Archive for the ‘IPA Challenge 2018’ Category

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Shout out to my man Jason Soto, for the great picture and for keeping the lines of New Mexico clean with Prime Lines. A huge thank you from all of us! Cheers, brother.

The New Mexico IPA Challenge is well underway, and the question of fairness has come up a bit, to say the least. Well, at least from a technical standpoint, rest assured, our IPA Challenge is as fair as it can be because the Brewers Guild and its volunteers have taken steps to ensure that each beer gets the proper treatment, such as the proper cleaning of draft lines before and during the competition.

Draft beer line cleaning is a little known and often overlooked aspect of the craft brewing scene. But, it is much more important than we think. It’s far more important than the temperature of our beer and what sort of glassware it arrives in. (Although our friend Karim may argue with me on that.) Have you ever sat down at a new bar or establishment, and, having seen it on the list, ordered up your favorite IPA? And, upon first taste, you say to yourself, “Is this the same beer? I know this beer. This tastes weird. This isn’t my beer.” But, it is.

We all have, my friends. Aside from other small variables, like how old a keg is, when it comes to taste issues with a well-brewed beer at a bar, pub, or even (to a much lesser extent) brewery, the problem is usually dirty draft lines. Dirty draft lines cause all sorts of disgusting and unsanitary health issues, but often most noticeably to the public, the issue is taste. And, if we’re not in the tasting business, why are we even talking about beer? Without clean draft lines, the beer that your favorite brewers worked so hard to create won’t be the same beer you find in your glass. Can you see why this would be an issue in a competition based on taste?

So, I put it to the folks at Prime Lines, the company responsible for cleaning the lines prior to the preliminary round and then the first leg of the NMIPAC. I wanted to get down and dirty to clear up why it’s so important that someone properly maintains beer lines for this competition as well as for all beer drinking, ever. Amen. Enter Prime Lines co-founder Angelo Oroña.

DSBC: So, tell me a little bit about Prime Lines, who you are and what you do?

Oroña: Prime Lines Inc. is New Mexico’s first and only third-party draft beer system maintenance and installation company. We clean nearly 1,000 lines statewide for New Mexico’s breweries and wholesalers. We adhere to the Brewers Association guidelines for draft system maintenance, as set out in the Draught Beer Quality Manual. This means we clean all lines under contract on a bi-weekly basis to ensure the beer gets from keg to glass as the brewer intended.

Additionally, we design and install draft beer systems for bars, restaurants, breweries and taprooms, including the forthcoming LOBO Taproom on UNM’s Campus!

DSBC: For a new LOBO Taproom on campus? That’s some big news! We’ll be sure to cover that as more news is forthcoming.

Prime Lines has been an associate member of the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild since they founded the company in November 2016.

DSBC: How did you guys get involved with the New Mexico IPA Challenge (NMIPAC) this year? Was this Prime Lines first major involvement?

Oroña: For the last two years, Prime Lines has cleaned and serviced the lines for the elimination round of NMIPAC, held at Duel ABQ. All faucets, keg couplers, and lines were professionally cleaned by our team to ensure the integrity of the beer and the competition. John Gozigian (executive director of the NM Brewers Guild) asked that we clean all the lines prior to competition.

DSBC: So on a technical level, what does Prime Lines do to “level the playing field?”

Oroña: Prime Lines helps to level the playing field by giving each beer a chance to be presented the way the brewer intended. The lines are cleaned with a special caustic solution that is designed to eliminate any organic compounds that may have been left behind from a previous beer that was poured through the line. The beer faucets are scrubbed clean and the keg couplers are serviced to perform as intended.

DSBC: Are you folks cleaning ALL the lines for the duration of the competition?

Oroña: Prime Lines was asked by the NMBG to clean lines for the elimination round of the NMIPAC.  We routinely service and clean the Taos Mesa Taproom, so we made sure to service that account before the first round. I have no doubt the other host breweries will present the beer at top quality! For Bosque’s Bernalillo facility, these IPAs may be the first beers ever to flow through the lines!

For the Second Street Brewery Rufina second leg of the NMIPAC, brewers Tom and Kevin will be cleaning the lines late Friday night after the close of business.“That way they can make sure everything is clean, and flushed, and cold before (Saturday) morning,” front-of-house manager Mariah Scee informed me.

DSBC: What other variables is the Guild controlling to keep this a fair competition from a technical standpoint? Temp? Pressure? Etc.?

Oroña: Each of the beers for this competition is preserved in a chilled environment prior to competition. The beers are served under ideal conditions by volunteers that have experience in beer dispense. Many volunteers work very hard to ensure that the NMIPAC is a great event and fair competition.

In years past, the IPAs of the Challenge have been poured through jockey boxes — the cooler and hose set ups you often see at festivals — due to the sheer number of beers, and the inability of most taprooms to pour all of them (often alongside their own beers). Not every brewery has 24-plus taps.

DSBC: In your expert opinion, what are some of the drawbacks to pouring IPAs through various jockey boxes?

Oroña: Jockey boxes are never an ideal beer dispense option. Maintaining beer keg temperature in the middle of a New Mexican summer with bags of ice is challenging. Variations in jockey box design can also lead to technical issues arising during the competition. Variables such as consistent temperature, CO2 pressure and line restriction all play into pouring a proper beer.

Prime Lines was established to protect the integrity of beer. Our partnership with the New Mexico Brewers Guild on the NMIPAC was a natural fit. We deeply care about draft beer quality and hope to continue to support NM’s burgeoning craft beer scene. We are proud to be on the forefront of clean draft lines and draft beer dispense education in New Mexico.

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With clean lines, we have beer as the brewers intended. Gone, hopefully, are the days of pouring issues mucking up a clear-cut victory. Of course, that leaves the rest of the competition in the hands of those who come out to these events. As with all democratic processes, you can’t complain if you don’t come out and vote. And no, it’s not a perfect system, but it is well run by people who really care about beer. Now it’s at least a fairer fight without pouring issues to worry about.

As for the rest of the competition, I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend of the Guild and the Crew, Boxing Bear co-owner Kevin Davis. Via Facebook, he commented, “This friendly competition is about raising money for the Guild, celebrating NM’s great breweries and having a few laughs along the way. Everyone works hard to put on this event… not the easiest job to organize. Kudos to Duel and Taos Mesa for hosting the first two rounds, and thanks to John G and the Guild volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes making it fun. Cheers!”

The IPA Challenge continues tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m. at Second Street Rufina, locatd at 2920 Rufina Street, Santa Fe, NM, 87507. Tickets available here!

— Luke

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This is Luke’s fifth time covering the Santa Fe NM IPA Challenge, and his fifth year with the Crew.

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A newcomer takes the top spot at the first round of the NM IPA Challenge.

TAOS — After a long drive through some rather crazy construction zones, I (Stoutmeister) made it to Taos for the first round of the NM IPA Challenge. My reason for visiting was quite selfish, as it meant for a great chance to hang out with my friend Merril for the first time in far too long (she has never been in town during a beer event), but it also gave me a chance for a new perspective.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe dominate the state’s beer scene, as evidenced by 14 of 16 breweries participating in the knockout rounds from those two metro areas. The folks in Taos, and those from towns nearby, have a different perspective on what makes a great IPA. Need proof? Well, how about Red River Brewing’s Bad Medicine Honey Double IPA taking the most votes (23) in the first round of the NMIPAC.

More than 80 people showed up at the Taos Mesa Tap Room in downtown, a nearly four-fold increase from the last time the NMIPAC held a round up here (that was at the Mothership, which is admittedly quite far from town and not a safe ride home or to a hotel for those that drove). It was an impressive gathering, regardless.

This is always harder than it looks.

There were four obviously hazy IPAs on the tray, with a few others that might have been hazy, but not hazy enough, or just IPAs that weren’t clarified properly. I found Bow & Arrow (#1 on the tray) to be the best, but it garnered just five votes. Still, in a more haze-crazed city, it might conquer the masses.

As it was, Red River did a hell of a showing. Second and third were a tie between Blue Corn and two-time defending champion Boxing Bear with 14 votes apiece. I did not mind either beer, though my personal choice was the Simcoe-heavy entry from La Cumbre (#10 on the tray). Merril went with #14, which turned out to be Quarter Celtic. Other than the final vote, we agreed on almost everything (that is another reason we are friends, I suppose).

The first-round leader from just about every NMIPAC that we have covered has never managed to hold onto the lead, so it will be quite interesting to see how Red River fares as the competition moves south. The next round will be at Second Street’s Rufina taproom on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Get your tickets at the NM Brewers Guild’s website. If 80-plus are gonna show up in Taos, expect 100-plus in Santa Fe, so get those tickets in advance!

Finally, we close with a quote from Red River’s head brewer, Chris Calhoun, who could not stop smiling from before the votes were announced until well after.

“I’m pretty surprised, pretty happy,” he said. “When we advanced out of the (preliminary) round, I was just happy to compete with the big boys like Bosque, Boxing Bear, Marble and La Cumbre. This is our first year, so to make to the next round is remarkable. Our honey double IPA is not traditional; we use locally sourced honey. It takes out some of the hoppiness that can overwhelm people.

“But still, to stand out on a tray of 15 (other) IPAs, that means something.”

Congrats to Chris and the Red River team. Now comes the big test to see how the ABQ and Santa Fe crowds respond. Either way, if you have not put Red River on your list of breweries to visit, it should be there now.

Luke will have full coverage from Rufina on Saturday, and then all of us will be at the grand finale at Bosque North on July 28. Look for an updated photo-heavy story about Bosque North soon!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The final results from the preliminary round. The number on the left is what the brewery was on the tray. The circled number on the right is the voting total. Any brewery with a star advanced, plus Kaktus later got a star to also advance.

The results of the NM IPA Challenge preliminary round are in and the breweries which will continue on to the next round are as follows (votes in parentheses): Marble (29), Boxing Bear (26), Bow & Arrow (16), Blue Corn (15), La Cumbre (15), Quarter Celtic (15), Rio Bravo (14), Kellys (13), Santa Fe (12), Red River (11), Red Door (11), Kaktus (11).

They will join the host breweries — Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, Bosque — which all had byes.

UPDATE: Kaktus did advance, so there will be 16 total IPAs on the trays at the next three rounds. It would be bad journalism if we neglected to disclose that Kaktus also received 11 votes. We don’t know, at this juncture, how the tiebreaker was decided since this was a three-way tie with Red River and Red Door.

Some of the notable breweries to not advance included Bombs Away, Canteen, Nexus, Starr Brothers, Steel Bender, Three Rivers, Tractor, and Turtle Mountain.

Things ran relatively smoothly at this event hosted by Duel in downtown ABQ. The event ran from noon to 4 p.m. with a short line existing around 12:15 and results announced around 4:15. The flow of people/beer was slow, yet steady and efficient.

Because all beers were served from the same tap system, and all lines were cleaned in advance, we have no doubt this was another great NM IPA Challenge event from a quality standpoint. All 43 beers (down from 46) were poured with the same conditions with equal representation. Out of consideration for safety, the samplings were broken down onto three trays, with each individual selecting his/her favorite from his/her respective tray of beers.

The Crew had a nice showing with myself and Luke arriving around 12:15, and then running into Jerrad and Shawna inside. At that point, the inside of Duel was already packed with people. We were resourceful enough to move tables around on the roof deck in such a way that our beers were kept in the shade throughout tasting, while our bodies were burned to a crisp in the sun. Two pieces of constructive criticism: (1) offer additional tables indoors since there seemed to be enough extra space, and (2) set up some cover on the rooftop to keep the IPAs out of the sun.

The next leg of the NM IPA Challenge happens Wednesday at Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom (right off Main Street in Taos). We hope to see you out there to support the NM Brewers Guild. May the best IPA win!

Cheers!

— Andrew and Luke

The hounds are after the Bear this year.

Oh, it is that time of year again. The time of year the Crew likes to forget Twitter exists, because the ludicrous arguments, they will be upon us again. This time around, we are gonna ignore it all as best we can and focus on the beers and the fun. Yes, it is time for the annual New Mexico IPA Challenge.

The preliminary round returns to Duel Brewing’s taproom in downtown Albuquerque this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. There will be three separate trays of 13 beers each (one tray per guest), with the top 11 vote getters from all the trays advancing to the final three rounds alongside the four host breweries (Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, Bosque).

To make sure we had all the facts lined up properly for this 17th NMIPAC, I sat down with NM Brewers Guild executive director John Gozigian last week.

“A couple things are different,” he said. “This will be the first one ever — I don’t know how interesting this is to the general public, but — where we’re pouring 100 percent through brewery tap systems, not using jockey boxes this time around.”

Santa Fe Brewing’s James Warren and others pour from jockey boxes at the NMIPAC in 2016.

Duel gets to host again due to the fact it has 40-plus taps available, more than any other brewery in Albuquerque. Why are taps better than the old jockey box format?

“Pouring through a draft system, there’s no substitute for that,” John said. “You have all beers pouring under the exact same conditions — same temperatures, same pressures, same length of runs, et cetera. It removes that one variable from the equation that has been an issue in the past. The last time we did the elimination round with jockey boxes (at Rio Bravo in 2016), I think we had seven different jockey boxes. Every jockey box pours differently.”

The sheer number of participating breweries continues to climb. John noted there were about 32 last year, and the 43 this year is actually down slightly from the original list of 46. Three breweries — Ale Republic, Eske’s, Little Toad Creek — have dropped out.

“I think what happens is when you start talking about the IPA Challenge in April everybody’s on board, but then you get to July and everybody’s capacity is pushed to their limit, especially for the smaller breweries,” John said. “In the case of Little Toad Creek, they have a big brewery, but they just opened a new taproom (in Las Cruces). They’re pretty busy, so they’re kind of stuck right now. When the rubber hits the road, they realize they’re not going to be able to knock out a beer in time, which is fine.”

Only a select few will advance from the preliminary round.

Here is the full list of participating breweries, including where some finished in the final round last year, and those who are new to the competition:

  • Bathtub Row
  • Blue Corn (15th, only brewery outside ABQ to win, back in 2013)
  • Bombs Away (new)
  • Bow & Arrow (9th)
  • Boxing Bear (1st, also won in 2016)
  • Broken Trail
  • Canteen (4th, won six total as Il Vicino Brewing from 2004-05, 2009-12)
  • Cazuela’s
  • Cloudcroft (new)
  • Flix Brewhouse
  • High Desert
  • Kaktus
  • Kellys
  • La Cumbre (10th-tied)
  • Lost Hiker (new)
  • Marble (6th)
  • Nexus
  • Palmer
  • Picacho Peak (14th)
  • Ponderosa (12th)
  • Quarter Celtic (3rd)
  • Red Door
  • Red River (new)
  • Rio Bravo
  • Roosevelt
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales
  • Santa Fe
  • Sidetrack
  • Sierra Blanca
  • Spotted Dog
  • Starr Brothers (5th)
  • Steel Bender (10th-tied)
  • Three Rivers
  • The 377 (13th)
  • Toltec (new)
  • Tractor (8th)
  • Tumbleroot (new)
  • Turtle Mountain (won in 2007)
  • The Wellhead

Among the breweries with byes, which they get since they are surrendering four-plus hours of regular business hours and the profits that come with those, Bosque was second last year (and previously won in 2014-15), Second Street was seventh, Duel was ousted in the preliminary round, and Taos Mesa did not participate in 2017.

The first round, set for July 18 from 4-8 p.m., will actually be at the Taos Tap Room, located in downtown, rather than at the mothership brewery far outside of Taos.

“We’re going to Taos Mesa Brewing Company’s downtown taproom, so that’s the first time we’ve had it at that location, which will make for a nice trip to Taos for anyone that wants to go,” John said. “I actually got a really good deal on rooms. The Taos Inn, I got rooms for like $90 a night, which is unheard of.”

Having the round at a location where people can easily walk home or to their hotel makes a lot more sense than putting it in a more isolated location, which is part of the reason that the last time the NMIPAC was held in Taos, only about 20 people participated.

The second round is set for the new Second Street Rufina taproom on July 21.

“Then we go back to Second Street, Rufina, another great location for the IPA Challenge,” John said. “They have a lot of interior space. They have a draft system we can use for all 15 beers for round two there. We’ll have the patio open, too, but they do have a lot of interior space.”

The first chance for many beer lovers to see inside the now completed Bosque North will be at the final round of the NMIPAC on July 28.

Then comes the grand finale on July 28, which figures to draw even more interest than usual for the venue.

“The final round, this is the big one, it’s going to be in Bernalillo at Bosque North,” John said. “I just thought about it today, for the final round, you’ll be one of the first people (to visit) that location, because they won’t even open until two days later. It will be like a sneak peek for the Bernalillo location, for their draft system, their beautiful new facility.”

If you want to make sure you have a spot at the final round, get a ticket ASAP.

“The ticket sales are strong,” John said. “It will be a draw. I don’t think you just hold it anywhere in Bernalillo. This is Bosque, and it’s brand new. Our ticket sales are double what they were at this point last year, and last year we sold out every round. We’re doing the same number of tickets again this year; it’s just going to sell out faster.”

It should be a close competition again this year. The last two years saw the closest finishes in NMIPAC history, with Boxing Bear edging out Bosque by three votes (104-101) last year and nipping Canteen by two votes (81-79) the year before.

“We’ve got Boxing Bear defending their title, a two-time winner,” John said. “It’s going to be hosted by Bosque, which is also a two-time winner, three times if you count when John (Bullard) was at Blue Corn. I’ve been tasting a lot of beers. Everyone is going really heavy. Everyone is going after Boxing Bear with some really heavily hopped beers, up to 10 pounds per barrel of some expensive hops. Everyone is investing in this beer.

“This could be the year, who knows, where we have a New England-style IPA win it. There are some good ones out there, too. It’s typically been a West Coast-style IPA event. Depending on how forward-thinking people are on one hand, or how traditionalist they are on the other hand, or just how many new people we have coming into the IPA Challenge this year. You have a certain expectation of what an IPA Challenge beer tastes like. A juicy, hazy New England IPA would probably be an outlier. I think it will probably be a good bellwether as to which way the trend is going.”

Everyone is gunning for the Boxing Bear brewers this year.

This could bring out the usual “IPAs are passe” comments from folks, and maybe the style is not quite the king of craft like it once was, but this remains primarily an IPA town and an IPA state.

“The market is definitely moving away from IPAs to some extent,” John said, noting some non-IPA top sellers at local breweries. “You look at Bosque and their Elephants on Parade, Marble with Double White. La Cumbre is still the (Elevated) IPA, obviously. But, I think this is still an IPA town. When it comes to the IPA Challenge, it’s a big event and people care about it … too much, some might argue.”

As we noted above, the NMIPAC, and beer competitions in general, can sometimes bring out the worst in beer drinkers, especially online. John would just like to remind everyone, just as he did the breweries, that the point of the NMIPAC is two-fold, and neither should get anyone’s blood boiling.

“This has primarily been a fundraiser for the Guild so that we can continue our promotional and lobbying efforts,” he said. “It’s (also) a good-natured competition, it’s fun to win, we always rib each other over it, but we never took it that seriously.”

So yes, let us all go have fun, and support the Guild, which in turn supports its member breweries. The Crew (should) have at least one reporter at every round, so look for instant results on social media as soon as they are made available, and stories soon afterwards.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

There will be more competitors at the preliminary round of this year’s IPA Challenge after all.

The New Mexico Brewers Guild sent out an update Tuesday about this year’s edition of the IPA Challenge. After initially capping the July 14 preliminary round at 30 participating breweries, the field has now been expanded to 46, with four of those breweries receiving byes to the next three rounds as they are hosts this year.

Duel Brewing will host the preliminary round at its Albuquerque taproom downtown, just as it did last year. The other hosts are Taos Mesa’s Taos Tap Room (July 18), Second Street Rufina (July 21), and Bosque North in Bernalillo (July 28). As a result, Duel, Taos Mesa, Second Street, and Bosque will not participate in the preliminary round.

The remaining 42 breweries will then be randomly assigned numbers that put them on three separate trays. Each patron will receive one tray and vote for the winner of that tray alone. The final tally of votes will then account for which IPAs advance to the final round alongside the four with byes, with the final winner being crowned on July 28.

Here are the 16 additional breweries that will participate:

  • Ale Republic
  • Bathtub Row
  • Broken Trail
  • Cazuela’s
  • Eske’s
  • Lost Hiker
  • Palmer
  • Picacho Peak
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales
  • Sierra Blanca
  • Spotted Dog
  • Steel Bender
  • The 377
  • Tumbleroot
  • Turtle Mountain
  • Wellhead

If anyone wants further information on the 2018 NM IPA Challenge, please contact us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister