Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Beers- Ain't She a Butte?

Sorry, I know I haven't posted in a few days. But I'm back, with new and exciting beers to tell you about!

Deschutes has released Black Butte XXI, a bigger, barrel-aged version of their Black Butte Porter. Not only is this 11% beer aged in Stranahan Whiskey barrels, it is also blended with cocoa nibs and over 1,000 pounds of coffee. Remind me to drink this beer in the morning. It is said to have much more of a pronounced coffee flavor than last year's version, which I believe I drank too early. This beer needs some time to mellow out, as the alcohol is very hot when drunk fresh. In fact, the bottle has a "Best After" date rather than a "Best Before" date. Mine says best after 10/17/10. Geez. I paid $11.99 to be put on a waiting list.

We all know that "new" is a relative term when referring to a beer released in Albuquerque. Stone's Cali-Belgique IPA was introduced in August 2008, and has finally made the trek across two states to us! This beer uses what is basically Stone's IPA recipe, using the same Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops (though Chinook is used for dry-hopping in the Belgian version). The alcohol % and even the IBUs are the same (6.9, 77). The wildcard is the use of the Belgian yeast strain, giving that funkiness to the beer that is so often a characteristic of a Belgian beer. The $8.49 price tag is also more in line with a Belgian beer than Stone's normal bottle prices. Even the 11% Russian Imperial Stout or 10% Double Bastard never sold for over $6.49. Must be that fancy imported stuff driving up the price!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

THIS is Why We Live in New Mexico

Mild Winters, check. Low traffic, check. Incredible views, check. Thirteen amazing IPAs, all brewed right in our backyard (I know, at the fifth biggest state that's a heck of a backyard, but Homeland Security gave us a big fence), check, check, and checkmate! Every year, the New Mexico Brewers Guild holds what Jenn refers to as her favorite holiday, The New Mexico IPA Challenge, where brewers from around the state bring their best IPAs to compete in a blind tasting. The 2009 New Mexico Challenge was, as all the challenges have been up to this point, wildly successful, but also bittersweet because this was the last event held at Il Vicino's brewing facility. Also bittersweet from my own point of view was the fact that Jenn and I had to get a ride from my mom to the event. My friends were all being responsible drinkers and were riding their bikes to the challenge. We could have done the same, but the thought of an uphill climb all the way home convinced me to bite the bullet and call mommy.

So we were the first to arrive at 11:30, unless you count Joe S. Sausage, the man who kept everyone fed all day. I was waiting for him to pass out from the combination of the heat of the day and the heat of the grill, but he was like a machine. We arrived so early because I had heard there weren't going to be tents set up in the parking lot as was originally planned. I wanted to be sure to stake out a good spot, as I had visions of me and everyone else standing elbow to elbow while holding a tray full of beer, trying to figure how to hold the tray with one hand and drink with the other. Luckily, the guys had tables set up throughout the brewery. Considering the heat outside, maybe we should have pulled up a keg indoors. Others rolled in soon afterwards, and were situated closer to the entrance. So we were not first in the door, which left me looking like a little kid who has to pee really bad. I was hopping from one foot to the other, impatiently waiting for my tray of hops. That's why the picture is kind of blurry. Hopping for hops.

Back at the table with our trays, I had to take a minute just to gaze at the glory of what I was about to imbibe. Also to say a silent thanks to beer #4, which poured foamy and allowed me to have an almost full glass. I prayed that it would be a good one. And so we started! Since this was a blind tasting, I had no preconceptions of any of the beers. Blind tastings are the best way to challenge the idea of what beers are the best, since we all have our favorite breweries and tend to lean towards those. Would we see any surprises today?

While I took my first sips of the challenge, pretty boy Dave Bradley was busy modeling his shirt inside the brewery. Wavy Davy always attracts a crowd; unfortunately for him, the crowd is always all men. Nonetheless, I knew he would be the perfect guy to be promoting the site, and he introduced me to many cool people throughout the day. But back to the beer. I am checking my chicken-scratch left handed writing for anything interesting in my notes. I just wrote a few words about each beer. Sorry to any breweries whose beer I don't say the nicest things about. I don't like to review so much as I do promote, especially when it comes to our home breweries. But it is a competition, so...

I took small sips of all the beers initially, then came back for a few more tries to see if things changed since my first impression. Beer 1- ok, tastes kind of old at first, but gets better as it warms. Beer 2- smells GREAT, same for taste, lighter finish. Is this March Hare? Beer 3- Don't love, not much in the smell dept., dark. Beer 4- dark in color, very drinkable! Beer 5- Little sweet, but hoppy too; good. Beer 6- Lower hop taste, not bad. Beer 7-Kind of has that English malt smell, but solid IPA.

Beer 8-Smell gets A++, great finish, Marble DIPA maybe? Beer 9- lighter color than most others, very nice smell, like even better second time around, think maybe Il Vicino IPL? Beer 10- Sweeter maltiness at first, but just tasted two really hoppy beers, will try out of order; much better second try, very good IPA. Beer 11- Musty kind of taste and smell initially, but ok overall. Beer 12- this is a good, traditional American IPA, like a lot. Beer 13- something very different about this one, drinkable but not in the IPA sense.

While waiting for the results to be announced, I took a walk inside more than once to escape the heat. The brewery's interior was packed; it was kind of a surreal image to see all those people camped out drinking under the altar of the fermenting tanks. They all looked like they were keeping cool, that's for sure. I looked like I had been drugged and left for dead in Death Valley. The misters were going full blast on the porch, but the winds seemed to somehow be blowing the mist away from the porch, no matter where you stood. If it wasn't for the beer, it might even have been uncomfortable. With beer, we overcome.

The hours of anticipation had passed, and MC Jeff Erway stepped up to the mic in his Sunday best to deliver the results of the challenge (and a special thanks to him for plugging the site during his speech). Here are the final results, with the first number being the final placing, and the second number being the beer's cup number in the Albuquerque part of the challenge.
13. (13) Eske's
11. (3) (Tie) Socorro Springs
11. (1)(Tie) Second Street
10. (6) Rio Grande
9. (11) Santa Fe
8. (4) High Desert
7. (5) Turtle Mountain
6. (7) Three Rivers
5. (9) Marble
4. (12) Blue Corn II
3. (10) Hallenbrick
2. (2) Chama River
It was extremely close, with the final two being separated by only seven votes! So the winner of the 2009 New Mexico IPA Challenge is...

Il Vicino, with their IPL (India Pale Lager)! I had totally guessed this one wrong, as I didn't think a lager could stand up to all the heavy-hitting IPAs in the group. But I did vote for it, after much deliberation between that and #2 (Chama). Congratulations to Brady, Doug, Jake, Kim and anyone else who works to make Il Vicino successful. And is it just a coincidence that Il Vicino won just days after Brady was interviewed on this very website? What can the power of do for you???

So another IPA Challenge has come and gone, leaving us to struggle though Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all those other minor holidays before this most important of yearly celebrations comes around again. But there will be other fests, with the same great brewers organizing the events, so you are guaranteed a good time. And didn't they do an amazing job this year? Plus they had to clean up after everything was done. Thanks to the NM Brewers Guild for a job very, very well done! Thanks also to everyone who talked the website with me; I will be at all the other events and hope to talk to you again. Please keep reading the site for the latest on everything beer related in Albuquerque!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meet YOUR Local Brewer- Brady McKeown

I thought it would be fun to do a feature every now and then on a different Albuquerque brewer, entitled "Meet YOUR Local Brewer". I emphasize the word "your" because that is what they really are- your resource to great beer, information, and events. These brewers are all local guys, and are dedicated to the craft of well made beer just for you, the Albuquerque beer drinkers with exceptional taste. We all need to support these brewers and their respective businesses to make this a successful beer city!

The first brewer featured in the series is Brady McKeown, Brewery Manager of Il Vicino Brewing. Brady, along with fellow Il Vicino brewer Doug Cochran, serves up local favorites Wet Mountain IPA, Slow Down Brown, Pigtail Pilsner, Dougie's Amber, and specialty beers that change weekly and are all served at the Il Vicino tasting room (4000 Vassar NE, just north of Comanche). Though in the heat of preparing for the NM IPA Challenge, which will be hosted by Il Vicino, Brady was kind enough to spare some time for an interview.

So let's start with the standard first question: How did you get your start in brewing?
I was working at the original Il Vicino and going to UNM when they opened the new brewery. After six months or so, the guy who was doing the brewing needed help, and I've never stopped since.
How long ago was that?
Let's see, that was 1995.
Had you had any experience in commercial or homebrewing before that?
(laughs)Nope, learned everything on the job there!
So if there is such a thing, what does a "normal" day at the brewery entail?
Well, we're on a pretty consistent routine, so every day's pretty well organized- though we've already had a fiasco this morning with the new boysenberry beer, though nothing like Marble's problem. And just because one of our employees was there does not mean I was AT ALL connected in any way with that! (Note: apparently Kim, who bartends at the tasting room, was at Marble the night they lost the batch of IPA. I haven't yet proven that Brady was responsible for the incident, though I haven't yet proven that he was not).
So what's your brewing capacity here?
We could probably do, if we brewed seven days a week, about 200 barrels. The business plan is not to bottle, not to push our beers to other restaurants, but to get the beer to our own restaurants. It's a draw to get people to our places. They can't just go to Kelly's, to local bars to get our beers.
So do you like that plan?
I do. I mean, for purely selfish reasons, it is always nice to get the notoriety, to get your name out there, get your beers in bottles. But it's not part of Il Vicino's business plan, and I'm fine with that.
That leads to another question I had- why can you get Wet Mountain IPA in bottles in Colorado and not in NM?
Those were actually bottled at the Il Vicino in Salida, CO. That's no longer an Il Vicino facility; it's now Amicas brewery. And those bottles were never really that great. If you drank it fresh it was ok, but if it sat around it lost a lot. The bottles weren't filtered, and that's fine, but there were a lot of inconsistencies in the beer. They were getting too many comments about how "this beer wasn't the same as the one I had had before". So there are now no more Il Vicino breweries except for this one in New Mexico. Because of the bottling issue, headaches with paperwork and the government, the Il Vicino beers in CO are being contract brewed by Bristol Brewery. So Bristol makes most of the money on the beer, and we get a little just for the use of the name. It's not really worth the cost of distributing the bottles down here.
What's your favorite style to brew?
Any style that I haven't done yet! The IPA we brew every week, so while it's not a boring beer, it's just doing the same routine over and over. It's taking the time to learn something that holds the new things up. Right now there's a lot of Belgian and sour-type stuff going on out there but I can't really change the entire brewery to try and do something funky. Everyone's always out to one-up each other and there are some very good beers out there that I'm not going to one-up, from breweries like Lost Abbey, Russian River, and even Deschutes; everyone's kind of jumping into it. Hard to get beers seems like the biggest new thing.
So are you customer driven in choosing new things to try?
Oh yeah. I mean, I'm out there in the tap room a good amount of time serving beers. I hear the comments firsthand, so why not? I'm always willing to try new things. The whole barrel aging trend- we had a couple barrels, but the time, the work involved on such a small scale wasn't really feasible. So telling the person with the suggestion why it wouldn't really work out to brew 200 gallons, as long as the person actually brewing the beer is telling them why we won't be doing it, works out well and the customer is usually pretty good about understanding the situation. But we try as best we can.
Is it more competition or camaraderie among the local brewers?
For the brewers, it's always been like a brotherhood. We all talk, you know; if I have a problem, I can ask anybody. Once you get into the's not my money, it's the owners', so there's always more of a competition aspect among the owners. But our owners, they don't care so much. I can be talking to Chama, they help us out with ingredients, we help them out. Our owners like that sort of thing. They've been in the restaurant business for a long time, so they've seen a lot of things they don't like, but they like the aspect of the "niceness", I guess you'd call it, between brewers here. Some owners are just that, owners. Their priority is to protect their investment.
As far as competition, how do you feel about brewers entering something other than their "regular" IPA in the annual challenge?
We have been over this and over this, and I guess I'm the bad guy, because one year we had two batches of Wet Mountain to choose from, and one was better, so I sent that one over. I was being razzed that I was trying to cheat, but it wasn't different IPA, just a batch that came out better. But now, most of us, we don't care. This year, there's more talk that, if you're going to serve up a double, how do you serve up the pint if that's their favorite? You have to give them less, with the serving laws, because that's a stronger beer. But then you don't want to advertise that the beer's a double, because people may not vote for that beer just because they won't get a full pint if they vote for it.
So are you just going to stick with the Wet Mountain IPA for the competition?
No, we brewed a different one. The Wet Mountain is a good IPA, but this is like a beer festival to me.brew different things and taste different things. I like Marble IPA, for instance, but if they can brew up something special just for an event, I'm excited to try it. So we're going to enter (CENSORED) in the IPA challenge. (note: sorry, everybody. I'm not allowed to tell!)
Can we talk about the lease issue?
Yep. So, Direct Power and Water, the guys who own the building, sold the business, and the company that they sold it to needs more space. So we're actively looking for a new place to brew.
Will you, upon seeing the success that a place like Marble has had, try to expand your brewery? Not as far as bottling, but seating capacity?
That is the one thing the owners want to do. The current space is too small. It's fun, it helps pay the bills. But the brewery was here for four years before the tasting room existed. That space was originally used for storage. I think one of the owners used to keep the top to his jeep in there. But it wasn't part of the original business plan. When we move, yeah, the seating area will be bigger. But it still won;t be open past 8 pm. It's still a tasting room. The owners don't want it to be the bar environment. They like to put out a good product at a good price to the public, but they don't want the midnight drunk people, the problems with overserving.
Will you be going to the Great American Beer Festival this year?
Yes. Well, Il Vicino will. I may not be going because I have a family wedding at the same time. but that's ok. The only other time I wasn't there we won a medal, so it may be good luck for me not to go! We'll be entering the Rye Pale ale, which was our Malt Madness winner. Also the IPL (India Pale Lager), a sour beer, the Sweet Sanderine Porter (2008 Silver Medal Winner), and our 2006 Imperial Stout in the aged category.
We've got to mention your family a little, especially since your wife had a son recently.
Yes, he was six weeks early, and he was only 3 lbs., 14 oz. He was in the ICU for two weeks, which I was told is actually a short time for babies that small. But there was a scare for awhile there that he wasn't growing fast enough, but you hear different things from different doctors. One said the size and weight should be measured from date of birth, another said that the projected date of birth should be factored in. So it's really a gray area. But he's doing just fine now. My daughter is almost five now, and my wife's doing great.
How long have you been married?
Since May 12th, 2001. She was actually hired as a pastry chef for Scalo, but when she moved here they didn't have a spot for her yet, so she worked at the Il Vicino pizza place, and that's how we met.
Oh, so you wooed her with beer.
No, it wasn't beer...I actually don't know what it was. It wasn't beer; she's not a big drinker, though she does love stouts. She went to the California Culinary Academy and they did a tour of the Anderson Valley Brewery, and I think that's where she got to first try other things out there than the beers you drink in high school.
When you do find a new brewing facility, any idea on how long of a down time there will be during the move?
It really depends. If we find a place that already has everything we need, things will of course go much faster. But the owners are talking about moving from a seven barrel system to a fifteen barrel one, but nothing's decided. Moving's going to be expensive, and it may not be the best economic time to buy new equipment. But if we did that, we could just move in and start brewing, and there would be no downtime!
That sounds like the scenario we would all like! Brady, thanks for your time.
Sure. We'll see everyone on Saturday!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh, The Humanity!

This just in, from an undisclosed source (that would be Deadbolt Dave Bradley, Marble mainstay. Go to Marble, look for a long-haired guy in a tie-dyed shirt working the crowd. That's Dave). Apparently, the source tells me, Marble's fermenter blew this weekend, spilling 837 GALLONS of precious IPA across the brewery floor! While this is indeed a tragedy for the brewery, I know your first thought is, "What does that mean for me? Will I still be able to get my IPA???" At least that was my first thought. Your second thought is probably, "What does the picture have to do with Marble's fermenter?". Look, it's spilled beer. It's the closest thing I could come up with! I think it won't be long until we see a shortage of this popular beer in the area. Marble was already brewing at capacity just to keep up with the demand. This lost batch was in the fermenter, meaning it was the next to be bottled/kegged, so there will be a noticeable delay until the next batch is ready. I'm seeing visions of the old USSR, where people waited in line for hours to get rations of moldy bread. Remember the other local breweries make fantastic alternatives in the meantime, and let's hope Marble recovers soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Find the Hottest Singles in Town!

Er, make that the coldest, at Kelly's Liquors on Coors near Paseo. They have a large selection of single bottles available for mixing your own six-pack, with the "premium" mix priced at $9.99, and the "regular" beers $7.99 (though the $7.99 beers are no slouch). This is a service that is only too welcome for someone like me, who is at the point where the fridge is so full I may need to cut food out of my diet. If there are six different new beers I want to try, I don't have to buy six-packs of each, which allows me to spend more money at the bar. See the logic? Trader Joe's has "Mystery Beer" bags for $6.99 that have 8 random beers in them, which is great if you are new to beer and want to try different styles but I personally don't need a Dos Equis and a Peter's Brand Dutch Pilsner to expand my horizons. Great idea and price if you don't mind a clunker here and there. Kelly's gives you the chance to mix Odell, Stone, Ska, Flying Dog, North Coast, New Belgium, Deschutes, Abita, and lots of others. So the question is: which of these brown-bodied beauties will you be spending the night with?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

13 Years Old? Here Comes the Bad Attitude

Damn teenagers, always skulking around, smoking their Newports and giving off bad attitudes. Plus all the guys wear those super-tight pants these days. What's that all about? I'd rather see a dude walking around in a mesh half-shirt. That's haute fashion.

This rant has a purpose, of course, and that is to celebrate the coming of age of Stone's Anniversary Series. This year's, the 13th, is an Imperial Red Ale which used 4.5 pounds of Chinook, Centennial, and Simcoe hops per barrel, the most ever used in one Stone Beer! This is the most excited I've been for a Stone Anniversary release since the 10th, which is one of my all-time favorites. The beer just arrived in town today, so I haven't tried it yet. Stone says not to wait on drinking this year's version and I think that is good advice: you know that teenagers are just get worse and worse as they get older. Pretty soon you'll see them hanging out at the mall with the malt liquors. Get yours today for $6.49.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 2nd Annual 4th of JulIPA Challenge!

The 4th of JulIPA challenge may be over, but the throbbing headache lingers as a reminder of the great night of IPA tasting and judging.

This was the second year we and many of our best friends did our patriotic duty and rated the best IPAs in the country. Ok, so we don't have access to ALL the IPAs out there (in fact, only one is not available in New Mexico), but this is an Albuquerque beer website, so I wanted to have more of the beers readily available here. And while some of our friends are willing to drink Juarez tap water mixed with grain alcohol in order to get a buzz, they are all big fans of IPAs and were ready to take on the challenge.

The real challenge was getting all the beers into growlers for sampling. The format is a blind tasting, so since only four of the breweries involved had beers available in growlers, I had to get sis-packs of all the others and pour each beer individually into coordinated numbered growlers. Thankfully Jenn was there to help, and our friend Jesse Pedersen helped as well. Too bad they had to put up with me stressing the whole time we were pouring and labeling the growlers. I was seriously going nuts because people were showing up while we were still pouring, and I didn't want anyone seeing what we were pouring. Running out of growlers to house the beers wasn't exactly a blessing either. Idiot me forgot to ask people to bring extra growlers. It worked out, because we had enough for each of the thirteen beers, plus a few for secondary samples. If we ran out,I had bottles on coolers to refill the empty growlers. Everything else was pretty well thought out. The only missing piece was constant participant and close friend Andreas, who had a family emergency to deal with. I made it my personal quest to drink his share in his honor.

Once we got underway, things started to roll more smoothly as more people arrived. Some even traveled from New York City just for the honor of attending the event. It may be possible that they have family here as well, but I'm certain that their first priority was the 4th of JulIPA Challenge. Certain. What else are you going to do on this holiday, watch fireworks?

Of course, some fireworks are more interesting than others, especially when stationed in the right places. Some people can make sparklers look almost fun to play with. You can see at this point, people were well into the tasting. Thirteen IPAs of varying strength can be hard to handle for some people, I guess. Side effects may include flushing, impaired vision, and firecrotch. I thought about keeping the number of IPAs at ten or less, but I just didn't want to exclude any of the beers on my original list.

Oh boy though, maybe I should have kept it short and simple! I know IPAs have the power to magically make you stronger and better looking, but the ability to levitate while hating the rest of the world is new to me. David Blaine can learn something from this particular acrobat. Contrary to this and previous pictures, however, there was some serious IPA tasting going on here. I just didn't want to put in a bunch of pictures of people deeply contemplating their next sips; it starts to look like a wine tasting website. And I don't have the class to hang out with wine snobs.

So when the hop dust had settled, I was faced with the task of adding up the scores. And this wasn't a task I could have done on the 4th- I didn't trust myself with numbers by the end of the night. I'm glad I found my bed without any mishaps. The beers were rated from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Here's the final tally!

13. Boulder Brewing Mojo IPA(2.57)- I was really surprised at this. Mojo, to me, is a very good IPA brewed with Amarillo hops, though a taster commented "leaves my tongue dissatisfied". Sounds like my kisses. I gave it a 4.

12. Mission St. IPA (2.71)- This may be the best deal in town, a $5.99 IPA private labeled for Trader Joe's. I like it for an everyday IPA.

11. Big Sky Brewing Big Sky IPA (2.75)- Another surprise. I think this beer may have fared better if it had just been bottled. I have had it on tap and it is great! We need bottled on dates, brewers! Somehow, one of the tasters got a "pecan crusted salmon taste" out of the beer. I don't think that has anything to do with the age of the beer. Must be drugs talking.

10. Flying Dog Brewing Snake Dog IPA (3.05)- This beer often passes under the radar locally, but I guess there is a good reason for that. "Keep eating hot dog flavored potato chips as they help" may be sound advice when drinking this beer. Thanks to Big Lots for cheap discontinued snacks.

9. Anderson Valley Brewing Hop Ottin' IPA (3.06)- Barely outscored Snake Dog. May be overpriced at $9.99 for what is in the bottle, though it seems one taster was "Too distracted by vodka watermelon" to give it a proper tasting.

8. Great Divide Brewing Titan IPA(3.12)- Their Hercules DIPA may be top notch, but Titan is in the lower tier for regular IPAs. One taster said Titan "Tastes like paint, looks like a sunset". I'll take good taste, thank you.

7. Il Vicino Brewing Wet Mountain IPA(3.43)- A local favorite that didn't get as high a score as I think it deserves. It may have suffered from it's draw in the tasting, being 13th of the beers labeled. I gave it a 4.1.

6. Sierra Nevada Brewing Torpedo Extra IPA(3.44)- I like this beer more when I don't know what it is, apparently. I gave it one of my highest scores of the day, but I didn't know I liked it that much.

5. Odell Brewing IPA (3.50)- Wow. This was last year's winner, but many people thought it was too sweet. "Tastes like the first time I made love" was one taster's comment. did a wine drinker get in here?

4. Turtle Mountain Brewing IPA (3.67)- Thanks to Westsider Kelly Wild for bringing this. I was running out of time and didn't know when I was going to get over there for it. Glad to see this local make a strong showing.

3. Green Flash Brewing West Coast IPA (3.76)- The only beer in the Challenge not available locally, Green Flash makes a great IPA. So great, one Marble local boldly stated "This is Marble. Hope to fuck I am right or I have a new favorite beer". You are wrong.

2. Marble Brewery IPA (3.91)- Marble was incorrectly guessed as many of the different beers this night, perhaps a testament to the impact that the brewery has had on local IPA lovers' minds. I, of course, guessed it right. That's why I'm the AbqBeerGeek. That, and I bought the domain.

And the coveted grand prize of the 2nd Annual 4th of JulIPA Challenge goes to...

1. Chama River Brewing's Jackalope IPA!!!! (4.22)- The tasters were going on and on about how good this IPA was, and my 4.8 score was the highest of the day. "Yahtzee!! Dingdong!!! Hands down the winning IPA!!!" from one taster pretty much sums up the way most of us felt about this beer. Congratulations to the Chama River brewers for making the favorite IPA in the Challenge, and for showing us we don't even have to leave Albuquerque to get the best of the best in this greatest IPA brewing country in the whole world! I'm going to go pick up a keg this week!

A huge thanks to all who attended. You made it so much fun...they should make the 4th of JulIPA an annual holiday!