Archive for the ‘IPA Challenge 2014’ Category

The people have spoken and there is a new/old king of the IPA in New Mexico.

Bosque's brewing staff poses with the IPA Challenge trophy. From left, head brewer John Bullard, assistant brewers Ira Strain-Bey and Ryan Jameson, and founding brewer Gabe Jensen.

Bosque’s brewing staff poses with the IPA Challenge trophy. From left, head brewer John Bullard, assistant brewers Ira Strain-Bey (holding the trophy) and Ryan Jameson, and founding brewer Gabe Jensen.

The 2014 IPA Challenge came to a close Sunday evening at Tractor Wells Park with Bosque Brewing taking home the trophy for the first time. It was the second straight victory for brewer John Bullard, who won his first Challenge last year when he was with Blue Corn.

“It feels good, man, it feels really good,” John said Sunday. “It’s way more rewarding this time with a brewery that supports me entirely. It’s really good.”

Bosque co-owner and founding brewer Gabe Jensen was all smiles after the final votes were announced. John and his assistant brewers, Ryan Jameson and Ira Strain-Bey gathered to hold the trophy aloft.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Gabe said. “I’m so proud of John and Ryan and Ira. Those guys, oh man.”

Bosque racked up 65 votes in the final round 106 total. Marble made it closer in the end, piling up 61 votes (including mine, the rest of the Crew who attended — Franz Solo, Mrs. Solo, Brandon — went with Bosque) to finish second overall with 77 votes. Chama River (72), Turtle Mountain (56), La Cumbre (55), and host Tractor (36) followed. Add it all up and no one at Bosque ever felt like they were going to run away with the trophy.

The very first tray of all 16 IPA Challenge beers was served to Stoutmeister. We know how shocked you all are at this news.

The very first tray of all 16 IPA Challenge beers was served to Stoutmeister. We know how shocked you all are at this news.

“No, I never thought that once,” John said. “I was pretty nervous today. This was the best Challenge I’ve seen yet. There was a huge amount of great beers in this lineup. It was tough competition. It was a lot of fun, though.”

Gabe said he felt the closer competition made for a more exciting, and nerve-wracking, finish to this year.

“Compared to last year, not that there weren’t a lot of good beers, but John ran away with it,” Gabe said. “This year, I didn’t know which one to vote for. There were several really good beers, even some that didn’t get that many votes, I thought they were right there. It’s obvious the level (of talent) is coming up.”

A total of 361 people voted at Tractor, which by most accounts was an all-time high for the final round. Despite starting a few minutes late, the entire process went smoothly and efficiently. The Tractor staff did a great job keeping the line moving and helping people throughout the day. Kudos to Skye Devore and all of her employees, they made this one of the best finales to date.

The Crew tackles the Challenge. Clockwise from bottom left, Stoutmeister, Brandon, honorary Crew member Lea, Franz Solo, and Mrs. Solo.

The Crew tackles the Challenge. Clockwise from bottom left, Stoutmeister, Brandon, honorary Crew member Lea, Franz Solo, and Mrs. Solo.

As for the beers, the field of 16 was outstanding this year. There was no undrinkable beer among them, though the gap between the favorites and the also-rans did emerge. Bosque’s Scale Tipper, Marble’s Challenge IPA, Chama River’s Radioactive, Turtle Mountain’s India Stupid Ale, and La Cumbre’s Project Dank were clearly the crowd’s choices, but the gap between them was not that high. (And yes, it was a very tough decision for all of us, too.)

The key to Scale Tipper’s victory? A big old dose of quality hops balanced with a malty backbone that made it a heavyweight masterpiece.

“This year was a lot bigger,” John said. “This was a way bigger beer than last year. I think that had a lot do with the flavor impact. Massive hopping rates, man.

“We even mashed higher to keep more of that malt presence in there.”

Many people that the Crew talked to felt that #8 (which was Scale Tipper) was the biggest and burliest beer of the bunch.

“I heard word of ours being over-the-top,” Gabe said. “I think by itself it was. Yes, we did that on purpose and I’m OK with it.”

The huge turnout of beer lovers included plenty of folks from other breweries. Among those we crossed paths with were Kaylynn McKnight and Ken Carson from Nexus, Zach Guilmette and David Facey from Chama River, James Warren from Blue Corn, and Nico Ortiz and Tim Woodward from Turtle Mountain. Add it all up and craft brewing is doing great throughout New Mexico.

“It’s growing fast, it’s strong, it’s alive, and we all support each other, that’s the best part of this whole thing,” John said.

Thanks to everyone who set up the IPA Challenge — a special shout-out to Christopher Goblet of the Brewers Guild for his tireless work — and to everyone who attended the event. We think a good time was had by all. This was one of the most fun events we have been to in all our years of covering and participating in the Challenge. Next year should be even more fun.


— Stoutmeister and the rest of the NMDSBC

The final round of the New Mexico IPA Challenge is nearly upon us! Out of the 16 entries to the tasters’ choice competition there are currently five available for tasting in the Duke City. My mission over the past few days has been to try each one in turn and bask in the glory of a veritable galaxy of hops. Stoutmeister joined me on three of these adventures and Mrs. Solo was also present for Bosque’s offering. Whether you are a fan of Northwestern-style IPAs, with their distinctive pine flavor, or have a hankering for more malts or tropical flavors, all of these are well represented and sure to please.

Marble's Challenge IPA was the last of the five entries to be released this week.

Marble’s Challenge IPA was the last of the five entries to be released this week.

These are the five that we tried: Chama’s Radioactive IPA, Bosque’s Scale Tipper IPA, Turtle Mountain’s India Stupid Ale, Il Vicino’s Sabbatic-ale IPA, and Marble’s Challenge IPA. So as not to unjustly influence any voters at the Challenge, I will refrain from attaching any description to any particular beer.

Three of these were very similar in profile — strong malt backbone punctuated with multiple layers of tropical fruit and citrus flavors. Each beer had a unique combination of mango or peach, tangerine, pineapple, orange, and grapefruit. Another had a strong presence of pine and grapefruit which was very dank in aroma and flavor with a fine, bitter finish. One of these had a far more prominent pine flavor with less of the fruit character and finished with a strong, bitter, crisp bite.

The five brews I sampled are not your everyday, standard “house” IPAs. Many contain close to 10 pounds of hops per barrel and utilize up to 10 different hop varieties in their composition. There is not a single one that disappointed me. They are all really, really outstanding beers, each unique and wonderfully crafted. So whether you like your fruit first or pine or bitter or a combination one way or another on the front or back end, you’ve got it.

Il Vicino's Sabbatic-ale is the successor to Exodus.

Il Vicino’s Sabbatic-ale is the successor to Exodus.

Owing to the cost of ingredients alone these IPAs are a rare seasonal and I highly recommend heading to your favorite watering hole and enjoying a pint or two before they disappear! One recommendation on consumption, let your pint rest a bit. The aroma and the flavor of the hops really open up like a flower or a good glass of wine with a slight raise in temperature and oxygenation.

And for the details for the final round (Stoutmeister said I should include this one more time), it kicks off at noon and runs until 4 p.m. at Tractor Wells Park, which is at 1800 N. 4th Street. You can still buy tickets online at or you can get them at Wells Park. We’re not sure if they will still be selling any at the door Sunday, so get them now just in case.

After two rounds, Bosque leads with 41 votes, followed by Chama River (27), Il Vicino (23), and then a four-way tie with 18 votes for Blue Corn, La Cumbre, Santa Fe, and Tractor. It should make for an exciting finish.

Hope to see you all on Sunday, it will be as Stone Brewing put it best: “A stage dive into a mosh pit of hops!”


— Franz and Mrs. Solo

P.S. Last year Stoutmeister wrote a “Survival Guide” for first-time IPA Challenge participants. It’s all still valid today, so back and read the entire thing. Well, OK, skim it if you have to, but trust me, it’s helpful.

The two main themes from Round Two of the IPA Challenge tonight (Tuesday) at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales were 1) there was a great turnout (83 voters) and 2) those voters were all over the place in their selections.

The voting totals from Round Two in Portales. The number on the left was the beer's designation for the blind taste test. Voting totals are on the right.

The voting totals from Round Two in Portales. The number on the left was the beer’s designation for the blind taste test. Voting totals are on the right.

No brewery out of the 16 participants garnered more than 10 votes, while everyone had at least one vote. Santa Fe Brewing won the night with 10, while Marble was last (!) with just one vote. In between were a whole bushel of breweries, with the overall voting totals only changing ever so slightly in the overall order going into Sunday’s grand finale at Tractor Wells Park.

Bosque Brewing picked up seven votes to expand its overall lead to 41, while second-place Chama River picked up just three votes for 27 total and third-place Il Vicino added just two for 23 total. Fourth place now features a four-way tie between Blue Corn, La Cumbre, Santa Fe, and Tractor, all of whom have 18 votes total.

For the sake of reference, here are the overall voting totals. The first number in parentheses was the voting total from Saturday’s Round One at Second Street, with the Roosevelt/Round Two voting following.

  1. Bosque 41 votes (34/7)
  2. Chama River 27 (24/3)
  3. Il Vicino 23 (21/2)
  4. Blue Corn 18 (12/6)
  5. La Cumbre 18 (12/6)
  6. Santa Fe 18 (8/10)
  7. Tractor 18 (15/3)
  8. Second Street 17 (12/5)
  9. Marble 16 (15/1)
  10. Turtle Mountain 16 (14/2)
  11. Cazuela’s 14 (7/7)
  12. High Desert 14 (8/6)
  13. Kaktus 14 (5/9)
  14. Roosevelt 13 (5/8)
  15. Taos Mesa 13 (8/5)
  16. Nexus 7 (4/3)

As noted many times before, the final round of the IPA Challenge will be this Sunday at Tractor Wells Park (1800 N. 4th Street, for those who still haven’t been there) from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are still available online at and on site in advance and (if there are any left) at the door Sunday.

We will have our guide to how to survive the Challenge, should it be your first or if you’re looking to improve upon last year, this Friday.

Until then, we say good show, Portales. For a town of maybe 20,000 people (probably less), you had a solid turnout. Congrats to everyone at Roosevelt Brewing for helping to make that happen, and to the Brewers Guild, as always, for organizing this event.

See many of you Sunday afternoon.


— Stoutmeister

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first story by a member of our new Brew Crew Bullpen. Luke, being our first Santa Fe-based writer, headed over to Second Street Brewery for Round One of the IPA Challenge on Saturday. His enthusiasm for this is shining through every part of this story. Enjoy! — Stoutmeister

16 breweries. One winner. No mercy.

IPA Challenge pic 1

The 2014 IPA Challenge got off to a great start this weekend at Second Street Brewery in Santa Fe.

Luke here, the newest member of the Bullpen and the Santa Fe correspondent. Another year for the battle of the IPAs, and bragging rights are once more on the line. But the IPA Challenge is about more than just bragging rights. Well, OK so it’s mostly about bragging rights in a state that hails its hoppiest hitters. But despite all the limits being pushed and the ingredients being tweaked, I’ve learned that the IPA Challenge makes brewers better brewers, and makes us beer drinkers better as well.

Sixteen breweries (listed in the photo below) brought specially brewed IPAs to Second Street Brewery in Santa Fe on Saturday to compete in the first leg of an event unique to our state. The 12th running of the NM IPA Challenge had such a wide spectrum of IPAs that there was something for everyone’s palate, making it easy for no one to choose just one favorite. The IPAs ranged everywhere from colorful and complex to pure Pinesol, from questionably sessionable to hardcore ABViolators, and finally from malt-forward monsters to absolute hoptomic bombs.

It was not an easy event to judge. With a tray of 16 IPA-filled tasters in front of me (only identified by numbers), it was hard not to be intimidated. Thankfully, Todd Yocham, head of brewing operations at Duel Brewing in Santa Fe, helped me find a more efficient way to judge and smudge, something akin to “Hot or Not” until you’ve found your fave. Duel Brewing did not participate in the event, but Todd is no stranger to how we do things out here in the Southwest, high noon style.

When asked if he wanted to brew a beer for the competition he said, “Oh hell, yeah! Yeah. We talked seriously about doing it this year, but with some other events and things, and we’re still small. It would take more time than we have at the moment.” Busy with their expansion plans (Stoutmeister will have more in The Week Ahead in Beer State Edition this Thursday), it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see something from Duel, and I can’t wait for them to toss their 10-gallon hats in the ring.

But for the brewers that are currently in the Challenge, they were certainly in it to win it, no matter what style of IPA they made. I got to speak with Rod Tweet, Second Street’s brewer, very briefly, as that part-man, part-brewing machine does not stop moving for more than a minute at a time. He told me about Second Street’s IPA: “We took our Pivotal IPA and leveraged it so it’s Fulcrum (IPA). We amped up the dry hopping for four extra points of gravity and used nine hops in the beer. There’s a lot of complexity in there. We’re real happy with it. We made one that we want to drink.”

James Warren, head brewer at Blue Corn, had a similar approach. “I tried to do something balanced,” he said. “We use a really nice base malt for it.” He then mentioned some surprising hops, which I won’t divulge until after folks in all three competition locations have had a taste.

And of course I had to ask James, since John Bullard won last year with his Resurgence IPA at Blue Corn just before he left for Bosque, was there any pressure on new head brewer to bring it back? “Absolutely!” he said. “I absolutely want to see it back at Blue Corn. But I’ve had so many great beers in the last three months that it’d be hard to be disappointed.” I asked what it meant to the brewery to win, and he said, “It’s great to me, as kind of the new guy in the New Mexico brew scene, to come out and do this, but it also means a lot to other people in the brewery, besides me, already having that trophy.” But in the end, he said, confidently, “I made a beer I wanted to make.” I can dig that.

The numbers listed before each beer were what they were marked as for the blind taste test. The numbers to the right are the voting totals.

The numbers listed before each beer were what they were marked as for the blind taste test. The numbers to the right are the voting totals.

Well folks, with the results in out of 204 votes cast between noon and 4 p.m., it seems that John has the lead so far and could be on his way to earning another trophy for his new brewery, Bosque. But as we all know, it ain’t over till it’s over. There are still the second and third legs of the competition at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales on Wednesday and at Tractor Wells Park in Albuquerque on Sunday. Who knows how the judges will cast their votes? Only tastes and time will tell.

But bragging rights aside, these competitions are great for the industry. Chris Goblet, of the New Mexico Brewers Guild said, “The brewers knew early on how fun it would be to have a competitive competition, a friendly competition amongst the brewers in a category that was really exciting and interesting. So in 2002, these folks came together and had the first challenge and we realized very quickly that it was a great opportunity to really get to know the style.

“And so we’ve talked about, in the future, doing other events like the ‘Peak of the Pisners’ or ‘Land of the Lagers,’ where we would be able to get people to really have the opportunity to taste multiple beers on the same platform, so they could really start to educate their palates as to the diversity of style and what a style should taste like.”

Todd added, “It’s really about the camaraderie of the brewing industry here in New Mexico, gettin’ together and throwin’ down. It’s not important who wins, but it kinda is! (laughs)”

All the participants that I spoke to seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. Local homebrewer and Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewers Club head Jim Steinbach said, “I had a hard time (to pick a winner). I had it down to about five. There were three that were what most people would consider a standard IPA and there were two kind of outstanding IPAs that I liked.” He also wanted to see Challenges for new styles like a stout challenge in the winter. (Way ahead of you there, Jim. — Stoutmeister) Non-IPA drinker Kyle, from Massachusetts, said it was easier now to pick the IPAs he liked, after trying 16 different ones. Chelsea, from Washington, DC., said it was much harder to pick a winner, being an IPA fan. And thanks to fellow bullpen member Reid for joining us in the midst of battle, and for those life-saving pretzels!

So what does all this all tell us? Bullard’s beers are tough hombres, tasting is teaching, and people from other states are here for the NM beer! So cheers and good luck to the brewers. May the hops be with you!

— Luke “Skyhopper”

The brewer who won it all last year has his new brewery out in front after Round One of the 2014 IPA Challenge. Bosque and John Bullard, who won with Blue Corn last year, took the lead with 34 of the impressive 204 votes cast at Second Street Brewery on Saturday afternoon.

The numbers listed before each beer were what they were marked as for the blind taste test. The numbers to the right are the voting totals.

The numbers listed before each brewery’s IPA were what they were marked as for the blind taste test. The numbers to the right are the voting totals.

Luke of the Brew Crew Bullpen will have a more detailed recap of Round One either Sunday or Monday, including interviews with some of the brewers and other folks attending the event. For now, this is just a quick summary of the voting totals. Without any further adieu …

  1. Bosque 34 votes
  2. Chama River 24 votes
  3. Il Vicino 21 votes
  4. Marble 15 votes
  5. Tractor 15 votes
  6. Turtle Mountain 14 votes
  7. Blue Corn 12 votes
  8. La Cumbre 12 votes
  9. Second Street 12 votes
  10. High Desert 8 votes
  11. Santa Fe 8 votes
  12. Taos Mesa 8 votes
  13. Cazuela’s 7 votes
  14. Kaktus 5 votes
  15. Roosevelt 5 votes
  16. Nexus 4 votes

We don’t have the exact records, but 204 total votes may very well be a record for a non-Albuquerque IPA Challenge round. Great job by everyone in Santa Fe and for those who trekked there for this event. Craft brewing is only getting bigger and better in New Mexico and it’s not just limited to the ABQ metro area.

Considering how spread out the votes were, this is hardly a done deal for Bosque. Remember, last year Turtle Mountain won the opening round at High Desert in Las Cruces. Blue Corn did not start to pull away until Round Three (there were four rounds last year) at Santa Fe Brewing.

Round Two is set for Wednesday at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales from 4 to 8 p.m., followed by Round Three next Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at Tractor Wells Park. Tickets for both rounds are still available at the breweries and online at

And again, if anyone out there attending Round Two at Roosevelt is interested in being a correspondent for the Brew Crew, please email us at

Otherwise, see many of you at Tractor Wells Park!


— Stoutmeister

The 2014 edition of the IPA Challenge is set to kick off Saturday at noon at Second Street Brewery in Santa Fe. It will also kick off with an unusual twist this year. Blue Corn Brewery is the defending champion, yet the defending champion brewer, John Bullard, is now at Bosque Brewing. The trophy stayed at Blue Corn, but in the eyes of many, Bosque is now the brewery to beat.

John Bullard hoisted the IPA Challenge trophy last year, but he has since moved from Blue Corn to Bosque. He will aim for a repeat of sorts starting this weekend.

John Bullard hoisted the IPA Challenge trophy last year, but he has since moved from Blue Corn to Bosque. He will aim for a repeat of sorts starting this weekend.

John’s Resurgence IPA was the first beer outside the Albuquerque metro area to win the Challenge. It had hop power, but was not a pure hop bomb. A strong malt bill balanced it out. So does that mean the days of the hop bomb are over? Even John is not sure where IPAs are headed, but he had some time to sit down and chat about Challenges past and present.

Q: What’s your take on the state of the Challenge and IPAs in general?

John: They’re getting crazy, man, really crazy. I was joking with Josh (Trujillo) from Marble that instead of pounds (of hops) per barrel these days it’s going to be pounds per gallon. It is, it’s getting ridiculous. This one I’ve put more in than I have any of the others. I’ve heard Il Vicino pushed Exodus and I think Jeff pushed Project Dank some more, too. It’s getting really wild.

Q: I know it’s a friendly competition, but how much of a desire is there for you to win it, especially winning it for Bosque this time?

John: It would mean a lot more for me to win it down here, for sure. Especially being back down here in the mix of Albuquerque brewers. It would be awesome. It’s going to be tough, a tough competition this year, really tough.

Q: Do you think breaking that stretch of Exodus domination (three straight titles prior to 2013) has fired up more people for the competition?

John: Yeah, I think so. And Jeff Erway I think is on the forefront of IPAs these days and is really pushing it. We’ll see what happens.

Q: What do you think was the key last year for Resurgence to come away with the win? Was it the balance as opposed to being a hop bomb?

John: There was still a malt backbone to it, which is what we strive for in most of the IPAs we make here at Bosque. It leads the juiciness in IPAs, it’s not just pure dry bitterness in the finish. There’s actually some malt character there to follow through and carry you into that hop-forward, hop-flavored finish.

Q: How many versions of this year’s IPA have you gone through before settling on this batch?

John: Not much. This is the second specialty IPA we’ve made on this system at Bosque. We had the Fisticuffs before this. This is going to be called Scale Tipper IPA.

Q: As far as the competition goes, it’s been scaled back from four locations to three this year. Do you like the current setup with one in Albuquerque, one in Santa Fe, and one somewhere else in the state?

John: I think it’s good. I think for some locations if you can support it, I think it’s great. It brings a lot of people to your establishment. Maybe while they’re there they try food or beer they haven’t tried before. I think it’s a good thing. The smaller taproom venues like here I think wouldn’t work, but a place like our new taproom (opening soon in Nob Hill) would be awesome.

Q: I would rate Bosque now as one of the heavyweight breweries in this town —

John: Thanks, man!

Q: You’re welcome. You’ll be one of the favorites along with Il Vicino, La Cumbre, and Marble this year. But going into last year I don’t think anyone saw Blue Corn winning going into the Challenge. Who could be some sleepers this time around in your opinion?

John: I’ve got my on Zach (Guilmette) at Chama and I’ve got my eye on James (Warren) and Nick up there at Blue Corn. Kaktus, also. You never know. I wouldn’t put it past anybody.

Q: I think the blind taste test format is the best way to do it. Do you agree?

John: I do, too. You always have those people that say they’re a Bosque regular or Il Vicino regular and they’re going to try to find the one they drink all the time and they’re going to vote for that beer whether they like it or not. I’d encourage people to find whatever you like the most and vote for it.

Q: Heck, last year I picked my favorite and I was sure it was either Exodus or Resurgence. It turned it to be La Cumbre. So you never really know.

John: Project Dank was relatively new last year at that time. I’d say a huge part of Albuquerque IPA connoisseurs, if you will, are quite tuned into Dank. It will be interesting to see what happens this year.

Q: And yet Dank changes every time he has a bottling run with the hops and the overall mixture. So what Dank are you getting?

John: That’s a good point. I guess that’s a good thing because (Jeff is) just educating people more on what a good IPA is all about.

* * * *

Thanks to John for taking time out of his busy day. The new brewery system at Bosque was humming away the entire time we were there (so a thank you to my digital recorder for not being overwhelmed by all that noise).

Tickets are still available to all three rounds of the IPA Challenge. You can still head to the breweries themselves to buy tickets or you can buy them online at the NM Brewers Guild site and there should be tickets at the door.

Round One of the Challenge kicks off Saturday at noon and runs until 4 p.m. at Second Street. Take note, there will be no beer sales or food sales at Second Street until the Challenge is over. So make sure your bellies have a good sponge in them before you head over. Luke (and possibly Reid) of the Brew Crew Bullpen will be covering this round for us. UPDATE: Actually, if you’re participating in the IPA Challenge, you can order food at Second Street. So don’t panic and try to wolf down a bologna-and-cheese sandwich and end up choking to death. You can still get one of their delicious burgers or sandwiches to keep yourself from getting a little “loopy” on all those IPAs.

Round Two of the Challenge runs Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales. This will be the first time Roosevelt has hosted the Challenge, so we’ll be very interested to see how things turn out for them. At this point, it does not look like any of us can make the trek east in the middle of the work week, so if anyone wants to be a one-day correspondent for the Crew, contact us via email at

Round Three will wrap things up at Tractor Wells Park on Sunday, July 20 from noon to 4 p.m. Look for most of the Crew out there, including some of our new Bullpen members.

We will get you all the results as quickly as we receive them from the events. Keep up to date with us on Facebook and Twitter (@nmdarksidebc) for updates.

Enjoy the IPAs!


— Stoutmeister