Everything is coming up hop flowers in the world of craft beer in 2011. Bubbling up from less than 100 breweries in 1980 to an all-time high of 1,716 before the year began, 2011 is poised to be the year craft brands finally overtake the old big three: Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors (now AmBev and MillerCoors). Overall beer sales fell by 1 percent in 2010 while craft sales jumped 11 percent.
The Year in Beer
Using a homebrewing setup on a much larger scale, brewers at Burque’s Bad Ass make a splash from the names of the beers alone—Girly Drink Ale, European Whore and In the Bush are on the tap list. The brewery finds that sweet and fruity beers are popular, so strawberry, raspberry and blueberry beers become regulars. The Northeast Heights may have just one brewery, but thankfully there are plenty of dentists.
The conglomerate of brewing giants that is AmBev shocks the craft beer world by using $38.8 million in pocket change to buy out Chicago’s craft legend Goose Island Brewpub. Following the sale, displaced Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall causes a stir by drunkenly urinating in two glasses at a Chicago bar. Industry insiders shrug off the gesture as someone trying to replicate the Budweiser brewing process.
Fiercely loyal fans of Il Vicino’s tap room rejoice with the opening of the new I.V.B. Canteen just blocks away from the original Midtown site.
As if taking up most of the floor space in liquor stores with Arrogant Bastard Ale isn’t enough, Stone Brewing announces it’s moving into the hotel business. The Escondido, Calif. brewery has become such a destination for beer enthusiasts that it decides to build a 50-room hotel across the street from its sprawling Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens.
The opening of Nexus Brewery in Albuquerque comes curiously without any Nexus-made beers, relying instead on guest taps. It turns out the food is so popular, people barely miss the beer. Once they get their own drafts pouring, Nexus becomes a destination for beer lovers and foodies alike.
The New Mexico IPA Challenge expands from three sessions to four. The annual contest judges who makes the most popular IPA in the state. Il Vicino dominated the event in 2009 with its IPL (India Pale Lager) and 2010 with its Exodus IPA. But 2011 stands to be the toughest challenge yet, with 16 quality IPAs evaluated by an increasingly beer-savvy public. After 600 votes from the sessions are tallied, Il Vicino takes the top spot for the third year in a row, once again for its Citra-hopped Exodus IPA.
Once considered a brewery with one foot in the grave, Tractor Brewing is rejuvenated. In the last 12 months, the Los Lunas favorite has introduced a new brewer, new recipes and a tap room in Nob Hill. Spoiled area residents have another drinking spot less than a block from their homes.
Highs and lows in the Albuquerque beer scene this month. Though craft beer has become darling enough to earn a feature in the New Yorker, the business does not equal success for all breweries. Figures from the Brewers Association show that while 55 new brewpubs opened in 2010, 33 brewpubs have since closed their doors for good. Sadly, our own Hallenbrick Brewery serves its last beer in September. Its mix of house-brewed beers and guest taps from other New Mexico breweries will be missed.
On a happier note, Albuquerque breweries rule this year’s Great American Beer Festival, bringing home four medals. La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA takes the gold in the prestigious American-Style India Pale Ale category—far and away the most hotly contested with 176 entries this year. La Cumbre also wins the gold in the American/
Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Mich., turns the beer world on its head by releasing a bottled version of its Canadian Breakfast Stout, a Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout with maple syrup. Though the 12,000-bottle release is considered fairly large by “rare” beer standards, traders are offering up appendages and family members for one taste. Twenty-two-ounce bottles on eBay are selling for more than $100 each, making many drinkers swear off craft beer for cheaper hobbies, like yachting.
Representatives from 505 stalwart Marble go to China, where they oversee the assembly of a new 30-barrel brewing system that will allow larger batches and more specialty beers. Look for Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout and Marble Reserve to be released in the upcoming months.
Nexus has heard the people, and they are hungry. Nexus is opening its doors to the lunchtime crowd Friday through Sunday. The syrup (over copious amounts of chicken and waffles) is flowing like beer.
Turtle Mountain is adding a few hundred feet to its patio. The brewers also plan to introduce an X IPA series, which will consist of three to six IPAs and different hop varieties.
Chama River has some big, big beers coming out in the form of a Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale and a Triple IPA. Likewise, Il Vicino has a slew of new brews waiting to be tapped: Look for a Porter, Munich Dunkel and a Pumpkin Ale.
La Cumbre will celebrate its first birthday in December with an Anniversary IPA, as well as a Barleywine and a Dunkel. Their beers are now offered at 18 establishments in the Albuquerque area.
Keep an eye out for the opening of yet another brewery—Boar’s Nest, which should be operating before year’s end on Princeton, stumbling distance from Il Vicino Canteen. Boar’s Nest will feature classic-rock-themed beers War Pigs Imperial Russian Stout, Crazy Train Strong Ale and Thunderstruck DIPA. Get those lighters in the air!
Finally, Goat Head Brewing is still looking for a good home. For now, Burque beer lovers will just have to be content with sample teases of their big beers like The Maple’s Shade Imperial Stout and Turtle Tongue Double Pumpkin Ale at local brew fests.