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Back on top: Boxing Bear takes first place in Brewers Guild IPA Challenge

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. assistant brewer Dylan Davis, left, and head brewer and co-owner Justin Hamilton celebrate their win at the 2019 New Mexico Brewers Guild IPA Challenge. (Courtesy of Boxing Bear Brewing Co.)

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. clawed its way to the top to take the grand title of best IPA in the state during the 2019 New Mexico Brewers Guild IPA Challenge.

Winning is not something new to Boxing Bear. Its aggressively bitter Bear Knuckle IPA won the challenge in 2016 and 2017. The trophy was snatched away by Blue Corn Brewery in 2018. Boxing Bear entered its AlbuMurky, a hazy IPA, that year. But the bear is back on top with its winning Bear Knuckle V2 IPA.

“We came in second with (AlbuMurky) for 2018, so we reevaluated the Albuquerque market and what IPA drinkers were kind of looking for and we actually shot right down the middle as far as somewhere in between our old Bear Knuckle and the AlbuMurky,” said Boxing Bear head brewer and co-owner Justin Hamilton. “It was almost a middle-of-the-road transition beer which we kind of put together and decided to see. The first time we brewed it was for this IPA Challenge. So this beer we actually called it Bear Knuckle 2 or Bear Knuckle Version 2. Once we tried the beer and realized it had a good aroma and flavor to it and it was really drinkable, we had good hopes for it.”

Bear Knuckle V2 is a recipe for success. It received the top vote in each round of the IPA Challenge in Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Boxing Bear received 102 votes. Bosque Brewing Co. came in second, with 72 votes, and Ex Novo placed third, with 67 votes. There were 45 entries, which were narrowed down to 15 during the elimination round by representatives of each participating brewery.

Bear Knuckle V2 IPA has nice flavor components, with aromas of grapefruit and pine, according to Hamilton.

“(It’s) not necessarily a balanced beer but more of a balance between malts and hops and kind of a balance between aroma, flavor and also the look and feel of it,” Hamilton said. “It had the look of a West Coast IPA that was not like the hazy IPAs where they’re really milky and opaque. This is more of a clear beer with a little bit of a caramel color to it, so it had more of an appearance of a traditional IPA but going toward more of the flavor of what people are getting into now, which are the hazy IPA, so it’s kind of a combination of the two styles.”

By creating an IPA that appeals to New Mexico palates, local breweries may be creating the state’s own version of IPA.

“It’s kind of becoming our own style of IPA, where it’s not West Coast, it’s not New England, it’s stuff that’s being brewed right here, and it’s tasting better than anything in the country because it is unique,” Hamilton said. “We have unique palates, being that New Mexico has always seemed to be an IPA kind of town with craft beer. Some people have chalked it up to New Mexico has a very exquisite and esoteric palate being that we enjoy lots of spicy food and New Mexican food tends to have full flavor. So when it comes to beer, people are on the same level here, where they want that little bit of intensity, that little bit of aroma, flavor, all those going together.”

Boxing Bear put its Bear Knuckle V2 IPA on tap for people who did not attend the IPA Challenge or just want to continue to enjoy it until it runs out. There are plans to do a small canning run the first week of September. Another new offering is the Strawberry Basil Saison, made in collaboration with Canteen Brewhouse. It will be on tap at all of the breweries’ locations. The saison is an entry in the collaboration beer category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 3-5 in Denver. Boxing Bear is also entering its Uppercut IPA; Chocolate Milk Stout, which won silver in 2015; Featherweight Session IPA, which won bronze in 2017; and Pineapple Upside Down beer.

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