Monday, July 21, 2008

A NM Beer Wins NM IPA Challenge!

The annual NM IPA Challenge was held on Saturday at the Marble Brewery. I'll admit, at first I wasn't as excited for this year's event as I had been for the others. Last year, there were some subpar entries and when I heard that the price was going to be 20 bucks for this year's event, I was about to stay home.

But come on, this is my life we're talking about. Not only do I have to do this for myself, I have a duty to cover events like this for both of you who will read about it here. So we arrived at Marble right about 3:00, and the event was in full swing already. There was one line where you paid and were given a ballot, then another line down the bar where you were given your samples. A few brewers were in the back doing the pouring. This system kept the crowd from bottlenecking, and also must have been nice for the staff. I have seen previous events where the cashier was bumping into the pourers who were bumping into each other. This year everything was more spread out and flowed smoothly.

Was this the reason the samples seemed more generous this year? The sample size was at least four ounces in each cup, which seems like more than I remember in the past events.

Oh, and the price was 15 dollars, not 20 as I had been informed previously. From what I hear, people were complaining about the price increase and the brewers lowered it, but I can't confirm this.

We sat down with one of our regular drinking companions. Sadly, another regular decided he wasn't going to pay 20 bucks this year and boycotted the event. Like last year, there were nine samples to judge. The entrants were the same except Marble Brewery was replacing the Corrales Bistro, which if you remember what Corrales entered last year you will agree that it was a welcome change!
I'll give a quick rundown of the beers based on the notes I took. The first beer was on the dark side of amber, with very little carbonation but decent bitterness. The second was the same color as the first but had a sweetness that I thought overtook the hops but was pretty good. The third was a step above the others, with a good hop smell and bitterness that represented the style. Number four was decent, but it had no smell at all and that hurt it overall. Number five was, well, I don't know what number five was. It wasn't an IPA, that's for sure. It had a funky yeastiness to it that I didn't like. It should have been number seven because of all that yeastiness. As in Monistat. To it's credit, one person at our table thought it was pretty good.

The sixth beer was mildly bitter and had a strange aftertaste that one person likened to "banana pudding". I don't know if this was intentional or was a bacterial result but we all liked the beer. Number seven was a solid IPA, with nice hop smell and proper bitterness. Then we tried number eight. Right away, we could all tell this beer was special. The smell alone put it above the rest. The taste was perfect floral hop balance, bitter but not overpowering, without the need for malt to tame it. We moved on to number 9. There wasn't much in the way of hops; more of a darker malt beer than anything else. This isn't because we tried it after eight either. All of the beers were sampled in order, then resampled back and forth in no particular order. Eight was still first for me, with number three coming in second because it couldn't hold up in repeated tasting against number eight. I would put number seven next in my top three beers of the challenge.
And here are the results, which, by the way, is the reason I am so late in writing about the event. I knew the winner Saturday evening, but no one I talked to up until Tuesday afternoon was able to give me a list of which beers were which.

So here is the actual lineup for the event, followed by my guess of what beer it was at the time of tasting in parenthesis:

1. Turtle Mountain (High Desert) Biggest surprise of the day for me. This tasted nothing like last year's champion beer, which makes me wonder if they didn't brew up something special last year just so they could have bragging rights. Not that that is illegal. Two years ago Chama won with their Dangerous Intentions Pale Ale. I guessed it was High Desert just because I thought it might be a beer that came from far away and didn't travel well.

2. Three Rivers (Il Vicino) I don't know why I thought this was Wet Mountain IPA from Il Vicino. As I said earlier, this was more sweet than bitter, and while Il Vicino has a malt that comes through, it is not as sweet as this beer.

3. Marble Brewery (Marble Brewery). I honestly couldn't tell this at first and had to give in to peer pressure. It wasn't that I didn't believe that it was Marble; it was more like I didn't have that smug "Yup. This is Marble. I should know" reaction that I should have had considering I have had it on tap at my house since May.

4. Second Street (Second Street) Yay. I guessed right for once.

5. Santa Fe (Santa Fe) I remember having their IPA and not liking it. I didn't like this beer. I put two and two together.

6. High Desert (Three Rivers) Well, I knew it wasn't from Albuquerque.

7. Il Vicino (Turtle Mountain) I thought this might be Turtle Mountain because I liked it, and I voted for Turtle Mountain last year. I should have listened to my friend Marcus because he had it pegged as Il Vicino from the moment he tasted it.

8. Chama River (Chama River) While we knew this wasn't Chama's regular IPA, we had all recently had a growler of their March Hare special release, and this smelled and tasted like that. I don't know if that was the exact beer they entered, but we guessed right.

9. Rio Grande (Wellhead) I guessed Wellhead because they were listed as a participant, and they were the one brewery I hadn't guessed yet. It turned out that they weren't there, and Rio Grande was entering for the first time. I actually did say at the time that the beer tasted like Rio Grande's IPA.

The top three in votes:
3. Marble Brewery
2. Turtle Mountain
1. And the winner of the 2008 NM IPA Challenge: Chama River!

Congratulations to Chama for winning two out of the last three challenges. And congratulations to my girlfriend and I on our good taste: We have voted for the the winner four years straight.
I heard some grumbling that Chama didn't enter their regular IPA, but if there isn't a rule saying you have to present your regular offering, why not put out the best IPA you can make? I wish all the breweries would put a special release in the event. Either that or make them all go with their regular IPAs, just so it can be totally fair.
Marble did a great job hosting the event for the first time. It is a lot closer than Turtle Mountain so for that reason alone I hope it can be held there again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just Like the Prodigal Sun, I've Returned

to tell you about Full Sail's Brewmaster's Reserve series. The series is made up of a variety of styles that are released periodically throught the year. So far this year I have seen Imperial IPA, Imperial Porter, Imperial Stout, Nut Brown, and now Prodigal Sun IPA (6.2%). The name is in keeing with thier IPA releases from 2006 and '07, Sunspot and Son of Spot. I don't remember seeing Son of Spot in Albuquerque last year. I had to pick it up in Portland, OR. I'm not a big fan of Full Sail's regular IPA but the Brewmaster's Reserve series has been top-notch beer so far. I'll give this one a shot tonight. Jubilation seems to carry all the beers in the series that are available to us, and they sell for a very reasonable $3.99. I have seen a couple of the releases at Kelly's, including an ESB in the series that went on sale in 2006! But that is another rant, for another time...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not to be Outdone...

by Stone, Sierra Nevada has released their 2008 Anniversary beer. I believe this is the 28th Anniversary, though I don't think they have released a beer every year to commemorate the event. This year's release, like last year's, is an IPA. Like last year, this is 5.9%. The label looks the same too. In fact, when I saw it on the shelves at Trader Joe's, I thought the distributor was trying to dump some old stock. Looking closer, I saw the label on the neck said 2008. I didn't buy any, though. Everything about the beer said to me, "Hey, why spend the $7.49? I'm the exact same beer you had last year! Go home and try something new!" Then I got scared 'cause the beer was talking to me and I ran out of the store.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Stone in Albuquerque

Stone's 12th Anniversary has hit the shelves in Albuquerque's better beer stores! This year's version is a "Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout" that weighs in at 9.2%. I saw it for $6.49 at Kelly's on Wyoming and imagine that is the going price everywhere, as seems to be the case with other Stone seasonals.
Stone decided to do an oatmeal stout rather than an IPA due to the hop shortage. I find this to be an interesting choice due to the timing of the release. I would have expected something more along the lines of a Saison or something more summery, but Stone stayed true to what they know so good for them. People will still be gobbling these things up like Cabbage Patch Kids no matter what the style.
We opened one Saturday night and noticed that it was still hot, which is no surprise since it was just bottled. I couldn't detect chocolate or any noticeable bitterness, just a smooth finish with lots of alcohol. Maybe a little thin on the mouthfeel. A solid offering.
To be honest, I added some Marble IPA about halfway through because I felt like the beer needed some hoppiness. It was even better! Maybe not what the brewer intended, but what's a Stone beer without the hops!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

MORE Beers We Can't Get Here

I know I keep doing this to you, but I just can't help it. I have a few more beers to tell you about that I recently acquired that, no, you can't get in Albuquerque. Unless you come to my house.

Think of this as a guide for you to use when you are traveling to another city. These particular beers, for instance, came from Sun Devil Liquors in Mesa, AZ. That place has an amazing selection, not just of American micros, but a whole room dubbed "The Iron Curtain" dedicated just to Eastern European beers. They carry many brands that we can't get here in Albuquerque. Check it out if you are ever in the area.

You may have heard of DogfishHead 90 Minute IPA before. It has garnished much hype in national publications such as Esquire, in which 90 Min. was named the "Best Beer in America". I don't know about that, but I do think it is the best product to ever come out of Delaware. I used to think it was Grotto's Pizza, but that was when I was a teenager and I hadn't tried beer yet. 90 Minute is a malt-forward beer that is quite smooth for a double IPA. This is not a West Coast style IPA by any means, but almost reminds me of a barleywine. Then again, the bolling date was 3/18, so it has been around long enough that the hops may have dissipated some. At 9%, the malt tastes sweeter as the beer warms up, so I like to drink this one cold.

Another DogfishHead beer, this one a summer release: Aprihop, a hybrid apricot ale/IPA. Now there's an interesting combo. There are a few companies out there offering apricot flavored beers, such as Pyramid, Kennebunkport, and most notably Magic Hat and their super-popular #9. Well, it is super-popular back east. Once they take over Pyramid, we may see it out here. Aprihop is the first hoppy apricot beer I have come across, and it is no surprise that DogfishHead is the one to merge the styles. Name another brewery that makes a beer with ingredients from each continent!

Left Coast Brewing is the bottling line of the Oggi's Brewpub chain out of San Diego. This here is the only one I have ever obtained, the 9.4% Left Coast Hop Juice Double IPA. I love the name and the label, but the beer was missing something- most notably hops. I think time was working on this before I got to it, I'm afraid. Otherwise they should have called it Malt-O-Meal. I'll try to get some on tap one day and let you know if there is a major difference.

Keeping in the San Diego region and the pizza/brewpub chain motif we have Port Brewing's Hop 15 Double IPA. Port Brewing was born from the Pizza Port brewpubs in San Diego. They made such great beers that the demand built them up so much that they now have the Port Brewing line along with a whole Belgian style line under the Lost Abbey name.

Hop 15 is so named for the 15 different types of hops used in the brewing process. That's a whole lotta hop love! Although with the way hop prices have risen, if I were the brewer I might try to add two or three less hops and see if anyone notices. This is one of my favorite double IPAs out there. At 10%, you'd think the alcohol would hurt the drinkability but not at all. The hops are way forward here, with the malt coming along just to add some alcohol. Get this one if you can!
What, that wasn't hoppy enough for you? Ok , how about a "Triple Hoppy" Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial IPA! This was the gold medal winner at the 2007 Great American Beer Fest, and it may be the most bitter beer I have ever had. In fact, I don't want to drink the whole thing by myself. Don't get me wrong; I like it, but it is hard to get down a whole 22 oz. It's not the 9.2% alcohol, but the constant pounding my tastebuds are taking from the massive onslaught of hops! I know that must sound blasphemous from someone who considers himself such a hophead, but I'm a pussy.

Our final beer is another Southern California native: AleSmith Brewing's Speedway Stout. How delicious does a 12% stout brewed with coffee beans sound to you? Alright, I'll ask you again when it isn't 90 degrees outside. Even now, I'm surpressing the urge to take a swig out of the 25.9 oz bottle. This goodness doesn't come cheap; at $11.49 each, I could only allow myself one bottle. I think I am going to open it on the night of the first snowstorm this winter.

There is a whole world of beers out there waiting for New Mexicans to discover. Now get on the road and start drinking!

New Mexico IPA Challenge Coming Up

Just a reminder to all you IPA lovers: the NM IPA Challenge will be held at Marble Brewery on July 19 from 3-8 pm. Cost is 20 bucks and includes tasters from all the participating breweries. You also get a commemorative glass filled with your choice of IPA from the challenge. If you ask nicely, maybe they will give you a mix of all the beers. I doubt it, though.
Last year Turtle Mountain won on their home turf. Can Marble do the same?
Be prepared for lots of crowds, as this falls on a Saturday. Previous challenges were on weekdays and were very crowded, so I can only imagine what this will be like.
I will be there but am going to see Andrew Dice Clay that night so I can't drink too much- and that's ok. Last year I kind of did myself in after accepting a second tray from a friend who was there more for the experience than the IPAs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

4th of JulIPA Challenge Results

Sometime last Summer a few close friends and I threw together a blind IPA tasting with about four or five different beers. We enjoyed trying the different beers and guessing what we thought they were. All agreed that we should do it again, and soon.

Soon is a relative term in our busy world- ok, your busy world. If you have a blog, you can not consider yourself busy. A year had passed and we still hadn't had a repeat of our tasting. A few weeks ago talks of a new tasting came up. Ideas were thrown around, and I thought about the upcoming holiday. What would be more patriotic than a party saluting the India Pale Ale? Well, just about anything, but next thing you know, the inaugural 4th of JulIPA Challenge was born!

We decided to go big with a field of ten different IPAs, chosen mostly on the criteria that it was an IPA and it was available at the store. Everyone invited put in money and I picked up the beer. The logistics of putting on a blind challenge turned out to bit a bit daunting, especially when I had to work the morning of the challenge, but my lovely girlfriend came through. She took on the task of paper bagging all the individual beers and then finding room for them in the fridge. That's a pain in the ass job, and for once I can say I was glad to be at work. When I came home my task was to come up with an order for the beers, number them all and pop the caps.

The beers and their tasting order are as follows: 1. Lost Coast Indica Pale Ale, 2. Stone IPA, 3. Avery IPA, 4. Boulder Mojo IPA, 5. Stone Ruination DIPA, 6. Deschutes Inversion IPA, 7. Odell's IPA, 8. Great Divide Titan IPA, 9. Marble Brewery's IPA, 10. Green Flash West Coast IPA.
All of these beers are available locally, with the exception of Green Flash. I thought It'd be nice to throw in a beer that you can't just run out and buy- unless you run really, really far. Marble isn't available in bottles to the public yet but you have to represent the locals. Each participant was given a score sheet which had criteria for appearance (out of 5), bouquet (out of 5), and flavor (out of 10). There was also, for better or worse, space for comments on each beer.
Comments varied for the different beers. One person was descriptive of the Inversion IPA, saying, "Nice honey and molasses bouquet", while another described it as "Yumsies".
Odell's ranged from a heart shape drawing to "Apple/kiwi, smooth finish with some bitterness" to, simply, "feet".
"Too bitter, dude! Ungodly!" was one man's take on Green Flash.
And the beer might have been getting to this girl, who described Stone IPA as "None smell but tasty".

When the participants had finished all of their tasters, which, by the way, were a healthy 4 oz., as opposed to the 2 oz. ones you get at most events, I tallied all the numbers. And while I didn't take part in the event, I did have a few beers along the way, so it took me a few tries to get the numbers right.

When I was sure I had the correct figures, the announcement was made, from last to first:
10. Stone IPA, 90 pts. That was a surprise to many people. I've always thought that Stone is a little light in every facet for such a highly regarded IPA, and it shows when tasted blindly.
9. Great Divide Titan IPA, 99 pts. I think the problem with this beer is the malt presence. Doesn't taste as clean as it could.
8. Boulder Mojo IPA, 101 pts. I thought Mojo would have fared better. It was my everyday IPA for awhile.
7. Deschutes Inversion IPA, 102 pts. One taster thought this beer may have been old. I think its just not great.
6. Avery IPA, 103 pts. This placed where I thought it should have. It is a nice IPA, but not at the top.
5. Lost Coast Indica IPA, 107 pts. This beer flys under the radar for a lot of people, but got some good feedback at the challenge.
4. Green Flash West Coast IPA, 112 pts. I've said before that this is one of my favorites, and was popular here. Some thought it was too bitter.
3. Stone Ruination IPA, 113 pts. Last year's champ eeked out third here. A solid beer that doesn't disappoint.
2. Marble Brewery IPA, 119 pts. Local boy does good. People loved the Centennial hop that came out in the smell and the overall flavor. Great beer.
1. And the Champion of the Inaugural 4th of JulIPA Challenge: Odell Brewing IPA, 126.5 pts. Just about everyone thought this was the standout beer. It may not have the bite that some others have, but the overall drinkability and great finish put this at the top.
That's the trifecta for Odell IPA: Gold at the Great American Beer Fest, gold at the World Beer Cup, and first place at our challenge. They should be proud!

Thanks to all who came out for the event. I had a great time and hope you did too. Let's do it again next year!