OK – Taos. All that I wrote about the drive from Pueblo Colorado to Taos, New Mexico was true, except for some specific details, details that I’m not sure need to be covered in a blog more or less about beer. Suffice it to say we left a bar in Pueblo, Colorado around 11pm and drove 35 miles through a blinding snow storm to a rest stop, tucked ourselves into bed in the back of our Element with pie in the sky hopes that the snow would subside by morning, it didn’t. Using a Frisbee (it was early October so we were unprepared for a blizzard) I cleared as much snow off the car as I could and we were off towards Walsenburg, Colorado, where we stopped for coffee, bought bad gas and caught up on email before moving further on towards Taos.
I’m still going to be vague about how we made it through the mountains. It was slow, the car coughed, spat and screamed from the low octane fuel, gallantly struggling against the weight, wind and lack of air from the 10,000 feet of elevation, not to mention the relentless onslaught of wet blowing snow. Snowplows had yet to clear a lane for traffic and the road lacked a guardrail, but by the skin of our teeth we make it to Fort Garland, Colorado and make a life altering left turn due south on US-160 for 90 more miles. The weather almost instantaneously changed, the once dense nimbostratus clouds that ruined our morning broke apart, allowing some blue sky and sunrays to swarm and swell the sky for what became the most enchanting driving I have ever done. The fresh dusting of snow on the high desert floor made for an otherworldly visual experience. Everywhere we looked was a vast emptiness unlike anything we’ve seen it was stark, harsh, and surreal, and I loved it.
Our hotel in Taos was old and dated but decked out in South Western New Mexican chic, we cleaned, did some work and walked through town. After visiting some art galleries we snuck behind an expensive retreat center to watch the sunset broadcast its colors on the mountains that protect the centuries old Taos pueblo. Sitting next to us in a cramped but charming three table restaurant at dinner was the actress who plays Red in Orange is the New Black, the food was delicious but it was the Cuban grooves that were really intoxicating. Speaking of intoxicating, our next stop was the Taos Ale House.
The Taos Ale House bar was relaxed, rustic and adorned with a New Mexican elegance. Some college students were scattered at tables and there was decent music playing, but it was the beer that made our heads turn. It was startling how yeasty and bready the brews came across, nearly unrecognizable as far as style, although not necessarily negative, just very different. Julie had the Weisenberg, a wheat beer named after Heisenberg (this is now post Breaking Bad New Mexico), my gulp or two of it were OK, it had some of the hallmarks of a typical wheat beer, soapy echoes of Belgian zest, but sweet, not candy or citrus sweet, bread sweet, like French toast without syrup, yet still held onto some of the typical wheat beer character. I had the Rio Grande pilsner, which felt a little more true to form but again came across severely yeasty, although not the feared yeast bite of off flavors, it was like toast and looked orange. I liked it regardless, but the bready sweetness was out of range for me. Maybe the sweet yeast notes are their signature takes on the styles, if so it’s definitely unique to them and I commend them for doing something different while trying to stay true to the styles. However, I really can’t say that I think it’s on purpose, I’m sorry, maybe I’m becoming a snob…oh god I hope not, I mean I did write an ode to Budweiser…..so maybe I’m worse, I’ve become a hypocritical snob, good god at least I’m not a republican…..anyway the Taos Ale House was a relaxing place to unwind after a helluva day, and I look forward to returning.
Morning came with more walking and more gorgeous scenery, there is a palpable hum to this place, like all of the southwest, but it’s especially present here. Just out of town we were given a private tour of the Taos Drum Company, somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time, they let me play a smattering of hand made tribal and ceremonial drums, including the thunder drum, a massive instrument capable of producing liver rattling low frequencies with each stroke across the skin.
Further on down the road towards Santa Fe was a tiny winery/brewery called the Blue Heron Brewery in Emburdo, which turned out to be another charming but small place with rather fine beer. I had a pale ale, Julie had their wheat offering, both down the center as far as form and ease of drink. The bar was simple, but took advantage of its location with a patio deck that overlooked the Rio Grande that ran directly behind the building.
Albuquerque is an amazing place, though a city and the largest in the state, that same high desert hum is ever present and is expressed on each block, nook, and street. We hiked in the Sandia Mountains, rode our bikes along the Rio Grande, both falling victim to the vicious goat heads that flattened all four-bike tires in the same 3-mile trip. We explored the city, took short excursions to the volcanos, and petroglyphs, even snuck on to the tribal lands where Heisenberg cooked and buried his money. Breaking Bad is still very present in Albuquerque, while we were there there was a funeral procession, tombstone, and obituary for Walter White.
More to the point, we took advantage of the great beer that is brewed and savored in Albuquerque by visiting the Marble Brewery and the La Cumbre Brewing Company. The more famous Marble brewery was good, but didn’t blow my mind and that’s was probably due in part because we visited La Cumbre first and their beers were more up our alley. Don’t misunderstand me, Marble’s beer is good and the setting features breathtaking views of the Sandia’s and the glistening city lights (we went to their Westside tasting room just outside of town) is outstanding. I had their IPA, a well-crafted hop bomb American IPA that also featured yet again an obviously baked bread flavor, although far less sweat and yeast forward than what we experienced in Taos. Certainly a well crafted every day happy hour drinking beer.
On the other hand La Cumbre was next level, truly world-class beer! The ales were so solid that being there on crowded and chaotic Saturday afternoon, we were able to put aside our distaste for being bumped and shoved because the beers were that enthralling. As we slowly made our way through their generous albeit modestly priced flight, it was as if the beers got better and better. Of course we were both slightly banged up but I can still recall the brews that stood out for me, again, all of their beers are incredible, which is such a rare thing to say about any brewery, especially a young one. Each beer was well thought out, and brilliantly executed with regard to balance, style and brewer signature, but it was the stout and an IPA that hooked me up the most. Starting with the Malpais Stout (Malpais means badlands in Spanish, that’s right, I’m not fluent, I looked that shit up) featuring a nearly pretentious malt intensity that boldly floated against the resulting bitterness with grace and commitment, maybe it was my mood, because it seems strange to say that a Stout stole my heart, but this one did. But then again I am never afraid of going dark, even on a warm day. With the ever present hop Olympics that are brewing (pun intended) and driving the American IPA obsession La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA is a standout, and compares to the big brews of Stone, Sierra Nevada, Flying Dog and Lagunitas! The Elevated IPA is thoroughly thought out, well balanced and exactly right in my opinion, the powerful focus of the hop forward intensity envelopes your palate but doesn’t dominate the subtle bake of the malt. There’s a reason this beer took home a medal at the 2013 GABF! Cheers to La Cumbre Brewing Company, you are indeed head of the class.
Till next time, New Mexico, even though at present time, the next time has come and gone….twice…I remain deeply inspired by your remarkable land, lovely people, delicious food and wonderful beer!