Whenever I drive through eastern Oregon, I always stop at Baker City. That’s because it’s the home of Barley Brown’s Brewpub, the winner of oodles of medals at the Great American Beer Festival. In the last four years they’ve picked up five gold, six silver, and four bronze awards.
Last week, I made a visit to talk with general manager Tyler Brown and head brewer Eli Dickison. They were just finishing up a brew of their Hot Blonde, immersing a bag of chopped jalapenos into the conditioning tank. Eli told me that the beer used a blonde ale base, which gives the end product a smoothe maltiness. The jalapenos provide flavorful, slightly piquant, and a little sharp contrast. After I’d tried a sip, I immediately orders some bottles to take back to New Mexico. My friends in Albuquerque pronounced it much better than any chili beer they’d tasted from the Land of Enchantment.
Dickison also makes two other chili beers. Joan (named after a redhead in the TV series Mad Men) is a combination of chili and ginger with a red ale base. In the winter he makes a jalapeno stout.
This fall the Great American Beer Festival will include a chili beer category in its competition. You’ve got to bet that Barley Brown’s Hot Blonde will be one of the favorites to win a medal.



During the early 1960s, when we travelled frequently on US Highway 2 between Spokane and Vancouver, BC, Leavenworth (located west of Wenatchee) was a dying logging town. It isn’t a dying logging down any more — it’s a thriving tourist destination.

It seems that over four decades ago, concerned town leaders decided the way to save the town was to make it a place tourists wanted to come — and created a plan to make the place look like an alpine Bavarian town. It worked and the town began to grow, not shrink.

It even had a brewery, Leavenworth Ales. But in the early part of the century, the company merged with Fishtail Brewing in Olympia and moved to the Puget Sound city. Then, on a trip to Germany five or six years ago, Pam and Oliver Brulotte, owners of the Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill and Beer Garden, realized that their town couldn’t be truly Bavarian without its own craft brewery. And so was born the idea for Icicle Brewing (it takes its name from the Anglo mispronunciation of the waterway the Native people called na-sik-elt).

Wandering through Leavenworth on a recent journey from Albuquerque to Victoria, BC, I immediately spotted the brewery (I have a nose or an instinct for such places). Gretchen Wearne, the tap room manager, enthusiastically welcomed me. A graduate of San Francisco and by her own admission a one time drinker of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Blue Moon wheat beer, she’d come to Wenatchee to work with AmeriCorps. A summer job at the new brewpub seemed like a fun idea, so she moved to Leavenworth and has been at Icicle ever since — becoming along the way very knowledgeable about craft beer and the craft brewing industry.

She showed me the 25 barrel brewing system, which last year produced 4500 barrels of beer, available not only in the tap room but around Washington state east of the Cascades. I briefly met Dean Peibe, the head brewer, an engineering graduate of the University of Washington who used to home brew in his dorm room and later apprenticed with Seattle’s Pike Brewing. He was in the middle of meetings and could only chat briefly.

Then came the best part sampling two of Dean’s creations: Crosscut Pilsner and Dark Persuasion German Chocolate Cake Ale. I’m not usually a fan of beer with additives, but this was surprisingly good. It’s a hopped down version of Peibe’s robust porter which is infused, post fermentation, with cocoanut extract and cocoa power. It would be a great dessert beer to go along with a rich vanilla bean ice cream.

Knowing that I still had a couple of hours of driving ahead of me and that I had to limit my sampling, Gretchen generously presented me with four 22 ounce bottles of their year-around beers. In addition to the German chocolate cake (which did go well with ice cream) and the Pilsner (which started with a slightly sweet maltiness and ended with a crispness contributed by the various Noble hops used), there was an IPA and an Amber. Bootjack IPA at 6.5 per cent ABV and 64 IBUs was in no way a hop bomb, but it had a very nice balance of hops and malts. Dirty Face Amber Lager (not a style that I usually like) was well-rounded and had a crisp hop finish.

It certainly won’t be another 50 years before a drive through Leavenworth — because I’d be 125 years old them. But even if I did achieve that longevity, I wouldn’t want to wait that long to enjoy Icicle Brewing’s beers again. Going through Leavenworth takes me over a hundred miles off the direct route from Albuquerque to Victoria. But I’ll definitely do it again next year — every extra mile will be worth it.






When Albuquerque was recently named the fourth best American city for beer lovers, one of the reasons given was the growling number of brewpubs in the Duke City. Indeed, in the eight months after NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) went to the printers, eight new breweries or brewpubs opened here. Today, we profile Lizard Tail Brewing, 9800 Montgomery Boulevard.

It begins as a familiar story, two home brewing buddies, in this case Dan Berry and Ken Rhoades, start receiving more and more complements about the beer they are making. One of them, Dan, feels the need to seek a more creative and challenging career. And so after nearly two decades of amateur brewing, he makes the decision to go pro and invites Ken to join him.

But why, Dan and Ken were asked, start another brewery in a city that already had close to a dozen already. “We felt there was a niche. There was only one brewery [Sandia Chili Grill] in the northeast part of town. And, with most people concentrating on big hoppy beers, we wanted to provide beers that were more malt forward. And, we also liked Belgian beers. Some of the other breweries had one or two; we wanted to offer a range.”

“The whole process took close to five years,” Dan remembers. One of the earliest steps was to enroll in an eight month course with the American Brewers Guild in Vermont. “It’s something every home brewer who thinks he wants to make a living making beer must do,” he comments. “There’s just so much to learn.”

Finding a name for their new venture proved a challenge. “We made a list of nearly forty names,” Ken Rhoades said. “Then when we went through the list, we found some of our names were the same or to close to those of other breweries. We’d thought about the name Obsidian.” But that was what Deschutes called one of their brews. When the list was winnowed down, Lizard Tail seemed most appropriate for New Mexico.

“One of the names we didn’t use was Three Green Goats,” Ken laughed. Colorful, different — but it might not create the right image for the beer.

Finding a home for the brewery was somewhat easier. In 2012, Bad Ass Brewery had ended its brief and frequently troubled existence and departed from its strip mall headquarters. “The landlord had kept the brewing equipment in payment for rent owed,” Dan explained. “And so the Bad Ass location and the brewing equipment came with the lease Berry and Rhoades negotiated. Berry assumed head brewer duties and Rhoades oversaw the business side of operations.

Dan decided to make the brewery’s first offering a brown ale. “We wanted a session style ale, something malty, but something that didn’t use a lot of grain. We need our recipe to produce an economical version of a malt forward beer.”

The chalk board above the bar at Lizard Tail lists a wide array of beers: twelve of them regular offerings and four special offerings of Belgian styles. “We wanted to have something for everyone,” Dan remarked. “Whitetail Weiss” and “Blue Tail Blonde” are for drinkers fairly new to the craft beer scene. The former is 4.2 per cent alcohol by volume and the latter 5.0. There is a honey pale ale, an IPA and an ESB, an amber, and a brown ale, all of them under six per cent.  Desert Dweller Dubbel and Desert Night India Black Ale, are the strongest regulars at 6.8 per cent ABV each. Nor, by Albuquerque standards are the beers very hoppy. Eleven are rated at under 60 International Bitterness Units. Reptilian IPA, Desert Night Black IPA and Black Bearded Rye Stout are all at 70 IBUs.

The day I visited in early February, Belgian Abbey (7.1 per cent ABV), Belgian Strong dark (10.5 ABV), Biscochito Brown (8.0 ABV), and Oatmeal Stout (5.8 ABV) were the listed seasonal beers.

In describing the house style of Lizard Tail, Berry commented: “We wanted something for everyone. We started classic versions of the well-known styles and then tweaked the recipes to provide our own interpretations. We wanted balance and complexity. We wanted people to notice the subtle mix of flavors in each of our brews.”

Desert Tail does not offer food. However, patrons are welcome to bring their own eats or to pick up something from the restaurants that are nearby in the complex. There are two special nights each week. Monday is Open Mike night and Tuesday is Geeks Who Drink, a trivia challenge night.


A NEW MEXICO BEER update: Brewsical Chairs II

In today’s post, we complete our profiles of head brewers who have assumed their posts since the publication of NEW MEXICO BEER (The History Press) in April.

On a small platform just inside the brew house at Nexus Brewery and Restaurant stand a pair of pink boots. They belong to Kaylynn McKnight who became the establishment’s head brewer after Manuel Mussen moved back to California in the spring. And, they are an emblem signifying Kaylynn’s membership in the “Pink Boots Society,” an organization of made up of women who work in the brewing profession. Kaylynn is proud not only to display them, but also to wear them — they indicate that she is part of a relatively small, but growing segment of the modern brewing industry. Centuries ago, most brewing was done by women; but with the industrialization of brewing in the nineteenth century, the role was assumed by men. But things are changing — and Kaylynn, one of four female brewers in New Mexico, is part of that change.

Kaylynn, who grew up in the Albuquerque, remembers how, as a child, she frequently smelled the aromas of her father’s homebrewing efforts. “At first I didn’t like the smell, or the taste of hops,” she remembers. “But I gradually got to like it.” The liking grew when she and her brother brewed a few batches of their own and increased further when she began a job as a server at Chama River, the Albuquerque gastro-pub.

‘I used to harass Ted Rice and Jeff Erway to let me go back into the brew house. I thought it was fascinating. And when Jeff opened La Cumbre in 2010 I applied for a job in the brewery.” Her first duties were far from glamorous: scrubbing floors, cleaning tansk, and finally transferring beers from one tank to another. Her duties increased and as La Cumbre’s production increased, she spent more time involved in the actual brewing process. “I had really good teachers, first Ted Rice and then Jeff Erway, and then Daniel Jaramillo.

Early this year, when Manuel Mussen decided to return to California, he recommended that Kaylynn apply for his job at Nexus. It was just another example of what she calls the “like a family” relationship that exists among New Mexico brewers. “We borrow materials from each other and help each other with our problems. Of course, we like to compete against each other. It’s a healthy, friendly rivalry and it makes all of us work to be better.”

Moving from La Cumbre to Nexus required an adjustment. “La Cumbre was a production brewery, we were always busy working to meet the demand — and it kept growing. Here, we are making less beer; it’s mainly for the restaurant. So we have more time to plan and to focus on developing or tweaking recipes.”

There was also a change involved in going from a brewery where the emphasis was on hop-forward beers to one where malts played a greater roll. ‘It was a challenge. I’ve spent a lot of time concentrating on the qualities that each malt gives to a specific beer. Ken [Carson, owner of Nexus] told me I wasn’t to change the Scottish ale. That was his favorite. And I didn’t want to alter the Imperial Cream Ale, which won a medal at the World Beer Cup. But I have tweaked some of the recipes. The IBUs [international bitterness units] are higher than they used to be.”

She has also had a chance to develop some unusual beers. “I had fun developing Honey Chamomile Wheat”. I used 4.5 pounds of fresh chamomile flowers.”

Kaylynn has followed in the footprints of some of New Mexico’s most respected brewers. Now she has a chance to make her own footprints — with her pink boots and her brewing skills.


James Warren didn’t travel from Beaumont, Texas, to New Haven, Connecticut because of beer. It was to be with his girl-friend, who was attending Yale University. But not long after his arrival, beer became an important part of his life. “One day, I went on a brewery tour at New England Brewing Company, in New Haven. I was fascinated and decided that, instead of becoming a teacher, I’d like to become a brewer.”

Warren  joined New England Brewing, starting by working on the canning line, and then moving up. He also studied brewing at the American Brewers’ Guild. “I also worked at BruRm at Bar, a local brewpub, helping out where I could.  So, over a few years, I had good practical experience working at a production brewery and a brewpub.”

Although James gained valuable experience and enjoyed living in New England, the Southwest beckoned. “My grandparents had a summer cabin near Glorietta, and I used to spend time there. When I realized Connecticut was over, I applied to breweries in Arizona and New Mexico.”

He was interviewed by the Santa Fe Dining Group for the Chama River head brewer’s job left vacant by the departure of Justin Hamilton to start his own brewery, Boxing Bear. “I didn’t get the job, but the Santa Fe Dining people told me that they would be looking for a new brewer to take over from John Bullard, who was leaving Blue Corn, in Santa Fe, and they asked if I’d be interested.”

Warren was, and arrived in the City Different in the summer. And it was different, not just because the weather was hot and dry instead of hot and humid. “In New England, the beers were much more malt-forward than they are in New Mexico. I arrived here not long before the New Mexico IPA challenge and tasting the beers in the competition, I quickly gained an understanding of the New Mexico beer culture. They love their hops here!”

Since arriving at Blue Corn, James has worked at becoming familiar with the characteristics of the  brewpub’ s core beer list. “I’ve followed John Bullard’s recipes, but made a few tweaks here and there. If anything, I’m focusing less on IBUs than I am on the aromas the hops contribute. And I’m working on developing some of the darker, maltier beers.” His success with darker beers was illustrated this fall when Blue Corn Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout earned its third gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. “The recipe isn’t much different from John’s, which won a gold last year,” he remarked, going on to say he’d tweaked it a little — making it slightly less hoppy.

Asked about his overall style approach, he reiterated that he was a malt-forward brewer. “There are so many beautiful things you can do with malts!” he exclaimed. And then he confessed with a chuckle: “If you look in my fridge at home, more often than not you’ll find some cans of Oskar Blues Old Chub.”

That’s an eight percent Scottish ale — and you can’t get much maltier than that!


A NEW MEXICO BEER Update: Brewsical Chairs Part I

Shortly after NEW MEXICO BEER (History Press) went to the printers, a major shuffle occurred among New Mexico brewers. Award winning Blue Corn brewer John Bullard accepted the post of head brewer of Albuquerque’s rapidly growing Bosque Brewing. Nexus’s brewer Manuel Mussen departed for San Francisco. Turtle Mountain’s Mark Matheson decided to retire, and Justin Hamilton left Chama River to start his own brewery, Boxing Bear.

That left four openings for head brewers. One vacancy was filled by a brewer from outside the state; the other three jobs went to assistant brewers from Albuquerque breweries. John Warren came to Blue Corn from New England Brewing Company in Connecticut. Kaylynn McKnight moved from La Cumbre to Nexus; Zach Guilmette from Il Vicino (Canteen Brewery) to Chama River; and Tim Woodward from Chama River to Turtle Mountain.

In this post, we’ll profile Zach Guilmette and Tim Woodward; in a later post we’ll write about Kaylynn McKnight and James Warren.

ZACH GUILMETTE dates his first beer experience to the year he turned seven and raided the keg his father kept in the garage. Born and raised in Vermont, he discovered three of that state’s best known craft breweries — Long Trail, Magic Hat, and Otter Creek — whole attending college. But it wasn’t until the mid 1990s, when he made an extended road trip across the country, that he decided he’d like to become a brewer. “I lived in my van for eight months and visited 43 states. I tasted local craft beer everywhere I went and that’s when I realized that brewing was what I wanted to as a profession.”

He got his first brewery job, a rather unglamorous one washing kegs at Albuquerque’s Kellys, then returned to Vermont where he found a job at Otter Creek and began taking courses from the American Brewers Guild. “It was a production brewery and I worked for a few months each brewing, filtering, and cellaring. It was a great opportunity to learn all the steps of brewing.”

But he didn’t want to stay in New England. The Land of Enchantment had enchanted him and he wanted to get back to New Mexico. A job became available at Sierra Blanca brewery in Moriarty, which he took. After a year and a half, he moved to Il Vicino. The popular Albuquerque brewpub/pizzeria had just opened a new, enlarged  brewhouse and both the owners and head brewer Brady McKeown were interested in expanding the beer offerings beyond the style-standard (and very good) offerings they now had.

“Brady gave the assistant brewers opportunity to play around, to make departures from current recipes and to experiment with new, unusual style variations,” Zach remarked enthusiastically. One of the recipes Brady asked him to develop was what became known as “Panama Joe Coffee Stout” — which won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. Another unusual beer recipe he enjoyed creating was for a chocolate cherry doppelbock called Smooth Operator.

Like nearly all brewers, Zach had a dream of running his own brewhouse. The opportunity to do so arrived early this year. When John Bullard decided to leave Santa Fe’s Blue Corn for Bosque, Guilmette decided to apply for his job. But he realized that he wanted to stay in Albuquerque. Then, when Justin Hamilton left Charma River to start his own brewery, Santa Fe Dining (owners of Blue Corn and Chama River) asked him to consider that job. He did, and became head brewer in spring 2014.

The lover of recipe making tinkered with the recipes he inherited at Chama River, not radically altering them but adjusting them to reflect his own approach to brewing. The biggest change was in transforming Class VI Golden Lager from a German to a Bohemian Pils. I like clean crisp beers, so I used a lot of Saaz hops.” The beer won a gold medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

When you visit Chama River, you can depend on experiencing Zach’s unique interpretations of the restaurant’s year-round menu beers, and you can also look forward to the recipe-creator’s unique offerings. One of these is a rauch beer — a beechwood smoked lager.

TIM WOODWARD, like many brewers, began as a homebrewer. But he isn’t a homebrewer who decided it would be fun to turn his hobby into a profession. He knew he wanted to become a professional brewer and decided that the best initial steps to achieving that goal would be to learn about the process of brewing by making his own.

The Albuquerque native confessed that, “like everyone, I started out drinking crappy beer. And then I was introduced to craft beer at Chama River — when Ted Rice was the brewer. I fell in love with craft beer. It was satisfying and perplexing, dynamic and complex. I felt that wine couldn’t complete with beer, which had such depth, which had an infinite number of scenarios.”

In addition to developing a friendship with Ted Rice, Tim got to know Jeff Erway and his assistant Kaylynn McKnight. Kaylynn told him that Justin needed an assistant at Chama River, and he began working there and taking courses at the American Brewers Guild. “Then, this spring, Jeff who is a good friend with Nico Ortiz at Turtle Mountain told me that Nico was looking for a new brewer.

At both Chama River and Turtle Mountain, he enjoyed the challenge of working with the kitchen, thinking up ways to make beer and food complement each other. “The food connection adds an artistic level to the making of beer.”

Moving to Turtle Mountain offered Tim and new challenge, as Nico had been considering retiring the present house beers and creating new recipes. “We wanted to bring Turtle Mountain to the forefront of local people’s minds when they thought of beer,” he explained.

He did admit that the beer drinking demographics were slightly different in Rio Rancho than in Albuquerque. “You have to pay attention to these demographics,” he explained. “Rio Rancho beer drinkers know what they want. They don’t experiment as much as in Albuquerque. But you have to provide quality versions of what they want.” That includes a cream ale, a helles, amber — all easily accessible to new craft beer drinkers, and a white IPA, and IPA, and a porter for those who are more adventurous.  Of Hopshell IPA, he jokingly remarks, that, like most good New Mexico IPAs, “It doesn’t punch you in the face; it holds you as it gently lowers you to the ground.”

Both Zach Guilmette and Tim Woodward have achieved their goals of running their own brewhouses. Now they have the opportunity of combining their training and skills with imaginative flair and creativity to provide the patrons of Chama River and Turtle Mountain not only with outstanding versions of familiar styles, but also with exciting new experiences in craft beer enjoyment.








NINETY-NINE BOTTLES # 8: A little bit of Old Belgium in Fort Collins, Colorado

On the western side of Interstate 25, just north of Fort Collins, Colorado, sprawls the giant Anheuser-Busch brewing complex. Since 2008, it’s been a member of the Anheuser-Bush InBev conglomerate based in Leuven, Belgium. And, as if to enhance it’s Belgian credentials, it has been brewing the “Shock Top” brand of what it calls “Belgian style” beers. But it’s main product is still Budweiser, “The King of Beers,” which, as many people have pointed out, is somewhat oxymoronic, considering that America is a democracy, not a monarchy.

Not visible from the freeway, but only a mile or so away, stands New Belgium Brewing Company. Although, unlike Budweiser, it is a wholly American company, New Belgium is closer in spirit to Belgium than the giant complex sprawling beside the freeway. When Jeff Lebesch and his then wife Kim Jordan took a bicycle tour through Belgium, they were so impressed with the many small breweries they visited, that they decided to start their own brewery in their garage, and to specialize in Belgian style beers. Stated in 1991, it had by 2013 become the third largest craft brewing company in the United States and had begun plans for opening a second brewery in the Ashville, North Carolina area.

I wouldn’t, on principle, visit the Anheuser-Busch plant. And I haven’t been able to schedule a tour of New Belgium. But there is another Fort Collins brewery with Belgian ties that I stop by whenever I pass by Fort Collins. It’s not big (although it’s growing), but it sure does make good beer. And when I arrive at either my Canadian or New Mexican destination, my beer loving friends anxiously inquire if I’ve made a stop in Fort Collins.

The place is called Funkwerks; it produces Belgian style beers, specializing on saisons, or farmhouse ales; and its so close to I 25 and you’re in a hurry to get out of the area before the rush hour begins but you want to take some of the beers with you, you can be of the highway, make the half mile trip to the brewery at 1900 E. Lincoln Avenue, Unit B, buy some of the 750 ounce bottles, and get back on the freeway in under half an hour.

The brewery is relatively new, having been founded in 2009 by Brad Lincoln and Gordon Schuck, two craft beer aficionadoes and dedicated home brewers who met while taking brewing courses at the Seibel Institute in Chicago. The two decided to open a microbrewery in Fort Collins. The city was a microbrewing hub, with over a half dozen breweries serving a very knowledgeable group of beer drinkers. “The city was big enough and had so many devotes of craft beer that we were sure it could support another brewery,” Schuck explained to me when I arrived at the brewery with enough time to stop and chat. “Both Brad and I were lovers of Belgian style beers, and we felt there would be a niche for a brewery offering just Belgian styles.”

Funkwerks soon became very popular, not only in Fort Collins, but around the state. And it quickly became very respected. In 2011, its Saison, won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival; and in 2012, the brewery won golds for the Saison and for Deceit a Belgian-style strong ale. It was also named the small brewing company of the year.

Funkwerks offers three different saison-style ales, Montagne, Saison, and King, along with a variety of other Beglian-style ales. The one I stock up on is simple titled Saison. It’s a 6.8 per cent ABV beer. It is a rich orange in color with a sold white head. There are notes of passion fruit, tangerine, and black pepper. It is somewhat citrusy, and finishes dry. It is based on the beer that was served to Belgian farm workers to slake their thirst after a hot, dusty day laboring in the fields.  But you don’t need to sign up for farm labor to enjoy it, and you don’t need to stop drinking it when the harvest is in. it is really a beer for all  “saisons.”

And so — if you’re driving on Interstate 25 past Fort Collins, you could stop and tour the Budweiser conglomerate. Or you should take the short trip off the freeway to 1900 E. Lincoln Avenue, Unit B, to Funkwerks, sample their beers and buy a couple of bottles to enjoy when you reach your final destination.

But, unless you’ve bought more than a couple of bottles, don’t tell your friends. It’s nice to share great beer, but you want to make sure you have enough left to enjoy yourself.





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; http://www.stumblingsteer.com

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.”


Canned beer has been around for a long time, since the mid 1930s. And, since 1959, when Coors introduced the first aluminum cans it has become the preferred type of packaging for beer.

But only recently in the craft brewing industry. You see, canning lines were very expensive and preprinted cans had to be ordered in vast quantities. Most craft brewers simply couldn’t afford the cash outlay. And besides, beer snobs, which included drinkers and some brewers, thought that the idea of a can smacked too much of the megabrewers. If you wanted beer from a can, the reasoning seemed to be, why not have a Miller, Bud, or Coors, or — worse yet — Milwaukee’s Best or Old Milwaukee? One well-known craft brewer was heard say that he’d never put his product in cans.

It was some two decades into the craft brewing industry that some brewers started using cans. That was in part because, around the turn of the century, Cask Brewing Systems of Calgary, Alberta, developed a relatively inexpensive canning system that was just the right size and price for small breweries. In 2002, Oskar Blues of Colorado began to market their Dale’s Pale Ale in cans and, after that, the sale of their beer increased dramatically.

Canning reached New Mexico in 2010, when Santa Fe Brewing introduced Happy Camper IPA, which now counts for over half of their sales. Marble and LaCumbre have followed suit. A local business man has bought a portable canner, which he plans to drive around to the smaller breweries in the state so that their products can be available to more people — in cans.  And, a few months ago, that stubborn brewer put his product, the most widely distributed craft lager in the United States, in cans.

With canned beer, everyone wins. The lighter, more compact, virtually unbreakable containers are less expensive to distribute. The airtight can keeps away two of beer’s greatest enemies: air and light. That beer is going to taste as fresh as, if not fresher than, one from a bottle. The environment wins as well. Environmentally conscious outdoors lovers have usually always packed out as well as packed in. Now it’s a lot easier. Cans are really easy to recycle. And environmentally unconscious people who pitch containers out of car windows aren’t going to leave shards of glass for people or animals to cut themselves on.

Some of the bigger craft brewers are now offering their best-known beers in both bottles and cans. And here’s where I have a gripe. When ever I go somewhere to buy a six pack and discover that the place only has bottles for a product that’s also available in cans, I complain. I explain the virtues of canned beer, including the fact that the compact size of a pack of canned beers takes up much less shelf space than the same number of bottles. I remind managers, especially if they run a supermarket, that all the talk about being friendly to the environment should extend to extolling the virtue of cans. And then I go somewhere else that has the product I want in cans. I’m encouraging my friends to do the same. If our joint efforts reduce the number of beer bottles, especially broken and discarded ones, that would be a good thing.

So, don’t kick the can — it really is great for craft beer and the environment.

Unless, of course, you’re using an empty container to play a game with the kids at the campground. And then, when the game is over, don’t forget to pack the can up and recycle it.