Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Blanca Brewing’

A lot of tired brewers and brewery owners came to life when their names were announced at the GABF Awards Ceremony!

DENVER — The 2018 Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony was another good one for New Mexico breweries. The Saturday morning event saw 2,404 breweries enter 8,864 beers, judged by 193 people, and spread across 102 categories, plus a new collaboration and the Pro-Am competition.

Eight New Mexico breweries shared in seven medals, a significant improvement from the World Beer Cup earlier this year, when only Quarter Celtic brought home a single bronze medal for its Pedro O’Flanagan.

“It means we make good beer still,” said John Gozigian, the executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. “What did we win (at WBC), one medal? It was an anomaly. We always tend to medal disproportionately to our population.”

We were lucky in that Turtle Mountain head brewer Mick Hahn, left, found us at the session after the awards ceremony.

Turtle Mountain earned its first gold medal in the International-style Pilsner category with Wooden Teeth. The year-round offering is a huge win for brewer Mick Hahn and owner Nico Ortiz, beating out 85 other entries.

Mick was not in attendance when the award was announced.

“I was at our AirBnB, not quite sipping the champagne yet, but enjoying the hell out of it,” he said. “We didn’t go to the awards ceremony but we were streaming it at the house. When they announced it we just exploded. It was fantastic. I couldn’t be happier. There was a liquor store right across from the house so I ran across the street to get some champagne.”

After 19 years in business, this was the first major competition medal for Turtle Mountain.

“That’s just awesome,” Gozigian said. “For a new brewery to win is great, but to see one of the stalwarts of our brewing scene to come out of the woodwork and win in a very competitive category, I’m very happy for them.”

Mick said he was over the moon after hearing his beer’s name called on the internet broadcast.

“It means so much,” Mick said. “Turtle deserves so much more (praise) than what they have right now, in my opinion. I hate hearing people say, ‘I love it, but I never go out to Rio Rancho.’ It’s a drop in the bucket, I’m sure, but every little bit helps. A gold medal for our house lager? Yeah.”

La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway chews on another silver medal for his Malpais Stout.

There were two silver medals awarded to local breweries. La Cumbre’s Malpais Stout took second in the Export Stout category, while Rowley Farmhouse Ales earned its first medal with Germophile in the Berliner-style Weisse category, which had 115 entries.

“Always the runner up,” said La Cumbre owner/master brewer Jeff Erway. “It’s my third silver. I’m really stoked to not go home empty handed. I tasted this batch and said this is about as good as that beer ever gets. I’m really pleased with the whole team. It gets increasingly harder as the brewery gets bigger to make sure that every person back there is engaged. I’m kind of in awe of Daniel (Jaramillo) and Alan (Skinner) and how they manage the team back there. I’m real proud of everybody. Probably 20 people touch this beer. The fact that no one screwed it up is awesome.”

Bronze was the color of the day with five breweries bringing home four medals. How did that work? Well, Quarter Celtic and Palmer Brewery earned bronze in the Collaboration Beer category with Mocha Hipster Bomb.

“Brady (McKeown, head brewer) is battling in that brewhouse and it’s starting to show,” said Quarter Celtic co-owner Ror McKeown. “We’re fortunate that Rob (Palmer) was a super cool guy and has some talent himself. He was willing to jump in with us. I told him, first GABF, first beer you entered, first medal, you set the bar real high. It was a good time, but unfortunately Brady will never get to come again, since we figured out the trick was to take his cutout instead of him.”

Yes, Quarter Celtic really did take a cardboard cutout of Brady up on stage.

The Brady McKeown cutout made it to the stage at the awards ceremony, courtesy of his brother Ror.

“You never expect to win, but you want to come prepared,” Ror said. “I took that cutout. It was nice, especially since this is (Charlie) Papazian’s last year. It was our last chance to get a fist bump from him.

“(Papazian) was laughing. We went up early enough so he wasn’t tired. He told us that’s awesome. Usually you can’t get too many words out of him. He had a pretty big grin on his face.”

For Palmer, this was his first major award.

“I’ll probably never enter another beer again,” Rob said. “First beer, medal, done.”

He was actually luck to even make it into the awards ceremony at all.

“I didn’t expect the collab category to be (early), I thought it would be in the middle somewhere,” Rob said. “I’m all hungover as shit. We were at the gentlemen’s club last night. I didn’t have a pass to get in. Canteen gave me an extra pass. I sat down, tried not to throw up, and then I heard the name called. It was fucking awesome. Getting to fist bump Charlie Papazian, man, best thing ever. I’m super stoked.”

Rob Palmer’s hangover disappeared quickly thanks to his bronze medal.

Starr Brothers brought home its first medal with a bronze in the Other Strong Beer category with Lampshade Porter, another year-round beer.

Sierra Blanca’s Cherry Wheat medaled for the second straight year, this time taking bronze in the Fruit Wheat category (it won gold last year).

Bosque’s Pistol Pete’s 1888 finished third out of 127 entries in the Golden or Blonde Ale category.

“It’s awesome,” said Bosque co-owner/director of brewing operations John Bullard. “We did the same thing with Bosque IPA (medaling), that was cool, too. That really drove sales. I’m really hoping this will continue to drive sales. We’re having a hard time keeping up with this beer already, but it can’t hurt, right?”

The Crew will try to catch up with the other medal winners while we are all here in Denver, but just in case we cannot find them, we will interview them upon our return to New Mexico this coming week.

Congrats to one and all, and thank you for always representing New Mexico in such a positive way.


— Stoutmeister

The last beer festival at Isleta Pavilion was the lone Blues & Brews to appear there back in 2013.

Friends of friends were happy to inform us that the upcoming Sabroso Festival, scheduled for this Sunday at the Isleta Pavilion, was a fun event in its California stops. The setup for the Albuquerque edition, however, has hit some bumps in the road, as breweries have reported major issues with getting their permits approved due to problems the event organizers are having with New Mexico laws.

Of the 18 listed breweries on the event website, three have confirmed they will not attend — Eske’s, Kaktus, and Starr Brothers — due to permitting issues. Four have yet to respond to our inquiries, so their status is unknown at this time (though Sierra Blanca did say on an Instagram post that it will be there). Here are the beer lists for those who did get back to us.

  • UPDATED—Ale Republic: Parasol, Bernalillo Weisse, Blonde, Double Trouble, Zero to Hero (Zero IBU IPA), Sombra (American Stout)
  • Bosque: Bosque Lager, Elephants on Parade, Bosque IPA, Scotia Scotch Ale
  • Bow & Arrow: Denim Tux Lager, Desert Rambler Hefeweizen, Savage Times Sour IPA, Nomadico IPA
  • Boxing Bear: Cider, Ambear, Paw Swipe Pale Ale, Uppercut IPA, Chocolate Milk Stout
  • Canteen: Flashback IPA, High Plains Pils, Dougie Style Amber, Rapsberry Wheat, Exodus IPA, Laid Back Lager
  • Little Toad Creek: Copper Ale, E9 Pale Ale, Grumpy Old Troll IPA, Pendejo Porter
  • Marble: Passionate Gose, Cholo Stout, Imperial Red, Double IPA, Pilsner, Double White
  • Picacho Peak: Picacho Lite, New England IPA, Black IPA, Dunkelweizen, Chocolate Porter
  • Red Door: Vanilla Cream Ale, Roamer Red, Threshold IPA, Unhinged Cider
  • Steel Bender: Skull Bucket IPA, Steel Bender Lager, The Village Wit, Raspberry Dynamite, Out to Pasture Brett Saison, Zest Out

The unknown breweries besides Sierra Blanca are Abbey Brewing, Santa Fe, and Tractor.

There is also something called Revolver Brewing, which is owned by Miller Coors, a subsidiary of ABInBev, so we do not consider that a craft brewery worth listing here.

All that being said, this still has the potential to be a fun event. It will run from 1 p.m. (noon for VIP ticket holders) until 10 p.m. The event is 21 and over from 1 to 3, then all ages after that. Craft beer tastings last until 4 p.m., then you have to pay by the pint. There may still be tickets online, but reports say it will be sold out by Sunday, so do not wait to try to get your tickets at the gates.

The music is headlined by 90s SoCal punk bands The Offspring and Pennywise, with Los Kung Fu Monkeys (3-3:30), Unwritten Law (3:55-4:30), Lit (5-5:45), and Street Dogs (6:15-7) in support. Pennywise follows from 7:30 to 8:30, with The Offspring finishing it all off from 9 to 10:05.

The website says there will be 24 different taco vendors on hand. There will also be Luche Libre wrestling matches for your entertainment, starting at 12:30 p.m., with the championship match at 3:30.

Hopefully this all goes off without a hitch and we all have fun this Sunday.


— Stoutmeister

The taps have been flowing at Sierra Blanca like never before.

Sierra Blanca Brewing put itself back on the map in 2017 and has no intention of disappearing again this year. The big/little brewery in Moriarty took home a number of medals and began to repackage and relabel many of its long-time beers.

To catch up on this buzz of activity east of the Sandias for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series, Franz Solo and I drove out to visit last week. We were greeted by general manager Tasha Isbell and Devin Myers, the new events and social media coordinator. Owner/brewer Rich Weber was busy in the brewery, making sure everything was running smoothly from the brewhouse to the bottling line.

“We’re still running a really tight ship as far as production (goes),” Tasha said. “Rich is honing in the recipes. He’s doing a lot more on quality control. We’re sinking our teeth into that more. We’re still doing it all with a really small group. We did 9,200 barrels and including our taproom we had 12 (full-time) employees.”

Devin noted that production was already double what it was in 2017 through the first two months of this year.

The new pride and joy of the brewery was added in October.

A lot of that has to do with the awards Sierra Blanca pulled in for last year. Cherry Wheat was the big winner, bringing the brewery just its second Great American Beer Festival gold medal in October, following what is now Bone Chiller Brown Ale winning gold back in 2012.

“We started bottling it in March of last year,” Tasha said. “We developed that recipe in 2016, we started it kegging it (that year). Once we figured out the secret with the cherries, we started bottling it. We won three gold medals with it last year.”

The other golds came at the World Beer Championship and awards. In addition to Cherry Wheat taking off, other beers shined at another fall competition.

“Then at the Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Oregon, we won gold again with our Pancho (Green Chile Cerveza),” Tasha said. “In 2016 we won gold, in 2018 we won gold. Then we won silver for our Milk Stout.”

Just a few of the many, many beers getting ready for distribution.

While the beers are racking up the medals, a major shift in how they look is taking place at Sierra Blanca. The old Rio Grande Brewing labels are being phased out, with Desert Pils now rebranded as Sierra Blanca Pilsner. Outlaw Lager and the aforementioned Pancho will follow later this year. The change in labels on the latter will come at a special festival that the brewery will host.

“We’re having a green chile festival this year (in August or September),” Tasha said. “We’re redoing the green chile packaging, getting rid of the old Rio Grande (label). We’ll do a big old festival and do a release party at that time when we have all the chile out here roasting for the next batch of beer.”

The old Rio Grande IPA is also being redone as the Alien IPA, taking advantage of one popular series of labels that are not going away.

“I do like the personality of taps,” Devin said. “Alien, that’s what people really like. That’s half the reason people drink the Alien beer. … We’re really pushing the Sierra Blanca brand. That’s what we’re narrowing it down to and all.”

Tasha said that the Whiskey Stout was another big hit this year. The brewery went from 240 cases and around 50 slims for sales and distribution, but now the slims are out and there were only four or five cases left at the brewery.

The old chile roaster will be getting a workout again in late summer.

These days, of course, it is not just about the beer. Sierra Blanca in the past was largely just about packaging and distribution out of the brewery, but more recently an effort has been launched to turn it into a destination brewery. That included the completion of the spacious beer garden in 2016, and now with Devin on board, the goal is to get even more people to visit with more events and festivals.

“Everybody here has like five jobs,” Devin said. “To have (Tasha) and the owners be in charge of the food trucks, that’s too much of a headache. When I stepped in I kind of took over all of that stuff. We’re getting it a little more hopping here, just like all the other breweries.”

The first winter for the beer garden was pretty slow in 2016-17, so Devin made an effort to keep people visiting year round.

“It used to be people weren’t coming out here over the winter time,” he said. “I found that if you’ve got a food truck, people are going to come out. Heck, if you just have hot dogs for sale, they’ll come out. I’ve been really pushing that, keeping people coming out. I’ve taken over social media, just pushing, pushing, pushing that. We’ve got a pot luck dinner every couple weeks. We have so many people come out here for that one. It’s a fun night to come, every second Tuesday.”

The patio is enclosed during the winter, but it will soon open up as soon as temperatures start to stabilize.

There are also dollar-off pints on Mondays, and veterans and active duty military get a dollar off their pints year round, Devin added. All in all, Sierra Blanca is committed to having a set weekly schedule of events and specials. Trying something a little different, the brewery is switching from Taco Tuesday to Tamale Tuesday. There will be a DJ and possibly wine specials on Wednesdays this year, plus an open mic night on Thursdays that Devin will host. As a musician himself, Devin has quickly dialed in things in terms of getting live performers to drive out from Albuquerque and even points beyond.

“I pretty much have all the music booked out all the way to the fall, all the music and all the food trucks pretty much until it gets cold again,” he said.

To keep the beer geeks interested, Tasha said they have installed a 3-barrel brewing system that will be used to make specialty, seasonal, and experimental beers that will just be sold on site. Those should start appearing on tap quite soon. The newest seasonal available during our visit was Natalie Portman, a traditional porter.

To draw in some first-time visitors, Sierra Blanca is once again participating in the Brew Passport with Albuquerque The Magazine. Tasha noted that was a huge draw for people to come visit last year.

“They come out here and then they fall in love with (the brewery),” she said.

The barrels have already been filled for next fall/winter.

Tourists, both local and from out of state (even outside the country), still make up a big portion of the weekly visitors to Sierra Blanca.

“We get a lot of tourists, too,” Devin said. “Our Oktoberfest is a big thing, St. Patty’s Day is a big thing. We get a lot of people out here for events. We get a lot of I-40 travelers. I’d say we get at least 10 to 15 tourists in here a day.”

There will also be a horseshoe tournament taking place in the beer garden in June, Tasha said. Last year, about 20 teams showed up, but this year Sierra Blanca is expecting double that number.

“That will raise a lot of money and we’ll give it to a local veteran,” she said. “We’re really trying to increase our local outreach to people who need the help.”

Production through the first two months of 2018 is already double that of 2017.

Add it all up, and one of the oldest breweries in the state (founded in 1996) is doing plenty of hard work to stay relevant in the crowded New Mexico beer scene. We thank Devin and Tasha for taking the time to chat, and for a few small pours of beer, too.


— Stoutmeister