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Fire & Hops Gastropub in Santa Fe

The arrival of Bell’s Brewery in New Mexico led to plenty of special tappings and tap takeovers. One of those took place in Santa Fe, at an establishment that is becoming a go-to place for craft beer lovers.

“Bell’s reputation precedes it,” said Josh Johns, co-owner and cicerone of Fire & Hops Gastropub. “I’m always on the lookout for new beers to bring to Santa Fe, and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve tasted from Bell’s before.”

Bell’s recently raised some eyebrows when Zymurgy, a magazine dedicated to homebrewers, named their Two Hearted Ale as the best beer in America. Bell’s finally took over the lead spot that Russian River’s Pliny the Elder held for eight straight years.

twohearted

Two Hearted Ale, complete with proper glassware

I’ve had Bell’s in the past, while traveling in Arizona and in the Midwest. I remembered the Two Hearted Ale (American IPA, 7.0% ABV), but not much beyond that. So, I was looking forward to tasting a wider swath of what they’ve been brewing when I sat down with Josh at the tap takeover last Wednesday at the restaurant.

Elsewhere in Santa Fe, the Piñon Pub at Whole Foods Market was tapping their Best Brown Ale (5.8% ABV) and Violet Crown was set to tap a few the following day. My choice was a simple one of where to go, however, because Fire & Hops has been a favorite local haunt since they opened their doors three years ago, and Josh’s presentation of the craft brews he serves up is always impeccable.

All of Bell’s primary brews are stylistically classical, yet their smaller-batch experiments show a willingness to explore. The Kiwi Gose that I sampled was fruity on the nose and tart, retaining the kiwi flavor all the way through. The staples that will be available in New Mexico regularly will delight the purists among us. The Two Hearted Ale was clean, balanced, and smooth. There’s nothing particularly hop-forward about this IPA, though it has a full profile while drinking it, the slightly bitter aftertaste does not linger. I do love a hoppy IPA, but find that more classically balanced ales like this one are easily drinkable. That’s why Two Hearted Ale will likely be on regular rotation in this hop-head’s repertoire.

Bellsbrews

From left to right, Lager of the Lakes Bohemian Pilsner, Kalamazoo Stout, Two Hearted Ale

Brushing aside the known quantity of the IPA, I suddenly found myself a stout fan. The Kalamazoo Stout (6.0% ABV) is an American-style stout with lots of coffee on the nose and a great mix of bitter coffee and dark chocolate on the tongue. Both flavors stick while drinking it, and they don’t fade. That’s long been my beef with stouts that can’t hold what they promise at first taste, but it’s not the case with Bell’s take on the classic American stout. It also has a nice foundation of hops, which is possibly another reason why I liked this brew so much.

Next up, the Amber Ale (5.8% ABV) was, again, classically American. Very smooth, with a beautifully rich amber color, it’s a highly drinkable ale. Clean, with just the right amount of bitterness provided by the underlying hops, its most notable feature is the slightly toasted caramel flavor. This was a favorite in my party of four, and it’s a welcome addition to the current lineup of amber ales we have available here in the state.

Finally, the surprise hit of the evening was Bell’s excellent Lager of the Lakes (Bohemian Pilsner, 5.0% ABV). A true-to-form Czech-style pilsner, this immediately shot me back to the streets of Pilsen and Prague in the Czech Republic. Seriously, it’s that good and that authentic. The crisp hop profile is balanced by an even-tempered malt. Hoppy on the nose, it’s refreshing and immensely sessionable. This will be my new go-to pilsner, I predict.

Sliding into the seat next to me, Bell’s national sales manager Tina Anderson told me that their head brewer was trained in German techniques, and that’s why it shows through so clearly with their pilsner.

tina-bells

Tina Anderson, national sales manager for Bell’s Brewery

“The Lager of the Lakes will be going exclusively into cans in February,” Tina said. And, more of their experimental series will find their way into cans at the same time, she added.

Tina, who is based in Atlanta, has been with Bell’s for eight years now after successfully recruiting them for a distributorship in Georgia. At the time, she was an area brand manager and took a leap of faith when Bell’s entered the state by going to work exclusively for them. She had tried their Two Hearted Ale at GABF and loved it during her tenure in Colorado working for Vail Resorts. That’s where her love of craft beer blossomed, after getting to know Ska and Oskar Blues breweries back in the late 90s.

When asked what she’s been drinking lately, Tina named the Oarsmen Ale (Tart Wheat Ale, 4.0% ABV) and called it her go-to, lounging-at-the-lake beer. She said it’s tart and refreshing without being overly astringent like a sour.

Switching gears, I asked Tina about the label graphics. While each of them were interesting in their own right, there didn’t seem to be a cohesive theme. She said the owner, Larry Bell, supports a lot of local artists in the Michigan area. The famed trout on the Two Hearted Ale is from a watercolor he bought, as is the artwork on the Amber Ale label. The Kalamazoo Stout features rotating sketches of locals from Kalamazoo, drawn by a taproom regular who was a third-shift worker and who would sketch anyone who bought him a burger and a beer. Larry bought the entire set, and the sketches will rotate as the graphics when the stout is canned.

Larrys-Sour-Ale

Tina gave me a preview of the new artwork for Larry’s Latest Sour Ale, a “kettle soured ale with a dry hop burst,” from their new innovation series.

What’s next for Bell’s, closer to their Michigan headquarters? Even though they just completed a $52 million expansion at the Comstock location, they are adding new tanks to accommodate their experimental forays. Larry’s Latest is one of the first to be packaged from their new Innovation Series, which these new tanks will support. Their second location, the Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo, continues to be a busy hub for locals and supporters of their beer.

Tina said she noted a synchronicity between Bell’s local focus and homebrew roots, and New Mexico’s hyper-local beer community. Bell’s is not distributed in Colorado as of yet, as they’ve put their faith in us instead to carry their growth. After the sampling at Fire & Hops, I think we’ll rise to the challenge.

Cheers!

— Julie

Note: look for a deeper dive on Fire & Hops Gastropub later this fall.

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Full disclosure: This is a taster of Hazillionaire, their New England-style IPA.

Fans of the distinctive, funky flavor characterized by brett beers will not have to venture far from home or wait for seasonal releases to get their fill. And, it seems that this often-experimental style may have found a perfect home base at Bow & Arrow Brewing. Cosmic Arrow, a saison and the first in their series of brett beers, debuts today (Friday) at a special tapping that begins at 4 p.m. The brewery is located off 6th Street and McKnight Avenue, just in case you still have not made it over there.

Head brewer Ted O’Hanlan set a beautiful tulip glass of Cosmic Arrow before me for tasting. The color brought muddled lemons to mind, and the beer presented itself as a classic saison on the nose. At first sip, it released fruity notes and an extremely mild tartness. The Cosmic Arrow (7.1% ABV; 27 IBU) is a very dry, very sessionable saison with only minor hints of bitterness or sweetness and light effervescence. Aged in red zinfandel barrels for three months, the beer retained traces of oak that didn’t overpower the smoothness.

The second beer that will be released today is the excellent Hoodoo Monster Imperial American Red (9.3% ABV; 50 IBU). Named for the rock spires that decorate the southwest (and including “monster” because of the ABV), this beer honestly surprised me with its sophistication. I expected something much sharper, likely due to the imperial in the name, and its deep red-brown color didn’t lead me to believe otherwise. However, I found a classic American hop profile layered over a rich caramel flavor. For such a big beer, the Hoodoo Monster is incredibly smooth and (dangerously) drinkable.

How they got here

The beer hall is often packed with customers. (Photo courtesy Shyla Sheppard)

When I sat down with Bow & Arrow owner Shyla Sheppard at the beginning of the year, she mentioned the brewery would be expanding the barrel-aged program they launched in 2016 with the assistance of the new head brewer they were bringing on in the spring (Ted). Ted and Shyla share a palpable excitement about these brews, and it’s easy to see that the match — both in terms of style and experimentation — was a good one.

Though he recently hailed from Black Tooth Brewing Company in tiny Sheridan, Wyoming, it’s worth noting that Ted used to spend summers as a child in Albuquerque because his mother grew up here. Ted was eager to join Bow & Arrow as head brewer earlier this year to put his experience and creativity to work. Before Black Tooth, Ted entered the industry at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C., where he worked with barrel-aged beers. Shyla said that Ted has, in addition to brewing, a culinary background.

“I think that lends a unique and interesting perspective to the way he approaches developing new beers and pushing the envelope with unusual ingredients,” she said.

Ted O’Hanlan, head brewer, has past experience in North Carolina and Wyoming.

“It takes a long time to brew brett beers, but it’s so expressive and it makes beer really unique,” Ted said. “It’s really taken off in other parts of the country, and it seems there are one or two breweries per state that are taking on this challenge. I like the complexity, and the challenge of working with it, because you have to wait.”

His willingness to experiment is an ideal complement to Shyla’s vision of the Bow & Arrow of the future. The brewery is moving towards mixed fermentation beers overall, and will explore American wild brett style, traditional sour, kettle sour and barrel sour beers. The popular El Breakfast stout is currently barrel-aging as an imperial in rye whiskey barrels (Ted sources these barrels directly from Wyoming Whiskey, as his friend is the head distiller there), with an upcoming October release date. Four other brews hitting the barrels this month include a second round of Cosmic Arrow, an American brett pale ale in a neutral oak barrel, a quad sitting on brett in more Sheehan barrels, as well as another brett sour beer that will turn more quickly than Cosmic Arrow. They are experimenting with a method to turn a mixed culture sour beer in months rather than years.

What’s tapping next

Shyla Sheppard, owner of Bow & Arrow Brewing Co.

Ted’s past experience at Fullsteam in their plow-to-pint and foraged beer programs intersects nicely with Shyla’s original vision for Bow & Arrow. The brewery was created to celebrate community, cultural heritage, and a rich appreciation for the land. Shyla was born and raised on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, and is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes. Her partner and co-owner, Missy Begay, was raised on the Navajo Nation. Ted’s experience with foraged beer — a community affair where community foragers were paid market price for ingredients — only underscores the vision Shyla and Missy said they share for Bow & Arrow.

This vision of celebrating what the land has to give is reflected in the next beer in their Way Out West kettle sour lineup. The first release was a dry-hopped farmhouse ale, and the second (Way Out West-Sumac) will be a Berliner Weisse brewed with locally sourced sumac berries. Sumac, indigenous to New Mexico, lends a crisp, tart, citrus taste, and Shyla attributes a long history of the indigenous people making pudding and a lemonade-type drink with the berries. The distinct aroma has transferred to the beer with a chile powder effect on the nose at first. However, when tasting it, Way Out West-Sumac (4.1% ABV; 7 IBU) is an exceptionally smooth summertime brew. At that low alcohol level, it should top your list of summer session beers.

Also, look for Bow & Arrow’s second release in their rotating stout series to be released shortly.

Where they’re headed

Shyla and Ted pose with the ever-growing collection of barrels.

From their earliest conversations, a willingness to push the envelope where brett was concerned united Ted and Shyla. Now, 36 barrels sit within full view of the beer hall behind the glass that separates it from the brewing area. Shyla just installed a sliding barn door for easy access to the barrels. Barrels holding sours are tucked under the stairs in the beer hall. It’s clear that the barrel-aged program is going to be a defining factor for the brewery in years to come.

Beyond what’s happening in the brewery and beer hall, Shyla said they are participating in more tap takeovers, and is working on increasing their distribution. Having launched with a 15-barrel system right away, they have room to grow without having to expand the brewery immediately. Bow & Arrow currently has taps at Slate Street, both Slice Parlor locations, Matanza Beer Kitchen, Pueblo Harvest Café, and Monk’s Corner Taproom. More beer pairing and collaborative dinners are in the works.

“This was a dream for a long time,” Shyla said.

After moving to New Mexico from the Bay Area, she left a career in social impact investing to launch Bow & Arrow with her partner, Missy, a physician. A hobbyist home brewer, she did the research necessary to decide that designing, building, and opening a brewery was indeed a viable business venture. She took the leap, and in their first year, they landed awards and accolades from the commercial construction industry to being named a Local Favorite by New Mexico Magazine.

The bones of the brewery are made for fostering community. Giant tables in the expansive beer hall give way to cozy nooks and large classroom-style spaces upstairs that can be rented for group events. Shyla’s passion for supporting local entrepreneurship is rooted in this brewery, and she actively seeks opportunities to help others on their business journeys.

This white buffalo head hangs above the entrance, facing the bar. Shyla told me it’s because her grandfather raised buffalo, and buffalo always face the storm. It faces the bar as a reminder to stay true to her dream, and to be the storm.

“Any startup will consume your life, and at the end of the day it has to be worth it,” Shyla said. “I’m really pleased with where we are today, and looking forward to where we’re headed.”

If Cosmic Arrow is any indication of where Ted’s skilled hand will help lead Shyla’s vision, it looks like this collaboration will be a resounding success.

Cheers!

— Julie

alexander

Alexander Pertusini, Chili Line head brewer, is not closing up shop after all.

I dipped into Santa Fe’s Pizzeria da Lino last week to catch up with Alexander Pertusini, head brewer of Chili Line Brewing, to get the story on what’s really happening with the brewery. Let’s set the record straight — they’re not closed and there are no plans to close.

A recent social media post kicked up rumors of this nature, but what really happened was a change in ownership that aims to solve problems that are typical when family members try to partner up in business. A difference in vision, management styles, and blurry lines between the brewery and the restaurant side of the business led to Alexander’s father, Lino, folding the brewery under his sole ownership.

Soon, Alexander’s only role will be head brewer. He plans to resign his position as restaurant manager to someone who he will promote from within, in order to focus on his brewing. He’s also going to be working alongside the brewers at Duel part time. This is good news for Chili Line, because Alexander is inquisitive and preaches a compelling sermon on smoked grains, but as a young brewer there is still a huge opportunity for growth. After graduating from New Mexico State last year, he brewed a little at High Desert and Spotted Dog in Las Cruces and Mesilla, respectively.

“I just want to brew,” Alexander said. So, let’s get to the heart of what we’re here for, the beer. The backstory is that he joined his father on a trip to see the family in Italy, before he headed to Vietnam for a brewing job. Bored one day, he got in the family’s tiny car and drove to Bamberg, Germany, where his love affair with smoked grains proved enough to lead him to drop the job in Vietnam and decide to open a brewery in the spare room of the pizzeria in Santa Fe.

bamberg-beer

A bottle of smoked beer from Brauerei Heller Bamberg

Smoked Beer 2.0

“Bamberg’s the heart of smoked beer. That’s where I discovered smoked hefeweizen,” he said as he set a bottle on the bar that he brought back with him. “I found it incredibly smoky and well-balanced, and knew I wanted to try to make it.”

Alexander noted that people familiar with the German smoked beers are often disappointed in his brews, which have been toned down for the market.

“They expect a campfire in their mouth,” he joked.

He went on to explain that Bamberg beers generally have a 50/50 ratio of smoked to non-smoked grain, and his top out about 20 points less than that.

Chili Line’s version of the smoked hefeweizen, “El Jefe” (5.6% ABV; 33% smoked grain) was the most heavily smoked on the tap list. The slightly smoky mouthfeel and aftertaste was more balanced with this style than some of the others, I found. It’s a cloudy, mid-toned hefeweizen that paired well with the tre manzini — cheese and dates wrapped in prosciutto with balsamic greens — that Alexander brought out from the kitchen. (It should be noted that he overhauled the majority of the restaurant’s menu with his grandfather’s recipes when he assumed management last year, moving away from frozen pasta and opting for fresh ingredients.)

tremanzini

Pizzaria da Lino’s tre manzini appetizer (I’m definitely NOT a food photographer)

“We’re trying to complement the smoky quality of the wood-fired oven pizza we make here,” he explained.

That made sense to me, and so I asked what other pairings Alexander usually suggests to his customers. “Parmesan and balsamic vinegar also pair well with smoked beers, and we obviously have a lot of that on our menu,” he said.

Alexander said they are focusing on lagers, and will migrate away from stouts. He finds that bitter lagers and IPLs blend well with the food they’re serving up. There was a stout on the tap list (6.8% ABV; 2% smoked grain) that was the least smoked beer available, and boasted chocolate and roasted coffee flavors. Another nod to popular tastes included a Cascada Lager (5.0% ABV; 8% smoked grain). It uses all cascade hops, but the big citrus profile was darkened by the smoky flavor.

imperial-pilz

John Young, owner of La Mesilla Construction, enjoys the Imperial Pilz

One customer further down the bar was enjoying the Pineapple sIPApu (8.6% ABV; 10% smoked grain), billed with “smoked IPA German Polaris, Sazz and Azacca hops with notes of pineapple, mint and a touch of smoke.” Another customer chose the Imperial Pilz (10% ABV; 10% smoked grain) as his pint of choice. I tended to agree, and thought the bitterness was a better offset to the smoke. The hefeweizen and dunkelweizen (5.6% ABV; 25% smoked grain) carried the smoky flavors better than the IPA styles, I thought. The dunkelweizen needed a bit more effervescence, but the banana and clove notes found in both the hefeweizen and dunkelweizen styles were surprisingly pleasant complements to the smoked grain.

A taproom celebrating Santa Fe beers

So, what’s next for Chili Line other than the shifts in management? Alexander said they want to expand the tap offerings and make their patio space a proper beer garden. “It’s the perfect hole-in-the-wall location, and there are a lot of interesting things happening with Santa Fe beers. We want to celebrate that,” he said. Aside from their own brews, they’ll have a rotating selection of local beer occupying four to six guest taps. Currently, the only other location that you can find Chili Line beer is at the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom in the Luna Building in Santa Fe. One of their ciders was also on offer at the pizzeria.

If you’re looking to try Chili Line, the best place to do it right now is at their home base, Pizzeria da Lino. They’ll be hosting special events for the holidays, and also after parties in the new beer garden/taproom for Cinefesta Italia next summer.

Cheers!

— Julie

We’ve been waiting. Yes, that is directed at you Firestone Walker. It’s been about four years, four months and counting since I moved to the Land of Enchantment. Four years and four months of stuffing my checked bags with Union Jack and Wookey Jack whenever I traveled out of state. But hey, all seems to be forgiven now that I can go down the street and buy it locally. At least, you may have won me over Wednesday night at the launch at Fire & Hops here in Santa Fe.

Tommy Dineen pours some special XIX Anniversary Ale for the table.

Tommy Dineen pours some special XIX Anniversary Ale for the table.

Tommy tells all (IPA fans, listen up)

Tommy Dineen, beer rep extraordinaire, sat down with us for a while. I was drinking the Luponic Distortion Experimental IPA (5.9% ABV, 59 IBU), and thoroughly enjoyed it. This IPA was hoppy, yet balanced, and bitter, yet drinkable, with hints of citrus at the end. Tommy says this is “Revolution #2,” and the hop recipe is supposed to change every 90 days to result in another experimentation. However, this one’s been so popular it may just stay a little longer. Find it in cans on shelves throughout New Mexico now. This was my pick of the bunch offered up on tap, and it’s worth rushing to your local purveyor to find out how much they have in stock.

What makes this Experimental series tick, Tommy explained, is how Firestone Walker is pairing everyday hops with others to form a unique hops suite for each Revolution. He said the ABV will remain the same each time at 5.9 percent, and the yeast stays the same as well. Tommy also noted that Revolution #3 is supposed to be on shelves in September. Bottom line? Find #2, and drink it up before it’s too late.

Firestone Walker Launch

Luponic Experimental IPA in the pint glass; Opal Farmhouse Dry Hopped Saison; Wookey Jack Unfiltered Black Rye IPA

This saison could convert this hop lover

It’s true. Firestone Walker’s Opal Farmhouse Dry Hopped Saison is really that good. A dry-hopped saison is choice number two, beating out perennial favorite Union Jack West Coast IPA. Scandalous! What makes it so good? I think it’s the dry-hopped bitterness that prevents it from being too sour or tart. Weighing in at 7.5-percent ABV and 35 IBU, maybe it’s the Weyermann Pilsner malt that balances this brew out so perfectly.

Excuse me while I pay homage to this black IPA

I’d be remiss in not mentioning how good — really, how good — the Wookey Jack Unfiltered Black Rye IPA is. This is one fine black IPA (8.3% ABV, 80 IBU) and a great riff on the traditional version of the style. Robust and hoppy, it is a rich mouthful of deliciousness that makes you want to curl up next to a roaring fire and wear flannel. Of course, it’s far too hot for that right now in New Mexico, but we’ll be doing just that when it turns cold this fall.

Firestone Walker XiX

Tommy serves up some of this precious XIX Anniversary Ale, a barrel-aged collaborative blend.

It takes a lot of wine to make great beer

Lastly, Tommy surprised our table with tastes of the Nineteen: Anniversary Blend (13.8% ABV, 30 IBU). Wow. I tend to be a purist, and I don’t really go in for barrel-aged this or barrel-aged that. (More for the rest of us! — S) But, this XIX Anniversary ale is probably an exception. Yes, you’ve got bourbon on the nose, but it doesn’t overpower the beer itself. Firestone Walker collaborated with local winemakers to add this blend to their Proprietor’s Vintage Series. Well done; I’ll be looking for this on shelves tomorrow.

Cheers!

— Julie

 Caleigh Snyder from Mother Road Brewing with Joshua Wussow of Premier Distributing Co.

Caleigh Snyder from Mother Road Brewing, with Joshua Wussow of Premier Distributing Co.

Last summer, I stopped by Mother Road Brewing in Flagstaff as they were just about to launch their product in New Mexico. I was already a fan of their Lost Highway Black IPA (8% ABV, 100 IBU), and was thrilled to find that I loved their seasonal Roadside Grove even more. Last summer’s experiment added grapefruit to their popular Roadside Pale Ale (5% ABV, 27 IBU), and it was absolutely the best summer brew I found last year. Caleigh Snyder, Mother Road’s brewhouse ambassador, says it’s on tap this summer as well — road trip!

Caleigh was on hand Thursday night at Total Wine’s Uptown location, along with Joshua Wussow from Premier Distributing Co. All four brews currently available in New Mexico were being poured — Lost Highway, Roadside Pale Ale, Gold Road Kölsch-style (4.3% ABV, 19 IBU), and the Tower Station IPA (7.3% ABV, 70 IBU). Staying true to their vision of naming their beers after places along the legendary Mother Road, Route 66, the name Tower Station was inspired by a spot along the New Mexico/Texas border where an old abandoned gas station sits.

motherroad-convertibletop

Arizona has “convertible top” cans; sadly, not allowed in New Mexico. (Photo: Instagram/caleigh_motherroadbeer)

I had tasted Tower Station previously, after picking it up at Susan’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Santa Fe for post-mountain bike thirst quenching. It stands out among our excellent New Mexico IPAs because it doesn’t try to compete with their dankness. It’s smooth, mellow, and a great choice for hot summer days. Caleigh informed me it is less bitter than most IPAs because it’s brewed with 10 percent wheat and 40 percent pilsner malt. After she said that, I could immediately see this reflected in the flavor profile. You can pick up a four-pack of tallboys wherever Mother Road is stocked throughout New Mexico for about $10.

I spent some time with the Gold Road Kölsch as well, and was impressed by the dry, refreshing taste. Gold Road is named after the gold road stretch between Flagstaff and Lake Havasu. At only 4.3-percent ABV, this is another great option for the hot days ahead.

IMG_1958

Travel the Mother Road to the source this summer.

Cheers to Mother Road for adding new summer staples for all of us here in New Mexico. And, if you make it to Flagstaff, word is that they also have the Lost Highway on nitro brewed with coffee; and Cedar is still holding court behind the bar in the taproom, as if you needed another reason to visit!

— Julie

M: “My thumbs are sweating.”

J: “Can eyeballs sweat? ‘Cause mine are.”

This was the conversation between my husband and I as we laid trapped, rolled up — torturously — in electric blankets with the heat turned all the way up in a subterranean room in the center of Prague.

M: “I’m such a moist mammal right now.”

J: “Gross.”

Let me back up. We’d been in Europe for nearly two weeks, and had endured a 10-day string of 95-degree temperatures and high humidity in cities that were ill-equipped for such heat. The weather had finally broken, and so we booked our bucket-list experience — a Czech beer spa. After all, what could be more refreshing than bathing in beer while drinking as much of said beer as you could handle?

The original source of pilsner

We’d been taking full advantage of the fact that beer is cheaper than water in the Czech Republic. In Prague, half-liters of fresh pilsner with full, foamy heads appeared before us for less than $1.50. We’d toured Pilsner Urquell (roughly translated, it means “the original source of pilsner”) in Pilzen on this same trip. There, we paid about a dollar for the freshest pilsner we’d ever tasted. With so many beer tourists heading straight to the source, it’s no wonder that beer spas have gotten so popular.

“Cooling down of an organism and a relax”

beerspa-havearelax

They came so close to properly translating it all to English.

We saw more than a few spas around us while walking the cobbled streets of Prague that never seem to end (architecture buffs, you will never get bored here). Many of them featured quaint English translations, and all of them featured some version of smiling people sitting in wooden tubs holding up giant glass mugs of beer.

bernard-beers

See? Prague is not just a pilsner town.

After some due diligence, we chose the Bernard Beer Spa in Old Town — mostly due to the fact that their pivo (beer) proved to be our favorite while in Prague. From what I had read, I imagined rows of wooden barrel tubs lined up barracks-style. Instead, this spa was private and only had capacity for two people at a time.

bernard-poster

These people in the ad look so cool, calm and collected. Where is the sweat? I think exposing an armpit like the guy is doing here would have resulted in a delirious struggle to exit to fresh air in our case.

We descended the stairs into a tiny room carved out of the bricks that supported the Metamorphis Hotel overhead. Our enthusiastic host was Milan, whom we’d met the day before when we booked. He was very excited, as we were the first visitors from New Mexico that he’d met. “I collect the states. I am Slavic,” he beamed.

A tub with taps — brilliant

After undressing and donning robes and slippers, he led the way into the tub room. He explained that Bernard beer has been around since 1537 and is more expensive than cheap eurobeer. “We are against eurobeer. No shortcuts, long-pasteurized,” Milan said. He talked about the company’s ad campaign against eurobeer while pouring a bright green bowl of Žatec (“hops city”) hops into the tub. Next came the yeast, right into the water.

empty-tub-candles

A tap above the tub. Brilliant.

Before you assume anything, let me clarify that you don’t actually bathe in real beer. You bathe in beer ingredients — thus the hops and the yeast. It’s a “curative mixture with Vitamin B, tested by the brewers.” But you get to drink the real thing — as much as you like — for the entire duration of your stay at the spa.

Milan instructs. We listen.

Milan instructs. We listen.

“I am Slavic. We do not believe in wasting beer. You will drink this,” said Milan seriously as he filled four giant glass mugs of Bernard beer.

julie-spa

Smile! You’re drinking beer in the tub!

He left the room and turned on the jets. We sank into the very hot water roiling with fresh hops and yeast and turned our attention to the mugs settling before us. We obeyed Milan’s instructions and kept the mugs full. At first, the water temp was nice and relaxing. Soon, it became clear that it was much hotter than our hot tub back home, and we started hopping out to sit on the edge of the tub when we couldn’t take the heat any longer.

We kept it coming.

We kept it coming.

During the 30 minutes of tub time, we drank copious amounts of the room-temperature beer flowing from the oh-so-convenient taps next to us. It smelled like a brewery in there, and we were soon covered everywhere with bits of hops. We had been told not to shower for 12 hours to get the maximum skin benefit, and I suddenly had visions of stalking the streets of Prague as a leafy green hops monster later that night.

Am I green? Does this stuff fly off when you’re dry? I wondered.

Sweat 2.0

Just when I thought I couldn’t last another second in the water I was sure was boiling some part of me internally, Milan knocked on the door and turned off the jets. We filled our glasses one last time, shucked our robes on and went to the third room that held nothing but a bed and a statue.

“Lady, lay down here and I will roll you up,” Milan said.

Oh good, I hope the bed is cool, I thought. Wait, roll up in what? “Is that an electric blanket?” I asked feebly.

“I turn it all the way up,” said Milan in reply.

Sweet Jesus.

I might be melting.

I might be melting.

While Milan was rolling us up like tight little steamed dumplings, he introduced us to St. Bernard, the statue in the corner. “You know, like the dogs that carry beer around their neck,” he said. He also said that the statue had eyes that knew whether or not we wasted any beer. Next, he pointed out the bell and the little sign that told us to ring it if we were feeling unwell or we “ran out of beer Bernard®”.

By this time, I’d realized that the Czech people would never give me water but they’d give me as much beer as I wanted. The same is true inside the beer spa.

By this time, I’d realized that the Czech people would never give me water, but they’d give me as much beer as I wanted. The same is true inside the beer spa.

Water. Where is water? Oh, well, guess I’ll drink this beer.

A few minutes pass. We have no energy to talk because it’s leaking out through every pore. I tried to extract an arm to take the photo of the bell, the beer and the sign above. I accidentally rang the bell.

“Need more beer?” said the chirpy voice on the other side of the door.

“Noooo. Sorry! Taking a photo,” I called.

“OK, well, we have more if you need it,” said Milan primly.

Thus ensued the conversation about sweaty thumbs and eyeballs and launched a sincere conversation about how moist a mammal could get before melting. We gave ourselves over to the experience, resigned ourselves from hope of water and drank all of the beer.

Another half hour later, Milan rescued us from the now-soaked electric blankets and ushered us back into the changing room. I felt lightheaded and totally dehydrated — similar to how you feel after a strenuous workout where you didn’t drink enough water. But, I was relaxed and my joints and muscles were wonderfully fluid. After hoofing it an average of seven to nine miles per day through three countries, this floaty feeling was incredibly welcome.

When we emerged, dressed and ready for more beer, Milan wished us well and gave us a parting gift of bottled Bernard beer and an official certificate that would prove we’d completed the beer spa to skeptics everywhere. Who could ask for more?

Lots of places had their own line of “beer cosmetics” and Bernard Beer Spa was no different. You can get beer oil, beer body lotion, beer shampoo, beer shower gel, etc. for $8.00 each (at the time of this post, the dollar equaled about 23.5 Czech korunas).

Lots of places had their own line of “beer cosmetics” and Bernard Beer Spa was no different. You can get beer oil, beer body lotion, beer shampoo, beer shower gel, etc., for $8 each (at the time of this post, the dollar equaled about 23.5 Czech korunas).

At the end of the mug …

Bottom line? I’d do a beer spa again in a heartbeat. The claims were correct in that our skin felt great. After a few vigorous brushings, most of the green hops residue floated off and we met the friends we were traveling with at Prague Beer Museum looking relatively normal. Sidenote: The ‘Museum’ is actually just a pub, but it had the only true IPA I had on the entire two-week trip.

The Czech people are delightful with their salty, dark senses of humor and their lack of verbal filter — completely my type of people. They are also excellent hosts, and will regale you with all sorts of stories. I can’t recommend spending time in the Czech Republic enough. Go for the fresh beer, go for the cobbled streets and castles, go for the art and architecture … but just go.

Prague (Praha) streets near the Charles Bridge.

Prague (Praha) streets near the Charles Bridge.

Cheers!

— Julie

Susan's Fine Wine & Spirits in Santa Fe

Susan’s Fine Wine & Spirits is one of the best beer stores in Santa Fe.

In honor of IPA Day, I went in search of the best out-of-state session IPAs that can be found in Santa Fe. Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits (1005 S. St. Francis Drive) is my go-to place, conveniently located between home and office. I found the beer manager, Matt Zehnder, who was likely afraid I’d repeat my offense when I went in search of new-to-us Evil Twin brews a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, I took all the beer out of the boxes. Two hours old and not in your system? Don’t care. Here’s some money, I’m running out of the store with my spoils.

When he realized I wasn’t going to pillage his nicely arranged shelves, I asked him to weigh in on what he thought were the top session IPAs coming in from points elsewhere. Luckily, we agreed on all of them. Here are our top three picks for non-New Mexico session IPAs.

Green Flash Mosaic Session IPA

Green Flash Mosaic Session IPA

Green Flash Mosaic Session IPA
(4.5% ABV, 65 IBU, 100% Mosaic Hops)

Green Flash has executed a near-perfect score with their Mosaic Session IPA. If you are an IPA fan, you are likely familiar with that hoppy kick and heady scent that their brews have. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it held true with their session IPA, as it doesn’t always translate. On a side note, Zehnder told me that Green Flash made their session IPA as one of their cost-conscious offerings because people were complaining their beer was too expensive (normally they are sold in four-packs for about $10). I happily paid $8.99 for a six-pack at Susan’s of Mosaic Session IPA — well done, Green Flash.

Appearance: Golden-hued with a clean body and nice head.

Scent: When you first open the bottle, you immediately are hit with a complex hop aroma. No traces of skunk or syrup, just clean hops. For scent alone, the Mosaic wins hands down among the brews reviewed here.

Taste: The hops profile is complex and dense, but not overpowering. The citrus notes are tampered by deep, earthy underpinnings. It’s balanced, crisp, and lets the hops shine. It has a bitter finish, but doesn’t overpower the hops profile when you are done swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Because it’s only 4.5-percent ABV, the feel remains light. This feels like a summer beer in your mouth.

Overall: Balanced, clean, and crisp, it doesn’t skimp on classic hops flavor. The clear winner of the group, this brew is going to be a staple in this girl’s repertoire for the remainder of the summer.

Full Sail's Session IPA

Full Sail’s Session IPA

Full Sail Session IPA
(5.1% ABV)

Admittedly, I was wary about this one. In the other Session (or Full Sail) beers, I haven’t found a personality trait that seems to help distinguish them from others. Yes, the stubby bottle is cute. What surprised me was the orange scent wafting from the bottle when I first opened it. The scent translated into taste, as I soon found out.

Appearance: Clear, deep gold body with a very low amount of head. No lacing.

Scent: The orange scent is light at first, but intensifies when you pour it. Overall, the scent is on the lighter side and not very bold, but is definitely there.

Taste: The orange remains on the back end, but it’s even-tempered and accompanied by hints of tangerine and melon. It’s a fairly modest taste — not over the top, and definitely not showy like the Mosaic.

Mouthfeel: High carbonation for a beer that weighs in at only 5.1-percent ABV. And, I believe the feel is a little on the thick and syrupy side to be called a true sessionable ale.

Overall: This could almost be classified as a citrus-inspired pale ale. With the carbonation and slightly syrupy feel, it definitely clocks in as a heavyweight compared to the others in this review.

Oskar Blues' Pinner Throwback IPA is the perfect summer beer.

Oskar Blues’ Pinner Throwback IPA is the perfect summer beer.

Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA
(4.9% ABV, 35 IBU)

I found this crushable summer ale in Durango this past spring after mountain biking there, and have been buying it regularly ever since. I love it because it’s supremely refreshing, light, and perfect for the summer heat. While not as forward on its hops profile as the other two, it reads as an interesting mix of hoppy pale ale and pilsner.

Appearance: Very light, clean, yellow-gold body. Decent amount of head and lacing after settling.

Scent: Fruity nose that includes peach, mango, and tangerine balanced by a very slight hint of hops.

Taste: It’s like your session IPA went and hooked up with your favorite pilsner. If that doesn’t do it for you, I urge you to try it anyhow. This is the go-to beer on that super hot day. It’s the beer you grab after a mountain bike ride to cool down. It’s light on hops and bitterness, but very well balanced. It finishes with a light, toasted aftertaste that is quickly washed away by your next sip.

Mouthfeel: Low to moderate carbonation with an exceptionally light feel in your mouth.

Overall: This beer is built for speed. It’s completely refreshing to find a style that seems to marry two very separate profiles into one stand-out summer brew.

Bonus from the cutting room floor:

Che has a very discerning sensibility when it comes to IPAs. He decided to check out one of the beers that didn't make our top-three cut.

Che has a very discerning sensibility when it comes to IPAs. He decided to check out one of the beers that didn’t make our top-three cut.

Honorable Mention: New Belgium’s Slow Ride Session IPA kept me hydrated while in Fort Worth this past weekend. Crisp, balanced and hoppy, it quenches your thirst when the heat index is triple digits.

Feel I left something out? Find me on Instagram: @craftwhores and ask me to follow up with more reviews.

Cheers!

— Julie

Behold, the hopped mysteries of the pint.

Behold, the hopped mysteries of the pint.

“In the broader sense, I’m wondering how many medals New Mexico will score at Great American Beer Festival,” said New Mexico Brewers Guild director Christopher Goblet. “IPA is only one section within GABF, but let’s wave that ‘NMIPA’ flag proudly.”

He’s right. I make a formal motion for all of us to turn that flag into a formal #NMIPA hashtag and brandish it proudly. Full disclosure — I’m a fan of hops. I know it’s trendy, and I accept all the responsibility (and the chance I may be called a hipster) that goes along with declaring myself an IPA fan. But there’s something notable happening here in New Mexico. These hoppy beers that we get to order at the local pub are being recognized nationally.

Christopher Goblet, the Beer Ambassador for New Mexico, tests a sip of Second Street's IPA entry in this year's glassware

Christopher Goblet, the Beer Ambassador for New Mexico, tests a sip of Second Street’s IPA entry in this year’s glassware

So what’s the big deal with the VIPA Challenge? And, wait … isn’t there an IPA Challenge coming up? Yes, there is. The bigger question is how do we narrow down all of this hoppy goodness to just 14 samples on a tray when there are 25 New Mexico breweries entering their finest concoctions? That’s where you come in. This is your chance to put your hops knowledge to the test and make it count. By attending the VIPA Challenge this Sunday, you will be casting your vote for those final 14 brews that make it onto next week’s tasting trays. Then, when your friends show up for the IPA Challenge later this month, you can say you had a part in deciding who was on (or off) the island.

Some of our own Dark Side Brew Crew members will be official judges at the VIPA Challenge. I thought it prudent to ask a few of them what their hops preferences tended towards, just so you know what you may be up against should you choose to show up and cast your vote.

Brandon: “What I like most is an IPA that has some complexity in its makeup with the malt bill and hop profile, and a hop profile that shows different dimensions of each strain used.”

Franz: “I am a lover of hops in all forms. American style is by far my favorite over English and I love both brutal bitter and aromatic tropical creations. Currently I’m on a tropical sweet trend as my own batch of Sturmbrau Blitzhammer double IPA will attest.”

Adam: “Grew up English style, convert to the way of the West Coast in recent years.”

Laura: “My IPA preferences are citrus and tropical fruit with a great malt balance. But any well-made, complex, balanced IPA is very much appreciated by my palate.”

Brewers beware. And hops fans, you’ve been warned! The hop-sophisticates this Crew represents could be a veritable tipping point for the VIPA Challenge.

For $40 (single entrance ticket) or $70 for two, you’ll enjoy the right to be an official hops snob alongside the judges and cast your vote for the best hoppy brews from around the state. To sweeten the pot, you’ll get a T-shirt, the official IPA Challenge glass, an insulated six-pack cooler, plus $5 off admission to any New Mexico Brewer’s Guild event for the remainder of the year. Learn more at www.nmbeer.org/vipa. (Editor’s note: This is the Enthusiast Membership we were helping people to sign up for during ABQ Beer Week. — S)

Cast your vote for your favorite hops concoction on Sunday, and help usher in the next phase of #NMIPA. Our state has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hops, and we humbly plead for your help.

nmipaThe full list of breweries who will be participating in the VIPA, as provided by the Guild (subject to change).

  1. Back Alley Draft House
  2. Bathtub Row
  3. Blue Corn
  4. Bosque (defending champion)
  5. Boxing Bear
  6. Canteen
  7. Chama River
  8. High Desert
  9. Kaktus
  10. La Cumbre
  11. Lizard Tail
  12. Marble
  13. Pi
  14. Ponderosa
  15. Red Door
  16. Roosevelt
  17. Sandia Chile Grill
  18. Santa Fe
  19. Second Street
  20. Sierra Blanca/Rio Grande
  21. Spotted Dog
  22. Taos Mesa
  23. Three Rivers
  24. Tractor
  25. Turtle Mountain

The format of the event, for those participating, is as follows. The doors at Sandia Casino, ballrooms A & B, will open at 11:45 a.m. Settle in and grab a table with friends. Bring your ticket(s) and a valid ID. At 12:15 p.m. things will begin with some opening remarks from the Guild, at which point you will receive the first tray of 13 IPAs. There will be palate-cleansing snacks, water, and other finger food available to keep the hops from hammering you into submission. Take some serious notes, then pick your seven favorites from that tray. After a break, you will get a second tray of 12 beers. Take your time, take some notes, keep your palate as fresh as possible, and ultimately pick another seven. These 14 beers will be your choices to reach the main rounds of the IPA Challenge. Please remember, you do not have to finish every sample, not even the ones you really like. Dump buckets will be available.

Above all, have fun, enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow hopheads, and may the best IPAs win!

Cheers!

— Julie (with an assist from Stoutmeister)

insulatedbox

Mother Road Brewing founder Michael Marquess, left, and production manager Campbell Morrissey strike a pose in the new insulated shipping container that will hold the extra product needed for New Mexico

“It’s all your fault, New Mexico,” said Mother Road Brewing founder and chief beer officer Michael Marquess with a big grin. “We thought we were shipping enough beer for six to eight weeks, but you ran us dry in less than two.” He was referring to “Big Blue,” the tentative name for the huge, insulated shipping container that had just been delivered moments before this interview took place.

I was in Flagstaff, passing through for the husband’s birthday weekend trip that included both the Grand Canyon and seeing Public Enemy and The Cult on the same stage in Vegas (Chuck D and Billy Duffy all the way). Mother Road Brewing hooked us in a big way, so we spent a little extra time there. It ended up being the true highlight of the entire weekend, due in no small part to the staff and their location. They occupy a charming brewery/taproom that smells like heavenly wort when you walk in, and it’s connected directly to a great bike shop (Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution) and Pizzicletta, a wood-fired pizza joint.

Mother Road Brewing exterior in Flagstaff

Mother Road Brewing is about to undergo an expansion in Flagstaff that will nearly double their production capacity and extend their outdoor patio space

Sharyn, tap room manager and brewery high priestess, relayed the dilemma New Mexico posed for Mother Road Brewing over a fabulous experimental shandy and a crossword puzzle. “We only launched in New Mexico the end of March and we are having to up our capacity in a big way largely because of you,” she laughed. Hence, Big Blue’s arrival.

The shandy, by the way, was phenomenal. It’s not shelf-stable, so you won’t be finding it on New Mexican shelves anytime soon, but if you find yourself in Flagstaff, go immediately to Mother Road and ask for the Roadside Grove. This time around, grapefruit juice was added to their regular Roadside pale ale and was exceptionally crisp and refreshing without being too tart or bitter. At only 5-percent ABV, it is the perfect summer libation.

Mother Road Brewing menu

Mother Road had a number of experimental brews on their taproom menu. The Roadside Grove was an exceptional grapefruit shandy, and the results of both Experimental IPAs will play into their late summer canned release in NM.

Experimentation, Expansion, Repeat

I remember the first time I spotted Mother Road’s Lost Highway Black IPA on a New Mexican draft list. Having moved to Santa Fe from northern Vermont — a place ripe with stellar black IPAs — I jumped on it immediately. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. The Lost Highway Black IPA is rich, hoppy, and balanced to the point where it goes down super easy for a beer that registers 8-percent ABV. Behold, a diehard Mother Road Brewing fan was born. All this from a beer that Marquess says was a homebrew experiment. He says people would actually harass him to make more of it, and it became their flagship in a few short years.

Now, Mother Road is working with the City of Flagstaff and their landlord to build a 2,000-square foot expansion on the property. This will enable Mother Road to expand their production to 4,500 barrels per year and build out their patio space, while also increasing the size of their taproom. Cedar, who has been with Mother Road for years, and is a great, knowledgeable host, can’t wait for his taproom space to be reclaimed from the brewers. He’s a patient guy.

Mother Road Brewing Taproom

Cedar stands next to his tap handles, nicknamed ‘Josephine’, which are an amalgamation of about six 1920s-1930s hood ornaments. Mother Road continues the theme with race car names for their larger fermentation tanks and with smaller tanks that pay homage to vintage motorcycles.

What’s next for New Mexico offerings from Mother Road

So what’s the plan for all of us in New Mexico? Well, we have a lot to look forward to. Besides more of the three regular brews that have recently begun appearing at fine package stores and on draft at select locations statewide, we have a brand new IPA to welcome to the fold at the end of August. Currently, Gold Road (a light-bodied, malty Kolsch-style ale, 4.3% ABV, 19 IBU), Roadside (a hoppy pale ale, 5% ABV, 27 IBU) and their stand-out Lost Highway Black IPA (8% ABV, 100 IBU) are available in New Mexico.

“I can’t teach New Mexico anything about dank,” said a grinning Marquess. “You’ve got all that already and you’re killing it. What I want to bring to New Mexico is a crisp, refreshing, mountain IPA that’s very bright.”

It will be canned in 16-ounce tallboys by New Mexico’s Mother Road Mobile Canning (no relation) and will be called Flagstaff IPA. Release parties will be planned in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, so keep an eye on the calendar in August.

When asked if he’d like to say a final word to New Mexicans, Marquess enthused, “We love the market out there. It’s the coolest beer-drinking crowd we’ve ever encountered — earnest and down-to-earth.”

Production manager Campbell Morrissey summed it up, “We love coming to New Mexico because of the people.”

We’re delighted to have you, Mother Road. Bring it on!

Mother Road packaged beer

We can’t wait for more of this on our shelves from Flagstaff’s Mother Road Brewing.

Cheers!

— Julie