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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Toadfest at Little Toad Creek in Silver City is always worth the drive.

The New Mexico Brewers Guild and Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery are teaming up for their annual event, Toadfest, this Saturday in Silver City from 2 p.m. to midnight. This free event will feature 21 different beers and ciders from 12 different breweries, all packed into the LTC taproom at 200 N. Bullard Street.

The setup of Toadfest has 10 beers poured on the back patio and the other 11 at the main bar inside. There will also be some live music indoors, and some fun and games in the alleyway behind the taproom (the other side of the alley is actually the creek that runs through the town, making for a lovely afternoon/evening setting). Luke and I got to go to Toadfest back in 2017 and we had a blast, so we highly recommend the drive down. Silver City is a very charming town, and worth the visit anytime of the year.

Guild executive director Leah Black was kind enough to send us the list of the beers/ciders, though we are all still waiting on Boxing Bear to identify which offerings they are sending south. UPDATE: See below.

Patio pours

  • Bosque Open Space Haze
  • Bosque Beyond the Trees (Cider)
  • Canteen Fill in the Blanco (White IPA)
  • Marble Double White Triple Berry
  • Sierra Blanca Green Chile Cerveza
  • Sierra Blanca Alien IPA
  • Steel Bender Compa Los Ranchos Lager
  • Boxing Bear Uppercut IPA
  • Truth or Consequences Cosmic Blonde
  • Rio Bravo Freak Juice (Hazy IPA)

Bar pours

  • La Cumbre Elevated IPA
  • Picacho Peak Green Chile Amber
  • Steel Bender Raspberry Dynamite
  • Canteen High Plains Pilsner
  • Tractor Blood Orange Cider
  • Little Toad Creek Grumpy Old Troll IPA
  • Rio Bravo Squirrel Nuts (Peanut Butter Hazelnut Brown)
  • Boxing Bear Ambear
  • Marble Cerveza
  • T or C Buckhorn IPA
  • Little Toad Creek Copper Cream Ale

For those of you that can go, remember this is an event that benefits the Brewers Guild, as well as our friends at Little Toad Creek. Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The visually stunning Cloudcroft Brewing was one of several that AmyO visited on her trip south.

Last September, my other half and I thought a quick overnight road trip was in order. We ventured up north to visit some northern New Mexico breweries we had not been to. At that time, we were trying to decide whether to do a northern or a southern route. The time of year pulled us north, then, so it was now time for us to head back out to venture to a few breweries down south.

DISCLAIMER: In the story for the northern tour, I stated that we knew we would not be able to get to everything in the time we had, and the distance we would need to cover. Yet, several readers still commented on how we “missed” one brewery or another. We didn’t miss them. Either they weren’t open when we were in that area, they took us too far off our route, or we just couldn’t fit them in and get where we needed to be in a reasonable amount of time. So, I am going to add a disclaimer here and hopefully people will read it. On this trip we did not go to Las Cruces, because that should be its own trip. We also did not make it to Artesia or Carlsbad because I have already covered The Wellhead in Artesia, the new Hopscotch Brewing north of Artesia is not open on Sundays, Guadalupe Mountain in Carlsbad is also closed on Sundays, and Milton’s in Carlsbad does not open until 2 p.m. on Sundays. For these reasons, and the fact that hotel prices were flat out exorbitant in Carlsbad/Artesia, we altered our originally intended route to instead head back north from Roswell to Clovis and Portales, before returning to ABQ Sunday evening.

We began our journey Friday late afternoon, heading south on I-25, making our first stop at Owl Cafe in San Antonio for a quick break before heading on to Truth or Consequences. FYI, though they make a good burger at the Owl, they sadly have no craft beer game at all. Like zero.

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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