All the tools a beer writer needs to get the lowdown on the state’s newest and biggest upcoming festival.
Festival season arrives on Aug. 29 with old favorite Hopfest back at Isleta Casino. While that event is one we know well, many have begun to ask the Crew about the next big one on the New Mexico calendar, the Mountain West Brew Fest. The event will replace the old Labor Day weekend wine festival at Loretto Park in Bernalillo, running from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 6. It will feature over 50 breweries in attendance, from in-state and out-of-state, plus a whole heck of a lot more than just beer.
To get all the details, I met up with New Mexico Brewers Guild director Chris Goblet at Kaktus Brewing on Tuesday afternoon. Over a couple mugs of Berna Brown, we pretty much covered everything that you want to know, short of the specific beers available (a list that Goblet hopes to send over next week or the week after at the latest).
For now, to answer the first question most people have asked, here are the breweries scheduled to be in attendance.
New Mexico breweries: Abbey, Back Alley, Bathtub Row, Blue Corn, Boese Brothers, Bosque, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Chama River, Distillery 365, Duel, Kaktus, La Cumbre, Las Cazuela’s, Little Toad Creek, Marble, New Mexico Craft Brewing, Nexus, Pi, Ponderosa, Red Door, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande/Sierra Blanca, Santa Fe, Second Street, Tractor, Turtle Mountain
Out-of-state breweries: Anchor, Anderson Valley, Avery, Ballast Point, Big Sky, Boulder, Breckenridge, Deschutes, Full Sail, Green Flash, Lagunitas, Left Hand, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, Ska, Stone, Upslope
That is a lot of breweries, but if MWBF comes off as expected, it might be just the right number.
“We are planning to the largest craft beer event by population, by ticket sales, by attendees, that’s ever happened (in New Mexico),” Goblet said, noting that in its 27-year history, the Bernalillo wine festival had anywhere from a peak of 28,000 visitors to 14,000 last year. “As a part of this transition into this new craft beer era, we’re going to take a wine festival and somehow replace it with a craft beer event. So we have no idea how many people to expect. It’s a first-year event. We have no idea if some of those wine drinkers will come join us or if they’re going to go to the wine festival at Isleta. It could either be a couple thousand people or it could be 10,000 people.
“And that’s the part that’s really exciting. Whenever you step into something new, you kind of have a sense of a first-year event but it’s kind of also a 28th year event. And that’s the big unknown. How many glasses do we bring? How much beer do we need? We’ve had a lot of brewers who are used to smaller, more intimate festivals. And now you’re talking about potentially four- to five-thousand people per day, descending upon a festival expecting to have a great craft beer experience. We’re trying to gear ourselves up, or ramp up, to accommodate what we think will be a pretty strong demand.”
While there are some California and Oregon breweries in attendance (Anchor, Anderson Valley, Deschutes, Full Sail, Green Flash, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Stone), the hope is that the MWBF will grow into a major regional festival. New Mexico has long been a state caught between three regions — West Coast, Southwest, Rocky Mountain — but part of the thought in naming this festival Mountain West was to identify more with the latter.
“We chose the name Mountain West Brew Fest specifically because we’ve been wanting to continue to build our brand as one of the Rocky Mountain states for craft beer,” Goblet said. “Rocky Mountains, we’re the southernmost tip. The water from Colorado flows into New Mexico. We think that New Mexico has been doing an amazing job representing itself as a solid West Coast craft beer producer. So we wanted to make sure people identified New Mexico not just as a southwest (state) like Arizona, Texas, and Nevada, but really a Mountain West state.
“It also ties into the (college) sports teams and Labor Day weekend is the kickoff of athletics in the Mountain West Conference. There’s this idea that the beers coming out of the West are of the highest quality and we’re part of that brand. People say West Coast beer, but our identification is Mountain West beers.”
As one can tell from the list of in-state breweries, it is mainly those within spitting distance of the central Rio Grande Valley who are attending. Notables such as High Desert (Las Cruces), Spotted Dog (Mesilla), Roosevelt (Portales), The Wellhead (Artesia), 3 Rivers (Farmington), and Taos Mesa are absent. Well, only sort of absent, as Goblet explained.
“It’s a big holiday weekend, it’s an unknown event,” he said. “I don’t blame a few of our further-flung breweries, our frontier breweries as we call them, for calling this one in as an audible. We’ve made accommodations for our further-flung breweries to send their beers to the festival through our Premier Pass and Premier Tent. The idea being that they can’t come, but their beer can still be represented and poured by another brewery. So we’re going to try to have representation of all the breweries in the state that we can get. It’s a long haul, it’s an expensive weekend to come to Albuquerque so we understand for the first year that it was much easier for a lot of the Rio Grande corridor breweries to show up.”
That Premier Pass/Tent is the bonus setup for this event. It costs $10 extra and you can either buy it in advance or upgrade at any time while you are at the festival.
“So you’ve got your standard general admission of $20, a great price for a big, large-scale festival like this,” Goblet said. “You get your standard commemorative sampling glass with your two-ounce sampling line. It’s unlimited sampling like every other Guild festival. You can (also) purchase pints.
“But because this festival has traditionally drawn so many people, we wanted to create an upgrade for folks who wanted to get out of the sun, get a bit of space, have a bit more of an intimate experience. Each day we’ll have four or five bars inside the Premier Tent. The Premier Pass gets you access into an air-conditioned tent with 20 different beers that are not available in the rest of the festival that you can sample and purchase. We’re looking for rare, obscure, unique, interesting beer styles that aren’t (readily) available, limited edition, maybe some barrel-aged specialties.
“Plus, this is where you can go find beers from breweries not represented at the festival — Spotted Dog, High Desert, 3 Rivers, Taos Mesa, and a few others. So it’s kind of one step up, plus it’s air conditioned, so it has that creature comfort for folks who want a bit more exclusive experience.”
Considering the recent temperatures around New Mexico, something with air conditioning just screams “VISIT ME!” That it will also have unique beers available means you will probably find the Crew there.
In addition to all the beer, there will also be a farmers market on site, plus food trucks/vendors, and live music (Bottom Dollar String Band, Anthony Leon & the Chain, Detroit Lightning, Blaze the Nation, Squash Blossom Boys, The Porter Draw, and Soul Kitchen are all lined up to perform). Plus, in the spirit of Labor Day weekend, there will be beer games galore. No, not the traditional beer pong with beer (state law prohibits those, in case you were not aware), but stuff like corn hole, giant Jenga (thank Boxing Bear for that), and whatever else the breweries happen to bring along. Since it is also a giant grass field, picnicking is encouraged, and fear not, the breweries will protect you from any bears that wander in and try to steal your basket. (Right, guys? Right?)
“We all like to think about, it’s Labor Day weekend and what do you do on Labor Day weekend? You hang out with family and friends in your back yard, great beer, great food, you play games and sit in the grass and have a picnic,” Goblet said. “This festival provides that beautiful grassy landscape, (with the) Sandia Mountains in the backdrop. You have a farmers’ market on site where you can go get a picnic. You can go to one of the food vendors and grab a nice lunch. You can have a friendly competition with the games. You can go listen to a concert. The idea is that it’s one of these lounging kind of days, hanging out with friends, doing whatever everyone likes to do on Labor Day, which is kick back and enjoy.”
As for getting to and from the event, fear not, in addition to bribing that one friend/relative/spouse to be your designated driver, they are encouraging every alternative means of transportation that people can come up with for the weekend.
“We have orchestrated some special trains, so definitely check your Rail Runner schedule, there will be special trains coming to the event,” Goblet said. “So you’ve got your standard Rail Runner schedule, your special trains, whatever, by foot, by bike. If Trump will give you his helicopter you can land in the middle of the festival. The hope is that we’re centrally located, we’re between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It’s an easy 35 minutes form Santa Fe, 15 to 20 minutes from Albuquerque, depending on how fast you drive.”
For the record, I got from ABQ to Kaktus, which is not far from the main site, in 10 minutes. But I drive like a lunatic. Just ask the rest of the Crew. There is a reason they will not ride with me unless absolutely necessary.
Come Labor Day weekend, however, I think the Crew will take advantage of those special Rail Runner trains. We will see many of you there, of that I am all but certain.