Quiet weekends can be nice sometimes. Other times, they get downright boring. Luckily for craft beer drinkers in Albuquerque, this weekend saw the surprise opening of Sidetrack Brewing downtown.
I originally visited Sidetrack back in September and they looked to be a month or so from opening, but things went a bit quiet after that. In the end, though, the staff had told me they did not plan to open until they comfortable with the beers. After an almost double-secret probation opening on Friday, while most of us were tending to our hangovers, they made a more public announcement on Facebook on Saturday.
After lunch with friends I trekked over to the spot on 2nd Street between Lead and Coal (next to Zendo Coffee). I lucked out on parking and headed inside, where I was not terribly surprised to see some familiar faces among the customers. Marble’s Tony Calder was there early on and Barbie Gonzalez stopped by later. Tractor’s Karl Gass and Melissa Martinez popped in for a bit. Red Door’s Wayne Martinez grabbed a spot at the bar next to me. There was quite a bit of beer knowledge and influence present.
We all found ourselves in a charming neighborhood pub. Brewer/owner Dan Herr was busy pouring pints (no shaker pints, for those of you who yearn for good glassware) and flights. It never got so crowded people could not find a place to sit. It was also nice in that the volume never went through the roof. Yes, we could hear each other talk, a welcome break from the increasing volume in our brewery taprooms across the city.
As an aside, for those wondering about food, Dan said you could bring outside food into the taproom. They do not ever plan to have a kitchen, and the limited curb space outside will probably preclude any food trucks (though you never know, those folks have some serious parallel parking skills).
Of course, anytime a new brewery opens, the number question is about the beer itself. Well, for a brand-new brewery, it was some pretty decent liquid, as Tony would say. Each beer had some pluses, but each had room for improvement. It is the same at any other brewery when they open. There were six beers on tap, plus two cask variants.
Pub Ale (5.1% ABV, 30 IBU): The primary yeast used at Sidetrack is an English yeast, and that is quite present in this simple ale. The flavor is rather biscuity, somewhat dry, but quite sessionable. This is the beer you start with before climbing the ladder.
RailHead Red (5.5% ABV, 33 IBU): Tony and I agreed there was something slightly off in this one flavor-wise. It did not have quite enough malt. Certainly it leans toward the Irish red style, as opposed to the West Coast red style favored by Marble. We imagine this beer will be reworked in the near future.
3:10 to Belen Brown (5.3% ABV, 38 IBU): An early nominee for the 2016 edition of the best beer name in New Mexico, this is a classic English brown. It is a little bit nutty, quite smooth, and otherwise similar to a lot of other brown ales. There are some similarities to the Pub Ale, probably from the yeast and some shared malts. There was also a cask version, but an added ingredient crossed it off my list. Stupid allergies getting in the way of my beer drinking. Again.
Switchgear IPA 1 (6.1% ABV, 70 IBU): Dan created two variations of his IPA recipe, though both used the same hops. The difference was in the yeast and also the malt bill. This version was the better of the two, though it falls below the typical ABQ-area IPA. Several people told me both IPAs were under-carbonated. They could also use a touch of dry hopping; there was almost no aroma. This version was also offered on cask, and that batch was dry hopped with Ahtanum. You could make the argument the cask batch was better.
Switchgear IPA 2 (6.6% ABV, 55 IBU): The less hoppy of the IPAs, it just did not pack enough of a punch. The flavor vanished pretty quickly. It was also a bit dry, probably from the malt bill. Expect version 1 to become the house IPA going forward.
Dark Engine Stout (6% ABV, 33 IBU): Color yourselves shocked as this ended up being my pint after I finished my flight. It has elements of both an oatmeal and an Irish dry stout, though it leans more toward the latter. There is both an initial roastiness on the front end and a creamier flavor on the back. As it warms, some of those roasted elements fade out. Unlike a lot of places when they start out, the mouthfeel on this was much more stout-like, whereas others often feel like a dark ale or lager.
Overall, the lineup showed a lot of promise. The Stout and Pub Ale started out the strongest for their respective styles. The Switchgear 2 and Red need the most work. The usage of not one but two casks at a time was a nice decision. If you are going to be featuring a lot of English-style beers, you might as well go all-in.
Head on over to Sidetrack this week and let us know what you think. Just remember to be patient. It is just the beginning and there is plenty of future growth ahead.