At first glance, Duel Brewing is deceptively inconspicuous. It’s tucked back in a business park off Siler Road; not the sort of place you happen upon during a day out strolling the streets of Santa Fe. You almost have to be looking for it to find it, and that’s part of the allure. It’s one of Santa Fe’s secret places, popular among locals and deliciously far off the beaten path. Its quiet exterior hasn’t stopped it from getting locals’ attention—and carving out a unique niche in the Santa Fe brewery scene.
Once inside, as one patron put it, “it’s like a whole other world.” The tap room is surprisingly spacious, with no TV sets but instead a collection of thought-provoking paintings and art objects adorning the walls. The U-shaped bar invites conversation even amongst strangers. Despite the high ceilings and sparse décor, it somehow manages to feel cozy and welcoming. This is partly because of the friendly and laid-back wait staff, and partly because of owner Trent Edwards’ motivations. “I just want people to feel good when they are here,” he says.
And feel good, they do. Every type of Santa Fean seems to come to Duel to relax and unwind, and everyone seems to be comfortable here. You’ll see a real cross section of the city here: young, old, artists, musicians, athletes, foodies, Spanish speakers, English speakers, misfits, rebels, beer enthusiasts and beer newbies—and everyone looks like they belong. “Beer has always brought people together,” Trent says, “and that’s what we’re doing.”
Duel couldn’t have picked a better time to start bringing people together with beer. Craft brewing has seen a huge increase in popularity over the past decade, and the growth of microbreweries has easily outpaced the growth of corporate titans like Anheuser-Busch. Beer connoisseurs debate the merits of cascade or centennial hops, savor the flavors from various malts or yeasts and match their beer to the season, their moods and their foods. There’s no doubt that the number of microbreweries opening in the U.S. has exploded and the public’s appreciation for craft beers is on the rise.
Sipping on a glass of Duel Tableaux, it’s easy to see why. The beer arrives in a lovely tulip glass, a beautiful deep chocolatey brown and brimming with stiff foam. It’s a barrel-aged Sour Dark Ale, and it’s smooth as can be. There’s very little bitterness to Duel’s beer; in fact, it’s almost sweet. Despite its high alcohol content, it’s extremely easy to drink. Duel offers a constantly changing selection of beers, which range in color from the deepest brown to pale yellow, in styles from light Wittbier to Strong Dark Ale. Many of them are named for artists: there’s Goya, Titian, Duchamp and the latest release, Grunewald. For anyone who’s unsure of which beer to select, a tasting flight is also available.
But Duel is more than just Santa Fe’s newest brewery. As Trent puts it, “Beer is the core of what we are doing, but it’s not everything. Duel is a venue that contains good beer but the soul of it is something else. It’s a project, and many hands are involved.”
The tale of how the Duel project come to life is a classic Santa Fe story, replete with serendipity and, of course, a touch of fate. Trent became curious about beer brewing after tasting several high-end beers and he decided to give brewing a try. Shortly thereafter, the pieces fell into place. He found a location in the middle of town, in a relatively quiet part of the city, though still just off Cerrillos Road. The landlord was willing to work with him on creating the space for Duel Brewery, and shortly after opening, the community came out and gave Duel their support, their ideas and their participation.
Duel’s management regularly solicits feedback from the community. In fact, that’s how it has turned into one of Santa Fe’s best no-cover local music venues, with an eclectic mix of acts, from bluegrass to bossa nova. When asked if music was part of his intent when he began, Trent readily admits that it was not. It was something that customers asked for, and he delivered. “I’m just open to what’s coming in the door,” Trent says.
The brewery’s openness to new ideas has also led to several unusual events, like the Bike & Brew Waffle Ride in May, an early morning bike ride to the brewery where cyclists were greeted with waffles and beer. A Life Drawing Session is held every Sunday at 11 a.m. For $25, Duel provides the live model, a waffle and a beverage of your choice.
As a fine artist himself, Trent embraces the fluidity of the artistic process, and it’s that spirit of creation that Duel Brewery embodies: from its beers to its culture, it is constantly developing and reinventing itself. Duel’s flexibility appears to be the key to its success; by responding to what the people want, it’s able to fill a yearning amongst Santa Feans eager to stake out a place of their own. It’s authentically quirky, not in a self-conscious “look how funky we are” sort of way. Part of Duel’s charm is how it embraces the human element in business with honesty and enthusiasm. The result is a distinct and offbeat character.
The local nature of the enterprise goes beyond the music and events—it also includes the food. An eclectic, locally-sourced menu is assembled in Duel’s modest kitchen. “I wouldn’t call it a full kitchen,” Trent jokes. Duel’s cooking arsenal may be missing a stove, but the staff produces an amazing variety of food from the few basic tools they do have. Rather than relying on elaborate techniques, the menu plays to Duel’s strengths: exceptional food sourcing and partnerships with other community businesses. For example, the brats that accompany the Brussels-Style Waffles come from Alpine Sausage Kitchen in Albuquerque, the cheese on the Cheese Plate is from Bountiful Cow Cheese Company in Santa Fe and the bread is baked by Fano Bread Company, also in Albuquerque. The Santa Fe-based Cocopelli Chocolatiers provides custom-made Belgian chocolates inspired by Duel’s beers, using orange peel, coriander and Duel waffle syrup as inspiration.
“We try to offer food that’s as local as possible,” Trent says, “and we also want to keep our prices affordable.” The result is a menu that offers a little of everything. There is a variety of savory sandwiches available, like the Grilled Rueben, which comes out gooey and dripping on a thick slab of perfectly toasted rye bread. For small appetites, theere is light fare like salads, hummus and tapenade plates.
Duel also does some pretty interesting things with its waffles. You can start with straight up waffles and build your meal from there, adding sweet toppings, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or savory accompaniments, such as brats, spicy sausages or cheese. For more adventurous waffle lovers, there are two waffle-inspired sandwiches: the Waffle Cristo and the Waffle Monte, both twists on a classic Monte Cristo sandwich. Of course, the waffle dishes are always served with Duel syrup, made with the brewery’s own Imperial Dark beer.
Always looking to change things up, Trent has big plans for the future. He aims to more than double Duel’s current occupancy and expand into the space next door. The loft area, which currently houses offices, will be turned into upstairs seating with a second bar. A 12 by 20 foot raised stage is in the works to accommodate Duel’s growing presence as a music and entertainment venue. To keep pace with larger crowds, it will also double brewery production to make sure the taps keep flowing.
“Passion is what makes us alive,” says Trent, and you can see that passion hard at work at Duel Brewery. Everyone there is doing what they enjoy doing. They’re having a ball and it shows. Perhaps most importantly, Duel is a place everyone can make their own and feel a part of. It’s a brewery that’s committed to evolving with Santa Fe. It’s a collaborative project with beer, art and community, and everyone is invited to join in and take a seat at the bar.
Duel Belgian Style Brewery and Taproom is located at 1228 Parkway Drive in Santa Fe. 505.474.5301. duelbrewing.com.
Story and photos by Melyssa Holik