Greetings fellow beer freaks! With last week being Albuquerque Beer Week, I figure this is a great opportunity to start writing about my local beer scene in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The events included tastings and special release draught beers throughout the week at a few beer bars and restaurants mostly located near Nob Hill or Downtown, and finished off last Saturday with Albuquerque Blues & Brews festival.
Along with Albuquerque’s own brewing heavyweights LaCumbre Brewing Co., Marble Brewery, and Il Vicino, Beer Week events had offerings from the likes of New Belgium, Deschutes, Odell’s, Sierra Nevada, Abita, Stone, Left Hand, Widmer, Boulder Beer, Lagunitas, Oskar Blues, and Goose Island. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend all of the events, but I did manage to hit what I reckon were a few highlights.
My first stop was the tapping of Twin Sisters Double IPA from Left Hand Brewing
Co., out of Longmont, Colorado, at Two Fools Tavern. Twin Sisters is a 9.6% ABV, full-bodied, malty double IPA, without the hop bomb of a nose typical of the style. The beer is brewed with Cascade, Willamette, and Glacier hops presumably as late kettle additions and dry hopping. Of those hops, I would really only consider Cascade having a voice loud enough to be memorable in this style of beer. I chatted to the brewery rep about the sweet finish and the subtle hop nose and he said that it is the goal of Left Hand to brew well balanced beers. With that said, I found the sweet finish a bit overwhelming for my palate. I was however, impressed with their Coffee Porter, which is a beer brewed especially for beer week events around the country. The beer had a great coffee presence with a relatively crisp finish.
My next stop was a tasting with Stone Brewing Co. at O’Neill’s. On offer were usual suspects Stone IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA, and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, all with which I’m very well acquainted and enjoy – particularly Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which I believe is the benchmark black IPA. The big bonus, though, was that two Beer Week exclusive beers were available on draught
at the bar – Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA and Oak-Smoked Old Guardian.
The Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA delivered a citrus assault on my olfactory
senses – in the best of ways! It was basically Ruination IPA, one of my favorite double IPAs, on “hopoids” (could this be a new word in beer lingo?). I loved it!
The Oak-Smoked Old Guardian is a barley wine that clocks in at 11.6% ABV and is part of what Stone calls its “Odd Beers for Odd Years” program. I’d already
enjoyed a bottle of 2013 Old Guardian a few weeks back, and have the Oaked
version in my beer fridge for later, but Oak-Smoked was truly brilliant.
The combination of subtle smoke with oaky vanilla seemed to create a creamy,
sweet mouthfeel that was balanced by a very firm bitterness. This is definitely an exceptional barely wine and to have it on draught was pretty special.
The tasting was hosted by Stone rep, Chris Cantrell, who oversees Colorado and New Mexico. We chatted a bit about proper beer handling after it leaves the brewery, a topic that is of great concern to many brewers. Stone also have their own distribution wing and keeping beer cold from the time it leaves the brewery to customer is top priority for them. In addition, they go to extra lengths to help make sure consumers get fresh beer. So much so, that they have a program on their website for consumers to notify them of shops that are selling out-of-date
beer. Out-of-date beers are pulled from the shelves and restocked with fresh product – more great services from a great brewery.
With a good buzz rolling compliments of the Old Guardian, I headed over to Gecko Bar for a food pairing of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith “Heavenly Feijoa” and mussels in a coconut and pineapple curry. Heavenly Feijoa is a 9.4% ABV Belgian triple brewed with feijao fruit, hibiscus flowers, and Nelson Sauvin hops, and is the result of a collaborative effort with Brasserie du Ciel! in Montreal, Canada. I found all of the flavorings to be fairly subtle, which I believe suites the style. The beer also had a great dry finish and it paired beautifully with the mussels – could have eaten a bucket full and drank a couple more pints for sure!
My next Beer Week event was two days later at Sister Bar in downtown Albuquerque with a tasting put on by local La Cumbre Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues Brewery out of Lyons, Colorado. Oskar Blues took up two of the forty taps at Sister Bar with G’Knight Imperial Red Ale and Old Chub Scotch Ale. G’Knight is a sort of double red IPA clocking in at a hefty 8.7% ABV and sporting a heavenly, dank, sticky hop nose. Nothing less should be expected from one of the top craft breweries in a state that recently legalized a rather well known cousin of hops! There is something about the hop character in that beer that I just can’t get enough of. Old Chub is a Scotch-style strong ale, with 8% ABV, loaded with enough malt to keep the biggest of “malt-heads” smiling. With a fair amount of dark malts and a touch of smoked malt, this beer throws off coffee and chocolate notes not too much unlike a stout – great stuff!
Owner Jeff Erway was representing La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, which took gold in the IPA category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. There is a LOT to enjoy in this 7.2% ABV IPA. For a single IPA, this beer is bursting
with hop aroma – loads of pine, tropical fruit, and a dash of “cattiness”, which
is a good thing in my book. It’s not a coincidence that it took gold at GABF, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to get this beer brewery fresh! I meant to spend some time chatting to Jeff about the finer points of hops, but I got drawn into a conversation about channeling, communicating with “Grays”,
and a shift in human consciousness – I love New Mexico!
I then headed off to my final destination at Imbibe Cigar Bar for a Lagunitas tasting of WTF (that is Wilco Tango Foxtrot) and Lagunitas Sucks. Upon arriving, I was greeted by Adam Wojcik, a Lagunitas rep from
Tempe, Arizona. He kindly bought me a pint of Lagunitas Sucks, a beer that I didn’t even know was available in Albuquerque as I had mistaken it for Brown Shugga’ with the writing “Brown Shugga’ Substitute Ale” on the labeling. What a treat! I was expecting a sweet, malty beer like Brown Shugga’, but
instead got a nose full of sweet, juicy hops. Lagunitas Sucks is an IPA-style beer with 7.85% ABV that is full-bodied with good hop bitterness to balance things out. The hopping is pretty diverse and brings a cross section of classic IPA hop characteristics – pine, tropical fruit, citrus, dank, and cattiness. This is a seriously drinkable hoppy big beer that showcases the talent the guys at Lagunitas have in being able to produce full-bodied beers in balance. I liked it so much that I stocked up on it that weekend! I had a great time chatting about beer and hops with Adam and look forward to catching up in the future.
Overall, the Albuquerque Beer Week is great vehicle for bringing a lot of great breweries and some special release beers to Albuquerque to get people turned on to craft beer. I think that some of the hosting venues could put a bit more into promoting the event and help increase the vibe, but a big Thank You for those that did! In terms of the overall beer trend, despite talk of “session beers” being the next thing in craft beer, big beers – particularly big hoppy beers – are still ruling the roost….and I’m happy with that.