Weird spring weather be damned, the Crew did indeed set out on our planned trip to visit the breweries in Southeast New Mexico over this past weekend. Luke and I hit the road and were able to make stops at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales, Desert Water and The Wellhead in Artesia, Milton’s in Carlsbad, and then head to the southwest for a stop at Little Toad Creek.
We found that craft beer culture is alive and well in these smaller towns, though it is often quite different from what most of us are used to in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Despite the small sizes of the towns and the breweries, we found five places all looking to move forward and further expand the reach of craft beer to all corners of our state.
Matt Boin, the brewer at The Wellhead, said the southern half of New Mexico is ripe for a craft beer boom similar to what the north has already experienced.
“I definitely think it is,” Matt said. “I’ve been talking to our owner about possibly expanding our footprint, possibly into one of the nearby towns like Carlsbad. We have a lot of people down here working in the oil fields, natives and people coming from (out of state). Just seeing Milton’s being packed all the time, I think people are literally and figuratively thirsty. … I think we’re definitely on the cusp of coming into our own. I’m excited for it.”
To keep this story from rivaling, or likely surpassing, The Week Ahead in Beer in length, we have split it into three parts, all in the order that we visited the breweries. First up, Roosevelt and The Wellhead.
Roosevelt speaks softly and carries big flavors
Our journey started on Interstate 40 until we reached Santa Rosa, where we took Highway 84 southeast toward Fort Sumner. From there, it was a straight shot east on Highway 60 to Clovis, then southwest on Highway 70 to Portales. Roosevelt is located in the middle of the town, diagonally across the street from the county courthouse that dominates the small downtown.
To simply call Roosevelt quaint would be selling it short. It is one of the more unique setups for a New Mexico brewery, simultaneously charming and sensible. The building gives it a long, rectangular shape from the front entrance to the kitchen and brewing area in the back. It sports high ceilings, but despite a sizable lunch crowd made up of locals, tourists, and college students from Eastern New Mexico, it was not as loud as some ABQ breweries tend to get.
It is all one open space, save for the mostly enclosed kitchen and then an office on a second floor in the far back. The brewers were not on hand Friday, but on the days they are working one could sit around, enjoy a beer and/or eat a meal, and watch them work. The brewhouse was small, though listed at 10 barrels, with four fermenters and a small mill. In what was likely not a coincidence, there were four beers on tap, plus four guest taps from Bosque, Marble, Santa Fe, and Tractor. Our server told us the Clovis IPA is their most popular offering, showing us that hopheads are not limited solely to the I-25 corridor. Of course, being so popular, it was not available when we visited.
Roosevelt boasts a full menu, with a number of specialty burgers and pizzas listed alongside the appetizers and other sandwiches. Patrons also have the option to build their own burger or pizza. The food was good and filling, made to order, and cooked just right. As Milton’s would show us later in the trip, a small-town brewery does not necessarily have to be a brewpub, but Roosevelt took that form and it has worked out well. The mixed crowd seemed pleased with what was offered.
We met briefly with owner Justin Cole, who was busy coming and going. The weekend rush was likely on his mind. Cole was originally from Clovis, but attended school at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. He was inspired by Socorro Springs Brewery to start a brewpub in a smaller college town. It has worked out for him, his staff, and Portales since Roosevelt opened in 2012.
The four beers on tap were Golden Lager, Happy Heifer (Hefeweizen), Coffee Porter, and Softly Spoken Stout. The lager was clean and crisp, with just enough sweetness. It is definitely the kind of beer to get a land of macro drinkers interested in craft. The hefe hit the notes one would expect, lots of banana and clove, with a light mouthfeel and a definite easy-drinking status. The porter was good for just being a porter, but the coffee did not pop out very much. The stout was of the sessionable variety (4.6% ABV), so the mouthfeel was light as well, but it did have a fair amount of roasty flavor, with a slight creaminess to it.
Overall, we both enjoyed Roosevelt. It is certainly a brewery we look forward to revisiting in the future. So yes, it is quite worth the 3-hour drive from Albuquerque.
The Wellhead aims to drill up new business
We left Portales via Highway 70, continuing on to Roswell, where we merged onto Highway 285. We did want to see the town as we passed through, but good lord, the traffic lights are not timed there in the least. It delayed our arrival in Artesia by nearly a half hour. Our need to get to The Wellhead was to help out brewer Matt Boin, who told us he only had a limited window to meet up due to some car (well, truck) trouble. As it turns out, Matt was able to work things out and meet us in downtown Artesia’s long-standing brewpub.
The Wellhead came into being in 2000, when Frank Yates of Yates Petroleum decided to open a brewpub along Main Street. His brother, Mike Stegall, was the first brewer. Many other brewers have come and gone since, with Matt being the latest to join the brewery back at the start of 2016.
“We’re still growing,” Matt said. “We’ve got a lot of blonde drinkers and wheat drinkers. There’s nothing wrong with that. I try to push the boundaries a little bit, one beer at a time. I made the IPA a little hoppier, made the dark beers a little darker. Milton’s has definitely helped out with that in Carlsbad. I think all together we’re starting something down here.”
The story that Matt told us was similar to what we used to hear from the brewers just starting out in Albuquerque many years ago. He learned to home brew from his brother-in-law, and it became his primary hobby/passion project. When he got the chance to brew on a commercial level, Matt jumped at the chance.
Oh, but there is a twist one does not find in the northern reaches of the state.
“I actually moved down here for an oil field job,” Matt said. “I do that during the day and I do this in the evening. I’m pretty busy.”
Matt said the chemical process between working in the oil fields and working in a brewery are not all that different. The mechanical process has similarities as well, all of which fit his interests.
Currently, The Wellhead offers up six house beers and three rotating seasonals. The latter are all Matt’s recipes, with a Black Rye IPA, Brown Ale, and Winter Warmer currently on tap. Slowly but surely, hops are becoming popular, but the primary customers in Artesia are more in favor of beers with less kick.
“I definitely think there’s more of a vibe for IPAs with the younger crowd,” Matt said. “(But) I think the major challenge is people are set in their ways of drinking Miller and Dos Equis. I’ve got a lager strain going right now. I’ve got a Mexican lager fermenting right now. I hope to compete for our Dos Equis crowd. I’m doing a SMASH lager, Vienna and Saaz, which I hope to compete with the Budweiser crowd. I hope to open the door that way.”
The good news for Matt and The Wellhead is that after 17 years, the brewery has quite the loyal customer base, even as the oil jobs surge up and then decline with the fluctuating price of crude on the market.
“There’s definitely some awesome loyalty,” Matt said. “There are guys who have their beer. When I got here, they said I like this beer, we’ve had brewers before who’ve tried to change things, don’t do that, especially with the wheat and the blonde. I’ve definitely been learning to be more consistent.”
The Wellhead offers up a full menu with a variety of dishes, ranging from high-end steaks and seafood to more traditional pub fare. Because it has a restaurant license, it also offers wine and hard liquor. The happy hour crowd in the bar was boisterous, a mix of locals and oil field workers, plus a few families, though most of those were in the separate dining room to the right (east) of the bar area. The place was plenty crowded, though many people were skipping the pints of house beers for cans of macro brews and other drinks. Those that did order a house beer went with either the Cisco Canyon Blonde Ale or Indian Basin Wheat.
For now, Matt will keep plugging away. We wish him luck in his quest to push for an off-site taproom, whether in Carlsbad or Roswell or anywhere in the area. The more craft beer, the better, and the more converts Matt and all the breweries of the southeast get only improves our state.
A big thanks to Matt for hanging out and chatting while we downed our samples. The Black Rye IPA had a nice kick from his addition of Citra hops to the mix. The Roughneck Red and Crude Oil Stout were our top picks among the house beers. I guess our palates are a bit different than the folks in Artesia, but we still respect that they are drinking at least some craft.
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Roosevelt and The Wellhead offered up two wildly different vibes, but in a way, both fit their towns. The former was in a laid-back farming and college town. The latter was in a booming oil town. Overall, both managed to impress us in their different ways.
Our next two stops brought us to two more wildly different places. Check back Tuesday for our visits to Desert Water and Milton’s.
Until then, if you have a little time off coming up and a hankering to get out of town, you can also look to the south for a craft beer trip. Just a suggestion.