The intense competitiveness of the craft brewery market is driving a growing number of brewers into spirits. It’s a logical transition, as both brewing and distillation start off with fermentation. There’s an economic appeal too. The craft spirits market is growing faster than the brewery market, driven in part by the craft cocktail craze.
In Albuquerque, the standard bearer of what’s been dubbed the brewstillery movement is La Reforma, a three-year-old operation that makes its own beers and spirits out of a strip mall near I-25 and Alameda NE.
La Reforma offers a slate of brews with Mexican inflections, like a chocolate stout flavored with red chile and cinnamon. It also sells its own rum, vodka and agave spirits in craft cocktails or by the bottle.
And if that’s not enough, there’s a menu of Mexican street food that pairs well with the drinks.
La Reforma takes its name from a set of laws drawn up in 1850s Mexico that helped the country modernize. Additional inspiration came from co-owner Jeff Jinnett’s youth spent in Mexico City. Jinnett partnered with John Gozigian, former head of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, to launch La Reforma in the summer of 2019 in a space that had been vacated by Bosque Brewing Company.
That space stretches along a few storefronts. A small army of kegs, tanks and fermenters stand sentinel just one door down from the restaurant.
The dining room combines industrial style design elements like exposed ceilings and corrugated metal cladding with murals and paintings that call to mind Mexican folk art.
The menus, propped up in aluminum beer buckets, have one side devoted to food, the other to drink. The former consists of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and bowls girded with the usual assortment of fillings like carnitas, carne asada and al pastor.
There is a small assortment of appetizers and sides priced under $10. A cup of pozole ($4.95) was excellent, the white hominy and chunks of pork tender, the modest heat from the red chile broth balanced with cilantro. A pile of cabbage and onion and an accompanying serving of house-made tortilla chips added crunch.
The lone salad on the menu, the boldly named Chef Javi’s Delicious Salad ($11), arrived in a round, shallow aluminum tray. It was good and filling, the substantial bed of greens topped with thin strips of jicama and fried tortillas and a sprinkling of pepitas and cojita. The highlight was the chunks of watermelon bursting with juice matched with a sourish cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
Tacos ($3.50-$3.95), served in soft corn tortillas wrapped in paper, offered a compelling bite of creamy guacamole, crunchy cabbage and onions. The carnitas were excellent, moist and shreddable, the pollo asado nicely smoky. Both got a boost from the homemade corn tortillas, greasy and spongy and free of the synthetic toughness of the stuff sold in supermarkets.
CDMX Quesadillas ($8.50), the star of the menu, are made Mexico City-style by wrapping masa dough around cheese and frying it golden brown. The result looks more like empanadas than the crispy tortilla sandwiches you’re used to seeing. The six crescents bore a corn chip flavor and a soft texture ideal for soaking up the medium-hot red salsa and a cooling salsa verde.
Drinks are divided into beers, craft cocktails and a few nonalcoholic selections. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing craft cocktails priced in the double-digits, so it was a pleasant surprise to see almost all of La Reforma’s offerings clocking in at $8.50. The one exception was the $10 Reposado Rita, La Reforma’s take on a high-end margarita. It’s made with reposado agave spirit that’s aged three-plus months in oak bourbon barrels. The menu describes it as having an oaky finish, but from my perspective it had an oaky beginning and middle too that overpowered the vanilla and caramel notes.
La Reforma’s beer menu reflects the influence of German and Austrian immigrants on Mexico’s brewing history. The Reforma Lager ($5.50), for instance, is made with German hops and Bavarian yeast. It was a beautiful glass, golden wheat in color and with a modest foamy head. The bright, crisp and slightly sweet profile made it a terrific accompaniment to the food.
The menu has three desserts ranging from $5 to $8. There are a few vegetarian options. You have to check with the server for gluten-friendly options because they’re not marked on the menu.
Our server was well-informed and never far from hailing distance.
By combining thoughtfully prepared beers and spirits with solid interpretations of Mexican street food, La Reforma occupies a unique place in the local dining scene. The owners have created food and drink menus that make magic together.