A whole lot of ups and downs happened in the New Mexico craft beer scene in 2018. We wrote about a lot of it, but not all. So apologies in advance if there are things we missed in this here recap of the year that was, particularly outside of the ABQ and Santa Fe areas. If there was a theme to 2018, it was the proliferation of off-site brewery taprooms, as well as a few of those taprooms shutting their doors.
The year got off to a bit of a slow start. There were a couple of festivals, with the Taos Brewmasters Festival making a rare foray into this month (it went back to December by the end of the year, making it the rare twice-in-a-year fest), plus of course WinterBrew was rather awesome again up in Santa Fe. The most popular story of the month with all of you was when Rio Bravo gave us a sort of mea culpa over issues of beer quality and organization. The month concluded with a soft opening for High and Dry Brewing. Then there was the opening of Tap That, a new beer bar concept, at least for ABQ.
It is always good to start a month with some medals, as four local breweries combined to win nine at the Best of Craft Beer Awards. The Crew handed out a seventh different winner in our seventh annual Stout Challenge on Super Bowl Sunday, with Canteen’s Dark ‘n Lusty taking home the honors. We got our first look inside Lava Rock Brewing on the Westside, but could not anticipate all the problems that the newcomer would have in getting its brewhouse hooked up and running (as the year ends, Lava Rock is still brewing only on a small pilot system). The biggest news of the month was La Cumbre announcing its forthcoming Westside taproom. As the month ended, the National IPA Challenge was underway.
After four straight NIPAC wins by New Mexico breweries — La Cumbre in ’14 and ’17, Bosque in ’15 and ’16 — there would be no “one for the thumb” as Canteen’s Hop Baller did not advance to the finals. There was more tough news as Kaktus shut the doors on its Nob Hill taproom, but the brewery staff still sounded optimistic about the future of their Bernalillo operation. The rest of the month featured a lot more good news than bad. Quarter Celtic brought home medals from a competition in New York. We were able to officially share the news that Ex Novo Brewing was coming from Portland, Oregon, to Corrales, the hometown of owner Joel Gregory. Another fun day required a hard hat as I got to tour the under-construction Bosque North with John Bullard. Up north, Luke got to take a tour of the new Santa Fe Brewing taproom downtown.
For whatever reason, this is usually a slower month, perhaps as we all brace for the start of festival season in May. It was not that quiet this year, however, as we got our first look inside the forthcoming Toltec Brewing, which would officially open in May. We also got to meet the new man in charge at Red Door, where Matt Meier took the reins as head brewer. Of course, the biggest event every April usually revolves around Marble’s anniversary party, but this year was the 10th, so boy did the staff go big. I got to tap into more of that beer history I love so much, while also getting the take of some of the longest tenured staff members on what a decade of Marble meant to them.
We knew this was going to be a big month when the good folks at Founders sent us some KBS ’18 to drink and review, and boy, did we go off the rails again. From there, we expected big things from the biennial World Beer Cup and … oh, yeah, that happened. It still stings almost eight months later. There would eventually be redemption, but first we saw the long-awaited opening of Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery in Santa Fe, as well as Southwest Grape and Grain moving to a bigger, better space near Candelaria and Carlisle. Bosque went and made us all smile with the announcement of the Restoration Pizza project. Then, of course, our time and livers were dominated by the annual fun that is ABQ Beer Week. Not everything went to plan *cough, Battle of the Beer Geeks (RIP), cough* but it was the usual great variety of fun events and tasty brews. Oh, and Franz Solo and I did our stupidest/greatest one-night metal adventure when we skipped out in the middle to go see Insomnium in Denver, but that is a story for another time.
Even as Beer Week came to a close, there was more good news on the medal front as the locals cleaned up at the North American Beer Awards and Burning Can. Broken Trail did good and teamed up with several other breweries for its annual St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser. There were a pair of taprooms opening in town as Tractor Westside and Ponderosa’s El Vado location were finally unveiled. Outside of the metro area, Luke ventured up to the impressive Red River Brewing for the first time, while Franz Solo and I took a short road trip to Grants to hike the El Malpais and visit Elkins Brewing.
It turned out that St. Baldrick’s event was the last of its kind at the original Broken Trail location, as big changes were underway there that included taking out the taproom space. We got some bad news, however, when Monks’ Corner announced it would shut down by the end of the month, ending its short-lived run in downtown. Bosque took us inside its new business offices and warehouse, while also helping us preview the final round of the IPA Challenge at Bosque North. Speaking of the NMIPAC, it was another year with some issues at the preliminary round, but things went much smoother at the Taos Mesa Taproom and Second Street Rufina. It all concluded with Blue Corn taking home the trophy for the second time in its history.
After all that happened up to this point, I had earned a vacation, so off I went to visit friends (and breweries) in Portland and Eugene. The news did not stop while I was away, however. AmyO got us our first look inside the forthcoming Cantero Brewing. It was good news for Flix, Santa Fe, and The 377 at the US Open Beer Championship. The 377 then capped a very good month with a third-place finish in the American cask competition at the Great British Beer Festival. It was the fifth brewery from New Mexico to medal in the past seven years. Up north, Second Street unveiled its first lineup of canned beers, while Santa Fe prepared to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Back in the ABQ area, Steel Bender talked about its upcoming expansion, while Quarter Celtic announced its first off-site taproom. Oh, and it was finally time for La Cumbre Westside to open, to much fanfare and happy folks on that bank of the Rio Grande.
As the first wonderful hints of autumn began to fill the air, it was not the most wonderful news around town. Red Door was forced to shut down its Northeast Heights taproom due to a dispute with the landlord. Needing some positive news, we got our first look inside the future Blue Grasshopper brewery/taproom coming to Wells Park. Then it was time for Cantero Brewing to open its doors at last. After all that happened here, the Crew hopped on a plane to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. As per usual, we spent too much time sampling beers and not enough time interviewing people, but in the end, we were able to drag ourselves to the awards ceremony, where seven of our breweries brought home seven medals, including the first gold medal in the 19-year history of Turtle Mountain. The month ended with a marvelous Marblefest, unless you were like Brandon and I and instead went to see Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity, Moonspell, and Omnium Gatherum in Denver. The metal was not well-timed in regards to beer events this year.
Just when we figured things would start to slow down, they did not. Santa Fe Brewing will again be an anchor tenant of the forthcoming Tin Can Alley, the sequel to Green Jeans Farmery. Then came the sad, but not unexpected, news that the Duel ABQ Taproom had closed its doors. Crew writers took solace at the ninth annual New Mexico Brew Fest and Red River’s Oktoberfest. We finished the month with our first look inside the future Black Snout Brewhouse at Menaul and Juan Tabo.
Apparently, this month was meant to give thanks for taprooms, because the news was dominated by off-site locations. Red Door announced its plans to open a taproom in a Clovis bowling alley. The Rock Canyon Taproom near Tijeras, now owned by Lizard Tail, got a makeover and opened its doors again. Finally, Boese Brothers went to the farthest corner of the Northeast Heights for its new taproom.
The year concluded with news about, you guessed it, yet another taproom. Boxing Bear went into detail about the process of selecting the former 5 Star Burgers location on West Central for its first off-site location. While most of our month was dedicated to the ongoing Look Back/Look Ahead Series, we did get a chance to see the significant progress at Ex Novo Brewing in Corrales. Otherwise, the winter slowdown went into effect even before the temperatures dropped like a rock and the sorta-kinda-blizzard hit. Oh, what a year it was.
Stuff coming in 2019 that has us excited
Well, we know Ex Novo is coming soon, and that Boxing Bear taproom should be fun for people who are averse to crossing the river for beer. Black Snout is moving along, and other breweries are en route as well. From Brew Lab 101 in Rio Rancho to the just announced Looking Glass Spirits & Long Lost Brewing, there should be plenty of new to check out in the metro area. Outside of ABQ, we are overdue to visit places to the north like Colfax Ale Cellar in Raton and Blu Dragonfly in Cimarron, or to the south with places like Lost Hiker in Ruidoso, Guadalupe Mountain in Carlsbad, and the forthcoming Icebox Brewing in Las Cruces (among many, many others). Throw in all of our favorite annual events — WinterBrew on January 11, our Stout Challenge on Super Bowl Sunday, ABQ Beer Week in May, the NMIPAC in July, and GABF in October — and it should be another fun year. We hope you all enjoy the ride as much as we do, but fear not if you cannot get out enough, we will keep you all in the news about the beer scene once again!
Cheers and Happy New Year!
— Stoutmeister and the Crew