The next time you order a green chile cheeseburger, chiles rellenos or a basket of blue corn tortilla chips, why not quench your thirst with another local favorite?
The craft beverage industry has exploded to include more than 4,000 wineries, 2,800 breweries and 657 distilleries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – and New Mexico is part of the revolution.
See more: New Mexico’s Bountiful Beverages
You Bitter Believe It
“New Mexico has a strong craft beverage scene,” says Bill York, CEO of The Bitter End.
York witnessed the thirst for craft cocktails while working as a bartender. He started experimenting with bitters, a combination of botanicals including fruits, herbs and roots that are infused into an alcohol base, and discovered that the small-batch elixirs added big flavor to cocktails. He launched a line of bitters in 2010, and he has since watched the demand skyrocket.
Bartenders across New Mexico have started adding Bitter End bitters to include flavors like Mexican mole, Memphis barbecue bitters and Moroccan bitters to craft cocktails, adding a dash of local flair.
Living La Vida Local
Many of the breweries, cideries and distilleries aren’t just manufacturing their craft beverages in New Mexico; they are sourcing local ingredients, too.
In Albuquerque, Rio Bravo Brewing Company won a gold medal in the 2018 Brussels Beer Challenge for its Piñon Coffee Porter, an American and English ale made with piñon coffee, a locally roasted specialty created from a blend of Arabica coffee beans and small batches of New Mexico piñon nuts. Co-owner Randy Baker calls it “a beer that can only be brewed in New Mexico.” Their seasonal brew, Pumpkin Spice Porter, is also made with local pumpkins.
Baker loves leading tours through Rio Bravo Brewing Company to help visitors understand the nuances of brewing craft beer. During the 30-minute tours, he explains the brewing process, highlighting each step from grain to glass. The experience fascinates beer lovers, especially those who have never visited a working brewery before. All tours end at the bar, where 24 different styles of beers are available on tap, including award-winners like ESB Amber, Send It and Freak Juice.
“It’s not just a brewery, it’s a destination,” Co-Owner Denise Baker says.
Founded by a group of friends, Safe House Distilling Co. attracts visitors from all around to their craft distillery, which is housed in the former National Cash Register Company building in Albuquerque. They also offer tours to highlight how their craft spirits are made. The flagship release, Teller Vodka, is used in cocktails such as the Bitter Bonnie and Roundtree Rebel, served in their tasting room.
Fruit Flavors and Festivals
New Mexico’s adult beverage industry isn’t limited to beers and spirits – hard ciders are also rising in popularity. Craig Moya of Santa Fe started maintaining the orchard at the historic El Rancho de las Golondrinas to access bountiful harvests of fresh, local apples for New Mexico Hard Cider. Most hard cider is made from red and golden delicious apples, but Moya also works with additional varieties to add different layers to the flavors.
“Between August and November, we have so many different varieties of apples ripening and the batches [of cider] differ subtly based on which apples are being pressed,” Moya explains. “Cider just tastes better with local fruit; it gives it a better flavor profile that makes it a craft beverage.”
There’s even a festival to celebrate the tart and tasty drink. Founded by Moya, the Cider 66 Festival aims to educate people about hard cider and promote it on the craft beverage scene. It launched just two years ago, and the annual event has already grown to include 13 producers and more than 2,000 visitors. All three New Mexico Hard Cider taprooms in Santa Fe offer flights to encourage visitors to sample new cider flavors such as mango, apricot, strawberry and blueberry.
“We want to encourage people to start out trying a sip of everything and go back to have more of the things they liked best,” he says. “We want to do everything we can to bring hard cider to the mainstream.”