Not being one to shy away from the complexity of a fine wine, I am always enthralled when Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta returns each autumn, but sometimes I just want a nice cold pint of … beer. Since ours is a town that prides itself on signature food traditions, the bevy of craft beers is a bonus I am happy to explore, especially when the chile is hot and the nights are cool. Santa Fe and New Mexico brewers did themselves proud at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival this past October with a total of 8 medals garnered, so I took on the task (!) of a tankard tour around town to convince you hop-loving honeys that attending Santa Fe WinterBrew 2014 must be on your beer-loving agenda.
I’m Calling It My Party … But You Are Invited
I’ve decided to pretend that my January birthday is on the 24th, so I can celebrate with friends at WinterBrew this year. Making its third appearance in the Santa Fe Railyard at the Farmers’ Market Pavilion, this big beer-lovers bash organized by the New Mexico Brewers’ Guild brings together a macro-batch of craft micro-breweries from all around New Mexico to celebrate my birthday — okay, not really, but humor me, I’m still pretending. With a bounty of exceptional beers and beer-worthy foods (I like their homey billing of “comfort foods”), this is a party to which everyone is invited!
A raft of craft brewers from around the state is on tap for the event, so expect to see beverages from Second Street Brewery, Chama River, Santa Fe Brewing Company (Santa Fe’s oldest brewing company), Duel Brewery (the City Different’s newest brewer), La Cumbre, Taos Mesa, Marble, Blue Heron, Little Toad Creek, Blue Corn Brewery, and even Monk’s Ale from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. And I hear tell that there are still four slots on the beer slate to be filled. I am anticipating some delectably unforgettable treats, since those afore-mentioned comfort foods include brats and carnitas, as well as veggie options such as mac & cheese and portobello tacos. With accommodating kitchen crews coming from the Blue Corn Brewery, Second Street Brewery, Duel Brewing, Rio Chama, and the Bambini Philly Cheese Steak mobile food truck, I’m sure that no one will leave the Railyard hungry for more.
Advance tickets for the five-hour festivities are already on sale, and the 650-person limit means this is a gotta-do-it winter event for anyone who likes to tickle their taste-buds with brawny beverages. Tickets include a $5 credit for beer or food and a commemorative sampling glass. That’s my “Hoppy Birthday” present to me!
You Won’t Be Blue When You Drink Their Brew
Pouring beer and feeding crowds at WinterBrew, the Blue Corn empire (okay, maybe that’s a bit grand for two restaurants and one brewery, but I bow to a good beer purveyor) originated in a downtown eatery before bumping up to brew status. At the Great American Beer Festival, Blue Corn earned two silver medals, one each for End of the Trail Brown Ale and the Gold Medal Stout. Personally I gravitate to the Atomic Blonde Lager, since its crisp flavor pairs perfectly with an order of the doughnut-sized onion rings. My, are those ever a guilty pleasure!
Housing a host of house beers and rotating specialties, the shining copper fermenters quietly work their magic as diners dig into everything from fajitas to those killer onion rings (c’mon, you know you want ‘em) in the Rodeo Road outpost and the beers are on location at the Blue Corn Cafe downtown. The 15-barrel fermenter is solely dedicated to Blue Corn’s most popular offering, Road Runner IPA. And yes, you might find me running down the road to shed my workaday blues at Blue Corn.
A Local Beer Works Wonders When It’s Near a Wood Oven
While Il Vicino brews its beverages in the Duke City (a.k.a. Albuquerque), its beers bubble nightly in the pint glasses of Santa Fe beer buffs. A historic 1700’s building hosts this favored pizza palace (plenty of other Italian specialties are on the menu, but sorry, people, thin-crust wood-oven pizza margherita for me). The casual, friendly atmosphere makes it a relaxing spot for sampling in the company of inquisitive beer buddies. I generally go pilsner — and their Pigtail is my pick — but attenzione, amici, the discovery that Il Vicino took home gold for their Panama Joe Stout in the coffee beer category at the Great American Beer Festival gives me an excuse to go back soon.
What’s in a Name? Legacy!
Santa Fe Brewing Company is the undisputed grand-daddy of Santa Fe breweries. And with close to 20 different varieties in their stable, this venerable companion of Santa Fe beer aficionados is on tap and in grocery stores around the state. Their Santa Fe Pale Ale has graced many a party at my place, and I love seeing their Oktoberfest appear just in time for my once-a-year spaetzle adventure (for the uninitiated, that’s German pasta, and a special kitchen tool is recommended — thanks for that, Mom).
The Santa Fe Brewing Company has two tasting rooms, the flagship brew house on the Turquoise Trail and the other in the Eldorado subdivision, gracing that bedroom community with a welcome gathering spot. Both are designed for beer-tasting, meaning no food is served, but in a nice reversal of the BYOB rule, tasters are free to bring their own snacks. And you have to love a tasting room that offers a “stitch, bitch and beer” on their events calendar!
Second Street Brewery Doubles the Pleasure with Two Places
Ladies like me love to linger with a pint, and I am happy to report that the Second Street Brewery has gold-medal experience at making killer brews — the proof is in their October Great American Beer Award for Rod’s Steam Bitter. Right now, I’m fascinated by the Festivus, singled out as an ale “for the rest of us” by the brew staff. The name alone put me in a holiday mood, so I gave myself the gift of green chile cheese fries to partner with my pint.
The brewery/pub, located on (surprise!) Second Street, has been a cheery hangout for locals since it opened, and the smart creation of the Railyard location (a second Second Street you might say) harvested a legion of loyal beer-lovers. These brewers may be second-streeters, but having a broad selection of beers that I can pair with the honkin’ platter of nachos on the menu (face it, pub food rocks!) gives them first-place status in my beer journal.
No Need to Fight, There’s Something for Every Taste at Duel Brewery
I love a duel. I know it’s probably just a lingering teenage fantasy, in which two studly dudes vie for my hand, but every time the Santa Fe Opera brings Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin back to the stage, I always choke up in the duel scene knowing that only one character survives the face-off. That can’t be said for Duel Brewery, however, since their slate includes many leading players. Specializing in Belgian-style beers, meaning hoppy ales like the Fiction IPA, less hoppy versions like the Non-Fiction (I just love that naming distinction), and a classic pale and punchy Sour Witbier, this new spot — the first craft brewery to open here in Santa Fe in 15 years — brings a welcome cast of coldies to Santa Fe. Any place that offers bread and butter (warm marbled rye with salt and butter) as an appetizer scores high marks in my book. And I send a resounding “Ja” (yes!) back to my mother’s German roots when I order the German plate, a mix of white bratwurst and spicy hot link sausages with German potato salad and sauerkraut — Ja, Ja, Ja!
Effervescently Yours from Santa Fe
Baby, it’s cold outside … so let’s fight fire with fire by heading inside to have a cold one. T’is the season for get-togethers and friendly fun, and there’s nothing like finely-crafted local beer to make the meet-up more festive. Santa Fe is continually enriched with entrepreneurial spirit and drive, and we are the fortunate recipients of the tasty results. An afternoon at WinterBrew 2014 or a cerveza cruise through the City Different with like-minded adventurers, it’s your call. Either way, you’ll discover the bubbling up of a wonderful wellspring of beer right here in Santa Fe, so “Cheers” to you.