During my brief first visit for one pint during their opening week, I was unable to try any of Enchanted Circle’s food, due to the City of Albuquerque neglecting to supply the green sticker (even though the staff said that the City said they would have it in time for the opening) to the first off-site taproom for the Angel Fire brewery. I went back over the weekend to try some of the menu items as well as more of the beer.
One change was already immediately evident as Dave and I pulled into the parking lot on the northwest corner of Osuna and San Mateo. It was clear they were in the midst of building a patio out in front of the building. It was good, and surprising, to see even more progress so soon after their opening.
I felt the same pleasant vibe walking in there the second time as I did the first. They honestly have done an amazing job transforming the space, so much so that it is easy to forget you are in a strip mall. Dark wood, Tiffany-style table lamps on the large bar, and some barrel tables contribute to an upscale pub feel.
Both times that we visited, we sat at the bar and had the same wonderfully exceptional service from our bartender. Also both times, owners Steve and Shelley Larson were on-site and pleasantly hands-on. I asked Steve about the patio and he said even though it looks like they just started cutting out the space, they hope to have it open within two weeks! It will be covered with fabric and have misters, so it should be a cool spot to hang out with your pup, even in the summer. Steve and Shelley are animal lovers, and they wanted a dog-friendly option for their customers.
One thing to be prepared for upon arrival: an overwhelming number of beers to choose from. Enchanted Circle continues to brew at their original location in Angel Fire and transport it to Albuquerque, up to 35 kegs at a time in a van. They have a ton of equipment up there, a 20-barrel system with 400 barrels in process, and motivated brewers. A big reason the Larsons wanted to open a taproom in Albuquerque is to move the huge amount of beer they were producing. They just can’t move the quantity in Angel Fire.
There were more than 20 of their own beers of many styles on tap during my visit, and a couple of guest taps. Steve was extremely generous with the samples, meaning we tried a lot. With that quantity, I expected some to have off-flavors, but I didn’t find any. Steve said that one of the more unusual beers on tap (a plum sour that was cloudy and creamy) is one of their more popular styles in the Albuquerque taproom. This would never be the case up in Angel Fire, where they constantly have to run big batches of both their pilsner and lager. In fact, just after we arrived, the first person who sat next to us ordered a pint of this plum sour. While it’s true that there are no over-the-top hop bombs, there are a few IPAs. And, if you can’t find a style of beer you like here, well, maybe you just don’t like beer.
The food menu, in contrast, is concise, but well thought-out in terms of a variety of options. There are appetizers, a few salads, several burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, and pot pies. Weeknights feature a different dinner special each night. We ordered a pulled pork sandwich with a side salad, and a gyro with fries to try and get a feel for how some of their beers paired with different menu items. Shelly also brought us a complimentary small sample of the artichoke appetizer to try. We finished with a heaping serving of the Bourbon Bread Pudding. Yes, I had to take home half of my food!
Dave and I both chose the Juicy Pale Ale #1 for our pint to start off. Some of our other favorites from the samples were the Lemon Shandy (way, way too easy to drink, especially for that upcoming patio!), Nice Day IPA, Glory Hole IPA (with food), Raspberry Nubbin Fruit Lager, Shred-It Red, and the Whiskey Barrel Belgian Quad. We only learned after ordering it that the Juicy Pale Ale #1 is the first beer they have brewed with hops extract. They are going to try a series of it to determine the best version.
As far as what paired best with our food, the Raspberry Nubbin and the 70 Chilling (smoked) Scottish Ale both paired differently, but equally well, with the pulled pork. The Hells Bells Helles Lager unsurprisingly took the top spot with the gyro. The Glory Hole IPA was the right match for the artichoke dip, and we much preferred the Glory Hole with food than without. And, finally, the Whiskey Barrel Belgian Quad was the only beer that could stand up to the sweetness and richness of the bread pudding. Well, except strangely for our Juicy Pale Ale; that sort of worked in a weird way also, just not as good as the quad. Dave said that eating the bread pudding with the quad totally tricked his brain into thinking that the quad tasted like a port wine. He was honestly kind of blown away by that.
There were some small, nitpicky things with the food that I am sure will get worked out. They were out of several things we wanted due to a mix up with the supplier. Next time, I would ask for a small side of extra BBQ sauce for the pulled pork. It was a good sauce, and it was only spread on top. Now, the pork was totally flavorful and juicy enough without the sauce, but I like my sauce, so that’s probably just my preference! And, the presentation could be tightened up a bit. I did only see one person working in the kitchen, and it’s a pretty big taproom, so this might be why. It was mostly noticeable with the gyro; it was a bit messy. The tzatziki was haphazard, and the small amount of lettuce was placed between the meat and the pita, so it got really hot and wilted. It would look better and retain more integrity if it was placed on top, but again, that’s some minor and hopefully constructive nitpicking.
I want to return for a weekday happy hour in hopefully a couple of weeks to try the Juicy #2. I am also looking forward to a unique appetizer that is quite the deal during happy hour — a smoked salmon spread, with toasted mini bagels and toppings. I am a sucker for happy hour offerings that are different from the norm. Now, which of those 20-plus beers will be the one that goes best with the smoked salmon?