Author Archive

There are so many damn beers at the new Blue Grasshopper Taproom on Coors.

There are so many damn beers at the new Blue Grasshopper Taproom on Coors.

A recent date-day Saturday found us embracing the old cliché of dinner and a movie. Except we did it backwards and watched a movie first, then had dinner. When the movie is a great one (Hidden Figures, I highly recommend it) at the superb theater brewery that is Flix Brewhouse and then dinner is at the brand new Blue Grasshopper taproom practically across the street on Coors, the experience is elevated beyond any formula.

During the movie, I had a solid Holy Mother of Quad and a Rebel Yell Porter, along with my buttery popcorn. It still amazes me how they manage to pick up empty glasses and bring orders without me even noticing the servers. My boyfriend and I probably saw only two or three movies total in theaters in 2016 (prior to the Flix opening), but since they opened, we have already been to Flix four times.

Blue Grasshopper was packed. Despite little advertising, this new location is booming. There are some of the usual hiccups, but they did not diminish our date experience. There are about 80 local beers currently on tap; however, Blue Grasshopper does not have any of theirs on tap at this location right now. The food menu is larger than I remember it being at the original taproom in Rio Rancho.

The number of taps is a good thing, and it is also overwhelming. You have to order by number, because that’s the only way the beertender can find it. If you forget what number your beer is while you wait to have your order taken, it’s pretty difficult to locate it again under pressure. Alas, the beer is not quite cold enough in my opinion. This is an issue I have seen before at other places with that many lines. Also, the patron sitting next to me at the bar complained his food order of a Reuben sandwich and fries was too cold. Our order of nachos came out quickly despite the crowd, but although the cheese (sauce) was warm, the shredded meat was not. Despite that, they were a unique interpretation of a pub staple and quite filling.

We left before the music started, so I do not know if the acoustics in the new, larger space are as good as the original location. I know at the Rio Rancho Blue Grasshopper they take acoustics very seriously. As we walked out just after 7:30, there was a line of people waiting for seating. All tables were occupied and our seats at the bar immediately filled as soon as we stood up. It appears this location is certainly filling a requirement in that part of town.

Hint, hint, all you craft beer fans looking for date ideas!

Love to all,

— AmyO

A name change was arguably the biggest change for the combined brewery/distillery this year.

A name change was arguably the biggest change for the combined brewery/distillery this year.

From Broken Trail’s Website: Broken Trail — A path or trail that has been cut, through snow or deep brush or other obstructions. To break trail is to venture where no one has before. It is to find your own path, hike your own hike, and to Find Your Spirit.

This past year brought two major changes to a local distillery and brewery. In 2016, Distillery 365 changed its name to Broken Trail Spirits + Brew. It must have been a good idea, because according to co-owner and head distiller Matt Simonds, lately the beer part of the business has blazed its own trail, so to speak. We joked about how this worked out so well that maybe they should just change the name every year. Simonds said that breweries often have a theme; this could be theirs and he could hold a contest each year for customers to choose the name. This was, of course, all very tongue-in-cheek, but we had a good laugh over it.

Additionally in 2016, they opened a satellite tasting room for the spirits at Green Jeans Farmery. That effort took up a great deal of the owners’ time. Broken Trail cannot sell beer at the Green Jeans location due to an agreement with the property owners and Santa Fe Brewing, but an advantage to the Green Jeans location is the ability to collaborate with Santa Fe and the relationships that Broken Trail has developed through the collaboration.

The brewing goal from last year going into 2016 was simply to give the beer more exposure. They have “done that and more,” Simonds said.  They took a couple of beers to their distributor, he said. The distributor tried them and said, “How much do you have? We’ll take it.” The beer was never intended to be a focus. Yet, as of this last quarter of 2016, the beer is getting equal billing with the spirits. Now the beer is popping up in local bars and restaurants. Jubilation bought a sixtel of the Otero ESB and it sold out in a week — it was reportedly their best seller. Simonds said it’s been humbling considering the company he keeps in this town. In the past few months, they have been brewing as much as they are distilling. They really have to be on top of their scheduling to keep up, which he said has been challenging, but a lot of fun.

The beer taps have a prominent place at the main location.

The beer taps have a prominent place at the main location.

Simonds said he never thought they would be in bars and restaurants, and even earlier in 2016, he just thought that they would be moving more beer through the distillery site and have more selections. Going through an entire batch in a couple of weeks is new to him. Another good thing about it is that it gives customers more exposure to the overall brand. When they go to a festival and go check Untappd afterward, it’s flattering to hear the positive feedback, Simonds said.

(Note: Simonds told me how much he appreciates the NMDSBC always treating them like a real brewery. Now they are living up to it!.He said it is great that we liked them before they were a “real brewery.” It’s still not the goal to compete with the big guys on beer, but to even be mentioned, ever, in the same breath is remarkable, he said.)

Simonds said that he also enjoys the opportunity that beer gives him to be more creative. He could come up with a new beer recipe every week and put it on tap, whereas with spirits you have to go through all kinds of approvals, formulas, labels, etc. For instance, Simonds said he is very excited about a new beer that he hopes to get out by the end of the year, a Newcastle Brown Ale clone. It’s actually a two-part beer, in that is then blended. He had previously tried numerous times to brew a brown ale to match Newcastle, but eventually found out that was not the way it was originally done. In deference to the namesake, but with a local spin, this beer will be called Old Pueblo.

One difficulty Broken Trail endured in 2016 happened on the spirit side. Broken Trail had planned to begin selling and distributing a craft beverage — a canned mule with house-made ginger beer and vodka. They went through the whole grueling process of product and label approvals, etc., and everything was all lined up. Unfortunately, they incurred issues with getting the can certified; the spirit causes deterioration of the aluminum if it is not exactly the right formula. Simonds is a chemist, so he said he was up for the challenge. He also thought about just using bottles instead, as they have higher tolerance to reactivity. The problem he found is that the feds will not allow you to put spirits in a 12-ounce bottle, although you can do it in a 12-ounce can. Oh, all those lovely regulations!

Genius or madness? Only time will tell.

Genius or madness? Only time will tell.

The process to make Pepe the Mule starts with a corn mash as a base for their vodka. The distillers taste it throughout the process, and the staff laughingly commented at one stage that it tastes like Zima (for all you young people out there, Zima was a clear, carbonated alcoholic beverage that was big in the mid 90’s). This was, for Simonds, an ah-ha moment. At this stage, it’s about 10-percent ABV and it is a malt beverage, not a distilled spirit. He figured that he could treat it like a beer instead; there are just a few regulatory issues required to make it a beer. As a beverage, it tastes the same. Plus, it can be sold/distributed more widely because the retailer does not need a full liquor license. This also makes the distributor very happy, Simonds said. It fits the same type of product category as, say, a cider. But, it’s unlike anything out there.

The hardest part is that when you distill the spirit, it removes the yeast. This type of product will require adding flavoring, which has sugar in it, to a yeasted beverage (because the yeast is not distilled out). That, in turn, can cause some stability issues, like possible additional fermentation. They are in the testing phase of this now. Simonds joked that the plan for 2017 is to show up at a beer challenge with “Craft Zima, bitches! We’ll get laughed out of the room, but it will be great.”

So, of course, I said to him, “And then, you’ll just change your name!”

Looking forward to 2017, Broken Trail is always looking at opportunities to grow. However, there are some concerns about saturation. Simonds noted he has talked to some of the newer taprooms and the sales are not necessarily reaching projections. In 2016, each time a new place opened, it would be reflected in Broken Trail’s sales numbers. In 2017, he says they need to further cement themselves as a player in the game so they do not end up being a casualty.

Other opportunities may exist or present themselves to further the brand. This will likely be more on the distribution side, as it is still a fraction of what they do. They are currently making a push into southern and southeastern New Mexico, because those areas are virtually untapped. There is also an opportunity available to them to add a tasting room that fills a void and a need in the city. However, they are being cautious and are looking at measured growth in 2017, Simonds said. They do not want to outgrow themselves, but rather keep the focus on quality and creativity. That, Simonds said, is the advantage of being a small brewer.

Cheers!

— AmyO

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

A rare moment without a packed house at Starr Brothers, which has enjoyed a successful first year of business.

Editor’s note: This is the second entry in our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. Click the category tag above to find all the stories.

The beginning of 2016 was a whirlwind for the local beer scene, as five breweries opened within a span of less than three months. One of these was Starr Brothers, and in the short time that has followed, it has already enjoyed tremendous success.

Starr Brothers began construction in late 2015 on San Antonio Drive, east of Interstate 25, but as happens with most new breweries, progress was a bit delayed. With the completion of the kitchen in January 2016, they were ready to make some money, and the crowds began to flock into what was essentially at first just a restaurant that poured other local beers. In April, they were able to put their own beers on tap, and the crowds kept right on coming in a big way. Opening a brewery on a major street in an under-served Albuquerque east side area worked like gangbusters.

Over a seasonal Don’t Fear the RIPA (red IPA, oh, my, yum), I talked to brewer Rob Whitlock about their first year of operations – their “year in beer” as it were – and some exciting plans for 2017.

First and foremost, Rob wanted to share his and the company’s gratitude to local favorite Boxing Bear for the incredible amount of support and training he received from them. Rob was a home brewer and regular customer of Southwest Grape and Grain next door, as well as, of course, The Bear. He told brewers Justin Hamilton and Dylan Davis about an opportunity to brew on a commercial scale for Starr Brothers, and they immediately took him under their wing (or furry bear arm, I suppose). They also still allow Rob to use their keg washer to wash his kegs.

Rob, a retired journeyman plumber, but not a miracle worker, soon discovered that the 7-barrel system was not large enough for their demand; admittedly, it is a good problem to have. He said it’s difficult just to keep the house beers, including the two favorites Starrstruck IPA and L.A. Woman Blonde, on at all times. He said he would love to have the capacity do more seasonals. The recent Oktoberfest sold out in a mere eight days. There is a Dunkelweizen fermenting now, and Rob said that is their first beer made with a weizen yeast. They hope to have a holiday stout available for Thanksgiving, he added.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

It is quite crowded in the back, but Starr Brothers will be expanding into the next commercial space to the east in 2017.

I asked Rob about their strip mall location and if they would ever be able to take over some additional space. Coincidentally, Rob said that as a matter of fact that just happened, and construction just started in the space just to the east of the current brewery area. They are going to be able to increase their capacity by 60 barrels with the addition of four more 15-barrel fermenters. There will also be a new walk-in cooler with four 15-barrel bright tanks.

Starr Brothers participated in a few festivals this year, and was one of the breweries to provide a happy hour at the State Fair. I chose their Motorbrreath Smoked Porter as one of my two growler-fills-to-go at the Alibi on Tap event in September.

In another bit of news for the upcoming year, Starr Brothers had to get their zoning adjusted to get a distributor license. When that license is in place and the production capacity is increased, they will be able to put tap handles at other bars and restaurants. Several establishments have already asked if they can put their beer on tap, Rob said. The owners, John and Heather Starr, are mulling over the idea of an additional location, but there are no firm plans as of the printing of this story.

It has been a fantastic first year for Starr Brothers, and the NMDSBC wishes them continued great success in the upcoming year.

Holiday Cheers (wow, it’s here)!

— AmyO

Self-serve craft beer can be quite graceful

Posted: November 10, 2016 by amyotravel in Beercation Destinations
A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that's intriguing.

A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that’s intriguing.

Have you ever wished you could choose your own size of a beer poured at a taproom? Maybe you don’t want a full pint, but you also don’t want just a sample. I recently visited a new place called Grace in Growlers in Kailua, on the east side of Oahu, that lets you do just that. The place gets the grace part of its name from the fact that they donate their proceeds to local charities. The day we were there was a fundraiser for a baby in need of heart surgery. The growler portion is coming soon as they are still awaiting that license. Sadly, we were not able to stay as long as we wanted to because we found out about the place just before closing time.

Here is how it works: You show your ID, sign in at the door, and start a tab. The staff member places an electronic bracelet on your wrist and explains the process to you. You are shown to a wall with different sizes of glasses. After you choose your glass, you proceed to the beer taps. All the beer taps were local, except for a hilarious Heineken tap that is labeled and pours H2O. Turn the glass over and rinse your glass with a bar top rinser; yes, they have them to make pouring easier.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That's what keeps track of your beer pours.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That’s what keeps track of your beer pours.

Each tap has an electronic screen. Press the name of the beer on the screen and a description comes up, helping you decide if this beer is right for you. Hold your bracelet to the top of the screen, wait for the green light, and then open the tap and pour. You can pour a very small amount if you are still unsure about the beer, because you are charged by the ounce. When you shut off the tap, the screen displays how many ounces you poured. You are asked to use a new glass each time. When you are ready to leave, you go to the register, return your bracelet, and sign your receipt.

I was proud of myself because I chose small glasses to try several different beers, and the first couple of times I managed to hit exactly 4.0 ounces. But, the last time, I only got 3.9. So much for perfect pours. I suppose it could be that it gets a little more difficult after a few (motor skills and all).

Our group of travelers had a discussion about this concept, and if it could possibly ever work here in New Mexico. I would like to ask our readers that question. Let us know by posting your comments.

Aloha!

— AmyO

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Head on down to Ponderosa this Saturday for some aged barley wine and lots of additional fun.

Ponderosa Brewing is about to celebrate their second anniversary with a party on Saturday. The festivities include a special release, a 2014 barley wine that has been aging for 18 months. The impressive, or at least unique, fact is that beer was made four brewers ago. Ponderosa has seen a lot of change in two years, so on a recent, spectacularly beautiful fall day in Burque, I met the new head brewer, Antonio Fernandez.

In these two years, Ponderosa has had four brewers. But, to be fair, initial brewer Matt Kollaja was basically meant to be on a short-term loan, if you will, to get things started up, Fernandez said. His successor, Andrew Krosche, could not pass up the head brewer job at Chama River, and the most recent brewer, Bob Haggerty, has moved on to the massive Steel Bender project, which aims to open in early 2017.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa's short history.

Antonio Fernandez is the fourth brewer in Ponderosa’s short history.

Readers may ask, “Who is this Antonio guy?” Fernandez is a newcomer to the Albuquerque brewing scene, and in this writer’s opinion he arrived in a really cool and unique way. I did not expect the answer I got when I asked what his background was.

Fernandez was born and raised in Albuquerque and has had several careers. His first was actually in music as a trained classical guitarist, but playing all different types of music. Hopefully, someday he will have time to play at Ponderosa, but as a head brewer with no assistant brewers, he said it might be a while before that happens.

Following that, he was a sous chef at Trombino’s in Albuquerque for seven years. (Developing a strong palate, no doubt.) The restaurant cut back on staff when they stopped doing lunch, and Fernandez was laid off. He was a home brewer for a lot of years and was really interested in beer — he is also a certified BJCP beer judge — so he decided to apply to the American Brewer’s Guild. The program started right after he got laid off, so the timing was right. After completing the program, he was working at a home brew shop in Rio Rancho, the Grain Hopper out by Intel. It closed in April. Fernandez decided that was the impetus he needed to go out and get a serious brewing job.

“I was applying for a bunch of things and I figured I was going to be an assistant, go and wash kegs, and things like that for a while,” Fernandez said. “I had the degree and all that and experience in restaurants and everything. You know, I applied for a bunch of jobs and then I got the call over here and they were like, ‘Yeah, we would like to interview you.’ I was like, cool. I had met Bob quite a few times, actually, and he’s a nice guy, good brewer.”

I asked Fernandez if he knew he was interviewing for head brewer or if he thought he was interviewing as an assistant.

“You know, I kind of thought I was interviewing for assistant, actually, because they just had … the posting was for brewer, that’s all it said,” Fernandez said. “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that would happen … Bob was here, and Alan, one of the owners, was in town.”

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

The Ponderosa patio should be packed this weekend.

During the interview, Fernandez found out that Haggerty was leaving. The interview ended up going on for about four hours, Fernandez said. It clearly went well.

At this point, it was time to taste some of Fernandez’s beer. Because Ponderosa has quite a few beers on tap, I decided to limit the tasting to one of the regular beers, and each of the seasonals. Overall, I was impressed. Fernandez said he actually enjoys brewing the more involved beers with bigger malt bills and more hop additions.

I wanted to try his version of the Ghost Train IPA (6.2% ABV, 70 IBU), since that is the style that locals favor. It has been a while since I had the Ghost Train. It’s still not an over-the-top hop bomb, which is perfectly OK with me, but the malt bill seems to have been mellowed, allowing the hops to shine a little more.

Fans of lighter styles will enjoy the Belgian Pale Ale (5.2% ABV, 30 IBU), which Fernandez said is probably his favorite to drink right now, and the Oktoberfest (5.8 % ABV, 30 IBU), a traditional, lighter, Munich-style beer brewed according to the German Purity Law. The Oatmeal Stout (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU) was flat out delicious, with an abundance of coffee, cocoa, and caramel notes, next to no bitterness, and only subtle sweetness. The carefully managed sweetness continued in the Imperial Black IPA (8.2% ABV, 110 IBU). Their version of a fall pumpkin beer is the Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (5.6% ABV, 30 IBU). Fernandez said he is not a fan of heavily-spiced beers, so this is a rich, only slightly spicy offering.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

A seasonal flight and the Ghost Train IPA were well worth trying.

Quality control is one of his biggest concerns, Fernandez said. He said he is a fanatic about it. He said he likes the fact that without any assistants, from grain-to-glass, he has absolute control.

Fernandez said he soon plans to brew a single-hop Mosaic Pale Ale. He also said he thinks it is kind of strange that Ponderosa has never had a regular Amber, so there are plans for that as well. There is a sour Belgian Brown in the works, too. And, what I am most looking forward to is an upcoming Smoked Imperial Baltic Porter in late winter.

Fernandez said also hopes to increase the frequency of the bottle releases. There are tentative plans to collaborate with the forthcoming Hotel Chaco down the street, perhaps providing them with their own beer and having other Ponderosa beers on tap.

Ponderosa will be hosting a beer dinner in mid-November. Fernandez promised more details on that event soon.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Alibi on Tap is the newest beer festival to pop up in Albuquerque.

Beer festival “season” is in full swing, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and suffer from fest overload. And yet, Albuquerque welcomed another festival to the late summer/fall lineup back on Saturday. The new Alibi on Tap at the Albuquerque Rail Yards featured some new breweries in attendance, so I really didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. Plus, although I know there is much contention surrounding brew fests held at the Rail Yards, I personally love the venue as an event space.

Because we took the noon Rail Runner train from Los Ranchos, we had about four hours of time to kill before the festival started. First, we trekked over to the open house for the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society. This event was conveniently located near Bow & Arrow, so of course we stopped in for a pint. We had one of their seasonal beers, and it was fantastic, perhaps my favorite of all the beers I have tried at Bow & Arrow. It was Bury My Heart Belgian Pale Ale, number four in a four-part pale ale series. This day was already starting off well.

We still had some time before the event, so prior to walking over to the Rail Yards, we headed over to Duel on Central. While enjoying a goblet of Fantin (apparently there was an unintentional Belgian Pale Ale theme for the day), we were approached by a visitor from Las Vegas, Nevada. It was his first trip to Albuquerque and he was in town for a week-long convention at the Hyatt. He asked for advice about things to do nearby. We told him about Alibi on Tap and he seemed interested.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

It was one of the more relaxed festivals in recent memory.

The weather was absolutely perfect, so there was no overheating (this can be an issue in that space). I enjoyed the reasonable entry fee and the limited amount of sampling tickets with a longer time to sample. The older I get, the more I tend to shy away from the free-for-all mentality at some beer fests. If attendees were so inclined it was possible to purchase additional samples as well as full pints of their favorite beers.

Because it was a new event, and I think perhaps because there are so many festivals this time of year, the crowd was particularly manageable. We arrived near the beginning and did not have to wait in any lines for entry or sampling. I was most interested in sampling the offerings from the two newest vendors, Palmer and Dialogue. It was both surprising and promising that Dialogue was in attendance on their opening weekend.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes after we arrived at the festival, we spotted “Vegas Bill.” We spent our entire remaining time there showing him around the different vendors and explaining the breweries and beers to him. It was actually quite a refreshing experience, because he had no prior knowledge, so there was no, “Them again? Been there, done that” attitude or preconceived notions. We were able to gain new perspective, as well, through his eyes and he really seemed to appreciate the experience. We left feeling quite proud of our stint as unofficial beer ambassadors.

Those of us lucky enough to be part of the first 100 tickets sold received a 32-ounce growler to “fill with your favorite beer.” You did have to purchase the actual beer to fill it, which was not explained in the promos, but it was sold at a reasonable price. If the indicator for our favorites was what we chose for our two growler fills, here were our choices — Pumpkin Pi from Pi Brewing, and Motorbrreath Smoked Porter from Starr Brothers.

Enjoy fest season, everyone! And, please, remember to take advantage of alternative transportation.

Cheers!

— AmyO

ABQ adds more options for local pizza and craft beer

Posted: September 12, 2016 by amyotravel in Beer Bar Review
The beer selection at the new Eclectic Pizzeria is impressive.

The beer selection at the new Eclectic Pizzeria is impressive.

On the way to meet some friends at Left Turn Distilling/Palmer Brewery and Cider House (by the way, their newly remodeled tasting room is fabulous!), I stopped in just to get a couple of pictures of Eclectic Urban Pizzeria and Tap House. This new establishment’s proprietors are the original owners of Torinos’ @ Home, so you know that they know food. They have quite the decent beer list as well, focusing mostly on local and Colorado beers.

Eclectic is located on the north side of Menaul near Vassar. I hope they do really well, because this immediate area is critically under-served in my opinion, given the proximity to the University and all of the hotels nearby.

The taps at Amore's downtown location are all local.

The taps at Amore’s downtown location are all local.

Also fairly new is the three-month-old Central Avenue location of Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria. I stopped by over the weekend and had a beer and a quick chat with Ashley Gabaldon, one of the managers. Amore boasts only local taps and is planning to set up and dedicate one as a nitro tap. A happy hour may be forthcoming as well.

I asked Ashley about ratio of beer sales versus wine. She said that it is about a 50/50 split. As for which of the beers sell best, she did not have an answer as far as exact beers, but there are clear favorites for the breweries in general. Two were “usual suspects,” so to speak, namely Bosque and La Cumbre. The other was a little of a surprise, Boese Brothers.

Ashley said both of their Boese beers are lighter beers — Duke City Lager and La Onza White — and they sell quite well at Amore. After I left, I thought about that some more and it makes perfect sense. Amore is traditional Italian, and lighter beers such as Moretti and Peroni are what beer lovers drink with their food in Italy.

If the Amore at Green Jeans ever feels too crowded, then head downtown.

If the Amore at Green Jeans ever feels too crowded, then head downtown.

Amore has also added a few more appetizers and pizzas to the menu at this larger location, compared to the one at Green Jeans, and it is a very comfortable way to indulge that pizza and beer craving.

Whether you are feeling a little Eclectic or looking for Amore, both of these places are welcome additions to the local pizza and beer scene, and so we say, benvenuto!

Salute!

— AmyO

Hello again, Hopfest!

Hello again, Hopfest!

Newcomers and summery, fresh-tasting, hoppy beers helped to keep interest alive for the ninth annual Albuquerque Hopfest. Each year the crowds get larger, and each year I wonder how in the world Marne Gaston puts on such a large production. But, she does, flawlessly, and I am in complete awe of her. I would be a quivering puddle of goo. But, Marne is the calm in the eye of a hurricane (there is currently a Hurricane Gaston in the Atlantic that reformed on the day of Hopfest; I can’t even make this stuff up). Our heartfelt thanks, once again, to Marne and her staff and volunteers for another fantastic event.

As always, it was “so many beers, so little time,” so for me it was all about being selective. I focused on mostly local beers I have not tried and those that are not readily available at taprooms. A few of those beers stood out, and some were big surprises.

Enchanted Circle made a positive debut at Hopfest.

Enchanted Circle made a positive debut at Hopfest.

Even before the doors opened, a musician friend of mine who was setting up to play on one of the outdoor stages told me, “You have got to try the Enchanted Circle ESB if you like malty beers.” Well, yes, I do, and yes, I did! It really was very good. In fact, I thought in general the Enchanted Circle beers out of Angle Fire were one of the two biggest surprise hits of Hopfest. Even though IPAs are not my favorite, I was extremely impressed with their IPA (7.3% ABV). For such a new brewery, they have really done well with a solid beer to please the West Coast-style IPA lover. I also want to thank them for actually displaying the stats (O.G., IBU, and ABV) as well as the names. Not too many did, and I wish more of the breweries would have.

The Dukes of Ale booth was a big hit again.

The Dukes of Ale booth was a big hit again.

The second big surprise (based on consensus among my group of four attendees; one of whom is very much a hophead) was not an IPA. It didn’t come from a big name. Heck, it wasn’t even from a local brewery. It was the German Hefeweisen from the Dukes of Ale Homebrew Club.

Other favorites included Quarter Celtic’s McLomas Dry Stout and #GFF (Grapefruit Forever) IPA, Ponderosa’s Wry Ale, and Red Door’s Nieuwe Bruin. Albuquerque Brewing Company’s Dunkleweisen did not disappoint. It’s one of their semi-regular beers, but it seems it is always out when I stop by. It was wonderful to be able to finally taste it on Saturday. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the Green Chile Pilsner from Bathtub Row, because I don’t usually care much for pilsners or chile beers. This one was an outstanding version.

The Quarter Celtic staff left everyone else smiling, too, with their new stout.

The Quarter Celtic staff left everyone else smiling, too, with their new stout.

Notably missing from the vendors was B2B. They had a table set up, but there was no B2B beer and nobody from their brewery manning the spot. Also, I believe Firkin was in the program but I did not find them in the room or outside. If I missed them somehow, I apologize. (You did not miss them, they informed me that they were withdrawing late last week. — S)

Since I was unable to attend the New Mexico Brewers Guild Sensory Analysis Seminar presented by Craft King Consulting, LLC, the Crew would welcome and appreciate any feedback on that portion of the event from our readers.

The VIP beer list was quite impressive.

The VIP beer list was quite impressive.

I tried a few, but not all, of the beers in the VIP room. Mother Road’s Coffee Lost Highway, Founders’ Devil Dancer Triple IPA, and Sierra Nevada’s Narwahl Imperial Stout were my favorites. I didn’t attend the VIP pouring of Hop Pact from BJ’s Brewhouse because there was also a limited supply out in the main room, and I had it on Monday night at a Green Flash beer dinner at BJ’s. Hopefully many attendees were able to sample this fantastic collaboration beer between BJ’s Brewhouse and Green Flash. It is completely unique and refreshing, with more subtle hops, crazy amounts of floral notes, and the ability to cleanse your palate.

Speaking of palates, near the end I was suffering major palate fatigue. I started to slow down just as the rain chased the outdoor flock into the already crowded main room. At about 5:40 p.m., we gathered our swag (why do I keep collecting so many pint glasses? I could pretty much open a store at this point) and headed for the shuttle to the Railrunner, awash with post-festival beer glow.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Sometimes you just gotta get out of town and try more beers, especially when it's stupidly hot outside.

Sometimes you just gotta get out of town and try more beers, especially when it’s stupidly hot outside.

July was just crazy hot. In Albuquerque, and all over the Southwest. I must have been out of my mind to continue the summer road tripping.

I love Las Vegas. I mean, I really must, because I go there two to three times a year. But, sometimes it’s nice to feel less “Vegas-y” when you are there and get a little break from the madness. There are ways to feel more like a local and it is not hard to do as soon as you venture just a little off of the Strip or Fremont Street.

The beer menu at the new Tenaya Creek location in Las Vegas is worth checking out.

The beer menu at the new Tenaya Creek location in Las Vegas is worth checking out.

A new way to escape while in Vegas is just a short Uber or Lyft ride from downtown; or, about a 15-minute (boring) walk if it’s not too hot. Late last year, arguably the best-known brewery in Vegas, Tenaya Creek, moved into a new spot on Bonanza Road. The contemporary digs are spacious and beautiful. Our beerista was awesome, too. You seriously have to love sitting at a bar and hearing stories from a local bartender about what happens in Vegas that doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

Because there are still not many local breweries in the area, I am thrilled that I can get to another Vegas brewery that moved closer to the action. Their old place was so far out, I never made it over there. Take note, however, that there is no kitchen, so you will need to find food elsewhere.

As far as the beer goes, if it’s on tap I can recommend the Local 702 Pale Ale (5.2% ABV) and the God of Thunder Baltic Porter (9% ABV). You can definitely add Tenaya Creek to your best (beer) bets in Vegas.

Boulder City is worth a stop, if for nothing else than its own brewery.

Boulder City is worth a stop, if for nothing else than its own brewery.

On the road out of town, heading towards Arizona from Vegas, a good place to stop for lunch is Boulder Dam Brewing Company in Boulder City. Without this stop, I never would have known that Boulder City has such a quaint central area! We ate some tasty burgers alongside Hell’s Hole Hefeweisen (4.8% ABV).

Who says books are just for reading? At Historic Brewing in Flagstaff, they have another key role.

Who says books are just for reading? At Historic Brewing in Flagstaff, they have another key role.

One of our favorite small towns with a big beer scene is Flagstaff. That scene just got even better with the addition of Historic Brewing’s new Barrel and Bottle House on San Francisco Street in downtown. The new space has an open concept, but a cozy and functional feel, and is just a great place to hang out and have some beer. I feel like I have been ordering beer sample flights for decades now — well, maybe I have — and I still get a huge kick out of unique presentations of samplers. The ones at Historic, made from carved-out hardback books, are my favorite of the summer (see photo). The “book titles” are funny, too, and it’s a game in its own right to see who gets what book.

The new patio at Durango Brewing makes it an even more inviting place.

The new patio at Durango Brewing makes it an even more inviting place.

Finally, with a similarly small, but happening beer town vibe, you can always count on Durango. At the beginning of July, Durango’s oldest (and reportedly Colorado’s third-oldest) brewery, Durango Brewing Company, reopened after being closed for nearly a year. In my opinion, it is a vast improvement and worth checking out. The beer quality has improved to some degree as well, although super hopheads may not find the most prominent hop profiles up to snuff. The patio space is awesome; and while the location remains the same, the building was completely remodeled. I sampled just about everything they had to get a feel for the “new” brewery. It’s all about taking one for the team, you know.

So goes the summer of ’16. Now it’s time for football, which, of course, just means more beer.

Cheers!

— AmyO

There are plenty of new breweries and old favorites still worth visiting in the Phoenix metro area.

There are plenty of new breweries and old favorites still worth visiting in the Phoenix metro area.

The kids are back in school, and the heat is finally starting to break a little. Just like when you were a kid and had to write an essay at the beginning of the year about the past summer, I recently took time to reflect upon the summer of ‘16.

Since I have some big trips coming up this fall football season, I did surprisingly little (for me) travel over the summer. Unsurprisingly, as revealed by revisiting the photos on my phone, the travel I did do always included stops at some new, relocated, or remodeled breweries. The locations are all popular travel destinations from Albuquerque, and were all fairly brief visits.

The first quick trip was to the Phoenix metro area. My boyfriend and I stayed in the Old Town Scottsdale neighborhood as we usually do, but due to the 115-plus-degree heat at the time, we spent less time walking and more time blasting the air conditioner in the car than usual. That afforded us the opportunity to visit places we probably would not have seen otherwise. We finally made it to some that have been around a long while like SanTan Brewing, and others that are somewhat newer like The Perch and Arizona Wilderness.

SanTan is an anchor tenant in downtown Chandler.

SanTan is an anchor tenant in downtown Chandler.

SanTan is a large place in downtown Chandler and the food looked really good, although we were not hungry at the time. Their beer sampler was large and the most reasonably priced for the size. They are only one of two Arizona breweries to distribute to New Mexico, along with Mother Road from Flagstaff.

Hey, we know that logo in the bottom right!

Hey, we know that logo in the bottom right!

The Perch, also located in Chandler, has a very unique atmosphere, both inside and out. You can visit exotic birds on their patio, and taste their exotic beer styles inside. In my opinion, it’s best to stick to other local beers they have on tap because their own beers were not nearly as good. But, they were very nice and they displayed a big shout out to Marble (see photo!).

The beer at Arizona Wilderness, located in Gilbert, was pretty good, and it is a nice place. However, I don’t think I will likely make the trek back out there. They are pretty proud of their beer, as it was much more expensive than the other places we visited. Additionally, they would not let you taste or even sell you samples of about half their beers (they do have a lot of styles). You had to buy a full pint, and at their prices, that was not an investment I really wanted to make without tasting it first. I stuck with a pint of one of their regular beers. (Editor’s note: I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed this place when I visited in March 2015. I guess they changed their policies since I got to choose my flight from all the beers listed. Personally, I highly recommend the beastly American Presidential Stout and hop-laden DC Mountain DIPA, which is my second favorite hop-forward beer in Arizona behind the IPA at Dragoon in Tucson. — Stoutmeister)

That is a mighty fine patio, Pedal Haus.

That is a mighty fine patio, Pedal Haus.

On the new brewery front, we visited Pedal Haus in Tempe. This brewery is on Mill Avenue in the heart of Sun Devil territory. (Ahem, you mean Scum Devil. — S) Take note, they are currently closed for remodeling, but should reopen soon. It is already a pretty new place, so I don’t know what the story is about the remodel. We were told by beer patrons at another brewery that it was already closed when we were there in early summer, but luckily I called ahead and that was not true at the time. This place is “yuuuuge,” folks, including the patio. The beer was just average, but our appetizer was outstanding. It’s a pretty great alternative to some of the other hard-partying places on Mill.

It's new, it's swanky, but sorry, it is not owned by former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

It’s new, it’s swanky, but sorry, it is not owned by former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

By far the best beer we had in the metro area was from the newest place. Only a few months old when we were there, Helton Brewing centrally located on Indian School in Phoenix, and is knocking it out of the park. It clearly already has a following, too, because the place was fairly crowded at 1:30 in the afternoon. They are keeping the styles limited at first, and concentrating on the quality. I especially liked their Rye Pale Ale. There is a roomy production area in the back, so it seems they plan on producing larger quantities in the future.

Other quick trips this summer included Vegas, Flagstaff, and Durango. The recap on these will be combined as one story, coming soon.

Cheers!

— AmyO