Well that was a fun little excursion Saturday afternoon. After years of Isotopes games being scheduled on the same day, I, Stoutmeister, got to travel up to Pajarito Mountain for SummerFest, where there was other stuff going on but it was mostly about the beer. A total of 17 breweries set up shop for the rest of us to try their latest offerings. Some breweries had lots of stuff I’ve had before, but there was enough new and/or modified stuff to keep me happy.

A boisterous crowd greeted the 17 breweries at SummerFest.

A boisterous crowd greeted the 17 breweries at SummerFest.

Oh, and the whole event ended right before the rain started to fall, so that was nice, too. So while I didn’t get to every brewery (I did have to drive home eventually), here’s what I had and recommend trying the next time you visit any of these fine establishments.

Southern NM breweries

High Desert: They had eight total beers and I meant to go back and try more, but time ran out (largely due to some lengthy conversations with brewers; this is what happens to me now at festivals). I tried their Hefeweizen, which was average, and their Steam, which was not my cup of tea. I wanted to go back and try their Stout (of course), but as mentioned, did not make it.

Little Toad Creek: When I tried their beers for the first time last fall at the fairgrounds, I tasted the start of something good, but all the beers went awry on the finish. What a difference a few months makes. Their Porter and Amber shined through. The Porter was very similar to what I had from Turtle Mountain, just a smooth, balanced beer throughout that is neither too thick nor too light in mouthfeel. The chocolate and coffee hints were there just at the right levels. The Amber was fairly robust and flavorful for a style that too often falls by the wayside at most breweries. Sometimes ambers can get too try, or the hops overpower the malts. That was not the case with this one.

The clouds were welcomed throughout most of SummerFest in keeping the temps down.

The clouds were welcomed throughout most of SummerFest in keeping the temps down.

Northern NM breweries

Abbey/Monks’: Did not get the chance to stop by. They were off on their own on the deck above most of the breweries, so I missed them on my first pass and never did make it back around.

Blue Heron: The La Llorona Scottish was there, of course, and while I love that beer, I had to try the two other offerings. The Embudo Gold Golden Ale was exactly as advertised, a very light golden ale with minimal flavor. It’s the beer you give to that friend who doesn’t drink craft beers. The Ladybug IPA was new. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It doesn’t come close to their Aurora IPA. There’s not many hops present. Stick with the Scottish the next time you’re driving between Santa Fe and Taos and feel like stopping by.

Eske’s: I had hope that with a new brewer things would be better at Eske’s. Alas, that was not the case. I sampled the Chemist ESB, which was advertised as gluten-removed. The flavor up front was minimal, and the back end tasted like it came from the dirty tap lines at a certain downtown ABQ establishment that shall remain nameless (a lot of serious craft beer drinkers should know which place I’m talking about).

Taos Mesa: The guys from up north and I had a nice conversation while I sampled four of their beers. I’ll definitely try to find the time to visit TMBC again this summer, especially when it’s stupid hot and Taos just sounds so much better than down here. Anyway, first up was the Amarillo Rojo, a big red ale (7.3% ABV) that does not taste big. The Rojo sits midway between the Irish red style and the hoppier reds like Marble. It was just smooth and comforting and could go well in the winter or the summer. Their Sessions IPA was smooth and light. It did not quite have the flavor punch at the start like Turtle Mountain’s did (see below), but it works well as another good summer beer. The Wheeler Peak Wheat was pretty much your standard wheat beer, neither good nor bad, just not my preferred style. I did enjoy the tart, potent Three Peaks IPA, which uses Citra, Chinook, and Cascade hops to create a rough and ready IPA for all the hopheads out there.

Duel also showed off their new line of bottled beers, plus some unique new bottle openers.

Duel also showed off their new line of bottled beers, plus some unique new bottle openers.

Santa Fe-area breweries

Blue Corn: James brought three new beers for me to try (well, me and everyone else). The 1/2 Wit is a Belgian-style witbier. It’s not a banana bomb like so many other Belgian wits tend to be. You can taste the Belgian yeast up front and the wheat flavor on the back end. It all blends together nicely. The AproPeach Saison is heavy on the apricot/peach flavor up front, with only a tinge of that saison bitterness on the back end. It’s almost a little too sweet for my liking, but I had to try it. The Malty-ness Monster was listed as a Scottish wee heavy, but it was not too heavy in alcohol flavor. It was a thick, copper-colored ale with plenty of complex malts. It ranks up there with some of the other outstanding Scottish-style beers in our state.

Duel: A new beer on the list caught my eye right away in the Fantin, a Belgian-style double pale ale. It was almost closer to a wine or a cider than what you’d expect from a pale ale. There were strong fruit flavors in it, though more on the grape/apple end of the flavor spectrum than anything citrus. I didn’t pick up many hops at all. The other beer I tried was the Oaked Grunewald. It was a cacophony of flavors from both the porter and the oak barrels it was aged in. There were smoky hints, plus a little bit of spice. It’s 11 percent ABV, but you don’t taste too much alcohol, which is both good and bad.

Santa Fe: I did not just stop for a sample of Freestyle Pilsner for the point on Untappd. OK, well, I mostly did. It was also weird I’d never checked into it beforehand. Anyway, it’s still a solid pils, good for the summer heat. You can buy it in cans just about everywhere.

Santa Fe Cider Works: The lone cidery to show up, they had an impressive pair of offerings for a relatively new establishment. The Cider Different is their flagship. It reminded of a good English cider, not overly sweet, but with a good bite up front and some aromatic tartness in the middle. If it’s too much for you, try the Enchanted Cherry, which is very heavy on the cherry flavor. It reminded me of those times in college when you combined hard liquor with whatever fruit drink mix you had left in the apartment. Only, you know, much better than that swill. (Oh, plastic jugs of liquor from the grocery store, you ruined so many evenings in the 90’s.)

Second Street: The Citra Weizen is fine summer beer, offering up a little potency from the Citra hops and then a wheaty finish from the weizen half. Rod’s Best Bitter is still a top-notch ESB-style beer. And no, people, it’s not actually bitter. Bitter is just an English term, and we know how good the English are about naming things in a strange manner. I skipped the GABF medal-winning Rod’s Steam Bitter only because I’ve had it, and loved it, twice before. Again, pacing myself …

Some breweries were up on the deck above the rest during the festival.

Some breweries were up on the deck above the rest during the festival.

ABQ-area breweries

Bosque: The guys brought up four regular beers, but I stopped to chat so I guess I had to drink something. It had been forever since I enjoyed a Pale Ryder. Yup, still a good beer, not too much rye, not real bitterness. Another good summer brew.

La Cumbre: It was all stuff I had before, so in the interest of not going overboard, I skipped LC. It’s OK, I already had the light-but-flavorful BEER (pilsner) earlier last week. Head over to La Cumbre to enjoy this one while it lasts. It doesn’t matter how hot it is, BEER is quenching.

Marble: I’m sure it won’t shock anyone, but the Marble tent was busy, so I only had time to grab one of their three new beers (I’ll get the rest in town). My pick was the Abbey Mosaic, another Belgian-style beer with some kick. The yeast and (I think) some brettanomyces produce a massive spice bomb that hits you mid-palate. It’s not hot like any of these various chile beers, but it almost tastes like you just took a dare and gobbled up a mixed handful from the spice rack of your kitchen. It’s not bad by any means, it was just unexpected to have that much flavor packed into the middle since the opening is mild and the finish is somewhat smooth. I’m sure this beer will produce a wide array of different opinions among craft beer drinkers in ABQ.

Nexus: Tried the new Shepard’s Session IPA (minimal hop bite, almost a smooth, creamy finish) earlier in the week, but Kaylynn said hello, so I felt obliged to stop and get some dessert. And by that I of course mean the Chocolate Porter. It’s still so wonderful and decadent.

The Stumbling Steer: See below.

Tractor: According to Untappd I’ve had 39 different Tractor beers over the years, including all the ones that were at SummerFest. So much like La Cumbre, I had to skip them in the interests of time and keeping my BAC under the legal limit.

Turtle Mountain: Tim brought three beers I’d never had before, so I made sure to stop, try all three, and chat with him and Nico. Things are going well at Turtle if these three beers are any indication. The Kosmonaut Kolsch rivals La Cumbre’s Miles from Cologne as the best Kolsch-style beer in the state. It’s a very balanced beer, just slightly crisp with only a hint of sweetness. It’s devilishly smooth and would go great on a hot summer day, of which we have many coming. The Fitzgerald, a session IPA, offers up a good amount of hops in a small ABV package. It has a strong opening and a smooth finish. ABQ-area brewers are doing a great job with their session IPAs so far. The final beer on my must-try list was the Piedra Lisa Porter. It’s a ridiculously smooth porter with some mild coffee and chocolate hints. It’s not thick in the mouthfeel, but it’s not watery or too thin, either. It’s a porter you could drink as well in the summer as in the dead of winter.

The full description of the best beer of the festival.

The full description of the best beer of the festival.

Best of the fest

All right, drum roll time … my pick for the best beer I had at the festival was The Stumbling Steer’s Columbian Soiled Dove (imperial stout) on cask. Brewer Kirk Roberts went all mad scientist on this one, creating a beer that was one part stout, one part coffee, and one part cherry-tinged sweetness. It did a mad tap dance on my palate. Kirk added flavors of toffee, caramel, molasses, and brown sugar, then casked the stout with Sumatran Coffee and cherry juice. The result was magnificent. Have I mentioned that I can’t wait until the full brewery is up and running at the Steer? I have? Well, I’m mentioning it again!

The many, many runners-up included Little Toad Creek’s Amber and Porter, Duel’s Oaked Grunewald, Taos Mesa’s Amarillo Rojo, Second Street’s Rod’s Best Bitter, Blue Corn’s Malty-ness Monster, and Turtle Mountain’s Kosmonaut Kolsch and Piedra Lisa Porter.

There were good beers from all corners of our state, proving that once again, the best beers in New Mexico are made in New Mexico. Kudos to everyone at SummerFest.

So until the The Yards Craft Beer Premier on June 21, I will be immersed in another eight-game Albuquerque Isotopes homestand. Hopefully we’ll start to catch up on news on some of the new breweries opening around town in the weeks ahead.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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