Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Happy Camper IPA

Santa Fe Brewing Co.
Santa Fe, NM

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 6.6%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Once upon a time, Nigel started a bold project known as the “Spring Tour O’ West Coast IPAs,” a series of reviews containing a cross-section of hoppy gems acquired on my vacation to the American southwest. That vacation came in mid-March. The reviews began in April. Now it’s football season.

What the Hell happened?

I could go into the details, but I will refrain since my reviews are long enough as it is. And this one will be no exception, as I’m touching on the one brewery located in a city I actually visited on my spring vacation: Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’ll overlook the fact that I didn’t actually stop in the brewery …

While the crux of the vacation was spent in Arizona, I was able to spend a couple of nights in Santa Fe, which is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to, located in one of the most underrated states in the country. Sure, New Mexico isn’t overly populous, but Albuquerque is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities and there are other important smaller cities such as Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Pie Town (it’s real, I promise … but not much of a town). Las Vegas is located in New Mexico, though this one is slightly smaller and less glitzy. New Mexico is the home to aliens and Lobos, to an arts culture second to none in Santa Fe and Taos, some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the country, and some of the most picturesque scenery you’ll find anywhere.

But the best thing about New Mexico, and perhaps it’s best kept secret, is the cuisine. On the trip I sampled fine food from across the country, including a farmer’s breakfast in Iowa, authentic Mexican food in Arizona, juicy steaks in Texas, and the best barbeque I’ve ever had in St. Louis, yet NONE of them could top New Mexican cuisine. The New Mexico chile pepper is a version of the common Anaheim pepper. True “New Mexico chiles” are grown in the Rio Grande Valley near the border with Mexico and Texas, where the climate makes them significantly hotter and more flavorful than the standard Anaheim pepper found around the country. New Mexicans put green chile on everything. EVERYTHING. And it’s freakin’ delicious, man. From a breakfast smothered in green chile to a grilled cheese sandwich with green chile and pesto, it was two days of flavor heaven.

As for Santa Fe proper, it’s loaded with history and culture. The second oldest city in the United States after St. Augustine, Florida, there is a vibrant mix of Native, Spanish, Roman Catholic, and modern European cultures. Any history buff will be in their element (I know I was), and lovers of the arts and Native American culture will be hard pressed to find a more ideal spot. The Plaza in the center of town is the original Spanish colonial model, and some buildings, such as the Palace of Governors and San Miguel Mission actually date to the 16th century. The adobe-style buildings with the sun setting over the mountains in the evening will leave a lasting image in my head and has me anxious to return. After a long day of sightseeing, having a couple of brews on the second-level outdoor patio at the Marble Brewing Tap Room (Marble is actually a craft brewery in Albuquerque) overlooking the Plaza was truly an amazing experience. The red chiles hanging outside the buildings, the bistros serving all things slathered in green chile, the greasy spoon diner where I had the best breakfast I’ve ever had … sigh … but I digress.

Santa Fe Brewing Company is located in a modern section of the city, on the far southern end off of I-25 as you head towards Albuquerque. The brewery looked impressive in the photos I saw, but with limited time in the city and so many other sights to see, I did not venture out that way. However, Santa Fe brews are plentiful throughout the Southwest and I had tried a few on previous trips to Arizona, the most notable being Chicken Killer Barley Wine. I got my six-pack of Happy Camper IPA at Whole Foods in Santa Fe, and it survived the long trek on the remainder of the vacation and back to Milwaukee without incident.

Happy Camper comes in cans, which is nice to begin with but is made even sweeter when you see the can … it’s a model of the New Mexico flag. Happy Camper is sort of an ode to the alternative culture in Santa Fe, where numerous artists congregate and use the stunning landscape as inspiration. As much as I hate to correlate hopheads such as myself with granolas, Santa Fe makes that very connection with the description on the side of the can. Thus, I will write the remainder of this review in my tight cargo shorts, SmartWool socks, and Birkenstocks.

Happy Camper IPA pours very well, with a creamy white head just under a finger deep that slowly dissipates, leaving a mild lace at the top and some sticky residue on the side of the glass. A translucent golden brown hue, it’s a fine looking IPA that resembles a Santa Fe sunset. Well carbonated, there’s also a good amount of sediment floating in the glass.

The aroma is pleasant. “Balance” is the key word, as a noticeable zip of Northwest hops is quickly joined by sugary, earthy malt notes. The hop profile is as big as you’d hope for an IPA, with huge amounts of citrus zest and evergreen quickly tempered by sugary caramel and grain. So far, so good.

The flavor seals the deal for Happy Camper IPA as a solid four-mugger. The prolific aroma translates well to the first sip, as the same series of bitter, floral hops with a touch of evergreen hits the tongue right off the bat. The initial bite is quickly tempered by a soothing flow of sweet, sugary notes of caramel and toffee. Add in some muted earthiness, and it’s everything an IPA should be. There is a noticeable life to it that creates a creamy profile and makes it feel very fresh out of the can, despite the fact that my final can is being consumed five months after the original purchase. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Happy Camper is a potential session brew, though is a bit strong at just over 6.5 percent ABV.

Happy Camper appears to be the cream of the crop in Santa Fe’s lineup and for Nigel it brought back pleasant memories of a trip in the not-too-distant past. When compared to the other West Coast IPAs I’ve sampled thus far on the Tour, Happy Camper has nothing to be ashamed of. While there weren’t any elements that blew me away, it’s a solid IPA that’s powerful yet balanced, and it’s definitely a must-try for anyone visiting New Mexico. Combine the hoppy bite with some green chile, and you’ll have Nigel’s dream meal.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on September 6, 2011.
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