Hops & Pie and Sours, Oh, My!

As part of the run up to GABF, several bars around town were hosting tap takeovers. I was going to the GABF Thursday night session, so I wasn’t able to go to the “What the Funk” Party hosted by Beer Advocate, but I made up for it at the Crooked Stave Tap Takeover at Hops & Pie.

Hops & Pie came highly recommended, and lucky me I was planning to go even before I heard about the takeover, which included beers from Jester King in Austin, Texas. Jester King is truly one of my most favorite breweries. They brew avant garde, wild fermentation beers, and their quaint set up in the Texas hill country is one of the most lovely tasting rooms I’ve ever visited.
jester king

Jester King makes amazing beer, and their “bottle shop” list of beers from around the world, brings tears of joy to my eyes. I think it’s safe to say, I love this brewery and jump at every chance I can to drink their amazing beer.

When I got to the bar were already out of the Aureline Lure from Jester, it’s a barrel aged sour with Northern California apricots. I was bummed, but drowned my sorrows with the Provenance Orange/Grapefruit (Wild Saison with Citrus fruit) instead.

In my first flight I tried Dark Pumpkin Sour from Almanac, San Francisco, CA (Dark Sour Pumpkin Ale with heirloom pumpkins, spices an aged in red wine barrels); Apollo and Dionysus from Breakside, Portland, Ore. (Gin barrel aged sour saison with flowers); the Cherry Funk from Prairie in Tulsa, Ok. (Sour Ale aged on Cherries); the Of Love and Regret from Stillwater, Baltimore, MD (Ale brewed with Heather, Cammomile, Lavender and Dandelion, and the Provenance Tangerine/Clementine from Jester King.

Tasting all these weird sources in one sitting is kind of a disaster mess on your palate. The Dark Pumpkin Sour was really great, I was glad to have tried it first, when I revisited it after the complete first flight, the subtle pumpkin spice was gone and all I got was some serious sour power. I got the Apollo and Dionysus just to be weird, I’m not really sure why, as it was aged in Gin barrels, and I won’t touch Gin with a 10 ft. pole. After the pumpkin sour it tasted very astringent and medicinal. It was not a standout for me. But the Cherry Funk from Prairie redeemed my taste buds. An awesome big sour with lots of sweet full cherry flavor, my tasting companion agreed that it was just a tasty “not-too-weird” sour.

I think I got the Of Love and Regret, because with a name like that I just couldn’t pass it up. It also had lavender in it, and after brewing a honey lavender Kolsch myself this summer, I’m always game to try anything with that herb in it. The final taste of Flight #1 was the Jester King Provenance Tangerine/Clementine. I liked this one a great deal better than the Grapefruit Orange, but making distinctions between the two after pumpkin-spice-gin-barrel-cherry-lavender … yeah, you get the idea.

In flight #2 I got the Passion Fruit Sour from Breakside. I was excited about this because I had recently spent a late summer afternoon with a local Berliner Weiss in Albuquerque and really dug it. This Berliner Weiss conditioned on passionfruit did not taste good. It tasted like cheap white wine, according to my notes. My friend smelled it and said no way. As I write this I seem to vaguely recall that I have never been a particular fan of passionfruit, so yeah, not so much on this one. Next up was Nightmare on Brett from Crooked Stave, in Denver. This bourbon barrel aged sour brown kicked ASS. It was tasty and packed a huge bourbon punch. A reasonable person, would probably have done well to have had the Nightmare on Brett and the Pumpkin Saison as tasting combo and call it a day. I still had to taste 3 more beers.

Next I had the Gozu from Westbrook in Mount Pleasant, SC. This was a play on Gose beer flavored with Yuzu, described as (malt beverage brewed with sea salt, coriander and yuzu). I must have liked it because I have the sole tasting note “sublime.” Next up was Vine, from Cascade in Portland, Ore a barrel aged blend of soured triple, blonde quad and golden ales. While the description doesn’t say as such, I’m assuming this was aged in some type of wine barrel. It was very grapey, like grape magic marker, purple grapey. Not exactly my favorite flavor. I give away all my grape skittles.

Last and certainly not least was the Strawberry, also from Cascade. It was delicious. I loved it. “It tastes exactly like how Strawberry Shortcake’s hair smells.” And while my notes are sketchy on this, I’m pretty sure I also tasted the Crooked Stave Batch #100 Wild Ale and the Debutante from Societe, San Diego Calif, a tasty Belgian red ale.

Somehow, in this mess of lip smacking sours, I also managed to consume an amazing appetizer of IPA Mac & Cheese. It was delicious. I really enjoyed this laid back tasting, and hope to get back to Hops & Pie in future for more yummy beer.


Beer! Denver! Day 1

Fall has always been a time of inspiration for me. This year I got my autumn started right with a visit to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. I was in town on a business trip all week, so I was fortunate to explore some local establishments before the big night. As soon as I got in, I headed straight to Great Divide . I was torn about what I would find there. On the one hand, I was feeling autumnal and could have gone for some Oak Aged Yeti, or another of their famous winter flavors, but when I saw my old friend Colette Farmhouse Ale, the choice was clear, I had a delicious pint straight from the source.


The pub crawl I had envisioned was cut short by a delayed flight, so there was only time to hit one more brewery before calling it a night. Usually I’m full of research and plans, but this time I just picked a spot based on geography, and it turned out really well. The second stop of the night was at Copper Kettle brewery . I’d never heard of them before, and with time for only one pint at closing time, I went for their flagship Mexican Chocolate Stout. It was sublime, tasty bittersweet chocolate and delicious notes of hot peppers. This GABF gold medal beer had a great balance of heat, chocolate and stout, none of which overwhelmed the other. It was a pleasant surprise, and the bartender’s fantasy football enthusiasm allowed me to stay a bit past closing time an savor this big, tasty beer.

mexican chocolate stout

I took a few nights off, and by “off” I only had the occasional beer, the Tommyknocker’s pumpkin harvest ale, a solid pumpkin beer with lunch, and a Funkwerks Saison with dinner. Neither disappointed, although I did have the thought that I’d rather Collette than the Saison, then I shook my head and realized if this was the big dilemma of the day, things were definitely alright.

Day 1: Purgatory

The next few blogs will be about my winter break. I’m on the longest vacation of my adult life (not including various stages of unemployment) and I’m skiing all over Colorado & New Mexico. Of course where there’s skiing, there’s beer, so I will be writing about that too.

Day 1: Purgatory
Song: dont stop believin- Journey
Beer: ska euphoria

Straightforward mtn. Well segregated to get the gapers out of the way. What to ski: lifts 3 5 & 8. Nice long bump runs around the backside off lift 8. No lines.

Word to the wise. Purgy’s closes early. Your bartenders want to go party.

Pro tip: ride “the polar” drink egg nog at the quiet lady tavern. Make it all right again with beer & breakfast from carvers.

Tasting Thanksgiving, One Craft Beer at a Time

I haven’t gotten back to the Midwest much since I’ve been in New Mexico.  My parents just love coming to visit me here.  So this thanksgiving for the first time in 3 years, I visited Chicago to see my father and stepmom and Kalamazoo to visit my mom. Along the way I was fortunate to taste a lot of delicious beers and here are their stories.


On my first day in town we ventured forth to do the Thanksgiving dinner shopping.  It was a bit overwhelming to me, since I’m more of a Co-op /CSA kind of shopper these days, but I was amazed to find a huge cooler of single beers for a mix your own six pack party.

The first beer of the six pack I tried was Lagunitas Day Time. I picked this one because it’s billed as “A Fractional IPA.”  It was not a bad beer, but really it just tasted like a watered-down IPA. Perhaps my expectations were too high on this one? In all fairness, it did deliver what it advertised and was good to drink while I chopped leeks to make stuffing.

The next beer I tried from my mix pack was the Domain DuPage French Style Country Ale from Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville IL.

This beer was excellent.  This is a favorite style for me anyway, but it was light and drinkable much like the Saison Dupont I often bring to dinner parties because it’s so tasty, and doesn’t have any strong flavors that conflict with the food. I think that’s a pretty ringing endorsement of this beer.

The next two beers I had in rapid succession after I finished my Turkey Trot 5k along Lakeshore Drive. It was a lovely day for a run, 65 and sunny.  I had the Commodore Perry handcrafted IPA from Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, Ohio) which I might have consumed to quickly to really pass judgment, but it didn’t have enough distinctive hop flavor for me to rate it highly as an IPA.  I will admit, this might be a personal issue related to the hop bomb mountain town IPA I’m used to from Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, NM.


The second beer from this session was the Happy Heron Pale Ale from Central Waters Brewing Company.  With it’s no nonsense label, I had a feeling I was in for something very good or very bad.It was a great pale ale. It delivered more hop than the Commodore Perry IPA and had a nice refreshing citrus ring to it.  I drank it pretty fast so I can’t guess at the hops, but like the Country Ale from Two Brothers it was definitely  a beer I’d want to drink more of in the future.

On the other side of the pond (Lake Michigan) I had a couple of beers at The Union in Kalamazoo Michigan. The first was a Breakfast Stout out of Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was surprisingly light and effervescent for a beer in the Stout category. It’s a great stout to have with food, and very good hints of espresso.  The second one I had was a real ass kicker, The New Holland Dragon’s Milk. 


An oaky gem that packs a serious alcohol punch at 10.5%. It was less heavy and viscous than its initial taste and aroma let on, but had a wonderful complexity of fruit and chocolate flavors.  A sturdy, well-composed beer that I bet would age nicely for holidays of Christmas future.

The Union was the warm up for the main event, Bells Brewery.  Bell’s was brewing beer in Michigan well before there were 86 other breweries in the state.  In short, two of their beers are on my all time favorites list.  They make an Expedition Stout that’s the perfect accompaniment to a gray train ride along the steely lake back through the steel mills back to Chicago and, what may be my MOST FAVORITE BEER, ever! The Bells Winter White.  It’s a white Belgian flavored with holiday spices. Basically it’s like my two favorite forms of beer, Christmas Beer and Belgian had a baby. I love this beer so much, my mom had a six pack of it waiting in the fridge when I arrived at her house. 

Of course we couldn’t just have the classics, we had to go to the brewery and see what else they had going on.  They probably have twice as many beers on tap as they did the last time I was here 3 years ago.  There’s an outside music venue now, but the original tap room remains the same. Even on a raucous Saturday night it’s a great room to drink some amazing beer in.

Mom was in the mood for stouts, and so it was stout-type things we tasted.

Really I think it was attempt to head my hop bomb tendencies off at the pass, and it worked.  We sampled the porter, the sweet potato porter, the milk stout, the kalamazoo stout, the Kal-Haven (non stout,yay!) and the Double Cream stout.  The porter was a well executed porter.  I think if I had to live through a Michigan winter, I’d welcome such variety, but really, it’s just a decent porter.  The sweet potato (porter?!) was less interesting than I had hoped, it was sweet and viscous with a hint of pie spice. Even less so than the porter, I don’t think I could be compelled to drink a pint of it. The milk stout was great. It had some nice espresso and that heavy lactose feeling I’ve come to love from Left Hand’s Milk Stout.  If I lived there, I’d drink a lot of this beer. It was also mom’s favorite.  

I have nothing to say about the Kalamazoo Stout.  All the beers we tasted were great, but I’m catching a buzz and I can’t really remember anything about this one to disambiguate it.
The Kal-Haven, however was the winner for me.  It’s an Oaked rye made with Brettoymances yeast.  It was very very tasty.  It had a nice rye flavor that came out as it warmed up a touch, I had a pint of this and would have had more.  The Brett yeast gave it a wild fruity flavor that delicately balanced the nutty rye.  The final beer on our tasting tray was the double cream stout.  It was very viscous, and heavy with lots of nutty espresso flavors.  This was more like an after dinner stout, maybe to be served with a chocolate dessert, but would be way too big and heavy to drink much more than 10 oz of in a sitting. 

The final stop of Beersgiving was at Old Dog Tavern, right before I hopped my train back to Chicago.
A welcoming place with yummy bar food and a lovely barkeep who was more than happy to have me copy edit her chalkboard of daily specials. I started off with an Atwater Cherry Stout. Ever since I had the Walking Man Cherry Stout on a winter’s day in Portland, I’ve been seeking the same marriage of stouty cherry goodness. Back home, Il Vicino makes a Milk Chocolate Cherry Stout that’s quite delicious but very sweet and viscous, but the Walking Man, and to a lesser degree the Atwater, both had a more subtle, dry note of cherry. Quite good. My mom had a Fox Barrel Pear Cider that was quite pleasing too.

As I drew near to finishing my pint, I received an email from Amtrak, my train was a half hour late. Perfect, I thought, more time to try more local beers. I had the Old Dog IPA and ordered mom the Willpower Pale Ale. The Old Dog IPA was quite good, and to be fair, I don’t remember the Willpower, except perhaps, even though it tasted quite mild compared to my stout and my IPA, mom resisted its charms, and remarked that it was too hoppy. Sorry, mom! My hop head habits die hard. Happy Beersgiving to all, and to all a good night.


Ballooning is an Albuquerque thing. It’s precisely burqueno and in my 3 years here, I’ve avoided it like the plague. The whole notion of walking around looking at balloons amidst a bunch of screaming kids just never really appealed to me. Well, it turns out, I was wrong about balloon fiesta, way wrong.
This year through some friends of friends, I’m crewing for Paul Clinton on Daytripper. He’s been flying in Albuquerque for about 25 years. Through him I’m learning “that ballooning is like sailing, only in 3 dimensions.” I’m also learning about the peculiarities of hot air ballooning at 5,000 feet surrounded by mountain ranges and Indian reservations.

So on a chilly morning, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s Animals (recall the album cover and that reference almost makes sense) and having awaking dream about curling up in a stack of warm pancakes as I speed past IHOP on the way to the interstate. Basically, the way it works, is that if you’re willing to show up at 5 am, you can lift things and take direction, you can be on a balloon crew. Once the balloon is loaded on the trailer with the fan and the basket we wind our way up Edith toward Balloon Fiesta Park.

Dawn Patrol

I’ve been out with them a couple of times now, chasing the balloon in a truck kicking up dust on the mesa west of town and also driving a not quite fully refurbished prison van to dead end on a cul de sac and then begging a homeowner to cut through their house and yard to get to the ditch and catch the balloon. Getting to the landing is key, so is keeping your cool while negotiating balloon fiesta spectator traffic and looking out for other out of town balloon crews. This part of balloon crew is very important. Once the pilot lands, he needs more weight on the basket to keep it from lifting off the ground again and to get tilted toward the ground so he can let the air vent out of the balloon. Once the balloon is on the ground it has to be carefully packed away, because, hey, you don’t want to deal with a mess the next time your stumbling in the dark at balloon o’clock (usually about 5 am). Once the envelope (fancy name for balloon part) and basket (duh, it’s the basket part) are on the trailer, its time to start drinking beer.
Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get to drink it from a vintage firetruck/chase vehicle called the gentle stripper. Other times you sip it from a can as you watch the balloons come in for competition. Other than my actual balloon ride, the competition drop was my favorite part of my virgin fiesta. Basically balloons fly in to the field and try to drop bean bags on an X on the ground, or for the really big money, put a ring on a pole that’s about 15 feet tall. Because Albuquerque’s balloon fiesta is the biggest Ballooning Rally in the world, you get really top notch competitors.
Much like sailing, everyone who intends to fly, meets at a pilot’s briefing. Once the weather conditions and rules are sorted out at this meeting, the competition pilots start to calculate the best place to launch from in order to hit the targets. Strategy, local knowledge and a bit of luck all weigh in to this equation about equally.
On this exceptionally brisk October morning, we had the first two going for us. Paul knew exactly where he wanted to launch from, but unfortunately we had a mechanical, um situation, one of the uprights that holds the burner above the basket had broken the day before and was lodged so far down in the slot where it sits that the spare upright would not go in.

Despite brainstorming and resourceful attempts at removing the piece, it looked like the day was going to be a wash.
I never thought I’d say I was glad to not get a ride, but sitting on the infield with a beer, watching the pros come in to the targets was the non-flying highlight of the week. It’s a really cool sport with some really, really talented pilots and the wind conditions were right for several of them to make multiple attempts on the targets. From my novice observations, the wind conditions were such that the north south wind “dumping” from Santa Fe sped the contestants right to the targets, then they’d rise up and catch a south-north current to head back up and give it another go. It looked like they were using an elevator and a conveyor belt. Very cool.

Competion Drop

All the while we were trying to fix the upright situation the special shapes were taking to the air. I got a lot of cool pictures of special shapes.

Special shapes!

Finally on the final Sunday of fiesta, after 3 weekends of 5 am wakeups, I got my ride. It was a perfect day for flying and everyone was inflating on the field for a huge, sunny mass ascension.

Mass Ascension

We waited until the tail end of the ascension and sailed right up over the field. Balloons directly ahead of us to the south dotted the sunny skyline in a perfect Albuquerque moment.

But all good things must come to an end and just as smoothly as we had ascended, we started to head toward a field to land.


We came in smoothly, softly and slowly right over the top of the Noah’s Ark balloon, still inflated on side. The fine folks from the Smokey the Bear were right there in the field to help us, and by 9 am we were all packed up and enjoying a growler of IPA. Once we got back to the field it was time to enjoy a gorgeous New Mexico day with some more beer and elk summer sausage, another great fiesta in the books.


Fall is a great time to be alive in New Mexico. The smell of pinon fires mingling with the scent of roasting green chiles on the cool air means one thing, it’s beer festival season. Marble Brewery’s intimate Septemberfest, delivers the goods from regional microbreweries around the state. Then there’s the New Mexico Brew Fest, at the Villa Hispana. I’ve never attended this one, but I see it’s got a nice line up of big commercial breweries (Odell, New Belgium, ect.) as well as some non-New Mexico neighborhood breweries, like Ska Brewing out of Durango.

Another festival that’s not to be missed is Telluride Blues and Brews. Generally known for big name headliners this festival also has a really great line up of Colorado beers from breweries big and small. I drank a lot of good beer when I went last year, even as it snowed on the valley in late September.

This year, in a brilliant move, Il Vicino Canteen kept things closer to home, cracking open the beers they planned to take to the mother of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver on October 11-13. I felt like it was Christmas in September as I sipped their Chocolate Cherry Stout, which an innovative competitor in the Fruit Beer category at GABF this year.

Of course GABF is sold out, who doesn’t want to drink beer in 70 categories from 580 of the nation’s best breweries, but if you’ve got a New Mexico server’s license, hit up your local pub and see if you can join their team to head north and volunteer.

No tribute to fall in New Mexico could be complete without mentioning Dixon’s Apple Orchard. I feel extremely lucky as a new Burquena to have been treated to this fall tradition before it was too late. As a girl from New England who grew up picking apples with my classmates in the crisp Connecticut air, I was thoroughly impressed with Dixon’s delicious champagne apples. Sadly, my first visit to this wonderful orchard would be my last. The orchard was badly burned in the fires of 2011 and will not be producing a harvest this year.

New Mexico may not be New England, with throngs of tourists inundating small towns to stare at the leaves and gawk at covered bridges (I’m looking at you Kent, Conn!) but we do have aspens. The glorious golden trees can be seen just about anywhere you go above 8,000 feet. There’s something alpine and soothing about the sound of aspen leaves blowing in the fall breeze.

Travertine Falls

IMG_2268 by ewhughes1
IMG_2268, a photo by ewhughes1 on Flickr.

While TLC advises that you don’t go chasing waterfalls, if you hike up to Travertine Falls, you ‘re gonna find one. The waterfall is about a mile up the trail and the shady creek bed runs about another mile up the trail. The spring is a great place to stash some beer in the stream to savor on the way back.
The waterfall flows even in the peak summer months and the route is well shaded and has lots of mud for puppies to play in. The Travertine Falls trail connects with Bart’s, Crest and Faulty Trails, so it’s a nice start/finish to some of the longer, steeper classic Sandia hikes a good choose-your-own adventure for varying degrees of difficulty and mileage. The trailhead is kind of tricky to get to off the Tijeras /Rt.14 exit access road (exit for 333, not 14 where the ramp splits!) but its close proximity to town and shaded sections make it an excellent after-work hike.