(Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther / Photographs Liz Lopez)
Think of your ideal place to savor a handcrafted brew. You arrive to find plenty of free parking and rustic surroundings. There’s a multi-leveled, dog-friendly stone patio overlooking the acequia. You can sit out there, or come inside and enjoy the antithesis of a hole-in-the-wall dive. The bar is long and invitingly wide, L-shaped, and looks out of large windows to the trees, with skylights overhead. Smartly tiled floors and no-nonsense tables and chairs stress its size and airiness. There is engaging art on the walls.
Best of all, a master brewer and his crew are on hand to serve up a solid roster of seasonal and year-round beers in trendy styles and intriguing combinations. And you can watch them do it through the taproom windows. This is the place.
Boxing Bear Brewing Co. in Corrales may have the ideal location, tucked away in the woods behind Corrales Shopping Center and to the southeast of Flying Star Plaza, but we all know that the beer is the main event. No worries. You’re in the hands of Head Brewer and Co-owner Justin Hamilton and Assistant Brewer Dylan Davis. These guys know what they’re about. “We are always asking our customers what they’d like to drink, which styles they prefer, and how we’re doing,” Justin says. “And they let us know what they like.”
Most house beers have titles specific to the sport of boxing, like Body Czech Bohemian Pilsner and Uppercut IPA; or to bears, like Hairy Mit Hefe and Ambear Ale. The origin story is about dogs, not bears. “I had two dogs, a boxer and a large pit bull that looked like a bear,” Justin said. “We had fun throwing the names around and came up with Boxing Bear, and it worked for us.”
Their annual Dogtoberfest on Oct. 6 is a fundraiser for Animal Humane and will be held at the picnic tables on the patio. They also have an intermittent “Quiz for a Cause” for Geeks
Who Drink that also raises money for Animal Humane. “We are very animal-friendly,” Justin says.
Boxing Bear is also very beer-connoisseur friendly. The German-style Hairy Mit Hefe is outstanding with two favorite ingredients, vanilla and clove, and a surprise—banana. The fruit lightens this Hefeweizen and makes it a smooth experience on the tongue. Also noteworthy is the Ambear, just the type of rich amber ale that makes you want to close a fist around the glass and never let go. It goes very well with Bear Naked Potato Bites, and would be compatible with the Loaded version, too. Take your pick of Green Chile Cheddar or Aioli Parmesan Sriracha; the Ambear stands up to either.
Another stalwart on the house-beer list is Chocolate Milk Stout, a multi-award-winning concoction including the 2016 World Beer Cup Gold. They call it “silky” but “satin” might be more accurate. Rich and smooth, it goes down easy, but is not for the lactose intolerant. A new seasonal presentation adds Iconik Coffee Roasters coffee to make Coffee Chocolate Milk Stout, which is delicious, complex and combined with the cocoa. (At just 5.2% ABV, the beer buzz won’t offset the caffeine high.) Also on offer is AppleBear Hard Cider, gluten-free with no sulfites.
Other award winners include BearKnuckle IPA (over-the-top hoppy, 7.2% ABV) and Featherweight Session IPA (lighter, with tropical fruit, 4.7% ABV). Seasonals of note are the Red Knuckle Irish Red (“Malt forward, rich caramel, slight chocolate. Aromatic nose, bright red color”) and Black and Blue Tart, a sumptuous ale with hints of blackberries and blueberries. Black and Blue is also offered in bottles. The quirky Space Bear Oddity is still listed as being in bottles, but has since sold out.
“Space Bear Oddity was our fourth anniversary beer,” Justin recalls. “We did it in collaboration with Odd13, a brewery in Lafayette, Colo. We went up there to brew and they came down here, and we did a limited quantity. It sold out quickly.” In fact, locals who had heard about the beer came in just to buy it.
Justin and Dylan are plugged into beer styles and trends, and have just come out with the seasonal Murky Milkshake, a hazy IPA. There are a few ways to haze a New England-style IPA, and Boxing Bear understandably isn’t telling which exact method they use. “We do use low hops for flavor and sweetness, and a lot of wheat and oats in our malt,” Justin says. “It has a dry hops taste, a nice aroma and no bitterness.”
Hazy IPAs have a cult following, according to Ken Weaver, a columnist at All About Beer magazine, and Justin hopes Murky Milkshake will join the ranks of local favorites. The brewery has also produced their popular Burqueño, a second hazy IPA, as a differential.
Another striking beer on the roster is Common Ground Cali-Common, a California “steam beer” (think Anchor Steam, which trademarked the term in 1981). Steam beers were fermented at higher temperatures, as ales are, starting in California in the 1800s before refrigeration. Boxing Bear collaborated with Alaro Craft Brewery on this fine U.S. Hybrid-Style beer. Common Ground won the 2018 North American Beer Association Silver Medal.
If you want to enjoy Boxing Bear beers at home, they have a Growler program, of course. If you’re staying there and want to sample a bunch, a Flight of five, 4-ounce beers is on the menu. If your date is on a beer-free diet, Boxing Bear thoughtfully offers a popular selection of local St. Clair wines: Mimbres Red, Cab-Zin, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.
As to food, there’s a menu of munchies and eight sandwiches, such as Al“Bear”Querque Turkey, a vegetarian option and a Cubano. Frito pie is a hit. There’s a weekday lunch special between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. that pairs a pint with a sandwich for $12. (No food trucks visit Boxing Bear due to the hassle of scheduling and checking paperwork.)
“In New Mexico, the brewery location has to make sure the food trucks have licensing, insurance, all of the stuff that they are required to have in order to operate,” Justin says. “I’d
need to hire someone full time to deal with all of it. Making casual food that goes with beer was the better option.”
New Mexico has 67 craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association. That means we have 4.4 small business breweries per capita, ranking the state 27th in the country for craft breweries. They put out more than 116,000 barrels of beer annually here, and have an economic impact of $333 million. Within the U.S. beer business overall, 23% percent of the market is craft brewers according to Craft Beer Magazine.
Justin, who has been brewing for 12 years, has plans to open a simple taproom on the East Side and would like to expand to the West Side in the future. But does Albuquerque already have too much competition in the craft beer world?
“If someone knows good beer, there are a lot of different choices here,” says Justin, who has brewed at Chama River Brewing Company and Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, among others. “LaCumbre, Marble and Bosque customers come here, too. We all have our own regulars, and some people come just for specialties like Space Oddity. It’s a combination of having steady customers and sharing customers.”
Boxing Bear Brewing Co., 10200 Corrales Road NW, 505.897.2327, boxingbearbrewing.com.