Posts Tagged ‘Quarter Celtic Brewpub’

We have to say, we are excited for this place to open.

It has been quite the wild ride in Quarter Celtic’s first year of operation.

At long last I’ve managed to get to this delightful Look Back/Look Ahead Series article with Ror McKeown, David Facey, and Brady McKeown of the nearly one-year-old Quarter Celtic Brewpub. Stoutmeister and I were in attendance on a fine day earlier this winter for a lengthy interview.

(Editor’s note: It was a fun time, but in the end the interview was more than 40 minutes long, and the first draft was 6,700 words, so parts of the interview were trimmed out for the sake of brevity. We left the good stuff in, though. — S)

Solo: So, Look Back/Look Ahead gentlemen, good things, bad things, year behind, and what to look forward to this year?

Ror: Well, one of the good things was being open and things have been going really well. The trick was to get this neighborhood to realize that there was something in this mall again. When we first opened we existed off of all of the people who have been following Brady along, so we had all of the beer connoisseurs, and then finally got the neighborhood to buy in to that there’s something here. So now we’ve got a lot of new regular faces that just live in the neighborhood, which is perfect. That was kind of what we were shooting for was trying to cultivate new craft beer drinkers, because you can’t just keep going to the well with the other guys or you are going to saturate the market. We’ve got a ton of people that started coming in drinking Pedro O’Flannigan (Lager), or sometimes we get them on IPA and they never go back, so we’re doing our part to grow the craft beer drinkers. Since we are a pub and we have food, a lot of people are coming in just because they are grabbing something to eat, but it’s 50/50 everyone that’s coming in to eat is getting something to drink. We are getting a lot of beer out the door for one spot. How many barrels are we at now?

(Discussion between the three ensued)

David: Well, so about 700 barrels for the year so far, we could get to 900 barrels for the year possibly. So, that’s a representation that people are definitely drinking your beer.

Solo: Never a bad thing to be ahead of your expectations.

David: I think that’s, as we get more into the look back, the goal of the company.

Ror: And, the other part (was) just making our own identity. We came over from where we’d been with a company (Canteen/Il Vicino) for our whole entire adult life pretty much, and you’re just associated with that place. Now it’s not that place and so some people like it and some people don’t. But, that’s okay. Now after the first couple of months of being compared, now we’re actually just having people come here because they like this place, and that’s kind of what the goal was the whole time.

Solo: That’s always a hard split, especially with a longstanding location.

Ror: It is. We still love those guys, obviously we’re still friendly, but we’re not with them anymore. It was kind of an ambiguous beginning, everyone just kind of assumed that a new Il Vicino opened. But, it was nice because we had been in the industry long enough to where we got to pretty much cherry pick who came over (with us). We didn’t solicit anybody from anywhere, but a lot of people knew that we were opening, so they came and it was nice to hire somebody with whom you have a rapport, versus just X off the application. So, I think that we had a great crew to start with, (we are) super pleased with the kitchen. I knew the beer was going to be great, but the food was a complete question mark and I think these guys did a great job, so I’m very pleased with that.

Because a couple somebodies forgot to take new pictures, we're just borrow ones like this of David, left, and Brady. (Courtesy of Quarter Celtic)

Because a couple somebodies forgot to take new pictures, we’re just borrow ones like this of David, left, and Brady. (Courtesy of Quarter Celtic)

Solo: And, I know that that was something that you were interested in the past, so it’s cool to see that come to fruition, and I for one am definitely happy with the results.

David: It was nice because I think with what we all have under our belts, when we opened I think we had to be responsible for, and had a lot of input for the staff that we did hire. We kind of gave them the ball and said hey, run with it. If it doesn’t work then we’ll halt you, but if it works, we’re going to ride that wave. So for us, I think, it was really kind of cool to see the direct correlation between empowering people, empowering your staff and saying hey, you’re a part of this, and seeing it come to fruition. Pretty rewarding, not only do we feel that we have pretty good food, but you’re selling a lot of it as well so it’s not just us.

Solo: It’s always good to just be able to give that rein, within reason of course, but give that rein to employees or anyone under you and say hey, do what you think is right, make it happen and the result shows.

Ror: And, besides us starting a new venture it’s almost like we’re also instantly ingrained in the neighborhood, which is what we wanted to do, and we’re also bringing back a pretty much dead property, bringing it back to life. They’ve already signed four leases since we’ve opened and they’ve got two more pending, and I think this thing will be full probably by summer.

So at the corner there (of Lomas and San Mateo) they are tearing down that old pigeon coop and it looks like the digital sign that they promised is coming in, because we are hidden in plain sight. So, thank god for word of mouth and social media, that’s been great for us because we walked out in the neighborhood and hung door handle hangers, 2,500 of them in the four corners and we were expecting a 2-percent return, like 50 households know that we’re here and that’s a great start. We had over 650 of them back and so we were able to track it, and that kind of got the neighborhood on board, which is great. The word is getting out because, kind of the look back look forward, the look forward with the group we picked, they also wanted to grow with the company.

So, a lot of people that started with the company, (and) we are going to be tasking them with growing the company so we have our meeting probably in a week or two with the city to start doing our wholesaling. We’ve already got the lease, got our spot, and the reason we did it was because we have a clipboard in the office that’s like three pages deep of just people who have come to us that said when you get it, we want it or if you ever do it we want it so those will be the ones we go to first. But, there were enough names on there that we were like let’s just do it. We don’t even need to go sell ourselves, we just have to call and say we’re ready.

Solo: You’ve already got the brand established.

Ror: Yeah, which is kind of nice, and the great thing about the way it is set up now where breweries can sell to (other) breweries and wineries is that we’re at 12 accounts just brewery to brewery, which is kind of nice. (It was) completely unexpected, because it’s not what we were planning on doing. Our model was not to take over the state one can at a time, we just wanted to open a neighborhood brewpub. This (brewhouse) has more capacity than we are using it (for), so it is time to at least get out there in the keg market. So, we’re going to be selling kegs to anyone who has a restaurant license. It is nice that places like right down the street here (Jubilation) might pick up some crowler cans or some quarter cans. Since we’ve been in the business so long, we know so many people.

Why use this photo of Brady

Why use this photo of Brady “eating” a fake fish taco? Why not? (Courtesy of QC)

David: The other cool thing is that so many people that are opening new breweries right now, they know the reputation of Brady, so they may open and they have three or four of their own beers, but they need some guest taps, so they don’t hesitate to come and say, ‘Hey, for the first couple of weeks or months, can we have your beer on tap?’ Which is a nice correlation between that.

Solo: One hand washes the other.

David: And, like every craft beer enthusiast, you check out the new place and it’s nice for us to have that enthusiast go to brewery X that’s new and a consistent thing, Quarter Celtic is on (at) all of these new places. We are definitely doing our part to help out the industry, but also putting our brand out there.

Ror: Yeah, we finally got some (logo) tap handles. The guys at the Craftroom, people thought it was theirs because it just said Pedro O’Flannigan and we just gave them a silver knob, so now we can actually claim that beer. That’s been nice. Looking forward, we are definitely looking on the wholesale distribution thing. That location has potential for a taproom in it, and it’s a taproom where we don’t really need to have a ton of sales in it. As long as we can cover our fixed costs over there, then that’s really all we are looking for. So, it can be something like we used to be at (Il Vicino) way back in the day that just had a generic name and it was a little hole in the wall. And, we are fine with that because that was actually really fun.

David: The identity of it is still kind of up in the air. I mean, we’ve talked around the idea of doing kind of a growler filling station with limited seats or very specialty, only local, bottle shop. But, we don’t know, we really don’t know what the potential for that small location will be.

Ror: We are going to let that one take its own direction. Right now we are just focused on getting beer in and out of there to different places. It’s got a nice spot to work with. It’s also fun looking at other properties where if we do want to exercise a couple more taproom licenses we could do it. So, life is good. We’re like successful poor — things we wanted to do in year four we are doing in month nine, (even though) we only have nine months of revenue to fund those things. So, we’re still just a couple of guys that put a heel lock on a house, you know. We’re not backed by anyone who has a trust fund, but we are doing what we like and having a good time doing it.

David: I think that’s super important to us. I don’t know if anybody talks about that enough, (but) what we do is pretty fun. At the end of the day, I think we all can go home with stresses and staff stuff and running out of beer. I think at least once a week we can look at each other and say man, we have got one of the best jobs in the world, if not the best.

Ror: When you’re coming in, high fiving each other and texting funny things back and forth from work, to the guy who is sitting at home wishing he was at work because, ah, I missed what? So, I think it accomplished what we wanted. We wanted to work in a place we wanted to hang out at and it’s becoming that, which is nice.

Solo: And, you have the autonomy to run it the way you want it and all the rest of that.

David: I can’t speak for everybody else, but for me that was not necessarily a struggle, but something that I had to learn to apply, so to speak. Once we gained that perspective, it’s awesome. It’s just great to do what’s best for the company, because it directly correlates to your partners. It’s not just for this faceless brand, it’s for the people that you see on a daily basis and their families and your staff and that kind of thing. Complete autonomy is nice. (Aside to Brady) Why’d it take you so long?

Stoutmeister: So, on the beer front with the Pedro coming in to replace the Knotted Blonde, that was one change that happened. But, changes are inevitable the first year that you are open. I mean, your customers can tell you, this should be house, this should be special, and that sort of thing. From the beer perspective, what were you guys able to do this year? What were you proud of and what were the things where you were like, if I had a chance I’d go back and do that over again and I will?

Ror: Well, I didn’t brew it, but it was part of these guys (at) GABF, they had three that made it past the first round and had great comments. Two we put in the wrong category, but still had good comments. If you think about it, as soon as you had to send those beers in, we had only been brewing for five months before we had to send those in. We had some recipes we just started with.

David: We had to register for August. One of the beers we entered we had never brewed before with, the (McLomas) dry stout, which was really good. But, yeah, as far as on the beer front is concerned, I think we opened with the idea of let’s just get as many beers as we can possibly get on in the time allotted when we were allowed to brew, and when we could put it on tap. So, that’s kind of where the blonde came into because it was an ale, which we knew we could turn around pretty quickly.

Ror: And, we also waited on opening a couple of weeks because we didn’t want to open without any beer.

David: And then, we brought a Mexican lager strain in house. We brewed Pedro O’Flannigan for the first time, and the actual first batch which we produced we entered in the North American beer awards and it won a silver. So, from there it kind of when it started growing, manipulating house beer versus the fact that it is one of our biggest sellers. A nice light Mexican lager is one of our biggest sellers, so for us in the business mindset was that the blonde sold really, really well, but we also wanted to always have a lager strain in house.

Brady shows off his silver medal from the North American Beer Awards for that there Pedro O'Flanagan. (Courtesy of QC)

Brady shows off his silver medal from the North American Beer Awards for that there Pedro O’Flanagan. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror: And, we’re also not in brewery row or anything. We are in a neighborhood, so you need your gateway beer. So, that is an easy, non-offensive, easy drinking beer, so it just made sense to move it over. We were brewing backwards, so we were brewing by not planning what we want and brewing it we were like okay, we have a tank open now. So, it was a storage issue which was dictating how we were growing. We got a new cooler upstairs, so we have more storage up there, and then we are going to have another cooler at the Bogen spot, so now that we have more storage, now we can do it right. We can say we are going to brew this, this, this, and this, and have a place to put it. Where before we were going backwards like, hey, tank is almost empty, are we ready to brew another batch? It was totally backwards out of necessity. This has a lot of space and the kitchen is way bigger than we need, but even by picking up space upstairs there’s just no storage space. So, we are working on that.

David: So that (upstairs cooler) just opens up space for Brady and I.

Ror: Well, it’s going to open up this side of the board (for seasonals). Our real struggle was don’t run out of a house beer. But, now that we’ve got this cooler going that should start to change.

David: And, that’s the funny thing kind of like checks and balances kind of a thing with our company is, don’t give Brady and I too much time to start talking and getting excited about things and we will just push (other) things off to the side. This (house beers) is really important to us. What people come in and they know and understand and are familiar with, let’s keep that consistent. Then, when we have time, then get the creative juices flowing.

Ror: Now that we have storage space here comes the fun stuff. We’re an Irish place and when you think of Irish coffee, we are going to do an Irish coffee stout.

David: An imperial milk stout that we will infuse with coffee that we will actually barrel age in our whiskey barrels. Everyone does a coffee stout, especially around this town, and a lot of people do it really well. But, to fit in our theme we figured an Irish coffee stout would be the way to go.

Ror: We were even thinking about getting like a cool …

Brady: Irish coffee mugs.

Ror: Yeah, a nice glass.

Brady: 10-percent-plus alcohol, so a smaller glass.

Solo: Yeah, we will still drink you dry on that one.

David: So, that’s just one of the things and now that we have a better grasp on the demand for house beers and what we can do as far as seasonals and specialties. I think towards the end of this year Brady and I have really been kind of toying around with techniques more than really (doing) crazy recipe developments or crazy one-off beers. We’ve been really focusing on different brewing techniques on how to bring different characteristics towards beers.

Ror: Well, I think Clark was a good example of that because the Clark was more technique than …

David: Anything else. And, there was also an element of something new. What’s not happening in this town is happening in other parts of the country that are beer meccas? The New England IPA was one of the things that we heard people who had attempted it, but never really advertised it as so, and never really went full bore with both feet in the deep end, so to speak. So, we spent probably three weeks, almost a month just kind of doing research and hop utilization and different techniques. Then we brewed it and then we figured, well, let’s advertise it and it was better received than we thought. We had really high hopes for it, and we knew that it was a really good quality beer. But, the reception on it had kind of been inspiring, so to speak. We should toy around with things more.

Brady: Well, it’s been split. Quite a few people really liked it, but, well it’s not New England so, what’s more New England? Clam chowder?

Ror: We are still trying to find what we are going to hang our hat on. Because now that we are a new place, I know Brady left a hundred different recipes over there (at Canteen) you know, intellectual property, and that’s fine. But, how do you do great beer again without someone saying, oh, you copied? You just come up with it. When we were doing construction, it was funny because we were saying, Brady, so you learned one way and that’s the way you do it. So, I told Brady, but you’ve got no recipes and he says up here (points to his head) I’ve got it, and slams his head against that pole, and I’m saying, oh no, it’s all gone! (Everyone laughs) Starting fresh is refreshing, but it is difficult, because you’ve done a lot of things well and you just don’t want to copy yourself. So, we are trying not to copy ourselves, which is really weird

Quarter Celtic will be hopping come St. Patrick's Day. (Courtesy of QC)

Quarter Celtic will be hopping come St. Patrick’s Day. (Courtesy of QC)

We eventually steered the conversation toward this year. Lots of wild and crazy new beer ideas are being bandied about.

David: I think Ror is absolutely right about (how) 2017 is concerned. We have a whiteboard upstairs and when Brady and I are working up in the cold room, any cold room work you get kind of a little crazy going on, and then you start talking and listening to loud music. So, we have a whiteboard of just interesting beer styles that we want to bring on and different techniques that we want to use and then go from there. That’s kind of the best thing about being a pub brewer, and we will say this all day every day.

Stoutmeister: You’re not beholden to your distributor coming to you and saying we need more of this.

David: Yeah, that’s the best, and there are times where we come to the guys and say, hey, we are thinking about this really outside of the box beer and pretty much 10 times out of 10 they are like, hey, let’s see how it works.

Ror: The fun part is you can walk upstairs where Brady bought a Bose Soundsystem, so he’s got 5-foot big ol’ speakers up there, (and) he’s got 2-foot speakers in the cold room. You’ll walk up and see these guys doing like kids at play and you’re like, this is awesome.

David: The funny thing I think about this group, whether it’s from Canteen or Quarter Celtic, is as you guys know, we have a good time. There’s no reason not to do that, there’s really not because what we do is pretty fun.

Solo: And, you bring a lot of fun to everyone else.

David: Yeah, and it’s really not going to stop.

Ror: We’re working on an event for St. Patty’s Day weekend where we are going to have all our patio space and have a two-day event where we have some special beers and food, music, and so on. And, just have a good time and embrace our Quarter Celtic-ness and have some fun with it. So, that will be our kind of our thing. Hopefully it will be an annual thing for us.

David: Looking forward, we opened on the 24th of February, but it’s so close to St Patrick’s Day, it’s so close to our theme that definitely the debut of some brand new barrel-aged beers is going to happen, and that day or that weekend, one of which we’ve already told you about (Irish coffee stout). Maybe two or three are possible, we will let you know.

Ror: We are also going to, we like to have fun with facial hair so we will be all shaved, we are thinking about a time, X amount of time out from St Paddy’s Day and everyone will grow out the … it’s the one where you’re missing this piece and …

Stoutmeister: That’s like the mutton chops.

David: Yeah, kind of, it’s very Irish.

Ror: We’re just trying to think of a bunch of things that get people to come in, and we’re also trying to make some beer events out of thin air, which I think are some of the most fun ones. Because we have a little list going in the office of just, oh that’s pretty fun. How can we spin that? So, we’re going to have some fun things going on.

David: There’s (still) a lot of serious stuff that happens in any business, I would think.

Ror: And, I didn’t even realize until a couple of days ago when I was messing around on Untappd. Well, it says we have 25 beers, but there’s like 20-something different styles we’ve done in the past year. #GFF was really good, I was pleased with how GFF came out. I’m not a really big IPA drinker and I was drinking that.

David: Then the beer that we did for the Brewers Association for American Craft Beer Week, the Biggest Small Beer, that imperial porter.

Ror: And then, we brewed Mile High for our neighborhood association. They renamed Fair Heights to Mile High. We said we would name a beer after them, so we are really happy with that and we love the neighborhood so we definitely wanted to give back.

Solo: That’s awesome, because it’s not always so easy.

David: I think that was a big driving force of why we moved in to this spot that was abandoned, that was, so to speak, run down, is to be a part of that neighborhood.

Ror shows off the popular Quarter Cans. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror shows off the popular Quarter Cans. (Courtesy of QC)

Ror: But as I was looking through that (Untappd) people were already saying, when are you going to brew this beer again? When we had Single Action Kolsch, we really enjoyed that one. County Down Brown was another one where people asked for that back. Looking back at the board there’s only seven beers, but we’ve done a bunch.

The other fun thing about looking forward, looking back is that when we opened, we didn’t open with everything we wanted. We didn’t have that Quarter Can machine, but now we have (it) and we’re having a good time with it. Another one, everyone wants live music here, so do we, but we have no elbow room. So, we’re going to go up and so we are going to put a stage on top of this (wall where the beer boards currently reside), and we are going to put a little trap door there so they can come up.

One (other) thing that we wanted was a cover outside. That’s not going to happen this year, so we are trying to figure out how we can get a little heat out there because we are dog friendly. So, if we maybe put a temporary tent or sort of wall this in a little bit, but by probably this time next year we expect to have this whole thing covered with radiant heating, lights, and everything. … I think it’s really cool that we have a patio, but the improvements are getting pushed out a little bit.

David: Being part of the (New Mexico Brewers) Guild and being part of the community and being part of the industry, I think as a company there’s a few thank you’s that we need to do — La Cumbre is a really big one for helping us out letting us wash our kegs there for awhile. Boxing Bear, Bosque, Canteen, Nexus, Chama (also) really helped us. Whether it’s one bag of grain here or letting us wash our kegs or anything like that, we are super humble to be a part of the Guild, and when we did our own thing to really maintain that representation of being part of the Guild.

Ror: And, we still enjoy the personal connection to all of those breweries, too, so that’s part of the fun of doing this is that you’ve got some friends that are kindred spirits doing the same thing.

David: So, all of those places, they’ve really helped us out and we’ve worked with them, and Brady in turn has helped them out in the past. So, I don’t know if it’s a pay-it-forward or pay-it-back kind of situation, but that’s super humbling. We are blessed to have that sense that we know and we understand that we are part of something bigger.

* * * * *

So, for somewhat of a conclusion for the brave and the adventuresome who have dared to delve all the way to the end of this grand encounter, in short, it was a great first year for the lads and lasses at Quarter Celtic. The beer was good, the food was good, and the venue itself was good, with a tall ceiling for possibilities and a boon for the community around it. The foundation for strong distribution has been made with the procurement of a space dedicated to that purpose. Taprooms may well be on the horizon and one thing is for sure, the delightfully boisterous shenanigans we have all come to know and love are certainly here to stay. One good year under the belt (nearly to the day), and many bright years lie ripe for the taking.

Skål!

— Franz Solo

Oh, yeah, there is another one coming.

Farewell to Firkin, we hardly knew ye.

In case anyone missed it on social media over the weekend, the long-rumored demise of The Firkin BrewHouse and Grill came to pass, as their own Facebook page communicated the following:

To all of our loyal and wonderful customers, unfortunately I must state that the Firkin BrewHouse and Grill is closed. More info will follow with an official announcement from the owners. Thank you all for your patronage.

The Crew reached out to the owners for comment, but four days later, we have not heard back, nor do we really expect anything. Hey, it’s human nature to try to move quickly past the bad and refocus on the good. We wish them all luck in their future endeavors, whatever those may be.

It is rare these days when breweries close, though it does happen from time to time. If one counts Marble’s opening in 2008 as the start of the current boom, in that span only four other breweries — Hallenbrick, Bad Ass, Stumbling Steer, Broken Bottle — have closed in the Albuquerque area. As per usual, though, any closing creates some sort of “Is the bubble finally bursting?” type of story or comment online.

No, the bubble is not bursting.

The majority of the breweries in the ABQ area are doing just fine, thank you. None of them have had the type of ugly ownership dispute like Firkin did. When four people open a brewery, and it becomes two versus two before even six months have passed, it is not a good sign, needless to say.

Of course, there are plenty who would argue that Firkin was doomed from the beginning. It seemed to have everything lined up against it.

For a new brewery to succeed, it usually needs to be A) in a heavily foot-trafficked area such as downtown or Nob Hill, B) on a major commuter thoroughfare, C) in a brewery-laden area, but offering up something different beer-wise (not just theme-wise) than the other breweries in this area, or D) in an area with no other competing breweries. Comparing it to other breweries that opened in early 2016, Sidetrack is succeeding because it is downtown. Bow & Arrow is succeeding because lots of folks drive up and down 6th Street. Dialogue is succeeding because of its unique beer lineup. Starr Brothers is succeeding quite a ways away from any other notable brewery.

Firkin, on the other hand, was on an isolated street that did not connect to either nearby Comanche or Candelaria, in an industrial area with two award-winning powerhouse breweries (Canteen and La Cumbre) while offering up nothing particularly different in terms of its beer. Conceptually, a Prohibition era-themed brewery was not a bad idea, it was just located in the wrong place. That led to money problems, which led to the ownership dispute, which ultimately led to its untimely demised.

Albuquerque is still a metro area of 900,000 people with some 30 breweries. No, it does not have a great business rating, or a high per capita income, but there are still room for more breweries, and there will be more growth from the existing breweries.

Craft beer in New Mexico is just fine. This is just another minor blip on the screen.

New breweries update

Hops Brewery now has signage up on the front of its Nob Hill location on Central just west of Carlisle. We will head over there to talk to the owner when someone (me) is done submitting the final images and pages for a certain book.

Beer and a movie, anyone? (Photo courtesy of Flix Brewhouse)

Beer and a movie, anyone? (Photo courtesy of Flix Brewhouse)

Flix Brewhouse is still under construction on the West Side, but they have begun brewing their first batches of beer. Brewer Will Moorman and I have been in touch and once other parts of the building are done in about two weeks, the Crew will take a tour of the forthcoming movie theater with its own brewery. As for the beers we could make out from the labels on the Facebook photo of the taps, Satellite Red IPA, Lupulus IPA, Luna Rosa Wit, Umbra Chocostout, 10 Day Scottish Ale, Golden Ale, and Beer of the Dead (Brown Ale) appear to be on deck.

Blue Grasshopper told us that they hope to have their new taproom, on Coors north of Montano, open before the end of the year. We will have more on this for their upcoming entry in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, which should be kicking off soon.

Drylands Brewing is now officially under construction in Lovington. Southeast New Mexico is still devoid of craft beer outside the existing places in Artesia (Desert Water and The Wellhead), Carlsbad (Milton’s), and Portales (Roosevelt). It is a little bit surprising that Lovington, best known as the hometown of Brian Urlacher, is getting a brewery before the much larger Hobbs or Roswell, but maybe the small town realized the value of beating those bigger towns to the punch.

Quick beer reviews

Again, if you are not following us on social media, you might have missed all the new beers I was able to get to this weekend. More await, of course, but there were too many intriguing newbies, old favorites, and a special one-off to not get out on the town.

A barrel-aged Scotch ale was sighted amid the chaos at Palmer Brewery's grand opening.

A barrel-aged Scotch ale was sighted amid the chaos at Palmer Brewery’s grand opening.

As always, these are my opinions, I am fully aware others may think the exact opposite. Please share your own thoughts on these beers once you have tried them as well.

  • La Negra, La Cumbre: This is the best version of the barrel-aged imperial stout yet. Grab two bombers, one to drink, one to age. Creamy yet boozy yet smooth yet thick, it is a wonderful batch.
  • Cockness Monster, Palmer: The grand opening was a zoo on Saturday, but luckily just as I walked inside I ran into brewer Rob Palmer. He poured me a 13-ounce glass of the rum-barrel-aged version of his Scotch ale. The rum did not overpower the beer, nor the other way around. It just blended beautifully, a good sipping beer amid the chaos. Congrats to Palmer on the opening.
  • Nitro Chai Chocolate Porter, Nexus: Before dinner arrived, I made sure to sample this fresh batch. The good news is the chai does not drown out the beer. On nitro, though, the beer almost came off as a little too thin on the mouthfeel. I would love to try it on CO2 some day. (Hint!)
  • Turkey Drool, Tractor: This is an annual fall favorite, and oh lordy, it did not disappoint. It starts off subtle, then does a mini-circle pit of spices and flavors on your palate. Let it warm just a tad for full effect. As someone else said, it’s everything good about Thanksgiving dessert in a glass.
  • Vanilla Mocha Double Porter, Red Door: Coffee! So. Much. Coffee! At least at the outset, so this is another one to let warm up a bit. The vanilla and mocha flavors are there, too, but the coffee is strong as can be. If nothing else, the small pour had me wide awake in time for that freaky storm to finally reach the brewery from the Lobo football game.
  • Clark IPA, Quarter Celtic: Before venturing off to help Franz Solo brew a beer (and by help I mostly mean stand there and drink and comment on our football teams’ terrible outings), we both visited QC for their New England-style hazy IPA. Breweries like Trillium, The Alchemist, and more have made this juicier, less bitter style of IPA quite popular in the Northeast, and now QC has brought it to the Southwest. We adored this beer. If you have loved some of the sweeter, maltier IPAs that Bosque has been specializing in of late, you will love this, too.

Now, if the breweries would just slow down a bit on releasing these outstanding beers so I can catch up … they won’t, will they? A beer writer’s work is never done.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Hello again, Hopfest!

Hello again, Hopfest!

Newcomers and summery, fresh-tasting, hoppy beers helped to keep interest alive for the ninth annual Albuquerque Hopfest. Each year the crowds get larger, and each year I wonder how in the world Marne Gaston puts on such a large production. But, she does, flawlessly, and I am in complete awe of her. I would be a quivering puddle of goo. But, Marne is the calm in the eye of a hurricane (there is currently a Hurricane Gaston in the Atlantic that reformed on the day of Hopfest; I can’t even make this stuff up). Our heartfelt thanks, once again, to Marne and her staff and volunteers for another fantastic event.

As always, it was “so many beers, so little time,” so for me it was all about being selective. I focused on mostly local beers I have not tried and those that are not readily available at taprooms. A few of those beers stood out, and some were big surprises.

Enchanted Circle made a positive debut at Hopfest.

Enchanted Circle made a positive debut at Hopfest.

Even before the doors opened, a musician friend of mine who was setting up to play on one of the outdoor stages told me, “You have got to try the Enchanted Circle ESB if you like malty beers.” Well, yes, I do, and yes, I did! It really was very good. In fact, I thought in general the Enchanted Circle beers out of Angle Fire were one of the two biggest surprise hits of Hopfest. Even though IPAs are not my favorite, I was extremely impressed with their IPA (7.3% ABV). For such a new brewery, they have really done well with a solid beer to please the West Coast-style IPA lover. I also want to thank them for actually displaying the stats (O.G., IBU, and ABV) as well as the names. Not too many did, and I wish more of the breweries would have.

The Dukes of Ale booth was a big hit again.

The Dukes of Ale booth was a big hit again.

The second big surprise (based on consensus among my group of four attendees; one of whom is very much a hophead) was not an IPA. It didn’t come from a big name. Heck, it wasn’t even from a local brewery. It was the German Hefeweisen from the Dukes of Ale Homebrew Club.

Other favorites included Quarter Celtic’s McLomas Dry Stout and #GFF (Grapefruit Forever) IPA, Ponderosa’s Wry Ale, and Red Door’s Nieuwe Bruin. Albuquerque Brewing Company’s Dunkleweisen did not disappoint. It’s one of their semi-regular beers, but it seems it is always out when I stop by. It was wonderful to be able to finally taste it on Saturday. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the Green Chile Pilsner from Bathtub Row, because I don’t usually care much for pilsners or chile beers. This one was an outstanding version.

The Quarter Celtic staff left everyone else smiling, too, with their new stout.

The Quarter Celtic staff left everyone else smiling, too, with their new stout.

Notably missing from the vendors was B2B. They had a table set up, but there was no B2B beer and nobody from their brewery manning the spot. Also, I believe Firkin was in the program but I did not find them in the room or outside. If I missed them somehow, I apologize. (You did not miss them, they informed me that they were withdrawing late last week. — S)

Since I was unable to attend the New Mexico Brewers Guild Sensory Analysis Seminar presented by Craft King Consulting, LLC, the Crew would welcome and appreciate any feedback on that portion of the event from our readers.

The VIP beer list was quite impressive.

The VIP beer list was quite impressive.

I tried a few, but not all, of the beers in the VIP room. Mother Road’s Coffee Lost Highway, Founders’ Devil Dancer Triple IPA, and Sierra Nevada’s Narwahl Imperial Stout were my favorites. I didn’t attend the VIP pouring of Hop Pact from BJ’s Brewhouse because there was also a limited supply out in the main room, and I had it on Monday night at a Green Flash beer dinner at BJ’s. Hopefully many attendees were able to sample this fantastic collaboration beer between BJ’s Brewhouse and Green Flash. It is completely unique and refreshing, with more subtle hops, crazy amounts of floral notes, and the ability to cleanse your palate.

Speaking of palates, near the end I was suffering major palate fatigue. I started to slow down just as the rain chased the outdoor flock into the already crowded main room. At about 5:40 p.m., we gathered our swag (why do I keep collecting so many pint glasses? I could pretty much open a store at this point) and headed for the shuttle to the Railrunner, awash with post-festival beer glow.

Cheers!

— AmyO

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

Amid a sea of people taking pics on their cell phones, the Boxing Bear brewing team holds their NMIPAC trophy aloft!

Amid a sea of people taking pics on their cell phones, the Boxing Bear brewing team holds their NMIPAC trophy aloft!

Another year, another IPA Challenge is in the books. Only for the first time in a while, there will be a new champion holding onto the trophy.

Boxing Bear held off Canteen and 3 Rivers in the closest vote in NMIPAC history. The final round was decided by hundreds of beer lovers/hopheads on a (very) toasty afternoon at Tractor Wells Park. When everything was counted, Boxing Bear had 81 votes, Canteen finished with 79, and 3 Rivers garnered 68. That ended the two-year reign of Bosque as champion, as well as the three-year reign of brewer John Bullard, who had previously won at Blue Corn in 2013.

The final totals, for those who are interested in such numbers.

The final totals, for those who are interested in such numbers.

A whole lotta folks asked us about which beer was which. Here is the list (we did not get a photo, sorry) of the beers by their number on the tray.

  1. Red Door
  2. Taos Mesa
  3. Quarter Celtic
  4. Starr Brothers
  5. Bosque
  6. Sidetrack
  7. Santa Fe
  8. Tractor
  9. Canteen
  10. Chili Line
  11. La Cumbre
  12. Boxing Bear
  13. Second Street
  14. Blue Corn
  15. 3 Rivers

As for the victorious head brewer, Justin Hamilton was all smiles after he got to hold the trophy aloft with assistant brewer Dylan Davis.

“I think it’s great, honestly,” Justin said. “The reaction to it is a little bit of stunned, but we’re also super happy to represent New Mexico. All of us have been locals for a long time. I grew up here, so did Dylan. For the fact that we’re local brewers, that we’ve been involved in the brewery scene for a long time, we were able to bring it home to our new place, that’s really awesome.

“Being that I was a part of the IPA Challenge for the last decade, and not being able to bring one home, this is hard. A lot of these guys it’s their first year, second or third year, I’ve been doing it for a long time. After years of contention it’s nice to have that boy sitting on our bar top.”

A big thank you to the tireless efforts of Tractor co-owner Skye Devore, left, and Brewers Guild director John Gozigian.

A big thank you to the tireless efforts of Tractor co-owner Skye Devore, left, and Brewers Guild director John Gozigian.

Starting last September, the accolades have been rolling in for Boxing Bear. First came the silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Chocolate Milk Stout. Then came a gold at the World Beer Cup for the same beer. Being able to hang their hat on a totally different style for Boxing Bear is huge, as it shows they are not just a one-trick pony of a sort.

“It’s great to bring it home,” Justin said. “It feels good that we have hopefully set our niche in the fact that New Mexico has good beer and that we’re one of the really good breweries here in New Mexico that’s up and coming and we put a lot of pride into our beer. I think people saw that.”

Do not expect Justin or Dylan or anyone else at Boxing Bear to kick back and rest on the laurels of their victories in the last 10 months.

“This is a thing you see with breweries — you win things in a row, then you won’t win (anything) for years,” Justin said. “It’s good we’re doing well, but at the same time all of us have a very similar viewpoint in our breweries that we want things to be good, and if they’re not good we want them to be better. We are constantly looking for a way to improve our product, even if people say it’s good. Even if people tell us our products are good, we can tell if they need to be done better. I think that’s one of the reasons we are having a really good year.”

Justin credited his small, tight-knit staff for the victory. In a way, he said, being a bit smaller in size has helped Boxing Bear establish themselves alongside the state heavyweights.

“I think the fact we’re all pointing in the same direction, everyone in our building is contending for (creating) the best product that we possibly can (and) great service from the pub viewpoint,” Justin said. “And also we really want to show Albuquerque, New Mexico, in general that we’re here for beer, we’re here to put out a great product, we’re here to put out what New Mexico expects as beer as far as what you’ve seen from Marble, what you’ve seen from La Cumbre, what you’ve seen from Bosque. We want to be on the same level of amazing beer that is known locally, nationally, and worldwide. That’s our goal.”

There were tough calls all around on this tray.

There were tough calls all around on this tray.

Justin has worked at a number of breweries over the years, so he has shared in past glories. This one, though, is his own.

“We’re having a great year,” he said. “For me, my thing is, I’ve been a part of a lot of great breweries. And it’s nice to kind of carve my own niche right now. It’s nice to get recognition for that. I’ve worked for lots of great breweries, but this is mine now, this is ours now.”

Now it is just a matter of getting everyone else out there to continue to recognize just how good we have it with our local breweries in New Mexico.

“I think that’s the thing about New Mexico and Albuquerque in general — we have literally some of the best beer in the world,” Justin said. “There’s not a lot of states that can say that. Our city alone, not only our city, but our state has literally some of the best beer in the world. People are drawn to that, no matter where (they) are. I think that things like this are great for locals, and for people that are involved with it, but when we win stuff on an international and national scale, and it brings it back home and then we win a local event, it makes it even better.

“It just really brings it full circle because we still get the question of where are you, who are you, which is fine. People still ask that question about Bosque. But it’s a lot less people. This is a great thing that will let people know we are a great force of good beer in New Mexico and we will continue to do that.”

We will raise a pint (or two) to that sentiment!

Another IPA Challenge is complete. We look forward to the 2017 version.

Before that happens, however, we have a few special thank yous to hand out for the finale: to Brewers Guild director John Gozigian; to his hard-working team of volunteers who poured the beer (including Angelo Orona); to Skye Devore, David Hargis, and every single staff member at Tractor (Lauren, Melissa, Nicole, and on and on); and finally, to all of you, our fellow beer drinkers! We (barely) beat the heat and had a great time, all while reminding people just how strong and vibrant our local beer scene really is.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The Brewers Guild posted this photo of the results from the 3 Rivers round of the IPA Challenge.

The Brewers Guild posted this photo of the results from the 3 Rivers round of the IPA Challenge.

The NM IPA Challenge continued Wednesday night at 3 Rivers Brewery in Farmington, with 80 people coming out to partake and vote for their favorite. The hometown brewery had a respectable showing with 11 votes to give it 22 through two rounds, but Quarter Celtic was the round winner with 18 votes (26 total).

Boxing Bear, though, maintained their lead with another 13 votes to raise their total to 32. The breweries are listed below their voting totals from the first round at Santa Fe Brewing on Saturday and the second round at 3 Rivers.

  1. Boxing Bear: 19 + 13 = 32
  2. Quarter Celtic: 8 + 18 = 26
  3. Blue Corn: 17 + 5 = 22
  4. Starr Brothers: 11 + 11 = 22
  5. 3 Rivers: 11 + 11 = 22
  6. Bosque: 17 + 1 = 18
  7. Canteen: 12 + 4 = 16
  8. La Cumbre: 12 + 1 = 13
  9. Santa Fe: 10 + 2 = 12
  10. Second Street: 9 + 3 = 12
  11. Tractor: 10 + 1 = 11
  12. Chili Line: 8 + 2 = 10
  13. Red Door: 7 + 3 = 10
  14. Sidetrack: 6 + 4 = 10
  15. Taos Mesa: 6 + 1 = 7

The most shocking results from the round were Bosque, the two-time defending champion, and La Cumbre and Tractor getting just one vote apiece after stronger showings at SFBC. Starr Brothers continued to shine among the newcomers, doubling their voting total. (Yes, Quarter Celtic is a new brewery, too, but they have one of the most experienced brewers in the state at the helm.)

Brandon and I will be at the final round Saturday, which starts at noon, to provide live updates and blurry photos and the like. Do remember, Tractor is closing off the front parking lot for the event in case the crowd spills over from inside the brewery. Take this into account if you’re driving over. As always, Uber, a designated driver, or at least a carpool is your best bet.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Let's get this thing started!

Let’s get this thing started!

More than 160 patrons packed The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing on Saturday afternoon to cast their votes in the first of the three main rounds of the 2016 NM IPA Challenge. The initial tallies suggest this is going to be a close one, though a lot can change between now and the final votes this coming Saturday at Tractor Wells Park.

The final results. Voting totals are on the right, the beers by number are on the left.

The final results. Voting totals are on the right, the beers by number are on the left.

Boxing Bear has the early lead with 19 votes, picking up where they left off after tying for the lead in the preliminary round at Rio Bravo last weekend. Those votes do not carry over, so everyone was starting from zero this time around. Blue Corn and two-time defending champion Bosque tied for second with 17 votes.

After that was quite the cluster of breweries who could be sleepers down the line. Canteen and La Cumbre earned 12 votes. Starr Brothers and Three Rivers picked up 11. Host Santa Fe and future host Tractor snagged 10. Second Street snuck in there with nine, followed by Chili Line and Quarter Celtic with eight, Red Door with seven, and Sidetrack and Taos Mesa with six.

Guild director John Gozigian was in charge of tallying the votes.

Guild director John Gozigian was in charge of tallying the votes.

The next round is Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Three Rivers. The hosts have encouraged folks up in Durango to make the drive down, so it could be a different crowd in terms of what they want in an IPA.

A big thanks to Luke for keeping us all up to date on social media. He had more work to do for SFBC, which was hosting a post-event free concert, otherwise he would have written this himself. The pictures are all his, so here are a few more!

DSC_0081

Hello, happy beer lovers!

DSC_0084

That’s being serious right there. Just don’t get any beer up your nose.

DSC_0098

So many hops, so little time.

DSC_0100

Always good to see a familiar face.

DSC_0104

When your GM is smiling like that, you know the SFBC staff has done a good job.

DSC_0115

Cheers to that!

DSC_0124

It’s a meeting of directors past and present.

DSC_0126

Ride on, beer lovers!

DSC_0143

Hey, we know these two! Glad they made it down from Los Alamos.

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Whenever we see brewers gather like this, we hope for future collaborations.

If anyone out there who is planning on attending Wednesday’s round in Farmington and wants to be our special correspondent, please contact us at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com or via social media. The most important things we would need are photos and the voting totals.

The rest of us will see the rest of you at Tractor Wells Park!

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