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What’s brewin’

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Nexus Brewery, owned by Ken Carson, is one of the breweries in the newly designated "brewery district" near Jefferson and Interstate 25. (journal file)

Nexus Brewery, owned by Ken Carson, is one of the breweries in the newly designated “brewery district” near Jefferson and Interstate 25. (journal file)

If a cold brew on tap is your vision of heaven on a hot summer day, New Mexico has what you’re looking for.

The state is home to dozens of microbreweries serving up a wide range of craft beers. Most of the breweries are in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but Taos and other towns from Artesia to Farmington also are home to small brewers.

“Definitely, we are in our prime right now,” says Christopher Goblet, the “beer ambassador” for the New Mexico Brewers Guild. “It’s a growing industry right now.”

Indeed, there are 12 new breweries in the planning stages in New Mexico and eight existing breweries undergoing major expansions.

“They can’t make it fast enough,” Goblet says.

For years, Denver, San Diego and Portland were some of the biggest names for microbrewery tourism.

“Albuquerque is very fast becoming one of those destinations for the brew scene,” says David Facey, assistant general manager of Il Vicino Brewery, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is the second-oldest microbrewery in the state.

The Brewers Guild offers an interactive map – dubbed the “ale trail” by the New Mexico Department of Tourism – of the microbreweries around the state on its website, nmbeer.org.

Among the more unusual offerings at Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the Chicken Killer Barley Wine with a 10 percent alcohol content. (Journal file)

Among the more unusual offerings at Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the Chicken Killer Barley Wine with a 10 percent alcohol content. (Journal file)

The IPA Challenge

India pale ales remain big with breweries in the Land of Enchantment. That’s no surprise given that IPA is the No. 1 style of craft beer in America, making up 50 percent of sales. The state’s 13th annual IPA Challenge, in which consumers judge entries, will be July 12-19.

“We’re all known for our big, bold, hoppy IPAs,” Facey says.

The Santa Fe Brewing Co., the oldest microbrewery in New Mexico, has seen its Happy Camper IPA become by far the top seller among its beers.

The company, which has tasting rooms at its brewery at Cerrillos and Interstate 25 and in El Dorado, also has some more unusual offerings such as its Chicken Killer Barley Wine.

Barley wine is a style of very strong beer with a 10 percent alcohol content. General Manager Alana Jones described the Chicken Killer brew as “very malty with a nice hop backbone.”

“It has a cult following,” she says.

Seasonal ales

Like most breweries, Santa Fe Brewing Co. turns out seasonal ales. This summer it will offer a Freestyle Pilsner in cans and on draft.

“That’s kind of a classic, German-style pilsner – light and easy-drinking,” Jones says.

She says craft beers are very diverse with bitter, fruity and sweet brews that make it easy to pair with all kinds of foods.

Facey agrees. Il Vicino last year offered more than 70 different styles of beer, he says.

“We can experiment and play around,” he says. “We brew quite the assortment and what that allows us to do is brew a lot of different seasonals and specials.”

The brewery has 14 taps. Six of them remain consistent and eight rotate. Beer aficionados might look for the Panama Joe Stout, a coffee-style brew that won gold last year at the Great American Beer Festival, or the Saint Bob’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, which took a gold medal at the European Beer Star awards last year.

Il Vicino also is known for fruity beers such as its boysenberry wheat, Facey says.

Nexus Brewery, owned by Ken Carson, is one of the breweries in the newly designated "brewery district" near Jefferson and Interstate 25. (Journal file)

Nexus Brewery, owned by Ken Carson, is one of the breweries in the newly designated “brewery district” near Jefferson and Interstate 25. (Journal file)

Fun festivals

In additional to the IPA Challenge, the Brewers Guild plans two other festivals this summer.

The Outside Bike and Brew Festival will be May 16-18 in the Santa Fe Railyards District. Sponsored by Outside Magazine, the Brewers Guild and Cycle Santa Fe, it will feature a craft beer pavilion, a guided bicycle ride that stops at three local craft breweries and more.

On June 21, The Yards Craft Beer Festival will celebrate the summer solstice in Downtown Albuquerque.

“We’ll have one of the largest craft beer festivals in the history of New Mexico,” Goblet says. “We’ll have all the microbreweries in the state.”

But there’s no need to wait for a festival to sample the wide range of craft beers available.

In Albuquerque, several areas offer breweries, including the newly designated “brewery district” near Jefferson and Interstate 25. Il Vicino, La Cumbre and Nexus breweries all are located there. Nob Hill – with Kelly’s and Tractor breweries – and Downtown also are good bets, Goblet says.

Even O’Niell’s Irish Pub, which does not brew its own beer, has a focus on craft beers with 17 taps, says marketing manager Daniela Tausan.

The pub, with locations in Nob Hill and the Northeast Heights, has two house beers: the O’Neill’s O’Red by Full Sail Brewing Co. and the O’Niell’s Piper’s Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery and also sells beers by Marble and other New Mexico microbrewers.

Breweries generally produce beers similar to each other, but Duel Brewing Co. in Santa Fe has a unique focus on Belgian style brews.

“Their flavors are a lot different than what you find in any other brewery,” Goblet says, adding that the beer bar also has an esoteric mix of poetry, jazz and live drawing classes that make it “wacky and fun.”

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