While Stoutmeister and the Crew were working feverishly to bring you daily news on ABQ Beer Week, I was up north, enjoying the quiet, the fresh air, and a few Walden’s Pond moments, as well as allowing my liver a brief respite. As it turns out, it’s taken me a couple weeks to get over all the fun we had during Santa Fe’s Outside Bike & Brew Festival. But, as a beer journalist is never not working, I just so happened to discover a local brewery that I’d been passing by for years.
As you’re driving between Espanola and Taos, winding your way through the canyon, you’ll pass through several small valleys right along the river. If you slow down enough to catch a sign, you’ll notice that one of these valleys is called Rinconada, meaning “corner.” To us city-folk, this corner might be thought of as the very definition of middle-of-nowhere, and to us craft beer-enthusiasts, it might seem as far as possible from our budding craft beer industry as nature is likely to get. Yet us city-folk and craft beer enthusiasts couldn’t be more wrong. Filled with fertile farmland, this particular valley plays host to a vineyard, a hop farm, and a small, but potent, brewery.
The brewery I’m talking about is Blue Heron Brewing Co.
Since 2009, this small rural brewery has supplied solid, delicious craft beer (and wine since ‘81) to the local area and beyond. I’ve always wondered how a little brewery with a 3-barrel system can stay in business, especially out in the country, but then I tasted the beer and knew exactly why they had a fighting chance. And though great craft beer does a good job of selling itself, with no need for commercials with boobs and bad slogans, a brewery still needs patrons and visitors, but most importantly, regulars. Along the highway, just off to the side of the road, nestled away in such a small stretch of land, could a brewery like this have regulars? I had just asked myself that very question, when in walked one of the local farmers with two empty growlers in his arms. Even before he said anything, brewer Jami B. took the growlers and guessed that the man would like a pint of his usual, the La Llorona Scottish Ale, coincidentally the very same beer currently chilling in my glass.
As I sipped on the shockingly smooth (for a non-nitro) Scottish Ale, I casually observed the interaction between the two, and could see that this customer was certainly a regular, but more than that, a good regular, one that could tell you what was on tap without even glancing up at the board, and one that would know when his favorite beer was about to kick. He looked like he frequented the brewery as another man might frequent a hardware store.
“These are the kind of patrons that keep the brewery open during the colder, slower months,” Jami explained. And it’s all the visitors, passing through, or thrill-seeking rafters – as there are several rafting establishments in the area – that bump up business significantly in the warmer months, enough so that Blue Heron was able to open another taproom and restaurant in downtown Espanola in June of last year.
How rural is it, you ask? Well, when I’d arrived Jami was searching for a snake that had slithered into the brewhouse. The brewery is smack dab in the middle of Mother Nature’s Playground, NM, USA, but it is certainly a serious beer establishment as well, and they won’t let you forget it. Blue Heron has 21 or so different beers in rotation, year-round, with cores, seasonals, and specialty beers.
You can always expect one of the IPAs, usually a Pale Ale, and a dark beer, which will most likely be the Scottish Ale, lest the locals revolt, according to Jami. There’s also a malt-bomb of a Maibock that I’m dying to go back and try. And before I forget, there’s the La Loma Session Ale, which is sometimes referred to jokingly as the “Just Beer.” This beer derived its name from the many non-craft beer-aficionados who would sometimes come in and look at the menu and ask, do you have “Just Beer?” Well, this lighter, easier, low-alcohol beer is exactly that, but it’s what Jami calls a “fine example of a simple beer.” And it is, at that. I can certainly see why the locals, who may find themselves a far cry from say, brewery-brimming Albuquerque, have no reservations, and need none to come in for a beer, and a good one at that.
Why you should stop in: Because beer! And they serve it in pints, growlers, and the new baby growlers when you just can’t commit to a full 64 ounces of something delicious. They also have a nice patio out back for enjoying the fresh river air. And they have live music several nights a week, including brewer Jami, who also just happens to be a really nice guy.
What you should try: Try the Lady Bug IPA if you’re interested trying the waters with IPAs with good hop-utilization, but not quite ready for our more elevated hop monsters of central New Mexico. Try the aforementioned Scottish Ale as it’s, in my humble opinion, pretty damned good.
What you should know: If you’re thinking of filling a baby growler, you may want to bring one of your own, as the concept at Blue Heron is still in its infancy. Ha-ha!
And if you don’t like beer? Why are you reading this? I’m kidding. But, you should know that Blue Heron also offers a number of wines by the bottle and by the glass, from their own winery as well as local La Chiripada Winery.
Where: Just a ways after the turn-off to Dixon, on the north side of the highway. 2214 Highway 68, Embudo, (505) 579-9188.
Blue Heron’s new taproom, in Española, is located on the plaza at 100 Los Alamos Hwy. (505) 747-4506
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So if you’re heading up north of Española, stop in for a beer from a true local roadside gem! Keep to the craft. Think globally and drink locally!
For more #CraftBeer news and @nmdarksidebc info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!