Let’s Grab a Beer

HappyNewBeer-1As New Mexico beer culture continues to thrive, it seems new breweries open their doors on a weekly basis; meanwhile, the established brewers are constantly turning out new styles, playful seasonals and experimental batches. It can be hard to keep up and try them all. What’s a committed New Mexico beer aficionado to do?

The answer, my beer enthusiast friends, is simple: Visit a beer bar. More and more local drinking establishments have come to our rescue, swooping in and catering to craft beer drinkers. These bars, bistros and even a movie theater offer a variety of local taps, and often some exotic options, too, so they are perfect for expansive sampling. By offering a mix of the novel and the familiar, they are crowd-pleasing in their scope. The broad variety makes them ideal for visitors who would like to try as many different New Mexico brews as possible, for novice beer drinkers hoping to try a range of styles and breweries, or for any group of beer-drinking pals who simply cannot agree on which is the best brewery to visit on any given night.

In Albuquerque, locavore restaurant Bistronomy B2B has been an ardent supporter of local breweries and wineries since they opened back in 2013. Today, in addition to their own line of house-brewed beers they have 22 taps from other New Mexico breweries. Bistronomy Marketing Associate Micah Merriman proudly proclaims, “We pick award-winning beers from only the best local New Mexico breweries. Many places offer large selections of beers from big name corporations, but we believe that New Mexico has far too many quality selections not to feature local breweries first.” She elaborates, “We want to cater to the taste of many different kinds of beer drinkers, and offer something for everyone.”   

More recently, two Austin originals have found like-minded compatriots in Santa Fe beer drinkers. Violet Crown Cinemas and Whole Foods have both augmented their primary businesses with a tantalizing array of beers to enhance their customers’ experiences. Now patrons can enjoy a frothy cold one while watching a movie, or during their regular stop at the grocer.

Violet Crown Cinemas’ Bar Manager Steven Anderson explains the reasoning behind the theater’s beer selection; how offering 30 varieties of craft beers—both popular and obscure—mirrors the cinema’s concept of showing both indie and mainstream movies. “Not everyone is going to like a barrel-aged Belgian-style Grand Cru, but those that do are very appreciative of it,” he says. “I know not everyone has acquired a taste for bold, American hops, but Elevated IPA from La Cumbre is far and away our bestseller beer wise, and there is a reason for that; it’s reflective of New Mexico’s beer culture as a whole.”
Whole Foods Market is also seizing the opportunity to tap into the beer-drinking market with last fall’s addition of the Piñon Pub to their Cerrillos location. The pub has 24 diverse taps ranging from local standbys to wild imports. As Benji Fitts, Whole Foods’ metro marketing team leader, says, “We feel that a wide selection is important to our customers, who are seeking novel culinary and sensory experiences.” Continue reading

Eloisa Hosts Ontañón

Wine Dinner at Eloisa

When a restaurant announces a wine dinner, there’s an air of expectancy that food, wine and presentation will exceed business as usual, that exemplary skills and talents of a troupe of chefs, sommeliers, wineries, their representatives and dining room staffs will harmoniously assemble for one dazzling evening. Otherwise, why bother? Local Flavor chronicled the who-what-when-where-why-how of organizing one such wine dinner at Eloisa.

It began on a commonly beautiful late September day during the 2015 Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta. Cole Donald Sisson was in town as the US brand ambassador for Bodega Ontañón in Rioja, Spain. The winery is run by the 5th generation—four siblings—who come from a long line of farmers and only began exporting to the US four years ago. Even more recently, their product is to be distributed by Southern Wine and Spirits (“SWS”) in New Mexico. Before working for the winery, Cole ran the wine program for Michael Mina at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. That’s young sommelier heaven. At 34, Cole’s now part of a small import team based in Seattle, Wash.

Damon Lobato had just started as general manager and wine director for Eloisa, a stylish restaurant and bar opened by Chef John Sedlar earlier that year in a ground floor space of the Drury Plaza Hotel in downtown Santa Fe. The hotel had only begun receiving guests the previous summer after massive renovations to the historic St. Vincent Hospital. Damon, who keeps his black hair parted and wears a suit with old-world panache befitting one who once rode the rails of the Orient Express as a wine captain, was looking for a winery to do the first wine dinner in the new restaurant, when he met Cole at Wine and Chile. It was an ideal convergence of fresh starts. Continue reading

Taos Mesa Brewing

TMBtl_8Frankenbrew. Among brewers of craft beer, frankenbrew is a self-deprecating boast. Their beer-making rig didn’t arrive on a truck, as a turnkey system, with shiny copper domes and temperature controls. It was hammered together, improvised, with moxie not money. Taos Mesa Brewing’s original brewhouse, cobbled together from used dairy equipment, is a classic of the type. And the hip, happening and slightly radical beer-and-music venue preserves a strong spirit of frankenbrew in its business culture.

Four diverse partners, with disparate skills, shared a vision of “a brewery on the mesa” that could be driven by live music shows, great beer and a joyful atmosphere. Gary Feuerman, the lawyer in the group (because there’s always a lawyer in the group), first teamed with music man, Dan Irion, who had pioneered, in the mid-aughts, underground music shows in a warehouse out on the overly apt Tune Road. Dan, in turn, familiar with the skill of the well-known local craft brew stalwart, Jayson Wylie, brought the beer guy into the mix, and builder/developer Peter Kolshorn completed the band. Not quite John, Paul, George and Ringo, but a formidable collection of imagination and undaunted determination. In 2007, they bought the land that would host their vision and confidently strode off. Straight into the buzzsaw of fierce resistance that is the Taos County Commission. (Insert plaintive violin solo here.) “Taos hazing” is the term Gary philosophically applies to the experience in retrospect, allowing that all ventures come with a price, and being put through hell for a year by an obstructionist governing board is a price one pays in Taos. A wedgie from the upperclassmen, if you will. Ultimately, the commissioners came through with the permits and have since become regulars. ‘Everyone loves us, now,’ says brewer Jayson Wylie. Taos hazing.

With the hazing period over, the frankenbrew-ing of TMB could begin in earnest and, true to form, building materials were scavenged from salvage yards and defunct commercial properties. The former Borders Books location at Sanbusco Market Center in Santa Fe, yielded a rich treasure trove of recyclable fixtures, some repurposed as wall treatments and trims, while a buddy at 3M turned them on to a massive and free cache of foam that became critical to managing the building’s acoustics. “Managing acoustics” might evoke images of hanging a few decorous panels of highly engineered, space-age material to tweak the direction of a wave or two. Nope. Their building is a Quonset hut, those military staples, semi-circular in section. Music in a half-pipe is awesome if it’s you and your earbuds rocking the reverb. But fill that space with brewing equipment, a bar and large numbers of people who insist on being able to move at will. Top it off with five band-members doing mic-checks, and things become very complex. That’s before you attach a very large, straight-lined greenhouse to the south side of your curved-wall building. Now go manage those acoustics. Continue reading

See You at the Tub!

Holik-BathtubRow-5282Los Alamos. It’s known for kooky scientists, scenic overlooks and an incomparable fusion of intellect and invention. This is the city where the neutrino was discovered, where the MagRay was developed, and it’s the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Here, creative thinking leads to supercomputers and rocket ships rather than paintings and sculptures. Los Alamos has a long history of striking out into unknown territory using its own brand of curiosity, resourcefulness and a remarkable ability to accomplish the impossible. When others say it can’t be done, they grab a pencil and start drawing up plans.

In keeping with that pioneering heritage, Los Alamos recently opened New Mexico’s very first brewing cooperative, the fourth such establishment in the nation. It all began four years ago when a group of long-time Los Alamos residents grew tired of seeing restaurants and bars come and go. They yearned for a gathering place to call their own—someplace that would serve the community while enduring the ups and downs of the restaurant industry. They noticed the growth of craft breweries in the state and nationwide, and decided a microbrewing co-op was a promising way to go.

With resident Micheline Devaurs at the lead, the group soon began meeting with the New Mexico Brewers Guild and with brewers around the state to help put together a plan. At first, the idea was met with skepticism: after all, no one had done anything like this in New Mexico before. Rather than having an owner, the brewery co-op would be owned by customers who support it by purchasing memberships. Decisions would be made by a board of directors rather than an owner. But, in true Los Alamos fashion, the founders were undeterred, and they forged ahead with the co-op plan. With the community’s support, they were able to raise $250,000, and soon, the project was underway.

As the co-op began to take shape, the board of directors hired Jason Fitzpatrick in February 2015 as the general manager. In March, Jason and the board selected their brewers, Hector Santana Jr. and Jason Kirkman. “Looking at the system and anticipating we’d produce three hundred barrels, we knew we’d need more than one,” Jason Fitzpatrick recalls. He also observes how the two brewers’ styles complement each other, saying, “Hector was at Santa Fe Brewing Company for six years, so he had a lot of experience in production. He’s detail oriented, fun to work with and just great to be around.” Jason Kirkman, on the other hand, provides the team with a creative flair and innovative ideas. Fitzpatrick elaborates, “Jason [Kirkman] has been a home brewer for over 20 years, so he’s well known in that community, and he brings a lot of experience with recipe building. I thought it would be a great balance between the two, and it has been!” Continue reading

Rowdy Resolutions for A Happy New Beer!

HappyNewBeer-2New Mexico really is a craft-beer lover’s paradise. The variety and quality of the local brewers truly leaves us spoiled for choice, and one could happily stick to the classics: La Cumbre Elevated IPA, Marble Red, Tractor Farmer’s Tan or Santa Fe Brewing’s Happy Camper. We’ve all got our favorites, and of course those go-to brews are comforting and steadfast. But in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I urge you to branch out and try something different in 2016. Here are just a few suggestions on how to tantalize your palate with something new and novel during the coming year.

Try a New Beer

One of the easiest ways to shake things up is try an experimental brew from a tried and true brewery. Nearly all established microbreweries create small-batch seasonals to give consumers something unusual, and to provide a testing ground for their most imaginative brewing ideas.

Santa Fe Brewing Company, for example, will soon offer La Bête Noire, a black session ale fermented in French oak barrels using unusual brettanomyces yeast. Santa Fe Brewing’s barrel artist Leif Rotsaert describes La Bête Noire as, “by far one of the most experimental and interesting projects the Los Innovadores team has yet undertaken. It has a strong earthy grassy aroma with notes of dark stone fruit and a very subtle hint of tobacco smoke combining with a roasty dry finish.” He explains that only a handful of breweries are experimenting with barrel aging using this type of yeast strain, but Santa Fe Brewing is experienced with this type of experimentation and has a long history of making wild ales and sour beers. They even won a World Beer Cup bronze medal in 2008 for a similar project. Continue reading

Taos Winter Wine Festival

TaosWinterWineFestWhy care? I mean, about anything, really, but…wine? I expect you to care about…wine? Really? When Beirut/Paris/Syria are rent by darkness, when Monsanto hijacks our grocery shelves and armed rightists visit slaughter upon caregivers, it’s hard to get it up for carbonic maceration. I understand. And yet…Wine—specifically the drinking of wine in a social milieu—pushes back against the darkness. Human conviviality offers respite. And something as silly as wine makes the world, and our place in it, briefly better. It’s worth bothering about.

Here’s an easy way to bother about wine—and maybe recover a little well-being—in Taos during the last weekend in January. The Town of Taos and the Village of Taos Ski Valley host a four-day wine event from Thursday, January 27 through Sunday, January 31. El Monte Sagrado is the in-town venue, hosting the Reserve Tasting (Thursday, Jan. 27) and half of the weekend’s seminars; TSV puts their Resort Center (at the base of Chair 1) to use as the site for the Grand Tasting (Saturday, Jan. 30) and for the balance of the seminars. The seminars are where it’s at for the geeky set; Bacchic irregulars can practice their rites at either of the big events. Serious wineries abound, too, with about 40 first-rank producers slipping into town to ski Taos and drink with Taoseños.

Start on Thursday evening (4:30 p.m.) at the Reserve Tasting and over-bid on the silent auction in order to support Taos High’s very sharp culinary arts program, The Great Chefs of Taos. Run by Mary Spears and Benjie Apodaca, the Great Chefs program has a handsome test-kitchen inside the high school that allows freshmen through seniors to earn credits while gaining basic-through-advanced culinary skills, impeccable sanitation practices and extern experience at large and small off-site events. A significant portion of their annual budget flows from fundraisers like this silent auction, so over-bid. And over-indulge: Taos restaurants bring appetizers and jostle three-dozen wineries bearing reserve-only bottlings. (Tickets: $75 and worth every penny.)

Seminars! Not strictly or solely for nerds and geeks, the five seminars offered this year span the globe and forge an intimate connection with some of the most committed and talented winemakers out there. Continue reading