Cheers!

New Mexico brewers earned six medals at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival this weekend in Denver. That's a not-too-shabby number when you're looking at stiff competition from dozens of beers in every category. Half of New Mexico's medals are gold ones.

"We continue to punch above our weight," says John Gozigian, executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. "For the size of our population and the number of breweries, we tend to medal way out of proportion to the number of people in our state. Obviously California wins a slew of medals and Colorado wins a slew of medals, and you expect that, but there are plenty of states that don't win any. And there are plenty of states that are much bigger than ours that win less medals than we do. So people should be proud of that. We are always in the bottom of all the good lists and top of the bad lists, but this is one where that is not the case. We are towards the top of a good list here."

This year, Sierra Blanca Brewing Co. in Moriarty earned a gold in the fruit wheat category, beating out 90 entries with their Sierra Blanca Cherry Wheat; Nexus Brewery from Albuquerque bested 40 contenders for "other strong beer" with its Imperial Cream Ale; and Marble Brewery's Cholo Stout was the winner for American-style stout about 60 entries. Marble also earned a bronze medal in the pilsner category.

Santa Fe's own Second Street Brewery took a bronze medal for Rod's Steam Bitter among 70 entries in American-style lager. That brewery, which has been a mainstay here for 20 years, recently opened its third location in the city on Rufina Street that includes a dining room and a 20,000-square-foot warehouse.

Boxing Bear Brewing Co. competed among 130 entries in the session India pale ale category and came out third with its Featherweight Session IPA.

Gozigian says the awards also say something about New Mexico's brewery landscape.

"People seem to think of Albuquerque as the epicenter of craft brewing in New Mexico, but we had a Santa Fe brewery medal, which was Second Street Brewery, and we had a Moriarity brewery win a gold, Sierra Blanca," he says. "Also, in the brewing world there are not as many women as there should be, but Kaylynn McKnight won a medal, she's from Nexus in Albuquerque."

McKnight's win in the competitive "other strong beers" category is notable, he says, and she's also won a recent top prize from the World Beer Cup.

The festival, founded in 1982, now boasts that it's the "premier US beer festival and competition." Judges taste beer over five three-hour sessions before awarding the medals. New Mexico brewers won seven awards there last year. The New Mexico Brewers Guild represents 58 independent breweries and is pouring beer from 25 of them for thousands of festival-goers this weekend.

"This is like our Super Bowl or our World Series," says Gozigian. "Everybody likes to see how they compare side-by-side with their peers around the state and around the country, and so this is how you do that. You get to enter your beers into competition in specific style categories. It's not subjective. Beers are judged by how well they adhere to the style categories that they are in and judges are very experienced. They know what to look for in a beer."