Lessons from New Mexico

I recently had the good fortune to spend a week on a road trip through New Mexico, our neighbor state to the west. Travel is education, and sampling random local breweries along the way provides an opportunity to compare and contrast the North Texas craft beer scene with one not-so-far removed.

By the numbers, New Mexico lacks nothing with respect to quality or quantity of local craft brewers. With a little over 100 independent breweries in the state, it ranks 10th per capita in the nation with most of these breweries clustered around the greater metro areas of Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Nevertheless, the consumer market is strong enough to support microbreweries and brewpubs in smaller, rural towns such as Carlsbad, Roswell and even Cloudcroft.

To say that the New Mexico craft beer industry is “behind” that of Texas would be unfair, as that is a subjective value judgment. North Texas brewers enjoy a local market that embraces far more experimental beer styles such as kettle sours, strong fruit infusions, so-called pastry stouts and hard seltzers (with a few breweries even specializing in styles such as these). These beers are not nonexistent in New Mexico but are found in far lesser numbers, with most brewers and consumers favoring more traditional mid-range styles like amber and pale ales, IPAs and standard lagers. The quality of both states’ beer is on par, with the products offered in New Mexico slightly more conservative.

First, some genuine criticisms: New Mexico brewers are often short on the darker styles like porters and stouts (at least during the summer), especially imperial stouts; barrel-aged beers are also seldom seen, as are an abundance of “hazy” IPAs. This is not to say these beers are entirely nonexistent, just less prevalent than with current North Texas brewers. Free online access/wifi is also spotty in many breweries, but this may be a greater issue connected with availability and reliability of service in the state itself.

Overall, New Mexico’s craft brewing industry has no reason to feel inferior to that any other other state.

New Mexicans are proud of their chiles, both fresh and dried, and with every reason to be. Merchants tend to include them in or on almost every dish, and craft beer is no exception. Granted, brewing with chiles does present its own difficulties but done well, the beer has a deep layered flavor and gentle burn that is quite addictive. This is a style that is all too rare in Texas, also a huge food and Latinx market, and their rarity mystifies me. Same with traditional and nontraditional rauchbier (smoked grain beer), which also seems more prevalent in New Mexico.

Texas brewers and consumers have earnestly embraced the New England–style (“hazy”) IPA, a bright, citrusy, almost tropical variation that is served unfiltered. While its current popularity in Texas is appreciated, it has had the unfortunate knock-on effect of squeezing many other IPA styles and variations out of the regional market. Hazy IPAs can be found in New Mexico but not to a degree that the popularity of more traditional West Coast–style or milder East Coast, English or session IPAs have suffered.

One of the biggest gaps in the current product offerings found in the North Texas market is the lack of gluten-reduced craft beers. Although truly “gluten-free” is an almost impossible prospect given the nature of beer’s core ingredient—grain, mostly barley or wheat—brewers do have access to commercial additives that that allow gluten-sensitive individuals to enjoy it. These additives are relatively inexpensive, as they hydrolyze the haze-producing proteins in beer and thus dramatically reduce the gluten content without affecting the flavor or body. Several breweries in New Mexico (as well as other states) offer gluten-reduced beers but I’m unaware of any North Texas brewers that have ever done so.

Overall, New Mexico’s craft brewing industry has no reason to feel inferior to that any other other state. Styles and quality are on par with brewers across the nation, and both modern and traditional products are well-represented. More trips and further delicious investigation is entirely justified. PH

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