Drinking Beer in New Mexico & the Tragic Decline of Brewery Blogging

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, local craft breweries were still something of an anomaly. Coincidentally, this is also when I really started to travel and get into beer culture. Four years ago, it was incredibly exciting to stumble upon a brew house in a warehouse district, along the railroad tracks, or on Main Street downtown. But that’s when breweries were relatively few and far between in general, and definitely still new to me.

I celebrated each brewery with a strict attention to detail, with a trusty notebook in hand and a camera-toting boyfriend in the other. I used to write about each and every individual brewery I visited, noting the ambiance, the service, and casually rating my favorite and least favorite flavors.

Reminisce with me for a moment…

Fast forward to mid-2016, when every small town on the map has it’s own brewery and every big city has about a dozen. I certainly don’t love beer any less than I did four years ago, but the suddenly overcrowded marketplace has made that initial excitement wear off a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I still incorporate breweries into my travels and plan to check out at least one in each new place I visit. But I just can’t muster up the energy to write about each and every one of them anymore. It’s a daunting task that I’m just not up for…or getting paid for! So just like every other random craft beer fan out there, these days I simply plop down, pick my poison, and leave it at that.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit over-dramatic. I still do jot down travel notes and try to snap a photo of brew houses I visit after hikes or for an afternoon break. But after days of writing full-time for my day job, I just can’t bring myself to write more, especially about an ever-growing niche that I no longer have hope of conquering.

Then again, to bring things back into perspective…IT’S JUST BEER FOR GOD’S SAKE!

When I recently spent a month in New Mexico, not surprisingly, I visited lots of breweries to scope out the local beer scene. In no particular order, these are some of the breweries I managed to document in some way and little bits and pieces of the things I can remember about them.

Santa Fe Brewing Company, Santa Fe

This was a post-hiking brewery stop after checking out La Tienda Trails. We actually only got about 1.8 miles into the hike before a work emergency came up and we had to turn back for the laptops in the car.

Santa Fe Brewing Company 1But fortunately, all the emergency required was a little attention and an internet connection. And Santa Fe Brewing Company was right around the corner. Santa Fe Brewing Company 3They had an insane number of beers on tap, but a terrible organization system for samplers. The reason I have so many photos of this place is because I actually had to compare and match up a photo of the beer listing board inside with faded abbreviations under tiny glasses, making about four trips back and forth from the bar to the patio.

But with 13 tiny beers in front of me, how seriously irritated could I really be? Santa Fe Brewing Company 4

Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe

This was a post-biking brewery stop in Santa Fe after pedaling along the hilly, dirt roads of the Santa Fe Rail Trail. This wasn’t one of my favorite breweries because of the questionable and inconsistent rules. Apparently, I’m getting a bit crotchety in my old age.

Their large patio was not dog-friendly, but we read online that people have brought dogs to the tiny smoker’s area and didn’t get bothered, so that’s what we did. The brewery advertised happy hour specials but they didn’t honor them for the beers we picked, and they couldn’t justify their sizing and pricing. Oh well, you can’t win every time.
Second Street Brewery Santa Fe 1

Spotted Dog Brewing, Mesilla

This was a great little brewery we visited after walking around Old Town Mesilla. There were lots of cute shops and historic buildings here, and the brewery was in walking distance from all that.

Here we powered up the laptops and cranked out a bit of writing over a sampler to finish off the day in an awesome way. As any good gnome collector will tell you, these little guys love gnome-sized beer and make the very best drinking companions.

Spotted Dog Brewing Mesilla

Red Door Brewery, Albuquerque

They really did have a red door! This was one of the first breweries we went to in Albuquerque after hiking the Sandia Mountains. I remember liking this place because it had a little outdoor patio that was completely empty and super chill. After sharing a sampler of 10 tiny beers, I grabbed our growlers from the jeep and got one filled up with the wit and the small one with the scotch ale.

Red Door Brewery ABQ 1

Sometimes I forget to snap a shot or two of the brewery I’m at to help me remember it, or I’m just not in that mindset at the time. Unfortunately, this was the case with three breweries in the Albuquerque area: Canteen BreweryMarble Brewery, and Turtle Mountain Brewing Company.

Canteen was a frustrating experience because Monkey was acting like a total nut-bag and stressed us out to an extreme degree. I barely even remember what the beers were because of that, but Canteen did have a nice side patio and an attentive server.

Marble Brewery had an amazing set-up but an awful smell. The city was doing sewer work just outside the brewery in the street, and some people nearby actually complained about getting sprayed by sewer stuff. If that wouldn’t have been doing on, this Albuquerque spot would have rocked. We stopped by after a DIY Breaking Bad tour around town. There were a couple food trucks with tacos out front and a stage with a band playing music despite the crowd avoiding the outdoor space due to smells and sprays.

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company is in a fast-growing suburb of ABQ called Rio Rancho. I didn’t get any pics of this place either for some reason, but we went here after biking about 26 miles on a very nicely paved trail along the Rio Grande. Like several other breweries we went to, this was a place that has a dog-friendly patio but no service out there. I actually prefer this arrangement because I don’t have to wait on a server to come out, allowing me to just walk my own two feet inside and up to the bar when I need something.

Taos Mesa Brewing, Taos

Hands down, this brewery had the best outdoor scene ever. The ski resort town was experiencing crazy high winds the day we visited, but that didn’t stop us from sitting outside to enjoy the mountain scenery.

Taos Mesa Brewing 1We stopped by after hiking at Rio Grande Del Norte and having a picnic lunch on BLM land near the parking lot. The brewery had stages both inside and outside and clearly hosts a lot of events and concerts. However, the taste of the beer paled in comparison to the views of the mountains. The beers were mediocre at best, with standard flavors and nothing truly interesting. But those views though! Taos Mesa Brewing 2

Pecan Grill & Brewery, Las Cruces

This was a rare find that we stumbled across after taking a wrong turn following a hike in the Organ Mountains. I was actually on the hunt for a PetCo because Monkey was (gasp!) nearly out of food. I had seen the Pecan Grill and Brewery come up in a Yelp list a few days before, so we stopped in to try it to make the wrong turn worthwhile.

I was hesitant at first because it seemed like it would have more of a restaurant vibe, which often means that the beer takes a back seat in quality. However, this place pleasantly surprised me more than pretty much anywhere else on this trip. They had happy hour specials that they honored the price on, cheap appetizer specials that were quite tasty, and a laid-back environment where I got a little writing done. Our server did a killer job too.

Pecan Grill Las Cruces

High Desert Brewing, Las Cruces

Another Las Cruces brewery we visited was High Desert, which was our destination after hunting for peridot gemstones at Kilbourne Hole. Some of these New Mexico breweries serve food, while others are drinks-only. We try to save money by making our own food in the camper, but making beer from the road isn’t really all the feasible. However, at this place, we splurged and split a couple appetizers to go along with the sampler.

It was an awesome environment, despite Monkey being super-restless after a long and bumpy car ride. The patio was cozy and closed in, which provided some shelter from the crazy high winds that I’ll always remember about Las Cruces.

High Desert Brewing Las Cruces

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery, Jaconita

But of course, there are many other things to drink besides beer…namely wine and spirits. This was a stop on the way back from Chimayo, which is a Catholic pilgrimage site in the middle of nowhere.

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 1We arrived to Don Quixote a few minutes before it opened and downed cans of soup and beans in the car while we waited. The bartender/sole staff worker was the most unfriendly host I’ve encountered in a tasting room. We were the only ones there, but she talked on her phone the entire time and seemed genuinely annoyed by having to serve us (paid) samples. Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 2I remember really liking the lavender and juniper gin, which was a surprise because I’ve never been a gin drinker. The flavors were intensely good though. I also remember liking the rose-infused wine. However, I didn’t buy anything except the tasting, mostly because of the service.

Breweries and Dogs

Although I may have started off writing this a bit disenchanted with the ever-expanding craft brewery scene, I still believe there are new experiences to discover at each one. Lately, my brewery experiences can be best defined as dog experiences too.

We’ve been slowly but surely training our newly adopted lab/pit, Monkey, to become the ultimate brewery companion. Breweries and dogs seem to go hand-in-hand, and I’ve always wanted a chill and friendly pup by my side while I sip my brews on a patio.

Before visiting any given brewery, I’ve gotten really good at one particular phone call that goes something like this:

Brewery Person: Hi, XYZ Brewing Company, how can I help you?

Me: Hi, do you have a patio that allows dogs?

(response #1) – Yep, sure do.

(response #2) – Nope, sorry, only service dogs.

(response #3) – You wanna do WHAT?!

Santa Fe Brewing Company 5On dog-friendly patios, Monkey is getting better at the fine art of hanging out, usually equipped with a comfy pad, bone, and travel water bowl.

But of course, sometimes she likes to do this and sit like people, which is a bit awkward.
Red Door Brewery ABQ 2Then other times, she does this and sleeps all cute-like and curled up under the table. And I forgive her for all wrongdoings.Second Street Brewery Santa Fe 2Perhaps one of these days I’ll manage to secure a writing gig that pays me to write about and review breweries. Then, without a doubt, I’d be all over this scene as if I’d never lost a beat since 2012. I’ve already started to break into the wine scene with a steady gig at The Grapevine Magazine, so perhaps craft beer writing could be in my future as well.

But until then, I’ll just jot down a sentence or two at the end of the day, snap a picture if I think of it, and not stress out over missed writing opportunities. After all, quality beer is best enjoyed with a chill state of mind, right?

A Tale of Four Breweries in Billings

Billings, Montana is more than just a pit stop on the way to Yellowstone. As I’ve learned first hand, it’s also a great place to find a good variety of local brews. Despite a population barely over 100,000, Billings has four breweries in walking distance of each other.

In fact, the official Montana travel site, boasts about having the only unofficial walking brewery tour in the state. Since everything is within a one-mile radius, they suggest making the rounds before dinner with stops at the Western Heritage Center and Yellowstone Art Museum along the way.

So what makes the breweries in Billings stand out from those in other areas? I’ve never seen more different types of brewery environments crammed together in the same city. From noisy punk rock warehouses to upscale restaurants to auto repair shop kegs, Billings’ brewers have mastered the art of variety.

Angry Hank’s Brewing Co.

IMG_1417I briefly glanced at an auto repair shop while driving down the dusty, industrial main drag in Billings.”Complete tune-up & carb. repair,” said one sign. “Brake repair,” said another. A sign at the edge of the parking lot said, “Angry Hank’s.”

This was the first brewery I visited in Billings. The tap room, which was situated inside of an abandoned auto shop, was only open from 4-8pm Mondays through Saturdays. I later learned from a local that Montana law allows breweries to operate without a liquor license as long as they maintain very restricted hours and limit the amount of beer served per person.

IMG_1418There were a few people sitting at tables inside a wooden fence patio that aimed to make the auto shop tap room more inviting. There’s no denying that the patio did bring a friendlier vibe than the staff. There was a good number of people hanging out in the tap room and I felt all eyes on me as I walked in. Clearly, I wasn’t recognized as the local girl next door.

IMG_1419Angry Hanks doesn’t do samplers or flights, so don’t bother asking for one. The bartender agreed to give us a couple of tastes to see what we wanted a pint or growler of though. I tried the Anger Management, Imperial Russian Stout, and Raspberry Wheat.

The Raspberry Wheat was tart, bitter, and ultra-light…as expected. The Imperial Stout was good, but wasn’t served in growlers because of the 8.5% alcohol content. What a pity! Therefore, I settled on the Anger Management for a growler fill. It wasn’t anything to write home about,  but the orange-infused Belgian wheat was smooth and refreshing. Plus, it kept the anger of Angry Hanks alive all the way back to the cheap motel room.

Montana Brewing Co.

IMG_1603In stark contract to Angry Hanks, the Montana Brewing Company was reminiscent of brew pubs back in Chicago. Although the brewery was built in 1994, the exterior and interior of the building seemed brand new. And although it was the middle of the day, the brew pub, which was located in the downtown shopping district, pulled in a decently sized crowd.

Also unlike Angry Hanks, this brewery promoted its samplers. I tried an eight-sample flight of the MBC Golden Ale, MBC Wheat, Pomegranate Wheat, Smoked Rye, MBC Amber, Custer’s Last Stout, and Beartooth Espresso Porter.

IMG_1595I tend to be partial towards breweries that go beyond the standard brews and try a few outside-the-box flavors.Three of MBC’s brews met my approval in this regard. Although I wanted to like the Pomegranate Wheat more than I did, it was still unique. It actually smelled and tasted like pomegranate. The brew had a milky color and a tart aftertaste. I didn’t like the Pomegranate Wheat enough to get more of a pint of it, but I did appreciate it for its novelty.

IMG_1596The Smoked Rye, however, was phenomenal and I promptly picked up a growler of it. Unlike many smoky beers, it had a perfect amount of smokiness. Since I was just starting out on an extended camping trip, this brew fit my lifestyle and brought back memories of roasting s’mores around the fire.

I also picked up a growler of the Beartooth Espresso Porter. It was evident that the brewers used real espresso beans, and it was delicious from start to finish. It wasn’t overly bitter, in a black coffee sort of way, but it definitely put anything from Starbucks to shame. Although I didn’t dine at MBC, I couldn’t help but notice their extensive American fare menu.

Carter’s Brewing Co.

IMG_1633Carter’s Brewing Company was somewhat of a cross between the previous two breweries in terms of atmosphere. But unlike the other two, a punk rock band was setting up in the casino area.

IMG_1615Located in the warehouse district and along the train tracks, Carter’s had a hard rock biker bar feel. The most memorable part of Carter’s was the mind-shattering acoustics. Despite the number of drum sets sitting around, the bands had yet to go on stage. However, the sound of people yelling over each other bounced off the walls in a most deafening way.

The brewery’s seating area featured long, wooden tables that were surrounded by beer barrels and brewing vats. It was a cramped, bare bones tap room, but the staff was friendly. Carter’s also does samplers (of four beers each) which include their many seasonal beers. In fact, they have just as many seasonal beers as they do flagship beers.

IMG_1622The Farmhouse Ale La Grisette has a fancy name, but not a fancy taste. It was pretty standard, yet well done and smooth. I wanted to like the Maple Flapjack Brown Ale more than I did. However, it did have a pretty good maple smell, a soft finish, and it was better than your average brown ale.

The Double Truck Red Ale was way too hoppy. Not even the 8% alcohol and slight creaminess could counteract the pure hop fest. The last beer in my sampler was the Carter the Great Imperial Stout. Similar to the maple ale, it had a soft taste that was buttery at the finish. It wasn’t terribly unique, but it was better than most imperial stouts I’ve had.

Yellowstone Brewing Co.

Everyone has a story about the one that got away. And for me, that one was the Yellowstone Brewing Company. Unlike others in Billings, this brewery was closed on Sunday…which was the only day I had available to stop by.

I heard good things about Yellowstone Brewing from Carter’s Brewing, which also sold some of their beers. While chatting with the bartender at Carters, it became clear that the smaller, industrial breweries (like Carter’s and Yellowstone) had a certain distaste for corporate sellouts (like Montana Brewing Co.).

IMG_1619Although I missed my chance to visit Yellowstone Brewing, I was later able to pick up some of their bottled beer in other Montana towns. The Huckleweizen celebrates the state’s obsession with the huckleberry, which grows in the vicinity. It’s very light and tart…good in small doses on a hot, summer day. The Black Widow Oatmeal Stout was a solid beer that had  a good balance between heaviness and flavor.

All in all, Billings reminded me that just because I’d seen one brewery, it doesn’t mean I’ve seen them all. If I would have only stopped at one of Billings’ breweries, I would have assumed that that was representative of the city. Even though I don’t exactly associate Montana with diversity, Billings’ tasting establishments proved to be an exception to the rule.