Our trip to the southeastern part of New Mexico continued over this past weekend with stops at Desert Water Brewing on the northern edge of Artesia, followed by Milton’s Brewing in the heart of Carlsbad. For the recap of our visits to Roosevelt Brewing in Portales and The Wellhead in Artesia, click here.
These two breweries were just as different in vibe and approach as the prior two that we visited. The one thing they both had was a definite following among locals. Milton’s, in particular, has really generated a huge buzz for craft beer in Carlsbad, a town booming with the better fortunes of the oil industry. That, in turn, has created quite the ambitious goals for the staff at the young brewery.
“My goal is for Milton’s to be the brewery that bridges the gap between north and south,” co-owner/head brewer Lucas Middleton said.
Now that is something we would truly like to see.
Desert Water enters period of transition
Up on the north end of Artesia, just off Highway 285, Desert Water Brewing opened in 2013 as the beer-centric half of Cottonwood Winery. The outside building is fairly nondescript, but the inside is a unique little taproom. Wine is clearly the primary business, with dozens upon dozens of bottles for sale. It boasts a definite country/western theme. There is no kitchen, but a food truck was parked outside while we visited. The crowd appeared to be made up mainly of locals, all of whom knew the staff.
The big news when we arrived: Desert Water is not currently brewing beer. There was an explanation, of course. Owner Mike Mahan and his wife required outside investors to help open Cottonwood and then Desert Water. From the beginning, their goal was to eventually buy out those investors and take full control of the business. Well, the good news is that they have done just that. In one of those technicalities, though, it required them to apply for a new small brewer license with the State of New Mexico. While that license is pending, they cannot brew for the time being.
That being said, Mike was nice enough to go to his last remaining keg, which featured a roasty, not overly sweet milk stout, and pour us a couple of samples to try. It had the thickest mouthfeel of any beer we had on our trip. It also showed us that once Desert Water is brewing again, it will be worth the return trip to see what else Mike has to offer. Until then, he will rely on guest taps from across the state, plus of course the many, many wines on the shelves.
Milton’s is the place to be in Carlsbad
We were told by more than one other brewer or brewery owner over the course of our trip that Milton’s would be jam-packed whenever we arrived there. After a quick drive down Highway 285, followed by a stop at our hotel, and a bite to eat, we arrived at the small brewery at the west end of Mermod Street, just a couple blocks off the main downtown area. As was predicted, the joint was full of lively locals, listening to a touring band from Tucson, and enduring a sudden uptick in the wind that was making life interesting on the patio on the north side of the building.
The building was once a storage facility, with a pair of garage doors on the north and sound ends. It had a long rectangular shape, but without the high ceilings of Roosevelt. Heck, one could fit all of Milton’s inside Roosevelt with room to spare. In this small space, the layout is similar, minus the kitchen (food trucks, again, provide the sustenance). The main taproom area is up front, with the brewing equipment along the east wall. The equipment, well, shows the relative youth of the brewery, which has been around for just about a year now. The mash tun and the boil kettle are both square-shaped, and open on top. We have heard of open fermentation at some breweries, but not an open brewhouse. The fermenters are small and plastic.
The good news is that Milton’s is on the verge of expansion, which will mean not just new, modern equipment, but also a much larger brewing space. The Frito Lay distribution building, located just to the west of the brewery along the train tracks, will become Milton’s new brewery building. They will soon have a 10-barrel brewhouse setup, with stainless steel fermenters, and more. It will open up more space in the taproom (which they need), and keep the brewing area clear of everything from customers to strong gusts of wind whipping through in the evening, as to get to the north patio, one has to walk past the brewhouse.
Lucas, once the staff alerted him to our arrival, and then once he finished talking with some of the regular patrons, spoke to us about all of it. My phone, however, did not record most of it, so I had to go off the somewhat blurry memories of the end of the night and what it did record, which ended up being a lot of random conversation about craft beer in general.
The most important thing Lucas told us about the aftermath of the expansion will be this: “I want to get our beer in cans. We’ll roll in the Mother Road (Mobile Canning) guys. My goal is for us to be in Albertson’s here in Carlsbad by the end of the year.”
What will go in those cans is still to be determined. One of the most popular beers they have made so far is a red chile-infused stout.
“We were doing a Frijole Mole, but I had to take it off,” Lucas said. “We were using a bunch of different chiles. The first two batches did great. People were drinking the shit out of it in the middle of the summer. … It didn’t go the way I wanted to (last brew). I’ll do the (Mullet) Milk Stout for now, then get back to it.”
Milton’s was able to take it to WinterBrew back in Santa Fe in January, where it proved to be a hit. It was the first major festival for the brewery, but more are right on the horizon with the Blazin’ Brewfest in Las Cruces on Saturday and then the Microbrew Festival on the Pecos, right in Carlsbad, on May 13. It will mark the first time a local brewery will be able to attend in full.
Lucas said he found an advertisement from the early 20th Century saying that Carlsbad was ripe for a brewery and ice company. It did not happen then, but it has now (minus the ice).
“It took from 1908 to 2015 to get a brewery in this town,” Lucas said.
By all accounts, it was worth the wait. The other beers on tap during our visit were the Red Stapler Red Ale (bonus points for the Office Space reference), Hoprunner’s Hefe, and the 62/180 IPA. The latter is named for the highway that connects the town to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. That tourist draw has left Milton’s with quite the mixed crowd to date.
“We get a lot of tourists, we get a lot of people from all over the U.S.,” Lucas said, later adding that he knows his brewery might be the first introduction to New Mexico craft beer for many travelers from other states and even other countries. It is a task that Milton’s seems ready to take on in full in 2017 and beyond.
We would like to thank Lucas, his father Dan, and the rest of the staff at Milton’s for their hospitality on such a busy, windy night. We admire their ambition and dedication to the craft, and for so quickly creating a thriving craft culture hundreds of miles from the bulk of this state’s breweries.
Good luck to Milton’s in 2017 and beyond.
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That visit wrapped up our time in Southeast New Mexico. With the bad weather closing in, we called it a night. The next day we set out on the aforementioned Highway 62/180, down past the caverns, into Texas, and eventually all the way to El Paso. We will chronicle the final leg of the trip, highlighted by our visit to Little Toad Creek’s new production facility, on Wednesday.