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Big Brews, Big Hops

New Mexico's beer scene is in pursuit of bold flavors
Photo by: Emma Balter
A sample tasting of beers from the Santa Fe Brewing Company includes a spicy hefeweizen and a hoppy IPA.

Posted: Feb 15, 2017 3:00pm ET

By Emma Balter

After my Colorado beer adventures taught me about the libation's hyper-locality, I next traveled to New Mexico to sample some local brews. As it turns out, there is a burgeoning craft beer scene there also. Ten years ago, the state had 13 breweries. Today, 58 breweries are operating in New Mexico, producing around 100,000 31-gallon barrels a year.

First, I visited the historic Santa Fe Brewing Company, a landmark brewery built in the 19th century which the current family of owners has been operating since 1988. It's been at the forefront of the industry's growth ever since, and is now New Mexico's largest brewery, distributing to nine different states. Standouts from my tasting lineup included a full-bodied, spicy hefeweizen—a German-style wheat beer—which was only available on tap at the brewery (not uncommon for craft brewers). I also sampled the flagship Happy Camper IPA, a style best suited to fans of big hops.

I quickly learned this is a state trend. "In New Mexico, we like our IPAs really bold, really bitter, [with] a lot of hop aroma," explained Paul Mallory, head brewer at Blue Corn Brewery. Brewers load on the hops, in addition to using certain types of malt and brewing techniques to produce bold flavors. Mallory said Blue Corn's fastest-selling beer of that season was the Robo Lojo Red Ale, made with crystal malt. It is nicknamed caramel malt, and when I tasted the germinated cereal straight out of the bag at the brewery, before it was thrown in the kettle, I understood why. The malt's rich, sweet taste is perfectly suited to the styles of beer for which New Mexico is best known.

Matching area brews to local cuisine is an important consideration. "New Mexican food is very spicy; we use red and green chile that's indigenous to the state," says John Gozigian, executive director of the New Mexico Brewer's Guild and a cofounder of the popular Marble Brewery. "I think the local palate is accustomed to intense flavors, so our beers have followed suit."

New Mexico's craft beer industry is well-supported by local hospitality establishments. Draft Station, with a patio overlooking Santa Fe's historic plaza, is the best place in town to sample local brews: 100 percent of their beers on tap come from the state. I had the chance to try distinctive styles like Marble Brewery's single-hop Comet Pale Ale and Bosque Brewing Company's dry-hopped Acequia.

Two years ago, independent movie theater Violet Crown opened a new spot at the Santa Fe rail yard. Ninety percent of their craft beer offerings at that location are from New Mexico. Food and beverage director Mark Stowe has a close relationship with local brewers and has made a point to support the state's beer industry. Just the other day, he discovered a new brewery called Rowley Farmhouse Ales and decided to become their first off-site account. "It will be the first time they pour their beer outside of their own taproom!" says Stowe. And that's just how you start a movement.

You can follow Emma Balter on Twitter, at twitter.com/emmabalter, and Instagram, at instagram.com/emmacbalter.

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