Posts Tagged ‘Chama River’

A sad and sudden farewell to Chama River

Posted: August 25, 2017 by cjax33 in Brewery Obit, News
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We will always cherish our opportunity to brew on Chama River’s system back in 2014. From left, then-head brewer Zach Guilmette, Brandon, Stoutmeister, and then-assistant brewer David Facey.

A relatively normal Thursday afternoon turned chaotic after a single text from a friend in the business: “Apparently Chama (River) is closing, as in right now. They just called last call and are done. Heard anything?”

This happened shortly after 4 p.m., and suddenly, while still standing in the Albuquerque Isotopes dugout as batting practice was winding down, I was quickly texting anyone and everyone who might be in the know. Confirmation from a source, who shall remain unnamed for now, followed, letting me know that the third oldest brewery in Albuquerque was indeed closing its doors for good. It was, to put it mildly, stunning.

The Albuquerque Journal was able to get the president of Santa Fe Dining, Chama’s parent company, to go on the record (sort of): “Unfortunately, we had to shutter the doors after 12 really wonderful years with our Albuquerque guests,” Randy Ropek told Journal reporter Jessica Dyer. That, and a comment about Kellys Brew Pub being in fine shape and in no danger of also closing, was about all the Journal got for the time being.

While the Crew and the rest of the media wait for a more official announcement, which we were told is coming next week, about all we can do for the moment is reflect back on Chama’s place in our local beer history. (A much more detailed version of this history can be found in a certain book which you can purchase online here or at local retailers.)

Chama got its start in August 1999 as Blue Corn Albuquerque, a spinoff of the popular Santa Fe brewpub. Within about six months of opening, there was a change of brewers. Ted Rice took over at Chama and helped put it on the map, at least as far as the beers went. He won three medals at the Great American Beer Festival — silver for Get Off My Bock in 2002, gold for Atomic Blonde in 2003, and gold for Rye On in 2004. He also snagged three silvers and a bronze at the World Beer Cup.

The name change to Chama River came in 2005 after the restaurant’s food sales continued to lag even as the beer sales increased. The New Mexican-style menu was replaced with more of an upscale pub selection of American dishes.

Farewell, old friend. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

After that big change, the next was when Rice left in 2007 to start up Marble Brewery the following year. That left his assistant brewer, Jeff Erway, to take the reins. Erway picked up two silver medals at the 2008 World Beer Cup for Sleeping Dog Stout and 3 Dog Night (Baltic Porter). By 2010, Erway moved on to start La Cumbre Brewing.

Next up on the brewer docket was Justin Hamilton, assisted by Tim Woodward. Those two would also eventually leave to run their own brewhouses in 2014, Justin to Boxing Bear and Woodward to Turtle Mountain (and since moving on to Bosque, where he now works alongside John Bullard, also a former assistant brewer at Chama before moving up to his first top job at Blue Corn).

Zach Guilmette came over from Canteen to run the show in 2014, bringing David Facey along with him. David would eventually depart to join the ownership at Quarter Celtic with longtime Canteen/Il Vicino brewer Brady McKeown, which in turn prompted Zach to return to Canteen as head brewer. Before he left, Zach added to the Chama medal total with a gold at the 2014 GABF for Class VI Golden Lager.

Andrew Krosche, formerly of Ponderosa and Marble before that, then came over to run the show. He was still in charge Thursday when Chama was closed. We can only hope the future is bright for Andrew, but we have confidence things will turn out OK for him, considering his talent and ambition.

As for this beer writer, Chama River was the first local brewery I ever visited in Albuquerque. I was living in the Los Angeles area when the name change happened; before that, my dad does not ever recall visiting it as Blue Corn. That summer in 2005, while making a quick stop in town, my dad took me over to the brewpub next to what was then the best movie theater in town. I enjoyed a Rio Chama Amber before getting a pint of Sleeping Dog Stout, proudly declaring to our server that I would be drinking that stout on every subsequent visit. By the time I moved back in late 2008, the only local craft breweries I even knew about were Chama, Il Vicino, Kellys, and Turtle Mountain. I had seen Santa Fe, Sierra Blanca, and Rio Grande bottles in stores (not knowing the latter two now had the same owner), but otherwise it was a barren scene. (I would later have my first pint of Marble Red at the old Burt’s Tiki Lounge on Gold, but that is a story for another time.)

Chama ended up being instrumental in my willingness to embrace local craft beer in New Mexico. It was the place that told me that, hey, they could make beer here that would stack up to the heavyweights from Colorado, Oregon, and California. By the time we all came up with the idea of the Dark Side Brew Crew, Chama had long been a hangout, sometimes for a full meal, other times for a pint and maybe an appetizer before or after a movie. Even as nicer theaters were built and a slew of bigger breweries opened, Chama always kept a special place in our hearts. For many of us, it was the original local brewpub, the first place we ever had a local stout or IPA or just about any style.

The brewers may have changed, but the beer quality remained. As Andrew told us when he was hired, “I’ve been in here many, many times. I’ve been friends with the brewers in here for the last four or five years. As far as walking in here, expectations, I already knew what I was coming into, the history here. One of the things that was kind of exciting is the best way I can describe my first day was like coming into an archaeological dig. You just look at layers, you can see elements of each brewer here. Everyone has been putting it on top and on top. It’s like excavating an old, abandoned building and realizing, oh, there was another building here and they just piled on top of it. There’s really cool elements, just layers you can find.”

Yeah, we are gonna miss Chama River. Before anyone asks, no, we do not think this is the beginning of a sudden series of brewery closings. Until we get the official word from Santa Fe Dining (assuming we get one at all) about why it closed Chama, anything at this point is just pure speculation.

To the staff at Chama, we wish you all luck finding new jobs. Thank you for your service over the years.

All we have now are our memories of Chama River. Its place in our local craft beer history is secure. It is just unfortunate its place in our present and future was so insecure. We hope to have more information to share next week.

Until then, never take your favorite brewery for granted. Pay it a visit this weekend. After all, you never know what can happen these days.

— Stoutmeister

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The variety in beers is impressive this year!

As most of you should know by now, BearFest returns this Saturday, now at the Albuquerque Convention Center downtown. VIP entry is at 12:30 p.m., general admission is at 2 p.m., and it all runs until 6 p.m. General admission tickets are still available online and VIP tickets are still available at Boxing Bear.

Much like any other beer festival, the biggest question of all remains what brews will be available. Well, 15 of the 20 participating breweries sent us their lists, and if the other six get theirs to us, we will add them here right up until the doors open.

  • Ale Republic: TBA
  • Bathtub Row: TBA
  • Blue Corn: Ginger Braggot, Back to Cali Common, Hella Humulus Collaboration IPA, Imperial Chocolate Porter
  • Bosque: Lager, IPA, Hefe, Driftwood Oatmeal Stout, Blonde Ale, EOP Fruited Wheat Ale, Grasping at Straws Extra Pale Ale, All the Rage IPA
  • Boxing Bear: Body Czech Pilsner, HairyMit Hefe, Ambear Ale, Paw Swipe Pale Ale, Uppercut IPA, Standing 8 Stout, Apple Bear Cider, Chocolate Milk Stout, Blood Orange Pale Ale, Barn Burner Wheat IPA, Guava Gose, New England IPA, plus maybe one more
  • Canteen: High Plains Pils, Exodus IPA, Tuttle IPA, Strawberry Basil Gose
  • Chama River: Kolsch, Maibock, Gose, IPA special
  • Dialogue: Biere de Mars, Berliner Weisse, BC IPA, Sour Rapsberry
  • Flix Brewhouse: TBA
  • La Cumbre: Project Dank IPA, Strwaberry Gose, Elevated IPA, Slice of Hefen, BEER
  • Marble: Double White, Pilsner, Cranberry Gose, Flower Digger Pale Ale
  • Nexus: TBA
  • Quarter Celtic: Pedro O’Flanagan’s Mexican Lager, Mangose, Blood Orange Hefe, Crimson Lass, Gondola Party Starter NE-style IPA
  • Santa Fe: Long Game IPA, Hefe’d Up, Nut Brown, Pale Ale, Freestyle Pilsner (cans), Happy Camper (cans)
  • Second Street: 2920 IPA, Eldorado IPA, Red and Yellow Armadillo, Summer Rain Raspberry Sour, 2920 Pils, Civil Rye
  • Starr Brothers: Starrgazm IPA, Brown Chicken Brown Cow, Starrphire Pilsner, Bloodshot
  • Steel Bender: Skull Bucket IPA, Red Iron Red, The Village Wit, Lloyd’s 3 O’Clock Kolsch
  • Taos Mesa: TBA
  • Turtle Mountain: Yum Yum Colada, Can’t Catch Me, Lil’ Shelly, Hopshell IPA, My Kolsche

That is a lot of beer to try. If you like the hazy, New England-style IPAs, you are in luck as Bosque, Boxing Bear, Canteen, and Quarter Celtic are all bring their editions. Fans of sours and goses are clearly in luck as well. We are quite excited to try some of the new beers from Blue Corn (Hella Humulus and Imperial Chocolate Porter) and Second Street (Red and Yellow Armadillo is delicious), plus we await whatever Bathtub Row and Taos Mesa will be bringing.

Now, if you are wondering where Rowley Farmhouse Ales went off to, do not fret. The difference between them and the rest is their jockey box only has two handles, so they will be rotating beers on the second handle every hour or so. The Citra dry-hopped Fields of Rye will occupy the first handle. Here is the second handle pouring schedule.

12:30-2 p.m.: Meier (Meyer Lemon Gose)
2-3 p.m.: Germophile (Berliner Weisse)
3-4 p.m.: Reinheitsgenot (Lime Kolsch)
4-5 p.m.: Ab Initio dry-hopped with Citra/Mosaic
5-6 p.m.: Ab Initio with apricot

So, yeah, pucker up, people! It is gonna be a heck of a day.

And, remember, yours truly will be signing copies of Albuquerque Beer: Duke City History on Tap, over at the NM Brewers Guild booth. It is only $20, cash preferred.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

It’s time for the third edition of BearFest, only this time no one will get sunburned!

BearFest, the annual local-only craft beer festival hosted by Boxing Bear, returns for a third go-around this Saturday. The big change this year, besides pushing it back and away from ABQ Beer Week and Blues & Brews, is moving the fest out of the brewery parking lot to the Albuquerque Convention Center. Unless you are going to walk or bike to the event, leave the sunscreen at home!

The event will run from 2 to 6 p.m. for general admission, with a special 90-minute VIP period before that starting at 12:30 p.m. General admission tickets cost $25 in advance and can be purchased online here. They will be $30 at the door. VIP tickets can only be purchased in advance for $40 at Boxing Bear, going up to $45 the day of at the Convention Center.

To get the full story behind the change, I sat down with Boxing Bear head brewer/co-owner Justin Hamilton and general manager John Campi on Monday afternoon.

“A good thing for us will be that this has been a rain-or-shine event the previous two years and it almost got rained out the first year, we’re going to have a good attendance and a good time, either way,” Justin said. “That’s going to be one of the first things that’s a plus for us. But, I think that as far as what we’ve done in the past that we’re going to continue, and we’re going to expand on a few different things. We have 20 breweries, we have three wineries and two distilleries.”

The breweries, in alphabetical order, are Ale Republic, Bathtub Row, Blue Corn, Bosque, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Chama River, Dialogue, Flix Brewhouse, La Cumbre, Marble, Nexus, Quarter Celtic, Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Santa Fe, Second Street, Starr Brothers, Steel Bender, Taos Mesa, and Turtle Mountain. The wineries are Black Mesa, New Mexico Hard Cider, and St. Clair, while Left Turn and Santa Fe Spirits are the distilleries on hand.

As John noted, the entire event is “100 percent local to New Mexico.”

“Yes, that’s another thing we really want to push here is that this is an absolute local event,” Justin added. “There’s no outside distributors. There’s no random (anything). This will all be from New Mexico, beers and vendors. It will be nice to share some of the other breweries that a lot of folks haven’t been up to see, (like) Bathtub Row and Rowley Farmhouse Ales, a lot of these guys are definitely part of that brewing community that a lot of the Albuquerque scene doesn’t get out to get and see.”

The vendors on hand will all be local as well, ranging from New Mexico Flameworks to Metal The Brand to YogaZo to Mother Road Mobile Canning. The New Mexico Brewers Guild will have a booth, of course, and a certain local author will also be on hand to sign and sell copies of his book, Albuquerque Beer: Duke City History on Tap, for $20 apiece (no, I will never stop with the shameless self promotion at this point).

Gamers Anonymous will have a booth as well, with video games for patrons to play, ranging from Street Fighter to GoldenEye to Mario Kart and more. Unlike last year, when it seemed like the chairs were half in the sun all day, it will all be inside and air conditioned. There will also be a cornhole tournament thanks to the owner of The Local Brewhouse, who donated his boards for the day.

There will be a charity that will benefit from the event as well.

“This is a benefit for the Animal Humane Society,” John said. “Animal Humane will be split into two sections. They’ll have a little adoption booth, if possible with actual, live puppies there. Then we’re going to have a booth set up with a little game (washer toss) and people will pay a dollar or so. That money will go directly to Animal Humane. They can win a prize, and I think every brewery is going to pitch in a shirt or a hat or something.”

Local bands will include Isaac Aragon during the VIP-only time (12:30-2 p.m.) and Pawn Shop Poster Boys after that. Another band is also expected to be announced soon.

“That and it will be nice that our music will have an actual audio guy this year,” Justin said. “Last year we were leaving it up to the bands, which isn’t a problem as far as the audio itself goes, but as far as the setup of the audio we hope to have seamless music throughout the event. Last year we had these breaks between our VIP and our start. We want people to be able to hear music (as they come in).”

The beer, though, is the biggest draw. The Crew should have full lists for all attending breweries no later than Thursday, but a few special beers of note have already been listed by Boxing Bear on Facebook.

  • Blue Corn, thankfully, goes to the dark side with Imperial Chocolate Porter.
  • Bosque is expected to bring a new variant in their Elephants on Parade specialty series.
  • Canteen will debut their Strawberry Basil Gose and bring back Tuttle IPA, a hazy New England-style hop bomb.
  • La Cumbre is bring Strawberry Gose and the latest batch of Project Dank.
  • Marble counters with a Cranberry Gose. Yes, there is a gose theme here.
  • Quarter Celtic has Mangose (yup, theme) and a new Blood Orange Hefeweizen.
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales is bringing six beers, each of which will be served at special times (see our next story Thursday for that serving schedule).
  • Second Street will tap Summer Rain Raspberry Sour.
  • Starr Brothers is brewing a special batch of Starrgasm IPA just for the festival.
  • Turtle Mountain will have Yum Yum Colada and Lil Shelly Pale Ale.

Unlike other festivals, this is not an unlimited sampling event. VIP and general admission both get four 4-ounce samples and one full pint for free. Additional samples and/or pints can be purchased from the breweries.

“Most breweries, we kind of leave it up to them if they want people to purchase a sample or not,” Justin said. “Last year, just about every brewery was up for it, so my guess that will probably be the thing. Every now and then you’ll see a beer where if it’s a high-end beer or if it’s in a bottle, it’s just not going to be available for sample, which is understandable. I would say almost everything is going to be available for sample and purchase. We definitely don’t want to limit on what people are able to try, but what we want to do is not just turn it into a free-for-all.”

While bigger packaging breweries can often write off free samples as a marketing expense, that is almost impossible for the smaller brewpubs. This helps the breweries not feel as if they are giving away nothing but free beer.

“It’s one of those things where if we put multiple good breweries into a caravan (and) not only show them a good time, but if they get a little something back, they’re going to consistently show up every year for us,” Justin said. “That way we always get the best local breweries showing up consistently every year, which is great for the consumers. That was the original BearFest idea was going for, it’s for the patrons, it’s for the breweries, and it’s for everyone in between.”

Putting BearFest in a more convenient location is another way for Boxing Bear to give back to the patrons and attending businesses.

“It will also be in a nice central location, which is another good part about the Convention Center,” Justin said. “Other than competing with other festivals that were going on, it’s hard getting people to come across the river for anything. It will be right in downtown where people know, with quick access to (two freeways). Uber and Lyft, no matter where you are in the city, it will be probably be pretty affordable, and we always encourage that.”

For those looking to bike over, take note of your options in the area.

“Last year we did a bike valet,” John said. “We were unable to get that this year. The valet company had a prior event. However, there is still ample bike parking. Right now the Plaza is under construction and they have Third (Street) blocked off on both ends, but the Plaza is actually gated off because they’re doing the Shakespeare events with bike racks. There’s hundreds of spots over there.”

The Crew always encourages everyone to travel safely and responsibly to and from beer festivals.

We will have those full beer lists on Thursday. After that, we will see you at BearFest!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Our sixth annual Stout Challenge brought about a sixth different winner.

Our sixth annual Stout Challenge brought about a sixth different winner.

Amid all the seriousness of the weekend, the Brew Crew was still able to gather to hold our annual Stout Challenge before the start of the Super Bowl. While the game featured an improbable rally by the favorite, our blind taste test featured an upset by one of the newer breweries in town.

For the sixth time, we have a new winner. A past winner came oh-so-close to becoming our first two-time champion. We structure the event similar to the IPA Challenge, but with variations. We go around the day of the event, fill our half-growlers (or full growlers for last year’s top finishers), and then bring them to Franz Solo’s house. Our friend Margaret then pours them into numbered glasses out of sight, and we try them one by one, rather than put all on a tray. We take notes and score them from zero to five points in the categories of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish, and add them up.

We were short quite a few Crew members this year. Illness knocked out Brandon, Luke, and Shawna. E-Rock was unable to make it back from his musical adventures in Texas in time. Shilling was studying. Porter Pounder was on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise again. Thus, only myself, Franz, Mrs. Solo, Kristin, and guest judge Tim (Margaret’s husband) were available.

Also, after reporting 16 stouts Friday, we ended up two shy, as Bow & Arrow did not open until it was too late for us to pick up their Storm & Hearth, and Twisted Chile was unable to deliver their Irish stout from Socorro.

As always, these are our opinions. We could be wrong.

14. Cazuela’s Beer for my Horses (19.5 points): This was the only truly disappointing stout among the batch. The flavor was almost sour (my opinion) or salty (Franz’s opinion). It was too thin in the mouthfeel. We have no idea what happened with this batch.

13. Santa Fe Dysphotic Stout (45.5): None of us disliked this robust, almost hop-forward stout, it was just that when stacked up against a field of mostly oatmeal variants, it stood out almost as more of a black IPA than anything. Basically, it is a stout that stands alone in the current available field in the ABQ metro area.

12. Rio Bravo Oatmeal Stout (46): While it did not move up in the standings that much, Rio Bravo’s entry scored much better this time around. The aroma scored the highest, with some mixed feelings on the flavor and mouthfeel. Overall it just came off as a bit light for what we look for in a stout.

11. Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout (47.5): Every year there seems to be one of the top stouts from the previous year that falls way down the ladder. The main complaint here was in the bitter, overly smoky flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. It was similar to Dysphotic, but with more malt and less hops.

10. Bosque Driftwood Oatmeal Stout (48): We found this batch to be a little on the thin side, with the most negative marks coming in terms of its mouthfeel, or lack thereof. The flavor was good, quite a bit sweet up front, but it faded pretty quickly.

9. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg Stout (52.5): This was the first stout we sampled, so in many ways, it served as the base line for all that followed. In general everyone liked it, though it was noted as being just a tad short in all four categories. Still, we would call it perfectly drinkable.

8. Sidetrack Stoker Stout (53): A significant improvement on their stout from last year, this batch was quite a bit smokier and more roasted. Those were probably the biggest attributes, good or bad, with our voters.

7. The 377 Full Booty Stout (56): The top word used to describe our newest brewery’s oatmeal stout was “dry,” which accounted for much of the flavor and mouthfeel for folks. Some scored that well, others did not. The thickness of the mouthfeel scored the highest with most of us.

6. Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout (58): The 2016 champion could not pull off the repeat. The flavor and aroma this time around was sweet, with a pronounced vanilla element, but otherwise it lacked enough mouthfeel and overall complexity. It remains quite good, but not quite on par with last year.

5. Marble Oatmeal Stout (59): If there is a stout deserving of the title of “old reliable,” it is our 2012 champion, which still ranks among the best in town. There was a sweet, almost vanilla flavor and aroma at the front. The mouthfeel and finish saw some contrasting opinions with the five of us.

4. La Cumbre Malpais Stout (61): Unlike most La Cumbre beers, this did not have much of an aroma to draw you in. It did have a smokier, heavier flavor, scoring highest in mouthfeel and finish. The 2013 champion remains one of the best in town, though it is definitely not for those who like their stouts sweeter.

3. Canteen Dark n’ Lusty Stout (62.5): No stout has yo-yoed up and down more in our Stout Challenge the last six years than Canteen’s staple. It has finished seventh (out of eight), fifth (out of 10), 10th (out of 10), second (out of 14), 11th (out of 14), and now it’s third. This batch had a lot of chocolate flavor. It was sweet and solid, but just lacked the flavor complexity to claim its first title.

2. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (70): My personal favorite in the bunch, it came up just short of being our first two-time winner (2014 was its previous victory). That cookie dough-like flavor was back at the front, with lots of chocolate up front and hints of smoke on the back end. The mouthfeel was solid throughout.

1. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (71.5): First Stout Challenge, first victory! Brewer Rob Whitlock said he actually prefers his Roisin Dubh, an Irish dry stout, to this. Guess he will have to change his mind now. The flavor (roasty coffee) and mouthfeel (thick and creamy smooth) scored especially high with our group.

We will have our Stout Challenge helmet trophy ready soon to be presented to Starr Brothers. Congrats to Rob and their entire staff!

As always, here are our individual point totals for each beer, to see where we agreed and disagreed on each.

  • Stoutmeister: 1) Tractor 13.5, 2) Chama River 11, 3) Canteen 10.5, 4) La Cumbre and Marble 9.5, 6) Boxing Bear and The 377 and Starr Brothers 9, 9) Bosque 8.5, 10) Sidetrack and Turtle Mountain 8, 12) Santa Fe and Rio Bravo 7, 14) Cazuela’s 3
  • Franz Solo: 1) Tractor 16.5, 2) Starr Brothers 16, 3) Canteen 15.5, 4) La Cumber 15, 5) Boxing Bear and Sidetrack 13.5, 7) The 377 12.5, 8) Chama River and Turtle Mountain 12, 10) Marble and Santa Fe 11, 12) Bosque and Rio Bravo 7, 14) Cazuela’s 3
  • Mrs. Solo: 1) Starr Brothers 16.5, 2) Tractor 15.5, 3) Canteen and Sidetrack 12, 5) La Cumbre and Marble and The 377 and Rio Bravo 11, 9) Bosque 10.5, 10) Chama River and Turtle Mountain 10, 12) Santa Fe 7, 13) Boxing Bear 6, 14) Cazuela’s 4
  • Kristin: 1) La Cumbre 16.5, 2) Starr Brothers 16, 3) Marble 15, 4) Chama River 13, 5) Rio Bravo and Turtle Mountain 12.5, 7) Bosque 12, 8) Boxing Bear and Canteen 11.5, 10) The 377 and Tractor 11, 12) Sidetrack 10.5, 13) Santa Fe 10, 14) Cazuela’s 5
  • Tim: 1) Starr Brothers 14, 2) Tractor 13.5, 3) Canteen 13, 4) The 377 and Marble 12.5, 6) Chama River 12, 7) Santa Fe 10.5, 8) Bosque and Turtle Mountain 10, 10) La Cumbre and Sidetrack 9, 12) Rio Bravo 8.5, 13) Boxing Bear 7.5, 14) Cazuela’s 4.5

Once again, these are just our opinions. We invite everyone to go out and try all these stouts, whether it’s for the 100th time or the first time. Our local breweries are doing a great job with the darker side of beer, and we couldn’t be happier on the whole.

We will have more on the weekend’s serious news about Senate Bill 314 and the contentious town hall meeting on Tuesday, once we put everything together.

Until then, keep supporting local breweries!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Taos BMF 2014 Pic 6

We sent Luke up to the Brewmasters Festival in Taos a couple years ago. He had a whole lotta fun!

Happy cold, gray Thursday everyone. If you need some light back in your life, there is some good news for this weekend. The Taos Brewmasters Festival kicks off Saturday at the Ski Valley, marking its 21st annual running below the slopes.

Normally, the festival is held in December, but it was pushed back this year due to a lack of snow on the mountain above. Plus, the decision was made to no longer have the spring-time beer festival, but rather have just one fest. This one kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and runs until 7 at Tenderfoot Katie’s and the Martini Tree Bar, both of which are located at the base of Lift #1. It costs $30 at the door and you receive a complementary mug.

While plenty of you love to go skiing and snowboarding, we know ultimately that it is the pull of the beer that can be the deciding factor. Take note that this year’s fest is populated by a lot more out-of-state breweries brought in by their local distributors. There are not nearly as many breweries from Southern Colorado as in the past, as only Steamworks and Carver made the trip from Durango (neither is distributed here in NM, FYI).

The other out-of-state breweries are Alaskan, Boulder, Deschutes, Firestone Walker, Founders, Four Peaks, Full Sail, Left Hand, Mother Road, New Belgium, Odell, Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, Upslope, and the Craft Brew Alliance, which we think is that collection of breweries from the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii that is partially owned by the Evil Empire (InBev).

As for the locals, a total of 10 New Mexico breweries will be present. Here is what they are bringing, as reported to us by the breweries themselves:

  • Boxing Bear — Iron Lung Smoked Porter, Standing 8 Stout, Paw Swipe Pale Ale
  • Chama River — UPDATED: Class VI Golden Lager, Sleeping Dog Stout
  • La Cumbre — TBA
  • Marble — Double White, IPA, Priddy Bueno Porter, Spruce Moose
  • Red Door — Gateway Blonde, Calypso SMaSH, Strong Scotch Ale, Paint it Black Milk Stout
  • Santa Fe — UPDATED: Chicken Killer, Java Stout, Pale Ale, Happy Camper, State Pen Porter, SF Gold, Nut Brown, Black IPA, Adobe Igloo, plus two bottles to be released at different hours of Single Barrel Sour, and two bottles of Lemon Skynard also to be released at different hours
  • Sierra Blanca — TBA
  • Taos Mesa — Kolsch 45, 3 Peaks IPA, Tap Dance Barley Wine, BBA Black Diamond Export Stout
  • Three Rivers — TBA
  • Tractor — Farmer’s Almanac IPA, Farmer’s Tan Red, Mustachio Milk Stout, Delicious Red Apple Cider

Marble’s Tony Calder pointed out that this will mark the debut of Spruce Goose, a new stout made with (you guessed it) spruce tips. The Priddy Bueno just went on tap recently at the Marble taprooms here in Albuquerque as well. Iron Lung returned to Boxing Bear late Wednesday.

If any of us in the Crew were able to head up this weekend, we would also be making a beeline for that bourbon barrel-aged Black Diamond Export Stout and the Tap Dance Barley Wine at Taos Mesa’s booth. I suppose we will just have to hope they bring that down for WinterBrew in Santa Fe on Jan. 13. (Please? Pretty please?)

Of course, skiing/snowboarding and then drinking on an empty stomach would be a terrible idea. Five local restaurants — Bavarian, Blonde Bear Tavern, Medley, Rhoda’s, Sagebrush Inn — will be providing food during the festival.

Keep an eye on the weather, of course, but otherwise if your weekend is lacking in anything to do, we would definitely suggest a trip up north to try some quality brews in a beautiful setting.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

If they can stuff that many bicycles under the grain silo, surely they can find more room inside for barrels. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

It was another solid year for one of the oldest breweries in town. (Photo courtesy of Chama River)

Editor’s note: Franz Solo did a slew of interviews in recent weeks for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Then it was just a matter of finding the time to transcribe and type them up. With the briefest of openings in his schedule, he was able to complete Chama River’s entry. Look for his stories on Boxing Bear, Quarter Celtic, and Turtle Mountain in January. — S

A simply delectable Monday afternoon brought me back to old haunts just east of the northern Rio Grande valley, which nurtured and crystallized this entity which am I here and now. Chama River was, in fact, the first craft brewery I ever ordered a flight from back in the day when Chama was under the Blue Corn label and I was a student up in Santa Fe. How much has changed in what seems like a heartbeat? I was privileged to enjoy a pint of dunkelweisen in the company of head brewer Andrew Krosche.

Andrew: So, to look back, I’d say we had a really awesome year. We updated and changed our facility to try and bring our beers up to a modern market. Most of my time has been spent in rebuilding the facility one piece at a time, upgrading parts. So, that’s been really fun. It is nice to see where we were and compare it to now. We have gone leaps and bounds. I’m at just a few really large purchase items, all the little upkeep and the parts and the upgrades are there. I’ve pretty much handled all of them. It will just take a few months to get the few big-ticket items, which will be great.

Solo: What are you looking to get as far as big-ticket items?

Andrew: I’d like to upgrade our chiller (wort chiller for the uninitiated – Solo) and I want to redo our draft system.

Solo: All of the above would definitely help. How long has the draft system been in?

Andrew: Honestly, I don’t know. So, we are waiting for the funds and the proper timing and I’m hoping we can do it. It’s getting very positive feedback from corporate, so I feel that it is something in the immediate future.

Solo: It is nice to see a bit of a turnaround from the past, having these same beers (with only minor discernible changes) on tap, when now you have a bit more freedom.

Andrew: It’s awesome, it is almost 100-percent mine. Unless I want to literally take a beer off of the house menu, I really don’t need approval for the changes. Which (the house beers) I don’t mind, I like the group of six. So, all I really did was, on the other side of looking back, I kind of re-formatted the recipes to bring them to a more competitive modern market. So, I kept the styles, kept the names, I just made them a lot more aggressive and with bigger flavors.

Solo: Which is exactly what a lot of us are wanting these days.

Andrew: So, it’s especially one of those things looking back when people say, ‘Well, you only have two specials on? No! Try the house beers! Those are my specials!’ You know, that’s a year’s worth of a project. And, I’m really happy with them. There’s one or two that I’m still tweaking here and there, but there’s four for sure that are locked down and I love the way they are coming along.

Solo: That’s good to hear, it’s been a while coming for sure.

Andrew: Yeah, and like I said, corporate has been very happy, likes the results that I’ve been pulling. The relationship is awesome. I know there has been some history (with other brewers), but I have nothing but good things to say about the relationship I’m having with them.

Brewer Andrew Krosche has taken the reins at Chama River.

Andrew has spent much of this year upgrading the equipment around the brewery.

Solo: Plans for the coming year?

Andrew: The coming year there are two immediate ones, something I did work on some months back but, they’re aging. In January, I will be releasing our big winter release, it’s going to be an imperial Baltic porter on oak. It’s been probably aged on oak spirals for four months now.

Solo: That should impart some good flavor, for sure.

Andrew: Yeah, 10-percent (ABV), solid, it’s really good and I’m loving it. It has already happened.

Solo: Nice and smooth?

Andrew: It is incredibly creamy, black as night. It is very fudge-y, and then it’s got this nice, sharp, black cherry to it on the back. And, obviously you are going to have that warming feeling from the alcohol, and then the oak is going to bring in some vanilla. It’s actually kind of funny, you know, I wanted to do an imperial stout and I said, ‘You know what? Everyone has got a winter imperial stout, so maybe I’ll do an imperial porter.’ And then, everyone is doing a porter this year, so it’s like, ah, you know, whatever. It is my first Baltic porter as well, so it was very exciting to see it come to fruition in a very positive way.

Solo: Yeah, it’s the Russian imperial of lagers. So, what else did you have in barrels?

Andrew: So, in February, which is the other project, that one will have been eight months in the barrels. I will have the heavy cream ale in tequila barrels. I tasted them a few months behind and I said I want to put this out, but you know what, let’s give this that extra four, that’s going to be twice as good. So, that’s turning out really nice too.

Solo: Any other major plans for the year?

Andrew: For the year brew-wise, mainly working towards improving some of the house beers. I’m looking to definitely improve my results from the IPA Challenge, which was not the best (Chama did not qualify for the final rounds). I wasn’t really happy what had come out, but you know, hey, I thought the beer was solid, but I obviously wasn’t aggressive enough. So, I’ve taken that and I’ve put a lot of effort into creating a really big, competitive, double IPA. I will probably be brewing my next version since the IPA Challenge maybe the end of this month. So, it should be something to come out maybe in February, end of (January), we will see. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve learned a lot since then from changing the Jackalope, so I’m feeling very confident about this new whack at the double IPA.

Solo: Always improving, that’s all you can do.

Andrew: I was really happy with some of our lager specials this past year, so once we get further into the year, your traditional maibocks and your Oktoberfests, that kind of stuff, I’m really enjoying those, so I will absolutely continue with those.

Solo: I for one love having these craft lagers everywhere, it’s amazing.

Andrew: I’m one of the few who has the facility to do it, so I’m going to do a lot of them. That’s one of my focuses, actually. I love lagers and they are fun, and so we will absolutely do it. We will also bring back a winter kettle sour. I’ve heard a lot of people asking and we just haven’t had time, because we were like mad men trying to keep up with the demand of our Draft Stations. And, with Kellys also pulling, it’s also another big account, so I want to take care of us before I start trying to push the envelope. But, after this week we are going to be so incredibly caught up and routine is solid that I’ll be able to do a kettle sour and sacrifice the two days to make sure that it is done right. I think there will definitely be a winter style göse, and then maybe some sort of winter warmer kind of thing.

Solo: Anything else for this year?

Andrew: You know, I’m not sure. We’ve done so much this past year, so I don’t know what we have planned for the future.

Solo: Kind of keeping on keeping on?

Andrew: I’d like to expand distribution. I’ve got new tap handles, not the old ones, brand new with a totally new design, (which is) something else I’ve been working on. So, when those come in is when I’ll start hitting more of the market, hoping to have Chama as a competitor, something people can see in bars, and I’d like that. So, I’ll definitely be focusing there. I think that’s really my big one for the future is increase in market, increase in distribution, and, uh, grab that double IPA.

The stouts at Chama were top-notch in 2015.

The more dark, heavy, winter beers, the merrier the Crew will be!

Solo: And then, we have our Stout Challenge again this year. (Chama River won the last one.)

Andrew: I love brewing stouts and it’s one of my favorites. And, the stout that’s on right now is just ridiculous. (Agreed, get Sleeping Dog either on nitro or standard, it is excellent all around. – Solo) So, that’s one of our dialed in recipes that I hit just after we came back from GABF. So, this is the brew right after I submitted and I went ah, I wish.

Solo: So, try it again next time.

Andrew: Yeah, no big deal.

Solo: Throw in some lagers that you have and ah.

Andrew: I did compete with a rye maibock, I sent that one in aged six months, went on to the final round, but there were better examples. Honestly, after drinking it because I kept a whole bunch of spares to taste it, I looked at the notes and across the board I know exactly where we fell short. So, I feel incredibly positive and confident about it for next year.

Solo: That’s awesome. If you can’t learn something from your batches, then you’re doing something wrong.

* * * * *

For Chama this was a year of overall improvement of house beers across the board, married to upgrades and improvements aimed at thrusting Chama River back into the current fray, so to speak. I urge you, my beer-drinking, blog-reading aficionados, to head out and give these brews a fresh tasting, which I hope will be as worth your while as it has been mine. I for one look forward to the coming year for Chama, from the forthcoming Baltic porter to the double IPA to the tequila cream ale, something surely for each and every discerning palate. I’m definitely a lover of all things lager when done right, and so far Andrew has hit the mark far more often than not. So, when you chance to head out to see the latest glorious entry into the Star Wars saga or by whatever winter wind may draw you Chama’s way, enjoy the fruits of a long and hard year’s work, for the proof is in the pint.

Prost!

— Franz Solo

From left, Stoutmeister, Shilling, Franz Solo, and E-Rock gathered for the first Beer Battle back in February on Super Bowl Sunday.

We have come a long way, added more members, and more facial hair, since we started writing about beer in 2012.

A little while back, well, five stories ago, we hit our 1,000th post here on this site. There was no celebration or anything, but it was a bit of a milestone. We have written a lot about beer the last four-plus years, and we plan to keep this thing going as long as we are able to devote the necessary time and energy, and as long as all of you keep drinking and reading. Thanks, everyone, from the brewery staffs to their customers, for making it all possible.

Now, all that being said, we have a whole lotta news items to get to, much of which pertains to this weekend.

Get your collaboration on

Quarter Celtic brewer Brady McKeown told us that he had a collaboration beer on deck a little while ago. Then, long after The Week Ahead in Beer was published, he remembered to let us know that today (Friday) will mark the debut of this new creation. Quarter Celtic and Chama River brewed up a Belgian Strong Ale that checks in at 11-percent ABV and 30 IBU. It will be available on tap at both locations all day today and then until the supply runs out.

Make sure to head over to either place and order a pint. It is always a good thing to see our breweries collaborate. We need more collaborations, but they will only happen if the sales justify making them.

Also, don’t forget that today features $3 pints of Oktoberfest over at the Santa Fe Brewing taproom at Green Jeans. And conveniently, SFBC is located in between Chama and QC!

Toast of ABQ beer lists

Five local breweries are participating in the Taste & Toast of ABQ at Uptown on Saturday. The event costs $20 per person and gets you 10 samples from participating restaurants, vendors, and breweries. Ultimately they want you to buy pints, so make sure to support the breweries this way. It’s OK, because the food lineup is potentially tremendous. Local favorites like Artichoke Cafe and Cocina Azul will be there, along with Chocolate Cartel, Villa Myriam Coffee Roasters, and Uptown-based restaurants like Elephant Bar and Marcello’s. The whole thing is a fundraiser for charity, too.

Over on the Toast side, there will also be a couple wineries and Broken Trail will have their spirits available. Here are the brewery beer lists, or at least those who provided theirs (if the others send us their lists, we will update).

  • Kaktus: Helles Lager, Scotch Ale, Honk Ale, and one more TBD
  • La Cumbre: TBA
  • Marble: Double White, IPA, Pilsner, Red Light Lager, Galaxy Pale Ale
  • Quarter Celtic: Pedro O’Flanigan’s Mexican Lager, Rye’t Side of Dublin, Crimson Lass Irish Red, Quarter Porter
  • Tractor: TBA

The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. You can purchase tickets online in advance.

Brewery space available

Speaking of Villa Myriam, they recently outgrew their original business space at 2420 Midtown Place. Thus, the real estate agent looking for a new tenant sent us an email asking if we knew of any new breweries looking for a location. (Yes, we were surprised at this, but why not share it?)

It is about 4,800 square feet, occupying Suites F and G. There are already floor drains, cold storage, a drive-in bay, and more. Anyone interested can contact Riley McKee at Maestas & Ward at (505) 878-0001.

And another anniversary

Lizard Tail turns two this weekend, an anniversary we almost missed. They will be celebrating all day Saturday. The Black House Angels will provide the music at 8 p.m. Beyond that, we would suggest anyone interested contact the brewery for more details.

Beer festival news

There are two major upcoming beer festivals with Hopfest set for Isleta Casino on Aug. 27 and then the Mountain West Brewfest returning to Bernalillo on Sept. 3-4.

For the latter, they released their list of attending breweries. MWBF is no longer associated with the NM Brewers Guild, and thus, the lineup is missing some major names. Who is scheduled to be there? Albuquerque Brewing, Bosque, Canteen, Enchanted Circle, Firkin, Kaktus, Palmer, Ponderosa, Rio Bravo, Sandia Chile Grill, Santa Fe, Starr Brothers, and The 377 Brewery are planning on attending.

So who is not there? Well, the big ones are obviously Boxing Bear, Chama River, La Cumbre, Marble, Nexus, Quarter Celtic, Red Door, Tractor, and Turtle Mountain from the ABQ metro area, plus Bathtub Row, Blue Corn, Duel, Second Street, and Taos Mesa from outside the metro area (as breweries that frequently attend fests). This will give some of the less-well-known breweries a chance to strut their stuff, plus newcomers like Enchanted Circle (which opened in Angel Fire in April) and the forthcoming 377 figure to draw long lines of curious folks.

Still, it is a bit of a disappointment in how many breweries bailed out on what was once promised as the largest beer festival in NM history.

Meanwhile, the actual largest, Hopfest, is adding a new feature this year. The Brewers Guild Sensory Analysis Seminar will be hosted by our friend Angelo Orona of Craft King Consulting. This half-hour course will take place at Hopfest at 3:30 p.m. (the whole event is 2-6) It will cost an extra $10, and tickets are limited, but they will benefit the Guild and our breweries. You will get a thorough overview of beer styles and flavors, plus you will get to see what an off-flavor kit can do to beers so you can better understand what you should and should not be tasting. You will get a special sample of Sierra Blanca Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stout and a commemorative 13-ounce glass.

New breweries update

Here is the latest news on the breweries that are coming to New Mexico in the next few months. Those without a city/town listed are in ABQ. We only included breweries that have officially applied for a small brewer license.

  • Ale Republic (Cedar Crest): They reported on Facebook that they have all five Bernalillo County permits. Now they just await their small brewer license and a health permit. They are also hiring servers, so contact zach@alerepublic.com.
  • Bombs Away Beer Co.: We still know nothing about this brewery beyond the name on the application. Anyone out there got info?
  • Colfax Ale Cellar (Raton): Here is a link to our recent update on Raton’s first brewery.
  • Dialogue Brewing: They have a ton of construction photos on Facebook right now, so progress is continuing. There is no set opening date yet (probably a smart thing).
  • Drafty Kilt Brewing: They officially changed the name (it was OffKilter, but that was already taken). By the pictures on Facebook, it looks like their final construction is near completion. We project a fall opening.
  • Flix Brewhouse: Construction continues on the West Side movie theater with a brewery. They said on social media the plan is to be open in December. Looks like we know where we will be watching Rogue One.
  • Hops Brewery: They have one license active and another pending. We are not sure what any of that means. We are also totally unsure of their progress. Anyone out there hear about them?
  • Rowley Farmhouse Ales (Santa Fe): Construction is all but over, just a few little aesthetic touches remain. They hope to be open later this month. Once he gets back from his vacation in San Diego, Luke will be on the case. (And yes, SFBC does allow Luke to go on vacation; of course he picked a beer town to visit, thus reinforcing the fact that his girlfriend is a wonderful human being.)
  • Sleeping Dog Tavern (Santa Fe): We still do not know much about this plan for the tavern to start brewing its own beer.
  • Steel Bender Brewyard: Contact has been made with the owners, who have hired a notable local brewer to run the show. We should have more news on this North Valley project in the next couple of weeks.
  • The 377 Brewery: Their brewer told us that the build out is nearly complete, now they just await all the permits and licenses. It will still be a while before they are open.

Know of any other breweries in the works? Contact us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

Sample tray

  • There will be a special Stone tasting at Jubilation today (Friday) from 4 to 6 p.m. Rather than more of the usual offerings, they will be featuring Mocha IPA, Citrusy Wit, Wussie Pils, Enjoy After 7/4 Brett IPA, and the 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA, which was made with Citra hops and avocado honey. That looks … different.
  • John Bullard has brewed up a new batch of his award-winning IPA, Scale Tipper. Look for it on tap and in 22-ounce bombers in a few weeks at all Bosque locations.
  • The 2016 Doggie Dash and Dawdle Kickoff Party will be at Boxing Bear on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can register for the Dash, enjoy some live music, and $1 from every pint sold goes to Animal Humane. If you lack a furry friend for the Dash, fear not, they will have mobile adoptions there as well!
  • Fill in the Blanco IPA, a white wheat hoppy beast, was added to the seasonal lineup at Canteen on Thursday. Meanwhile, over at La Cumbre today (Friday), they have Red Ryeot dry-hopped with Comet in the cask.
  • Speaking of La Cumbre, they will have another Lego Build-Off at the brewery on Tuesday. Sign up starting at 6:15 p.m. and it all gets underway at 7. The winners get $10 gift certificates.
  • Ponderosa has their fourth head brewer in place. Antonio Fernandez has taken over the operation from Bob Haggerty. We will try to set up an interview with Antonio in the near future and we will also update you on where Bob is headed. (Fear not, he is not going far.)
  • Starr Brothers will open at 8 a.m. this Saturday to show all the opening matches of the Premier League season. You might just see some Crew members and our friends over there. I’ll be the guy bitterly ruing Newcastle’s relegation all season.

* * * * *

That is all for now. Remember, if you have any tips about beer news in New Mexico, contact us via social media or at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

This year's many, many IPA entries.

This year’s many, many IPA entries.

And we are off! The preliminary round of the 2016 New Mexico IPA Challenge is complete, with 16 15 breweries advancing to the three main rounds that will begin next weekend at Santa Fe Brewing. This came out of the 28 beers that were sampled in a blind taste test Saturday afternoon at Rio Bravo.

Editor’s note: We have been updated by the Guild that Rio Bravo does not advance.

Were there surprises? Of course, both in some of the breweries that scored well and in some that did not. One of the new wrinkles in NMIPAC is that the three host breweries — Santa Fe, 3 Rivers, Tractor — were guaranteed to advance no matter their voting totals. In the end, only the first needed that bye to advance, as 3 Rivers (nine votes) and Tractor (seven votes) would have qualified regardless.

The results of the preliminary round, with the breweries listed by their numbers on the left, voting totals on the right.

The results of the preliminary round, with the breweries listed by their numbers on the left, voting totals on the right.

Every brewery that was eliminated garnered less than seven votes. Those are, with voting totals included, Bathtub Row (4), Cazuela’s (1), Chama River (2), Enchanted Circle (2), Kaktus (2), Little Toad Creek (4), Lizard Tail (3), Marble (6), Rio Bravo (3), Roosevelt (4), Sierra Blanca (6), Spotted Dog (1), and Turtle Mountain (2). While some of those breweries are newer or in more remote locations, seeing big names like Chama, Marble, Sierra Blanca, and Turtle were all surprising.

The advancing breweries, including the hosts, are Blue Corn (10), Bosque (13), Boxing Bear (33), Canteen (33), Chili Line (10), La Cumbre (13), Quarter Celtic (24), Red Door (7), Santa Fe (3), Second Street (7), Sidetrack (7), Starr Brothers (17), Taos Mesa (13), 3 Rivers (9), and Tractor (7). In terms of the two trays, numbered 1-14 and 15-28, the leaders were Boxing Bear and Canteen for the first tray and Quarter Celtic for the second tray. It was nice to see some of the newcomers, all of whom opened this year, make the final cut in Chili Line, Quarter Celtic, Sidetrack, and Starr Brothers.

In the interest of full disclosure, Brandon had the first tray and picked Canteen. I had the second tray and picked Starr Brothers, though it was close between their offering and Quarter Celtic.

The next round of NMIPAC will be Saturday, July 16, at Santa Fe, followed by a stop at 3 Rivers in Farmington on July 20, and the grand finale at Tractor Wells Park on July 23. Luke will have the SFBC stop covered for us, and the rest of the Crew will see you all at Wells Park.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

p.s. Kudos to the staff at Rio Bravo for putting on such a smoothly-run event. All of us attendees appreciated your hard work!

One IPA to rule them all!

One IPA to rule them all!

The announcement went out on Tuesday, and hopheads across the state rejoiced, for the New Mexico IPA Challenge is returning to the land. Now 28 breweries will do battle, as all seek to remove the three-time king, John Bullard, from his iron throne.

OK, fine, it is a bit of Game of Thrones there, but that is the theme this year, said NM Brewers Guild director John Gozigian. We met for some pints and a good old information download at Bosque Brewing on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re kind of running with a Game of Thrones theme,” John said. “It all makes sense. The brewing community in New Mexico is kind of incestuous, it really is. Everybody’s worked here and there. All the houses have been mixed, kind of, so it kind of lends itself to that.

“You’ve got a guy like John Bullard who’s won it three years in a row for two different breweries. He’s the guy that everybody wants to dethrone. You’ve got all these usurpers out there that would love nothing better than to make him pay.”

Bullard has won three in a row, the last two at Bosque and two before that Blue Corn. His title defense starts on Saturday, July 9, at Rio Bravo for the preliminary round. After that, the scoring rounds will be at Santa Fe Brewing on July 16, at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington on July 16, and the grand finale will be at Tractor Wells Park on July 23.

The other 27 combatants who will face off with Bosque are, deep breath, as follows (* = confirmed first-time participant): Bathtub Row, Blue Corn, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Cazuela’s, Chama River, Chili Line*, Enchanted Circle*, Kaktus, La Cumbre, Little Toad Creek, Lizard Tail, Marble, Quarter Celtic*, Red Door, Rio Bravo*, Roosevelt, Santa Fe, Second Street, Sidetrack*, Sierra Blanca, Spotted Dog, Starr Brothers*, Taos Mesa, Three Rivers, Tractor, Turtle Mountain

Last year there were 23 participants, so to get to 28 is immense in and of itself. Rather than copy the same format as the VIPA Challenge, there will instead be a new format for the opening round at Rio Bravo.

“It’s going to be a little different though it’s going to accomplish the same end,” John said. “Last year was the first time that we had to winnow the field down to a manageable amount of beers to take on the road, so attendees at the subsequent stops got all of them in one sitting.

“We capped it this year at 28 breweries. They can only enter one beer. It all goes back to the lunch lady trays that we’ve always used. You can fit 14 of those plastic tumblers on one of those trays. You can fit 2-to-3 ounces in there, a big enough sample where you can reasonably evaluate the beer. So, that limits it to 14 in a flight. Plus, given the quantity of each one, you can’t go less than 2 ounces, so that ends up (28) ounces of beer per flight, plus you get the complimentary pint. We don’t want people to over-consume.”

The format now will feature two separate trays, labeled A and B. One will have beers numbered one through 14, the other 15 through 28. Each attendee will only receive one of the two trays, and will rank the beers on his/her tray only. An equal number of the two trays will be distributed so all beers will have an equal chance, regardless of which tray they are on.

“We’re going to be smart, the ones that have done well in the past, they’re not going to all be on one flight,” John said. “They’re going to be spread out in a way that makes sense. We’re going to take the top 12 to 14 out of that first round at Rio Bravo and then take those to the next stops.”

Yes, you and your best friend/significant other/old drinking buddy can each get a different tray and sample from the other, but you can only vote for one. Basically, drink up as much as you want off your tray first for proper voting, then, if your palate can take it, try from the other tray.

“So, the first one is going to be fun,” John said. “That’s where we get the field down to where it’s supposed to be. Even with 28, there’s going to be some good IPAs that get left behind. There are a lot of good IPAs out there now. For sure, those top 12 or 14, they’re going to be some great beers.”

Tickets for all four rounds are now on sale online, and paper tickets will begin appearing at the breweries (full list TBA) in the next couple of weeks.

Get them early this year. Even as big as Rio Bravo is, and Tractor WP will be (they are going to close the front parking lot along 4th for additional capacity), there will be ticket caps. This should be the biggest NMIPAC ever, both in terms of participating breweries and attendees.

After the opening round, the remaining rounds should be what you have come to expect, 12 to 14 beers numbered on a tray for a proper blind tasting. As attendance outside of Albuquerque has always lagged behind, the folks at Three Rivers are trying something new this year to get their numbers on par with at least Santa Fe.

“Actually, those guys are going to try to get people from Durango,” John said. “They’re going to put up posters at the breweries in Durango. I hope we get some attendance from there because, I think New Mexico’s beers, especially the IPAs, are well enough known now, at least in our neighboring states, it’ll be worth the 30-mile trip for somebody from Durango to come check out. Especially when we have gold medal winners and National IPA Challenge winners all submitting beers.”

Start doing your hop homework people. Prep those palates, get your ticket(s), and the Crew will see many of you at Rio Bravo and/or Tractor sooner than later.

One IPA to rule them all! We can get behind this theme.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Arguably the best event of Beer Week was the Beer Premier.

Arguably the best event of Beer Week was the Beer Premier.

Friday night’s New Mexico Brewers Guild Beer Premier and Matanza was a unique event and it was my first time attending this festival. It turned out to be my favorite event of Beer Week. As is the case with any event, there were some bumps in the road, but overall it was fantastic.

All the advertising for the event stated the doors would open at 5:30, but the organizers were unaware of this and so some of us were left standing outside waiting for about 20 minutes. However (even though nobody had any beer yet), nobody was overly concerned, and this mellow mood continued throughout the night. I don’t think I have ever seen such a laid-back crowd in Albuquerque, even at a beer festival.

We were very happy to be one of the first ones in the gate, because we were able to secure a table for two in the shade. It was a very warm afternoon and evening, so I felt very grateful for that table and chairs. It’s a beautiful venue, and it was a nice place to spend some quality time with those you love, or those who just love beer. (Note to self: Next time bring insect repellent; I didn’t, and I got a lot of bites right at dusk.)

Good beer to your right!

Good beer to your right!

A few minutes later, the beer began to pour. There were two beer “stations,” one on the south side and one on the north side, with two beer professionals pouring four beers each. I did hear some mild “complaining” about an inability to interact (as advertised) with the brewery staffs. There was representation from breweries, but they were often either roaming around, or not actually pouring their own beer. Again, since everyone was mellow, it came across as comments for improvement rather than actual griping.

It was a slow start for the south side beer station as they had problems with some of the lines, but everyone just gravitated to the north end while that was being fixed. Also, the south side did not have beer lists at the beginning, so nobody really knew for sure what they were ordering. Someone passed out beer information sheets to all the attendees after I was almost halfway through what I most wanted to taste. This probably should be done upon entry.

The beer — oh, the beer! It could be a pretty risky proposition having only never-before-released beers at a festival. On the other hand, it’s a nice change of pace, because having mostly the breweries’ regular beers can get a little stale, so to speak. If this festival was any indication, we have now reached yet another pinnacle in the Albuquerque brewing community. The brewers are at the level where even the more “experimental” beers are so damn good, I would seek out and drink at least 80 percent of them. I started with some of the lighter beers and worked my way to the darker ones. On his third sample, my boyfriend Dave looked at me wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Three for three!” It continued on in this fashion.

Happy beer drinkers as far as the eye could see!

Happy beer drinkers as far as the eye could see!

I decided to rank the beer I tried on a 1.0-to-5.0 scale, as one might on one of the popular beer ranking sites. Two of my fellow Brew Crew Bullpen members were in attendance, and Kristin remarked about having to manually input all the beers into Untappd. Good for you, Kristin, that’s a lot of work! (Since these were never before released, they would not be on there yet.)

There were so many good ones there that I will just relay some of my highest, as well as my lowest scores. Keep in mind in this case, that the lower scores could be affected by a comparison issue because I was sampling so many types of beers. If anyone out there attended the event and wants to share his/her ratings, please email us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com or leave us a message via any social media site. We want to know what you thought about the beers, and the event as a whole!

Higher Scores

  • WINNER (for me): La Cumbre Nitro Barrel-Aged Malpais Stout 4.8 (Just outstanding!)
  • Chama River Heavy Cream Ale 4.4
  • Sierra Blanca Whiskey Stout 4.3 (I heard very positive feedback around me as well for this beer, which actually debuted in four-packs of bottles at Jubilation before Beer Week.)
  • Tractor Summer en Blanc Witbier 4.2
  • Bosque What the Dunkel? Dunkelweisen 4.0

Lower Scores

  • Quarter Celtic Dusk’s Early Night Black Lager 3.8 (On its own it would be pretty good, and it did have some good flavor. There was nothing off about this beer, it just couldn’t stand up to some of the bigger ones for me.)
  • Canteen Grapefruit Hop Baller IPA 3.2 (So many people loved this one, but I wasn’t one of those people. I’m not a big IPA person, but Dave is, and we both had some issues which resulted in a fairly lengthy discussion about this beer. I think this had five hop varieties. To me, I was understanding the Citra and Amarillo hops, but the earthy Mosaic was a strange combination with such a citrusy beer. Your opinion could very well vary.)
  • Blue Corn (“Mystery Belgian” as described by the person pouring) Barrel-Aged Brett Cherry Ale 3.0. It was an oaky, smoky Belgian sour that just wasn’t my thing. Personal preference.

I have to give a shout-out to the mellow crowd. I heard more informed questions and intelligent beer discussion among attendees than I ever have at a local beer event. (Late development — I just got another email from Kristin and she commented on the same thing. It must have been pretty noticeable! We both felt that people really cared about the beer and were not just trying to slam as much beer as possible.)

The food lines got a bit long.

The food lines got a bit long.

Since this is mostly about the beer, I saved my food comments for the end. The staff did a good job of making up tacos in easy-to-walk-away-with containers, but the way the condiments were set up at the end made for a complete logjam. At one point I located one person I knew near the back of the food line and timed that it took them 24 minutes from start to finish to pick up their tacos. The line ended up getting very long for a while, because you would get your tacos, but you had to stand there and hold up any progress while you added your salsa, etc., and the line would stop moving. The line also started to interfere with the north beer station line.

If you could have taken your tacos to another table out of the way where people could go to either side to add toppings, it would have flowed better. I was worried that some people would just decide not to bother with the food. That was a little scary with all the beer that was flowing. I also felt a little disappointed in the selection of toppings. Something I read gave me the impression there would be more things available than one type of salsa (green), loaded with lots of big chunks of onion and cilantro, crema, and more raw white onions and more cilantro. I’m not a fan of raw onions or cilantro. The pork tacos themselves tasted good.

Kristin also noted that there was no vegetarian option. This could easily have put quite a few more people off from eating anything since this was the only food available. It would have been nice to have roasted vegetables for veggie tacos, and some rice along with the beans. (I don’t know if the beans were vegetarian, because I am allergic and cannot eat them).

Hey, look, there's Kristin! And Adam! And the back of Silas' head!

Hey, look, there’s Kristin! And Adam! And the back of Silas’ head! And Karl in a bright orange suit!

Final random thoughts: my other fellow Bullpen attendee Adam and I both thought it may have been our first beerfest that had a DJ. And, I was happy to see Marne and her new cutie-pie baby!

Cheers!

— AmyO