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!


Andrew said...

what a great event! I picked IL Vicino's IPL as the winner, Chama and Marble tied for my second, and Blue Corn II and Turtle Mountain my tie for third. Good stuff yo!

whochacha said...

i just wish this event could happen in october. none the less, i certainly wish i were there.

Al said...

hmmm... seems like your final rankings differ from those posted at the IV taproom, or at least the email sent out to their email list.

1. Il Vicino (98 votes)
2. Chama (91 votes)
3. Hallenbrick (30 votes)
4. Blue Corn 2 (28 votes)
5. Marble (27 votes)
6. 3 Rivers (26 votes)
7. Turtle Mtn (16 votes)
8. High Desert (15 votes)
9. Santa Fe (9 votes)
10. Rio Grande (8 votes)
11. 2nd St (7 votes)
11. Socorro Springs (7 votes)
13. Eske's (1 vote)

Jus' Sayin'

It was nice to meet you and Jenn. Look forward to seeing you at Hallenbrick!

ABQbeergeek said...

Huh, you're right! I was going by the list that Jeff was reading off of at the time of the announcements, and I was kind of confused by all the numbers. I'm sure the alcohol had nothing to do with my mixup. Thanks for setting me straight. I've made the changes after looking at the email!