A decade in review: 10 years of writing about craft breweries in New Mexico

We were young once. And thin(ner).

Holy hell, the Brew Crew is 10.

It was around this time a decade ago that one of us wrote up the quickest of posts, simply titled Greetings, which announced our mission statement to be a collective of five writers who wanted to chronicle the growing industry of microbreweries (remember when we called them that?) in New Mexico. There was no photo in the story, no links, not even a single one of our names.

We rectified that a few weeks later by introducing ourselves. Please, join us in cringing at our early writing styles.

So how did we end up at that point, writing about beer in addition to drinking it?

Well, it all started with Franz Solo’s bachelor party. I had met Franz through an old high school friend, whose parents were friends with his parents. We gradually became friends over the course of 2010-11, but I was off covering an Isotopes game the night of his engagement party. Still, I was invited to the bachelor party, and one of the groomsmen, Jon (Shilling), asked for my help in planning out the whole thing.

Our basic idea was to hop in groomsman Tyler’s oversized SUV, with his roommate as designated driver, and bounce from one brewery to the next. Nowadays that would be suicide, but back then there were 10 breweries or offsite taprooms in town. We planned to hit eight, because even back then, we knew that Kellys was not making good beer, and Chama River was a little too fancy for a group of idiots who were moshing inside the SUV to Slayer.

What the heck was Jon looking at? Wrong answers only.

Our targets, in order:

  • Turtle Mountain (which was to have been our dinner spot)
  • Hallenbrick (RIP)
  • Nexus (which had been open maybe three or four months at this point)
  • Il Vicino Canteen
  • La Cumbre
  • Marble Downtown (technically, it was the only Marble back then)
  • Chama River Microbar (RIP)
  • Tractor Nob Hill (closest to the house that was base of operations/crash pad)

No plan is perfect, and ours was upended by the oven hoods going out at TMBC, which left us with a long wait for pizza, the only available food. Despite my pleas to the others to limit oneself to one beer per stop, that didn’t happen. Then, at Hallenbrick, the father of one of the two acoustic guitarists performing bought us an extra round of Adobe Stout, and things got, uh, fuzzy.

Seriously, our designated driver deserved a medal. Instead, we just filled up some growlers for him at La Cumbre (where E-Rock tried to convince some Boston fans that they should be Yankees fans) and Marble (where Jon’s friend Frank passed out on a patio table, prompting Patrick to politely ask me to get everyone the hell out of there). We missed the Microbar and Tractor.

As Jon and I sat there at the crash pad, watching more shenanigans (there was a trash can on fire floating in the pool), we wondered aloud if we had missed some great beers along the way. Back then, breweries were not making use of Facebook to let people know about beer specials. You had to go to a brewery to see what was new on tap. If a new brewery sprang up, you did not know half the time until you drove past it. There was a dearth of beer news.

“Why don’t we do something about?” Jon asked me. “You’re an actual professional journalist. I can set up a website and we can just go from there.”

It did not happen overnight. In fact, it took another four months. Jon and I recruited Franz, plus E-Rock, who I had known since high school (we’re talking 1992-93, and yes, he and I are old). Jon brought in his friend Brandon, and all we needed was a name for the site to pull it all together.

One of our first Stout Challenges at Franz Solo’s house. That poor old couch, the stories it could have told.

At around 3 a.m. in Barelas on January 1, 2012, the only people left standing at a party were E-Rock and I, drinking Tractor’s PTO Smoked Porter straight from the growler, as we had given up looking for glassware at that point, and had resorted to tossing the yellow pages in the fire pit to keep it going. I stared up into the night sky, and the name just sort of came to me.

“Dark … Dark Side … Dark Side Brew Crew. What do you think?” I asked my longtime comrade in beer-fueled adventures.

“Go for it!” he muttered, taking another swig from the growler.

I texted Jon, and quickly wondered if he would be mad since it was so late, but he responded with an affirmative. Then we published that little intro story, and eventually things began to snowball.

Our first news story was courtesy of Lauren Poole, who was behind the bar at Tractor when they were told they could not sell growlers out of the Nob Hill Taproom.

We held our first Stout Challenge at Franz’s father-in-law’s house. We covered ABQ Beer Week as best we could. We toured Turtle Mountain with Nico Ortiz, and didn’t record a second of it. It was chaotic and haphazard. Other members of the Crew ebbed and flowed in terms of participation. I had asked the others if it was OK if I copy edited their stories for grammar and fact checks. Somehow that meant I was in charge, responsible for herding cats, if cats liked metal and hockey and dark beers.

There were so few breweries to cover, yet it felt overwhelming. Check out the first Week Ahead in Beer. We had just 10 Albuquerque-area breweries in there. Three of those — Bad Ass, Broken Bottle, Chama River — are now gone. ABQ Brew Pub and Il Vicino Canteen were rebranded.

Outside the metro area, there were 13 other breweries in the state — Abbey Brewing in Abiquiu (now closed), Blue Corn in Santa Fe (now Hidden Mountain), Blue Heron in Rinconada, Comanche Creek in Eagle Nest, Eske’s in Taos (now closed), High Desert in Las Cruces, Mimbres Valley in Deming (now closed), Santa Fe Brewing, Second Street in Santa Fe, Sierra Blanca in Moriarty, Taos Ale House (no longer brewing), Three Rivers in Farmington, and The Wellhead in Artesia.

Ah, WinterBrew, we look forward to your return. And did we mention that adding Luke to our writing team was one of the smartest things we ever did? Because it was.

Add it up, and there 23 statewide. Now there are 45 breweries, not counting offsite taprooms, in the Albuquerque metro area alone. There are more than 90 statewide.

Our breweries have exploded in numbers, size, and popularity. They have piled up dozens of medals and three brewery-of-the-year awards at the Great American Beer Festival. New Mexico beers are now distributed in most of our neighboring states. People flock here as beer tourists.

The beer geeks of yore are now parents and responsible (ish) adults. There are a few more pounds packed onto midsections, gray hairs are visible, and sometimes we speak of the breweries gone by to anyone who will listen. Just as all of us were once told of Assets Grille and Milgaro Brewing and the Bavarian Lager Cellar, now we speak of the many cautionary tales of opening too small, like Albuquerque Brewing or Broken Bottle, growing too fast, like Blue Grasshopper, or opening way too big, like the Stumbling Steer. We reminisce about truffle fries and Sleep Dog Stouts at Chama River. We remember the creaky wood floors and chalkboard beer menu at Marble, the uncomfortable barrels-as-tables at La Cumbre, and how Il Vicino always won the damn IPA Challenge.

A whole lot has changed in a decade. We had had many writers on our staff come and go. Jon wandered off long ago, E-Rock became a wandering minstrel (no, really, he did), and others were almost blink-and-you-might-have-missed-their-bylines. Brandon and Franz Solo have children now. We added Luke to fill a major gap covering the Santa Fe breweries, and he has done a fantastic job. We probably don’t thank him enough for all of it, but we can rectify that now and say thank you, brother, for holding down the fort up there. AmyO, Erin, and Maureen have been able to fit some stories into their very busy work schedules, and are always willing to show up when able and join us for our various beer gatherings. Derek and Andrew don’t write anymore, but they are happy to be hosts for our gatherings, along with Franz and Mrs. Solo, who have long opened their house to our shenanigans, and somehow not murdered us the next day.

Have we been perfect through all of these last 10 years? Oh, good lord, no. We set out to be “Beer Switzerland,” as Brandon put it, neutral in all things in terms of reporting on the beer. But, we are still flawed humans, prone to being too opinionated, too temperamental (especially on social media), and sometimes letting our own over-inflated egos get the best of us.

The 2019 Stout Challenge, with almost a full Crew roster, past and present.

Still, we have made a plethora of friends doing this, inside and outside the breweries, and created enough memories for a dozen lifetimes. We have traveled around the state, and to neighboring states, for beer. We have been credentialed to cover GABF multiple times. We have been there for breweries before they opened, and after they closed. We have seen so many brewers grow up, start families, and move on to bigger and better things.

It has been a hell of a decade of writing about beer. We will see if we have another decade in us or not. As a wise man once wrote, “The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us.”

Whether you have been with us since the beginning, or just started following us recently, thanks for being along for this crazy ride.


— Stoutmeister and the rest of the NMDSBC, past and present

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Terry T. says:

    I LMAO at “we’re talking 1992-93, and yes, he and I are old.”

    1. Stoutmeister says:

      Hey, one of the Crew was in preschool then, and some of our friends are even younger, so unfortunately, the early 90s are the old days now. I’m gonna go listen to Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power and not think too hard about it.

  2. Larry Bullard says:

    Thanks for the years. Your reporting keeps me informed of the brewery activity in New Mexico. I have a special interest in the beer activity and some good friends at various NM breweries. Your reports help me stay informed of the trends, politics, economics, and hardships of the brew business. When I travel down from Colorado to visit a certain brewer who is my son we can enjoy some good conversation about beers.

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