If you’ve been around Santa Fe’s railyard district recently, or have been sitting on the patio, sipping on a cold one at Second Street Brewery in the last year and a half, you’ve probably seen the Sky Railway pull into the station at least once by now.
I’m not talking about the Rail Runner, which makes regular stops every day. I’m speaking of the three-passenger car, single flatbed, mural-covered trains, led by either a dire wolf or a dragon.
Yep, I’m talking about George RR Martin and company’s recent revival of the Santa Fe Southern Railway, in the form of weekly sight-seeing rides out to Lamy.
With the “New Mexico Ale Trail” listed as one of Sky Railways many Adventure Series, it sounded like it was right on track for an investigation by the Dark Side Brew Crew. And so, last year, AmyO took a ride on the train and gave us a recap of her in-depth experience, including what you can expect, with some great pro tips added in for good measure.
Now, in its second year running, we wanted to catch up with the train to see how life has been chugging along the railroad.
“The first year totally blew away our expectations,” said Bryan Deutsch, director of onboard operations, sales and marketing. “It was so exciting to see how in support of the experience our local breweries were. It quickly evolved into one of our most unique trains that we offer.”
If you haven’t taken the ride yet, each Ale Trail features a different brewery. During the ride, guests are offered five beer samples by a representative or two from that brewery. Every 20 minutes, a new beer is presented, where the representative tells the riders a little bit about the beer, and then lets them get right to the tasting.
“So the ride isn’t just about beer, right? It’s also about what’s out your window, what you’re listening to,” Deutsch explained.
As previously mentioned, between tastings, there is live music from local musicians, and on each train car no less. And, of course, there’s the open flat-bed car, where you can sip the pint of your choice, while the scenery slowly slips on by.
Last year I purchased a couple tickets for my dad for Father’s Day. According to my stepmom, they had a great time, and my dad talked to everyone. (Photos courtesy of my stepmom.)
The trains have been running for a little over a year, and the Sky Railway has put plenty of track beneath them by now, and it’s been a smooth ride so far.
“To be honest, the experience came together pretty organically. We didn’t really have any growing pains or lessons to be learned with this particular train. Unlike some of our other adventures, Ale Trail just seemed to click,” Deutsch said.
The only major change they made came this year, where they had to expand the experience into two cars due to the popularity of Ex Novo’s train. But, all in all, Deutsch said he is happy with how everything has been rolling.
“It’s a great experience. It’s a different crowd that we get than our normal trains,” he said. “It’s a younger crowd. I think it’s anybody that goes to breweries; it’s a different breed. My kind of people. That’s why I love that train.”
The biggest lessons they’ve learned since inception have been in finding their flow, and of course, figuring out which musicians pair best with which brewery.
At the time of the interview, The Sky Railway had about four breweries lined up for the Ale Trail rides, including some you might have heard of before, like La Cumbre, Ex Novo, Santa Fe Brewing, and Second Street. Soon after, they added Bosque, and the growing list will likely include breweries like Marble and beyond, Deutsch told us. With so many great breweries in New Mexico, the sky is kind of the limit.
I asked Deutsch if he saw the trail expanding to smaller breweries from around New Mexico, and he replied, “Yes, we would love to feature some of the area’s smaller breweries.
“We have started reaching out to those breweries, and are wrapping our heads around logistics of how it would work. I think there is so much interest in this train that people are just looking for any excuse to get on and drink more beer.”
Looking ahead, Deutsch and the folks at Sky Railway would love to just continue to see it grow in popularity.
“We think we have something really special here that is unique to Santa Fe, and to short line railroads,” he said. “We have some great beer being made here in New Mexico, and what a great way to showcase it! We see this thing just getting bigger and bigger every year as word gets out.”
With your tickets ($99 per passenger), you’re getting a great experience that you really can’t replicate anywhere else in New Mexico right now. You get five samples, one pint, and two and a half hours of chill, un-rushed beer drinking on a train with brewers, brewery reps, and beer lovers like you. As you might wonder, the ride is more focused on what your imbibing, so there will only be light snacks, but food was never really why we bought the ticket in the first place, was it? Didn’t think so.
The Ale Trail sounds like the next mark on my bucket list, as I do love beer and train rides, but for those looking for something less beer-centric, The Sky Railway has plenty of other offerings as well.
“We have about 18 different adventures throughout the year,” Deutsch said. “From murder mysteries and speakeasies, to stargazers and sunset serenades. And then, we do specialty trains, like our haunted Halloween trains. And, we run a family Christmas train for five weeks. So whether it’s jazz or flamenco, there’s an adventure for everybody.”
Upcoming Ale Trail rides:
April 22 — Santa Fe Brewing Co.
May 20 — La Cumbre Brewing
June 17 — Bosque Brewing Co.
July 22 — Second Street Brewery
August 19 — Bathtub Row Brewing
September 23 — TBD
For more information on upcoming rides, here’s a link to their website.
Special thank you to Bryan Deutsch for chatting with us in the Crew, and for everyone involved giving us one more cool way to experience craft beer in New Mexico.