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.

Faulty Trail

Faulty Trail by ewhughes1
Faulty Trail, a photo by ewhughes1 on Flickr.

Even though we’re enjoying a robust monsoon season this year, in July and August it’s important to pick trails that provide ample shade. Last weekend I hiked lower Faulty Trail and found it quite comfortable. There was a lot to like about it actually. The drive is short enough, just north of the Doc Long Picnic area on the road up to the crest that I could make it out here on a weeknight and it’s well shaded and little traveled so the dogs were able to get out and really romp.
This trail has some decent steep beneath the pine trees at the beginning (are there any hikes around here that don’t?!) and then evens out along an oak-lined ridge with some pretty good views to the north. It’s a good workout hike on a decently maintained trail. In my trail running days this one would certainly be in heavy rotation on my training log.
There’s some good scree about for keeping your ankles awake and alert. I think this would be a great training hike if I were trying to log some practice miles with a new backpack or boots in anticipation of hiking a bigger hill like Wheeler Peak or some of his neighbors to the north in Colorado.
Something about this hike really tired the dogs out too. Dixie and her companions, Cooper and Daisy had all about had it an hour or so in. It was a sweet shady day hike that left me feeling like I had accomplished something at the end. Not bad. Not bad at all.

A Day at the station


I awoke on a chilly morning in Chama, NM to take a stroll to the depot. The mountains breezes echoed through the tiny town on this Fourth of July morning until they were hushed by the hiss and thunder of the ol 433 warming up for an Independence Day run up the line to Antonito.
Chama is home to the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. The tourist train runs restored railcars through the mountain passes of New Mexico throughout the summer months. While I wouldn’t be riding the train, I did have a chance to look at the history parked at the depot.
Here are a few of the pics I took.

The Galloping Goose waiting for daybreak.



Angel’s Landing, Zion

Sizing up the Angel’s Landing summit from the Trail below.

The Angel’s Landing Hike at Zion National Park is one of the most terrific hikes I’ve ever done. When I say terrific I don’t mean it so much as, as in great, but terrific as in the root of the word “terror.” This classic Zion hike covers 1400 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles to the absolute top one of the most distinguished peaks in the park.
The first 2 miles are on a wide, paved path that snakes up from the Virgin River. This part of the ascent offers views of the river valley stretching the length of the park. It’s a great first hike upon arriving at Zion to get your bearings in the canyon, from up here you can see everything from the Temple of Sinawava to the Visitors Center at the western end of the park.
Even if you’re not up for the strenuous hike to Scout’s Landing and the white-knuckle ascent to the ridge, do hike far enough to check out the lovely WPA-era stone work on the trail, and Refrigerator Canyon.

View from Refrigerator Canyon.

Named for its chilly environment, Refrigerator Canyon offers a cool, green shady respite from the blazing sunshine encountered at the beginning and end of this hike.
After the cooling confines of the canyon, the steep takes hold again on the Walter’s Wiggles section of the hike. It’s a terraced set of switchbacks that lead to Scout landing. This spot on the trail, named for the engineer who designed it, is always good for a fun photo op.

Serious WPA engineering at Walter’s Wiggles.

Past Walter’s Wiggles, things get serious. There’s a sign or two warning about the steep ledges and harrowing ascent that lies ahead. I have to say, in this day and age of padded playgrounds I’m somewhat shocked at how dangerous, unsupervised and harrowing the final half mile ascent to Angel’s Landing is. For most of the half mile… which took us about an hour to climb, there’s about 18” of rock ledge and a chain bolted to the ledge wall. What’s really scary is that this popular hike gets crowded on a summer weekend. Someone else’s hesitation, misstep or sweaty slippery sunscreen hands could send a whole group over the edge. All that said, once you get to the top, you know why it’s called Angel’s Landing.

View from the top.

The cliffs of Zion that towered over your arrival in the park now cower like foothills in the distance. Kick back, relax and enjoy this summit, because the downclimb back is just as challenging, and the swift descent down those 1400 feet of gain is anything but easy on knees. But when you’re at the bottom waiting for the shuttle and gazing up to the peaks, you’ll always have the memory of what it’s like to look out from Angel’s Landing.