As 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.”
At each of these establishments, the selection of beer is ever-changing, which practically guarantees something new on each visit, even for regulars. It’s all about creating the unique experiences customers crave. Steven contemplates, “Craft beer isn’t about finding something you like and sticking to it exclusively; it’s about tasting classic examples of all styles of beer, as well as interesting, experimental stuff.” He explains that the experimental nature of craft-beer culture provides, “a new sensory experience that you never would have thought possible until you decided to try what may have seemed inaccessible or too weird before.” He continues, “We like putting on rare beers and one-offs that may never be seen again.”
Micah echoes that sentiment, saying, “Changing our beer selection not only allows us the opportunity to showcase new beer styles, but also to have fun with seasonal tastes like our Cucumber Cream Ale, Punkin’ Ale and Chai Stout.” And Benji concurs: “We change our beer selection at the Piñon Pub because our customers enjoy variety, and breweries are constantly innovating––we get a lot of local and small-batch brews than you can’t find elsewhere in Santa Fe.”
Beer bars are a huge benefit to New Mexico brewers as well. These partnerships provide a market for the small-batch brews that don’t have the volume needed for package sales. As Benji explains, “We are a member of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, and coordinate with them to supply our customers with special one-off brews or small-batch stuff that’s a little outside the mainstream. New Mexico beer culture is great and growing each year, and we are excited to support the beer scene here in the Land of Enchantment.” Steven adds, “Violet Crown is proud to showcase great local brews from both established breweries in the area, as well as smaller operations that are trying to have their beer be seen more.” He points to one example, Boxing Bear Brewing, saying, “Boxing Bear just started distributing their kegs to draft accounts in the greater Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, and we try to always have their Paw Swipe, an American Pale Ale on draft, along with one of their seasonals, here and there.” He points out the mutually beneficial nature of the arrangement, saying, “Breweries and distributors alike know the places that are really into having a myriad of great craft beers on draft, and they allocate their limited releases accordingly. We also partner with local and regional breweries to host tap takeover nights where we will feature as many as nine different beers from the same entity.” These businesses act as a sort of middleman, connecting brewers with curious beer drinkers clamoring for something new and exciting.
These businesses are wisely aligning themselves with craft-beer culture, and it’s a win-win for everyone: visitors, locals, brewers and the businesses themselves. Steven summarizes by saying, “Beer people–and I mean those who consider what they are tasting and where it comes from––like variety, and they like it local. It cultivates appreciation and adds to a sense of place that one is in. Oftentimes, folks who come down from Colorado are more wanting to taste our New Mexico beers (even though we might have a few on from Colorado). Adventuresome beer travelers aren’t looking towards what they can get anywhere. A lot of New Mexico-made beer is only available in New Mexico, which is often the case with craft beer: the closest to the source, the fresher, and the better.”
And there you have it, the answer to our beer-sampling prayers. The new class of beer-focused bars are crowd-pleasing but not boring, and selective but not snobby. They allow each of us to take a mini-adventure around the state or even around the world and expand our flavor horizons from right here at home. What unknown brewery, obscure style, or small batch seasonal will you discover next?
Places to Visit
Beers on tap: approximately 15 (14 local)
Atmosphere: As home to one of the only balconies overlooking the Santa Fe plaza, Draft Station is ideal for people watching and outdoor drinking on long summer nights. 60 East San Francisco Street, draft-station.com, 505.983.6443.
Violet Crown Cinema
Beers on tap: 30 (local and non-local)
Atmosphere: This is a movie theater with refined sensibilities. Once you’ve watched a film in Violet Crown’s cushy seats with your favorite draught in hand, you’ll never look back. But what’s most surprising is that VC is worth a visit even if you aren’t watching a movie. As Bar Manager Steven Anderson says, “It may seem strange to some people that the place in Santa Fe with the best draft beer program is in a movie theater, but what better place for it than in the City Different?” 1606 Alcaldesa Street, santafe.violetcrown.com, 505.216.5678.
Piñon Pub at Whole Foods Market
Beers on tap: 24 taps (local and non-local)
Atmosphere: Casual and convivial. Piñon Pub’s four-for-$5 oysters on Friday and their convenient location make this an ideal spot for meeting friends after work or for chatting with strangers on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. 753 Cerrillos Road, wholefoodsmarket.com, 505.992.1700.
Also check out top local favorites, Fire & Hops at 222 North Guadalupe Street and Loyal Hound at 730 Saint Michaels Drive.
Beers on tap: 32 (all local)
Atmosphere: Upscale casual with a quirky side and a strong local focus. When it comes to keeping it local, Bistronomy simply can’t be beat. A great place for the deeply satisfying food combination of juicy burger and frothy beer. 3118 Central Avenue SE, bistronomyb2b.com, 505.262.2222.
Beers on tap: 40+ (mostly non-local)
Atmosphere: Slightly divey, overflowing with character. Sister Bar is less focused on local brews, but they do have a range of beers and regularly host special tappings and release parties for out-of-town breweries. Plus, you can get your nostalgia fix with their impressive collection of arcade games. 407 Central Avenue NW, sisterthebar.com, 505.242.4900.
Also check out: Draft Station Albuquerque, Billy’s Long Bar (Billy’s is less locally focused, but they’ve got 80 taps!)