Archive for the ‘Beercation Destinations’ Category

It can be fun to go outside the ABQ metro area and visit small-town breweries like Hub City in Belen.

Recently over on Facebook, the website Brew to Do shared a full list of all the active breweries in New Mexico. The goal is to give beer lovers in this state, and beyond, a checklist for some fun in-state pub crawls and road trips.

That got all of us thinking about how many of the breweries on there (87, including the as-yet-unopened Brew Lab 101 and Ex Novo, the still-not-yet-brewing-their-own-beer Beer Creek, and Context Brewing, which is planned for a spot near Third Street and Slate but does not yet even have a pending small brewer license) that we in the Crew have managed to visit.

We all pretty much have the ABQ metro area and Santa Fe covered. My only exceptions are Casa Vieja in Corrales, 1933 Brewing in Rio Rancho, and Chili Line and HoneyMoon in Santa Fe. Overall, I have now been to 58 breweries in the state, including an impromptu “why not?” trip down to Hub City Brewing in Belen on Saturday afternoon (more on that below). Other Crew members who added up their personal totals were current front-runner AmyO (62), plus Brandon (47), Kristi (44), Reid (44), Jerrad (43), Luke (41), Franz Solo (37), and Maureen (27).

This is a handy list for your future travels. (Courtesy of Brew to Do)

As a beer writer/editor, it is sort of my duty to hit up as many of these breweries as possible. I have gone on past lengthy road trips to the breweries around the Taos area, as well as the breweries in the southeastern part of the state. More have opened in those areas since my last trips, showing how easy it is to fall behind as more and more of New Mexico’s smaller towns gain breweries of their own.

Before anyone asks, here are the 25 breweries I have left to visit, though I have to attach asterisks to Abbey Brewing, since while you can visit the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, you cannot drink the beer there (they formulate recipes at the monastery; the beer is brewed for distribution at Sierra Blanca in Moriarty), and as of our last check, Route 66 Junkyard Brewery in Grants was not brewing its own beer due to problems with its equipment. That might have changed. So here are the 23 places I know are brewing beer, and you can drink it there, grouped geographically for future trips.

Northern New Mexico (7): 550 Brewing, Aztec; Blü Dragonfly, Cimarron; Callahan West, Mosquero; Colfax Ale Cellar, Raton; Enchanted Circle, Angel Fire; Second Alarm Brewhouse, Jemez Springs; Taos Trail Inn, Ojo Caliente

ABQ/Santa Fe metro areas (4): 1933 Brewing, Casa Vieja, Chili Line, HoneyMoon

Southeastern New Mexico (4): Black Cock Brewery, Roswell; Drylands, Lovington; Guadalupe Mountain, Carlsbad; Hopscotch, Artesia

Southern Mountains (4): Bonito Valley, Lincoln; Cloudcroft Brewing; Lost Hiker, Ruidoso Downs; Tall Pines Beer and Wine Garden, Ruidoso

Las Cruces metro area (4): Icebox, Pecan Grill, Picacho Peak, Spotted Dog

Admittedly, that northern trip would be pretty unwieldy to do in a single run (it is far from Aztec to Mosquero), but hey, these are good goals to aim for as a beer writer, or even just a beer lover who does not write about the industry.

The little brewing system at Hub City can’t churn out beer fast enough to keep up with customer demand.

Spurred on by that list and with that aforementioned free time on a Saturday, as there were no sporting events, metal concerts, or any other beer-related events going down in ABQ, I did the 40-minute trek to Belen to check out Hub City. Like a lot of the other small-town breweries, it had its own little charm. Unfortunately, much like it was when AmyO stopped by long ago, Hub City did not have its own beers on tap. Technically, then, I will probably have to go back to count this to my total.

Owner Tom Greer and his wife Cindy told me that the 1-barrel brewing system does not keep up with the brewery’s mug club, a long list of names posted on one of the walls near the bar. Tom said every time he does have a beer ready to go, he will share it on Facebook, but the mug club gets the news a day earlier, and oftentimes they wipe out that supply overnight. Hey, it is a good thing to have that sort of loyal local following. For all of us traveling beer drinkers, we are but a tiny drop in the bucket when it comes to attendance. Still, Tom and Cindy were kind and welcoming to all of us visiting for the first time, while also taking care of a couple of their regulars who had shown up for a green chile cheeseburger special.

The little pub is located next to the Rail Runner stop in Belen. They have different events every day, be it food or music or other entertainment, and a good supply of guest taps. I am not sure how things will work out for them once the new regulations for small brewer license holders go into effect in the second half of the year, which require a minimum of 50 barrels brewed or 50 percent of all beer sales to come from beers brewed on site. Tom handles the brewing now, so he may have to upgrade his system or add some full-time help (former Bathtub Row brewer Hector Sanchez is no longer employed at Hub City).

Check out the old-school labels on the two bottles on the left, found on the Hub City shelves.

Hopefully everything works out for Hub City. It is a charming spot owned by good people. The old building is filled with all sorts of fascinating items, from some old-school beer bottles that Tom has collected over the years, to a foosball table and a record player with stacks of vinyl nearby.

So where will your next beer trip take you? We are curious among all our readers as to who has been to the most different breweries in the state. Leave us your travel records in the comments here or on social media, or drop us a line at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

I might just have to combine a Las Cruces beer tour with the upcoming Blazin’ Brewfest on May 17, in case anyone was wondering where my next destination may be, though I can always hit up those nearby places in the interim. See you around the breweries near and far.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The Ginger Man is an old-school bar with a modern craft beer list.

Greetings, beer fans! Normally, this blog is dedicated to all of the great beers produced in New Mexico. But, once in a while, Stoutmeister allows us to babble on about some of our trips to other lands, near and far. I had the pleasure to visit New York City (NYC) a few months ago and thought I would jot down what notes I could remember. (Um, something came up and I forgot to do this for a few months. Sorry.)

One thing that really stands out to me in my travels to NYC is that there aren’t that many breweries there. At least, not in Manhattan, which is where we visited. I know there are others off the island and within a subway stop, but the central hub of the city only has a few. As someone who’s used to every small town in the West having one, and at least three within a stone’s throw anywhere in Albuquerque, this feels strange. I guess it can be chalked up to economics; it’s just too darned expensive. Because there’s so much to see in Manhattan by foot and so little time (this was actually a work/education trip), we again didn’t venture out to the other boroughs.

The good news is that there are still many good places within 10 blocks or so of Times Square to find quality beers. The craft beer revolution certainly hasn’t skipped the Big Apple. Generally, you don’t have to go very far to find a bar of some sort. Thirty years ago, I’m sure all of them would’ve been slinging more whisky, Guinness, and Bud Light than anything else, and while it’s still somewhat true, many of them have excellent beers. A healthy handful dedicate themselves to craft beers. At most places, you will find a good representation of local and regional beers, too.

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Red River was just as glorious as the pictures make it look.

Fall was suddenly and dramatically in the air recently as Dave and I trekked up north to visit some breweries we have been trying to visit for some time. We welcomed the cooler air and monsoonal rains as we made our way around arguably the most beautiful area of the state. Our plan was overly ambitious, and we knew that we were not going to get to everything we wanted to see with just one overnight stay in Taos. Sadly, some of our curiosity stays with us as we wait for another time, another adventure.

We did have a main goal, a must-do if you will. Having seen the amazing pictures online of Red River Brewing Company, we decided that would be our primary destination. If nothing else, we were bound and determined to make it to the brewery that was able to win the first round with its maiden entry into the NM IPA Challenge. An overall fourth place finish was also quite impressive.

Red River has one of the best atmospheres for a brewery in the state.

We were blown away. It’s even much, much nicer in person. Dave declared it the nicest brewery atmosphere in all of New Mexico and Arizona. We tried the winning entry, Bad Medicine DIPA. While not our style, it was easy to see why it impressed. Our pick of the sampler we ordered was the Amarillo SMASH.

When I was researching what route we wanted to take, I was looking at Google Maps and found something very interesting. A roadhouse-y kind of dive bar/beer hall in the middle of the northeastern part of the state. I guess technically it’s in Maxwell, but there is not much near there, for sure. Due to its name, I was fixated on getting there. The online reviews are great and it’s a 15-minute drive from Cimarron. The place, my friends, is Colfax Tavern & Diner at Cold Beer New Mexico. Let that sink in. Cold Beer New Mexico. Who the hell knew?

One of the more unique beer bars in the state can be found near Maxwell.

I saw a beer koozie on their website that I knew I needed to have. I bought one, so I am now a very proud owner. Speaking of owners, the owners of this place are incredibly welcoming. I even heard them telling another customer they had someone in there from Australia recently. I would be remiss if I did not mention that they have their “own” beer on tap — “Cold Beer.” But, it’s brewed by Full Sail in Oregon. The owner said nobody in New Mexico wanted to brew it for them. I am putting out the call, some Northern New Mexico brewery should step up and brew them a beer. This place is awesome. In fact, my personal opinion is (of course I do not know the possible reasons why this has not happened) that Colfax Ale Cellar in Raton should get together with them on this. They are neighbors, and Colfax is in the name, after all. Although we didn’t make it as far as Raton, I had one of their beers in Cimarron, a golden ale, and it was outstanding.

The beer isn’t quite ready yet, but the guest taps and the barbecue are reason enough to visit Blu Dragonfly in Cimarron.

I had the Colfax Rabbit Chaser Golden while having lunch at Blu Dragonfly Brewing and Smokehouse in Cimarron. Blu Dragonfly does not have its own beer on tap yet, but should have it on by Oktoberfest. The barbecue was outstanding, and that golden ale had just enough kick and a clean finish to cut through the richness of all the meat. I must admit to basically inhaling the mac and cheese as well …

Owner Colin is very civic minded. That day, Blu Dragonfly was welcoming all the bicycle racers in the race they organized with Philmont Scout Ranch. It was fun to cheer each racer as they came to the finish line and grabbed a much deserved beer (the riders were over 21, of course). Colin then surprised me by giving me one of their awesome pint glasses I was coveting. Thanks, Colin!

Don’t forget about Enchanted Circle in Angel Fire.

We took a different route on our way back to Taos and finally stopped at Enchanted Circle Brewing Company in Angel Fire. I forgot how beautiful that town is because I haven’t been there in forever. The Nice Day IPA was aptly named. We watched a massive rainstorm sweep through (the third or fourth of our trip already) and toasted to Zeus for bringing the weather.

It was time to get back to Taos and get settled into our hotel. We made one final trek that night to the Taos Mesa Brewing Tap Room near the plaza. It was our first trip to this location, though we have been to the Mothership outside of town. It is fantastic and not to be missed when in in Taos.

The Taos (Mesa) Tap Room in the heart of town is definitely worth the visit.

The next day, we made a few stops in Santa Fe on our way home to visit places that we cannot easily get to when we take the train. That day probably deserves its own story so I will save that for some other time.

Suffice it to say, it’s not just the weather that is getting cooler up north. The brew scene is as well. We cannot wait to get back up there to revisit our new favorites and visit the ones we missed.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Oh, Tucson, you keep it weird, you wild and crazy city.

Tucson has always been a second home to me, so after going more than three years between visits, I was pulled back to the Old Pueblo for a short-but-fun visit. Being a craft beer writer, I ended up spending most of my time bouncing between breweries and beer bars. Tucson has come a long way since my last visit, and while it is not Albuquerque good yet, it is definitely progressing in the right direction. Maybe a bit too hazy of a direction, but hey, forward momentum is forward momentum.

During my last visit in 2014, there were only seven breweries — Barrio, Borderlands, Dragoon, Nimbus, Sentinel Peak, Ten Fifty-Five, Thunder Canyon — but that number has now tripled. The good news is that many of the new breweries are even better than some of the older ones, and hopefully that will push the older ones to move forward or die. Nimbus, the oldest brewery in town, sadly is almost dead, killed off by an ownership squabble (per sources in the community).

Pueblo Vida is the hip new downtown brewery.

Going in chronological order of visits, my first stop was a quick walk from my hotel downtown to Pueblo Vida Brewing on Broadway. One of the newer places, it has already built a major reputation as a true beer geek brewery. There was not a clear IPA or pale ale in sight, just a lot of haze. I snagged a pint of Embers Pale Ale, which was fairly mild in terms of the hops, with a good mouthfeel for the style. Hazy juice bombs are not usually my cup of tea, but they are selling like hotcakes in Arizona. It does not hurt that Pueblo Vida has some of the sweetest can designs anywhere, and when they released a new canned IPA during my visit, four-packs were flying out the door (it should be noted that the four-pack tallboy cans are the dominant type in the marketplace down there, so maybe they all owe La Cumbre a tip of the cap).

Inertia is an aromatic beast with the flavor to match.

Pueblo Vida, which had a cool, relaxed vibe even with the afternoon sun beating down the south-facing front windows, does not just exist in the haze. There were also a couple of darker beers on tap, possible remnants of the semi-cool winter that just finished. Hyperspace was the only PV beer that I had previously tried at a bottle share. It is a coffee-heavy imperial stout, just big, bold, thick, and mean as hell. No one dropped any cream into this. The new darkness (for me, anyway) was Inertia, a 10.5-percent ABV behemoth. PV took a dark ale and brewed it with oats and lactose, then put it in whiskey barrels, before blending it with coffee and finally letting it sit on cascara (coffee cherries). I believed that my reaction sent to the rest of the Brew Crew read something along the lines of “I just want to exist in this aroma forever.” The blend of so many complex flavors was pretty damn good, too.

After catching an American Hockey League game between the Tucson Roadrunners (Coyotes affiliate) and San Jose Barricuda (Sharks affiliate), I caught up with some friends at Tap & Bottle. This beer bar is combined with a beer shop, essentially making it like a mini-Sister bar meets a mini-Jubilation. It came highly recommended by Tony Calder of Marble Brewery, and rightfully so as the beer list was impressive. I snagged three Arizona brews, while everyone else at the table went with the out-of-town offerings.

One can get lost inside Tap & Bottle. In a good way.

First up was XOXO Coffee Stout from the aforementioned Ten Fifty-Five. It functions as a lighter, sweeter little brother (4.7% ABV) to Hyperspace. From there, I had to snag a Flagstaff beer, namely Astro Cookie. This imperial milk stout was kinda ridiculous, as it is made with waffle cones and Oreo cookies. If my dentist yells at me next month, so be it. The finale was a special cask of Dragoon Stronghold Session Ale infused with a ridiculous amount of coffee. I have no idea how I fell asleep that night.

Amid the 91-degree temperatures of Day Two, I started my day with a lunchtime pour of Dragoon IPA at Frog ‘n Firkin, a favorite old college haunt (one of the few that remain; gentrification has pulverized much of the downtown and university area I used to know). It remains a classic West Coast IPA, tasting like the brewers got a wee bit of inspiration from La Cumbre’s Elevated once upon a time. Dragoon was one of the main holdouts against the haze, and bless them for sticking to what has now made them the largest brewery in town.

Um, Dillinger, you gotta work on these beers.

After wolfing down a Henhouse and fries (the nostalgia was thick on the food side), I drove up Oracle to Dillinger Brewing. Brew Crew Bullpen member Kristin, a fellow UA alumnus, was not a fan when she visited last year. Still, I had to see if things had improved. Alas, they had not, so the less said about that, the better. I tried two IPAs, an oatmeal stout, and a brown porter. The latter was the worst beer I had in Tucson, just bitter as hell and riddled with a strange, chemical flavor, while none of the rest stood out in any way.

Luckily, a number of folks out in cyberspace recommended that I hightail it up to Button Brew House on the far northwest side of town. Located near where Ina Road is supposed to intersect with Interstate 10, all I had to do was avoid the massive construction chaos in the area, as currently Ina and I-10 do not intersects. After a long slog through the crowded roads (Tucson may now have worse traffic than ABQ, which is staggering in and of itself), I made it to Button, which just opened in September. However, it did not taste like a six-month-old brewery.

We have a winner for best beer flight board. It can be found at Button Brew House.

My six-beer flight consisted of Volstead Pilsner, Sunshine Pale Ale, #InaIsOpen (Red IPA), Button IPA, All Souls Stout, and Throwin’ Stones (Scotch Wee Heavy). The Stones was my favorite, with just that right mix of smoky/peaty up front and sweet on the back end, without either being too overpowering. The pilsner, brewed in the pre-Prohibition style, was refreshing as can be. The three hop-forward beers were all good, though none on the level of what we get up here in New Mexico. The two IPAs were more middle-of-the-road by our standards, but they were also clean, with no discernible flaws.

The sign may be partially burned out, but the beer and food inside was still solid at Thunder Canyon.

The long drive back downtown (no freeway access sucks) was followed by a dinner brew at Thunder Canyon. Back when the brewery opened, it was located up in the Foothills Mall, not far from Button. Years ago, TC moved downtown to Broadway, right near where Pueblo Vida now sits across the road. More recently, all of the TC brewing operations were relocated to the larger downtown space, with a distillery also being installed. It is the first brewstillery in Southern Arizona. I stuck with the beer, however, grabbing a Rillito Red to go with a pub burger. Described as a Scottish ale, it simply tasted like a sweet, malty, yet light red ale. TC seems to be sticking with the more sessionable flavors, and with a large mix of more casual craft fans in attendance, it definitely seems to be working.

Dragoon makes the most of its malt-forward beers.

Leaving the car behind, I hopped in a Lyft and headed out to Dragoon Brewing, located off Grant Road, just west of I-10. The brewery has been re-worked since my last visit, now occupying a much larger share of the industrial building it has always inhabited. The taproom now is at least three times the size of the one I first visited years ago. There were nine beers (usually 10) on tap, but the one that stood out to me was Comb the Desert. To confirm that it was a Spaceballs reference, all I had to do was look to the beer description on the giant chalkboard menu: “WE AIN’T FOUND SHIT!” I gotta say, Mel Brooks would have approved of this malty, chewy little schwarzbier. It hit all the right notes and did not cause me to fall off my barstool.

The friendly staff, upon finding out the purpose of my visit, then presented me with 5-ounce pours of their last two anniversary beers, The Cuatro and The Cinco, a pair of decadent imperial stouts. The Cuatro has long stood on its own, a swirl of dark chocolate roast with coffee hints. This batch of The Cinco was barrel aged, leaving it creamy and boozy, the kind of BA imperial that any stout lover would, well, love. Unfortunately, 10 p.m. came around too fast, and the brewery shut down for the night.

A double dose of anniversary imperial stouts.

One area where Tucson clearly still has a ways to catch up to ABQ is in terms of its brewery hours. Outside of the brewpubs, most places did not open until between 2 and 4 p.m., while then closing anywhere from 9 to 11 p.m. The crowds were good at most places, but not on the level of what we see here. Be mindful if planning a trip to Tucson that you will have a shorter window in which to drink if you intend to visit multiple breweries.

Now, I did find one brewery open until 11, and it was within walking distance of my hotel, so I hopped in a Lyft and arrived at Crooked Tooth. Located on Sixth Street, it is just around the corner from both Tap & Bottle, and the main Tucson bar district on Fourth Avenue (for reference, all numbered avenues run north-south, while all numbered streets run east-west, which is basically the opposite of ABQ). I gotta say, Crooked Tooth may have even out beer-geeked Pueblo Vida. The entire beer menu was either hazy IPAs/pale ales, or sours. There had also just been an Office trivia night, so it was clearly a peak Millennial hangout. Well, this old guy figured when in Rome, order the biggest beer on the menu and watch the Romans flee in terror. Obscured by Dankness (8.3% ABV), a hazy DIPA, was the choice, and it pretty much lived up to its name. It was big, dank, and yet bright and chewy.

Harbottle may be new, but it already has some of the best beers in town.

My final day of drinking in Tucson proved to be a long one. After chowing down at the Bisbee Breakfast Club on Broadway (you can probably guess where the original restaurant is from), I followed the Dragoon staff’s advice and visited Harbottle, another new brewery. Located on the far southeast side of town at Ajo Way and Palo Verde, Harbottle is an upscale strip mall brewery. It reminded me of a young Bosque, sans food, with a cool staff who all seemed to know Antal Maurer really well. I started with a pint of Easy Going, a delicious kolsch that perfectly fits the desert, just sweet and smooth. In retrospect, I should have asked if they had crowlers. The staff then gave me a short pour of Nigel Tufnel, their English bitter on nitro, which was a nice, light, bready beer that would easily find a fit in a brewery like Sidetrack or Second Street. Finally, the brewer brought me a sample of a new English old ale that was set to go on tap after I departed. Dear lord, it was one big, boozy beast, the kind that makes you want to throw on some melodic death metal and tell the tales of battles of yore.

1912 is another good addition to the Tucson scene.

After lunch at Bisonwitches on Fourth Avenue, I made it up to 1912 Brewing, which I had intended to visit the night before as it sits not far from Dragoon. Unfortunately, it closed an hour before Dragoon did, so be mindful if you ever put it on your beer list. The good news is that it should be on your beer list. Following the recommendation of the Harbottle staff, I snagged a pint of the Mescalero Stout. This is an old-school stout, just thick and roasty, with some dark chocolate/mocha/toffee hints, but there is little sweetness. After that, I wanted a nap.

Instead, I went to an Arizona baseball game at Hi Corbett, which used to be where the Colorado Rockies had spring training, and before them, the Cleveland Indians, as immortalized in the movie Major League. Luckily, the Wildcats did not need hats for bats, and they won 5-4 over Washington State. I skipped the more expensive craft beer prices to give my liver a timeout, but hey, they had local craft on tap, so kudos to the old alma mater.

Ermanos was another outstanding craft beer bar.

With another Tony Calder recommendation on my mind, I organized a mini-reunion of Daily Wildcat alumni at Ermanos, a craft beer bar located smack dab in the middle of college bars and trendy shops on Fourth Avenue. They had GoldenEye on the TV and a full menu of excellent beers from the state and region. I grabbed another 1912 offering, Irish Sobriety, a red ale with whiskey blended into it. I barely tasted any whiskey, just a solid Irish red, though not quite on the level of that Mescalero Stout, much less an ABQ Irish red like the one at Canteen. After enjoying a few non-AZ beers (I was sticking with malty offerings, and the only other malty beer on tap there was the kolsch from Harbottle), we headed into the chaos of downtown proper a few blocks over for last call. My buddy Ty, a former journalist who seems to have managed every bar in Tucson at some point (or at least knows someone on the staff of every bar), guided us to Elliot’s on Congress. Once the bartender changed the keg, I capped my trip with a Rojo from Barrio Brewing, a lighter red ale that fits that brewery’s sessionable brewpub motif.

It’s still number one, but other breweries are catching up. Competition is a good thing.

If I had to rank the breweries I visited on this trip, they would go in this order:

  1. Dragoon
  2. Pueblo Vida
  3. Harbottle
  4. Button Brew House
  5. Crooked Tooth
  6. Thunder Canyon
  7. Dillinger

Let me just say that the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 is much shorter than the gap from No. 6 to No. 7. Hey, no city’s brew scene is perfect. Hopefully the other breweries can find their footing and start to catch up, or else they will be left behind. The end of Nimbus, once the largest brewery in town, should be all the warning the rest need.

A proper beercation is always followed by bringing home some quality souvenirs.

I also have to commend Tap & Bottle and Ermanos as two excellent craft beer bars, with the bottle/can selection at the former among the best around. I brought quite a few AZ brews back to share with the Crew. Perhaps at some point I can wrangle enough people together for a tasting and let you all know what they think.

The next time you are looking for a beercation destination that is within driving distance of ABQ, I can say that Tucson should be high on your list. It is also still a fair amount cheaper than Denver and Phoenix, if you are looking for something different, with plenty of variety. Or, if you just want to indulge in the haze, the juice bombs are everywhere.

Now it is back to enjoying all the beers our ABQ scene has to offer. Hopefully you all did not drink up all the Helles Lager at La Cumbre or Cake Bandit at Bow & Arrow while I was gone.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Hello, Wicked Weed.

One nice thing about having children-in-law is that they sometimes end up in nice places, and you have to visit them, of course. Such was the case here. My daughter-in-law is currently studying at Duke University in North Carolina. I never had much of an occasion to visit NC in the past, though I didn’t doubt it was a nice state. We previously visited her in the Durham area, but we figured on our next trip we would go to Asheville, up in the mountains in the western part of the state. Apparently, it’s an East Coast beer mecca (well, you probably already know that), so a pilgrimage was in order.

We started our short trip in an ugly fashion — our 6 a.m. flight to Charlotte on Southwest was cancelled just prior to boarding. After some wrangling with the desk attendant, we managed to get on another flight to the Raleigh-Durham airport. (Charlotte is a shorter drive to Asheville, but you take what you can get.) We ended up getting into Raleigh much later than planned, but at least we were there. Sadly, our luggage was not; it had decided to stay in Albuquerque an extra night. We drove off to Asheville, anyway, hoping the clothes on our backs would hold up for a few extra days.

Given the later arrival and longer driving time, we got in to Asheville after 10 p.m. It was a Wednesday, so we were afraid nothing would be open. Most places seemed to close at 9 or 10. The mighty Google informed us that Foggy Mountain Brewpub was open late, and a call informed us that they even served food until 3 a.m. Perfect! We arrived to find a loud band playing and people Elaine-dancing in our faces as we headed back for a table. There was no table service, so we struggled to get our orders in at the bar. My wife had a cider and White Zombie, which she liked, and our daughter’s boyfriend and I had Jade IPAs. It was quite respectable, but after a day of ugly traveling, it could have been mopped up from the floor and I would have enjoyed it.

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Mellow Mushroom’s impressive beer selection

The next day, we headed downtown. Asheville has many, many breweries, and a decent number are in that area. Given we were returning to Charlotte on Friday, we couldn’t hit them all, sadly. First up was a healthy breakfast at Green Sage Cafe, a very hip place on the main drag. Then on to Mellow Mushroom, which has great pizza and beers, including the Sweet Water Grapefruit IPA my festivities starter. From there, we meandered to Mast General Store, an old-timey store that sells all sorts of touristy merchandise. Quaint.  

Finally, we arrived at Wicked Weed Brewpub. I knew I had heard of it before, and the boyfriend reminded me that it had been purchased by InBev. Ouch. Maybe we should boycott? Nah. We were directed downstairs, which is the location of a nice taproom with a variety of fairly exotic beers. There were many sours, various strength IPAs, and an assortment of other styles. It took three flights between the four of us to try most of them, and they were very good. My wife in particular loved the Gin ‘n’ Juice, which is a potent brew (10% ABV) aged in gin barrels. This is a quality place, and I hope InBev doesn’t change anything.

Ah, delicious (Wicked) Weed flights.

From there, we meandered over to Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria. It’s not a brewery, but it has a nice selection of local beers on tap. I opted for a session IPA, which was fine. We didn’t try the pizza, but they had garlic knots, which were good, but not as good as the ones you used to be able to get at Bosque.

My wife loves Mexican food, so wherever we go, we have to find some. It has to be authentic, so Taco Bell need not apply. Right in the middle of all of this downtown action we found Mamacita’s Taqueria. Spicy, delicious, excellent! And, they even have several quality beers on tap.

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Green Man’s modern design

Ready to try another beer joint, we headed down the hill to Green Man Brewery. This is a rather enormous, modern three-story affair, with a bar on the ground floor and another on the third floor. The original location is also open and just a bit further down the street, though we didn’t check it out. We tried a flight and found the beers to be good, though not quite as interesting as Wicked Weed’s. (It’s at this point writing this that I realize I need to take better notes.)

We wandered back up the hill and stuck our heads into Wicked Weed again. It was about 9 p.m. at this point, and the place was crowded. This is clearly where folks gather after work, unlike Green Man, which was nearly empty.

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One World Brewing, just before closing

We decided to try to find one more place before closing: One World Brewing. It seemed to stay open later than most, so we wandered about trying to orient ourselves on Google Maps and with a case of Wicked Weed Brain. Eventually we found it tucked down an alley and down some stairs. I believe the beers there were decent, though I was tired and not as into the task as I should have been.

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Feeling metal? Get to Burial.

The next day we checked out of the motel and recovered at the nearby mall. We got the word that our luggage finally arrived at our motel, so we dragged our odoriferous selves over to pick it up. We considered taking off for Charlotte, where we would be staying the night before flying out early, but my wife couldn’t resist one last shot at Mamacita’s. It was excellent again, and more importantly, since we were downtown, we decided to hit one last brewery — Burial Beer Co.  It’s not far from Green Man, but we had skipped it the previous day. It was a fortuitous turn of events, because it had the finest beers of all that we had tried. They had two IPAs, a DIPA, and even a triple IPA on tap. They had a sour, a coffee stout, and a michelada straight out of the tap! (The michelada was a pilsner, I believe, mixed with tomato juice, lime juice, and hot sauce.)  

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Burial’s wonderful beers

The IPAs were excellent, on par with the best that New Mexico has to offer. I even mentioned to the bartender that we were from New Mexico, and he said, “Oh, yeah, you guys have Marble and La Cumbre.” Quite a worldly bartender!

After that, we took off for Charlotte. When we arrived, we stopped at a Whole Foods just to compare with New Mexico’s versions of the store. It had a cute little corner bar with four beers on tap. Kind of sad compared to the one in Santa Fe, which has 30 or so. It was again getting late, so we picked one last brewery near our motel to check out, Blue Blaze Brewing. It got good reviews on Google, but nearly every place gets 4-to-5 stars, it seems. It was a nice facility and the bartenders were very friendly, but sadly, the beers were mediocre and bland, as if the equipment needed cleaning. I always hate to write that about a place, but at least I’m writing it from 2,000 miles away and not likely to hurt their business.

We easily could have spent a few more days in Asheville. We only visited the downtown breweries out of convenience, but even those were worth the trip. There are many more around the area. Asheville itself has a cool vibe to it, reminding me of a Colorado mountain town. If you’re considering going, you should. Definitely do not skip Burial Brewing! We’re already thinking about another visit in the spring.

Cheers!

— Reid

The beers at Helton Brewing were on point once again!

Editor’s note: AmyO submitted this one a while ago, we’ve just had so many other stories with a time element leapfrog it in the queue. We decided it was time, especially as we get toward autumn, when it is no longer as hot as Hades in Scottsdale. — Stoutmeister

Faced with a serendipitous four-day holiday weekend (my employer unexpectedly decided to give us Monday before July 4 off!), my honey and I got in the car and drove to Scottsdale. Yes, we are pretty much nuts. We were complaining about the heat here and then went somewhere 10 degrees hotter. However, the hotel rates at the nice resorts there can’t be beat in the height of summer. A large suite with great air conditioning at a property with two pools, free breakfast buffet, and custom-made eggs or omelets, and a nightly reception with free drinks and snacks didn’t actually sound bad at all. And it wasn’t; it was great. In fact, on a couple of nights, the free beer on tap was an Uncle Bear IPA. It was great and we had two lovely hours to drink it at no cost.

We limited the time we were outdoors at all, even getting in and out of the car, so it wasn’t a very brewery-heavy trip. We did visit a couple of our favorites. We also went to a new taproom from a previously-visited brewery, one new brewery, and one that is fairly new and new to us. I wanted to share a little bit of information on them as well as a few pictures.

The new “play room” at Helton Brewing will be great in less scorching times.

On our last visit, I discovered Helton Brewing Company on Indian School Road and proclaimed it my favorite Phoenix-area brewery. It’s still doing very well, and the place was pretty busy for a Sunday midday when we stopped by for a pint. To our surprise, they added what can be described as a “play room” on the east side of the building. It’s covered, but open-air, so there was no way I was spending any time out there in July. Some folks did venture out there for a while. Oh, those crazy Phoenicians!

No trip to Scottsdale is complete for us without a visit to McFate. (I still have a hard time adding the “Mc” to Fate, because it will always be Fate to me.) As always, we had good beer and good times here. On Mondays, the pizzas are all half-price, too, and their pizza is really good.

The only tough part about visiting McFate Brewing is remembering the Mc on the front end.

Phoenix Ale Brewery recently opened Central Kitchen on North Seventh Street which was good news for us because the actual brewery location was really way too hot to enjoy the last time we visited. The Central Kitchen taproom is a very comfy spot and they have some great daily beer and food combination specials.

As for new places, we stopped by The Shop Beer Company on West First Street in Tempe. It’s an adorable place with a great patio, just maybe not in July, as it was getting full sun while we were there, and thus it was empty. Their beers tended to be on the hoppier side compared to many in this metro area, which was a welcome surprise. The staff was wonderful and knowledgeable. Groupon did offer a fun deal here, but we did not purchase it because we just wanted a couple of pints, and it was a package with flights, pints, and takeaway beer.

The sheer variety at Mother Bunch was impressive.

Also new to us, and fairly new on the whole, was Mother Bunch Brewing. They are in an old brick building, also on North Seventh Street in Phoenix. This brewery had the most styles on tap. The place is pretty funky and some of the beers reflected that. We had one that was pink because it was made from beets and rutabaga. That sounded awful to me because I hate beets, but it was so weird I had to try it, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. I then chose a sampler and all of the more standard beers were pretty good, in particular their milk stout.

I also have to add some information about something really fun that does not directly have to do with beer. But, there is a tie-in, and the news was just literally and figuratively too cool not to share. We had previously been to the Scottsdale Road location of Sip Coffee and Beer because they have some good beers on tap. I found out that they opened a new location not far from Helton on Indian School. (By the way, among a great lineup of beers, they currently have a Marble beer on tap.) And, I had read a special secret about it. It is called Sip Coffee and Beer Garage because it took over an old oil change business. So, it has the garage bay doors and everything. But, what makes it amazing is they re-purposed the underground portion — you know, where the mechanics stand under the cars to work on them.

Secret underground tiki bar? Heck yeah!

Underground spots are great places to beat the heat. It’s only open in the late afternoon and at night. We got there 15 minutes before they opened and waited. I was like a kid on Christmas, all antsy and ready to tear into it. The small underground area has been redecorated with a ship theme and turned into a full on tiki bar. It is completely incredible. I didn’t even really care that the drinks are super expensive — and they are, but they are very well made. There were even portholes on the walls that showed pictures of other ships in them as if we were docked in a harbor somewhere. Then, when we got up to leave, we looked out again and the pictures had changed to “open water.” It’s a must-do for any tiki bar fanatic.

By now, if you made it this far into this story, you must be wondering about the title. I wanted to highlight something I found unusual compared to experiences we have had on our previous trips to the area. It seems to be the beginning of an awakening of sorts. Coming from Albuquerque and visiting places like Portland and San Diego as often as we do, Phoenix never has felt like it was “into beer” as much, especially when you consider number of breweries per capita and general conversations we have had or overheard in bars. This time felt different. Not only are there some more new and interesting breweries opening, but there was also something else.

The Shop is one of many great new beer stops in the Phoenix metro area.

Driving into town, as usual we stopped by our favorite café in Payson for a snack. A nice guy who works there who has waited on us before started up a conversation that along the way landed on beer. We said we were driving in from Albuquerque and he practically begged us to let him know the next time we will be coming through and he will pay us to bring him some good ABQ beer. Most specifically, he wanted La Cumbre.

Then, when we were leaving Helton, we saw someone outside in the parking lot that we thought might be the owner/brewer. So, I asked and he said he was. I told him how much I enjoy his beer and his facility. He was very humble and grateful to hear it. He asked where we were from. When we told him, he said we should bring growlers from Albuquerque next time, and he would do a two-for-one growler exchange with his beer. Oh, you bet! We told him we would likely be back either in the fall or in December. Now, I am looking forward to it more than ever.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Now that is a craft beer presence at a Major League ballpark.

As basically everyone following this site knows, I was on a long road trip last week and the week before, journeying into the stifling humidity of the South. While my primary purpose was to be a good family member and attend my cousin’s wedding, I made sure to stop at plenty of places to and fro to get some beers from a region that I had not previously visited as an adult.

My summed up thoughts? The South is not on par with New Mexico when it comes to craft beer, but if you look hard enough, you can find some hidden gems. Due to time limitations (a lot of driving, basically), and the fact that in many of these cities the breweries are hopelessly scattered about, I usually chose a centralized beer bar to make my primary habitat. That gave me the option of trying beers from multiple breweries.

So here is a travel guide, of sorts, focusing on the beer bars I visited in each city, plus additional stops to hit if you ever find yourself in any of these places. Just, maybe, go in the fall. So damn sticky …

Oklahoma City

Beer Bar: TapWerks

So many taps, no wonder they called it TapWerks.

Located at 121 E. Sheridan Ave. in the heart of Bricktown, the huge entertainment district built around their Triple-A ballpark just east/southeast of the downtown skyscrapers, this is where to go to try just about every Oklahoma breweries’ beers. There are 106 taps on the ground floor, plus another 106 on the second level. They do tell you on the menu which beers are the freshest on tap, and the staff was pretty knowledgeable when it came to the freshness of their hoppy beers. The menu was more than just regular bar food, with the portobello mac-n-cheese standing out. Just make sure to check your travel schedule, as I am quite certain whenever the OKC Dodgers (baseball) or Thunder (NBA) are playing nearby, this joint is packed.

Best Brewery: Vanessa House Beer Co.

The buzz I encountered around OKC was that this is the new up-and-coming brewery. Well, Prairie was always mentioned first, but we get that here in ABQ now thanks to the wonderful folks at Favorite Brands, so I was more focused on finding the best that does not distribute west. The Broken Tile DIPA was my beer of choice at TapWerks. It’s basically a hybrid, with a juicy backbone similar to a New England-style IPA, but with a good, hoppy bite. Look for VHBC beers on tap or in bottles around town, as they do not appear to have a taproom at this time.

Best Bottle Shop: Broadway Wine Merchants

Located just north of downtown at 824 N. Broadway, this is primarily a hip, upscale wine shop located in an area where the city is clearly trying to create an urban chic environment. All that being said, the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and they did have a small but impressive beer selection. The only downside is that most Oklahoma breweries only can in six packs, with few bottles/bombers available. Still, if you are staying near Bricktown (which I recommend), this is the closest and best bottle shop anywhere near it.

(As an aside, I did stop at Diamond Bear Brewing in North Little Rock, but, um, well, it was not worth writing much about.)

Memphis

Beer Bar: Young Avenue Deli

Located at 2119 Young Ave. in the hipster haven known as Midtown, my one friend who lives in the area brought me here. The food menu is actually pretty solid, so I got to wolf down some BBQ smoked turkey, bacon, and cheese filled wraps. This fueled me up to start hitting up the local taps, but I only got through three beers before my friend, who just became a first-time father, showed signs of falling asleep at the bar. Overall, a solid beer selection from throughout Tennessee, the region, and nation, in a nice, hip part of town. The only downside is there are no hotels nearby, so if you stay downtown like I did, or further east along I-40, you may have to rely on Uber/Lyft. Unless you also know someone who lives in Memphis.

Best Brewery: Wiseacre Brewing

The best beer from Wiseacre in Memphis was finally found at the best fried chicken joint in town. Because of course.

Located at 2783 Broad Ave. near midtown, I did not personally visit this brewery, but I did try three of their beers. My friend Adam swears that this is the best local brewery, and he is originally from Colorado, so he knows good beer. The good news is, you can find it all over town, on tap and for sale in canned six packs. But, he recommends you should visit.

Best Bottle Shop: Joe’s Wines & Liquor

Located at 1681 E. Poplar Ave., due east of downtown, I found this place in a most unusual way. Facebook, upon your arrival in a different city, will now show you where your friends have been in that town (this might not be that new of a feature, but it was the first time I saw it). The first friend it suggested was my late friend Justin Shearer, an excellent human being and beer geek of the highest order. From the other side, Justin ended up guiding me to this great beer store. They had a huge selection of national and Tennessee brands. I loaded up on quite a few bottles with a few tips from the great staff. Thanks for still being my beer sherpa, Justin!

Best Eatery: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken

Located at 310 S. Front St. on the south side of downtown, this eatery was recommended to me by none other than La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway. Hey, if someone with his palate says you have to visit a restaurant, you just go. My verdict? Delicious, downright epic. It’s different enough from, say, Nexus, to stand apart. The chicken is perfectly spiced, walking that fine line without getting too hot for this here Anglo-Saxon to handle. The sides were wonderful, and by golly, they had the mythical Gotta Get Up to Get Down coffee milk stout from Wiseacre. Victory was mine!

Birmingham

Best Brewery: Good People Brewing

Who knew Birmingham had such a thriving beer scene?

Even though I was behind schedule, I could not resist stopping at the highest-rated brewery in Alabama’s biggest city. Located at 114 14th South St. (there is an important distinction between the North and South in the numbered street names downtown; they are totally separate streets), right across from the Birmingham Barons minor-league baseball stadium, Good People is a big, expansive brewery with a solid, varied menu. I was challenged to take on their hoppy beers, so I got a flight of their Pale Ale, IPA, Juco Session IPA, and Snake Handler DIPA. Each was pretty solid, though if anything, the DIPA came off as the weakest of the bunch when compared to our local examples of that style. The others could potentially hold up even out here in the Land of Hopchantment. Overall, good beer, good service, spacious taproom, and a ballpark right across the street.

Pensacola

Beer Bar: Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom

OK, I am listing this place for its awesome number of taps (100 plus) and sheer quantity of beer. That is the biggest selling point, because otherwise we had terrible service, and the food took forever (there were reportedly problems with the kitchen equipment). It seems to get good reviews online, so perhaps we just showed up on the wrong day, or had the wrong server. Hopjacks is located at 10 S. Palafox St., which is in the heart of a fairly charming downtown, stifling humidity aside. I went with a pint of the Hop Gun IPA from Funky Buddha. I would tried more, but the slow service killed that opportunity as we had the actual wedding to go to that day.

Best Brewery: Pensacola Bay Brewery

The quality of the beers and the quantity of selections at Pensacola Bay Brewery was impressive.

This charming little brewery is the oldest in town. Located near downtown at 225 E. Zaragoza St., it has a simple, no-frills taproom, though its beers can also be found just about everywhere in town in bottles or on tap. My cousin Jenna and I each got a flight. I took on the dark, she went with malty but lighter. The 5th Anniversary Panhandle Steamer ended up the highlight of her four beers, while I was surprised to learn the seasonal Bilgewater Porter was actually barrel aged, and boozy as heck. Among the regular dark beers, the Blackbeard Stout was quite robust for living in such a hot, steamy environment. It might not knock your socks off, but for a small, beach town brewery, it was more than adequate.

Best Bottle Shop: U.S. Navy liquor store

I was allowed to enter this store with my cousin-in-law, who is in the Air Force, and pick out a sixer of Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City. Seriously, though, I have been inside the Kirtland AFB Class Six store with my father (retired Army), and this thing absolutely dwarfed it. The beer choices were ridiculous. My other cousin-in-law and I were paralyzed with indecision for almost 10 minutes. It was a huge, wonderful store, so if you are active duty or retired military, or know someone who is, make sure to stop here. Plus, of course, no tax!

New Orleans

Beer Bar: The Avenue Pub

Skip the French Quarter, head to The Avenue Pub when in New Orleans.

Located at 1732 St. Charles Ave., just south/southwest of downtown along a major streetcar line, this beer bar was bordering on ridiculous. The food menu was somewhat small, but still tasty as could be, mixing pub favorites with local dishes, both full meals and appetizers. The beer list, though, holy hell it was awesome. There are 60 beers on tap, many of them from breweries throughout Louisiana. The menus even list the days all hop-forward beers were kegged, so you know how fresh your pale ales and IPAs really are. If you somehow cannot find the beer you want on tap, that’s OK, they have eight pages worth of bottled beers to choose from, including many that have been cellared and will be brought upstairs to be chilled before pouring. Seriously, it was ridiculous. Just to save myself the indecision, I stuck to the taps, snagging three beers before the post-wedding hangover/car trip lag caught up to me. The Parish Brewing of Broussard (near Lafayette) was recommended, so I started with the South Coast, a malty red ale. Polling the bartenders, I switched over to Gnarly Barley Brewing (Hammond) for my next two pints. The Brightside IPA could sneak onto taps in New Mexico and pass for a local brew. The Korova Milk Porter was a decadent dessert beer.

Best Bottle Shop: 504 Craft Beer Reserve

Located at 3939 Tulane Ave., just east/northeast of downtown, was this gem of a store. They do not carry six packs of any kind, but you can make your own. They also have growler stations as well. Basically, if you want to bring Louisiana beers home, this is your stop. Just be aware, most days they open at 11 a.m., which may be too late for some.

Houston

Beer Bar: Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall

Down below street level is the best beer selection in downtown Houston.

Located at 1010 Prairie St. in the below-ground level of an office building, this was one of the most unique takes on the old food court concept that I have seen. Basically, there are a series of all-local eateries with small stands, where food is made fresh. At the far back is a wall of beer taps, 60 total, with a couple metalheads slinging pints for the mostly young crowd. It was open until midnight on a weekday, and they didn’t even do last call until almost 11:50, so that was nice. The beers were a little more expensive on average than here in ABQ ($6-$9), but overall it was an enjoyable place. They also made sure to keep track of their older beers, even going so far as selling the last of an old IPA keg for $1. The beertenders told me it was almost six weeks old and the remainder would be dumped soon if people didn’t buy it up. The Bulgarian Miak (Milk Stout) from Sigma Brewing was a bit of a disappointment, lacking much flavor and body, but the Bourbonator (BA doppelbock) from B-52 Brewing made up for it. This is definitely a place I wish to have explored further, but I arrived late since I first went to …

Best Ballpark: Minute Maid Park

Once upon a time, I had gotten to 25 of the 30 active Major League parks, but recent openings had knocked me back to 22. Well, I got to 23 when I walked over to this rather lovely park, with its wonderful retractable roof (so necessary as the temps outside were brutal). Upon entering, I was pointed to the massive St. Arnold Brewing bar in left field. There were nearly a dozen beers on tap, and while I had to pay ballpark prices ($10.75 to $11.75), I figured it still beat going thirsty, because there was no way I was gonna order a cheaper macro just to say a few bucks. I grabbed some ballpark food, settled into my seat just up from third base, and rooted on Albuquerque natives Alex Bregman and Kenny Giles of the Astros. Sadly, they lost in extra innings to the Mariners, and a key player got hurt, so I probably should never go back since I’m apparently a pox on the team, but hey, I still had fun.

Dallas metro area

Beer Bar: L.U.C.K. (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) at Trinity Groves

Located at 3011 Gulden Ln. #112, just west of downtown Dallas, is an excellent beer bar/foodie restaurant. The food is unique, yet thoroughly Texan, with some true delights on the menu, both appetizers and full meals. The beer selection is outstanding from all over the DFW metro area. If you need a bite and a place to sample multiple breweries’ beers, this is one of the best.

Best Brewery: Lakewood Brewing

There was some crazy karaoke off to the left of this delicious beer.

Located at 2302 Executive Dr. in Garland, just north of Dallas, is this industrial park brewery, which is on the rise in the opinion of the locals. Having already downed a French Quarter Temptress, their coffee imperial milk stout, at L.U.C.K., I settled in for another of those as it was too good to pass up again. I would have grabbed a different beer for seconds, but it turned out we had just made it in for last call. Many, many breweries in this part of the country close well before midnight on weekdays, so make sure to check their hours before you go!

Best Bottle Shop: Brad’s beer cellar

I’m only half joking, as Brad’s wife Christie seemed to really hope that I would clear out half of his 100-plus Jester King bottles. My beer-loving friend makes a ton of trips down to Austin, and in fact went back again the weekend after my visit. He gave me quite the variety of Texas beers to bring home, and he said he hopes to visit New Mexico later this year to engage in some serious beer trading. In return, I brought him bottles of La Cumbre’s Persica and Hibiscus Quercus. Beer friends are the best friends, right?

* * * * *

I know there are probably a hundred more places I missed along the way in each of these cities, but I wanted to highlight these as my personal favorites. The beer bars, in particular, are great places to sample a wide variety of local offerings while sparring yourself the cost of transportation all over the place. If I had more time, I am sure there were another dozen places I would have visited.

When in the South, you at least gotta get one sixer of these.

Until the next ridiculous trip calls my name, I will be keeping it local for the rest of 2017.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Saint Arnold is one of the most popular breweries in the Houston for a good reason. Lots of good reasons, in fact.

I can already hear you asking: Why is a New Mexico beer site writing about breweries in Houston?

My answer: Because sometimes people go to other places and want to drink beer there.

This was the situation I found myself in a few weeks back when I booked a trip to visit a friend in the biggest city in Texas. Given that our friendship formed over the consumption of beer, I knew a brewery or two should be part of the weekend. I had never been there before and she’s new to the area, so it was time for an adventure.

My first tactic for finding craft beer was to turn to my base of beer drinking friends. Of all the recommendations, there was one clear choice of places to visit: Saint Arnold Brewing Company. Texas’ oldest craft brewery, founded in 1994, is an easy 15-to-20 minute drive from the airport, so it made sense to make that our first stop once I arrived.

We were a bit dubious as we pulled up, as it is located in a very industrial neighborhood, and upon entering the building you are greeted with office doors and a staircase. Those fears were easily cast aside once we located the beer hall on the second floor. When entering you are greeted with rows of tables and benches, cornhole boards, paintings of Saint Arnold on one wall, and a sea of windows showcasing their impressive brewing capacity opposite that. I loved how friendly the staff was there. It was a busy night at Saint Arnold but every single employee we encountered greeted us with a smile and gave us their full attention when they were serving us.

Welcoming atmosphere aside, the beer was the real star here. I started with the Elissa IPA, which was available on both draft and cask, and, yes, I had both versions. After sampling the 2016 Pumpkinator, Pup Crawl Pale Ale, and Summer Pils, my third and final pint of the night was the Endeavour DIPA. All were delicious, and if we had gotten there earlier, I would have gladly purchased more pints. My friend opted for the Raspberry AF Berliner Weisse for her first, and second, and third … While I’m not much for tart beers, I could see the appeal of this one on a hot, humid summer night.

For the rest of our beer-ventures, I searched using my old stand-by: Google. We were staying in the suburbs and I was curious about what local watering holes could be found. Turns out, there were plenty, but we only had time for three of them.

Talk about fitting in with the area.

First up: Texas Beer Refinery in Dickinson. This 4-year-old brewery sure made a positive impression. From the woman who excitedly told us about the food menu options to the hop-shaped hanging lights, this is a brewery filled with charm. It’s also got some pretty tasty beer. I got a pint of the Covfefe Coffee Pale Ale (turns out they have a sense of humor, too). My friend got the Mexican IPA on nitro. While we were both very happy with our choices, we were also jealous of each other’s beer. She also tried the Gulf Coast Gose and really enjoyed it. I stole a sip and could tell it was well made, but it isn’t one I’d want a full pour of (see above). We would have tried more, but we had other appointments to keep that afternoon, and decided it was best to pace ourselves.

There is a wee bit of scenery down by the Gulf of Mexico.

Second beer stop: Galveston Island Brewing in Galveston. After dipping our toes in the Gulf of Mexico, more beer was necessary. Google said this was the closest one, so off we went. The place was hopping when we arrived. Granted, it was a Saturday night, but the sheer number of people there was impressive (we later found out out we stumbled upon their Third Anniversary party). They had a tented area with a section set aside for live bands, an area with picnic benches and a playground, and a smallish indoor seating area and stools around the bar. There was a lovely view of the setting sun, so sitting outside was an easy choice to make. Due to the crowds, we only had one beer each, but both were nice and easy to drink. I had the DIPA and she had the Hefen-A Hefeweizen. I’d like to come back again when it’s not so crowded, so I can chat with the staff and sample more of the beer.

They do everything big in Texas, include taproom interiors.

Final destination: Saloon Door Brewing in Webster. Unbeknownst to my friend and I, we saved the best for last. Only open for a year, they already have everything I look for in a local watering hole — friendly and informative employees, regulars you can strike up a conversation with, and killer beer. If I lived here, this would be my regular beer-drinking home. One of their distinct features is their beer blend offerings — they mix different beers together creating different (and fun) flavor combinations. My friend got a flight of these, while I opted to try the beers in their original format. This way we could determine if they were trying to hide off flavors in the blends. Long story short, they were not. I had the Brown Ale, Cream Ale, Milk Stout, Pale Ale, Wee Heavy, Double Gunshot Imperial IPA, Summer IPA, River Ace IPA, Tasty AF Peanut Butter, Chocolate Milk Stout, and Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout. Each one was delicious, and I would have been happy with a full pint of any of them. I can’t possibly list all the blends, but some of them are called Snickers, Strawberry Cheese Cake, and Orange Cordial. There is an art to making these beyond the “let’s mix these and see what happens” approach I’ve taken in the past, but it really is art.

All in all, we had a lot of fun exploring the growing craft beer scene in the Houston area. I recommend checking these places if you are in the neighborhood, then play your own game of “Google-Roulette” to see what gems you discover.

Sláinte

— The SheNerd

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

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