of didn’t get as much attention as they should have, because there was so much going on. So it’s either attendance has to go up or the quantity of breweries will need to shrink down a little bit. Either way, we are good with it as long as we can make sure that the experience is worth going to every year. I can’t think of too much else that’s on the docket for this coming year other than what we’ve covered.

Solo: So continuing to make specialty beers and or bombers as you have the chance.

Justin: You’ll see us do that. We are always looking to make different kinds of beers, and I’m also trying to work with scheduling on having new equipment and having 20-barrel specials instead of 10-barrel specials. (Plus) the timing on all of that as well, trying to make sure we have fresh beer and different varieties for different seasons. That will be something that I am personally working on. But, other than that, I think everything is going to be pretty much rolling into 2018 with the same attitude, just trying to really keep ourselves relevant and making good beer, trying to keep up. Especially if we open a taproom, the keeping up is going to be a bit of a bear.

Solo: That’ll be a whole can of worms on its own.

Justin: And with that, if we do get a taproom going, we will probably need more equipment, so it’s going to be this whole cycle.

Solo: That vicious cycle of hey, we need more stuff so we have to get more stuff to make more stuff.

Justin: And, buy more ingredients to make more beer, so a lot of times you need so much more (than just) money just to get involved in something that will hopefully, maybe, make you a little money. So that’s what we’re looking towards, and hopefully with 2018 we will continue to do well and just make good beer.

* * * * *

There are good things to look forward to, with the hope for a taproom on the eastern side of town, a delightful sounding barrel-aged collaboration stout with Jubilation which will be forthcoming, the Festivus party, and perhaps more in December, plus more various bombers to enjoy as the year progresses, the continuation of Bearfest, and another grand festival season looming. A strong year has come and gone for Boxing Bear, with Featherweight Session IPA claiming bronze at GABF (it was quite quite tasty), Bear Knuckle IPA repeating as the NM IPA Challenge champion, and TKO Triple IPA, which was a delicious third anniversary bomber release, among a plethora of delicious seasonal and specialty beers which took us through one helluva difficult year. On a personal note, I was simply amazed and pleased to be able to enjoy a pint of Vantablack after biking to the brewery on my 35th birthday. I could not have asked for a better seasonal even if it was the very end of May! All the best for the year ahead and Boxing Bear Brewing!

Skål!

— Franz

Red Hat Hops and the Village of Los Ranchos recently held a forum to bring together local farmers and breweries.

Hop growing has expanded in the United States from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to coincide with the rising tide of craft beer. At long last, it is beginning to grow roots here in New Mexico, as we are still growing as a brewing destination.

I had the chance to attend a forum hosted by Red Hat Hops and the Village of Los Ranchos earlier this month, and was pleased to be included in the first collective meeting between hop growers, breweries, farmers, brewery chefs, and other related officials from the Guild and the state. Above all, the intent for this gathering was to open a dialogue to foster community, collaboration, and communication between the farmers who would like to supply our local breweries with local ingredients, and the breweries.

John Seabrooks, formerly of Rio Bravo and with over 26 years in the brewing industry, started us off by illustrating the impetus behind local collaboration.

“It is important to start the dialogue and figure out what all of the needs are (of breweries),” John said, “so we can go to the state and other federal agencies and begin to see what we can do to begin to get the appropriate funds to support the initiative of local growers.”

Starting an industry from scratch is no easy task, with much of the equipment required to grow the ingredients needed for making beer costing more than your typical startup business is able to afford. Thus, creating a group for our local growers much like our Brewers Guild is quite important, so as to be able to foster collaboration and cooperation to get our local hop business going. As of this writ, we are up to four total hops growers in the state of New Mexico, with representatives from Red Hat Hops, Crossed Sabers Hops, Stone Lizard Hops, and White Crow Hops all in attendance.

With the recent explosion of some tremendous wet-hopped beers appearing at the end of this year’s growing season, which built on the success of prior years in magnitude and availability, the general consensus is to push for that as a stepping stone for our local hop growers initially, and build on the success of such beers as Bosque’s Acequia IPA and wet hop series, La Cumbre’s Wet Hopped Elevated, and Santa Fe Brewing’s Wet Hopped Strong Ale, to name a few. The possibility of a future Wet Hopped IPA challenge to go alongside our annual IPA challenge was also broached, and is certainly a mouthwatering and palate-destroying possibility, which we will certainly keep on our radar for any developments.

When it comes to brewing beers with wet hops, freshness is king. As we are in relatively close proximity to hop growers in Colorado, our breweries can sometimes see hops harvested and brought down within one to two days or so, and added to beers in the process of being brewed almost immediately. If we were able to cut that time down to a matter of hours, our collective palates would all benefit from the added oils and luscious flavors and aromas that wet hops are known for.

So where are we in terms of hop production in our state now and where are we headed? As Tom from Red Hat Hops put it, “This year we all established what we are doing. I think most of us are doing expansions for next year already. So, for 2018, we are looking at between 10 and 12 acres of harvestable hops in New Mexico. The following year that will likely double and if we get the support of brewing community it’s going to take off exponentially.”

Here’s hoping this will take off, which would benefit all of us hopheads, brewers, and local growers alike. On the topic of hops and how they are used, a typical brew will use strictly dried hop pellets, which keep their magical powers of flavoring substantially longer than fresh hops, so a longer-term goal will be for our state to grow our hop business enough to support the procurement of a large scale hop-drying facility or oast house, likely with some help from the state via the NM Brewers Guild.

You may ask yourself why now? Why are locally sourced ingredients from private businesses so vital to the future of the craft brewing industry? The answer lies with the elephants in the room, the evil empire that is AB InBev and its ilk, which have been procuring malt and hop suppliers to drive their own costs down and put pressure on their competitors, which limits or in some cases eliminates (as was the case with South African hop varieties this past year) availability of those ingredients for craft breweries. These types of market manipulative, monopolistic practices are a huge reason to forge ahead with locally grown and sourced ingredients for beers not beholden to the deplorable multi-billion dollar “beer” conglomerates.

As John so excellently put it, “As a result of AB InBev’s hold on the market, they essentially said we will no longer sell the hops that some craft brewers throughout the world are using that are produced in South Africa. They essentially told everyone that we are saving those hops so that we (InBev) can give them to the craft breweries that we own. In my mind this is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t believe what they are saying in terms of there being a shortage of these hops. What they are doing is essentially taking care of their own business first at the expense of other craft breweries in the world who need to use these South African hops. So, as these huge conglomerates continue to get bigger and buy up more and more craft components, they begin to exert market forces which make it even more difficult for craft brewers to keep their doors open.”

As John went on to illustrate, this also hits the home brewer as well, with the conglomerates wanting to have complete dominance over alcoholic beverages worldwide from the macro to the micro all under their banner for their own profit. So it is essential that we do all that we are able to fight this attempt at utter monopoly by looking to our local providers, which will remain local rather than caving to the self-serving dumptruck-of-cash approach of these conglomerates.

Those of you who know your hop varieties are probably asking which ones are being grown in our state and the answer is quite a few, including the following — Chinook, Cascade, Neo Mexicanus, Centennial, Columbus, and Nugget. There is definitely a lot to look forward to in light of what I learned here about how well hops grow in our climate, and the possibilities for growing not only hops at the local level, but also grain and other fruits and vegetables used in brewing beer or supporting brewery kitchens to bring us good quality locally sourced cuisine.

This was a well attended and successful first gathering of growers, farmers, and brewers, and here’s hoping for a successful harvest this coming year and for good collaboration going forward. Thanks to Red Hat Hops for bringing all of this together and I look forward to future meetings like this as our local brewing community expands from brewery to farmland and beyond.

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Stoutmeister gazes upon the glory of Bosque’s Rio Vallecitos. Or he’s reacting to Arizona’s football season already going down the drain, wondering if the hops can save him.

The advent of fall is near upon us, and the time of the harvest for all things green and good has begun in earnest. The season of the malt draws ever closer, but we are in the best days for some of the juiciest and most sought after IPAs in the land. For those of you who have not yet tried a “wet hopped” beer to date, and are of the IPA proclivity, then you are in for a treat over the coming weeks.

There are a number of different ways in which hops are added to our beers. Primarily you will have dry hop pellets as your main hop source in most beers, while occasionally, during harvest season in particular, you will have the opportunity to add fresh picked hops for an entirely distinct experience. Three breweries here in the Duke city currently have wet-hopped IPAs available, but they will assuredly not last very long in this land of hops and green chile.

Bosque has a good history with these types of IPAs, owing to the success of Acequia IPA at the Great American Beer Festival (three medals total, including a gold in 2015), and this year they have gone all out with a series of four wet-hopped IPAs slated to come out over the next few weeks. Rio Vallecitos DIPA is their first entry in the series and clocks in at a sessional 8.8-percent ABV and 95 IBUs. The aroma is of sweet lemon and caracara orange, with a hint of peppery thyme that is simply lovely. Flavor-wise, we begin with a clean, peppery bitter start, juicy citrus with a bit of melon, tangerine, and pine spice to finish.

Get it on tap, or get it to go!

La Cumbre has released a wet-hopped version of our beloved Elevated, which is available both on draft and in bombers. Wet Hopped Elevated clocks in at 7.2-percent ABV and 100-plus IBUs. This one is pure dank, like the cannabis cousin of the hop, which shares in the same harvest time. The aroma is pure weed, while the flavor matches the aroma perfectly with that sweet golden elixir and juicy cannabis with a clean sweet finish.

Quarter Celtic has also just entered the fray with a wet-hopped version of Clark containing barely two-day-old freshly harvested hops from Colorado. This hazy variant clocks in at an immensely quaffable 6-percent ABV and 60 IBUs, which is on the slightly sweeter side of the IPA style. The aroma is of orange and kush straight out of the mountains. Flavor-wise, this one goes all the way back with orange and lemon kush resins flying from the devil’s fingertips … er, something.

All that haze on the left is Fresh Hop Clark, while the original version is available for comparison.

Go forth and procure these quickly as they will be gone like the last days of summer in but an instant!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Get your hands on TKO Triple IPA before it disappears from Boxing Bear!

Editor’s note: In honor of National IPA Day, we present a two-for-one IPA review from our resident chief hophead. Both beers are still on tap at the Bear, along with Tropic Thunder IPA, Eastern Standard IPA, and of course Uppercut IPA. — Stoutmeister

On a couple of recent forays to Boxing Bear, I had the pleasure of indulging in two of the full five IPAs they currently have on tap. TKO Triple IPA is their third-anniversary ale available on draft and in bombers, and this version of Bear Knuckle IPA is the 2017 IPA Challenge winner and has previously made the final four of the National IPA Challenge. What follows is my own take on both of these lovely offerings in the prime season of the great hop in our fair land.

TKO Triple IPA

A pure and solid knockout whether by hop blast, or by the subtle and somewhat insidious assault of strong malts of this 11’er most certainly live up to its name. We begin with an aroma of sweet orange, kush, pine, tropical fruits, and a hint of oak on the nose of this one with a small wash of warm honey malt alcohol. Sweet, slightly overripe mango, lemon, kush, and berry notes punctuate the flavor, with dry, semi-bitter grapefruit at the ultimate threshold between sips.

This is a summer sipper which to my palate will go down as one of the more memorable anniversary brews to grace my lips in some time. One could argue that we haven’t had a true triple IPA burst onto the scene in our town since the advent of the Nelsons at La Cumbre several years back.

This is a wholly different spectrum from your typical New Mexican-style IPA. Far more malt presence is here to balance with and accentuate the wonderful hops it possesses. Primarily, this is encompassed by American pale malts and some of the mid-range caramel malts which lend some sweet honey character, as though taken fresh from the hive and added to this creation. Citra, Ekuanot, and Mosaic, among others (just a wee few hop additions into well nigh bat country levels), provide quite the melange of delightful flavors and bitters as the case may be.

A deep golden ale which hearkens to the golden roof of the golden hall of Odin, and to the great golden horde of Smaug the Terrible, stolen from the people of Thorin Oakenshield, our senses are transported to the realm of imagination nigh paradise. Whether by fire pit or by hearth, TKO would well deserve a place in a good drinking horn, shared among the best of company with the metal turned as high as the sparks of the stars in the heavens above. Procure this gem of a beer as quick as you can, as it will probably not last long (at least if I have any say in the matter).

While I was enjoying TKO, I also happened to try a pint of this year’s Bear Knuckle IPA, which deserved some words of writ on its own merit.

Bear Knuckle IPA

Your two-time NM IPA Challenge winner.

This version begins with an absolute killer aroma, akin to cannabis, loads of golden resin, and skunk will clear your sinuses on the scent alone. There are hints of mango and a strong presence of orange in there as well, but mostly just the dankest, stickiest … er, beer! Right! On only a few occasions has a beer lived up to such a grandiose aroma (I could smell my pint at home, which was in the living room while I was across the room in the kitchen), and this is absolutely bonafide.

The recent NABA bronze-medal-winning batch of Uppercut IPA, to my mind, was part of the inspiration for this iteration of Bear Knuckle, namely loads and loads of Simcoe among other hops giving that skunk as none other. But, that is where Uppercut and Bear Knuckle diverge, as there are many folds of blanketed orange, tropical fruits, and blueberry hints enveloped in this light amber-colored ale. Quite a measure of sweet mango and caracara orange comes out as this hop lover’s delight warms, so do give it some chance to sit while you imbibe. Part of the surprise of this beer (how well the aroma and flavor match is one surprise) is just how well the malts hold up after such an assault from damn well plaid (faster than ludicrous speed) hopping. The finish tastes like grapefruit and golden resin, fit for a golden hall that leaves you like a good firery salsa, demanding more and more.

Procure these quickly my friends, ere the hops fade and the season of the malt draws nigh!

Skål!

— Franz Solo

A summer jaunt to Quarter Celtic

Posted: July 24, 2017 by Franz Solo in Beer Review
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Clark is back and juicier than ever.

Editor’s note: Somebody was supposed to finish his Hops Brewery article the other night. Instead, he ended up reviewing the beers he was drinking while not really working on that. I guess I’ll let it slide. — S

I suppose it was just to be, as I headed to Quarter Celtic on rumors of an even more “Juiced” version of Clark IPA, and happened upon a lovely Berliner Weiße as well.

Clark Juiced* IPA

Grapefruit and tangerine aroma with sweet orange. Wonderful full flavor elements of juicy Valencia orange, sweet lemon, and grapefruit pith. Hints of fresh pine from the hops takes my palate to the frosted forests of the northern realms, with a soundtrack of Wintersun and Wolfheart. This is an incredibly quaffable IPA of the eastern slant, with the local 505 high explosives of hops very much present to carry your palate beyond the bitter realms to the warm lands of the Desert Vipers and Dornish … er, Granada, Spain. The gardens of the Alhambra with oranges dripping from the trees, and rows of roses of every color and scent you could imagine. That is where I am transported to in this moment with this last pint of the dying day. Ride forth in numbers and storm the gates, er, doors and procure this gem of a beer before it fades like summer into autumn.

It’s a stoplight of deliciousness!

While you bathe your tastebuds and olfactory senses in the hops of the Clark, or perhaps before, try a lovely Berliner Weiße with classic flavorings and quaff your thirst in the heat of July. This traditional German-style sour of light alcohol, and thus immensely quaffable proportions, is just the ticket at the end of a good, honest day toiling in the sun. A cool, crisp concoction with two flavoring options (raspberry and woodruff) is sure to please your parched palate in these days of the unpredictable monsoon and spectacular sunsets. A quintessential post-yard-work beer, this Berliner Weiße finishes quite crisp on its own, clearing the throats of the dusty dryness of our desert home after a hard day in the sun. We have two distinct variations with the pair of flavor additions, so try one of each and discover what you like best.

There are more of these seasonal brews which beg trying, but the time of this day is spent, so I entreat you to go forth and enjoy what your heart desires of any of these, be it the Berliner, the Juiced* Clark, or another. May your beers ne’er empty, nor your mirth ever fade.

Until we meet again,

Skål!

— Franz Solo