Archive for April, 2014


On Friday, I enjoyed the freshest can of beer I’d ever had. In fact, when I popped open the top, the beer had been in the can for less than six hours.

I’d dropped by Kellys in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district to see the new mobile canning unit that belonged to Mother Road Moble Canning. The company was in the middle of a three hour project that would end when they’d canned some 250 cases of the brewpub’s Session IPA. It was the fifth visit that Mother Road had made to Kellys in its first few weeks of operation.

Kellys brewer Dan Cavin explained that Mother Road’s David Smidt had gone to school with the daughter of Kellys owner, Dennis Bonfantine. “We had been talking about packaging beer and then David, remembering his school friend, contacted us about his new business.” Since the canning of two of Kellys most popular beers, Session IPA and Amber, began, the brewery’s production has almost tripled. “Soon we’re going to replace our 3.5 barrel brewing system with a 10 barrel one. Right now, we’re just in select Albuquerque stores, but with the new system, we’ll be able to cover most of Albuquerque and place the product in Santa Fe as well,” Cavin noted.

The Session IPA was Cavin’s interpretation of what has become one of the newest of the IPAs, something that is the direct opposite of the high alcohol hop bombs that are so often associated with the style. The idea is to keep the alcohol content below 5 per cent while, at the same time, sacrificing none of the hop aroma, flavors and bitterness that are so popular. You can have more than one or two without the alcoholic intake or the palate assault of the bigger varieties.

The can of my Session IPA listed the contents as being 4.8 ABV and 87 international bitterness units. The beer poured a dark golden color with a white, but quickly vanishing head. In spite of the stated IPU level, it didn’t taste all that bitter. The Eldorado, centennial, and CTZ hops did impart some bitterness and a piney, then grapefruity taste. There were definite malt notes that offered some counterbalance to the hops, somewhat in the manner of an English IPA.  The beer went down smoothly, as a session beer should.

I think I’ll try another!



NEW MEXICO BEER UPDATE: Albuquerque’s The Stumbling Steer

When I finished writing NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) last fall, one of the last things I noted was that the New Mexico beer scene was constantly expanding and changing, and that I’d use this blog to provide updates.

The book was officially published today and here is the first of what, given the vibrancy of New Mexico’s beer scene, will be many updates over the next few months.


3700 Ellison Rd, NW, Albuquerque, NM, 87114,  phone 505-792-7805;

In 2011, Min Lee returned from Southern California to his home town of Albuquerque to take a leading role in the family business:  Kelly’s Liquor Stores, the largest liquor chain in New Mexico. While living in San Diego, one of America’s great craft beer cities, he’d become very familiar with the area’s many brewpubs, especially the better-known gastrobrewpubs.  He hadn’t been back in the Duke City for long when he realized that his hometown had a strong and rapidly growing craft beer culture.  That’s when he began to consider opening a gastropub.

He needed a viable location and, at about this time, he learned that the Quarters Barbeque and Liquor store located on the city’s rapidly expanding west side was for sale. Situated at the busy intersection of Ellison and Alameda, and very close to Cottonwood Shopping Mall, it was easily accessible, had lots of parking, and was a very large building. Moreover, all of the nearby eating places were chain restaurants.  By putting a brewpub in the old Quarters building, he’d be establishing what people of Albuquerque were becoming increasingly partial to: a locally owned restaurant that made its own beer.

He invited two of his San Diego friends, Sonny Jensen and Kirk Roberts, both veterans of the brewpub business, to become partners, along with Thanawat Bates, a chief with extensive experience at major restaurants, and Luka Park. The group came up with the name the Stumbling Steer, and, to complete the western theme, completely renovated the interior of the building with rustic wood and brick finishes. Also included in the over 1.5 million dollars worth of makeovers was an expansion of the covered patio which looked out at the Sandia Mountains. The patio would not only provide shaded dining space during the warm spring and hot summer days and evenings, it would be outfitted with a large screen on which to show films for a weekly “Beer, Dinner, and a Movie Night.”

The Stumbling Steer is intended to be not just a place for west-siders on their way from shopping or work. It is also intended to be a destination for people from other parts of Albuquerque and nearby Coralles, Rio Rancho, and Bernalillo. Sonny Jensen, who began working in restaurants in the San Diego area as a 14-year-old dishwasher and has had 15 years in brewpub management, says that the excellence of the food, which will be a high end version of familiar pub grub, and the beer will be the attractions. “Chef T,” as Jensen and the other partners call Bates, “will offer ribs, but they may be Korean style. And the BLT sandwich will be made with pork belly.”

Brewer Kirk Roberts had been in the computer industry and had turned to homebrewing as a way of relieving the tedium of his job. Turning his hobby into a new profession, he began to work at Newport Beach Brewing Company before moving to The Beer Company, which was managed by Jensen and visited by Min Lee.  In 2012, his Manhattan Project Ale, a wee heavy Scotch ale that had been conditioned in barrels that once contained the mix for Manhattan cocktails, won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal.

Roberts describes his brewing style as “San Diego style,” and goes on to explain how important hops are in his beer, especially his IPAs and Pale Ales. Jensen, listening to Kirk’s description, adds: “In San Diego, an IPA has to be hoppy and good, or don’t bother making it.” Stumbling Steer’s pale ale is 6 per cent alcohol by volume; the IPA, 6.5 per cent; and the double IPA, 10 per cent (limit of two to a customer). But not all the beers Roberts has created are hop bombs or big beers. There is a blonde ale (4 per cent), a wheat (4.6 per cent), and a brown (5 per cent).  The imperial stout, at 9.5 per cent, is Stumbling Steer’s other big beer.

The most interesting piece of beer making equipment, won’t be housed in the soon to be completed 20 barrel brewhouse. “Randall, the Enamel Animal,” will sit atop the bar. In addition to the enamel base that gives it its name, it has two glass columns with couplings to attach hoses on each of them. One of the columns is filled with a flavoring additive, perhaps a special hop variety, coffee or vanilla beans, figs, or fruits. The beer is filtered through the flavoring, transferred to the second column and dispensed from there. “Randall” makes it possible for the brewpub to provide a variety of different flavors to any one of their base beers without having to tie up conditioning tanks.

Randall won’t be placed anywhere near the edge of the bar. None of the partners wants to have a stumbling steer bump against the bar, tip Randall over and break him. He’s a small animal, but he certainly isn’t cheap.


Friday, April 11, was a pleasantly warm eveningin Bernalillo County, a perfect time for sitting on the porch, sipping a beer. That’s what Mike Campbell, the brewer at Rio Rancho’s Las Cazuelas Mexican Grill and Brewery was doing. He was also watching the Awards Ceremony from the World Beer Cup, which was being streamed from Denver. He wasn’t just curious — he’d entered three of his own brews in the competition.

When the awards for the Oatmeal Stout category were announced, he smiled broadly. His “Beer for My Horses Oatmeal Stout,” named after a Willie Nelson song had earned a bronze. Two other New Mexican beers won medals: Marble’s Pilsner took the gold in the Kellerbier/Zwickel category, while Il Vicino Canteen’s Panama Joe’s Coffee Stout, garnered a silver in the Coffee Beer category.

It was the first major medal for Las Cazuelas; Il Vicino garnered a gold for its Panama Joe at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival; Marble’s Pilsner earned a silver in the same competition.

“I use dark crystal and chocolate malts in the stout,” Campbell explained. “And I also include oats that I buy from Village Mercantile in Corrales. The beer is dark black, but clear, with a tan head and nice lacing. It goes down very easy. I add just enough hops to smooth some of the roasted notes in the malts.”

Il Vicino’s Panama Joe’s is the creation of Zack Guilmette, who recently became the head brewer at Albuquerque’s Chama River. “The stout base complements the coffee. It has a creamy body. I steep the coffee for a few days in cold water.  The eight percent alcohol adds sweetness and body.  We called it Panama Joe’s after the type of coffee beans and the fact that one of the slang terms for coffee is Joe.”

Although it won it’s medal in the kellerbier category rather than the German pilsner category (which it took a medal in 2013), it’s the same beer that is bottled as “Pilsner”. The kellerbier/zwickel terms refer to the unfiltered brewing technique. It is breadier than Czech and most North American pilsners. Interestingly enough, Marble’s Ted Rice won a bronze medal for his Chama River zwickel at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.

Reflecting on his Friday night experience, Campbell said that the fact New Mexico beers consistently win at major beer festivals, “makes you be proud to be part of the New Mexico brewing community. So many people are making such great beers, it makes everyone work hard to be the best that they can be.”