Posts Tagged ‘Starr Brothers Brewing’

The brewers at Starr Brothers were all too happy to receive the official NMDSBC Stout Challenge trophy.

The brewers at Starr Brothers were all too happy to receive the official NMDSBC Stout Challenge trophy.

Every now and again, a story, even a short one, slips through the cracks. A few weeks back, I visited Starr Brothers and got a quick tour of the brewery’s expansion, took some photos, and I completely forgot to post anything.

Time to rectify that. As noted in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series story, Starr Brothers has expanded into the space next door, knocking out the wall in order to expand their brewing area. The photos I took should show most of it, but basically head brewer Rob Whitlock has a lot more room to maneuver. They have added multiple tanks, and have a second, larger walk-in cooler that will be used for distribution. Yes, Starr Brothers is sending kegs to other places now, though there are no plans to move into canning or bottling (at least not yet).

The pictures will tell the rest of the story.

The new walk-in cooler is quite a bit larger than its predecessor.

The new walk-in cooler is quite a bit larger than its predecessor.

More fermenters? Yup.

More fermenters? Yup.

starrbrothersexpansion3

There is still a lot of open space back there for future expansion.

If this all means Rob can keep Foggy Monocle, the oatmeal stout that claimed top honors at the Crew’s 2017 Stout Challenge, on tap at all times, then everyone wins. See how much the official Stout Challenge trophy makes Rob smile up above? Yeah, a good stout does that for us.

Desert Valley moves west

One of the forthcoming breweries in Albuquerque is taking over some familiar turf. Desert Valley Brewing, which is associated with the same folks who own The Craftroom and Sandia Hard Cider, is moving into the brewing space that never was for The Stumbling Steer.

The Steer fizzled out in 2015, with the building then taken over and chopped into different storefronts. Part of the restaurant area became Vernon’s Open Door, but financial problems eventually sank that operation, much like the Steer before it. The brewing area, which was never put into service before the Steer’s demise, was supposed to have become a brewery that would serve its beers via all the various Vernon’s and Wise Pies properties, but that idea never got off the ground. Now, finally, an actual brewery is moving to take over that portion of the property.

The restaurant portion of the building is being taken over by the owner of Matanza, though whether he will open a west-side version of the popular Nob Hill eatery/beer bar, or try a new concept, is unclear right now.

For now, Desert Valley’s small brewer license is still listed as pending on the State of New Mexico’s website, and it is unknown how long it will take them to get things running out there (for instance, we don’t even know how much of the brewing equipment is in place, or if some may need to be added, replaced, or repaired). Rest assured, we will try to touch base with the team behind Desert Valley and learn more.

Updating the rest of the newcomers

They're not gonna open small in Los Ranchos. (Courtesy of Steel Bender)

They’re not gonna open small in Los Ranchos. (Courtesy of Steel Bender)

There are seven other breweries with pending licenses in varying stages of development, plus one more about to open.

Steel Bender Brewyard in Los Ranchos already has their license approved and has begun brewing. They still project a mid-March opening and should have an announcement shortly as to the exact date of their grand opening. At least two notable brewers have stopped by to look around, and both came away quite impressed. The Crew will be visiting Steel Bender as soon as there are beers to taste and everything is relatively settled.

As for the other seven, we have no new updates on Bare Bones Brewing (Cedar Crest) or Bombs Away Beer Company (Albuquerque). The magic of social media has informed us, via lots of pictures, that the buildout is underway for both Drylands Brewing (Lovington) and Truth or Consequences Brewing.

Lava Rock Brewing, the new project from former Firkin Brewhouse brewer Aaron Walters, is moving along on the west side on Unser north of Ladera. The aim is still for a summer opening.

We had not heard anything new on Hops Brewery in Nob Hill until a recent visit to another brewery revealed that Hops was now buying grain and getting ready to brew its first beers. The long-delayed project may finally be nearing its opening, but as Hops still does not have any website or social media accounts, that is all we know for now.

Finally, a new name to file away, Glencoe Distillery & Brewery, which is set to open a few miles east of Ruidoso. The original newspaper story did not mention brewing, so our guess is that was added later on to the plan. Hey, it works for Broken Trail up here, maybe it will work in the mountains down south, too.

For every opening, a closing

Twisted Chile gives Socorro its first in-town brewing operation in years.

Twisted Chile will be bidding farewell soon, though a new owner could bring it back eventually.

OK, not quite, but there have been a couple brewery closings of late. For those that missed it on social media or in The Week Ahead in Beer last week, Twisted Chile will be closing its doors in Socorro. After originally listing April 1 as the grand finale, March 25 will now be the end of the line, at least for the current owners. The brewery name, recipes, and food menu are for sale right now, but in a twist, the brewing equipment is actually owned by the property owner.

Yes, Albuquerque Brewing is closed. We have most of the story as to why, but they have asked us to withhold sharing any of it until all the legal issues are cleared up.

We have still not received word as to when Pi Brewing expects to reopen. The repairs to the outer wall, damaged by a car way back on New Year’s Day, have taken a lot longer than anyone expected. Rest assured, though, Pi will be back.

National IPA Challenge update

No brewery in America has ever pulled off back-to-back victories.

There will be no three-peat for Bosque, but other New Mexico IPAs are still in the running.

The National IPA Challenge, put on every year by The Brewing News, is well underway. Two of the four brackets have concluded, Session IPA and Specialty IPA. The latter saw Dialogue Brewing’s Belgium Citrus IPA reach the finals, and even though it lost to 42 North Brewing’s White Oak Borderland IPA, it was still a heck of an accomplishment for a brewery that isn’t even six months old.

As for the big brackets, the sizable New Mexico contingent in each has been whittled down. There are only 16 beers left, with two from our state left in the Imperial IPA bracket and three in the regular IPA bracket.

The last two imperial entries are Bosque’s Moon Cannon and Second Street’s Imperial IPA (both of which are currently available on tap, FYI). Moon Cannon will face Knee Deep’s Lupulin River, while Imperial IPA takes on Two Roads’ Two Juicy. If both advance to the quarterfinals, they will face each other.

As for the main bracket, Bosque’s back-to-back reigning champion Scale Tipper was knocked out in the third round by another hop powerhouse, Fat Heads’ Head Hunter IPA. The survivors from New Mexico are Quarter Celtic’s Clark, La Cumbre’s Project Dank, and Boxing Bear’s Bear Knuckle. If they all advance to the quarterfinals and move on from there, New Mexico could end up with three of the final four. It will not be easy, however, as Clark takes on Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Hopcelot IPA, Project Dank battles Flying Bison’s Buffalo IPA, and Bear Knuckle goes paw-to-toe with Sunriver’s Vicious Mosquito, which knocked out Dialogue’s Centennial IPA back in the second round.

We also got this fun little statistic from Boxing Bear’s David Kim: “Some fun data to show just what NM is doing year after year in this competition. From 2014-2017 NM has had more beers reach the round of 16 (14 beers) than any other state. Oregon is second with 13, California is third with 11, and Ohio is fourth with 7 beers. All other states had no more than 3 beers reach the “sweet 16” of this competition.”

We’ll just go ahead and change the state slogan to “The Land of Hopchantment.”

Sampler tray

  • No news is good news, right? We are still waiting to find out when House Bill 398, the companion piece to the defeated Senate Bill 314, is going to be heard in committee. This legislative session is nearing its end, so plenty of political fireworks remain. Rest assured, the minute we know something, you will, too.
  • For those who say the Crew is too focused on Albuquerque and Santa Fe, we hear you. Look for a story on Farmington’s Three Rivers Brewery in the near future, plus we do intend to hit up lots of other breweries, new and old, in the coming months, from Roosevelt in Portales to Milton’s in Carlsbad to Enchanted Circle in Angel Fire, and as many others as our schedules allow.
  • Word on the street, and social media, has plenty of collaboration brews coming up in the next few weeks and months. Steel Bender has brewed with Canteen and Marble, while Chama River and Nexus have something new coming soon. Marble, in fact, is putting the word out to breweries around town to come brew together at the Northeast Heights location. We would almost think brewmaster Josh Trujillo is bored or something, but at the rate he keeps churning out awesome new seasonals, that can’t possibly be the case.
  • We will have a full preview of La Cumbre’s Cask Ales Festival on Thursday. Also, the early reveal of the Albuquerque Beer Week schedule is almost upon us. It kicks off May 25.

That is all for now, or at least all I can remember. If anyone out there has beer news, notes, and tips to share, contact us via social media or at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, keep supporting local breweries!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Click the category tag above to find all the stories.

The beginning of 2016 was a whirlwind for the local beer scene, as five breweries opened within a span of less than three months. One of these was Starr Brothers, and in the short time that has followed, it has already enjoyed tremendous success.

Starr Brothers began construction in late 2015 on San Antonio Drive, east of Interstate 25, but as happens with most new breweries, progress was a bit delayed. With the completion of the kitchen in January 2016, they were ready to make some money, and the crowds began to flock into what was essentially at first just a restaurant that poured other local beers. In April, they were able to put their own beers on tap, and the crowds kept right on coming in a big way. Opening a brewery on a major street in an under-served Albuquerque east side area worked like gangbusters.

Over a seasonal Don’t Fear the RIPA (red IPA, oh, my, yum), I talked to brewer Rob Whitlock about their first year of operations – their “year in beer” as it were – and some exciting plans for 2017.

First and foremost, Rob wanted to share his and the company’s gratitude to local favorite Boxing Bear for the incredible amount of support and training he received from them. Rob was a home brewer and regular customer of Southwest Grape and Grain next door, as well as, of course, The Bear. He told brewers Justin Hamilton and Dylan Davis about an opportunity to brew on a commercial scale for Starr Brothers, and they immediately took him under their wing (or furry bear arm, I suppose). They also still allow Rob to use their keg washer to wash his kegs.

Rob, a retired journeyman plumber, but not a miracle worker, soon discovered that the 7-barrel system was not large enough for their demand; admittedly, it is a good problem to have. He said it’s difficult just to keep the house beers, including the two favorites Starrstruck IPA and L.A. Woman Blonde, on at all times. He said he would love to have the capacity do more seasonals. The recent Oktoberfest sold out in a mere eight days. There is a Dunkelweizen fermenting now, and Rob said that is their first beer made with a weizen yeast. They hope to have a holiday stout available for Thanksgiving, he added.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

I asked Rob about their strip mall location and if they would ever be able to take over some additional space. Coincidentally, Rob said that as a matter of fact that just happened, and construction just started in the space just to the east of the current brewery area. They are going to be able to increase their capacity by 60 barrels with the addition of four more 15-barrel fermenters. There will also be a new walk-in cooler with four 15-barrel bright tanks.

Starr Brothers participated in a few festivals this year, and was one of the breweries to provide a happy hour at the State Fair. I chose their Motorbrreath Smoked Porter as one of my two growler-fills-to-go at the Alibi on Tap event in September.

In another bit of news for the upcoming year, Starr Brothers had to get their zoning adjusted to get a distributor license. When that license is in place and the production capacity is increased, they will be able to put tap handles at other bars and restaurants. Several establishments have already asked if they can put their beer on tap, Rob said. The owners, John and Heather Starr, are mulling over the idea of an additional location, but there are no firm plans as of the printing of this story.

It has been a fantastic first year for Starr Brothers, and the NMDSBC wishes them continued great success in the upcoming year.

Holiday Cheers (wow, it’s here)!

— AmyO

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Beer festival “season” is in full swing, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and suffer from fest overload. And yet, Albuquerque welcomed another festival to the late summer/fall lineup back on Saturday. The new Alibi on Tap at the Albuquerque Rail Yards featured some new breweries in attendance, so I really didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. Plus, although I know there is much contention surrounding brew fests held at the Rail Yards, I personally love the venue as an event space.

Because we took the noon Rail Runner train from Los Ranchos, we had about four hours of time to kill before the festival started. First, we trekked over to the open house for the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society. This event was conveniently located near Bow & Arrow, so of course we stopped in for a pint. We had one of their seasonal beers, and it was fantastic, perhaps my favorite of all the beers I have tried at Bow & Arrow. It was Bury My Heart Belgian Pale Ale, number four in a four-part pale ale series. This day was already starting off well.

We still had some time before the event, so prior to walking over to the Rail Yards, we headed over to Duel on Central. While enjoying a goblet of Fantin (apparently there was an unintentional Belgian Pale Ale theme for the day), we were approached by a visitor from Las Vegas, Nevada. It was his first trip to Albuquerque and he was in town for a week-long convention at the Hyatt. He asked for advice about things to do nearby. We told him about Alibi on Tap and he seemed interested.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

The weather was absolutely perfect, so there was no overheating (this can be an issue in that space). I enjoyed the reasonable entry fee and the limited amount of sampling tickets with a longer time to sample. The older I get, the more I tend to shy away from the free-for-all mentality at some beer fests. If attendees were so inclined it was possible to purchase additional samples as well as full pints of their favorite beers.

Because it was a new event, and I think perhaps because there are so many festivals this time of year, the crowd was particularly manageable. We arrived near the beginning and did not have to wait in any lines for entry or sampling. I was most interested in sampling the offerings from the two newest vendors, Palmer and Dialogue. It was both surprising and promising that Dialogue was in attendance on their opening weekend.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes after we arrived at the festival, we spotted “Vegas Bill.” We spent our entire remaining time there showing him around the different vendors and explaining the breweries and beers to him. It was actually quite a refreshing experience, because he had no prior knowledge, so there was no, “Them again? Been there, done that” attitude or preconceived notions. We were able to gain new perspective, as well, through his eyes and he really seemed to appreciate the experience. We left feeling quite proud of our stint as unofficial beer ambassadors.

Those of us lucky enough to be part of the first 100 tickets sold received a 32-ounce growler to “fill with your favorite beer.” You did have to purchase the actual beer to fill it, which was not explained in the promos, but it was sold at a reasonable price. If the indicator for our favorites was what we chose for our two growler fills, here were our choices — Pumpkin Pi from Pi Brewing, and Motorbrreath Smoked Porter from Starr Brothers.

Enjoy fest season, everyone! And, please, remember to take advantage of alternative transportation.

Cheers!

— AmyO

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!

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Hello, happy beer lovers!

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

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So many hops, so little time.

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Always good to see a familiar face.

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

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Cheers to that!

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It’s a meeting of directors past and present.

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Ride on, beer lovers!

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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

From left, Thunderr Ale, Starrstruck IPA, Red Zepplin, Lampshade Porter.

From left, Thunderr Ale, Starrstruck IPA, Red Zepplin, Lampshade Porter.

One of the most frequent questions we have gotten this calendar year has been, “When will Starr Brothers get their own beers on tap?” How does today (Friday) sound? At 11 a.m., when the doors open, patrons can order any of the four inaugural beers — Thunderr Ale, Starrstruck IPA, Red Zepplin, Lampshade Porter.

Being the intrepid, well-connected beer writer that I am (or at least think that I am), I asked a while back if there was any chance of some advance pours. Lo and behold, on a ridiculously busy day, was an invite from owner John Starr to come over anytime and try brewer Rob Whitlock’s creations. Figuring that I had to eat dinner somewhere, I walked over to Starr Brothers, found a seat at the bar, and ended up hanging out for quite a while with John, Rob, and a nice young woman named Kate who probably had no idea what she was getting into when she grabbed an open seat next to me. She was a trooper, though, listening to all that rambling beer talk.

Anyway, as for the beers, I thought they were all pretty solid for starting out. Yes, they were properly carbonated, before anyone asks about that. In my haste, I did not bring anything along to write down stats like ABV/IBU, but that should be posted on the cool video menu boards near the bar.

Lampshade Porter: This would almost qualify as a stout at some breweries. Thick, robust, not overly sweet, it’s the kind of porter one can enjoy in the summer or the winter. It would go well with Amon Amarth songs. I figured this beer was probably the closest to being exactly what Rob was aiming for among the quartet.

Red Zepplin: My first few sips had me wondering if Rob had changed from a hop-forward to a malt-forward red ale. Then the beer warmed a bit and wham, there were the hops. It’s not a Marble Red clone, but rather offering up a different mix of fragrant hops that give it a bit of a bite. The malt backbone might need a little more work, but overall it’s a promising start.

Starrstruck IPA: The designated house IPA, it starts off with a piney, Northwestern bite, before a sweet, citrusy finish. It lacked the aroma that Rob said he hoped for, but just about every new brewery always seems to struggle off the bat with getting a proper scent from the dry hopping. IPAs tend to produce the most varied reviews, so I am definitely interested to hear what others think of this one.

Thunderr Ale: This is basically Rob’s baby, the recipe he’s used to win home brewing awards in years past. It’s a big IPA, though not over 8-percent ABV, but the IBU rating is easily in the triple digits. There is some prominent Citra here (the beer ate up nearly half of Rob’s current supply), which combined with the rest of the hop bill should keep most hopheads happy.

There are three more beers that should be available soon to further augment the lineup. Riff Raff Brown, Electric Sun American Wheat, and L.A. Woman Blonde Ale will provide more options for the varied palates of local beer lovers.

As always, these are just my opinion. Please share yours with us, particularly if you have some constructive criticism you want to pass along.

Good luck to Starr Brothers today!

Oh, and the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese goes well with just about any of the beers. Just in case you needed a food suggestion, too.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister