Exploring the alien brewing landscape of … Artesia

Posted: July 22, 2014 by amyotravel in Brewery Reviews, Uncategorized
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Editor’s note: This is the debut story for the third member of our new six-person Brew Crew Bullpen. Amy O visited the Artesia-Roswell area recently, but we had to hold her story due to the IPA Challenge and other events. She graciously waited until we had a day to run it, and that day is today. Let her know what you think! — Stoutmeister

I very rarely get to the southeastern part of the state. The last two times I was anywhere near Artesia, it was during the days the Wellhead Restaurant & Brewpub was closed. I finally made it there as a side trip during my visit to the 2014 UFO Festival in Roswell over the Fourth of July weekend.

Amy's boyfriend Dave enjoys his sample of Black IPA at The Wellhead in Artesia.

Amy’s boyfriend Dave enjoys his sample of Black IPA at The Wellhead in Artesia.

Because their website is down (more on that later), I called ahead before making the extra 40 minute drive. When the employee answered the phone, I asked, “What are your hours today?” Apparently, they don’t get that question very often and it confused her because she gave me her personal work schedule for the day. I ended the call, laughed, and decided to take that as a sign that they were at least open. So off we headed to try them out.

The brewery is easy to find in the quaint downtown area of Artesia. When my other half and I arrived about 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon the place was nearly empty despite having a very pleasant atmosphere. They have a patio that is open for music on Friday evenings.

We sat at the bar and the bartender asked us what we wanted. We wanted a sampler of all their beers, but she said they only do a sampler of three. According to the white board, there were six beers on tap that day, so the two of us figured we would just split it up and do three of each.

Unfortunately, they were out of the Wildcat IPA (7% ABV), and it sounded like it didn’t just run out that morning. They also had a couple of seasonals, including a Black IPA, not written on the board. (A tip to the brewery staff, if you have something as easy to edit as a white board, please cross out the ones you don’t have that day and write “out” next to it so that we at least know it’s a beer you normally serve but we just can’t order it today. It makes your beer look popular! It is also nice to peruse a list of seasonals.)

We ordered our three samples each. The bartender placed two samples in front of each of us and said they are not allowed to serve us more than two drinks at a time. I pointed out that these are sample size, not full drinks, but what do I know about liquor rules in Artesia? Although suspicious, I let it slide because I knew I would get the third one eventually. Doing a three-beer sampler and then only serving two of those at a time does not allow for any creative sampler presentations for sure.

The beers were better than I expected. The Cisco Canyon Blonde (4.8% ABV), although typically mellow, fit the season and was a good start. The seasonal Black IPA (ABV unknown) was less sweet than most. Although not overly bold, it was my favorite of their beers. The Roughneck Red (4.8 ABV) had a slight caramel flavor but did not linger on the palate.

We shared a decent but somewhat unremarkable Reuben sandwich with curly fries that was served very promptly. This paired best with the Roughneck Red, as the Red was not strong enough to overpower it, but was a good cleanser for the richness of the meat, the grilled rye, and the sauerkraut.

Before we left, I asked the bartender about why the website was down. She said she didn’t know it was, although it was at least down for the entirety of the prior week that I was checking to find out their hours and location. I also noticed a small display of T-shirts in a window when we entered, so I asked if we could get one. It took us so many years to actually get to The Wellhead that we thought we should get a shirt. One of the other servers went to check on the shirts, but returned to tell us they were “locked up upstairs” and they could not get to them. It seemed to be indicative of an overall unconcerned attitude. Some very easy fixes could really improve this place that has so much potential.

There's a nice little brewery tucked away inside this building.

There’s a nice little brewery tucked away inside this building.

Cottonwood Wine and Brewing (Desert Water Brewery)

Artesia’s new brewery is actually located six miles north of downtown on the main highway between Artesia and Roswell (Highway 285 at Cottonwood Road). It is a winery that recently added a brewery. The exterior of the building looks like a nicer, larger version of a portable classroom building, but don’t let that fool you. The inside is spotless and well-appointed with rustic charm and a small bar.

“Tending bar” that day was a nice couple who were friends of the owners, because the owners were in Ruidoso for the Spencer 2014 New Mexico Wine and Beer Festival. Because they were the owner’s friends and not staff members, they did not have much information to share with us, but were happy to pour the sampler. The three beers available (two others went to the festival but were not on tap) and the cider were all very light in color and body.

The first, a rice beer (5.2% ABV) was interesting, but not very subtle on the rice. It lacked balance. The El Hefe Hefeweisen (5% ABV) was better. It was slightly spicy with a light, clean finish. If we were not driving back to Roswell I would have ordered this as my choice of a full pint.

The rustic interior of Desert Water Brewery.

The rustic interior of Desert Water Brewery.

The Wild Oat (5.2% ABV) was probably the first oat beer I have had that was not a darker beer. It was as light as the rice beer, but with a totally different flavor. I preferred it to the rice beer but it would take a little getting used to. Finally, the Hard Cider (8.2% ABV) was a surprise. At 8.2-percent I expected it to be much sweeter. Yet it was on the tart side for a cider — not a bad thing — and did not have a strong alcohol taste.

This is a small batch brewery with one brewer and no assistants. We were told that the brewer is having a hard time keeping up with demand. This explains the limited selections and the lack of styles. But kudos to the brewer for experimenting with some interesting styles of beer.

As we were finishing our sampler, a local came in wearing a Guinness T-shirt. She was sad that there was no longer any stout available. Since all the beers were very light, I wish I could have tried something on the darker side as well. Hopefully I will see them bring some dark beers to a cool weather festival sometime. I would like to keep an eye on this brewery to see how it develops.

Roswell may not have its own brewery, but at least it has a bar that serves beers from around the state.

Roswell may not have its own brewery, but at least it has a bar that serves beers from around the state.

Roswell’s best bet for New Mexico beers

There are no breweries in Roswell, which is strange enough in itself. Come on, Sierra Blanca, no Alien tap room here? I find that so strange. Well, their loss is definitely someone else’s gain. While attending the events at the 2014 UFO Festival in Roswell over Fourth of July weekend, we stopped in to Pecos Flavors Winery on Main Street. They proudly pour a big selection of New Mexico beer and wine.

The staff is a really hardworking, friendly bunch of folks that have a palpable synergy. Although it was completely packed, they were eager to help and in control. All the tables were full and we had to wait for a seat at the bar. They had the World Cup on TV and the crowd was happy and festive. Some donned their alien-themed gear while sipping pints of Sierra Blanca Brewing Company’s Alien Wheat or Alien Amber.

They also pour Marble Brewery beers. We heard they may get some Tractor Brewing offerings soon. I asked a staff member about the addition of New Mexico beer taps. He said it has been great for business (and it showed), and that it’s now about a 50/50 split between beer and wine by the glass orders. A local man who sat next to us said it’s his go-to place in town since they are the only ones who pour multiple New Mexico beers on a regular basis. Cheers to them!

— Amy O

  1. RE: Wellhead: Has all the signs of going out of business, or all the failed service signs of never having been in business.

    • cjax33 says:

      Might just be a case of “only brewery in town” syndrome. Not sure Desert Water will be big enough to ever fire up some true competition.

  2. amyotravel says:

    Stoutmeister, my thoughts exactly. 100%.

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