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Ale news from Albuquerque

I liked the brew dry hopped with roast chiles

A distinguished member of CAMRA, whom I shall identify simply as BG of Cardiff,recently confided to me that he planned to travel to the South-West of the United States. What beers might he find there, he wished to know?

When soundings were taken recently concerning the requirements of readers, the view was expressed that this column dwelt excessively on - perhaps - the United States, and that no good could come of it. Fortunately for BG, I am not easily deterred.

A mere couple of months ago, I had a little spin through the South-West. BG does not plan to travel as extensively as I did, and does not intend to visit New Mexico, but I really felt that I should tell him about a day I spent there.

I began my day in a hotel in the city of Albuquerque, with a view over a sun-scorched tabletop of red, rocky land, fringed on either side by Mountain ranges. Everything seems red in New Mexico; the earth, the crags and "chimneys" of rock, just as they are in Georgia O'Keefe's paintings and photographs, and the adobe clay that coats every building, whether original, or reproduction.

In the lobby, I was met by my guides three members of the local home-brewers club, The Dukes of Ale. That was the legend that all three wore on their tee-shirts.

All three had wangled time off work for the occasion. I do not remember Dan and Guy's jobs, but Tom was a Presbyterian pastor. When people in the congregation hear about my interest, I get some raised eyebrows, "the Reverend Tom told me, but it breaks the ice."

They had hired a brand-new limousine for the day; an all-white, 1990, Ford Crown Victoria. "A desert ship," as Dan put it.

They had hired a brand-new limousine for the day; an all-white, 1990, Ford Crown Victoria. "A desert ship," as Dan put it. We briefly visited Michael Buckner, a master mechanic, who found that he had time on his hands during one of the periodic slumps in the oil industry and fancied turning his skills to the building of a brewery.

After a period as a micro-brewery, Michael's business should reopen shortly as a brewpub (637 Broadway, Albuquerque. Tel: 505-242-9887). It will be a non-smoking pub. I was told by Michael, who looks tough enough, in a kindly way, to remove from the promises anyone who might fume at such a restriction.

Whether anyone will ever get that far. I wonder, Michael gave me one of his test-brews to try, and it turned out to be a 1072 stout that was good enough to soothe even the most savage smoker.

Incidentally, it was made with triticale, a wheat-and-rye crossbreed. If he had told me it was made with bitter chocolate, I would have been inclined to believe him.

After that, we headed to the hills, to visit Steve Maas, at the Manzano Mountain Brewery, in nearby Tijeras. Steve is with a rock band called Class Axe. He brews bottle conditioned ales in his garage, and gives the product away at Class Axe gigs.

"At first, we used the beer to promote the band. Now we are thinking of using the band to promote the beer," he told me.

I was not able to get a totally clear answer on the legal status of this operation but, should you chance to visit New Mexico, it might be worth looking out for a hoppy, reddish ale called Class Axe Classic.

We turned north for about 50 miles, driving through the San Felipe reservation - New Mexico is quilted with Native American lands toward Santa Fe. We were still in the High Mountain desert when we turned off to visit Mike Levis at his horse ranch and brewery.

Mike makes a bottle-conditioned brew of 1048-50 called Santa Fe Pale Ale, with a bottle cap bearing the Native American sun symbol ("peace and harmony between cultures").

This soft, smooth, malt-accented ale is quite widely available in New Mexico, despite its being bottled by hand.

This soft, smooth, malt-accented ale is quite widely available in New Mexico, despite its being bottled by hand. Mike has three full-time employees, and his wife runs a business on the side making beer mustard and honeyish-tasting won jelly. We had some of the jelly as condiment with bread and cheese.

The other side of Santa Fe past Espanola ("The Low-Rider Capital of the World"), we sank into the valley of the Rio Grande until we found the clearing at Embudo, just south of the artists' colony town of Taos.

There was once a railroad through the valley, part of the grand scheme to link Denver with Mexico City. The part that was built, between Santa Fe and Taos, spent most of its years hauling red chile peppers to market.

They ripped up the tracks after World War II, but here we were in the old station at Embudo. In the way old stations customarily are, it has been turned into a brewery, albeit one of the smallest I have ever seen, making half-barrel batches.

I especially liked the product called Taos Green Chile Beer. This wonderfully aromatic, dry. peppery, brew was "dry-hopped" with roasted chiles. I also sampled a dark brown Gingered Ale; a malty, fruity, ESB; a honey-flavoured Stout; and a hoppy Wee Heavy.

The station is faced with rocks from the river bed, and leans into a cave that serves as a maturation cellar. The brewery, another building serving as a meat smokery, a cabin that operates as a small restaurant, and a business sending rafting tours down the Rio Grande, are owned by a man named Preston Cox.

We took a glass of another Embudo product, Wandas Wicked Wheat, ate okra in batter, dipping into salsa, and contemplated the river.

None of this was a High Desert mirage, but I wonder whether the Preston Brewery of Embudo Station will still be there next year. If I were to go back, I might call first (505-852-4704).

Or I might send a smoke signal. "See those mountains?" said Preston. pointing to the north side of the canyon wall. "These are sacred burial grounds of the Pueblo Indians. This weekend, there is a full moon. The Indians will be making a ritual visit. There will be a buffalo dancer. Why don't you stay?"

I had meant too tell you about Crazy Ed's Black Mountain Brewery, and Electric Dave's (he makes a beer called Electric Light). They are in Arizona, the state where BG, of Cardiff, is going.

That will have to be another day.

Published Online: JUNE 9, 2000
Published in Print: SEPT 1, 1990
In: What's Brewing

Brew Travel

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