New Mexico has a long and proud history of winemaking (thanks, largely, to the Spaniards who settled here in the 1600s). And it’s getting so we can’t even keep up with the number of high-quality breweries opening in and around the Duke City on a weekly basis (thanks to the hipsters who settled here in the ’90s). But with craft cocktails on the slow and steady rise, actual distilleries are still somewhat new to the Land of Enchantment. In 2004, the Don Quixote Distillery in White Rock became the state’s first licensed distillery. Others, thankfully, have followed suit.
It takes longer, of course, to distill spirits than it does to brew beer, so many of our state’s distilleries are in their infancy. Still, we’re seeing more and more of them crop up every year. And many have moved beyond mere vodka and “white whiskey,” the quickest and least complex sprits to distill. So if you’re looking to pass along a little taste of New Mexico this holiday season, particularly to out-of-town friends and relatives, local booze is an increasingly good way to go. After all, what’s more New Mexico than green chile vodka, blue corn bourbon or piñon rum?
Since expanding from their original Mimbres location to include the ever-hopping downtown Silver City spot established in 2013, Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery has only continued to grow. Their two cozy locations quickly became well-loved haunts for locals and visitors alike, in large part due to the handcrafted spirits that flow behind each rustic wooden bar. Little Toad offers a number of boozy things to keep you warm all winter, including three kinds of vodka—the regular kind we all know and love (hate?) as well red chile and green chile infused varieties. Also on tap are spiced and white rums, three types of liqueur and “teGila,” a tequila whose name is a riff on the distillery's origins on the banks of the Gila River. Perhaps the most loved spirit that Toad Creek offers in bottles and in specialty cocktails is their whiskey, aged in five-gallon oak barrels that allow the drink to achieve its flavor quickly. This small-batch production style also allows the limited staff to maintain a keen focus on getting every bottle just right. If you're not heading south any time soon, you can pick up a small selection of Little Toad Creek's bottles locally at Total Wine & More and Kelly Liquors for around $30 to $50 a pop. (Maggie Grimason)
For seven years the crew at Santa Fe Spirits has been carving out a niche in Northern New Mexico as one of the state's preeminent distilleries. Established in 2010 by whiskey enthusiast and certified aficionado Colin Keegan, it is no surprise that the business produces two types of craft whiskey—the Silver Coyote Pure Malt and the Colkegan Single Malt—the latter having taken home about 15 national awards in the last several years. In addition to their distinct whiskeys, Santa Fe Spirits also cooks up vodka, brandy, gin and several types of liqueur, including the ominous sounding Slow Burn, smoked with hickory and apple wood, which actually makes for a pleasantly forest-y cocktail. One of the most distinguished purveyors of the microdistillery movement in our state, you can head to Santa Fe Spirits' downtown Santa Fe tasting room Monday through Saturday, or book a tour of the distillery via their website. If you're in a rush to shake up a cocktail with these fine liquors, head to Quarters, Kelly's Liquor or Jubilation and with anywhere from $20 to $50 in hand to pick up a bottle tonight. (Maggie Grimason)
Matt Simonds opened Broken Trail Spirits in 2015 (originally called 365 Distillery) after many years of playing around with home brewing and distilling. All of his liquors are named after real places in New Mexico that are near and dear to him: There’s the Holy Ghost Vodka, named after Holy Ghost Creek; the Horsethief Rum, named after a meadow in the Pecos Wilderness, and the Tres Pistolas Bourbon, named after a trail in the Sandias. The vodka has a slightly sweet finish (courtesy of the locally grown corn), which balances out well in salty drinks—try mixing it in a Bloody Mary or a Salty Dog. The Horsethief Rum is steeped in shelled pecans, which gives it a mellow body and a hint of nuttiness. You can purchase their liquors at their distillery and brewery (2921 Stanford Dr, NE) or either of their tasting rooms—one at the Green Jeans Farmery (3600 Cutler Ave. NE) and the other in Uptown (6902 Menaul Blvd. NE). Some local liquor stores also carry Broken Trail Spirits, including Jubilation Wine & Spirits and Total Wine & More. Prices range from $30 to $60 per bottle. (Robin Babb)
Don Quixote Distillery and Winery is about as made-from-scratch as liquor gets. Ron and Olha Dolin, the couple that owns and operates the business, has been producing their own spirits and wines from natural New Mexico ingredients since 2002, in stills that Ron designed and built himself. The engineer-turned-distiller (he worked at Sandia Labs before he started Don Quixote) creates stills that are specifically designed to suit New Mexico’s altitude and environment, as well as the particular spirit being distilled. Olha, who comes from a long line of Eastern European distillers, works as the master distiller and uses techniques passed down through generations, in addition to designing all the labels herself. Together, they’ve crafted a whiskey, bourbon and vodka from locally grown, organic blue corn—a truly New Mexican flavor—with no added chemicals. Their Spirit de Santa Fe Gin is infused with juniper, lavender and mint harvested along the Rio Grande, making for a floral and earthy spirit. Don Quixote also produces wines from organic New Mexico grapes using a natural fermentation process. You can buy their spirits and wines at Jubilation Wine & Spirits and Total Wine & More. Prices range from $40 to $60 per bottle. (Robin Babb)
Algodones is a riverside community located about 25 miles north of Albuquerque. The little town was named after the cotton farms that were once tended nearby in the 1700s. It’s also notable for its traditional, bucolic atmosphere, and is now as the site of one of the region's craft distilleries. Algodones Distillery, affectionately referred to as the “Arts and Crafts Distillery” by thirsty patrons and mindful owners, offers small-batched, locally sourced spirits. Additionally, distillers use traditional pot stills and artisan well water to make their products. Algodones Distillery makes handcrafted vodka, gin and whiskey and sells their product in 750ml bottles that range in price from $25 to $75. Their Claro Vodka is 5x distilled from corn while their Ginebra Southwest Dry Gin is infused with essences of juniper and piñon. They also make a 75 proof juniper liqueur. The distillery's whiskey is made from blue corn, a New Mexican staple; the booze chemists on site say they will soon perfect pecan, piñon and honey-flavored whiskey within the next few months. This wide range of spirits is available in the Duke City at Jubilation Wine & Spirits and Kelly Liquors. (August March)
The motto of Santa Fe area distillery Aztec Spirits is—wait for it—“It's Worth The Sacrifice.” Much like the Empire of Mexico in days of yore, this new business is challenging the status quo with a brave excursion into the heart of New Mexican drinking habits, while also keeping tabs on new efforts at national distribution. Aztec's competitive advantage equals offering quality spirits at a competitive price. The distillery controls two brands of liquor, Aztec and Dire Wolf, and each offers a type of whiskey and vodka. Aztec Vodka is 5x distilled and Aztec Bourbon is distilled using oaken chips to give it a sumptuous, woody flavor. Last spring, Aztec co-owner Rowland Hill told the local daily that while the Aztec Brand offers a premium taste experience and is available at a wide selection of local retailers for about $25 per bottle—from Albertsons and Total Wine to Walmart and Costco—the distillery's partner brand, Dire Wolf (Whiskey or Vodka), is a tasty yet formidable option at only $19.99 per 750ml glass container. Tipplers can also order Aztec Spirits brand beverages at Scalo, Imbibe, Billy's Long Bar, Parque Central and the Library Bar & Grille. (August March)
All the products from KGB Spirits have been created thoughtfully with world-class ingredients. The variety of flavors in the Taos Lightning (single barrel straight Rye Whiskey 4 and 5 year), Turley Mill Rye Whiskey, Hacienda Gin, Vodka Viracocha, Brimstone Absinthe and Naranjo Orange Liqueur suit any occasion whether that's a holiday party or sharing a drink with a special someone. The best example of the prudent process of the distillery is Los Luceros Hacienda Gin. The gin is named after the famous property where KGB is located: Formerly the location of Los Luceros Winery, it was the second straw-bale winery built in the US. Additionally, the label is a subtle nod to antiquity trading systems—as in exchanging goods (alchy, as we like to call it) for services. The Hacienda Gin is the only potato-based, London Dry-style of gin produced in copper Alembic stills that were custom-built for the KGB by Arnold Holstein of Bavaria, Germany. Over 20 herbs, medicinals and botanicals are extracted of their essential oils and mixed into the potent drink—the strongest (and most delicious) being the Sicilian bergamot and Croatian juniper. While interested buyers can find this drink in Colo., Fla., Ga., N.J., N.Y., Tenn. and Texas, more relevant and accessible for local residents is Jubilation where you can find the majority of their products for $35 to $85. (Rini Grammer)
This distillery is well-known for their lush and fun “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” brunches, but let's take a minute to talk about their entire delicious array of locally made spirits. Named after the beautiful La Luz Trail starting in the foothills of the Sandias, the La Luz Vodka ($24.95) is similar to the cloudless sky seen from the high-desert trail because it's so clear—nearly odorless and insipid, it's the perfect mixing alcohol. On the other hand, if you're looking for flavor, the Rojo Piñon Rum ($32.95) is made with grade-A molasses and Piloncillo sugar with a dash of (robust) flavor from every New Mexican's favorite snack—piñon nuts. Another flavorful drink made for New Mexicans is the N.M. Blue Corn Whiskey. Being 100% locally sourced, the blue corn-based whiskey has a slightly sweet taste and can be bought for $36.95 or reserved for $38.95. Finally, they offer a middle-ground gin that's not too sweet and not too dry. Created from a gin recipe that was popular in 18th-century England, it has sugar added to it that makes it more palatable than Dutch and Holland gins. Brothers Old Tom Gin can be purchased for $37.50. Visit the Left Turn Distillery location in Midtown or snag summa the goods at Jubilation Wine & Spirits, Total Wine & More, Whole Foods, Kelly Liquors, Quarters Liquors or Albertsons. (Rini Grammer)