Monday, August 8, 2011

Well. We have finally recovered from the Route 66 Cork & Tap festival (waaaaay back on July 23) and my fingers will now listen to my brain again without bitching about all the beer I made them hold in tiny plastic cups for about six hours. And let's not forget our poor asphalt-fried feet!

Fortunately, we were staying at a house in very easy walking distance from the festival, which other than being all eco-friendly meant we could enjoy samples to our tongue's content without even the slightest worry about our capability to maneuver a large piece of vehicular machinery at any point in the day. We met our friend Kim just outside the barriers for the event, one of several portions of Summerfest which justified shutting down Central Avenue for the day.

(Kim was also our paparazzo for the day -- it's amazing how people think you're important when someone with a nice camera follows you around!) (Paparazzo is singular for paparazzi, btw.)

At first, the size of the alcohol-driven portion of Central struck me as... inadequate. Because each of the tents given to brewers and winers (there's got to be a word for wine-maker, and I'm apparently too lazy to Google even that--fortunately for our readers, I'm never too lazy to look something up. The word Zach is fumbling for is a vintner.) was relatively small, they crammed a lot of drinkable options into a one-block stretch of asphalt. One block of astronomically hot, molten-magma-esque asphalt is what he means to say. The tents might have stretched further south, but part of the Cork & Tap party bulged out sideways into a parking lot.

Was this one-block of beer really worth the ten dollars' admission (plus service charges, of course)? Did I really pay ten clams to fricassee my poor feet?

For the way the event was pumped as a showcase for nearly all the New Mexico-based breweries and wineries, and knowing how many of the breweries in Albuquerque alone we have already visited together, we thought that we'd blow through the whole event in an hour and be done.

All in all, we were able to make a day of it, without becoming incoherently inebriated. Although Zach has somehow forgotten to tell our good readers about the height of his tipsy-times when he left Kim and me doubled over in cackling laughter because he suddenly had to--just had to--call my mom and convince her to become an Irish citizen, or at least research the possibility.

Of course, it still would have been possible to blow through the whole event in an hour.

We arrived maybe sixty minutes after the gates opened, and there were plenty of folks who had clearly used up their ten 3-oz drink tickets and moved on to finding bigger cups to gulp. And I'll admit -- four little servings go down the gullet much more quickly than a 12-oz longneck. I think you fool yourself into thinking you're not drinking anything significant. But credit goes to someone -- either the vendors or the event staff or maybe even the patrons, because we didn't see a single instance of drunken disturbance.

I should mention that Kim was joining us at the fest for more than our company; she had only been exposed to the tip of the mountain in the realm of beer-drinking--one might say Kim only knew the froth on the mug where beer is concerned. Thanks to this little hobby of ours, she wanted to see just what wonders beer could hold for her. And Kim, if you're reading this, please feel free to let folks know what you thought of the beers you tried. Rather than throw her to the winds, Jenny and I tried to determine what sorts of beers she might like based on her preferences for taste in other areas. Kim apparently likes spiced meats and chocolates (but not coffee), and on those hints alone we determined that she needed to try a good stout.

We also learned quite quickly that good stouts, being more sensitive to temperatures than other brews, were left at home with the brewery babysitters. As such, some of our favorites -- the State Pen Porter from Santa Fe Brewing Company and the Malpais Stout from La Cumbre -- were unavailable at the fest. Well, shit. But still, props to Kim for trying some beers, and beginning to discover what she likes. And what she doesn't. (Equally important discoveries, we at Al"brew"querque believe.)

Jenny and I failed to note every single beer we tried--which is not to say that we failed to give them all a fair sip, gulp, or glug. But here are the highlights (and some lowlights) in no particular order:
  • Mimbres Valley Brewing Company (Deming, NM): Mimbres Valley is a new brewery -- the fellow behind the table said they are less than a year old, and do not yet distribute very far from home. They had a small selection of Belgian-style beers. I had the Belgian Special. I found it to be less full-flavored than the Trippel (Jenny "Belgophile" Mason, take it away! I will, I will, dear. Finish your thoughts.), but still tasty. It had a sharp bite that might turn some folks off, and the finish was uneven -- definitely weaker than the initial taste, and I wanted some final flourish to round it off. But still, a valiant effort. I actually agree with Zach on his assessment of the Special. You wouldn't drink it and gag, but bite he refers to dissipated without ever really asserting itself. While Zach took a sample of the Special, I opted to try the Liquid Nap, the 9.2% Belgium Trippel Mimbres Valley hauled all the way to Albuquerque. I, for one, am glad they did, too. The Trippel was peachy, fresh, and well-crafted. And like any Trippel, it packed a wallop, even the little Dixie cup-sample I had.
  • Turtle Mountain Brewing Company (Rio Rancho, NM): Turtle Mountain is a long-time favorite of Jenny's, and we're hoping to make it there before we leave for Ireland. At the fest, I tried the Pork & Brew Brown (name not guaranteed to be accurate). For the Rio Ranchers who read this, they'll know Zach has nothing to fear in his philology. The Pork & Brew is a time-honored event in ol' Rio. This beer was designed to accompany a meaty barbecue, so yes, it was a peculiar choice for a largely vegetarian fellow like myself. But just as I find ways to enjoy all the advantages of meat without actually eating much of it, I thought of so many ways to enjoy this beer. It was roasty and malty without tasting like the walls of a smokehouse. Definitely perfect for a barbecue, whether you're roasting up chops or portobella mushrooms. I took a sample of the Cabo Lager, which was a new-to-me TMBC brew. Hey, I haven't lived in Rio this past year and a half, cut me slack, Jack! The Cabo was smooth on the tongue--no abrasive flavors scraping on your tastebuds. But it also tasted just a bit flat...or flavorless. Perhaps the heat got to TMBC's keg like it got to my feet.
  • Rio Grande Brewing Company (Moriarty, NM): Rio Grande is part of a conglomerate of brewers in Moriarty that, as I understand it, also includes Monk's Ale, Isotopes Brewing, and Roswell Alien. Coincidentally, I tried the Alien Wheat and can only report that it was the most refreshing free sample of water I'd had all day. I sampled two of Rio Grande's beers at the fest. The Rio Grande IPA certainly had a hoppiness to it... but was certainly weak (in hoppiness and I think in ABV) for an India Pale Ale. The IPA breed was originally developed with higher hop content to preserve it for travel from England to India, and it has become a sort of litmus test for craft brewers and a lightning rod for hop-heads. Meiner Meinung nach, the marketers at Rio Grande should rebrand this brew as a regular ol' Pale Ale. I also tried the Rio Grande Outlaw Lager, which was surprisingly dark (I had to remind myself that while lagers are frequently light in color, they are by no means required to be so by definition or by the brewing process -- man, I know some people who could stand to remember that when voting for presidents). The draft was full, yet not quite as rich and diverse as the palate had potential for. All in all, a disappointing selection from Rio Grande, but not so shabby that I wouldn't go back again (we've had their pilsner on another occasion, and I recall it being a perfect summer-day beer).
  • Il Vicino Brewing Company (Albuquerque, New Mexico): Known mostly for its classy-pizzeria feel, it turns out Il Vicino is growing increasingly serious about its beer. I've had several of their brews in the past, so this time, well into a fiery Saturday afternoon, I opted for the classic summer option: the Hefeweizen. Theirs was not the absolute finest Hefe I've ever tasted... but that is not to detract from it. It had a very good citrus quality, the right amount of opacity, a clean and crisp refreshing feel to it, and is all in all a very solid example of the style. I'd go visit their "Canteen" for more.
There were plenty of other varieties we sampled, and I'll let Jenny take over for a few of those:
  • La Cumbre Brewing Company (Albuquerque, New Mexico): We've posted on La Cumbre before and I'm happy to report that word is getting around about this place. La Cumbre brought a frisky little red beer they called La Roja. This red advertised a belligerent level of hops, and boy they weren't kidding. La Roja slaps your tongue around with every sip, and in the end your tongue stand up on shaky knees, muttering, "Please sir, may I have another?"
  • Nexus Brewery (Albuquerque, New Mexico): Here is yet another diamond in Albuquerque's bosque-rough that we must try before leaving for the Emerald Isle. Nexus was new to us, and I'm a little surprised Zach gave me the microphone to belt their praise alone. We went back for an additional sample of their Scottish Ale, which was the creamiest, most authentic of such a breed of ale that I've ever had in these here parts of the desert Southwest! This beer had complimentary flavors of toffee and chocolate malt. So. Effing. Good. I wrote in my notebook: Finishes soft like a virgin's first night. And, while I might have been pretty tipsy at that point, I think Nexus really hit the nail on the head! After snooping around their website, I think I know how Nexus managed it! Their Brewmaster is one Paul Farnsworth, a British beer bodger straight out of the brew-centered town of Burton-on-Trent! What's more, their Head Brewer, one Manuel Massen, learned is craft in Cornwall. We met the benevolent, always grinning Maun Massen who genuinely loves beer, and really loves talking about it!
  • Santa Fe Brewing Company (Santa Fe, New Mexico): No beer fest would be complete without this gang of dedicated brewers. Santa Fe beers are some of my most favorite brews! I tried the Free Style Pilsner, which was watery, but I'd be willing to bet that the heat got to it, just like TMBC's Cabo. Did I mention my poor charred feet? While I've had it before, I just had to get a sample of their Nut Brown, which is always good--an all-occasion, all-weather beer! And for shits and giggles, I tried their Sour Ale which tweeked and jerked my tastebuds in many a direction. It was like playing pin the tale on the donkey and as I finished the sample, I couldn't help but think that this Sour Ale would make the perfect drink for a Halloween Party! Fun and freaky, just like some people's costumes!
Back to you Zach!

The atmosphere at Cork & Tap was generally very convivial throughout the afternoon. Live music helped, particularly because unless you were right by the stage it was never so loud that you could not hear your friends. One band kicked up with Django Reinhardt-style tunes, and we kicked back, enjoying fresh-fried potato curls -- don't forget with cheese! Gooey-yummy cheese! Soon, the wonderfully kind folks at the Dukes of Ale table (if you're in Albuquerque and into learning more about home brewing, check these folks out) passed along some of their drink coupons to us... which meant we had more samples available to us than we could drink. So while Kim snapped pictures of us, we started doing some serious schmoozing for Sláinte, our his-and-her Irish beer project (modeled, in large part, on this here blog!). Here we are passing out our own business cards with free drink coupons, and being surprised at how long people would stand and chat with us:

(Did I mention that these shirts advertised Al"brew"querque, too? It's on the back of the shirts, right below the part you can see on Jenny's back there.)

Then, with a surprising amount of sobriety still spread between us, we meandered away from the fest a bit before sundown. We were tired, we were hoarse, we were not nearly as dehydrated as we had rights to be (thank you, backpacks with water bottles!). And despite its low points, we were proud of just how far craft brewing has come in the state of New Mexico.

If I could offer one bit of advice for the Cork & Tap: if it is to become a regular feature of the Albuquerque summer, they should consider ponying up for actual glassware, and encourage their vendors to rinse out the glasses upon each tasting. Like I noted earlier, outrageous drunkenness seemed to be no problem at all, and the wine festival counterpart in Bernalillo each year has a souvenir wine glass to aid in tasting. Zach, you've take the brave, outspoken trail here, and I follow you on it! I would also add that Cork & Tap need not be a summer event. Early fall weather in Albuquerque is never so severe that you can't enjoy an outdoor event--it's the springtime that's schizophrenic. Why not have this even in the early fall when brewers might be able to haul out their porters, stouts, and spicy seasonals? 

The attitude of beer-drinking and beer-crafting as sophisticated activities was prevalent; the atmosphere was on the verge of just-classy-enough; and yet, drinking out of plastic cups the size of my grandma's Dixie cups intended for mouthwash made both the beer and the event feel a bit like a frat boy's miniature wet dream. (If there is city code preventing actual glassware, at least ask for vendors to give a courtesy rinse. Mimbres Valley was the only tent I visited courteous enough to do so. If craft beer is to have the respect of wine, let's treat each pull with the respect it deserves.)