Boxing Bear Brewing wins 2021 IPA Challenge - Albuquerque Journal

Boxing Bear Brewing wins 2021 IPA Challenge

The Boxing Bear brewing crew celebrates their 2021 New Mexico Brewers Guild IPA Challenge victory. From left is Dylan Davis, Guild executive director Leah Black, Boxing Bear head of brewing Justin Hamilton and Jay Knigge. (Courtesy of Jake Gutiérrez)

Boxing Bear Brewing is king.

Beating out a crowded field of hazy IPAs, their West Coast Bear Knuckle IPA was crowned champion of New Mexico Brewers Guild’s 2021 IPA Challenge.

The winner was named Saturday, Nov. 20, at Boxing Bear’s Firestone Taproom after a final round of public voting. This is the fourth time Boxing Bear has won in six years.

There was some speculation about whether a West Coast IPA, which put New Mexico on the map in the craft beer industry, would take first place, with more than half of the entries being hazy IPAs.

“It could have gone either way,” said Justin Hamilton, head of brewing operations for Boxing Bear. “It was crazy. But it’s (Bear Knuckle) a great beer.

Attendees who purchased a ticket were given samples of the 16 beers that made it to the finals and asked to vote for their favorite. Location seemed to play a big role in the public’s favorite beers. Breweries in Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Albuquerque also hosted public voting rounds.

Boxing Bear collected a total of 34 votes Saturday in Albuquerque compared to its single vote in the first round earlier this month at Icebox Brewing in Las Cruces. The crowed erupted into cheers when Boxing Bear totals were read, knowing that probably meant the brewery was going to come out on top.

Nearly 200 people came out to Boxing Bear’s Firestone Taproom on Nov. 20 to vote in the final round of the IPA Challenge. In the background, staff pour the beer samples. (Elaine D. Briseño/Journal)

There was some surprise when Boxing Bear got only one vote in Las Cruces, since the brewery is well-known and praised for its IPA. Hamilton said he attributes the low showing in Las Cruces to a younger, mostly college-age crowd new to drinking craft beers that hasn’t quite warmed up to the hoppier styles of IPAs. He said the win reaffirms to him that people still prefer a clear, bitter IPA.

The event made a public return after an at-home competition in 2020. People seemed eager to get out and sample the beers in public. All three spaces at Boxing Bear – the taproom, the front patio and the garage – were bustling on Saturday. Leah Black, executive director of the guild, said they sold more than 170 tickets for the Albuquerque event. She also noted that they had their largest turnout ever at the Las Cruces event Nov. 10.

It’s the largest annual fundraiser for the New Mexico Brewers Guild, which advocates for breweries across New Mexico.

Rounding out the top four were Nexus Brewery in second place, with a hazy; Three Rivers Brewing in third, with a West Coast; and Icebox in fourth place with a hazy.

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