Portland may be considered beer heaven, but forgive me if I spend eternity in beer purgatory here in Albuquerque. Portland (the hipster city, not the lobster city) is reputed to have 30 breweries in a city of 580,000 residents. Albuquerque is catching up quickly with three more breweries looking to open in the coming months. The only question is whether our city has enough craft drinkers to support that growth.
If my visit to Tractor Brewing’s new Nob Hill tap room is any indication, brewpubs may overtake Olive Garden as Albuquerque’s favorite destination. The tap room has only been open a month, yet Tractor is already doing a brisk business, often filling the entire patio area. The location doesn’t hurt, either. I’ve always felt that even a mediocre business has a fighting chance in Nob Hill, just from the sheer number of people the area attracts. But Tractor draws the crowd by serving beer that’s come a long way since Head Brewer Dave Hargis took over more than a year ago.
For years, Tractor was mired in ho-hum versions of non-exciting styles. Today’s Tractor offers up nine taps, with five constants (IPA, red, honey wheat, pale ale and stout) and four rotating taps (the Pilsner, saison, maibock and dopplebock were on when I visited). I thought the dopplebock was excellent, and Tractor seems to excel at the bock styles. It took first place at Santa Fe’s BockFest this year. The only complaint I have is that beers are served in chilled glasses, which sounds appealing in hundred-degree weather but can mute the flavor of the beer.
Tractor plans to introduce live music in the near future. There is no kitchen, but five Nob Hill restaurants offer delivery, and there are plenty within walking distance.
Owner Ken Carson found the initial transition from bank executive to brewery owner more daunting than he anticipated. And that’s not even including the extra months of downtime—waiting for contractors to take care of all the little details that kept Nexus from opening its doors. “In the banking industry, things sort of stay the same regardless of the amount of customers coming through the doors that day,” he says. “I just have to remember that the brewery is going to have its good and bad days, and not get too caught up in head-counting. If the beer’s good, people will come.”
And the beer is good, with nine styles featured on tap. Of them, the IPA, ESB, cream and Belgian white were standouts for me. Head Brewer Maun Massen has taken the reins from Brewmaster/Consultant Dr. Paul Farnsworth, a renowned expert on the science of beer who has helped troubleshoot at many local breweries, including Marble and La Cumbre. Farnsworth has moved on to Boca Raton, Fla., leaving Massen the freedom to experiment with his own recipes. Massen is a graduate of the prestigious UC Davis brewing program, with brewing credentials in Cornwall, England.
The focus at Nexus is on balanced, drinkable beers that don’t smash customers in the mouth by a hop assault. That being said, Nexus is willing to adjust to its customers: When the initial batch of IPA was deemed by many of them to be a little too mild, Nexus was quick to make the second batch much hoppier. The improvement showed at this year’s NM IPA Challenge, where Nexus beat out stalwart area breweries Turtle Mountain and Second Street. And don’t make the mistake of equating “balanced” with “boring.” Nexus already has a 9.6 percent barleywine on tap, with an imperial cream ale made with blue corn in the works.
The brewery is attracting quite a following, both for the beer and as a soul food gastropub. The menu offers specialties of Southern-fried po’boys and the delicious marriage of chicken and waffles. It’s just the place to take your soul-food-craving friends while still getting your craft beer fix. And there’s live music, too. Nexus has bands booked two to three nights a week.
The brewpub offers a mug club of sorts, but in this club members are inducted as “Nexus Neighbors.” For $35 ($50 for couples’ memberships), Neighbors get $4 20-ounce beers, a free T-shirt and discounted growler fills. They’re also asked at time of joining to recite a pledge that includes the final phrase, “I will always drink craft beer and enjoy the ExBeerience as a Nexus Neighbor till the day I die!”
Sounds like a good life.