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 V.23 No.20 | May 15 - 21, 2014 

Beer Guy

Lost Weekend

A poetic trip through Albuquerque’s breweries

photos by Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Poet and drunk Charles Bukowski said, "We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” We've all been there: in traffic, at work, or in line at the store—terrorized and flattened by the grind of our everydays. So how to counter-balance all the fat, wet chunks the world hacks away? Bukowski knew, and we know too: Beer.

As Burqueños, we find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the promised land. You can't throw a rock without hitting a brewery, many of them churning out award-winning beers daily. With our embarrassment of riches, it's tricky business knowing what to drink. So I set out, over one lost weekend, not in search of my favorite local pint, but aimed, instead, at sampling the proudest, award-winning-est, flagship pints from a grip of Albuquerque's finest breweries.

We started late, and intentionally slow—so as to avoid any misguided association with the delirium tremens set. Led Zeppelin served as my Aloha both coming and going into the cavernous, high-ceilinged saloon of The Stumbling Steer (3700 Ellison NW).

“If paraded before the Emperor,” I asked, “which beer would your brewer offer up to save his skin?”

“I always see him drinking the stout,” said the waitress.

And by that she meant the imperial stout—a dark, straight forward, easy-drinking affair, served in a goblet-like snifter fit for a poet. The chewy elixir has well-balanced malt and chocolate notes, and a molasses finish that’s like the building itself: light, clean, if a little cold. The place is a bustling lunch crowd that’s pleasant enough—no fist fights to speak of. All and all—a fine beginning. But poets crave adventure, and maybe trouble. So I award it 3 1/2 grizzled drunk poets heads and we push onward, out into the maddening wind.

“If paraded before the Emperor,” I asked, “which beer would your brewer offer up to save his skin?”

“I always see him drinking the stout,” said the waitress.

Next was Broken Bottle Brewery (9421 Coors NW). It’s an intimate joint, opened two years ago with help from a Kickstarter campaign. The bartender immediately knew it was my first time in, and I suspect regulars are welcomed like Norm at Cheers.

“If aliens, bent on Earth’s destruction, demanded one beer to spare the planet, which would you serve them?”

“I guess I’d have to ask what kind of beer the aliens liked,” said the bartender. I landed on the Java the Hutt—a seasonal, so try it before it’s gonzo. Think chocolate covered coffee beans—only better because it’s beer. Call it slightly bitter, with a dry finish—served up in a spot both hard to find but worth the look. 3 1/2 grizzled drunk poet heads.

At Bosque Brewing (8900 San Mateo NE) it was the Cumulus wheat IPA that, were the brewery on fire, my server would save first. It’s a hoppy, crisp pop-in-the-chops hybrid with a dry finish. The small but busy space is clearly no secret to brew-heads and regulars, and the tabletop Explora-like brain-games do double-duty as cheapjack roadside sobriety tests. I can’t wait to return for an entire flight and something off the food menu: 4 1/2 drunk poet heads.

“You’re up against the wall, a firing squad, and you’ve got one beer to save your life. What do you pick?”

“The Scottish ale,” says my Nexus (4700 Pan American Freeway) server without hesitation.

“Even with the imperial cream ale winning awards?” I asked. He’s unmoved, explaining that higher alcohol sometimes scares off timid drinkers. At Nexus, it seems the goal is approachable beers and the Scottish Ale is a golden, caramel, Werther’s-candy of a beer with an invisible finish—one to drink all afternoon. But I don’t have all afternoon, and I’m drawing 3 drunk poet heads in my notebook as the server surprises me with a taster of the silver-medal-winning cream ale.

“It’s Mexican folklore,” he explains, “that once you get a taste for something, you get a bump on your tongue until you try it.” It’s straight-up summer patio fare, and makes for a kind send-off. 3 1/2 drunk poet heads.

Braving furious winds, we continue our onslaught upstairs at La Cumbre (3313 Girard NE). A beer-lover’s Valhalla, the delicious stink of wort greets us as we climb. It’s their Project Dank I dive in to—a crotch-punch of a beer not for the faint of heart. Yes, too many of these sharp, brutally hoppy beasts would surely end in bedlam. Recognizing the hell-bent gleam in my eye, my associates hustle me out by the collar. 4 1/2 hopped-up drunken poet heads.

Day 1 ends at Tractor (118 Tulane SE). The Cortijo Saison Farmhouse Ale is my server’s choice to slip his neck from the hangman’s noose—a clean, bright, crisp pint as friendly as the sweet puppies underfoot. 4 poet heads. Halfway through my gal suggests a Yankee Swap, and I get her Adebisi black lager. It’s a heavier, workman-like beer fit for shipping clerks and machinists. 4 beer-fuzzy drunk poet heads as we pop smoke for a Huey evac—determined to get back home before the chupacabras commence their Saturday Night Punch & Vomit Jamboree.

Day 2 begins with a Pastizal at Cazuela’s (4051 Sara SE) in Rio Rancho. We’re seated in an atrium, the metal casks standing in vigil along the northern wall as the winds continue punishing us for our transgressions. A Bronze at the 2014 World Beer Cup, it’s a perfectly smooth and balanced oatmeal stout with a miniature bitter kick mid-swig. I know the Westside isn’t everyone’s cup of stout, but this is worth the trip. 4 1/2 drunk poet heads. And after having escaped the chupacabras the night before, our luck doesn’t hold: I have no choice but to try a taster of their Chupacabra—for posterity’s sake, if not for the eerie coincidence. It’s a tangy, soft-hopped sup, one tailor made for a New Mexico patio in summer. 3 1/2 drunk poet heads.

Were I trapped in a pit with starved lions, my server at Turtle Mountain (905 36th Street SE) figured their 15th anniversary brown ale would placate the beasts. And so began a day of intriguing, conversation-worthy pints. By pint’s end my notes read: spicy (clove?), citrus, effervescent tang to start; palate-cleansing blast mid-way; a near-endless molasses finish. At 3 1/2 drunk poet heads, this beer certainly tells a story, if one a little difficult to pin down—though I’d welcome another pint. And be it the accumulation of IBUs or the furious ides, the world had officially begun to tilt.

At Marble (111 Marble NW) I asked, “If an asteroid was hurtling towards earth, which beer would Bruce Willis need to blow it apart?” The answer: barley wine. Imagine Ricola and NyQuil make a cough syrup baby aimed at the discerning railyard hobo, and now double it! I’ve had barley wines before, so I knew what I was getting into—but if you haven’t, try a taster first. Like a mysterious elixir hustled from a carpetbagger’s napsack, it’s bourbon-sweet and powerfully herbaceous — a beer that takes big chances. In 13 oz and at 10 percent your horizons will be instantly expanded. 3 drunk poet heads as we continue scouting the fringe.

At the Back Alley Draft House (215 Central NE) it’s the Soroche IPA that would’ve saved the Titanic. “I even helped brew it,” said our waitress. It’s a drier bite, perhaps more bitter than average, but with an easy finish. 3 drunk poet heads and like so many IPAs in town, it’s solid—a testament to how high we set the bar. In fact, I propose we start making APAs: Albuquerque Pale Ales (Dubs: Triple stamp it, no erase-ies.) Cashing out our tab was $19.33—the year prohibition ended. And thank the stars it did!

Last was Il Vicino (3403 Central NE) where, since 1994, easy-drinking pints with enough oomph for craft-heads have been wrought. First: the IPA. The perfect beer for those scared off of, or reluctant to try IPAs, this is absolutely your gateway, with hops you’d expect and an unbelievably smooth, crisp finish. Still thirsty, I ended with their pilsner, which shall henceforth be called “The Chardonnay of Beers.” It was utterly, fantastically drinkable. 4 and 4 1/2 drunk poet heads respectively.

Poets know that true culture is a grassroots phenomenon. Writers, artists, chefs, brewers—each fearlessly grinding out the struggling artist’s life. Albuquerque’s is a vast and talented brew scene, one proudly befitting the poet and drunk in us all. Tremendous beers are ours for the drinking every single day. So trade in those pedestrian mega-brews, and choose to keep your drinking dollars here. Your beer-buck garners not only a vastly superior product—it keeps our world class beer-artisans pushing the envelope. And poets know that’s better than being terrorized and flattened by another gas-station twelver.

 

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