Editor’s note: As we have documented many times before, real life often gets in the way of all of our stories being published in a timely manner, and sometimes breaking news like the La Cumbre taproom opening can further delay an article. That happened here (the event below was August 11), but we still felt like there was some important information to share, so away we go. — S
The weather was not looking particularly great, as Shawna and I set out for Downtown Albuquerque. What looked to be a storm front was pushing up from the south along the Rio Grande. We took a bit of solace in the idea that we were going to be inside for the second annual NM Distillers Guild Festival, but we were wrong, very wrong. As we reached the Banque Lofts along Central and Second Street, we were greeted at the door, collected our commemorative tasting glasses, and proceeded into an elevator, with the instructions simply to press the “R”. Up we went, nine floors and onto the landing for the massive rooftop patio which was to host the event.
The diffused and setting sun and the views overlooking Albuquerque quickly left a memorable impression, as by a stroke of luck the weather held off, despite some heavy gusts in the beginning. It was reminiscent in form to the beer-focused festivals, with each distillery setting up their unique tables and tents, eagerly waiting to educate and lend a sample.
With but a modest understanding of the styles and production methods at hand, this made for an exciting and eye-opening adventure in terms of flavors and possibilities with distilled spirits and liquors. Participants included Left Turn, Tractor, Broken Trail, Hollow Spirits, Little Toad Creek, Algodones Distillery, Santa Fe Spirits, and Still Spirits. There was certainly no bad, or even mediocre, cocktails or samples to be had. Each distillery had certainly brought out the big guns innovation-wise, and were ready to impress.
Among all of this is where we met with Frank Holloway and chef Tristin Rogers with Hollow Spirits, which will soon be opening in the Wells Park neighborhood (1324 First Street NW). Frank’s name may sound familiar from his previous endeavors with Red Door Brewing. With a warm reception, and the crowd still building, we took the opportunity to talk about the festival and his current project.
“Luckily we are still small enough that we could pull off this venue, it’s a beautiful view,” Frank said. “Last year’s (Spirits Festival) was up here, too. There haven’t been too many changes. I would say we are getting better at the process. The setups are getting a little bit better, everyone is starting to bring out their tents; all the setups are a little bit better.”
The upturn in interest and founding of more distilleries definitely added to the overall participation this year, Frank said.
“There are more people than last year,” he said. “Tractor is here now, too. That has been huge to the scene, especially when you understand them from the beer side.”
While still dwarfed by the beer community in terms of numbers, the Spirits Festival was a testament to the growing traction of the distilling side of beverage production here in New Mexico. (Stay tuned to the NMDSBC for a follow-up on the NM Distillers Guild itself.)
Taking the opportunity before the wind decided to almost take off with some tents again, we further discussed the progress of Hollow Spirits and what seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of projects.
“It seems like we’re about a month out,” Frank said. “We’re painting, about to do the floors, pretty much all the plumbing and electrical is done.”
Frank said he was cautiously optimistic, but determined to finish.
“I’ve been in the bar industry serving, distributing, opened Red Door, since I was 19,” he said. “No matter if your job is the coolest job in the world, you get tired of doing the same thing over and over and over again. So personally, I don’t want to do the same thing over for myself or my staff. So for the most part, we’re going to try and rotate (our selections) as much as possible and do seasonal drinks.”
Hollow Spirits will be working with local growers to acquire some fresh ingredients to help in bursting out of the norm.
Moving onto the topic of food, we were excited to hear there is a kitchen in the works.
“We’re not opening with food, (with the) reason being we were not sure we had the finances to initially start the kitchen, but wound up getting everything we needed for the kitchen,” Frank said. “Now we just don’t want to delay the City in terms of paperwork.”
A reasonable decision, especially when trying to keep the estimated one-month-until opening time frame.
“We definitely want to do some pairing dinners, I want him (Tristin) to come to me and be like, ‘Hey, can you make this liquor, I want to do this food,’” Frank said.
While spirits are not as ‘famously’ paired with food as wine or even beer yet, they do have their place among some very satisfying dishes. Tristin added an interesting perspective to the situation.
“The idea is to kind of reprogram New Mexico diners’ minds … even if they’re not hungry, just stop by for some good drinks, enjoy, and treat it more like art,” he said. “So we want to educate you in good food.”
For those of you not as keen to spirits, Hollow Spirits will also be serving beer and wine from across the state.
As the wind finally settled down and no more human anchors were required to keep the tents from taking a 10-story plunge, it was time to try the wares. We met up with some familiar faces, downed a few excellent samples (in my humble opinion most notably Hollow Spirits’ Wheat Vodka, Little Toad Creek’s Te-Guy-La, and Algodones Distillery’s Gin). While this was certainly out of the usual for myself and Shawna, it proved to be a memorable and entertaining evening worth recommending next years Spirits Festival.
— Jerrad & Shawna