Every year, around the middle of October, we take the short trip up to Red River for their Oktoberfest celebration. Set in the small Northern New Mexico mountain resort town, Oktoberfest is an ideal excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and spend some time drinking beer amid nature, as Thoreau intended.
On a typical Red River visit, we’ll head up on Friday after work, and make it into town just as the sun is going down. We have just enough time to check into the Auslander, a quaint array of condominiums just a ways off Main Street. We usually miss the moustache-themed pub crawl which begins at 5 p.m. in Brandenburg Park, but that’s okay. We’ll catch up with many of those mustachioed merrymakers later. First, before I do anything else, I have to have my traditional beer on the balcony, which is always the very piney Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Who knows how these traditions get started? But there, in the mountains, with the woods all around, there’s almost nothing better. That’s where my soul is let off the leash. Know what I mean?
After that Red River ritual, it’s time to head into town for some food and drink. There are many choices from Italian to Texas steak houses, which vary as much in quality as they do in style. But there’s local and Colorado beer on the menu at many places if you look just beyond the popular Oklahoma and Texas favorites. We found Tractor’s Almanac IPA over at Texas Red’s Steakhouse and it was like bumping into a new friend while out on the town.
After a good solid meal at Red’s, a short wandering will either take you next door to Motherlode Saloon or across the street to Bull o’ the Woods Saloon. After 9 p.m. your choices dwindle fast. You’re not exactly in the city, remember? As for us, we moseyed over to Motherlode, where they delivered on the promise of live music. Inside was packed pretty tightly with folk out for a two-step and a couple Shiner Bocks. It made for some interesting people … and dog-watching. Unfortunately, if you were looking to try some new or interesting beers at this bar, this wasn’t the place to do it. You would have to move on, and so we eventually did.
At this point, if you haven’t already trekked home to your condo, you will undoubtedly end up at Bull O’ the Woods, as it’s the last bar standing. With a slightly younger and less cowboy-hat-clad crowd, this bar features more flat screen TVs, a larger seating area, and a wider array of drinks than most other places in town.
It doesn’t hurt that it has a nice beer stash, too. Where have you been all night? you wonder every time you see that glowing glass fridge. The selection of beers inside range from here to there, mostly here, but some way out there, like the lineup from Alaskan’ Brewing Co., or Boddingtons Pub Ale from Manchester, U.K. I had a Lucky U IPA from Breckenridge Brewing Co., which I rather enjoyed, even if those Colorado IPAs are maltier than I want them to be. All in all, it’s a well-kept dive, one of those places that reminds you that service is for city folk, and it’s all fun and games until someone buys you a fireball. Seriously, when did those things happen to today’s drinking public? Another good night in Red River quickly comes to an end.
Waking up in Red River, there is nothing better than cooking your own hangover breakfast, as most condos and cabins come fully equipped with a kitchen. Now that’s not to say that Red River is without its breakfast options. You can always eat at Yesterday’s Diner, which has great food, but you may be waiting until tomorrow for it. You’ve been warned.
But once everyone’s fueled and ready, head on down to Oktoberfest, and do so early, because they quickly run out of the “cool” taster glasses. You’ll still get a glass and a string of coupons, but you may be envious of the early-birds walking around with 2014 Oktoberfest Steins, and your pint glass says “River & Brews Blues Festival 2012.”
In the spirit of celebrating all things German, there’s plenty of German food to fill der magen, from schnitzel to bratwurst and sauerkraut. If you’re all about that bass, (‘bout that bass), then you’ll be happy to know that Oom-Pah music emphatically fills that tiny mountain valley for the duration of the festival. You think it would get old, but it never does.
For those ambitious festers, there’s also a Mr. and Ms. Oktoberfest competition, complete with an obstacle course and a stein-holding contest for money, bragging rights, and a bright blue sash! So if you head up there, don’t forget your dirndls and lederhosen, because you could be crowned the next Mr. or Ms. Oktoberfest, and you’ll be the envy of all your friends!
But what would an Oktoberfest be without the beer?
Red River’s Oktoberfest is more of a German festival than what we’d call a brewfest, but you can’t go a few feet without bumping into people standing in those familiar brewfest lines. But here, nobody’s in a mad dash to sample, check their beers into Untappd, rinse, repeat. Here, you get poured plenty, and you can sample a decent amount of brews from a few of the usual suspects, such as Santa Fe Brewing Co., Abbey Brewing Co., Taos Mesa Brewing, and also Comanche Creek Brewing Co., a smaller, family-owned microbrewery from just outside Eagle Nest. Oh, and there’s Blue Moon, if you’re into the macrobrews. In addition to those, beers’ more sophisticated cousins were there too. Samples from the likes of St. Clair Winery, Las Nueve Ninas Winery, and Left Turn Distilling were also poured to add to the New Mexico craft flavor. This Oktoberfest had a little something for everyone’s tastes, but I can only speak for mine.
Comanche Creek brought their Homestead Amber Ale, Hop Harvest Ale, and Aspen Gold Oktoberfest, but personally, I wanted more from them. Taos Mesa brought their Black Widow Porter, Lunch Pale Ale, and Great Scot Scottish, I enjoyed the porter, but I just didn’t love the Great Scot as much as I wanted to. It was a wee bit lighter than I was expecting, but perhaps I’m spoiled by Great Divide and Oskar Blues in that category. I was surprised at how much we loved the Monk’s Dark Ale. It was just an outstanding brew. I would have taken that up to GABF with me, too.
When all is said and done, it’s a trip that I look forward to every year. I love getting out of town, where you actually feel like you’re getting out of town. There is nothing like drinking a beer in that fresh mountain air amid friends, family, and those gorgeous golden leaves of the aspens. It’s an Oktoberfest unlike our big city versions, and perhaps that’s what keeps me going back. On a deeper level, Red River has become my happy place. It’s my Walden Pond. It’s where my head is clear, my beer is transcendental, and my soul is free. I recommend at least a couple visits to Red River’s many events even if just for the spiritual suds alone.
For all other information on Red River’s Oktoberfest go to: http://www.redriveroktoberfest.com/