A couple of days ago, I hit the send button on NEW MEXICO BEER: A HISTORY OF BREWING IN THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, to be published in the spring by The History Press. The project occupied most of the time that I ‘ve spent this year thinking and writing about beer. It was a wonderful experience.

First, I travelled all around New Mexico, visiting many places I’d probably never have gone to otherwise. The “Land of Enchantment” doesn’t have the lakes and forests that I’ve been used to most of my life; but the high desert has its own beauty. The bosque, the treed areas bordering the Rio Grande which travels north to south the length of the state, mark a strip of green in the brown landscape. Turnouts on the winding roads I drove to reach some of the remoter breweries look out on spectacular panoramas. And, when I was in Taos, the temperature hovered near minus 10 celcius and there was snow on the ground and on the mountain slopes. I almost thought I was back in Alberta.

Many of the breweries I visited were in converted warehouses spaces. But some were in unusual dwellings. One brewpub was in what had been a 1920s Penney’s department store, another in a late nineteenth century butcher shop, and a third in an old pharmacy that was said to be haunted. Two of the smallest brew houses were found at the edge of mountainous wildernesses. Abbey Brewing Company, run by Benedictine monks, has a pilot brewhouse in a small shed on the monastery grounds a few miles from Abiquiu. Comanche Creek Brewing, a few miles from Eagle Nest in the northeastern part of the state, is housed inside a 20 by 20 foot log cabin that once served as the blacksmith shop for a farm.

The brewers I met came from a variety of backgrounds. Most had been home brewers; many had been to professional brewing schools; a few had simply showed up at local breweries, badgered the people there to be part of the team, and then learned on the job. Several had left other professions to turn their passion for brewing into a profession. Many had been in the computer industry; one had been a music teacher on the Navajo reservation; one had made furniture; and one was a Benedictine monk.

The brewers shared a common trait: they loved making beer and they wanted to make the best beer they could. And they have certainly succeeded. At the 2013 Great American Beer Festivals, New Mexico brewers won eight medals, making the state one of the most successful in the competition. Among the brewers there exists what one called “cooperative competition.” They are always ready to help each other when necessary, but they certainly want whatever they’re brewing to be the best around. And that’s a good thing, because the healthy competition has made the beers of New Mexico get better each year.

And there’s more to come. Christopher Goblet, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, recently remarked: “We’ve just seen the beginning of what New Mexico has to offer. It’s going to get bigger and better.” When I hit the send button on NEW MEXICO BEER, there were 33 craft breweries and brewpubs operating in the state. By the end of 2014, the number will probably be at least 40.

Twenty-one of these microbreweries and brewpubs are located along Interstate 25, from Las Cruces to Las Vegas. Any one of them  would be worth a visit by snowbirds heading north or south. And, if you’re a visitor in the warmer weather, try the ones off the beaten track. You’ll see some great scenery, meet some very interesting brewers, and, most important, discover some great beers.

The New Mexico Brewers Guild, www.nmbeer.org, has a map and a directory of New Mexico Breweries.

Happy New Beer Year!

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