The final stop in our recent tour of breweries in Southern New Mexico felt like a trip back in time.
None of us had ever been to the small town of Lincoln, which sits along Highway 380, just east of Capitan. Many of the buildings here date back to the 19th century, including the one that is currently home to Bonito Valley Brewing.
We met up with co-owners Tim Roberts and John Boutte on a rainy afternoon, just as they were brewing up another batch of their popular Palomino Pale Ale.
“John and I met when I first moved here in 2016,” Roberts said. “I got back into home brewing. I got started (brewing professionally) back in Florida. When I moved out here and took the job with the state, I wanted to get back into home brewing, get back to my roots. I started home brewing with John, and I think it had been less than a year of doing this. At that point, Cloudcroft wasn’t there, 575 (and) Lost Hiker hadn’t started.”
The closest breweries to Lincoln back then were The Wellhead and Desert Water in Artesia to the southeast, and all the way to the Las Cruces breweries to the west.
“We felt that instead of driving all the way down there (Las Cruces or Artesia) to get a beer, let’s start our own place and see if it works,” Roberts said. “And, it’s worked so far.”
It was into this craft beer desert that Roberts and Boutte got to work, though from the start they faced some limitations in what they could do with their fledgling brewery.
Bonito Valley’s home was estimated to have been built between 1868 and 1870. Due to certain rules regarding historical sites, they were limited in the size of their equipment in the fact it had to fit through the doorways, which they could not enlarge. Roberts and Boutte set up a 2-barrel brewhouse, and initially relied on plastic fermenters, which both said were not very conducive to making good beer.
“I remember the first time we brewed here,” Roberts said. “We’ve learned so much about the ergonomics of a brewery, what to do, what not to do, how to do something better. Little things. It took us three times longer to brew some beers, now it’s down to a more normal time.”
“Those were like 14-hour brew days,” Boutte added.
Now there are actual stainless steel fermenters in use, and the quality of the brews has gotten better. We all tried the L.G. Murphy Irish Stout, named for a notable wealthy landowner who immigrated to the area in the 19th century from Ireland, and it was a nice, chewy beer for a dry stout.
“We’re lucky, this batch of stout will probably not taste the same as the next batch of stout, and people here are OK with that,” Roberts said. “We’re a small brewery, and that’s what we do. We change recipes here and there. If we don’t have all the same ingredients for this, let’s try this, change it up a little bit.”
The local support, both from those in Lincoln and other nearby towns, has been huge for Bonito Valley during the course of the pandemic.
“I was convinced we were going to be OK,” Roberts said. “Certainly we didn’t have as many out-of-state tourists. It was all Roswell, El Paso, and even some people from Ruidoso. It was our local clientele that really came in during this time. Yesterday, I was looking around and I’m like, ‘I know 95 percent of these people.’”
The desire of many of those people to get away to a less crowded place like Lincoln also helped.
“I think a lot of people are migrating away from the cities, the bigger towns,” Boutte said. “People like going to rural areas, especially with a pandemic going on, people like being more spread out.”
Lincoln does have some past brewing history, dating back to the days of Billy the Kid and the infamous Lincoln County War. The John Copeland & Co. Brewery operated in the area from 1874 to 1885, and Roberts, a historian who works for the Department of Cultural Affairs, said Murphy also had a brewery in the area. In addition, records even show there were farmers growing hops for these small breweries. Knowing that a hop farm might work in the area has inspired Roberts and Boutte to considering trying their own hand at such a project.
“We did a wet-hop IPA last year and it really took well,” Roberts said. “We’re thinking about planting an acre and trying it out. We’ve got some Neo Mexicanus, some Cascade.”
For the most part, however, Bonito Valley is more focused on malt-forward beers.
“We’re (brewing) our pale ale today, which is more on the continental side of a pale ale, more of an ESB than a West Coast pale,” Roberts said. “I lived on the East Coast and Europe for a while. I chased that ‘Hop Dragon’ like everyone else in the old days, just like everyone else. I’m very happy with a good, balanced beer. John, on the other hand, we can’t cram in enough hops for him.”
We did also try the Permian Gold Black IPA, which had more hops than the black IPA we consumed at Cloudcroft Brewing, and the 44-40 Session IPA, and both were solid enough to keep the hopheads happy should they visit.
While the rain kept us from enjoying the expansive patio that wraps around the east side of the building, the inside was open now and quite comfortable. The decor was quite fitting, the floors creaked properly (as one might expect for a 150-year-old building), and all in all, we were simply charmed by this delightful brewing outpost.
A big thanks to Tim and John for taking the time to chat in the middle of their brew day. We were happy to see that by the time we left that the rain did not keep customers away, with a mix of locals and tourists settling in for pints and some tacos from the food truck outside.
Here are quite a few more photos that Luke took of Bonito Valley, which we wanted to make sure to share.
The next time you are in the south/southeast part of the state, make sure to take the time to visit Bonito Valley. Just leave your six-shooters at home.
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