The quote that our city will forever be most known by is Bugs Bunny’s “I knew I should have made a left turn at Albuquerque.” This also happens to be how our city’s first distillery got its name. Left Turn Distilling, tucked into the industrial no-man’s-land off of Candelaria, is a haven of very pointedly New Mexican liquors and ciders that doesn’t typically get mentioned in the guidebooks. A left turn, indeed.
Left Turn is not only home to a suite of housemade liquors, but also to Palmer Brewery, which makes several ciders and beers. More recently a kitchen has opened up in the space—Cocina Amada—that’s serving a rotating menu of tacos, nachos and small plates like calabacitas fritters.
On any night of the week you’ll discover that Left Turn has a crowd of faithfuls, so finding a seat at the bar isn’t always easy. But there are enough tables around the bar that you likely won’t be left standing. Weeknights also host a variety of regular events, though: Check their schedule on Facebook before you roll in, or you might walk into the middle of a Geeks Who Drink pub quiz (Thursday nights at 8). The place has a very strong neighborhood bar vibe—everyone seems to know each other here—even though it’s not really in a neighborhood.
For a daytime drinking experience, I highly recommend the Palmer dry apple cider (all Palmer brews are $3.50 for 10oz., $5 for a pint). I am forever in love with cider and never in love with the fuzzy teeth feeling of that wildly high sugar content—which is why I think this dry cider does the trick so perfectly. The champagne lightness of it and the relatively low alcohol content (6.5% ABV) makes it super easy to drink and good for pairing with just about any food, but especially some of the fried fish tacos that you might encounter here on a Tuesday. The seasonal pumpkin cider is also a stand-up drink—not overwhelming on the pumpkin spice notes, just enough that you know it’s autumn when you take a sip. Try a flight of four of their rotating ciders to find which one’s your favorite.
Left Turn has a drink list that really highlights their liquors, including a whole list of mules made with their housemade ginger beer. The New Mexico blue mule ($7) is a sweet and punchy mix of the ginger beer and their blue corn whiskey. The ginger and the kick of the whiskey is heartwarming in the most literal of senses. A good drink to fend off the bite of winter.
The food from Cocina Amada is certainly one of the biggest draws of this bar. Green chile and calabacitas nachos ($7) make a perfect beer-drinking dish, stacked high with melted cheese, refried beans and cut by the fresh taste of the cilantro, onion and lime-drenched calabacitas on top. Share these with a friend for a snack, or make it your first course of the night.
If you’re at the bar at a slightly slower time of day, ask one of the bartenders to make you whatever’s the weekly special, or just something they’ve been toying with. There are some pretty inventive people behind the bar at Left Turn making some pretty interesting drinks. (On one of my visits there, a bartender was making a cranberry egg foam to put on top of their Thanksgiving special drink.)
If you want to expand your drinking horizons and support local business in the process, Left Turn is an excellent place to start. Consider buying a bottle of one of their liquors for a holiday gift—or for a little holiday cheer for yourself.