This buoyant, intangible change in Albuquerque’s aura is perhaps imperceptible to those immersed in the everyday drama of the city and the tangible frustrations inherent to it. But there are indications of improvement to be found in the concrete world as well; for myself, the myriad of breweries and taprooms that burst from increasingly-common nooks and crannies are signs of vitality in a city too often defined by its dry, dusty demeanor.
Perhaps these new breweries are such a welcome sight for me because I come fresh off a semester of drinking Texan swill, but even the more cynical (and less brew-enthused) of us must commend the blooming brewery scene in the state and its admirable influence on our communities (whether through simple mood-improvement or economic revenue). Between 2011 and 2017, the number of craft breweries and taprooms in the state more than tripled, with 67 businesses propelling us into a lofty top-12 standing for per-capita brewery concentration. And the breweries just keep on comin’.
Maybe more convincingly, the craft beer industry in New Mexico had a $340 million economic impact in 2016, with that number similarly growing. And that doesn’t even illustrate the increased impact of wholesaling, retailing, and supplying breweries; all in all, estimates show that New Mexico’s beer industry generated $1.6 billion in 2016 while directly employing some 7,000 employees (several hundred in craft breweries themselves) and indirectly another 6,000.
Though some questions do exist over whether Albuquerque can expand (or even maintain) this current concentration of breweries, all of that is almost beside the point, because New Mexican beer is damn good and we are damn good at making it. We have something of a reputation for it, and it’s a reputation that locals can (finally) not hide from or behind, but embrace and defend.
When it comes to beer (and for maybe the first time ever), numeric rankings are both useful and favorable to New Mexico. Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) made its competition debut this year at the 2018 U.S. Open College Beer Championship, and hopped their way to a resounding and astounding title as the 2nd-best brewing school in North America. The CNM team won the IPA category with their Galaxy Smash IPA, and their 1st Place Stout came in an impressive, and confusing, 2nd place.
The team’s accomplishment is even more impressive in the context of the program itself, which is only two years old and—without the budget or equipment to brew in-house—depends on the generosity of local breweries. It also only currently enrolls 16-24 students in any given semester, though it would be unsurprising to see that number (or at least demand for the program) skyrocket shortly.
Students and staff alike are hopeful that CNM will fund their vision for a commercial-scale brewery that would allow students to brew 50- or 150-gallon batches of their concoctions—a far cry from the current 3-gallon limit they face today.
Such an expansion could also open avenues for the program to produce and sell their acclaimed beers to the general public. That enticing possibility will have to be enough to subsist off of until any plans become definitive, but this victory is a thundering statement of intention and potential for both the program and the city’s brewery culture, which can only benefit from this sort of expertise and attention.
I have a lot of hope for New Mexico. Our grass might not be green, but the beer—like our future— is bright.