Archive for the ‘Out-of-Town Brews’ Category

Black Note is a beauty, especially on tap.

December is here, and you have one more chance to snag a taste of one of the true wonders of the barrel-aged world with one last keg of Bell’s Black Note on tap at Nob Hill Bar & Grill this evening. This beer, a.k.a. Voldemort, is just as insidious as he who shall not be named. You will not notice the darkness as it creeps over your palate until it is far too late. A thoroughly delicious end, if I do say so myself.

This batch was added to freshly retired bourbon barrels, so it has a good, wet presence of bourbon that extends from the aroma and melts throughout the entire experience. I found hints of light cinnamon, vanilla, and plenty of roast and black malts in this one, with an incredibly smooth, sweet chocolate middle, finished off with fresh bourbon.

This beer does not mess around at all. A quintessential winter warmer with hints of creamy chocolate that coats your entire palate with sweet sweet darkness. But, don’t take my word for it, go forth and enjoy this black diamond of winter’s looming chill and decide for yourself!

You can still find this delicious offering in six packs around town.

For that matter, Bell’s is a brewery that has multiple stouts to choose from, as they put it themselves, a “stout portfolio,” ranging from the somewhat sweeter Special Double Cream Stout to the tart Cherry Stout all the way to Expedition (Russian Imperial) in all of its glory, not to mention Kalamazoo and of course Black Note. These alone are only some of the delightful darkness that has landed in our fair desert oasis on the wings of the tolling of the Bells. But, as I’ve said, don’t take my own musings for it, go forth and explore with your own palates and sensibilities! Deep was the darkness with no light at all, and it was good.

Skål!

— Franz Solo

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Stoutmeister hanging out with someone far cooler than him, Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker.

Last week, before things got a bit crazy around here, Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker dropped in on New Mexico. He was checking out the landscape, seeing just how his beer was faring in our fine state. I was lucky enough to catch up with him at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, and once we were done talking about all sorts of other things (he is a bit of a beer history buff, in addition to being a genuinely good and fun person), I did a quick formal interview.

So why did one of the most venerated breweries on the West Coast decide to start distributing in a state of 2 million people?

“To use one expression, the terroir is very similar to the central coast of California,” David said. “It’s rural, it’s beautiful, it’s sort of an artisanal vibe. People enjoy the same things. The tastes are similar.”

The folks from Premier Distributing and the Firestone Walker regional sales reps took David to multiple places throughout the state, giving him a good look at both the setup for beer stores and our local beer scene. He got to make stops at Marble Brewery and Rowley Farmhouse Ales.

“It’s a really vibrant sort of domestic state of brewing,” David said. “There are local breweries that are making great, well-constructed beers. There’s an enduring philosophy. I think you have educated consumers and we all do very well. You go to most stores and 20 to 30 percent is devoted to good breweries.”

Firestone Walker had also seen the success of many of its craft brethren in still being able to carve out a niche in the state in terms of sales.

“Don’t take this as a derogative, (but) it’s not a sort of a number one tier beer market,” David said. “It’s a state that’s not on everybody’s radar when they have a launch plan. Obviously, it wasn’t ours (in the past). Here we are 20 years later. A lot of our good friends are here, Odell, Bell’s. It just felt very comfortable for us.”

Now that Firestone Walker is finding its comfort zone, expect to see a lot more seasonal and specialty offerings.

“New Mexico is going to see everything that we do,” David said. “My hope is that there is enough desire in customers’ palates that we’ll be able to send everything. Our vintage beers, our wild ales, to our experimental IPAs. I feel really good about this state. It’s a few states away from California but it feels close.”

He even said some of the upcoming variants of Parabola will be coming here, which is just what all of us in the Crew were hoping to see happen.

As I told David, when I first moved to Southern California in 2004, the first local beer I tried was Double Barrel Ale. Firestone Walker has been a big part of my craft beer experience over the years, so having their beers here is a mix of nostalgia and hope for the future. Anytime a quality out-of-state brewery arrives, I also feel that it helps push our local breweries to be even better and more creative. David said that was something he hoped for as well. The more good beer, the merrier, right?

A big thanks to everyone at Nob Hill Bar & Grill for setting up the meet and greet, and for David in being a good sport with all of our questions and the many, many photo requests.

Look for the Crew’s outsized Great American Beer Festival preview Tuesday.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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Fire & Hops Gastropub in Santa Fe

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

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

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

twohearted

Two Hearted Ale, complete with proper glassware

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

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

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

Bellsbrews

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

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

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

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

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

tina-bells

Tina Anderson, national sales manager for Bell’s Brewery

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

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

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

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

Larrys-Sour-Ale

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

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

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

Cheers!

— Julie

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

This specific fest is not one of those listed below, but we needed a photo of an out-of-state event, so voila!

OK, fine, we were about to go two days in a row (my fault) without a story, but inspiration struck me. Or, well, I was cleaning up and found my copy of Southwest Brewing News and glanced at the upcoming festivals list. Thus, for those of you without kids who can still travel these next two months, here are some options for beer if you just need to get away for a bit. In every case this lists a Saturday event, except when it covers more than one day.

August 12: Aces & Ales 8th Annual Strong Beer Festival

Las Vegas is always a good getaway spot, so rather than blowing all your money on blackjack or poker, head over to blow it on beer! You can find the event page online. A bunch of breweries not available here will be there, including AleSmith, Bear Republic, Bottle Logic, The Bruery, Epic, Noble Ale Works, Pizza Port, and Tenaya Creek.

August 19: Stone 21st Anniversary Celebration & Invitational Beer Festival

This huge fest is being held on the campus (!) of Cal State San Marcos. There are rare beer all-access tickets, or you can purchase a ticket for session A or B. The all-access runs from 1 to 8 p.m., the two sessions are divided into four-hour blocks. Just about every bad ass California brewery will be represented along with the hosts, including 21st Amendment, AleSmith, Beachwood, Bottle Logic, The Bruery, El Segundo, The Lost Abbey, Noble Ale Works, Pizza Port, and Russian River, plus a few from out of state. Tickets and more info can be found here. Oh, and the best part? All the profits go to charity.

August 26: 19th Annual San Juan Brewfest

Trek up to Durango, if you are not going to Hopfest here, and enjoy this delightful festival featuring a slew of Colorado mountain breweries who do not distribute outside their state. It is held in a park adjacent to downtown and is a huge favorite among all our friends who have attended in the past. If you feel homesick, La Cumbre, Marble, and Santa Fe will be there. We just want to try The Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company, for its name alone.

September 2

It is Labor Day Weekend, so stay home, stay safe, avoid the headaches of travel. Just make sure to load up on beer, first. And grilled meats.

September 9

Not every weekend has a great fest. Rest up for the next one.

September 16: Oktoberfest

The granddaddy of ’em all kicks off in Munich, running until October 3. I went as a kid. I could not understand why all the nice Germans were turning red and falling over all the time. If you don’t have any Europe money stashed away, head down to Austin for the first anniversary of the Oskar Blues brewery down there.

September 22: 23rd Annual San Diego Festival of Beer

Held downtown every year, this event actually takes place on a Friday. Early bird tickets cost $40 through August 31, after that it goes up to $50. This is another charity-driven event, fighting cancer. In addition to a number of the big breweries mentioned for the two previous California fests, this will include Karl Strauss, Artifex, Figueroa Mountain, Absolution, Modern Times, and more. Even Allagash is coming from way out in Maine for the fun.

September 30: 31st Annual Great Tucson Beer Festival

Our friends in Tucson are finally catching on that craft beer is good (their number of breweries has tripled since my last visit in 2015). This fest was a big part of that inspiration. Held at the Kino Sports Complex, onetime spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, it will feature plenty of local and regional breweries. Tickets will cost $35 for general admission and $70 for VIP in advance (add $10 to each day of). The out-of-state breweries include Fort Collins, Maui, Mission, Modern Times, Pizza Port, Saint Archer, and, yes, Santa Fe. Notables from in-state include Barrio, Freak’N, Huss, Old Bisbee, and Prescott.

October 5-7: Great American Beer Festival

This is not just an opportunity for Franz Solo and I to brag about getting media credentials. OK, it totally is, but if you see us up there, join us for a hearty toast in the Halls of Valhalla.

Back to actual, researched news the rest of the week. I promise.

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

A local artist added this awesome image to the new Little Toad Creek production facility.

After visiting all four breweries in the southeastern part of the state last weekend, Luke and I decided to take the long way around from Carlsbad to Silver City. We wanted to check out Toadfest, the annual street event collaboration between Little Toad Creek and the New Mexico Brewers Guild. There was plenty of rain and wind as we actually dipped down through Texas, re-emerging into blue skies upon reaching El Paso. After a hearty lunch at the Hoppy Monk (yes, they have food in addition to an epic beer selection), we continued up Interstate 10, past Las Cruces and over to Deming, before taking Highway 180 up to Silver City.

The taproom was buzzing away during Toadfest.

Little Toad Creek is located in the heart of downtown now at the corner of Broadway and Bullard Streets. They have left behind the little mountain resort where it all started. Now they have a three-storefront location, almost like a smaller version of Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington. There is the bar area, a larger venue with a stage and a pool table, a small patio in the back, and a retail store with merchandise and bottles of their spirits for sale.

Luke did all the driving before Silver City, so Stoutmeister let him release the hounds at LTC and finished the drive later that night.

The event was a bit different in setup this year. LTC was not able to get a street permit, so instead they had an extended patio area in the alleyway out back. The beers from other New Mexico breweries were poured either at the main bar inside or via a jockey box on the patio. Despite some wind, a few drops of rain, and even a few snowflakes, it was still a lively time. There were a few tourists mixed in with the crowd of locals, who were easily identifiable by the fact they were covered in head to toe with outdoor clothing (the North Face love is strong in Silver City).

It was quite the crowd out in force for Toadfest.

There was live music, the kitchen was buzzing, and folks were crowding around Guild director John Gozigian to talk beer and buy merchandise. For many of the locals, it was a rare chance to try beers from Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe that are not available in bottles or cans year-round. I tried a Kolsch from Taos Mesa (it had been a while) and then a LTC porter, which was quite toasted and tasty.

It may not look like much from the outside, but this new facility is about to start churning out some quality beers and spirits.

What it showed us more than anything was that Silver City, just like the towns in the southeast, has begun to have a thriving craft scene thank to the local brewery. With that in mind, LTC co-owner/brewer/distiller Dave Crosley and his wife and co-owner Teresa Dahl-Bredine are already working on taking things to the next level. Dave invited me, Luke, and John to take a walk a couple blocks down Bullard to Mill Road, where the second building on our left had quite the history. Once upon a time, it was the liquor depot for all of Silver City, where the trains serving the mines would back up and drop things off for the thirsty citizens. In later years, it was a roller skating rink, with some of the old interior artwork still on the interior walls. Now, it will be something quite different.

There is plenty of space to grow inside.

The new production facility for Little Toad Creek will soon be churning out even more beer and spirits. A shiny new 15-barrel brewhouse sits next to one of the biggest stills we have seen in the state (admittedly, we have only seen the ones at Broken Trail and Left Turn, so we cannot say it is the biggest overall). There are plans to eventually start canning and distributing LTC beers, though Dave said they have not decided exactly how far outward those beers will be shipped.

That is one shiny still.

Still, the very fact that a brewery/distillery combo that started at a nearby mountain resort has now been able to move into such a large facility is a good sign indeed. It shows the popularity of drinking local, both for residents and for the tourists flooding into the area to keep cool(er) in the summer months. We all know our big breweries up here along Interstate 25 are doing great, but to see expansion and ambition in the small towns warms our hearts even more.

Dave with his “son,” Earl, who guards the brewery in exchange for back scratches and belly rubs.

This summer, we are planning to take another trek to Taos and the breweries around it. We also plan to visit Las Cruces to see how things are going down there, after which I think we will be able to say we have visited every brewery in the state at least once. Until another half dozen open this year. Oh, darn, guess we will have to go back.

Craft beer culture is alive and well in all the corners of New Mexico. Let us all raise a pint to that this weekend!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Things were hopping at Milton’s when we visited.

Our trip to the southeastern part of New Mexico continued over this past weekend with stops at Desert Water Brewing on the northern edge of Artesia, followed by Milton’s Brewing in the heart of Carlsbad. For the recap of our visits to Roosevelt Brewing in Portales and The Wellhead in Artesia, click here.

These two breweries were just as different in vibe and approach as the prior two that we visited. The one thing they both had was a definite following among locals. Milton’s, in particular, has really generated a huge buzz for craft beer in Carlsbad, a town booming with the better fortunes of the oil industry. That, in turn, has created quite the ambitious goals for the staff at the young brewery.

“My goal is for Milton’s to be the brewery that bridges the gap between north and south,” co-owner/head brewer Lucas Middleton said.

Now that is something we would truly like to see.

Desert Water enters period of transition

The outside belies the inside decor at Cottonwood/Desert Water.

Up on the north end of Artesia, just off Highway 285, Desert Water Brewing opened in 2013 as the beer-centric half of Cottonwood Winery. The outside building is fairly nondescript, but the inside is a unique little taproom. Wine is clearly the primary business, with dozens upon dozens of bottles for sale. It boasts a definite country/western theme. There is no kitchen, but a food truck was parked outside while we visited. The crowd appeared to be made up mainly of locals, all of whom knew the staff.

The big news when we arrived: Desert Water is not currently brewing beer. There was an explanation, of course. Owner Mike Mahan and his wife required outside investors to help open Cottonwood and then Desert Water. From the beginning, their goal was to eventually buy out those investors and take full control of the business. Well, the good news is that they have done just that. In one of those technicalities, though, it required them to apply for a new small brewer license with the State of New Mexico. While that license is pending, they cannot brew for the time being.

Our samples of the milk stout were accompanied by some Bosque Lager, one of the guest taps.

That being said, Mike was nice enough to go to his last remaining keg, which featured a roasty, not overly sweet milk stout, and pour us a couple of samples to try. It had the thickest mouthfeel of any beer we had on our trip. It also showed us that once Desert Water is brewing again, it will be worth the return trip to see what else Mike has to offer. Until then, he will rely on guest taps from across the state, plus of course the many, many wines on the shelves.

Milton’s is the place to be in Carlsbad

It was rather crowded at Milton’s the night we visited, but we’re told that’s a regular occurrence.

We were told by more than one other brewer or brewery owner over the course of our trip that Milton’s would be jam-packed whenever we arrived there. After a quick drive down Highway 285, followed by a stop at our hotel, and a bite to eat, we arrived at the small brewery at the west end of Mermod Street, just a couple blocks off the main downtown area. As was predicted, the joint was full of lively locals, listening to a touring band from Tucson, and enduring a sudden uptick in the wind that was making life interesting on the patio on the north side of the building.

The building was once a storage facility, with a pair of garage doors on the north and sound ends. It had a long rectangular shape, but without the high ceilings of Roosevelt. Heck, one could fit all of Milton’s inside Roosevelt with room to spare. In this small space, the layout is similar, minus the kitchen (food trucks, again, provide the sustenance). The main taproom area is up front, with the brewing equipment along the east wall. The equipment, well, shows the relative youth of the brewery, which has been around for just about a year now. The mash tun and the boil kettle are both square-shaped, and open on top. We have heard of open fermentation at some breweries, but not an open brewhouse. The fermenters are small and plastic.

Yes, that is a square, open mash tun.

The good news is that Milton’s is on the verge of expansion, which will mean not just new, modern equipment, but also a much larger brewing space. The Frito Lay distribution building, located just to the west of the brewery along the train tracks, will become Milton’s new brewery building. They will soon have a 10-barrel brewhouse setup, with stainless steel fermenters, and more. It will open up more space in the taproom (which they need), and keep the brewing area clear of everything from customers to strong gusts of wind whipping through in the evening, as to get to the north patio, one has to walk past the brewhouse.

Lucas, once the staff alerted him to our arrival, and then once he finished talking with some of the regular patrons, spoke to us about all of it. My phone, however, did not record most of it, so I had to go off the somewhat blurry memories of the end of the night and what it did record, which ended up being a lot of random conversation about craft beer in general.

The most important thing Lucas told us about the aftermath of the expansion will be this: “I want to get our beer in cans. We’ll roll in the Mother Road (Mobile Canning) guys. My goal is for us to be in Albertson’s here in Carlsbad by the end of the year.”

Milton’s already has its kegs ready to go.

What will go in those cans is still to be determined. One of the most popular beers they have made so far is a red chile-infused stout.

“We were doing a Frijole Mole, but I had to take it off,” Lucas said. “We were using a bunch of different chiles. The first two batches did great. People were drinking the shit out of it in the middle of the summer. … It didn’t go the way I wanted to (last brew). I’ll do the (Mullet) Milk Stout for now, then get back to it.”

Milton’s was able to take it to WinterBrew back in Santa Fe in January, where it proved to be a hit. It was the first major festival for the brewery, but more are right on the horizon with the Blazin’ Brewfest in Las Cruces on Saturday and then the Microbrew Festival on the Pecos, right in Carlsbad, on May 13. It will mark the first time a local brewery will be able to attend in full.

They have one of those ever popular buy a friend a beer boards here, too.

Lucas said he found an advertisement from the early 20th Century saying that Carlsbad was ripe for a brewery and ice company. It did not happen then, but it has now (minus the ice).

“It took from 1908 to 2015 to get a brewery in this town,” Lucas said.

By all accounts, it was worth the wait. The other beers on tap during our visit were the Red Stapler Red Ale (bonus points for the Office Space reference), Hoprunner’s Hefe, and the 62/180 IPA. The latter is named for the highway that connects the town to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. That tourist draw has left Milton’s with quite the mixed crowd to date.

“We get a lot of tourists, we get a lot of people from all over the U.S.,” Lucas said, later adding that he knows his brewery might be the first introduction to New Mexico craft beer for many travelers from other states and even other countries. It is a task that Milton’s seems ready to take on in full in 2017 and beyond.

That’s brewer Lucas Middleton, Stoutmeister, Dan Middleton and his awesome beard, and Luke from left to right.

We would like to thank Lucas, his father Dan, and the rest of the staff at Milton’s for their hospitality on such a busy, windy night. We admire their ambition and dedication to the craft, and for so quickly creating a thriving craft culture hundreds of miles from the bulk of this state’s breweries.

Good luck to Milton’s in 2017 and beyond.

* * * * *

That visit wrapped up our time in Southeast New Mexico. With the bad weather closing in, we called it a night. The next day we set out on the aforementioned Highway 62/180, down past the caverns, into Texas, and eventually all the way to El Paso. We will chronicle the final leg of the trip, highlighted by our visit to Little Toad Creek’s new production facility, on Wednesday.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Our trip to visit the breweries of Southeast New Mexico began in this charming town.

Weird spring weather be damned, the Crew did indeed set out on our planned trip to visit the breweries in Southeast New Mexico over this past weekend. Luke and I hit the road and were able to make stops at Roosevelt Brewing in Portales, Desert Water and The Wellhead in Artesia, Milton’s in Carlsbad, and then head to the southwest for a stop at Little Toad Creek.

We found that craft beer culture is alive and well in these smaller towns, though it is often quite different from what most of us are used to in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Despite the small sizes of the towns and the breweries, we found five places all looking to move forward and further expand the reach of craft beer to all corners of our state.

Matt Boin, the brewer at The Wellhead, said the southern half of New Mexico is ripe for a craft beer boom similar to what the north has already experienced.

“I definitely think it is,” Matt said. “I’ve been talking to our owner about possibly expanding our footprint, possibly into one of the nearby towns like Carlsbad. We have a lot of people down here working in the oil fields, natives and people coming from (out of state). Just seeing Milton’s being packed all the time, I think people are literally and figuratively thirsty. … I think we’re definitely on the cusp of coming into our own. I’m excited for it.”

To keep this story from rivaling, or likely surpassing, The Week Ahead in Beer in length, we have split it into three parts, all in the order that we visited the breweries. First up, Roosevelt and The Wellhead.

Roosevelt speaks softly and carries big flavors

Located in an old JC Penny storefront in downtown Portales, Roosevelt has quickly made a name for itself.

Our journey started on Interstate 40 until we reached Santa Rosa, where we took Highway 84 southeast toward Fort Sumner. From there, it was a straight shot east on Highway 60 to Clovis, then southwest on Highway 70 to Portales. Roosevelt is located in the middle of the town, diagonally across the street from the county courthouse that dominates the small downtown.

To simply call Roosevelt quaint would be selling it short. It is one of the more unique setups for a New Mexico brewery, simultaneously charming and sensible. The building gives it a long, rectangular shape from the front entrance to the kitchen and brewing area in the back. It sports high ceilings, but despite a sizable lunch crowd made up of locals, tourists, and college students from Eastern New Mexico, it was not as loud as some ABQ breweries tend to get.

The brewery equipment is visible from the dining area. The kitchen is to the right of the frame.

It is all one open space, save for the mostly enclosed kitchen and then an office on a second floor in the far back. The brewers were not on hand Friday, but on the days they are working one could sit around, enjoy a beer and/or eat a meal, and watch them work. The brewhouse was small, though listed at 10 barrels, with four fermenters and a small mill. In what was likely not a coincidence, there were four beers on tap, plus four guest taps from Bosque, Marble, Santa Fe, and Tractor. Our server told us the Clovis IPA is their most popular offering, showing us that hopheads are not limited solely to the I-25 corridor. Of course, being so popular, it was not available when we visited.

Roosevelt boasts a full menu, with a number of specialty burgers and pizzas listed alongside the appetizers and other sandwiches. Patrons also have the option to build their own burger or pizza. The food was good and filling, made to order, and cooked just right. As Milton’s would show us later in the trip, a small-town brewery does not necessarily have to be a brewpub, but Roosevelt took that form and it has worked out well. The mixed crowd seemed pleased with what was offered.

The hefe, stout, and food were all solid offerings.

We met briefly with owner Justin Cole, who was busy coming and going. The weekend rush was likely on his mind. Cole was originally from Clovis, but attended school at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. He was inspired by Socorro Springs Brewery to start a brewpub in a smaller college town. It has worked out for him, his staff, and Portales since Roosevelt opened in 2012.

The four beers on tap were Golden Lager, Happy Heifer (Hefeweizen), Coffee Porter, and Softly Spoken Stout. The lager was clean and crisp, with just enough sweetness. It is definitely the kind of beer to get a land of macro drinkers interested in craft. The hefe hit the notes one would expect, lots of banana and clove, with a light mouthfeel and a definite easy-drinking status. The porter was good for just being a porter, but the coffee did not pop out very much. The stout was of the sessionable variety (4.6% ABV), so the mouthfeel was light as well, but it did have a fair amount of roasty flavor, with a slight creaminess to it.

The staff of Roosevelt will bend over backwards to help.

Overall, we both enjoyed Roosevelt. It is certainly a brewery we look forward to revisiting in the future. So yes, it is quite worth the 3-hour drive from Albuquerque.

The Wellhead aims to drill up new business

The Wellhead looks simple from the outside, but is quite the raucous local hot spot inside.

We left Portales via Highway 70, continuing on to Roswell, where we merged onto Highway 285. We did want to see the town as we passed through, but good lord, the traffic lights are not timed there in the least. It delayed our arrival in Artesia by nearly a half hour. Our need to get to The Wellhead was to help out brewer Matt Boin, who told us he only had a limited window to meet up due to some car (well, truck) trouble. As it turns out, Matt was able to work things out and meet us in downtown Artesia’s long-standing brewpub.

The Wellhead came into being in 2000, when Frank Yates of Yates Petroleum decided to open a brewpub along Main Street. His brother, Mike Stegall, was the first brewer. Many other brewers have come and gone since, with Matt being the latest to join the brewery back at the start of 2016.

“We’re still growing,” Matt said. “We’ve got a lot of blonde drinkers and wheat drinkers. There’s nothing wrong with that. I try to push the boundaries a little bit, one beer at a time. I made the IPA a little hoppier, made the dark beers a little darker. Milton’s has definitely helped out with that in Carlsbad. I think all together we’re starting something down here.”

The beer lineup during our visit to The Wellhead.

The story that Matt told us was similar to what we used to hear from the brewers just starting out in Albuquerque many years ago. He learned to home brew from his brother-in-law, and it became his primary hobby/passion project. When he got the chance to brew on a commercial level, Matt jumped at the chance.

Oh, but there is a twist one does not find in the northern reaches of the state.

“I actually moved down here for an oil field job,” Matt said. “I do that during the day and I do this in the evening. I’m pretty busy.”

Matt said the chemical process between working in the oil fields and working in a brewery are not all that different. The mechanical process has similarities as well, all of which fit his interests.

Plenty of regulars were filling the seats at The Wellhead during happy hour.

Currently, The Wellhead offers up six house beers and three rotating seasonals. The latter are all Matt’s recipes, with a Black Rye IPA, Brown Ale, and Winter Warmer currently on tap. Slowly but surely, hops are becoming popular, but the primary customers in Artesia are more in favor of beers with less kick.

“I definitely think there’s more of a vibe for IPAs with the younger crowd,” Matt said. “(But) I think the major challenge is people are set in their ways of drinking Miller and Dos Equis. I’ve got a lager strain going right now. I’ve got a Mexican lager fermenting right now. I hope to compete for our Dos Equis crowd. I’m doing a SMASH lager, Vienna and Saaz, which I hope to compete with the Budweiser crowd. I hope to open the door that way.”

The good news for Matt and The Wellhead is that after 17 years, the brewery has quite the loyal customer base, even as the oil jobs surge up and then decline with the fluctuating price of crude on the market.

“There’s definitely some awesome loyalty,” Matt said. “There are guys who have their beer. When I got here, they said I like this beer, we’ve had brewers before who’ve tried to change things, don’t do that, especially with the wheat and the blonde. I’ve definitely been learning to be more consistent.”

The menu offers up a wide variety of foods to pair with the beer.

The Wellhead offers up a full menu with a variety of dishes, ranging from high-end steaks and seafood to more traditional pub fare. Because it has a restaurant license, it also offers wine and hard liquor. The happy hour crowd in the bar was boisterous, a mix of locals and oil field workers, plus a few families, though most of those were in the separate dining room to the right (east) of the bar area. The place was plenty crowded, though many people were skipping the pints of house beers for cans of macro brews and other drinks. Those that did order a house beer went with either the Cisco Canyon Blonde Ale or Indian Basin Wheat.

For now, Matt will keep plugging away. We wish him luck in his quest to push for an off-site taproom, whether in Carlsbad or Roswell or anywhere in the area. The more craft beer, the better, and the more converts Matt and all the breweries of the southeast get only improves our state.

A big thanks to Matt for hanging out and chatting while we downed our samples. The Black Rye IPA had a nice kick from his addition of Citra hops to the mix. The Roughneck Red and Crude Oil Stout were our top picks among the house beers. I guess our palates are a bit different than the folks in Artesia, but we still respect that they are drinking at least some craft.

* * * * *

Roosevelt and The Wellhead offered up two wildly different vibes, but in a way, both fit their towns. The former was in a laid-back farming and college town. The latter was in a booming oil town. Overall, both managed to impress us in their different ways.

Our next two stops brought us to two more wildly different places. Check back Tuesday for our visits to Desert Water and Milton’s.

Until then, if you have a little time off coming up and a hankering to get out of town, you can also look to the south for a craft beer trip. Just a suggestion.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Yes, we are finally visiting Milton’s and the other breweries in Southeast New Mexico. Because we didn’t stick the NM in front of our name for nothing.

Back in the fall, the New Mexico Brewers Guild took several of its members from the Albuquerque area down to the southeastern part of the state to visit the breweries far from the metro area. Yours truly was invited, but I had to finish up a book (due out June 5, FYI) on Albuquerque’s beer history, and could not attend. All these months later, Luke and I have made plans to follow in their footsteps.

This Friday, we are intent on visiting Roosevelt Brewing in Portales, Desert Water Brewing outside Artesia, The Wellhead in downtown Artesia, and Milton’s Brewing in Carlsbad. Our goal is to take in the atmosphere at these places, try their beers, their food (if they serve), and see how they compare to our “big city” breweries. We will be kind, of course, in terms of rating the beers. Our purpose to is to introduce all of you to these places, which we know many of our primary readers have never visited before. We do not intend to be overly critical and compare these places to the much larger and better-funded breweries along I-25, but instead we will judge them on their own merits in the context of the smaller towns they inhabit.

If possible, we will have a story for each brewery that will run next week and beyond. We will be posting on all three of our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) live as we go.

The Crew made a pledge to get out to the breweries beyond the ABQ and Santa Fe areas, and we intend to follow through. We have already run Andrew’s stories on Three Rivers Brewery and 550 Brewing in the northwest, now it is time to catch up with the breweries in the opposite corner of the state. Then, schedules permitting, we will head up to the Taos area this summer, and down to Las Cruces at some point in later summer/early fall.

Of course, weather may not be our friend this weekend, but we will endure what we can. The catch may come Saturday, when we will try to be crazy and drive all the way from Carlsbad to Silver City in time to catch Toad Fest. This street party (weather-permitting) in downtown Silver City has been on our list of “must attend” events. Plus, we have never actually visited Little Toad Creek’s location in Silver City, so we can pull off a two-for-one there.

And, if we are really lucky, we may be able to stop by Truth or Consequences Brewing and meet their owners, as they have told us they are just a month or so away from opening.

Wish us luck, and good weather.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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