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;

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.

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — #3 Grand Canyon American Pilsner

When I stop at beer outlets during my travels, I have no difficulty finding local or at least in-state IPAs and usually ambers and stouts. But pilsners is another matter. One hot day last summer, at a Bellingham, Washington supermarket noted for its wide selection of beers), I counted over 40 pale ales, IPAs, Black IPAs, and variations thereof. But no pils from the area, the state, or even the country.

But a couple of weeks ago, on a trip that took me through Arizona on the way to southern California, my pils pilgrimage achieved partial success. When I stopped at a store in Flagstaff, I found a pilsner that was brewed in nearby Williams. The name: Grand Canyon American Pilsner. The description on the bottle described it as medium-bodied with “a hint of Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought, I’ll be spending a couple of late afternoons beside a pool in Palm Springs, this should just hit the spot. A few days later, before I headed to the fridge to fetch my first bottle of this American pilsner, I checked out the brewery’s description of the beer on my iPad. It was described as a Bohemian style lager with “loads of Czech Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought once again. Pilsner Urquell and other Bohemian pils are among my favorite summer beers and, even though it was only mid February, it sure felt like summer beside the pool.

Well, my expectations were not realized — the loads of Czech hops didn’t seem to be there, more like the hint the bottle promised. But, I did like the beer, even if it wasn’t what I was looking for.

It poured a clear and golden colored. On the first sip, it seemed more medium-bodied than I expected from a pils. This was no doubt because of the Munich and Vienna malts the web page description said were included in the recipe. It was like a cross between a Vienna and a helles lager — with the slight sweetness of the malts balanced by the hops, that were noticeable but certainly not forward.

All in all, the beer was very satisfying. Sometimes I want something with a bit more (but not too much) oomph than is found in the crisp refreshment of a Bohemian pils — and Grand Canyon’s pil, with its noticeable maltiness, offered a very enjoyable alternative.

I’m still going to go for a Pilsner Urquell when the days get really hot this summer. But if I can get some friends who are going to Flagstaff to bring some Grand Canyon American Pilsner back to Albuquerque for me, I’ll put it in the back of the fridge and save it for the not too distant days when the weather is not too hot and not to0 cold, but just right for this very enjoyable beer.

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — #2 Alien Imperial Stout

“When I first started in this business,” a craft beer brewer told me several years ago, “I had to keep telling people: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK.” He was referring to most beer drinkers’ belief that beer should be the pale yellow color of the megabrands that dominated the twentieth century.

The fear included stout — the British Isles ale that most people associated with Guinness. But fortunately, Guinness had such good publicity, that stout didn’t seem as frightening as the other dark beers that craft brewers were creating. Now, stout is one of the most popular of the craft beers — next, of course, to IPAs. And they aren’t just Guinness clones. There are English, Irish, and American styles, along with oatmeal stout and Russian, or Imperial, Stout.

Last week on a cold, dark late New Mexico afternoon, I lit a cheery fire and settled in my easy chair with a glass of Sierra Blanca’s Alien Imperial Stout. It poured an opaque dark brown, with a tan head. My first sip introduced me to the mocha coffee like malt notes, with traces of hop that kept any potential sweetness down. (As the glass warmed up, the sweetness did come through, but not overwhelmingly so.) It was a well-rounded beer, medium to higher bodied, with ho harshness.

When I talked to Rich Weber, the owner of Sierra Blanca, he told me that they used a higher mash temperature, so that the residual sugar would prevent the taste of alcohol from becoming dominant. The beer used both Magnum and Fuggles hops, the latter providing an earthy balance to the potential malt sweetness.

But WARNING! The Guinness served at Irish pubs and available in “widget” cans on this side of the Atlantic, is around 4.2 percent alcohol by volume and is designed for someone having a few of an evening. It’s designed so that you can have profound thoughts and still have them make sense to anyone who might decide to listen. Alien Imperial Stout, in contrast, is 8.2 percent. Its kind of like a winter warmer, a beer that you can have one, or at most two of on a cold winter’s afternoon. Any more and your profound thoughts might become suspect.

I enjoyed my glass of Alien Imperial, banked the fire, had a bowl of hearty beef and vegetable stew, and then returned to the fireside to read my book.


Long ago, when we were poor university students, my wife and I were invited to a wine and cheese party held by some rich (that is fully employed) teachers. They had a wonderful array of cheeses, each decorated with two little flags, one for the country of origin and the other naming the cheese, and many bottles of wine, all of which came with corks.

We were impressed and would have liked to have had a wine and cheese party ourselves. But given our combined incomes, we could only have afforded a couple of bottles of Manor St. David Red Table Wine (a screw-topped dollar and a quarter Canadian wine), a bottle of cheese whiz and a head of celery.

When we graduated and had full-time jobs, we did have a wine and cheese party, with all the trimmings, including little flags.

Now that beer has become the new wine and books like Garret Oliver’s THE BREWMASTER’S TABLE have revealed how the many and complex styles of beer can be paired with a variety of foods, people are holding beer and cheese parties. (In my university days this would have meant Old Milwaukee and cheezies.) It’s a wonderful idea, and people who haven’t spent much time with craft beers are amazed when presented with various beer and cheese pairings.

If you think a cheese and beer party would be a great idea, there’s a book to help you get started: CHEESE AND BEER by Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel Publishing). The author of numerous books about food and beverages, she explains that she wrote this book because there were “so many beers, so many cheeses, so little time.” In the pages that follow, she guides readers to “some proven pairings.” First, however, she provides some important terms like texture, intensity, acidity, sweetness and bitterness, tips on the buying, storing, and serving cheese, and a valuable chart indicting the correct temperature specific types of beer should be at before they are served. Don’t worry, she also indicates the amount of time out of the refrigerator a style of  beer should stand before it reaches that temperature. She also has tips on styles of beer glasses and best ways to pour a beer.

There follow chapters on the main beer styles, with style notes for each, representative beers of each style, and appropriate “cheese affinities.” At the end of the book, there is a very useful chart called “What Beer with that Cheese?” and a useful index listing specific cheeses, specific beers, and beer styles. All though the book are full color photographs of beers and cheeses standing deliciously side-by-side. It’s enough to make you stop reading and rush over to the nearest places where you can get good beers and cheese. But don’t forget to make notes before you go.

Goodbye cheezies, goodbye the Beast of Milwaukee. But I don’t think I’ll forsake celery. Sometimes it makes a good palate cleanser.


NOTE: One of my 2014 beer projects is to drink 99 different kinds of beer — not different styles, but, when I’m tasting a style I’ve already had this year, it has to be by a different brewer. I’ll try, as much as possible, to buy beer that’s brewed within an hour’s drive of my house. If not, I’ll try to buy it in the state where it was brewed. Of course, if I’m to reach my quota, I’ll have to buy some beers from out of state. The first beer of the 99 was brewed only 5 miles from where I bought it and it had been bottled only three days earlier.


“The new La Cumbre IPA is in,” aid Joslyn, when I visited Jubilation (my favorite Albuquerque place to buy beer). “But we’ve only got a few left.” I’d been looking forward to the beer ever since I’d heard about its winning a bronze medal in the American-style IPA category at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. And if there was a limited supply, I knew I had to act fast. So I bought two of the 22 ounce bottles.

When Jeff Erway, owner and first brewer of La Cumbre, first opened his Albuquerque brewing company in December 2010, he said that one of his goals was “to make an IPA that would knock your socks off.” He did. Elevated IPA, the brewery’s flag-shop beer, a 7.2 percent ABV, 100 IBU hop bomb, won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal before La Cumbre was a year old.

The new IPA I picked up several days ago is called Project Dank and is the first of what Erway says will be an ongoing series of really hoppy beers. The “dank” comes from the dank aroma of hops, a plant, he notes, that is related to marijuana. “We’d pretty much stabilized the recipe for Elevated,” he explains. “But I wanted to try something that challenged my creativity. I love playing with hops, experimenting. So I decided to start this project, where people would know that they’d experience something different with each batch we bottled.”

When I talked with Jeff this morning, he told me that all of the first batch had been completely sold out (I helped!), that all of the second batch had been distributed to retailers, and that a third batch would be coming soon.

The first batch poured a dark golden. There was a piney aroma and taste. The first sip was hop forward although there was a subtle, underlying maltiness that prevented what the label referred to “HOP INSANITY” from overwhelming. As the beer warmed slightly in the glass, the hop flavors seemed to mellow, providing a roundedness to the drink.

Jeff’s love of playing around with hops was evident in the list of hops included in the brew. There were three well-known West Coast varieties, Columbus and Chinook, and Simcoe, along with such lesser known varieties as Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, and (from South Africa) Southern Passion. He promises other new and interesting combinations in upcoming releases.

Perhaps the best description of Project Dank #1 came from one of my fellow tasters, a person whom I’d successfully weaned from a dependence on Bud Light, Corona, and Tecate. His words were almost poetic: “It’s a hop bomb with velvet gloves.”

A New Beer Year

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,, has a map and a directory of New Mexico Breweries.

Happy New Beer Year!