Craft distillery opening in Albuquerque

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Left Turn Distilling is currently producing Brothers Old Tom Gin and soon should begin production on La Luz vodka. Brian Langwell’s new craft distillery in Albuquerque also plans to make piñon rum and blue-corn whiskey. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Brian Langwell’s fascination with the distilling process began long before he was old enough to legally drink.

He was reading the Foxfire book series – something of a how-to guide for living off the land – when a section on moonshine grabbed his attention. He was all of 15 at the time.

“After I read that, I got inspired,” he says.

“I got a chemistry set for Christmas that year and built a still.”

A few decades and career changes later, Langwell is once again making stills.

And now – with the necessary licenses and approvals in place – he’s launched Albuquerque’s only craft spirit distillery.

After 13 years running his own machine shop, Langwell sold the business in April but kept his 2,500-square-foot building in an industrial neighborhood near Girard and Candelaria.

He’s transformed the space into Left Turn Distilling, and his newest enterprise is preparing for its first customers. Langwell says the small tasting room/retail shop should open next week.

Customers can take a seat at one of the six leather barstools and sip 2-ounce cocktails made with Langwell’s spirits.

A window between the tasting room and the production area also allows them to watch the distilling process.

They’ll see Langwell’s first handmade column still pumping out Old Tom gin. The same still soon will make La Luz-branded vodka when that label gets federal approval.

Langwell is also in the process of building a much-larger still that he’ll eventually use to make rum (including a piñon variety) and blue-corn whiskey.

He’s hoping his local take on liquor resonates.

“Everybody I talked to is searching for something unique, something truly New Mexican,” he says.

Langwell – who has studied at other distilleries around the country and via the American Distilling Institute’s online courses – says he should have 1,000 bottles of his Brothers Old Tom gin by month’s end.

And what is Old Tom gin?

“It’s not a dry gin,” he says. “It’s actually got some sugar.”

Langwell says it essentially vanished from the liquor landscape during Prohibition, though it has experienced a small revival in recent years.

Langwell flavors his with 12 different botanicals.

“It’s really spectacular for cocktails, and it’s a throwback to the past,” he says.

Left Turn visitors can try it in sample cocktails like Old Tom Collins (mixed with lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda) and the Martinez, where it is mixed with sweet vermouth and bitters.

He’ll sell Brothers Old Tom gin by the bottle for $37.50.

Left Turn Distilling is located at 2924 Girard NE. For more information, call 505-508-0508.

Something new for Azul

The family behind Albuquerque’s Cocina Azul restaurant is preparing to launch a new fast-casual chain based on its popular New Mexican food fare.

The first location of Azul Burrito Co. is expected to open in December in Downtown, and more may be on the way.

Rather than recreate the full-service Cocina Azul model, the new theme is “kind of Chipotle meets New Mexican food,” said Arellana Cordero.

Cordero’s parents, Frank and Evelyn Barela, founded Cocina Azul four years ago, and she’s helping to guide the business’ expansion.

At Azul Burrito Co., customers will order a customized burrito or bowl by checking off their favorite ingredients on a paper menu.

Protein options include carne adovada, shredded chicken, ground beef and steak. There are multiple rice and bean options, as well as flavoring choices that include red and green chile and red and green salsa.

In addition to burritos and bowls, the restaurant will serve chile relleno and enchilada plates.

The focus, however, is on “repackaging” Cocina Azul’s food for customers who want something faster and cheaper. Burritos and bowls will run about $7.

“I just felt it was kind of a sustainable growth model (for the business),” Cordero says.

Frank Barela was a homebuilder when he opened Cocina Azul in 2009 as a way to weather the recession. Using his own recipes, the restaurant has thrived in its location at 1134 Mountain NW.

In addition to a lively dining room, the takeout business boomed. The family was preparing to convert the laundromat next door into an express, limited-menu location to meet the to-go demand when they heard Nick Manole closed his Nick’s Crossroads Cafe and Fresh Choices restaurants at 4th and Central.

Azul Burrito Co. will take over both spaces – more than 5,000 square feet total – but rely on the cafe space for day-to-day restaurant operations and use the other area for group events.

Frank Barela says he’s already looking for places to expand Azul Burrito Co. into the Northeast Heights and would like a second location within a few months of the Downtown debut. The goal is to eventually have about four Albuquerque locations and perhaps expand beyond the city.

Mykonos making changes

Readers have requested an update on Mykonos Cafe & Taverna, a Northeast Heights mainstay.

No, the Greek restaurant has not closed.

But, yes, things are definitely different.

Mykonos has dropped lunch service and abandoned its recently added breakfast menu. It has gone to dinner-only hours, opening at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

In addition, the menu has been pared down to “the stuff that we’re really good at,” owner Joe Cesarano says, and the restaurant has consolidated its operation. Staff closed off about one-third of the 6,000-square-foot site, partly to make room for kitchen upgrades but also in the name of efficiency.

“The restaurant was just too big for the amount of business,” Cesarano says.

What the future holds is not entirely clear: Cesarano says he has been speaking with interested parties about potentially selling the restaurant.

Mykonos is located at 5900 Eubank NE, Suite E-18.

If you have retail news to share, contact me at or 823-3864. For more regular updates on Albuquerque shopping and restaurant news, visit my blog at or follow @abqdyer on Twitter.

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Brian Langwell monitors production at his craft distillery. Langwell sold his machine-shop business and spent the last six months building Left Turn Distilling, even making his own still. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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When the new Azul Burrito Co. restaurant opens later this year, customers will be able to order customized burritos and bowls as well as enchilada and chile relleno plates. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

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Arellana Cordero says Azul Burrito Co. is a “sustainable” way to expand upon the success of her parents’ Albuquerque restaurant, Cocina Azul. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

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Rather than replicate the sit-down model of Cocina Azul, founder Frank Barela and his family are growing their business with a fast-casual concept called Azul Burrito Co. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

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