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

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

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

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

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

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Raise ’em high to celebrate the season!

In mid-October, in the mountains of northern New Mexico, a certain familiar sound can be heard through the little valley of Red River. It’s not the rustling of the wind through glimmering gold, fresh-changed aspens, nor the honking of the horns of people-packed caravans. It’s the chorus of clinking glasses and the raising of toasts. It’s the deep brass bellowing of an Oom-pah band that lets us know that Oktoberfest has once again returned, and has completely transformed this sleepy Alps-esque village into a one-of-a-kind experience that will keep you coming back for more, time and time again.

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The weather was decidedly warm for this year’s event.

Though it is worth the travel for the changing leaves alone, just a brief but beautiful stop along the Enchanted Circle, Red River is much more than that. And, beyond the picturesque views, the many outdoor activities, and the deer that will walk right up to you without batting an eye or flicking an ear, there’s beer, and plenty of it here.

In the past few years I’ve been attending the festival, there were only about five breweries and about the same count for wineries. This year, however, there were far more breweries than I’ve ever seen at this event, making it more of a brewfest than I was expecting. I don’t even believe that I got a final count.

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The sun did not deter the crowd.

Set in Brandonburg Park, as well as the Red River Conference Center just behind, there was much ground to cover, and I’m sure we didn’t make it to every brewery in attendance, so I apologize if a brewery was there and didn’t get a mention. There’s only so much time and so many sampler tickets, and so much room after a delicious brat with sauerkraut.

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A man cannot live off beer alone.

The Red River Oktoberfest veteran breweries included neighbors Comanche Creek and Enchanted Circle, plus Santa Fe Brewing. I didn’t see Taos Mesa, Eske’s, or Abbey Brewing, but I’m sure they were representing somewhere.

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One of the great partnerships of our state.

New to Red River’s Oktoberfest this year (to my knowledge) were The 377, Bombs Away Beer Co., Lost Hiker from Ruidoso, Palmer Brewery & Left Turn Distillery, Rio Bravo Brewing, Starr Brothers Brewing, and the new hometown heroes, Red River Brewing Company, plus my dark horse of the festival, Colfax Ale Cellar.

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Rio Bravo brought the beer and the merch.

While I had some great beers from many of the breweries (very few bad ones), my favorites were fun, exciting, in some cases surprising, and in some cases not surprising at all. My picks are as follows:

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What else can I say? “Dammit, Dave.” Ha!

Santa Fe Brewing’s Pepe Loco: To me, it’s a perfect recipe for a Mexican Lager. While it may seem somewhat out of season, it was perfectly refreshing in the unusually warm weather. I wouldn’t be surprised if that limited beer finds its way into cans some time soon.

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Comanche Creek served up a winner!

Comanche Creek brewed up an Oktoberfest that stood out for all the right reasons.

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Ginger Beer from The 377 FTW!

The 377 made the first Ginger Beer that I’ve ever really enjoyed. It reminded me of a Ginger Ale, and then I thought, wait … is the beer made after the soda, or is the soda made after the beer? Either way, wow! Excellent stuff! Cheers!

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Enchanted Circle closes out the festival with smiles.

Enchanted Circle is doing some great things with their beers these days, but they get my Gold Medal for best name: Glory Hole IPA. That’s all I’ll say about that.

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That’s one hefty pour of bronze medal-winning Lampshade Porter!

Starr Brothers brought their GABF bronze medal-winning, heavy-hitting Lampshade Porter, which was just a joy to drink. Luckily that’s on tap at their brewery, year-round, so head in anytime and rent that blockbuster hit.

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Red River Brewing head brewer Chris Calhoun raises a toast.

Special mentions go to Lost Hiker and Red River Brewing Company. I don’t think they make a bad beer between them, and certainly deserve a special trip to see them in their beautiful towns.

My “Best of the Fest” award goes to Colfax Ale Cellar, up in Raton. They had so many wonderful, interesting, and creative (yet perfectly executed) beers, on draft and in bottles.

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Brewmaster Jim Stearns stands beside his wife Karen Stearns and brewdog Pippen, as well as their excellent beer selection.

“The Red River Oktoberfest was our first time at that event,” said head brewer and owner Jim Stearns in a follow-up email. “We brewed three lagers specifically for that event. We sold very little. Unfortunately, we probably sold less than 10 percent of what breweries who were located outside sold, but we weren’t alone in that position along with Starr Bros, 377 and Rio Bravo Brewing Co.”

In my opinion, I think that’s because no one knew there was beer in the conference center. That kind of thing is tough to deal with as a former brewery event coordinator. The struggle is real. At least Colfax brought enough interesting beers to gain some new fans.

Maxwell Pils (5% ABV) — an international pilsner style, very mildly hopped

Fest Lager (4.6% ABV) — a Vienna-style amber lager, also very mildly hopped

Yülbock (5.25% ABV) — a rauchbier made with 20-percent beech-smoked malt, also mildly hopped

Karaiba (3.3% ABV) — a Berliner White ale, lightly sour, with essence of passion fruit and mango, no hops

In 22-ounce bottles:

Double Tipple (8.7% ABV) a blended double stout with a portion aged in rye whiskey barrels

Chicorica (8.3% ABV) — a strong golden ale brewed with trappist ale yeast

La Belle Otéro (6.5% ABV) — classic Wallonian saison ale, dry and peppery

Banks of Orkney (8.2% ABV) — a strong Scotch ale, light toffee and bread pudding

I have no hesitation in saying that they are a must visit on the road to or from Denver. Forget Colorado Springs or Pueblo and stop there instead for lunch and enjoy something that will surprise you. Colfax Ale Cellar should be on everyone’s radar this year and in the years to come.

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And one Double Tipple for the Dark Side, please!

The Colfax Ale Cellar taproom was recently closed due to inclement weather, as apparently winter has come early. For that, I blame the Starks, Target, and Kohls.

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Blue Corn head brewer Paul Mallory “Captains” to another great festival.

It was another great festival of beer and food in the mountains. I only wish folks had known there was a brew fest attached to the usual festivities. I believe it’s now my job to reach out to the organizers to get the word out. I was certainly surprised to find a whole group of new vendors/breweries in the conference center, in which there had never been before. But, if you missed them this time, or missed the festival this time around, there’s always next year and next time.

Until we meet again, Red River! For now, I will be counting the days until one of my favorite festivals rolls back through town. I should probably book my cabin now to be safe. To another unforgettable Oktoberfest in the mountains!

Prost!

— Luke

 

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For more #CraftBeer info, and @nmdarksidebc news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke. My birthday is today (Thursday). You know what to do! I’m kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget about Enchanted Circle in Angel Fire.

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

— AmyO

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

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

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

Pueblo Vida is the hip new downtown brewery.

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

Inertia is an aromatic beast with the flavor to match.

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

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

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

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

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

Um, Dillinger, you gotta work on these beers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragoon makes the most of its malt-forward beers.

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

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

A double dose of anniversary imperial stouts.

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

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

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

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

1912 is another good addition to the Tucson scene.

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

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

Ermanos was another outstanding craft beer bar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Nom nom barleywine!

Thanks to our friends at Ska Brewing in Durango, we in the crew were delighted recipients of a bottle of their barrel-aged Ska Face Barleywine. A quorum of Stoutmeister, myself (Franz Solo), and Cryptogrind gathered to enjoy this lovely winter warmer.

Take note, Ska Face will be available today (Friday) from 5 to 8 p.m. at Sister as part of a tap takeover by the brewery. Also available are Sour Apple Gose, Pink Vapor Stew, True Blonde, and Bad Hop Contract.

To help everyone make up their minds as to whether or not to attend, we present our rambling discourse from Tuesday evening.

Crypt: I can smell the booze on this from here.

Solo: Holy hell! Bourbon!

Crypt: Bourbon, dried fruit, you get raisin right away.

Solo: Oh yeah, that tart, whiskey sour mash kind of flavor. It’s a little floral initially, too.

Crypt: Smells like corn!

(Laughter ensues.)

Stout: Korn!

Solo: Delicious creamed corn!

Crypt: Not the corn! Ah, Willie’s gonna have his legs broke!

(Further laughter ensues.)

Stout: That’s delicious.

Crypt: On a different level, layers of sweetness.

Solo: You get tart, and then sweet, and then earthy, and then yummy.

Crypt: So the booze I don’t get a lot on the palate, honestly. It’s not overly hot like it kind of smells like it should be. But, it’s pretty complex in the flavor, because there’s a ton of whiskey right up front, but it doesn’t burn. You get a ton of oak and sour whiskey comes through.

Solo: Vanilla is starting to come through a lot as well.

Crypt: There’s like five different kinds of sweetness there with a little bit of caramel, and it’s like if the huckleberries were too tart, you just dust them with confectioner’s sugar, that kind of thing.

Stout: It is not overly chewy, but I still like the mouthfeel.

Solo: Yeah, it fills the mouth, but it is not a single blast at any spot. Rather, it coats everything.

Stout: It does linger and in a good way; there’s not a bad aftertaste to this at all.

Crypt: It has this light toffee and caramel sweetness light coating that’s really nice.

Stout: It’s more the beer itself and not necessarily the barrel.

Solo: And, it just warms you so nicely. It gives me that little bit of chest burn like you get from a good whiskey or strong winter ale.

Crypt: What kind of yeast did they use in this? I’m getting different kind of fruity notes in the finish that are just really neat.

Stout: Well, it’s an English-style yeast that they use up there.

Crypt: It is pretty unique as far as the finish goes.

Solo: Yeah, it is kind of like the dried cherries that my dad has from his yard, but sweeter like they were injected with huckleberries.

Crypt: We should put that on a banana splice, er split.

(We proceed to discuss excellent sci-fi movies including Blade Runner 2049 and The Cell before returning to the task at hand.)

The bottle even came with this handy sheet of fun facts.

Stout: Thank you, Ska.

Solo: Yes, thank you, Ska. The beer smells sweeter than it actually tastes, likely from the slight tart sourness of the whiskey barrel that balances with what would be otherwise a very, very sweet beer.

Stout: Agreed.

Crypt: Purple monkey dishwasher.

Stout: Drink this while skiing Purgatory! This is very much a winter skiing beer.

Crypt: I’d wash it down with a tall, cool glass of hot dog. Wait …

(The late, great Harry Caray then enters discussion, as is typical of these gatherings, and we rambled a bit about the delicious brews and food available in Chicago.)

In conclusion, among barrel-aged barleywines this one is a strong and unique example of a tart and medium sweet, English-style winter warmer, with many distinct and delightful notes of vanilla, sour whiskey, and various dried fruits. The flavor and aroma linger with the best of ’em and the mouthfeel is excellent. We heartily recommend you seek this quintessential winter skiing/snowboarding beer.

Thanks, once again, to our friends at Ska Brewing for sending us a sample!

Skål!

— Solo, Stoutmeister, Cryptogrind

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

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

fire_hops_entrance

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