Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Post IPA Challenge Rambling

A few thoughts on recent beer events:

So, Boxing Bear won the IPA Challenge. And they deserved it. Not sure if Justin Hamilton replicated the 5,000 hop IPA from the previous challenge, but whatever he did, it worked. I blindly chose it at both the Rio Bravo event and the final at Tractor. There were some contenders, to be sure, but Boxing Bear's was above the rest. Good for them- partner Kevin Davis was always happy to help with homebrew problems while running Southwest Grape and Grain, and Brewmaster/co-owner Justin Hamilton is well-liked by the other brewers.
I don't get some of the internet chatter of a few saying this year was an overall sub-par collection of IPAs. I think it was a solid field and three or more could have won- though I was surprised to see Three Rivers near the top. I don't recall their IPA standing out, but I'm glad they placed near the top. Parity.
Tractor needs to turn up the AC when hosting that many people. I felt like I was in a Baptist church in the old south. And the sweaty look doesn't go well with being on TV. Yeah, there was indeed local news coverage of the challenge. Looks like we made it, as Barry would sing. And "being on TV" for me means seeing the back of my head, so only the gang over at the truck stop would have recognized me.
A well-run event overall, even if Castro did call during President Gozigian's speech, asking him to wrap it up already.

Heimat House has closed. German food is a tough sell in this town, even if you have the best German beer menu in the state. If it's not sushi, Vietnamese, or a chain restaurant, it's going to be quite the battle to get customers- unless, maybe, you take that schnitzel, smother it in red and green chile and a ton of cheese and serve it with dried up rice and bland refried beans. That seems to work everywhere. And on the chain restaurant note, anyone catch the piece in the Sunday Journal about things Albuquerque needs? Apparently, Ruby Tuesday is one of them. Yes, the lackluster chain that stands out from other chains because it has a salad bar. Hopefully you're reading this on your phone and shaking your head...while waiting for a table at the Cheesecake Factory.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Firestone Walker is Here. Oh Good.

Everyone excited for Firestone Walker's release in New Mexico today? I bet. Someone asked me the other day if I was excited about FW moving into town. Well, as you can imagine, Mr. Excitement has mixed feelings about the whole thing...
For starters, yeah, FW does have a great portfolio of beers. Union Jack, a multiple GABF Gold winner, is a classic IPA. Easy Jack Session IPA is the best of the style. Their barrel-aged beers are legendary (Parabola, Sucaba, etc.). So without trying to piss on everything (since it comes naturally), here are my concerns:

I'll miss the chase.
Traveling for beer has been one of the things that actually does excite me, and FW was always one of the brands I looked forward to drinking while on out of state excursions. So being able to walk into Jubilation for a sixer or Nob Hill for a pint does take away some of the fun of drinking Firestone Walker beer. Same thing happened with Founders, same thing happened with Ballast Point (I like the way all those colorful can boxes look together on store shelves, but I'm not spending $14 on a six-pack of it. Not with FW in town). And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way- show up at the next bottle share with an out-of-town IPA and you will feel appreciated. Show up with an Anderson Valley Hop Ottin or other locally-available shelf IPA, and I'll personally escort you to the door.

Also, there is the freshness issue to consider. Will we, as a still small craft community with a slew of great local beers, be able to support the buying of one brand enough to ensure a flow of the freshest of that national brand, such as FW? I've had a hard time finding fresh FW in Chicago, which can be understood considering that even though the beer geeks make up a higher percentage of the population than your average city, there are many more brands available than here. More great choices, more likely you'll find some beers sitting around longer. Plus, the distance from the brewery has to be considered. However, I have also had trouble finding fresh FW while in L.A., and that's not so far from Paso Robles. So, let's hope the local distributor has a plan to keep the freshest hoppy offerings from FW in stock. That 9.5% Double Jack DIPA can fall off quickly.

I doubt we're going to have a chance to find fresher Firestone Walker than tonight, at the release party at Nob Hill Bar and Grill. Starting at 6, you can try 15 or so of the finest FW offerings, including Stivo Pils (collaboration with Russian River), 19th Anniversary, Bretta Weisse, Parabola Wookey Jack, all the other Jacks, Pivo, DBA, and so on. Tomorrow, Jubilation will be hosting a tasting event for the packaged beers, and will pour DBA, PAle 31, Easy Jack, Union Jack, Pivo Pils, and Luponic Distortion #2 from 4-6.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

NM IPA Challenge: Only the Strong and Smoked Survive

With the first round of the NM IPA Challenge being an elimination round, one thing was certain: there were sure to be a number of bad beers. In the past, this was certainly true, even when there were only 14 breweries total to judge, let alone 28. But many NM breweries stepped up to the point that there weren't any "immediately spit the beer onto the floor" IPAs. So there's that.
Rio Bravo welcomed a full house of lupulin-crazed drinkers, including a man donning a pretzel necklace to help fuel him through the 28 oz. of beers he was served. The Rio Bravo space proved to have the perfect combination of factors to make for a successful event: plenty of seating and five minutes or less from my house. And the NM Brewers Guild people have been doing this for so long, there were no hitches when it came to getting the beers, aside from a lot of foam. Someday, someone will perfect the jockey box. Maybe Tesla. Or Kia.
The beers were divided into two trays of 14 beers apiece, so if you came with a friend, you might have gotten a taste of all 28. I talked to a few people who had tried both, and the consensus was that the tray with 1-14 had the better IPAs. I felt that way as well- in fact, I believe that directly contributed to Quarter Celtic's 24 votes. They were the standout beer from that group, but I don't know that they would have fared as well in tray 1. Newbie Starr Bros. was second in tray 2 with 17 votes, as they showed up with a respectable offering. Local favorite and reigning champ Bosque Brewing was third with 13, but I can't say their beer stood out at the time. Same with Marble, who only ended up with 6 votes. Santa Fe's newest IPA was entered but only got 3 votes. Should have saved some of that Western Bloc for the challenge! The real surprise in tray 2 was Chili Line out of Santa Fe, who brought a smoked IPA. Flavored or gimmick IPAs usually don't fare well in the Challenge (Eske's, anyone?), but Chili Line's smoked IPA got 10 votes and will go on to the finals. I could get all BJCP about the style guidelines for IPAs and how dare they enter this but who really cares? People liked it enough to vote for it.
Tray 1 started strong from the beginning, with La Cumbre in slot 1, and they gained 13 votes. That tied with tray 1 surprise Taos Mesa, who I had as a close second in my final decision. I ended up going with top vote getter Boxing Bear, who came away with 33 votes. They may be hard to beat this year. Stalwart Canteen (albeit with Zach in charge of brewing for the first time) tied for the lead with 33. A disappointment this year was Chama River. The beer tasted a little off, something I haven't encountered when trying beers at the brewpub.
A good experience overall, and a great job by the Rio Bravo staff checking on everyone and clearing tables. The two rounds outside of Albuquerque always bring out surprise votes (are Farmington palates that much different? Yes.), so you never know who will be near the top come July 23. See you then at Tractor for the finals!

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Guy Walks Into a Liquor Store...

And walks out with a growler! In other areas, this may not warrant the excitement that goes along with a !, but here in New Mexico, we haven't had that luxury like they have in other states. But new legislation passed allows New Mexico liquor stores to set up growler fill stations, much like ones you may have seen in other states. And it's about time, considering that four years ago I was choosing which beer to fill up a growler with at a damn Piggly Wiggly in a podunk town in South Carolina. And the time I was driving through Alabama 15 years ago and found a convenience store where people were filling up empty gallon milk containers at a set of taps. To be fair, the first time I ever encountered a self-checkout at a supermarket was at a Winn Dixie in Alabama, so maybe they're more ahead of the curve than I'd expect to give them credit for. And the place in the photo is the Charleston Beer Exchange, which has also offered growler fills for years in a state with a more religious anti-drink slant than NM. But let's be happy we've finally got the legislation passed through, and will have many more choices when it comes to take-home draft beer in this town. Expect to see rapid changes at your local retailer- Jubilation's Adam Auden tells me they are in the process of setting up an 8-tap growler fill station, and says, "We'll be focusing on non-local beers not available in package, but I will rotate some local draught only stuff through from time to time". And that makes sense, considering that you can hit up your local brewery for whatever fill you need of theirs. So can you imagine the day when you walk in Jubilation, or Kelly's, or Smith's, and walk out with a growler of Parabola? Dreams really can come true in New Mexico!