Hollow Spirits Will Heal Your Gin Scars
New distillery serves infused liquors and a chef-driven food menu
Hollow Spirits has been making their own gin, vodka and rum since 2017. The bar and restaurant only opened to the public at the end of November last year, though, and the general response has been pretty overwhelmingly positive. I always jump at the chance to try locally-made spirits because it’s still fairly few and far between, and because it’s almost always better than whatever middle-shelf bottle I would have grabbed at a liquor store. So naturally I was excited to see what Hollow Spirits had to prove.
The first thing one notices behind Hollow Spirits’ bar is that there’s a scientist who’s been given free reign of the place. The back wall is lined with various infusions of their liquors: I see a lavender vodka, various chile concoctions and a gin with cucumber. I find out later that this is head distiller Martin Ulloa’s handiwork, and that he’s behind many of the cocktails on the menu as well.
Before he joined the Hollow Spirits team, Ulloa was making whiskey at Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas. He’s excited to start working on a whiskey recipe for Hollow Spirits in the spring, and on some more exotic spirits as well. On a little tour through the distillery, he tells me that they’re going to start making sotol and absinthe this year as well, and that he’s working with Sean Sheehan at Sheehan Winery to make a grappa, an Italian spirit made from the spent grapes leftover from the winemaking process. “Nobody else in New Mexico is doing that, that I know of,” he says.
In the meantime, Ulloa’s gin alone is more than enough to keep Albuquerque drinkers like me occupied. I’ve only recently started coming around to gin and its fragrant, many-layered flavors after too many scarring experiences with the plastic-bottle varieties in my formative years. Ulloa’s mellow, citrusy spirit is a tonic (hah) to those incidents. There’s no sharp edges or overly herbal, licorice-y notes to it; just bright cucumber and orange peel. It’s great to sip on its own and phenomenal in a cucumber-infused gin fizz.
The spirits have found their way into many of the dishes served at Hollow Spirits, too. The lavender-infused vodka, for instance, gets cooked down with balsamic vinegar into a reduction that goes on the highly photogenic avocado toast. This, drizzled on top of the layers of toasted French bread, dill cream cheese, big slices of avocado and heirloom tomato and a fried quail egg is heavenly. I know that avocado toast culture has kind of peaked already, but that just means that chefs have to go all-out on it to keep diners interested. Pretty sure edible pansies and quail eggs count as going all-out.
The rest of the food menu is similarly showy for a bar setting: poke bowls, a charcuterie board, a chile confit pork bao. Surprisingly, many of their dishes are vegan or can be made so, which was an important factor for Chef Tristin in crafting the menu. He’s found that jackfruit can replace the meat proteins in most of the dishes quite well. “I’m tired of taking [vegan] friends out to bars where all they can eat is fries,” he says. Hollow Spirits’ vegan burger ($15) with a homemade bun and cassava fries is tasty, filling testament to his commitment to vegan diners.
Chef Tristin has worked on some of the cocktail recipes, too. The Bloody Mary flight ($21) features some of his homemade mixes with four of Ulloa’s chile-infused vodkas. Green chile, red chile, habañero pepper and pepperoncini vodkas make the boozy base of this flavorful brunch flight that ranges in heat from sweet-and-sour to “I’m not crying, I’ve just got something in my eye.” The green chile is like a slightly spicy gazpacho with celery and tomatillo in the mix—one could almost think one was drinking something healthy, if it weren’t for the booze part. The red chile is smoky and sweet and very barbeque-esque, while the habañero will really make you feel alive.
When I ask Chef Tristin if working spirits into the food menu is a challenge, he shrugs. “Not really—it’s a great ingredient, so it’s easy to work with,” he says, giving props to the distiller. Chef Tristin was working at The Crown Room, the restaurant at The Downs Racetrack and Casino. Getting to make the whole menu from scratch has been exciting for him, along with preparing the private and public multi-course dinners Hollow Spirits has hosted. His next big event is a multi-course pairing dinner at StoryLab in March, which will doubtless be a huge sensory experience.
Whether you should come visit Hollow Spirits for the food or for the drinks is a toss-up, and ultimately I suggest you go for both. There are still some things getting ironed out, most notably the lack of a real kitchen—Chef Tristin is currently preparing everything in a food truck parked outside of the bar, which is just kind of one of those things you have to deal with when you’re working at a fledgeling business. The real kitchen is under construction and should be finished sometime in March. I look forward to seeing how the menu will change and expand when he’s got the new space to work with. In the meantime, I’ll be back for the gin and for whatever Chef Tristin makes in that little hotbox of a kitchen next.
1324 First St. NW
Hours: Mon closed, Tue-Wed 3pm-10pm, Thu 3pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun noon-9pm
Vibe: Casual and social: great place to bring a bunch of friends after work
Alibi Recommends: Bloody Mary flight, gin fizz, avocado toast