The Crew was invited, en masse, to visit the new Desert Valley Brewing taproom on the west side Thursday night. We were able to put together a sizable collection of members — myself, Franz Solo, Luke, Andrew, Shawna — at the last minute to head over and try the food and beer.
Desert Valley has been open less than two weeks. It will host an official grand opening this Saturday, with merchandise giveaways every half hour, half-price appetizers, live music, and more. For those wondering where it is located, if you remember where the old Stumbling Steer (later Vernon’s Open Door) sat off Ellison near Highway 528/Alameda, then you should be able to find Desert Valley. It occupies the southwest corner of the building at 3700 Ellison NW.
The interior is warm and inviting. There are multiple televisions, making it an ideal spot for watching sports. They were divided between the dreadful Thursday NFL game (Bengals-Texans, a match-up that should be outlawed) and the poor Lobos getting overwhelmed on the Smurf Turf at Boise State. The spacious patio got hit by some rain while we were there, but the children outside with their families seemed to enjoy that. The parents, well, they grabbed their beers and moved to the covered half, trying in vain to beckon the kids to come along.
The enclosed area features a long bar, with a series of tall tables for up to six patrons. Short tables line the back area toward the far (east) wall, with the kitchen in the southeast corner. There was plenty of space and it was easy for patrons and staff to move about.
There were 10 Desert Valley beers on tap — Lager, Cerveza, Blonde, Hefeweizen, Double Wheat, 244 Red, El Dorado IPA, Honey IPA, Strawberry IPA, Stout. The DV brewhouse is actually located in a building near Menaul and the Interstate 25 frontage road, near The Craftroom, the beer/cider taproom owned by Sandia Hard Cider, the sister operation of DV. This west side taproom is designed to focus on the beer, but just in case, there are still some Sandia ciders on tap. We stuck with the beer, of course.
We were treated to an order of nachos first. If you have seen the video on Facebook, they bring the chips out, along with a skillet of meat, cheese, beans, and sauce, which your server then pours over the chips. Dinner and a show! We also ordered additional appetizers including Buffalo chicken wings (bone-in), teriyaki chicken wings (boneless), Twisted Tots (deep-fried tater tots), and Pork with no Fork (bone-in pieces of fried pork with cooked cinnamon apple slices). The entree items varied by Crew member.
I could ramble on, but I wanted to let a couple of the others share their overall thoughts.
Franz Solo: I arrived after the rest of the Dark Side Crew had assembled, and ordered a flight consisting of the double wheat, honey IPA, El Dorado IPA, and the stout. These show promise, definitely having some of the best and most sought after hops in the recipe for both IPAs, and I look forward to trying them again once the brewers have their recipes dialed in on their brewhouse. The double wheat was distinct and sweet, and delightfully quaffable for a higher ABV offering. The stout was sweet with a lingering raisin and chocolate flavor that permeated the beer almost entirely. We then noshed on some excellent nachos, as well as wings, tater tots (most excellent) and a pork appetizer with some lovely cinnamon drenched cooked apple slices. For my second flight I tried the hefeweizen, the mexican lager, the standard lager, and the strawberry IPA. I definitely liked the hefeweizen, which was certainly higher on the ABV spectrum than most giving it a strong sweetness with banana notes. The lagers both had good bases in terms of malts and hops, though I would like to see them lagered a tad longer, perhaps (just my assumption), to really bring out the best in both offerings. The strawberry IPA for me was the best of the hoppy beers, having a metric ton of strong strawberry sweetness paired with a strong and bitter IPA. Our main dishes were good, but (and this is coming from someone who absolutely adores pepper) a tad over spiced with black pepper. Presentation was quite nice and overall this was a promising start for the joint. Definitely liked the atmosphere with the patio, the clear garage doors going outside and the large TVs for football, so would definitely like to catch a game or two here in the fall. As with all new openings I encourage a bit of patience as any stumbling blocks are worked out, but this showed me a good deal of promise for what could be a staple on the west side.
Luke: As far as my experience goes, I had only been to The Craftroom, where Desert Valley made their beer debut. I had tasted a few of their concoctions and thought they were decent, lacking only in the comfortable experience you get from brewing on your own system for a few dozen batches. Tonight, we tasted our way through a few flights between us. I enjoyed a more dedicated-feeling core lineup, having tasted all the way from their lager to their stout, and most beers in between. Their Double Wheat will make Albuquerque’s many Marble fans quite happy, and their Lager was as good as an Albuquerque craft lager can be, that is, since Chama’s dear departure. Their 244 Red was a full bread basket, and not in a bad way, and their Stout was thick and chocolatey, better, as predicted by myself, in the form of a full pour. My favorite of the two IPAs I tasted was the strawberry, oddly enough, the fruit of which I likened to the point those Ballast Point fellows have been making. As far as the food goes, the entrees (green chile meatloaf and meatball sub) were peppered full of season, almost too much so, but it was the appetizers that shined in a collective Dark Side opinion. The buffalo sauce in the wings was excellent, exactly what I’ve been looking for in a gameday snack, and oh man, those tater-fritter things. Order them and thank us later. I’m sure the rest of the guys have more to add, but I’m already looking forward to a proper revisit of Desert Valley’s vendings.
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As for me, I found the beers to be mostly average or slightly below. The Lager was my pint choice, as it was just a solid, clean beer. The Stout had the flavor, but lacked body. There was still enough promise in the beers that as the brewers get customer feedback and more experience on their system, they should be able to adjust accordingly.
On the food side, I tried the Balls O’ Meat Submarine (winner on the name front). Much like the meatloaf for Franz Solo, it was a bit peppery. The fries were quite good. I preferred the bone-in over the boneless wings. The teriyaki sauce was good on the wings, but the buffalo sauce was better (also, always go bone-in). The Twisted Tots and the Pork with no Fork were quite good, too.
Our server was attentive, friendly, and helpful. Unfortunately for her, the kitchen was moving slow. Like really, really slow. It took a while before our food arrived and some of the dishes were lukewarm. This is something that should be fairly easily corrected, with either more staff in the kitchen or a better way to communicate with the front of house that the food is ready. I have a feeling it will be all-hands-on-deck as far as staff goes Saturday, so hopefully everything will run smoothly for the big grand opening crowd.
Overall, the positive vibe and atmosphere, plus enough promise in the food and beer, will have us coming back in a few months to check on the progress. With a little luck and hard work, Desert Valley should be able to find its niche on the west side.
A big thanks to Chris Senutovitch for the invite and taking care of the food portion of our bill. We were glad to make it on short notice and we will be back.