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State’s booming craft brewing scene has earned national attention

New Mexico breweries are best known for bold IPAs, but taps in Taos, Las Cruces and many towns in between are flowing with dozens of varieties of locally made beer and cider.

It’s all part of the booming craft brewery scene that has earned the state national recognition as a “beercation” hot spot. Just last year, Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine highlighted Albuquerque as one of America’s best beer cities, and the Duke City made its second appearance on Travelocity’s Top 10 list of “Beer Destinations” along with Portland, Ore., Denver and Seattle.

“We definitely get a lot of tourists at our breweries,” says John Gozigian, executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild.

Today, there are roughly 65 craft breweries in New Mexico – with the highest concentration in Albuquerque – and a dozen or so on the drawing board. That’s one of the highest number of breweries per capita in the country.

But it’s not just the numbers that are impressive. New Mexico brewers also have won numerous awards. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, one of the world’s largest commercial beer competitions, recently awarded gold to Albuquerque’s Nexus Brewery for its Imperial Cream Ale, Moriarty’s Sierra Blanca Brewing Co. for its Cherry Wheat, Albuquerque’s Marble Brewery for its Cholo Stout and Boxing Bear Brewing Co. for its The Red Glove and Chocolate Milk Stout. La Cumbre Brewing Co. and Bosque Brewing Co. of Albuquerque have won national awards for their IPAs.

“We’re definitely known for hop-forward beers, IPA in particular,” Gozigian says. “Our beers tend to be bold, flavorful beers, more so than other parts of the country.”

Just right to go with New Mexico’s bold and spicy cuisine.

La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA, which was introduced about seven years ago, is a big, bold and assertive beer that finishes very bitter, says master brewer and President Jeff Erway.

“I think Elevated became what is known around the country as the New Mexico IPA and it kind of defines that style,” he says, adding that for a beer-drinker, trying Elevated for the first time is like going from coffee to espresso.

The brewery hasn’t stopped innovating. Its Project Dank beer is always changing to give hard-core beer drinkers – known as hop heads – something new all the time.

“We are constantly changing and we have tried very style under the sun,” Erway says. New releases planned for May and June include a strawberry gose, an apricot saison and a traditional Kolsch.

Ale Trail

Visitors and locals can easily find brewpubs and taprooms wherever they are headed with the help of online interactive maps created by the New Mexico Brewer’s Guild and the state Tourism Department. Printed versions of the Brewer’s Guild 2018 map also are available at member breweries.

“Liquid tourism continues to grow in New Mexico,” says Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham. “We recently revamped the New Mexico True Ale Trail and it now includes even more fantastic breweries all across the Land of Enchantment.”

Latham adds that in 2016 alone, nearly 8 percent of overnight trips to New Mexico included a trip to a brewery, up from only 3 percent in 2011. More than 10 percent of overnight visitors to the state in 2016 cited brewery tours and tasting local beers as a special activity of interest, compared to the U.S. average of 6 percent, she says.

For visitors and locals alike, summer offers several opportunities to try a lot of craft brews with minimal effort. The 8th annual Albuquerque Beer Week, which runs May 24 to June 3, will feature more than 100 events at 50 venues. First up is Albuquerque Blues and Brews on Sunday, May 27, at Sandia Resort & Casino. Head over for unlimited samples from 60 breweries at one of the largest beer celebrations in the state. Information is available at abqbluesandbrews.com and abqbeerweek.com.

In July, breweries will compete against each other for the 17th year in the New Mexico IPA Challenge. The public can buy a tasting tray at one of the four rounds and cast their votes.

“It’s all based on popular demand,” Gozigian says.

The first round will be July 14 in Albuquerque, followed by rounds July 18 at Taos Mesa Brewing, July 21 in Santa Fe and July 28 in Albuquerque. Boxing Bear Brewing Co. is the reigning champion with two wins under its belt. Find information at nmbeer.org.

There are plenty of other events going on at breweries and taprooms every week, from live music to yoga to terrarium building classes.

“We host unique events in order to set ourselves apart,” says Jeremy Kinter, marketing and events director for Tractor Brewing.

Among the offerings are karaoke, gamer’s nights, writing Wednesdays, I’ll Drink to That variety shows and drag queen bingo. Some of Tractor’s events benefit local nonprofits as part of its Beer for a Better Burque program.

Like La Cumbre, Tractor takes pride in experimenting with seasonal beer offerings such as a coffee chocolate milk stout and a pomegranate cider. In fact, the brewery is known for its wide selection of ciders.

Food and beer

La Cumbre isn’t the only brewery known for a particular drink or style. Many breweries have specialties. Duel Brewery specializes in Belgian-style ale, while New England-style IPA is popular at Bombs Away Beer Co., for example. Some brewers are keeping things closer to home by harvesting wild, native Neo-mexicanus hops to make their beers.

“What’s unique about the New Mexico breweries is that we experiment with locally foraged ingredients,” Gozigian says.

Bow & Arrow Brewing Co., which is Native American-owned, is one of the breweries that uses local ingredients. Its motto is, “We brew wild, sour and barrel-aged beers in the heart of the American Southwest.”

Food options also run the gamut at local tap rooms. Some breweries don’t serve food at all, while others have focused on dining and some have partnered with food trucks or nearby restaurants. At Marble’s Montgomery taproom in the Northeast Heights, for example, customers can order pizza from next-door Slice parlor delivered to the taproom. Nexus, which serves a Southern-inspired Frito pie, bills itself as “Albuquerque’s craft beer and soul food connection.” And High Desert Brewing Co., the oldest brewery in Las Cruces, has a reputation for the best nachos around.

“We have great food,” says manager Donna Almarez.

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