Archive for the ‘Brewery Reviews’ Category

Three Rivers is upping its game along Main Street in Farmington.

As we bask in the splendor that is the glorious New Mexico beer scene, it can be easy to forget about the great breweries that exist outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Oh, there are many others out there. MANY. Do yourself a favor and grab a brewery map from the NM Brewers Guild so that you can find a new place to stop in during your next day trip or weekend away. I did just that a few weeks ago, back at the end of January when I spent some time at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington on my way to Durango. I got the chance to sit down with head brewer Brandon Beard, and assistant brewers Patrick Liessmann and Austin Jacobs.

First of all, for those who are not familiar with Three Rivers, its website tells the story of how it all started as a corner brewery and restaurant in 1997, and has grown to consume almost an entire block of Main Street in downtown Farmington. It now includes a taproom, game room, pizzeria, and soon a tasting room (don’t worry we will get to that). All of the locations offer delicious Three Rivers brews. Being somewhat isolated in the northwest part of the state has made it challenging for Three Rivers to project their name out into the statewide scene but they have been working diligently to evolve.

The brewhouse is constantly churning.

“The last like year and a half we’ve been doing a lot of changes like doing different yeast,” Patrick said. “We started messing a lot more with the water, and really dialing in our water chemistry. And then, we started messing with barrels and souring, so over the last year and a half we have really been trying to push what the place has been doing.

“All of our standard beers, we have been trying to slowly tweak those down. We changed the IPA entirely. We scrapped the old IPA because we just felt it wasn’t up to today’s standards of IPAs, so we completely re-did that one.”

The hard work seems to be paying off as the re-engineered IPA (IPAC Nugs) took third place in the New Mexico IPA Challenge this past summer.

Three Rivers also recently scored some great feedback from their showing at WinterBrew in Santa Fe. I was not present in SF, however I was fortunate that they had saved some of the Double Stuffed Truffle Butter that was all the rage. It was good stuff. (Decadent stuff. — S) It boasts an in-your-face peanut butter aroma and flavor without being overpowering. It is still a beer, and an easy-to-drink beer at that. Patrick described how they took their standard Truffle Butter (as he handed me a bottle of it) and turned it into the double-stuffed variant.

Those are a lot of lines going from the brewery to all the different rooms.

“So here’s the Truffle Butter right here,” Patrick said. “We took the base beer for that and pretty much just went crazy with the peanut butter. Because we didn’t really get the peanut butter that we wanted out of this one, but we thought it was OK. It’s definitely more on the stout side with all the peanut butter. But, it really … we wanted to go over the top, and we took some of the leftovers that we had and went over the top and took it to Santa Fe.”

Beyond that they also had their Framboise, a sour blonde that is oak-barrel-aged with raspberries, Cerberus, an imperial stout aged in Malbec wine barrels, and a malt liquor aged in a cabernet sauvignon barrel called Brass Monkey. To top it all off, they also brought El Coco Negro, which required the use of the pizzeria.

“We hand toast coconut at the pizzeria, in the big ovens over there, and then we hand add it to the beer and then as it’s done fermenting we will let it sit on the beer,” Austin said. “It’s a really amazing beer. It’s one of my favorites.”

I was happy to hear that WinterBrew was just as much fun for the guys at Three Rivers as it was for the guests at the event. Brandon suggested that they want to make the trip south more often.

“We are so far north that we have really never gone down south to show to people what we’re making, so that has kind of … we are kind of being oriented this year with that,” Brandon said. “We are going to try to do as many festivals down there (in Central New Mexico) as possible.”

The swanky new tasting room at Three Rivers.

In the midst of all of this, the upcoming addition to the Three Rivers block should help carry the momentum, if any additional help is even needed. Included in my tour was a walk-through of the as-yet-unopened tasting room, which was already quite impressive in every little detail, a true display of craftsmanship and creativity but with a genuine feel of sophistication and class.

“A construction supply went out of business, so (we picked up) a lot of old lumber from there and another old lumber yard,” Austin said. “All of that stuff is made out of old military ammunition crates and stuff like that, like the seats, and some of the chairs, and the lining of the bar, and all of the metal they found, and it’s all recycled … like the only thing new in there is the floor.”

The plan is to have plenty of Three Rivers’ beer flowing, along with many other top-notch beer options, but the crown jewel will be the offering of cocktails crafted from Three Rivers’ own in-house products from their new on-site distillery. Patrick gave me the lowdown on when we can expect everything to happen.

The distillery is going to be running soon.

“We’re hoping March and it’s going to be just in-house pretty much, there will be bottles to go,” Patrick said. “There’s going to be spiced rum, regular rum, (and) white whisky for now, until we start aging in barrels to make bourbon. We’ll have gin and we’re going to be making our own tonic and our own sodas, and hand-making everything for the cocktails.”

The tasting room will have its own menu, too.

“We’re really trying to up the game here to really try and draw (customers) in and draw a different crowd is the whole idea,” Patrick said. “And offer things that aren’t available (in the eatery) or the taproom or the pizzeria.”

“They are going to have their own artisan dishes,” Austin added. “And they’ll pair maybe some beer pairings and some cocktail pairings.”

If that wasn’t enough, Three Rivers is looking ahead to its 20th anniversary party this summer. Preparations are already underway. Austin struggled not to grin while explaining what is already in the works.

So … many … barrels …

“We have our 20th anniversary, which will be in July of this year, and what we are going to release there is imperial stout aged in Woodford Reserve double oak barrels, and that is kind of the higher end Woodford Reserve,” Austin said, “and then we have two Mount Gay Rum barrels that we are also aging the same base stout beer in, and then one of each of those barrels is going to be aged with coconut as well. So, in a sense there’s going to be four different variants of that beer. We’ll release those (in) bottle only. Then, we have a hopscotch ale aged in a Malbec wine barrel that we’re aging right now, and another stout that we’re aging in … I believe a (Cabernet Sauvignon) barrel … and I’m not sure what’s in the other one … it’s a surprise I guess.”

I had to wipe the drool off of my chin after he finished talking.

The Brew Crew looks forward to hearing and seeing more of Three Rivers Brewery. We also encourage our followers to stop in. Whether it is on the way to Durango, or elsewhere in the region, it is well worth your time. The truth is that Farmington would make a very good base camp for visiting some great sites. Places to check out nearby that I have enjoyed include Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Salmon Ruins, and Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. Others that Austin insisted are great include Canyon de Chelle National Monument and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

Head brewer Brandon Beard also has his hands full with this little angel.

Lastly, I can’t forget to mention that the food in the eatery was excellent, and that the same quality can be expected on the whole block as all of the food programs are managed by the same chef.

We wish Three Rivers Brewing the best of luck with the opening of their tasting room and congratulate them on their upcoming 20th anniversary.

Cheers!

— Deezbeers

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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

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When I first heard about a new brewery opening in Santa Fe, it was just a small rumor overheard at a bar between buzzed beer fans. I didn’t know who was opening the brewery or what kind of brewery it was going to be, and man, now that I think back on it, neither did those guys at the bar. But, the prospect of another brewery in Santa Fe, and this small town inching its way closer to the status of say, Bend, Oregon, was pretty exciting.

Soon, word got out, and it was more than just a rumor. The word was that this new brewery was going to be focused on mixed-fermentation and bottle-conditioned beer. It wasn’t long before the internet was abuzz. Over Twitter and Facebook, the shrill shriek of sours rang out from among many of those that tend to, shall we say, over-simplify their understandings of the industry. They were right, partially. Yes, a brewery was opening in Santa Fe. Yes, there would be sours, but there would also be salt and fruit and funk and much more in between.

It was about that time when a name popped up. A familiar name — John Rowley. Among many in the industry and home-brew community, Rowley was already well known and respected. I mean, despite the fact that the man wasn’t a professional brewer (yet), it’s very hard to deny that he makes good beer. Rowley might not be the kind of guy (and, hell, he might be) to have a trophy or ribbon wall in his house, but he certainly could if he wanted to with the many brewing competitions he’s excelled in. With his considerable experience and skill, he was exactly the kind of home brewer that you want to open up a brewery.

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Rowley’s first handle is up!

I sat down with Rowley a little over a year ago and we talked the details of the new brewery plans, back when it was Sub Rosa Cellars, and back when it was to be the fifth brewery in Santa Fe. The name has since changed — and another brewery opened before it — but the idea never did. During that conversation, there were a few promises made. We were promised food. We were promised a well-curated guest beer list. And, we were promised the brewery would be “about having a good time and having a good experience for everyone,” as Rowley said back then.

Recently, I spent some time at the fully armed and operational Rowley Farmhouse Ales to get the full story. I attended the industry soft opening, and I’ve gone back a couple times to try more of the full menu, and other beers. After all, I wanted to see if Rowley’s new place delivered on those promises he made.

Food

It was only as they got closer to opening that Rowley publicly revealed that Jeff Kaplan was one of his partners and the chef. This was only because Kaplan still had a very good gig making very good food elsewhere at the time. I won’t go too far into that, but having tasted several of their dishes now, I can attest that a brewery really benefits from the chops of a solid chef.

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Cheese plate from Cheesemongers of Santa Fe

The menu leans towards the gastropub style, with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and terms like aioli here and Wagyu there. The great thing about the menu at RFA is that it’s varied enough to suit any mood, whether you’re starving or just need something delicious to pair with your beer. The food ranges from brewery fan favorites to something more suitable to the skills of an iron chef. The menu isn’t huge, but you’d be hard pressed not to find something that would pique your interest.

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The popover was delicious.

If you’re looking for something to warm up your palate, you could order the spicy nut bowl, cheese plate, popover, or Korean-style chicken wings. On the lighter, leafier side, you could get a fresh farmer’s market salad, or roasted Brussels sprouts. For a little comfort food, you could try the À la Minute New England Clam Chowder, or the Braised Flat Iron Poutine with Lone Mountain Wagyu beef. You can even grab current brewery favorites such as the Mac ‘n Cheese baked with mozzarella, parmesan, and bleu cheese, or the Waffles with fried chicken, or if you prefer crispy braised Kyzer Farms pork belly.

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Duck Mi? Duck You!

If you’re just looking for a sandwich to go with your beer, you’ll be plenty satisfied with the BLT with green chile aioli, the “Duck Mì, Duck you!” sandwich, the Warm Prosciutto Pear Sandwich, or even the sirloin burger, made with Zoe’s bacon and melted cheddar cheese, locally sourced from the Old Wind Mill Dairy. On the more upscale end, you could try the marrow and mushroom bruschetta or the farmer’s market risotto.

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Risotto, anyone?

For the soft opening, I took my gal, and we had the popover, risotto, and Duck Mì sandwich. All of the vegetables were fresh, the risotto was creamy, and the duck was very flavorful and tender. The popover was light and fluffy, and the gruyere sauce was so incredible, I still dream about it.

On a separate trip, the cheese plate from Cheesemongers of Santa Fe had a good selection of quality cheeses and charcuterie, and the sirloin burger with green chile was, to quote my friend/coworker, “Bomb.” I’ll certainly be back to see what else Chef Kaplan has in store for us. My lady has already asked for a second date at RFA.

Curated Beer List

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Nice array, guys!

The list of beers was fun and creative, representing a nice variation of styles. The tap list is always changing, or at least I never saw the same list the three times I was there. There were IPAs, saisons, goses, brown ales, red ales, Scotch ales, lambics, sours, and pilsners from breweries like Evil Twin, Firestone Walker, Deschutes, Avery, Odell, Founders, Upslope, and Anderson Valley. The local list was short, but I wasn’t at all disappointed by that. Aside from Marble Red, I’ve seen La Cumbre’s Monzón Wet-hop Pale Ale and even Santa Fe Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Java Stout (where the hell did they get that keg?).

And, of course, Rowley had at least one of their beers on tap, the Notorious BdG, a dark Bière de Garde, with a smooth body and a nice funky tartness to it. “It’s a pretty malty Bière de Garde,” Rowley said. “It’s on the edge of the style in terms of color. It’s got a lot of malt. I think it has eight different malts in it. It’s meant to be malt-forward, very little IBUs. Twenty-two IBUs, I think. I fermented it with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Drie strain, which is the Drie Fonteinen culture. We called it the Notorious BdG because a buddy of mine in Atlanta had a homebrew called that, and so we wanted to give him props because he couldn’t be here tonight. So, it’s kind of a fun beer, definitely not an IPA. That’s not our focus, but we’ll do some IPAs.”

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Notorious BdG on tap!

It bodes well, if that’s the quality of mixed fermentation that Rowley has been talking about. As for the list, only a super beer geek could look at it and say, “I’ve tried all those before.” But, even for them, with Rowley’s understanding of what a curated beer list means, that super beer geek will be happy to revisit at least one of those beers, because it’s a good one, and probably hard to get in New Mexico. The rest of us will be excited for the latest permutation of the list.

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A great Gose from Anderson Valley, one of two that day.

I asked Rowley about how close they were to brewing there at the facility, which had the equipment, but seemed a little more like storage at the time being. Rowley said, “I still feel like there’s a lot to do. We’re not really close to brewing here yet. We’re actually going to start brewing on a 1-barrel system here. And, we’ll brew on that for a little while. It’s actually getting prepared right now. That’s what we’re going to be brewing on for the next few batches. I think we can start brewing on that in about three-to-four weeks. We’ve got basically everything in place; it’s just a matter of getting everything hooked up.”

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Happy customers!

Overall experience

All in all, it’s truly a great new place to grab a beer and have a meal. Whether you’re there to try something new or different, or just enjoy something you already like in a very comfortable space, Rowley Farmhouse Ales is my new pick in town to do just that. The ambiance works so well. While the taproom is a little small, it doesn’t feel cramped at the rail. The outdoor beer garden has plenty of room for serious beer contemplation or just kicking back and having dinner in a quiet, serene setting in the middle of town.

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The outdoor patio is great!

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Shade!

The beer list is certainly a reason to come in to see what John and the guys are drinking, or what they’ve just brewed, but if you don’t order food, you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice. The food is of a quality that suggests it was absolutely not an afterthought. The wait staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and are happy to help if you’re having trouble deciding on any menu item, be it a pilsner or poutine. And, say hello to our pal, Kimmie, while you’re there!

True, the brewhouse hadn’t quite been finished by the soft opening, but you can absolutely see all the hard work that Rowley and company have put into the whole establishment. There’s a lot of love (and probably sweat) that went into that space, and you can almost feel the will and passion emanating from the walls. The whole crew is very proud of what they’ve accomplished. And, they should be.

RFA is a great place to bring a group of beer geeks, business partners, or a date, even if he/she is ‘not that into’ craft beer. Now, if your date is not into good food, then you’ve got bigger problems, my friend. I think it would be very hard to go to Rowley Farmhouse Ales and not enjoy yourself. They have, indeed, kept their promise of creating the kind of space that’s all about having a good time and a good experience for everyone. I’ll certainly be back.

Cheers!

— Luke

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Ain’t that pretty?

 

Lukemon

For more #craftbeer news, @Untappd check-ins, and @nmdarksidebc info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!

Surprise! They're open! (All photos by the awesome Mario Caldwell)

Surprise! They’re open! (All photos by the awesome Mario Caldwell)

Quiet weekends can be nice sometimes. Other times, they get downright boring. Luckily for craft beer drinkers in Albuquerque, this weekend saw the surprise opening of Sidetrack Brewing downtown.

I originally visited Sidetrack back in September and they looked to be a month or so from opening, but things went a bit quiet after that. In the end, though, the staff had told me they did not plan to open until they comfortable with the beers. After an almost double-secret probation opening on Friday, while most of us were tending to our hangovers, they made a more public announcement on Facebook on Saturday.

Sidetrack's Dan Herr serves Red Door brewmaster Wayne Martinez, while a certain beer writer has a weird look on his face to the far right.

Sidetrack’s Dan Herr serves Red Door brewmaster Wayne Martinez (blue shirt), while a certain beer writer has a weird look on his face to the far right.

After lunch with friends I trekked over to the spot on 2nd Street between Lead and Coal (next to Zendo Coffee). I lucked out on parking and headed inside, where I was not terribly surprised to see some familiar faces among the customers. Marble’s Tony Calder was there early on and Barbie Gonzalez stopped by later. Tractor’s Karl Gass and Melissa Martinez popped in for a bit. Red Door’s Wayne Martinez grabbed a spot at the bar next to me. There was quite a bit of beer knowledge and influence present.

We all found ourselves in a charming neighborhood pub. Brewer/owner Dan Herr was busy pouring pints (no shaker pints, for those of you who yearn for good glassware) and flights. It never got so crowded people could not find a place to sit. It was also nice in that the volume never went through the roof. Yes, we could hear each other talk, a welcome break from the increasing volume in our brewery taprooms across the city.

The full beer list on opening weekend.

The full beer list on opening weekend.

As an aside, for those wondering about food, Dan said you could bring outside food into the taproom. They do not ever plan to have a kitchen, and the limited curb space outside will probably preclude any food trucks (though you never know, those folks have some serious parallel parking skills).

Of course, anytime a new brewery opens, the number question is about the beer itself. Well, for a brand-new brewery, it was some pretty decent liquid, as Tony would say. Each beer had some pluses, but each had room for improvement. It is the same at any other brewery when they open. There were six beers on tap, plus two cask variants.

Line 'em up!

Line ’em up!

Pub Ale (5.1% ABV, 30 IBU): The primary yeast used at Sidetrack is an English yeast, and that is quite present in this simple ale. The flavor is rather biscuity, somewhat dry, but quite sessionable. This is the beer you start with before climbing the ladder.

RailHead Red (5.5% ABV, 33 IBU): Tony and I agreed there was something slightly off in this one flavor-wise. It did not have quite enough malt. Certainly it leans toward the Irish red style, as opposed to the West Coast red style favored by Marble. We imagine this beer will be reworked in the near future.

3:10 to Belen Brown (5.3% ABV, 38 IBU): An early nominee for the 2016 edition of the best beer name in New Mexico, this is a classic English brown. It is a little bit nutty, quite smooth, and otherwise similar to a lot of other brown ales. There are some similarities to the Pub Ale, probably from the yeast and some shared malts. There was also a cask version, but an added ingredient crossed it off my list. Stupid allergies getting in the way of my beer drinking. Again.

Switchgear IPA 1 (6.1% ABV, 70 IBU): Dan created two variations of his IPA recipe, though both used the same hops. The difference was in the yeast and also the malt bill. This version was the better of the two, though it falls below the typical ABQ-area IPA. Several people told me both IPAs were under-carbonated. They could also use a touch of dry hopping; there was almost no aroma. This version was also offered on cask, and that batch was dry hopped with Ahtanum. You could make the argument the cask batch was better.

Switchgear IPA 2 (6.6% ABV, 55 IBU): The less hoppy of the IPAs, it just did not pack enough of a punch. The flavor vanished pretty quickly. It was also a bit dry, probably from the malt bill. Expect version 1 to become the house IPA going forward.

Never underestimate the power of the dark side (of beer).

Never underestimate the power of the dark side (of beer).

Dark Engine Stout (6% ABV, 33 IBU): Color yourselves shocked as this ended up being my pint after I finished my flight. It has elements of both an oatmeal and an Irish dry stout, though it leans more toward the latter. There is both an initial roastiness on the front end and a creamier flavor on the back. As it warms, some of those roasted elements fade out. Unlike a lot of places when they start out, the mouthfeel on this was much more stout-like, whereas others often feel like a dark ale or lager.

Overall, the lineup showed a lot of promise. The Stout and Pub Ale started out the strongest for their respective styles. The Switchgear 2 and Red need the most work. The usage of not one but two casks at a time was a nice decision. If you are going to be featuring a lot of English-style beers, you might as well go all-in.

Head on over to Sidetrack this week and let us know what you think. Just remember to be patient. It is just the beginning and there is plenty of future growth ahead.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The beers are ready for us all at the Santa Fe taproom here in ABQ!

The beers are ready for us all at the Santa Fe taproom here in ABQ!

While trying to ignore the 8,000 happy people photos from Denver on Thursday, I jumped at the chance to attend an invite-only soft opening for the media and other assorted folks at the new Santa Fe Brewing taproom at Albuquerque’s Green Jeans Farmery. With beer tickets in hand and a number of helpful staff members present as guides, I got to tour the new facility, which opens today (Friday) at 4 p.m. to the general public.

As a primer, I first want to remind people how to get there. If you are driving north on Carlisle over the I-40 bridge, take the very first right onto Cutler, which at that point is a one-way street that only goes east. You can’t miss the complex, which will be on your right. The parking lot encircles it on almost all sides. You can also park along Cutler, which becomes a two-way street just past the Farmery. Of course, not everyone will be coming north on Carlisle, and there is no access to Cutler from southbound Carlisle. If you are traveling southbound on Carlisle or east or westbound on Menaul, your best bet is to go east of Carlisle to Morningside, then take a right and go south across the arroyo and over to Cutler. Then take a right and you will see the complex ahead. Google Maps should not let you down, so you also have that, and sometimes it can be less complicated to visually see the path rather than have someone tell you how to get there.

Once you arrive and park, head on into the complex. You cannot miss the SFBC taproom, thanks to that huge tower that looms above it. The taproom is effectively broken into four interconnected spaces. There is the downstairs bar area, the upstairs indoor area, the downstairs patio the rings the south side of the building, and the upstairs patio and bar that also faces to the south. The majority of the beer taps are downstairs. Just about every SFBC beer you can think of was available. From all the old favorites (Happy Camper, Nut Brown, Pale Ale, Black IPA, Hefeweizen, State Pen Porter, Imperial Java Stout, Chicken Killer) to the new kid (Gold) to the current seasonal (Oktoberfest) to the rare specialties (Barrel Aged Sour State Pen Porter, Kriek, ECS Highland Heath) are all available. You can do flights, pints, and all sizes in between. The popular Chicken Mixers menu, where other beers are combined with Chicken Killer Barleywine, is also available at the taproom. Previously it was only at the main brewery in Santa Fe.

Overall the taproom can hold 135 people, or so I was told by SFBC owner Brian Lock, who was there to greet guests Thursday. He later shared a story about how the two patios survived the pounding of that random hail storm earlier in the week. The coverings that keep the sun off people on the upstairs patio were rather remarkable in how they held up despite having an estimated 150 pounds apiece of hail on top.

Take note that the rest of the Green Jeans tenants are not yet open, so unfortunately their food will not be present for you to enjoy along with a beer, but several said they hope to be open in the next two to four weeks. There will be a food truck tonight and Saturday, or at least that is the plan, for man (and woman) cannot live off beer alone. Too bad, because I think a lot of us would try.

Anyway, I could ramble on some more about the taproom, but instead I should let the pictures tell the story.

Looking up from the first floor to the second. It's much more spacious than you probably thought.

Looking up from the first floor to the second. It’s much more spacious than you probably thought.

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The downstairs outdoor patio tables.

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Shuffleboard, anyone? It can be found in the upstairs indoor seating area.

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Looking back down to the first floor’s excellent wall art.

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Bring your shades, and if necessary some sunscreen, for the upstairs patio.

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The upstairs bar, with a cameo appearance by taproom manager Lindsay Schenker on the left.

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The seats at the downstairs bar were made from the old bleachers at The Pit prior to its renovation.

The cozy downstairs seating area.

The cozy downstairs seating area.

Why yes, owner Brian Lock did fuse thousands of bottle caps into the concrete on the wall of the interior staircase. Because why not?

Why yes, owner Brian Lock did fuse thousands of bottle caps into the concrete on the wall of the interior staircase. Because why not?

A final thank you to Brian Lock, taproom manager Lindsay Schenker, bartender extraordinaire Jonathan Hawes, and the rest of the staff at the taproom for a great experience. Good luck to you all with the sea of humanity that is about to roll in tonight.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Fate Brewing has opened a second, bigger location in South Scottsdale.

Fate Brewing has opened a second, bigger location in South Scottsdale.

Editor’s note: While it does receive the attention of Arizona Wilderness or a bigger place like Four Peaks or SanTan, Fate Brewing is one of the best breweries in the Phoenix metro area. AmyO stopped in during a recent visit to watch some terrible football game. (Woe be the hapless Lobos.) At least the beer was good. — Stoutmeister

One of my favorite breweries in Scottsdale recently opened a second location. The original Fate Brewing is on Shea Boulevard just east of Scottsdale Road. It occupies a small footprint in a nondescript strip mall. Despite that limited space, they were cranking out great beer and food. Now, Fate has added a spectacularly beautiful brewery and taproom just south of Old Town Scottsdale on Scottsdale Road. It is easily accessible by bus or trolley for those staying in the downtown/Old Town area. It is also just a block south of Papago Brewing in Papago Plaza.

My three companions and I were excited visit to Fate South. We all had samplers because we were curious to see if the expansion changed the quality of the beer. If anything, the tasting experience (both for food and beer) is even more positive because there are more types to choose from, and everything we tasted was very good. Some offerings were better than good.

Some of the best beers in Arizona.

Some of the best beers in Arizona.

The samples we chose were: Oh my Gatos! Golden Ale, Bamberg Hefeweisen, Grape of Thrones APA, Pale Down Unda APA, Baby Oats IPA, and Export Stout. We also ordered some pizza dough “focaccia” with marinara, sweet potato fries with “Fate Sauce” (a spicy, thousand-island-y fry sauce), and a hummus platter at happy hour pricing.

We sat at the bar and the bartender was funny and engaging. He joked around with us quite a bit. My group was having a discussion about how the smoked malt in the Bamberg Hefeweisen was odd and made for a very unique version of the style. We were unsure if we would order a whole pint. But then I put a fry with the sauce in my mouth, followed by a hearty sip of the Bamberg. Oh, wait, whoa there. That completely changed the flavor of the beer and it was an amazing combination. The bartender overheard and said with a huge grin, “Are you totally doing a beer and food pairing? How awesome!”

The choices were plentiful.

The choices were plentiful.

Some tasting notes: We had a consensus on an overwhelming favorite — the Grape of Thrones. Oh, my, that is very complex and yet meticulously balanced! It was like Grapefruit Sculpin’s younger cousin from the suburbs. The runner up was the Export Stout. It wasn’t super thick or overpowering, but that was good on a day where the temperature climbed over 100 degrees. Although it was a little lighter than expected, it was full of smooth, rounded, coffee goodness.

If you find yourself in Scottsdale, I heartily recommend a visit to Fate. Put Fate in your own hands!

Stop by and say hello the next time the Lobos are set to get killed by the Sun Devils.

Stop by and say hello the next time the Lobos are set to get killed by the Sun Devils.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Hello, Bathtub Row!

Hello, Bathtub Row!

Bathtub Row Brewing celebrated their “Full House Party” this past weekend, with live music, food specials, and more. It was their way of saying, “Hey, all eight of our taps are now filled with our very own beer.” The good news is the people of Los Alamos turned out in droves, with a number of people driving up from ABQ and Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico. Basically we all ended up learning that what Brew Crew Bullpen member Reid had been telling us for a while — Bathtub Row was making some damn fine beer.

With a big thanks to my friend Gabriel for the ride to and fro, I parked myself at the end of the bar that curves around the inside of the BRB space. In addition to bar seating and tables, there is also a “lounge area” by a fireplace that figures to roar in the winter. There is a spacious outside area as well, though how much of that is permanent and how much was just for the Full House Party was unclear (I should have asked, but the beer came first).

The rustic log tables and chairs were awesome.

The rustic log tables and chairs were awesome.

On tap this weekend were the Hoppenheimer IPA (sold only outside, due to the lack of tap space inside), Wit Rock, Big House Belgo Pale Ale, Little Bird Blonde, Mild at Heart, Posh Bitter, Le Becquerel Saison, Red Hammer, and Black Point Stout. Being the industrious beer drinker/writer that I am, I brought a notebook to jot things down as I drank each beer from the sample tray.

The first half of the flight, from left, Little Bird Blonde, Big House Belgo, Red Hammer, Black Point Stout.

The first half of the flight, from left, Little Bird Blonde, Big House Belgo, Red Hammer, Black Point Stout.

Little Bird Blonde (5.6% ABV): Very mild, definitely a starter beer. There was a hint of pilsner malt from a bit of crispness. Wheat notes were present as well. The finish included a slight apricot/peach sweetness. Brewer Hector Santana also brought out a sample of a second version made in a more English-style. I admittedly liked that one better, so hopefully it will be on tap soon (and then permanently, assuming it is cost-effective).

Mild at Heart (3.7% ABV) Ah, the English Mild, which as the name might imply, often lacks much flavor. This one was too thin, coming off as a bit of water-down ESB. The style just does not connect with Americans seeking bigger flavors. Best leave it on the islands.

Posh Premium Bitter (5.9% ABV) Better than the mild, more in tune with what Rod Tweet has been brewing over at Second Street. It was quite sweet, maybe a little too much, with hints of biscuit-y malt on the back end to dry things out.

Le Becquerel Saison (7.1% ABV) As Gabriel, and others, noted, it is big for a saison. There was not much of that farmhouse funk in the aroma that can drive some people (me) away. The spices were a tad muted, compared to others (think Marble). The malt bill gave it a bit of sweetness. In a way, this was the saison for the non-saison drinker.

The second half of the flight, from left, Mild at Heart, Posh Premium Bitter, Wit Rock, Le Becquerel Saison.

The second half of the flight, from left, Mild at Heart, Posh Premium Bitter, Wit Rock, Le Becquerel Saison.

Wit Rock (6.1% ABV) Like a lot of wits, this had ingredients that are do not agree with me from an allergy perspective. Gabriel, among others, enjoyed this beer, though, so if you like the style, it should work for you.

Big House Belgo (6.7% ABV) Dear lord is this a Belgian-style beer. The huge funk hits you right in the face from the aroma alone. The Belgian yeast produces an almost potent, astringent farmhouse flavor off the bat, but fear not if that is not your thing, it mellows out considerably as it warms. Then the sweeter, more citrus-like flavors come to the forefront and it drinks like a standard Belgian golden ale. It was definitely one of the more complex beers BRB brewed. I would expect some future modifications/tinkering.

Red Hammer Ale (7.1% ABV) Listed as a double red, this beer goes the opposite way of most West Coast-style reds. The sweet-but-dry malts are up front, with the hope kick on the back end. I thought I picked out some Southern Hemisphere hops in there, for the more flowery, less piney/citrusy flavors, but my poor palate may have taken too much by this point.

Hoppenheimer IPA (7.3% ABV) Definitely more in the East Coast vein, with a strong malt backbone and less bitter hops up front. It tends to be fairly sweet on the back. The aroma was not too strong, so perhaps a bit more on the dry-hopping could be in its future. Otherwise, if you like beers like Dogfish Head 90 Minute, you will enjoy the Hoppenheimer. It does not become death, the destroyer of palates. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

Black Point Stout (4.8% ABV) I know, I know, my favorite beer was the stout. But … damn, this is a hell of a stout. I classified it as a classic American stout. It was not overly roasted/smoky, nor too sweet/chocolate-y, nor too creamy/milky. Instead, it hit all the right notes in between. In the cold of winter it might be a bit thin on the mouthfeel, but that would be the most minor of quibbles. Others who tried this feel the same way, it appears from my Untappd account. Just an excellent stout, especially considering the low, sessionable ABV. If you only have time to drink one beer at Bathtub Row, this is the one.

Overall, the quality of the beer, the location, the staff, and the general vibe of the crowd really combines to make Bathtub Row a place you have to visit. Sure, you may be surrounded by patrons with more PhD’s than you knew existed, but in the end, you are all there for great beer and good times.

I look forward to the next trip I take up the mountain. Bathtub Row, you have one Burqueno in support from now til the end of brews, er, time. (Same thing, really.)

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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One of the most quaint settings for a brewery anywhere in New Mexico.

While Stoutmeister and the Crew were working feverishly to bring you daily news on ABQ Beer Week, I was up north, enjoying the quiet, the fresh air, and a few Walden’s Pond moments, as well as allowing my liver a brief respite. As it turns out, it’s taken me a couple weeks to get over all the fun we had during Santa Fe’s Outside Bike & Brew Festival. But, as a beer journalist is never not working, I just so happened to discover a local brewery that I’d been passing by for years.

As you’re driving between Espanola and Taos, winding your way through the canyon, you’ll pass through several small valleys right along the river. If you slow down enough to catch a sign, you’ll notice that one of these valleys is called Rinconada, meaning “corner.” To us city-folk, this corner might be thought of as the very definition of middle-of-nowhere, and to us craft beer-enthusiasts, it might seem as far as possible from our budding craft beer industry as nature is likely to get. Yet us city-folk and craft beer enthusiasts couldn’t be more wrong. Filled with fertile farmland, this particular valley plays host to a vineyard, a hop farm, and a small, but potent, brewery.

The brewery I’m talking about is Blue Heron Brewing Co.

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It’s OK, you can call it rustic if you want.

Since 2009, this small rural brewery has supplied solid, delicious craft beer (and wine since ‘81) to the local area and beyond. I’ve always wondered how a little brewery with a 3-barrel system can stay in business, especially out in the country, but then I tasted the beer and knew exactly why they had a fighting chance. And though great craft beer does a good job of selling itself, with no need for commercials with boobs and bad slogans, a brewery still needs patrons and visitors, but most importantly, regulars. Along the highway, just off to the side of the road, nestled away in such a small stretch of land, could a brewery like this have regulars? I had just asked myself that very question, when in walked one of the local farmers with two empty growlers in his arms. Even before he said anything, brewer Jami B. took the growlers and guessed that the man would like a pint of his usual, the La Llorona Scottish Ale, coincidentally the very same beer currently chilling in my glass.

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The Crew loves the La Llorona Scottish Ale.

As I sipped on the shockingly smooth (for a non-nitro) Scottish Ale, I casually observed the interaction between the two, and could see that this customer was certainly a regular, but more than that, a good regular, one that could tell you what was on tap without even glancing up at the board, and one that would know when his favorite beer was about to kick. He looked like he frequented the brewery as another man might frequent a hardware store.

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Blue Heron has their fair share of loyal customers.

“These are the kind of patrons that keep the brewery open during the colder, slower months,” Jami explained. And it’s all the visitors, passing through, or thrill-seeking rafters – as there are several rafting establishments in the area – that bump up business significantly in the warmer months, enough so that Blue Heron was able to open another taproom and restaurant in downtown Espanola in June of last year.

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Even the taps are quaint.

How rural is it, you ask? Well, when I’d arrived Jami was searching for a snake that had slithered into the brewhouse. The brewery is smack dab in the middle of Mother Nature’s Playground, NM, USA, but it is certainly a serious beer establishment as well, and they won’t let you forget it. Blue Heron has 21 or so different beers in rotation, year-round, with cores, seasonals, and specialty beers.

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A solid selection for the warmer months.

You can always expect one of the IPAs, usually a Pale Ale, and a dark beer, which will most likely be the Scottish Ale, lest the locals revolt, according to Jami. There’s also a malt-bomb of a Maibock that I’m dying to go back and try. And before I forget, there’s the La Loma Session Ale, which is sometimes referred to jokingly as the “Just Beer.” This beer derived its name from the many non-craft beer-aficionados who would sometimes come in and look at the menu and ask, do you have “Just Beer?” Well, this lighter, easier, low-alcohol beer is exactly that, but it’s what Jami calls a “fine example of a simple beer.” And it is, at that. I can certainly see why the locals, who may find themselves a far cry from say, brewery-brimming Albuquerque, have no reservations, and need none to come in for a beer, and a good one at that.

Why you should stop in: Because beer! And they serve it in pints, growlers, and the new baby growlers when you just can’t commit to a full 64 ounces of something delicious. They also have a nice patio out back for enjoying the fresh river air. And they have live music several nights a week, including brewer Jami, who also just happens to be a really nice guy.

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The back patio is one of the best places to chill out.

What you should try: Try the Lady Bug IPA if you’re interested trying the waters with IPAs with good hop-utilization, but not quite ready for our more elevated hop monsters of central New Mexico. Try the aforementioned Scottish Ale as it’s, in my humble opinion, pretty damned good.

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Getting some goodness to go.

What you should know: If you’re thinking of filling a baby growler, you may want to bring one of your own, as the concept at Blue Heron is still in its infancy. Ha-ha!

And if you don’t like beer? Why are you reading this? I’m kidding. But, you should know that Blue Heron also offers a number of wines by the bottle and by the glass, from their own winery as well as local La Chiripada Winery.

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For that weird friend/family member who doesn’t like beer, voila.

Where: Just a ways after the turn-off to Dixon, on the north side of the highway. 2214 Highway 68, Embudo, (505) 579-9188.

Blue Heron’s new taproom, in Española, is located on the plaza at 100 Los Alamos Hwy. (505) 747-4506

* * * * *

So if you’re heading up north of Española, stop in for a beer from a true local roadside gem! Keep to the craft. Think globally and drink locally!

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Our man did not come away empty-handed.

Cheers!

— Luke

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For more #CraftBeer news and @nmdarksidebc info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!

Oof, nothing like getting home at midnight after seven-plus hours of driving, struggling to fall asleep due to copious amounts of caffeine, and then you wake up the next morning and have 20 things to do in little to no time. So as much as I would like to crank out a story on the ABQ Brew Dash or the Duke City Pedaler, I would also like to give those stories a more proper treatment. So instead you all get a quick recap of the breweries I visited in Arizona over the weekend. A total lazy cop-out on my part? You better believe it.

The flight at Oak Creek. Loved the mini-mug glasses, but not the lemon on the hefe. Fruit does not belong in beer!

The flight at Oak Creek. Loved the mini-mug glasses, but not the lemon on the hefe. Fruit does not belong in beer!

Oak Creek Brewery, Sedona

Rather than stop in Flagstaff, I took Highway 89 south into Oak Creek Canyon and hit the tourist trap, er, lovely town of Sedona. With the help of Google Maps, I finally found Oak Creek’s brewery and grill in the midst of enough gaudiness to make Santa Fe blush. Located on the top floor of an art deco retail/business complex, Oak Creek was packed with lots of hungry/thirsty people. Luckily, traveling solo I was able to snag a spot on the patio bar top in between two couples who figured I was probably sad and lonely or something. Eh, whatever, I’m used to that. I could focus on my sampler tray of beers and a rack of ribs. Viva being single!

So the beers on tap, save for some Mandarin Ale that was off limits due to allergies, were Micro Light, Gold Lager, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Amber Ale, Nut Brown Ale, and Pullman Porter. The Micro Light (hard to miss in the photo, isn’t it?) was a beer that wasn’t really there. No flavor, no body, no idea why they would make such a thing except tourists. I guess. The lager was fine and should suffice for an introductory beer for non-craft beer drinkers. The pale was a surprise, actually packing a little bit of a hop kick. Most Arizona breweries go for drinkability over hopiness, so this was a pretty good outlier. The hefe and amber were average. I had the nut brown before in cans, kinda liked that batch better. The nutty bite wasn’t there as much, nor the overall strength in the body. The porter was similar in the lack of mouthfeel, though the roasted flavor was prominent up front. It just disappeared quickly.

I skipped getting a pint (had to resume driving, plus $5.95 for an average beer was a tad steep). The food was good and the setting was nice, though I would recommend not taking a big group down on a weekend. It was packed. Overall it was worth the one visit, but I doubt I will ever go back.

There was a rustic quality to the flight at Arizona Wilderness.

There was a rustic quality to the flight at Arizona Wilderness.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing, Gilbert

A couple years ago this brewery was all the buzz, snagging some national awards for best new brewery and even best brewery overall. It was still jammed with people on a Saturday afternoon, though by arriving right at the 11 a.m. opening, I was able to snag a good seat at the bar. Located in a strip mall along Arizona Blvd. (Highway 87) and Guadalupe, it’s essentially in a weird stretch where the suburb of Gilbert juts westward in between the suburbs of Mesa to the north and Chandler to the south. Gilbert is normally the southeastern-most suburb, but Wilderness is not the easternmost brewery in the Phoenix metro area.

Anyway, while noshing on some Bavarian pretzel sticks and later a pulled pork sandwich, I got a flight of eight beers, though two I was unable to drink as their wit was made with orange peel and their saison was infused with lime. Ah, well, still had six beers to try: Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse, Refuge IPA (their only regular beer on tap at all times), DC Mountain DIPA, Aravaipa Abbey Dubbel, Rincon Red, American Presidential (Imperial) Stout.

You all know I am not a sour fan, but their Berliner was drinkable for the style. Noted sour fan Phil Lopez has had it in the past and loved it, so you can take his review better than mine. The Refuge rivaled Tucson’s Dragoon Brewing’s IPA as the best of the style in the state. It packed a good hop wallop with a solid mouthfeel behind that. The DIPA was trying to have a malty backbone to balance out a big hop profile, but instead the hops came off a little muted and the malts were more dry than sweet. The Rincon was a middle-of-the-road red, not sweet like an Irish or hoppy like Marble. It was a bit dry, kind of mild, with a flavor that disappears fairly quickly. The Aravaipa was an average dubbel, fairly smooth without too much Belgian yeast flavor. The imperial stout was nicely barrel-aged, with a fair amount of vanilla prominent from the bourbon barrel. It was nearly out when I went, but I could see why. It was good, maybe just a tick below Marble’s Imperial Stout. As per usual, the mouthfeel came up a tad short of the thickness you would normally expect from the style.

Overall, I would not call Wilderness the best brewery in the country, but it is one of the best I’ve had in Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix metro area, it is a brewery you need to visit.

Late-night brewery find at Dubina in Glendale. The monster (14.2%) Barley Wine is on the far right.

Late-night brewery find at Dubina in Glendale. The monster (14.2%) Barley Wine is on the far right.

Dubina Brewing, Glendale

Driving back from the Penguins-Coyotes game, I stumbled upon this new brewery near the corner of Bell Rd. and N. 67th St. Another shopping mall location, it has a spacious interior and a nice bar area. There was food on the menu, but it was late and I just wanted a quick flight before calling it a night.

The little bio about the brewery online said the owners wanted to nail the Czech styles as they are of Czech descent. Their Zizkov Kolsch tasted like a hybrid between a German kolsch and a Czech pilsner. It was sweet, smooth, and a good way to start. Next up was Wee Little Pale, which was a wee bit too light in all aspects. There was no mouthfeel and the hops were barely tangible. The bartender working that night was recently allowed to brew a beer in the back, but in an “oops” moment he used the wrong yeast on their regular brown ale. Thus, New Kid on the Block was tapped, a brown ale base with Belgian yeast. The yeast flavor overpowers any nutty notes. It came out like a dark strong that wasn’t very strong. Dubina also had a Sahti, a Scandinavian style made with juniper. The flavor profile was all over the place. There was not much juniper, but a little bit of a piney hint on the edges. A sort of nutty flavor was there. The beer was thick, with a strong mouthfeel. If I had more time I would have gotten a second sample just to figure it out. The final beer was a Barley Wine that check in at a stunning 14.2 percent ABV. This beer was big, super sweet, boozy, and kind of mean. It earned me two badges (Sky’s the Limit, Hopped Up) on Untappd that were my 499th and 500th. I would have loved a pint (or at least a 10-ounce) of this, but I had to drive back to the motel and not be dead.

Dubina is a young brewery, but they are definitely trying to be a little different and fill a creative niche in the metro area. It does not hurt that the west side of Phoenix is pretty much vacant of breweries, so they have a chance to build a loyal fan base.

The Fate flight featured a hefe (top left), session IPA (center), stout (bottom left), a guest IPA (bottom right), and one weird saison (top right).

The Fate flight featured a hefe (top left), session IPA (center), stout (bottom left), a guest IPA (bottom right), and one weird saison (top right).

Fate Brewing, Scottsdale

Located on Shea Blvd. north of downtown, Fate is another place in a nondescript location. Like their brethren in Wilderness and Dubina, Fate has shined despite the mediocre exterior. On the advice of beer lover Tony Calder, I stopped in when they opened Sunday at 11 a.m. and snagged a flight of four house beers and one guest beer (Dragoon IPA, woots!).

The interior features a long bar running north-south, with a pizza oven in the back, the brewery to the side, and some communal tables that reminded me of Marble’s renovated taproom, only smaller and more brightly lit. On tap while I was there were Bamberg Hefeweizen, Shift Pint Session IPA, Droppin’ Beetz Saison, and American Stout. The Bamberg was definitely true to the German style, as in it was not cloudy. Yes, that’s right, hefes in Germany can typically be seen through. The flavor here was solid, not too much wheat or anything. The Shift was a pretty hopped-up session, with a good bite and flavor profile that most sessions lack. The American Stout was a rarity for Arizona, at least in terms of its hefty mouthfeel as a proper stout should have. The roasted, smoky profile was there, with a lot of smoothness and a creamy finish. Stouts aren’t common in Arizona, but Fate hit it out of the park with this one.

Then there’s the Beetz. So yeah, it’s a saison infused with beets, then aged in a Chardonnay barrel. The result was … weird. Not just the Kool-Aid color, but the whole flavor. It was kind of a veggie-peppery-wine sweet weird mishmash on my palate. I really could not figure the darned thing out. Kudos to Fate for trying something different, but next time I’ll stick with the stout or the session.

Fate is worth the visit and it is nice to not be in the parking/driving hell that is downtown Scottsdale (especially on the days the Giants are playing in March).

Lumberyard Brewing, Flagstaff

On my way home I stopped in for a quick meal (the mac’n’cheese was solid) and snagged a pint and a sample. The sample was Dark Sky Vanilla Porter, a barrel-aged, vanilla-infused version of their standard Pumphouse Porter. Basically it was an amped-up Breckenridge Vanilla Porter. If not for the four-hours-plus of driving ahead of me, I might have gotten a 13-ounce goblet. Afterwards I might have needed to brush my teeth from all the sweetness. So with Dark Sky too heavy, I grabbed a regular Pumphouse. It was a little bolder, smokier than I remembered. It was not a sweet porter, but it did have a nice mouthfeel. It’s colder in Flagstaff, so they’re not as afraid of thicker beers as Phoenix and Tucson. Or something like that.

All right, that wraps up my AZ visit. The Penguins beat the Coyotes, the Wildcats beat Ohio State, and overall, no one was able to kill me on the 101/17/10/202/60 or any of the other bonkers freeways out there. Successful trip!

We’ll get back to the hard news Tuesday. Stories this week should include a look at Albuquerque Brewing Company’s grand opening, a recap of our Irish Red Challenge, the aforementioned Duke City Pedaler and ABQ Brew Dash, plus new entries in our NM Women in Beer series.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Thanks AmyO for all the snaps!

Now, I didn’t say they were one of my favorite NEW breweries, as they’ve been around since 1999. But after spending some time talking to Zach Guilmette and David Facey of Chama River Brewing Co. and sampling their beer, I can definitely say they’re one of my new favorites. A couple Saturdays ago, I was invited to spend some time with the brewers, to see how the whole operation works. Looking further back, someone once said to me that you can’t really know where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been. I paid little mind to that phrase until recently, when I got to chatting with Zach and David. After learning a little bit about where these guys have been, I’m very excited to see where they and Chama River are headed.

I showed up just as they were finishing with The Crew’s brew, “Obey the Darkside,” a Foreign Export Stout coming in a 6-percent ABV and 65 IBUs. From what Zach tells me, it’s tasting good and should be on tap as soon as the Face Time Porter kicks. With the keen eyes of a wannabe journalist, I watched as the men went to work. It didn’t take long to tell that these guys were an excellent brewing team. Just the two of them there, they bounced from station to station, clamping hoses, priming pumps, opening and closing valves, dunking steel parts in buckets of sanitizer with the greatest of ease, and both with the grins of a kid who just discovered the joy of using dad’s power tools. One would move to an area, begin a task, move away, and the other would pick it up and finish it, just as others might finish a good friend’s sentence. These guys were on the same page, two cogs of the same machine. And man, were they meticulous!

During most of the cleaning process, Zach was more than happy to tell me a little about his brewing history. Coming from Vermont, his road to head brewer wasn’t a quick or easy one. This guy has seriously paid his dues. He’s been around, working here and there, sometimes as an assistant, such as in Moriarty, and sometimes with more control, like playing with recipes over at Kelly’s Brew Pub, when Kellys used to do that sort of thing. I kid Kellys, of course. But more importantly, he told me that the best thing his first brewing job ever taught him, all those years ago, was that brewing was exactly what he wanted to be doing with his life. He talked about where that road has led, and the great opportunity it was working at Il Vicino. There, he learned a lot and continued to build on his brewing skills, and that he’d never worked with better guys — which was pretty self-evident by his choice of assistant brewers, a little further down the road.

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The ONLY way to eat wings now. Brilliant, Mr. Guilmette!

After a little time and some hot wing munchery, he showed me the cold storage capable of freezing the drool on any craft brewer’s face. Inside, we talked about how, in today’s beer scene, there’s a lot of pressure from Albuquerque’s other great brewers (and from himself) to continue to keep the quality of the beer high. Even though Albuquerque is not brewery-saturated like say, Portland is, where one brewery opens as another closes, Albuquerque brewers — and I should say New Mexico brewers, in general — still have to compete for the discerning palates of the beer drinkers. We are not novices, even as a young craft-beer crowd. We don’t drink beer to be cool as part of some hipster movement (well, not the majority). While many of us may rock the Mumford-and-Sons-meets-the-Brawny-guy-look at each brewfest, we still know great beer from just good beer, and we won’t settle for anything less. A brewery can be badass on the outside, but it won’t survive in our harsh craft clime if it isn’t serving a solid liquid in the glass.

It wasn’t until after five years in the business that Zach began gaining recognition. “And that’s how it should be,” he reflected. “A brewer should really be making good, solid beer before he’s thrust in the spotlight, otherwise your flaws are just gonna show.” He took the job at Chama River because he wanted to be part of the shaping of the brew scene, not jumping in later and just adding to it. I can appreciate that. Albuquerque’s scene is still young and very much in the stage of defining itself and shattering its own image, much like that of a 21 year old. Albuquerque continues to show this. For instance, though Albuquerque may be known for its hoppiest hitters, they can still kick ass at national competition with a world class lager. Crash!

After all the cleaning had been finished up, both Brew Crews headed out into the bar area to enjoy a beer after all their hard work. Note: I didn’t do anything, but I was going to enjoy that beer all the same, as if I had. I suppose after all my question asking, my mouth was a little dry … ahem.

We sat down and all of us had Facey’s first recipe the Face Time Porter. Balanced and deliciously robust, the only one that could find any flaws with it was the perfectionist creator himself, assistant brewer David Facey, with whom I had the privilege of sharing a pint or two. Maybe three. A few minutes with him and you begin to wonder, how come this guy isn’t designing rockets for NASA or something? Luckily he’s focused his keen intellect toward something worthwhile, that being the production of the liquid happiness we call beer. We got to talking about the industry, because you probably wouldn’t be reading this if we were talking about gardening or something else. I asked about the learning curve of coming into a new brewery. He mentioned that though all the equipment may be a little different when it comes to breweries, the process is basically the same. “When I first started here,” he said, “I would just stare at the system. I’d follow the hoses until I knew where the beer started and where it was going. Now it’s just muscle memory.”

I asked him about his journey, which began with roots in management and homebrewing as a hobby. He started more scientifically at 21 years of age than I can say I still am about homebrewing now. He would brew so often they would be “drowning in beer,” he said. They would brew several times a week. And one time they brewed a few batches of the same beer style, with just slight tweaks, just to learn about the differences and how ingredients could change a beer. This was very similar to his experience working at Two Fools Tavern, where he had learned about the subtle differences between whiskeys. He had taken that new understanding even further, enough to begin teaching private whiskey classes at one point. In fact, he still teaches beer classes to new servers at Chama River, because, as his philosophy goes, the servers should know what they’re serving. It’s not just so they can sell a product, but so they can have an open, knowledgeable discussion with beer drinkers, whether they be craft veterans or craft virgins. As for how he arrived at Chama River, it was certainly due to his successful working experience with Zach at Il Vicino, and then history was just a phone call away.

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Cold storage. Nuff said!

From all that I’ve seen at Chama River, even if they may have been caught up in the complete deluge of new breweries in recent years, they have remained rooted in good brewing tradition and dedicated to bringing Albuquerque a better beer experience. A good example of this is their recent win at the Great American Brew Festival in October. The Class VI Golden Lager was a huge win. From my conversations with brewers, most would love to brew a really good lager, but simply don’t have the space or the time to let it lager properly. It’s where the economics and physical limitations of a brewery can hold a good brewer back. Luckily that’s not the case with Chama River. Their horizon is limitless. They’re on a good course right now, and have two great brewers at the helm. I’m very thankful to have spent a day on their tightly-run ship. The beer that they’re making is better than it’s ever been, and is only getting better. But what puts it up there among my favorites? It’s the philosophies of the brewers, their honed creative focus, and their absolute dedication to pushing quality that puts it in that category for me. And you can taste all that in the beer. I’m glad to have learned about where these guys have been; it only inspires more excitement for what lies ahead.

Up next, Chama River is brewing a beer with James Warren of Santa Fe’s Blue Corn Brewery on Friday. Don’t be surprised if a little peated malt sneaks its way in there. All joking aside, it’s going to be one helluva Dopplebock and it’s name shall be ‘The Collaborator.” Get it? Good! Soon after that, Zach will be feeding the yeast for a smoked rye lager they call “Rye on the Hog,” which, according to Zach, is “a German lager, along the lines of a bock in style, with beechwood smoked malt, and both flaked and rye malts.” You can bet that one will be easier to drink than describe. They will also be releasing another Radioactive IPA for the holidays. In February, heading to a glass near you will be their Saul-utations Pils, a tribute to the upcoming TV show Better Call Saul, which actually filmed part of an episode at the Chama River Microbar downtown. Pretty dope, if you ask me. With great beer already on tap, and fresh ideas in the fermenters, I won’t hesitate to make Chama River my vessel to brew-town next time I venture down to Burque, where the big wheel keeps on turnin’ and Proud Mary keeps on burnin’. Sing it if you know the words.

Cheers!

— Luke