Marble, Duel, High & Dry, Hops, Tractor, Sidetrack, Broken Trail, Bow & Arrow, Red Door
Home to over 60 craft breweries, Albuquerque presented us with quite the challenge. Between eating and sightseeing, we were keen to check out as many as possible but with just two full days to explore we had to prioritise by both location and appeal. I’m confident we missed more than a few gems, but we were also rewarded with some excellent brews and taprooms. Hopefully our experiences will help other visitors make the most of their Albuquerque beer time!
As Albuquerque’s de facto flagship brewery (and home of the incomparable Double White), expectations were high for our Marble visit. The fact that we’d just completed a 4hr drive through a huge New Mexico rainstorm and were thirsty, hungry and exhausted only served to fuel our hopes for a big beery win. Fortunately we were in luck. Marble is that rarest of doves – a big, high-profile brewery that’s managed to retain its local neighbourhood feel, super-engaged staff and oh yes, there are taproom specials! It was a shame to be visiting on a wet Wednesday evening as they have a cool yard out front with a stage, and, thank god, a decent food truck. That said, the interior was also rather appealing, a sort of hip wood-industrial combo and they have gorgeous wooden branded flight paddles containing a highly necessary six 4oz servings. With a mighty 18 taps to choose from, I am now rather regretful that we had time for just the one of three potential flights. I loved the perfectly executed Smoked Helles (I am a known sucker for a great smoked beer though), super exciting Ginger Plum Gose (what a flavour combo!) and fresh, crisp Pilsner as well as their exquisite Red Ale which is happily available across the state like the Double White. And let’s not forget the glorious Pumpkin Noir, New Mexico’s blushing young cousin to the Texan Pumpkinator by Saint Arnold. Yes, it’s that good. Buzzy even on a rainy weeknight, the vibe is cool but friendly and staff couldn’t have been more helpful. While Marble was, indeed, the perfect port in the storm, it’s an awful lot more than that. An Albuquerque must must must.
Duel is a bit of a strange one. With décor that more resembles an 80s nightclub in decline than a brewery taproom and an emphasis on strong, sweet Belgian Dubbels and Trippels, Duel is a far cry from the classic microbrewery experience. Arriving very late on a rainy Wednesday night, we weren’t surprised to find the bar relatively deserted, and although we were served by a very helpful and diligent young man, the combination of red walls, disco lighting and intensely sticky beer made our visit a swift one. I was put off by the fact that all the styles we tried (Saison, Pale, IPA and IIPA) all has the same sweet, resinous texture which didn’t really work for me. The Cezane Origine Farmhouse Saison had hints of orange, honey, banana and clove, and the Ficton Belgian IPA was adequately hoppy but the Fantin Pale was a bit all over the place and the Monomyth IIPA tasted way too alcoholic. This is a satellite outpost of Duel, who are based in Santa Fe (a facet of the New Mexico beer scene that differs significantly from Texas, at least at present) and while I’m sure there are folks who like their beers on the syrupy side, unfortunately I’m not one of them.
High and Dry, Nob Hill
This is a lovely shiny new taproom which only opened in February. The decor is simple but stylish, with media-friendly buzzwords like Community and Conversation painted on the walls. As well as the requisite board games, they have an actual shuffleboard table which is pretty damn cool, and the flight glasses and paddle are among the chicest I’ve ever seen. As they’re so new, it’s understandable that they only have 7 of their own beers available, other taps are filled with rotating guest breweries.
We were pretty excited for our beautifully presented flight, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. The Special Shapes IPA #3 was the clear winner, light and grapefruity with Idaho 7 hops that smelled a little odd but tasted nice enough. The Mesita #6 Sour was a bit of a disaster, resembling flat gone-off lemonade more than any kind of beer, and both the Freedom Cage IPA and Black Hole’s Son Porter were adequate if unremarkable. Of course, we didn’t try everything and may have missed out on some gems but based on our experience the beer was overall a bit average. During our daytime visit, the clientele were exclusively professionals in their 30s and 40s, and this definitely felt like more of a coffee-shop-esque hang-out than a party spot. However, in a city with over 60 breweries, High and Dry will need to up their beer game a little as there’s only so long one can survive on style over substance.
Hops Brewery, Nob HIll
With a prime spot in Albuquerque’s chichi Nob Hill Central Avenue, Hops is very much the grown-up brewpub, all smooth red brick and glossy wood. Although Hops brew their own beers, of the 42 (approx!) taps on site, the majority are guest locals, making Hops more pub and less brew, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in a city with over 60 microbreweries there is a clear appeal if not a need for a few venues where you can sample a range of local fare without hopping (ha) from location to location. As ours was something of a flying visit, we focussed on beers brewed on site with a swift flight of five. My clear favourites were the Dad Joke California Common, possibly my first beer of this style and the steamy, smoky Bourbon went down a treat, and the Warm Scottish Nights Scotch Ale which was full of enough boozy malt for me to overlook the oxymoron in the name! The Irish Tan English Bitter (again with the naming issues) was also very nicely done with smooth nutty caramel malt and both the Honey Wheat Pale and Hop Hill IPA were perfectly quaffable. Food looked decent, the usual burger fare, and the small seating area out front is a good spot to people-watch elegant Nob Hill-ites. For when you’re feeling mature. And thirsty.
Tractor Brewing, Nob Hill
Tractor is a big operation. Big. Along with Marble and Bosque, this is one of Albuquerque’s flagship breweries, as it were, with a grand total of four taprooms around the city. Since opening in 2014 Tractor have brewed over 250 beers, a number that makes me feel almost guilty to be writing anything about them having tasted a mere 5! Stylistically they seem ambitious without rejecting the classics, a good combination in my book, and their beers are pretty widely available around Albuquerque on draft and in cans. We visited their Nob Hill taproom as we were already in the area, a nice sleek spot tucked off the main drag. Of our flight of four generous pours I was particularly impressed with the Almanac IPA, smashin’ it West Coast style with big, piney hops and a clean, bitter finish – this would certainly be one of my go-tos if I lived here. The Azacca Single-Hop IPA was also very successful, combining sweet mango notes with sharp grapefruit. The Farmer’s Tan Red was pleasantly robust and malty, while the Milk Mustachio Stout had a nice hint of nuts. The taproom was lively in the early evening with a youngish, trendy crowd and was certainly somewhere I’d have been happy to dally longer and check out a few more brews. I would certainly recommend a visit to at least one taproom, and grabbing a few cans of the Almanac for the road!
Sidetrack Brewing, Downtown
We managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Sidetrack Brewing en route to a Future Islands show at the Sunshine Theatre, and were excited to find that they have not one but two taps serving their own beers in ‘American-style’ (keg temperature) cask. English-style ales seem to be pretty popular in New Mexico (and are increasingly so in Texas too) and at Sidetrack we sampled both a Pub Ale and an ESB (Sink Or Swim) that made excellent impressions. The cask delivery was a happy taste of home, and we tried their lovely Co-Mo IPA in both formats, with the smooth, creamy cask perfectly complementing the bold hops. Offering cask and keg options of the same beer is something it would be great to see more of Stateside, and Sidetrack is certainly ahead of the game here.
The Sidetrack taproom is cute and cosy, and there was some great live music during our visit. Flights are a snip at $10 for six, and the staff are knowledgeable and helpful in this friendly, family-run establishment. Sidetrack is a place to find traditional styles done well rather than more experimental beers, and the laid-back atmosphere, accessible location and event programme make it a great spot for session drinking and generally hanging out. Having visited several of Albuquerque’s larger multi-venue taprooms, it was also nice to hit up somewhere with more of an individual local pub feel to it. Definitely recommended.
Broken Trail, Uptown
We stopped in to Broken Trail’s Uptown taproom for a swift flight as we were in the area, but it turned out to be something of a damp squib. With only three beers on tap, two of their own and one guest, we were a little disappointed at the lack of choice. Their own beers, the Otero ESB and Trailworks IPA were both acceptably quaffable while not setting the world on fire although the guest tap, which shall remain nameless, had to be abandoned. Broken Trail is a distillery as well as a brewery, but even so they didn’t have the full range of their spirts at this location, although staff were helpful and offered us tasters of what was available. We didn’t stick around to investigate further, but whether these were temporary issues or if they are in the process of closing this location I wouldn’t prioritise a visit.
Bow & Arrow, Wells Park
To be honest, after checking out Bow and Arrow’s beer list online I knew we had a winner on our hands. I don’t think I stopped salivating from the moment I read it until the first of their beers passed my lips. We were also fortunate to arrive on the launch day for their absolutely stupendous Oak Aged Bretted Peach Saison – the Cosmic Arrow With Peaches, our timing could not have been more serendipitous! With their focus on wild, sour and barrel-aged beers, Bow and Arrow are a bold, ambitious brewery – and the only Native woman-owned brewery in the US. Using traditional and locally sourced ingredients, supporting other local businesses and hosting events supporting the LGBTQ and Native communities, Bow and Arrow are forward-looking in every sense, and their beers are so good I’m crossing fingers for Texas distribution ASAP.
For our first flight (and there had to be two) I couldn’t resist the temptation to go in for the specials. As well as the aforementioned peach we had a glorious Savage Times Sour IPA, excellent Roam Wild ale and lovely (if slightly NEIPAish) Nomadico Brut IPA. Neither of us scored below a four on any of these beers. Although their core beers weren’t quite as dramatic, the standard remained high and we were more than happy to hang out in their ultra-sleek and buzzing-busy taproom watching the sun go down. Their clever, considered branding and aesthetic are another draw, and the only reason I didn’t leave with merch was they were out of my size! If you’re at all into wild and sour beers, Bow and Arrow is a must-visit, and if not, it could just be the place to change your mind.
Red Door, Downtown
Yes, we may have been a little breweried-out (thankfully a short-lived phenomenon) by our visit to Red Door, but Albuquerque on a Friday night has surprisingly few civilised drinking options, as we discovered after a short drive around the Downtown Central Avenue area. Ahem. Red Door’s Downtown taproom (one of two, the other to the north of the city) provided a welcome respite from a rather grisly selection of bars in the neighbourhood, although it was fairly empty, suggesting ours may have been a minority opinion. Amid the rather frosty glass and chrome, the crowd that was was unsurprisingly young and concomitantly noisy. The taproom also contains what can only be described as a man-cave – a windowless box in its centre with low sofas and games consoles. I didn’t much like the smell coming out.
But back to the beers. Overall, I was a bit disappointed as I felt that Red Door promised a little more than it delivered. I had high hopes for the likes of a Lemongrass Pilsner and Double Vanilla Cream, but while they weren’t awful, neither quite lived up to their descriptions. Out of our selection, the nicely smoked Paint It Black Nitro Milk Stout and piney-hopped Threshold IPA were my top choices. A flight of six will set you back $11, which is pretty reasonable, and if you’re stuck in Downtown Albuquerque late at night, this is most likely your best option.