Going south in a good way on a Southern New Mexico brewery tour

The visually stunning Cloudcroft Brewing was one of several that AmyO visited on her trip south.

Last September, my other half and I thought a quick overnight road trip was in order. We ventured up north to visit some northern New Mexico breweries we had not been to. At that time, we were trying to decide whether to do a northern or a southern route. The time of year pulled us north, then, so it was now time for us to head back out to venture to a few breweries down south.

DISCLAIMER: In the story for the northern tour, I stated that we knew we would not be able to get to everything in the time we had, and the distance we would need to cover. Yet, several readers still commented on how we “missed” one brewery or another. We didn’t miss them. Either they weren’t open when we were in that area, they took us too far off our route, or we just couldn’t fit them in and get where we needed to be in a reasonable amount of time. So, I am going to add a disclaimer here and hopefully people will read it. On this trip we did not go to Las Cruces, because that should be its own trip. We also did not make it to Artesia or Carlsbad because I have already covered The Wellhead in Artesia, the new Hopscotch Brewing north of Artesia is not open on Sundays, Guadalupe Mountain in Carlsbad is also closed on Sundays, and Milton’s in Carlsbad does not open until 2 p.m. on Sundays. For these reasons, and the fact that hotel prices were flat out exorbitant in Carlsbad/Artesia, we altered our originally intended route to instead head back north from Roswell to Clovis and Portales, before returning to ABQ Sunday evening.

We began our journey Friday late afternoon, heading south on I-25, making our first stop at Owl Cafe in San Antonio for a quick break before heading on to Truth or Consequences. FYI, though they make a good burger at the Owl, they sadly have no craft beer game at all. Like zero.

Truth or Consequences Brewing Company

T or C Brewing is always a good place to start.

We had heard good things about Truth or Consequences Brewing Company, but had never been through the town during their business hours, and we were ready to finally get there. Dave wanted to do the hot springs anyhow, since he has been recovering from ACL surgery. We booked a funky motel and trekked over a couple of blocks (a little slowly for Dave!) to the brewery. Since Luke recently covered this brewery, we ventured in as just plain ol’ patrons. The place is larger than I imagined. We enjoyed a sampler and a couple of pints. A popular food truck parks out back and menus are also available for many local restaurants. It’s a decidedly more artsy crowd than I anticipated.

After perusing the menus, we saw something we liked and then Googled it — Point Blanc Winery. It’s located at a bowling alley a short distance north from the center of town. Keep in mind this is a “winery” as far as we could tell only in that they have a selection of NM wines, and they had a container on the bar that said “Sangria.” So maybe it means they make that; I don’t know. But, the main reason we went was because of the pictures online. It’s a surprisingly upscale-looking place (being that it is connected to the lanes) with 22 NM beers on tap. We enjoyed a beer and fried zucchini, and shared a pizza. We thought it was a pretty good find for a town this size. In fact, we were generally surprised by the amount of people in town for either the hot springs, or fishing, or both. A nightcap at the hotel room and a soak in a hot spring tub capped off the relaxing night.

Saturday was to be a long travel day, so for breakfast we finished off our leftover pizza from the night before. Dave took one more soak while I got ready, and we headed off for a full day of adventure. This would be the longest part of the trip without a break. We made our way from TorC through the very northern edge of Las Cruces, then through Alamogordo (no breweries yet, but that will hopefully soon be changing), and up to Cloudcroft.

Cloudcroft Brewing Company

Beers in the mountains always taste a little better.

I have a soft spot for this mountain town, anyway, due to fond childhood memories, but I have to say our mountain towns are doing it right with their breweries. Now Cloudcroft Brewing Company is second only to Red River in our minds for spectacular brewery venues. I ordered a sampler flight and took a look around. This is where I had the first of two actual interviews, this one with brewer Kasey Bigbee.

As things in the brewing world tend to go, Kasey ended up being swamped with a few major issues that day. Unbeknownst to me, the brewery was preparing to close for a week-to-10 days for some long-planned work. The glycol system had just crapped out, which, if it was going to happen, at least it was before the closure. But, that was definitely not planned and meant Kasey was going to have a great deal of catch-up to do. Additionally, a large private party was about to commence on the patio. So I promised I would keep it brief.

Yup, that’s about as rustic as a brewery can get.

Kasey has an interesting story about how he made his way to Cloudcroft. He actually grew up in Guam. He was a military brat and his mom retired from nearby Holloman Air Force Base. Kasey got a job that took him all over New Mexico. Then he started homebrewing, and floated around to Las Cruses and spent a bit of time in Santa Fe before landing in Cloudcroft. The setup in the brewing part of the operation required a bit of creative use of space, so they repurposed wine fermenters from Italy (by way of Houston) as they take up a smaller footprint. This has been serving them well. They are able to brew approximately 7.5-barrel batches. He brews three times a week, so he is cranking out a good amount of beer.

I asked Kasey about the clientele, and if it is more locals or more tourists. He said it’s about a 50/50 split. He said a lot of people do find them online and stop in when they are passing through from all over the country. Overall, his most popular beer is the Adobe Wheat, but his current personal favorite is the Irish Red. I asked about booking the music because they have built a fantastic stage behind the brewery. Kasey said they have had no issues whatsoever in finding acts. Musicians are excited to play there.

The outdoor stage is a big hit with musicians.

The pizza at Cloudcroft Brewing looked great, but we had other other lunch plans. Having been fortified with some tasty beer, clean mountain air, and fantastic surroundings, we made our way to Ruidoso for lunch at our favorite place in the area. We’re weird; we go to the Cattle Baron, a steakhouse, specifically for their amazing salad bar. It’s huge and it’s all I ever want! Dave ordered a steak sandwich with the add-on of the salad bar.

Lost Hiker Brewing Company

It was just a quick stop at Lost Hiker.

With a big base of food, we carried on to Lost Hiker. I am a fan of their Midnight Squirrel Oatmeal Stout, having tasted it before at the New Mexico Brew Fest, so I knew off the bat what I was going to have. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint. Because I knew ahead of time that the owners were out of town, we had a quick beer, took some pictures, and kept going to our next destination since it was a long travel day. We will be back. By the way, Dave was fascinated by their huge, and I do mean huge, table full of assorted Legos. I have no idea how someone could acquire that much Lego inventory.

Bonito Valley Brewing Company

Lincoln’s only brewery is a charming spot.

We were not sure we would have time to make it over to the next brewery in the village of Lincoln, but we did, and it was great fun. Bonito Valley Brewing is in an old, traditional building that in itself could almost be a museum. They play to the Wild West, gun-slinging tradition of the area. There was some good live music on the patio, and we talked with people from all over the state who had stopped in. Some were coming by after visiting the Trinity Site, and one couple from the west side of Albuquerque were staying nearby in the Wortley Hotel.

We settled in over some Palomino Pale Ale. Although it was not planned, we were able to briefly talk to head brewer Tim Roberts and get a quick tour. Tim seemed highly motivated and is anxious to expand on the current system they are running. They are using plastic fermenters now, and hope that new stainless steel will really help for consistency. The thick plaster walls of this historic building are already great for consistency in temperature. The east side of the building has an open area that would make for a great additional outdoor space with plenty of shade available in the summer. It is something Tim said he is considering. If the number of people we saw that day is indicative of their usual weekend crowd, then they will likely do well to expand both the space and the brewing operation.

The Old West theme is everywhere.

I asked Tim if it was difficult to start this brewery in a small historic village such as Lincoln. He said residents were a bit hesitant in the beginning, but quickly came to realize that a brewery is not the same as a full bar. They are very supportive now. As a surprising side note, Tim came from Florida, where he said it is much, much more difficult to start a brewery than in New Mexico. He was amazed at the supportive atmosphere of this state in comparison. Hey, that’s a positive, right?

Roswell’s First Brewery

Oh, that name is a tricky one when you’re looking it up online.

The day was waning. We wanted to get to Roswell in time to get a light, late dinner and relax a bit in the hotel, so we made what felt like a pretty short trip over to Roswell from Lincoln. I had a meeting with owner/brewer CV Harris at the new brewery in Roswell — Roswell’s first! — the next morning before they opened, so we stopped over there briefly on Saturday night to get a feel for the place and grab a beer. There was a food truck out front serving tapas-style food. The beertender was very nice, but it felt strange that she had to go in to another room that we could not see to pour our beer after we ordered it. More on that in a bit.

The next morning after breakfast, we drove back over to the brewery, which is on the south end of town, away from the heart of the city. The whole time leading up to this visit I was wondering how in the hell I was going to write this part of the story. The reason for my trepidation was the name of the brewery. I put on my big girl pants and decided to ask CV right away — what gives with the name? He laughed, because he was of course used to people commenting on the name. In fact, because of the name, he almost didn’t open at all.

So, now here is the part where I address the “cock in the room.” CV said he named the brewery Black Cock Brewing because he went to college at NMSU for engineering, and in college he used to help a friend down in El Paso take care of his roosters. He was just a nerdy “white guy” who gave himself a nickname to fit in. The nickname was El Gallo Negro. He told his coworkers in Roswell about it and they started calling him that, too. CV said gallo would be too hard for people to spell and find on the Internet/social media. He thought Black Cock would be a funny joke. It turns out that some people do think it’s funny, but some city councilors definitely did not. I asked if that was part of the reason there is no sign out front with the brewery’s name. He said yes, and another thing happened when he was getting his small brewer license. He was almost through the process and then he found out there was some loophole called the “local option.” He didn’t remember seeing anything about Roswell’s city council having to approve it, but it is termed local option, and he did not know that is what that meant.

CV said he started to worry. He had spent tens of thousands of dollars already and then might not get the license because of the name. He went in front of city council, and two of them immediately voted no. They vote no on everything alcohol related, he said. Another three voted no because of the name. He thought he was done for and did not want to start the process all over again with a new name. But, the other five voted yes. The mayor had to break the tie and voted in his favor.

There are a few guest taps rounding out the menu.

CV said he is looking to expand from a 1.5-barrel system to a 7-barrel system. His dream is to expand the taproom and enclose the brewing operation in glass so the customers can see the process. Then I had to ask why the current setup does not even have the taps at the bar. I said it was weird the night before how the beertender just sort of “disappears” and then reappears with the beer. Is it the aliens?

CV fully agreed and said that issue is already being addressed (and might be done at the time of release of this story). They are knocking the wall down. The city made him do it this way at first because otherwise he was going to have to cut up his floor. It was bad because he had shown them the layout before construction and thought everyone was fine with it. They had it where the hoses ran back in to the kitchen but then they said you can’t do that. We all know how stuff like that goes.

Right now, they are brewing once a week. He has hired a new brewer to take the load off of himself. The most popular beer so far is the Stellar Stout. I felt it was their best beer of the ones I tasted the night before. Though they have been open only about six months, so most of that time was during the cooler months. It will be interesting to see how business changes this summer. There is a nearby apple farm that has approached CV about also doing some ciders.

I asked CV how he got his start in the brewing industry and if he is originally from Roswell. He said he is from Magdalena, New Mexico. He got a job as an engineer for a food company in Roswell that makes cheese, mostly for pizza chains like Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. He started brewing as a hobby in his garage on a 1.5-barrel system. The hobby quickly became more serious. He had his own company that he sold, so he used that money to buy his equipment. But then, basically, he said his wife told him to get the shit out of the garage. Oops.

The rule is you have to have a location to get a brewer license. He was fortunate to find this place for sale where the prior tenants wanted to sublease it back from him until they vacated. This gave him time to get everything together and not lose too much money during the waiting period. However, he said he did spend a lot more on the renovation than he anticipated.

Roosevelt Brewing

The beer lineup in Portales has been expanded.

After we left CV, we hit the road for the final stretch and headed back north. Though it’s been open for years, we still had not been to Roosevelt Brewing in Portales. We were told by a couple of different people that they have good food and planned for that to be our lunch stop. Roosevelt is in a great building in the middle of town. The brewing equipment is prominently displayed, and they have quite a few different styles. It took so long for me to get out there that I wanted to make sure to order a flight. Sadly they were out of a couple of beers, but there was still plenty to taste. They were also out of quite a bit of the food and didn’t have what I wanted to order, which I admit started to make me a little cranky. Apparently it had been a pretty busy weekend! I defaulted to a Cuban sandwich, but that turned out to be serendipitous because it was probably the best damn Cuban I have ever had. Absolute redemption in my eyes. Even the side salad was fantastic, and I was once again a happy girl.

Our last stop was the brand new taproom for Red Door in Clovis. This is also attached to the town’s bowling alley, so I guess it is strangely a theme for this trip. There is a kitchen and people seemed to enjoy the food. Good for Clovis, because the town could use more of this type of industry, given that there is nearby Cannon Air Force Base. They were low on beer because they were having an equipment issue that was going to be fixed in the next day or two. But, we were able to find beer available that we liked and the staff that were working were really great.

That’s a wrap on our brief sojourn down south. It’s just great to see the industry expanding to more parts of the state. Someday, Carlsbad, someday.

Cheers!

— AmyO

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