1998 Angel Fire Brewers Festival

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After a snowy day of shovel racing at the Angel Fire Ski Resort, amateur racers and professional brewers got together on February 7th to taste some quality craft beers. This year's annual winter tasting coincided with the 25th Annual World Championship Shovel Races weekend and the daytime crowds later packed the medium-size tasting room. About 20 breweries ringed the room with tasting tables that featured five or six beers each. Most regional New Mexico and Southern Colorado brewers brought their beers on draught while the more distant ones and the national brands featured bottles. IPA aficionados were torn between spending their time at Il Vicino of Albuquerque and Second Street of Santa Fe. Lagers were well-represented by Rio Grande and Bavarian Lager Cellar, both of Albuquerque. The Cabezon Sunchaser Wheat went over well as did some popular brews form Breckenridge, Flying Dog, Blue Corn, Santa Fe and Celis. Contrary to wild rumors, Clint Eastwood was not on hand to autograph bottle labels of the Celis-brewed Pale Rider. The Anchor Christmas, as usual, had plenty of spices to challenge the palate.

Like their fall Oktoberfest tastings, the Angel Fire events have earned a reputation for their "party" atmosphere and this one was no different. A crowd of a few hundred quickly filled the room around 7 PM and was pretty boisterous by 9 PM when lights were dimmed to indicate "the party's over ." The CD jukebox kept the atmosphere lively as ample pours in plastic cups kept the crowd happy. $12 covered the costs for two hours of tasting and sausage or cold cut sandwich dishes were available for four or five dollars respectively. Fortunately for tasters, the experienced breweries were prepared with water and rinse buckets. While most beer tasters knew better than to smoke inside the confined room, organizers would be advised to post signs next time and to improve the access routes to allow for easier use of restrooms. Although the crowd seemed to adjust its consumption rate to accommodate the brief two hour event window, overall everyone was well behaved. With everyone spending the night in nearby condos it wasn't too difficult to find friendly people willing to share their "left over" beer that evening.

In the future look for the New Mexico Association of Small Brewers to help ski resorts better coordinate and communicate their beer tasting plans. The popularity of these events demonstrates the appeal of spending the day enjoying the natural beauty of winter in the West, followed by a night of tasting great local and regional beers. Look for this trend to spread into Southern Colorado as craft beers displace megas on tap at the ski resorts of the Rockies.

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - February, 1998

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