Posts Tagged ‘Boxing Bear Brewing Co.’

The Crew had just a wee bit of fun at WinterBrew.

After taking Monday off due to the holiday, we are back today with a look at what were the best beers that we tried up at WinterBrew back on Friday. It was another outstanding event, one that every craft beer lover in New Mexico should attend at least once. The sell-out crowd of 700 was a jovial bunch, enjoying the many unique beers being poured from 18 New Mexico breweries.

As for the Crew, well, we all had our favorites. If the others want to chime in here at some point, I will add them to the story. In the interest of not going two weekdays in a row without content, here are a few of my picks for the best of the fest. (Note: Due in part to the Rail Runner arriving in Santa Fe about 10 minutes late and then the decision by security to close all booths 30 minutes before the event was supposed to end, I did not get to all 18 breweries.)

A crowd of 700-plus enjoyed beers from 18 breweries.

La Santa Oscura, Blue Corn: This is a delightful spiced holiday black lager that is still on tap at the brewery in Santa Fe. Flavors of chocolate and cherry mix in with the Chimayo red chile for a nice, warm kick at the end.

Coyote Waits, Bow & Arrow: At last, I got my hands on the barrel-aged version of this imperial mole stout. It is a big, thick beast of a beer, and the barrel effects bring out more and more of the spice, yet it never overwhelms the palate. It is still available at the brewery.

Galactica DIPA, Marble: Apparently this single-hop, double IPA thing is becoming a trend. Even with just Galaxy, this is a complex, wonderfully big beer. It is not yet on tap at any Marble location, so drink up the rest so a handle becomes available.

Sin Barreras, Rowley Farmhouse Ales: Alas, this specialty imperial stout does not appear to be available at the brewery, but everyone can hope for its eventual appearance. Big flavors of coconut and maple left us all wondering, is it a breakfast beer or a dessert beer?

14K IPA, Santa Fe: This one was a bit of a one-off joke, but it still leaves us hopeful for a future edition of an imperial-strength version of the hugely popular 7K. We would also like to thank the SFBC staff for donating a couple of sixers of 7K to our beer fridges.

XX ESB and Breaking Plaid Scotch Ale, Second Street: A pair of big, malty brews from the new Rufina brewhouse caught our eye. The latter is more sweet than peaty, akin to a heftier version of the Scottish at Nexus. The best news, besides being on tap, is that some of the Plaid is being saved for barrel aging.

Dark Engine Stout on cask, Sidetrack: If you have never had any of the cask beers at Sidetrack, now is the time. There is a batch currently available with dark chocolate added to the beer for an even more decadent flavor.

The Judy, Steel Bender: At some point a break was needed from the big malts and hops, so this seemed like a perfect time to try this sweet saison made with peaches and brett, then aged in Chardonnay barrels. There are still a few bottles left for sale at the brewery, so get them fast, as they are quite worth it. Drink this and dream of spring.

2017 Barleywine, Taos Mesa: Our friends from the north came down not with White Walkers, but instead a different beast. It is big, boozy, and not for the faint of heart. On your next ski trip (assuming we ever get snow), make sure to check this one out.

Infinitesimus Imperial Stout, Turtle Mountain: One of the first big beers we tried was this heavy, chocolate-y behemoth. This is more than worth the trip out to Rio Rancho for anyone living on the East Side of Albuquerque. Or the West Side. Or the South Valley. Or, really, anywhere in the state.

We’re pretty sure Karim liked most of the beers he tried.

As for the rest of the Crew, as their thoughts trickle in, I will share them here:

Jerrad: WinterBrew 2018 was certainly a memorable night, perhaps a bit fuzzy after tasting a few of the killer imperial/double styles available. The libations that stood out for me at this event would have to be Bow & Arrow’s Coyote Waits BA Stout, with its smooth touch of spicy heat on oak and dark/roasty malts. On the other end of the spectrum, Bombs Away Brewing Company’s B.A.B.C. IPA was wonderful with its hazy, softer NE-style IPA approach. A few other notable mentions would go to Rowley Farmhouse Ale’s Aromatherapy IPA, Steel Bender Brewing’s The Judy saison, and Rio Bravo Brewing’s Grab ‘Em by the Putin Imperial Russian stout.

Kristin: While I couldn’t try that many beers since I was working the event, I loved Second Street’s Breaking Plaid Scottish. The smooth malty flavor masked its 9.1-percent ABV. This is both a good and bad thing.

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That is all from us. Hope those of you that went enjoyed it as much as we did, while for the rest of you, make sure to get those tickets for 2019!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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To everyone that got tickets in time, we will see you Friday night!

The good news is that the beer lineup at WinterBrew looks excellent. The bad news is that the event is sold out. For those who got tickets, well, here ya go, the full slate of beers that have been reported to the Crew.

There are 18 local breweries attending from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Most of the Crew will be taking the Rail Runner north, which departs the Los Ranchos station at approximately 4:41 p.m., dropping us off around 6. If you are going, and want to hang on the train, we will be in the last car.

Anyway, what you really want is a list of the beers being poured. We have 17 of the 18 breweries so far, and will continue to update this as more lists appear in our email inbox. To help everyone out, we are picking the top beer on our list for each brewery, either one we have had before or one we are dying to try. Remember, that’s just our opinion, you are totally free to disagree and drink something else instead.

Blue Corn

Top pick: La Santa Oscura. Luke swears by this holiday-themed dark lager. Cocoa nibs, lactose, cinnamon, and Chimayo red chile add to the fun.

The rest: Blue Corn Mexican Lager, Roadrunner IPA, Oatmeal Stout

Bombs Away

Top pick: Coffee Stout. This one is so new it doesn’t even have an official name, but it could wind up being called Shockwave. Or, we’ll just probably go with delicious.

The rest: Willie Pete Wit, BABC IPA, Bombshell IPL

Bosque

Top pick: Fresh Start Breakfast Ale. We have sung the praises of this maple-and-coffee delight of a stout many times. This is the last of it, so be prepared to fight us for the last pour.

The rest: (deep breath) Lager, 1888 Blonde Ale, Elephants on Parade, Scotia, IPA, Down in the Hollow Brown, Open Space Haze 120 West and 41 South, Honey Porter, Nathan Ginger Red Ale, Galaxy Far Far Away

Bow & Arrow

Top pick: Coyote Waits. The barrel-aged imperial mole stout is back, with that wonderful kick of spice mixed in.

The rest: Savage Times Sour IPA, Thirsty Land Foraged Series (Grisette with Navajo Tea), Nomadico IPA

Boxing Bear

Top pick: Low Rye-der IPA. Hey, it’s new for us, so we will jump on a new dose of hops with copious amounts of rye mixed in, at least as a break from the big and malty.

The rest: Featherweight Session IPA, Iron Lung Smoked Porter, Uppercut IPA, Chocolate Milk Stout

Duel

Top pick: Grunewald Imperial Porter. It has been a while since we have had this behemoth of a beer. The best part is if we like it as much as the last batch, we can always head to the brewery (or taproom) to pick up a bomber to take home. Take note, this and the Titian will not be tapped until after 6:30 p.m.

The rest: Bad Amber, Duchamp, Fiction, Cezanne Magnifique, Dark Ryder, Titian

La Cumbre

Top pick: Business Hammock. Yet another tasty, hazy IPA, this one will make its debut mere hours after another, In the Money, goes on tap and for sale in bombers down at the brewery. Double up on the juice!

The rest: A Slice of Hefen, Malpais Stout, Project Dank, Mind Phoq

Marble

Top pick: Galactica DIPA. OK, so apparently the big, hoppy beers are not as rare as we anticipated. That being said, of course we will snag some of this out-of-this-world hop bomb.

The rest: Double White, Pilsner, Imperial Red, Cholo Smooth

Rio Bravo

Top pick: Level 3 IPA. The brewery just redid the recipe for this one, so we are intrigued to see what the staff has created.

The rest: Snakebite IPA, Roadkill Red, La Luz Lager, Pinon Coffee Porter, Grab ‘Em By the Putin, BA Cherry Wheat Cuvee, Lemongrass Wit, plus possibly Cascade Pale Ale and either Blueberry Gose or Ruby’s Ruckus

Roosevelt

Top pick: Green Chile Beer. Hmm, bringing the spice from the plains? That’s a bold thing to do in Santa Fe.

The rest: Portales Pale Ale, Clovis Point IPA, Happy Heifer Hefeweizen

Rowley Farmhouse Ales

Top pick: Sin Barreras. The imperial stout is back, this batch made with coconut and maple. It is always a delight.

The rest: Aromatherapy (IPA), Ab Initio Festivus, Cote-d’Or Cerise Redux

Santa Fe

Top pick: 14K IPA. Wait, what is this? A single keg of 7K that has been amped up so much that the brewery staff dubbed it 14K? Sold!

The rest: 7K IPA, Lustgarten, Imperial Pastry-Free Porter, Black IPA 2.0, Freestyle Pilsner

Second Street

Top pick: Breaking Plaid Scotch Ale. The first beer made at Rufina is a malty beast. We look forward to finally getting some in our glasses.

The rest: Cereza Negra, Agua Fria Pils, 2920 IPA, Civil Rye, Low Winter Sun Sour, XX ESB

Sidetrack

Top pick: Dark Engine Stout. Yes, there will be a cask of this wonderful elixir. They added dark chocolate and coconut. Hey, ever festival needs a proper dessert beer.

The rest: 3:10 to Belen Brown, Buzz Bomb, Pub Ale, Turntable IPA

Steel Bender

Top pick: The Judy. Snag a bottle pour of this saison, aged in chardonnay barrels with brett and peaches. There are not many bottles left at SBB.

The rest: Red Iron Red, Skull Bucket IPA, Brickie American Stout, Die Dunkel Seite

Taos Mesa

All beers TBA

Tractor

Top pick: Russian Imperial Stout. Oh, hello there Luna de los Muertos. We have missed you!

The rest: Mustachio Milk Stout, Spiced Cider, Turkey Drool, Delicious Red Apple Cider

Turtle Mountain

Top pick: Infinitesimus Imperial Stout. A big beast of darkness to finish things off (alphabetically speaking).

The rest: Arsenal Porter, SCH, Depravity Barleywine, Count Hellesarius

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A big thanks to the breweries who responded promptly when we asked for their lists. It is always appreciated.

Enjoy the festival!

— Stoutmeister

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

The ups and downs of having a full kitchen, or not, continue to vex many local breweries.

A small news item crossed our desk today (Monday) when we found out that Turtle Mountain is adding new items to its food menu. This is something that happens all the time in the restaurant business, where the palates of diners and their interests ebb and flow, often unpredictably. While several of the dishes look like things we have to try (hello, Ruidoso Ribs), it got us thinking again about the ongoing issue of breweries and food.

A few years back, the success of Marble and La Cumbre seemingly heralded the new model would be kitchen-free, relying instead on food trucks and neighboring restaurants. The brewpub was a dying breed, but a funny thing happened on the way to all of this happening. The brewpub did not die, it just had to be revamped and reborn, much like the restaurant industry as a whole (though that whole is far slower to adapt to change, as we see in the current decline in the national chains as more and more close here in ABQ and other parts of the country).

The most recent trend has seen breweries that previously had little or no food expanding to full kitchens. Bosque just had a few appetizers and panini-press sandwiches, until the decision was made to go the full kitchen route. The opening of the second, larger Las Cruces taproom saw the arrival of a full kitchen down south, while Nob Hill has recently expanded into the old Wise Pies space so it can also have a full kitchen, much like the original San Mateo location (and that full kitchen will head to the new mothership location being built along the Interstate 25 frontage road).

Boxing Bear expanded its kitchen and menu, while Tractor added a small food menu to its new Four Hills taproom. Now comes the word that Tractor will turn the old merchandise nook at Wells Park into a small food area as well (if you went to the Stranger Things Arcade Carnival before Halloween, you saw a preview of this).

Rio Bravo had long ago kept a space for a future kitchen, located just on the south side of the main bar area. After struggling with food trucks (more on that below) for a while, the decision was finally made to essentially outsource the in-house food production to The Burger Stand, which already had locations in Taos and Santa Fe.

As more new breweries seek to open, most, if not all, are advertising that they will indeed have in-house food. The most recent new brewery to open, Bombs Away Beer Company, did not open with any food, but its owner already mentioned that he has a space set aside for what seems like an inevitable addition of a small food prep area.

The need for in-house food is seemingly being driven by two things. First, the consumer demand is there. Second, the food truck situation in town has been slipping, from what a number of brewery owners have told us. Many of the best food trucks have either shut down or been so successful that they have been able to open brick-and-mortar restaurants. The best of what remain are now stretched thin across the metro area due to the proliferation of so many taprooms and breweries. While established, large breweries like La Cumbre, Marble, and Tractor are still able to keep the best of the best food trucks parked outside, other breweries have struggled immensely to fill out their schedules with reliable trucks.

Food is still a tricky thing for breweries. A kitchen, whether limited or full, adds another layer of inspections and regulations, many of them even tighter than what exists for beer production. Having food on site is no guarantee of increased business. It certainly did not save the Firkin Brewhouse or Albuquerque Brewing, or perhaps most prominently, Chama River. Even places with well-established reputations for having top-notch kitchens, like Nexus and Turtle Mountain, are constantly having to adjust and adapt to the changing tastes of consumers. One could debate whether or not people are even pickier about food than beer, but it often seems that way around Albuquerque.

It can also be debated as to where the food-versus-no-food debate falls geographically. Desert Valley opened its West Side taproom with a full kitchen and has gone to great lengths to promote it as a food-first establishment. After initially opening the Nexus Silver taproom sans food, the decision was recently made to begin serving food there. It can be argued that food is almost necessary in areas with a denser neighborhood population, like Nob Hill or the Northeast Heights, as opposed to the more nightlife-oriented aspects of downtown, the Brewery District, and Wells Park (though things are changing at some of the breweries located in that district).

The issue can then become how customers view and treat brewpubs versus breweries. Reading the less-than-kind comments online for many brewpubs, they often seem to focus mainly on the food itself and the service, rather than the beer. Food seems to be more polarizing than beer, while the expectation of service is often higher in what many regard as more of a restaurant than bar setting. It often seems that for every benefit about having a kitchen, there is a significant drawback as well. Finding the balance in between is an ongoing challenge, with no easy answers.

What is the future of the brewpub model? Cantero Brewing is gambling that it will be of the popular farm-to-table variety, as the forthcoming brewery fights to overcome the fact it took over the old Firkin space, one of the least desirable physical locations for any brewery. The other newcomers will have to make up their own minds.

As always, we want to know what all of you think, so we designed a rather simple poll below. Add your comments here or on social media. The more the breweries know about what we want from them in terms of food is better for everyone involved.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Hello, NMBF, you were wonderful again!

While I was at work Saturday afternoon, a trio of Crew members joined a gaggle of our friends and other beer lovers at the eighth annual New Mexico Brew Fest. Held at Expo New Mexico, it moved back out to Main Street instead of being in the more cramped Villa Hispana. Here are their thoughts and a few photos from the fest I missed (at least agreeing to work Saturdays came with a raise).

AmyO: I really like this particular brew fest, and I am always sad when I can’t go because it often conflicts with a Lobo game or a trip out of town. Happily, I was able to attend this year. I love the super local feel of this one. It reminds me of some of the smaller brew fests in Portland back in the day before they began to get out-of-control crowded. Some people even wore costumes, and many of the attendees seemed pretty beer savvy.

The weather sure cooperated; although it was starting to get pretty warm in the late afternoon, there is always some shade at this venue. I appreciated the food selection this year. I ate the “special” at the barbecue food truck (Nomad’s BBQ). This was a hot link in a bun covered with a TON of pulled pork. It’s exactly the kind of food you need to soak up so much beer. And, it went really well with some of the spicier/fall-style beers. I also saw someone with a really great looking poke bowl. Very different, and a healthier option!

Raise the horns!

My overall favorite beer was probably the Raspberry Nitro Stout from Marble. First of all, having nitro at a festival always rates high for me. The beer was heavy on the raspberry, but not at all sweet. There was a cocoa powder flavor and mouthfeel that also added to the uniqueness. The Tripel Reserve from Monks’ did not disappoint, either.

The best name has to go to Canteen’s Oompa Lupulin DIPA, but it’s even harder to say after you have had some!

Surprises for me as far as beers I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did were the Das Roggen Weiner from Marble, and Palmer’s Double IPA (because there was much less sweetness to it than I thought there would be). A really great palate cleanser after multiple heavy beers was Ponderosa’s Ecliptic Wet Hop Ale.

My big disappointment was that I never got to try Blue Corn’s Imperial Stout. Blue Corn was late to arrive because sadly they had a tire blowout on the way down to Albuquerque. When they finally did get set up, they held the stout to a 4 p.m. tapping. Everyone was ready to leave by that time, so I never got to try it. I did have their oak-aged Scotch and that was lovely.

Franz Solo found his fellow vikings.

Franz Solo: What I loved best about this particular festival was just how local and friendly the whole thing was. Drinking beer under cottonwoods on the old fairgrounds with a great crowd of people and some fantastic local offerings, both beer-wise and food-wise, was simply magical. Highlights for me were Turtle Mountain’s Depravity barleywine which has aged extremely well since last winter; Canteen’s Oompa Lupulin DIPA, which was simply a hop screamer straight out of the gates of hop heaven; Monks’ Tripel Reserve, which is incredibly smooth and clear for a monster of a beer; and the pair of ludicrous offerings from Blue Corn, which brought its ’16 Scotch and ’15 Russian Imperial Stout, which were both stupendous. Having so many Oktoberfest Marzens as well was a real treat to cleanse the palate between some of the bigger brews, and on the whole they were all quite tasty. A grand event for the NM Brewers Guild and for local breweries and local food offerings alike. I look forward to returning to this wonderful NM Brew Fest.

The Crew and friends did a good job of wiping out that ’15 Imperial Stout from Blue Corn.

Brandon: The brewery list seemed smaller this year, but I can’t blame more places for not participating in this event, with just having wrapped up GABF and all. That being said, the breweries in attendance made sure to bring some standout brews, so here’s what popped for me:

  • Featherweight Session IPA, Boxing Bear: Fresh off a bronze medal at GABF. Lighter but crisp malt backing, with grassy, floral, and citrus zest notes. The low ABV made this one a good choice for the warm weather of the day. Who says session beers can’t pack a flavor punch?
  • Depravity Barleywine 2016, Turtle Mountain: Not a palate-crushing, hop-forward incarnation, like some versions of the style. Tons of caramel, burnt caramel, and toffee.  Chewy as all hell, but not a lot of alcohol warmth. A deceptively dangerous barleywine, loved it.
  • 2015 Imperial Stout, Blue Corn: “Oh what a surprise, the DSBC liked a dark beer”… if you expected less, you don’t know our lives. This beer is a beast, it has about four different types of chocolate notes present — dried fruit, oak and vanilla, and warms you to the core. We want more of this black fire in a glass!
  • V.M.O.M.G., Steel Bender: This one was released a few days prior to NM Brew Fest, but this was my first chance to taste it.  Was quite surprised.  Not that I thought it would be a bad beer, but I didn’t expect this to be THAT good. A damn fine take on a traditional seasonal style. Crisp, sweet malt, good spice from hops. Very solid.
  • Oktoberfest, La Cumbre: I’m going to be blunt here … if you missed this one, you’re f****d.  Cans are gone or close to gone, and all kegs are already gone in distribution. If you find any of this lovely beer, drink it while you can.

That is all from us. Thank you to Kevin Hopper for the tickets, and thank you to all the breweries for bringing some of their finest offerings!

Cheers!

— The Crew

Marble’s Josh Trujillo is all good after bringing home two medals.

It was another successful Great American Beer Festival for our local breweries, as five different places brought home a total of six medals on Saturday morning at the annual awards ceremony in Denver.

Marble Brewery won yet another medal for its Pilsner, taking home a bronze in the Kellerbier or Zwickelbier category. It is the fourth time since 2011 that Pilsner has won a medal. The big win came later, when Cholo Stout took gold in the American-Style Stout category.

“The Pilsner has definitely had a lot of success,” Marble brewmaster Josh Trujillo said. “We put a lot of love into that one. I have a lot of influence on it, but John Heine is the one who is running that beer, making sure it’s consistent. It’s what everybody drinks. We know people drink it all the time. It’s nice to see that one really stay consistent and stay well.”

The Cholo Stout, now on its second iteration, was born out of the Heights taproom experimental brewing system.

“I’m excited, it’s a very challenging style,” Josh said. “To medal the first time … it’s the second time it’s been brewed, but it’s a beautiful style. I finally got to make it good. I feel really privileged that they trust me enough to make these beers. It’s all teamwork. It’s awesome to get it done.”

Nexus Brewery claimed a gold as well with Imperial Cream Ale topping the Other Strong Beer category.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Nexus head brewer Kaylynn McKnight. “I’m just very honored. I thought all of New Mexico did a great job. I’m just proud. I’m proud of all of New Mexico.”

Nexus’ Kaylynn McKnight and her fiancee Andrew Krosche are all smiles after she brought home a gold medal.

Sierra Blanca actually got the medal run started way back in the fourth category, Fruit Wheat Beer, snagging a gold medal with its Cherry Wheat. It marks Sierra Blanca’s first gold since winning for Bone Chiller Brown back in 2012.

The other bronze medals went to Boxing Bear with Featherweight Session IPA in the Session IPA category and to Second Street for Rod’s Steam Bitter in the American Amber Lager category. That marks the second medal for the Steam Bitter, which won gold back in 2013.

“Obviously we’re thrilled about the medal,” Second Street brewmaster Rod Tweet wrote in an email to the Crew. “It’s been a really hectic year this year with getting the third location open and the brewhouse up and running and winning the bronze medal really tops it off for us. Really happy, thanks!”

Overall, the total of six medals matches the 2016 haul and is tied for the second most medals for New Mexico breweries in a single year.

We will be adding plenty more to this story as we track down the other award winners throughout the course of this final day of GABF. Congratulations to all the winners!

Now get out there today and enjoy some national champions!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

It’s go-time for New Mexico breweries at the Great American Beer Festival this week!

The Great American Beer Festival returns this Thursday through Saturday at the Denver Convention Center, and once again New Mexico breweries will be well represented. This year the Crew is dispatching yours truly, plus Franz Solo, via the magic of press passes (Luke will also be there, but as a civilian, and we just want him to focus on having fun and not worry about work). We will be on hand for the sessions on Thursday and Friday nights, plus Saturday afternoon, and the awards ceremony before that.

For those who have never been, GABF is a massive event. It takes over a convention center several times the size of ours here in Albuquerque. In fact, the total space for the festival is equivalent to seven football fields. Breweries from around the United States will be on hand, some represented at hundreds of booths, others are just on hand for the competition.

There will be 12 New Mexico breweries represented, plus Marble gets a second booth this year (ah, the benefits of having two small brewer licenses between downtown and the Heights location). The majority (Bathtub Row, Bosque, Boxing Bear, La Cumbre, both Marble, Santa Fe, Sierra Blanca, Starr Brothers) are in the Southwest region, grouped with breweries from Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana. Dialogue Brewing will be in the Meet the Brewer area, while Blue Corn, Canteen, and Quarter Celtic will be in the Brewpub Pavilion. The New Mexico Brewers Guild will also have a booth along with the other state guilds, pouring beers from breweries without their own booths.

A lot of this probably does not mean much to many of you, who did not get (or even try to get) tickets to the event. For most folks back home, us going up and talking about what a great time we are having is almost a little callous. Our main goal with this event is to provide coverage of the awards ceremony, while also letting everyone in Denver know about the greatness of our breweries (more tourists can be a good thing), and of course trying lots of new beers that you can either seek out on your next vacation or via distribution.

Speaking of the awards ceremony, this year we have been privy to the competition beer lists for most of our local breweries. The awards ceremony happens Saturday at 10 a.m., and will be broadcast live over the internet. You can go to the GABF website that morning and find the link, but be forewarned, it is a notoriously fickle broadcast. We will have live updates via all three of our main social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). We also hope to have some live FB videos from the event. Since there are two of us, it should go a little smoother than last year. (Sorry again about the shaky cam motion sickness, Lonnie.)

Here are the competition lists we were sent from the Guild or directly from some breweries. Some may be incomplete, or are missing a key bit of info (name of beer, or which category that beer is being judged in). We are listing them by awards category, so you know which ones to pay attention to and which ones to run over and refill your coffee mug.

  • 4 Fruit Wheat Beer: Bosque Elephants on Parade, Sierra Blanca Cherry Wheat
  • 8 Chili Beer: Sierra Blanca Green Chile Cerveza
  • 9 Herb and Spice Beer: Blue Corn Ginger Braggot, Chama River Haru, Red Door Vanilla Cream Ale
  • 11 Coffee Beer: Blue Corn Apparition Pale Coffee Ale, Rio Bravo Pinon Coffee Porter
  • 15 Honey Beer: Nexus Honey Chamomile Wheat, Turtle Mountain Pour les Abeilles
  • 17 Session IPA: Boxing Bear Featherweight
  • 18a Other Strong Beer: Marble Double White, Nexus Imperial Cream Ale
  • 19a Experimental Beer: La Cumbre Hibiscus Quercus
  • 20 Fresh or Wet Hop Ale: Bosque Acequia IPA, Quarter Celtic Clark
  • 23 Belgo American Pale Ale: Second Street Diablo Canyon
  • 24 American-Style Sour Ale: Ponderosa Sour Belgian Brown
  • 26 Brett Beer: Flix Brewhouse Eater of Worlds
  • 28b Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer: La Cumbre Ryeot on Bourbon,
  • 29 Wood Aged Strong Beer: Bow & Arrow Cosmic Arrow Brett Saison, Chama River Natalia Polnoch’
  • 34b Zwicklebier: Marble Pilsner, Rio Bravo La Luz Light Lager
  • 36a American-Style Pilsner: Canteen Laid Back Lager
  • 36b International-Style Pilsner: La Cumbre BEER, Quarter Celtic Pedro O’Flannigan’s
  • 40b American Amber Lager – California Common: Second Street Rod’s Steam Bitter,
  • 41 German-Style Pilsner: Bow & Arrow Jemez Field Notes, Santa Fe Freestyle Pilsner, Sierra Blanca Desert Pilsner
  • 42 Bohemian Pilsner: Boxing Bear Body Czech Bo Pils, Canteen High Plains Pils, Dialogue Bo Pils, Sidetrack Pilsner
  • 47a Munich-Style Dunkel: Marble Dupy’s Dunkel
  • 49b German-Style Bock: Marble Maibock
  • 50a Doppelbock: Flix Brewhouse Now and Later, Nexus Doppelspock, Turtle Mountain SCH
  • 52 Blonde Ale: Starr Brothers L.A. Woman
  • 53 German-Style Kolsch: Canteen Kolsch, Chama River Kolsch, Steel Bender Lloyd’s 3 O’Clock Kolsch
  • 56 English-Style IPA: Santa Fe Happy Camper IPA
  • 58 American-Style Pale Ale: Marble Pale Ale
  • 59 American Strong Pale Ale: Second Street 2920 IPA, Santa Fe 7K IPA
  • 60 American-Style IPA: Starr Brothers Starrstruck, La Cumbre Project Dank
  • 61 Imperial IPA: Second Street Imperial IPA, Canteen Astro Hound
  • 62 American-Style Amber/Red Ale: Red Door Roamer Red
  • 63 Double Red Ale: Steel Bender Red Iron Red, Boxing Bear The Red Glove, Bosque IRA, Starr Brothers Red Zepplin
  • 64 Imperial Red: Marble Imperial Red
  • 66b Special Bitter: Sidetrack Pub Ale
  • 67a American-Style Extra Special Bitter: Rio Bravo Amber
  • 67b Extra Special Bitter: Steel Bender Sparkfitter Amber
  • 69 Irish-Style Red Ale: Sidetrack Railhead Red, Quarter Celtic Crimson Lass
  • 70 English-Style Brown Ale: Sierra Blanca Bone Chiller, Santa Fe Nut Brown
  • 71 American-Style Brown Ale: Blue Corn End of the Trail Brown Ale, Ponderosa Bellamah Brown
  • 72 American-Style Black Ale: Bosque Fifth Value, Quarter Celtic Bruce
  • 73 Berliner Weisse: Bow & Arrow Way Out West Sour, Dialogue Berliner Weisse
  • 74b Contemporary Gose: Marble Passionate Gose, Rio Bravo Peach Gose
  • 79 Witbier: Flix Brewhouse Luna Rosa, Red Door Trapdoor White Ale
  • 80 Classic Saison: Bow & Arrow Sun Dagger
  • 85 Belgian Tripel: Flix Brewhouse Tripel Whammy
  • 86a Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale: Ponderosa Preacher’s Daughter
  • 89 Robust Porter: Starr Brothers Lampshade Porter
  • 90 Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout: Steel Bender Blue Bullet Stout
  • 92 American-Style Stout: Marble Cholo Stout
  • 93 Sweet or Cream Stout: Boxing Bear Chocolate Milk Stout, Red Door Paint it Black Milk Stout
  • 94 Oatmeal Stout: Blue Corn Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout, Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout, Sidetrack Dark Engine Stout
  • 96a Scottish Ale: Nexus Scotch Ale

The American-Style IPA category is always announced last, due to the fact it is the biggest (270-plus entries last year). And, yes, Chama River was still able to enter beers even though it technically no longer exists. Not sure how that works, but it does.

Among the beers with mystery categories, there is Dialogue’s Biere de Mars and Sour Raz, Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ Saison du Sarlacc, and Turtle Mountain’s Hard Bock Life. We can probably guess the categories, but for now we will just list them as unknown. We also know that Spotted Dog has beers in categories 57a (Australian or International-Style Pale Ale), 80 (Classic Saison), and 93 (Sweet Stout or Cream Stout), just not the name of any of those beers.

If any other New Mexico breweries have beers entered, we will find out one way or the other.

How well have our breweries done in the past? Well, Boxing Bear was the Mid-Size Brew Pub of the Year in 2016 and Marble Brewery was the Small Brewery of the Year in 2014. Canteen/Il Vicino has won 12 medals since 1995, Marble has won nine medals since 2011, and Chama River will try to add one or more to its total of eight since 2002. New Mexico has routinely ranked in the top percentage of medals in relation to state population and number of breweries.

If any of you are headed up and spot us amid the crowd (it can happen, just ask Michael Waddy from Kaktus), come over and say hello. We will always be more than willing to share what great beers we have found in our wanderings.

Some final tips if you are going.

  • Download the GABF app for your phone if you have not already. Tag the breweries you want to visit, and they will show up on your map. This is invaluable.
  • Keep an eye out for timed releases. Many of your favorite breweries will have small runs of some of their most exclusive beers. They will likely be announced on social media, so make sure you follow your favorites.
  • Hydrate! There are water stations everywhere. They are not just for washing out your glasses. Yes, it might send you to the bathroom faster than you want, but unless you are a human camel, you will have to go sooner or later.
  • Do not drive downtown. This is not just a safety issue, it is to spare you from the chaos of thousands of pedestrians in different states of inebriation, Uber/Lyft drivers, hundreds of taxis, one-way streets, and a whole lotta police. Leave the car at your hotel/friend’s house/Air BnB, wherever you are staying. Oh, and the cost of parking in downtown Denver goes through the roof during GABF, if you can even find a spot.
  • Check the main website for all the off-site events, and do a quick Google search for others. This could be especially relevant if you are not attending all the sessions, or you need something to do during the day besides wander aimlessly around downtown. Some of these are as fun as GABF itself, some might be even more fun if you are into certain beer styles that are represented at their own events.
  • There are too many good food options to possibly list here in Denver, but a few of our favorites include Jelly for brunch/breakfast, and then Rhein Haus, Freshcraft, Wynkoop, Rock Bottom (for a chain, they’re quality), and Breck on Blake (great guest beer menu) for lunch/dinner. There are plenty of food options within the convention center as well, so please do not attempt to get through a session on little or nothing but beer in your belly. It will not end well.
  • Breweries within spitting distance of downtown include some of our favorites, like Prost, TRVE, Great Divide, Our Mutual Friend, Ratio, and Spangalang, plus Crooked Stave if you love sours. Also, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, which is up by Crooked Stave, comes with the seal of approval of La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway. In fact, we fear that if we did not recommend you go there, Jeff would probably disown us and abandon us somewhere in the wilderness.

OK, that is all from us for now. If you have any questions at any point this weekend, whether you are going to be in Denver or are staying home, do not hesitate to contact us via the usual ways.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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

The Boxing Bear team, triumphant again!

In another close vote, Boxing Bear claimed its second straight NM IPA Challenge championship on Saturday afternoon at Steel Bender Brewyard.

Justin Hamilton and his staff claimed 104 votes, with Bosque running a very close second at 101. Quarter Celtic (82), Canteen (76), Starr Brothers (59), Marble (49), Tractor (43) and Bow & Arrow (40) were closed behind.

“It means a whole lot for us, honestly,” Justin said. “With each competition with put forth we support the (New Mexico Brewers) Guild. But the fact that it’s blind and that people are really judging as to what they like the best means a lot. It means a whole lot. We honestly had some of the best beers in the world as far as New Mexico goes.”

Yes, Justin, you get to keep it another year!

Bear Knuckle became just the latest repeat champion. Exodus won three years in a row for Canteen from 2010-12 (a different IPA had started it off in 2009), followed by repeat wins for Scale Tipper from Bosque in 2014 and 2015.

“It’s obviously a super competition,” Justin said. “We have the National IPA Challenge winners from the last four years (here). It means so much. It’s really cool to be a part of it. Obviously the last two years the competition has been the closest it’s ever been. We have so many amazing breweries coming up, Starr Brothers, Quarter Celtic. They obviously put up some amazing entries.”

For the record, La Cumbre won the Brewing News IPA Challenge in 2014 and 2017, sandwiched around Bosque winning in 2015 and 2016.

“Bear Knuckle is one of those things where we try to keep improving it,” Justin said. “Hop varieties change a little bit. The recipe is pretty solid. We’ve got a good base for it, it’s doing well for us.”

Another super-close vote this year.

Ultimately, Steel Bender was able to run a smooth ship Saturday afternoon. The weather cooperated (hooray!) and overall it was a well-run event. So far, at least, the complaints have not piled up about the final round, as they did with the preliminary rounds.

For Boxing Bear, the staff never lost sight of the ultimate goal of the NMIPAC.

“The main thing is it’s a big supporter for the Guild, for the community,” Justin said. “IPA is the most popular style in the country right now. It’s cool to see on a national level New Mexico doing well. Locally, it’s good to support the Guild with some awesome IPAs.”

Justin said he does not expect the reign to last much longer for Boxing Bear.

“There were a lot of beers that were out there that I could recognize,” he said. “That’s amazing, that you have things that are just really good beers in this city. It seems to be about another year, maybe two … people get the idea of what you’re doing as far as local IPAs go. Then three or four years, everything flip flops. They’re not catching up yet, but they will.”

Congrats to Boxing Bear on its back-to-back victories! We look forward to the next NM IPA Challenge next year.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Party time with Great Divide in a couple weeks!

Lots of stuff can fall through the cracks as far as beer news goes, especially when an editor goes on a road trip, so here is pretty much everything I know we missed over the last couple weeks.

Anniversaries and grand openings and soft openings

Today (Friday) is going to be a busy one. First up, Chile Line Brewing is celebrating the official grand opening of its new taproom, which is right next to Pizzeria Da Lino, at 204 N. Guadalupe St. in Santa Fe. There will be live music, special food samples, and of course plenty of beer starting at 4 p.m.

Duel Brewing has been celebrating its fourth anniversary all week long in Santa Fe. The party comes to Albuquerque tonight at 8 p.m. James Whiton will bring his solo loop bass, with a number of burlesque dancers performing. All sours will be $1 off all night.

Also, a reader has informed us that Colfax Ale Cellars in Raton will be quietly having a soft opening. New Mexico’s northernmost brewery had hoped to open last fall, but hit a few more bumps in the road. At last, they will open today at 3 p.m. The Run to Raton Bike Rally & Car Show is also in town, so a lot of the motels are already booked. Take note if you plan to drive up, you will have to designate a driver. The grand opening date will be announced soon.

Exclusive beers en route

Our buddy Thomas DeCaro, now representing Great Divide, is bringing some special new IPAs to town for a two-night tapping at two locations. They will happen at Sister Bar on August 4 at 5 p.m., and then at Nob Hill Bar & Grill the following night. The beers en route are Hazy, a New England-style IPA, Tea Ski IPA, brewed with black tea, and All the Buzz Words, a special collaboration with Weldworks. ABW is described as a “kettle sour session New England-style IPA.” It debuted back at the brewery in Denver on July 1.

Boxing Bear to the Heights

We are working on a time to go more in-depth on this, but yes, it appears that Boxing Bear is the brewery targeted to move into the forthcoming taproom space being built at the new Snow Heights Promenade at Eubank and Menaul. Head brewer Justin Hamilton pretty much confirmed it to the Albuquerque Journal. That’s official enough for us.

More taprooms and breweries?

That mystery taproom coming to Menaul just east of Louisiana has now been confirmed as Broken Trail, which will have beer and spirits available (unlike just spirits at Green Jeans). Owner Matt Simonds asked us to keep quiet until it was more official, but the word got out and now we can say, yeah, that’s Broken Trail.

Elsewhere, Hollow Spirits, the new venture from former Red Door co-owner Frank Holloway, has a pending small brewer license as well. Taking a similar path to Broken Trail is not a bad idea.

Down south, Lost Hiker Brewing has a pending license as well. It will be located in Ruidoso Downs. That mountainous region also has the Glencoe Distillery and Brewery coming east of Ruidoso, and Switchback Brewery in Cloudcroft. Unlike the others, Lost Hiker does have a Facebook page so everyone can keep track of the progress.

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That is all the news we missed (that we know of). As always, if you know anything you feel we and the craft beer community should know, drop us a line via social media or at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister