On a warm morning in May I walked into Old Town Albuquerque, past the Indian jewelry vendors selling handmade wares on the sidewalk, to Routes, the local bike shop and touring company where I gathered with a group of craft beer enthusiasts.
Me, my guide, and four college-aged beer aficionados hopped on cruisers and road bikes to explore 16 miles of Albuquerque’s burgeoning craft brewing scene, a point of pride and unification amongst the city’s craft/scratch/farm-to-table generation.
It has been said that in the past Albuquerque has struggled with a self-esteem problem. At more than 300 years old, it has had a lot of time to figure out what it wants to be. From Old Town, where Spanish settlers established Albuquerque, to its section of Route 66 that still rolls through the center of town, it is a city of many layers yet the self-esteem issue has persisted. Today Albuquerque might be best known as the setting for AMC’s TV show, “Breaking Bad.” It was here that the show was set, and most of the show was filmed. Residents embraced the show, its actors and the industry, even if the premise was centered around crystal meth.
While “Breaking Bad” might be a way of introduction to Albuquerque, this city of about half-million people can now validly identify itself as a craft beer destination, with approximately 30 breweries open and six more slated to open this year. Just this last February, the New Mexico Senate passed a memorial designating an industrial area of Albuquerque, where a concentration of new breweries already exist including Il Vicino, La Cumbre and Nexus, to be “The Brewery District.”
One by one our bikes wheeled along back roads, bike paths and through neighborhoods seeking the best craft beer the city had to offer. The beer and biking tour’s first stop was Marble Brewing, which was more than just a brewery, it was a meeting ground for locals from various parts of the city. Outside food trucks sold hot eats, and inside a wide range of craft beers were poured, including my pick, the Marble Red Ale. The redesigned patio features a colorful mural by Mexican urban artist Neuzz (Miguel Mejia), whose paintings are based on stories and legends his grandfather told him as a child.
Located within that new Brewery District, La Cumbre Brewing Co. is all about the beer. After having tasted dozens, La Cumbre made the best overall beers tasted during my trip, including top pour Project Dank IPA. I tasted a flight of five beers at La Cumbre, all well-built with sturdy flavors and distinct from one another.
People young and old have rallied around the craft beer industry in Albuquerque. One day I found myself sitting next to a Vietnam War vet, and the next students from the University of New Mexico, which is located in the trendy Nob Hill district.
While the beer scene is rising, so is the food scene. Of course, there is a lot of Mexican influence due to the geography, but there is also much more. At the impeccable La Merienda restaurant at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, a dinner of a handmade apple and leek sausage, and perfectly balanced salted cod and potato brandade, was paired with a wonderful — you guessed it — New Mexican craft beer list. The tranquil grounds of this historic farm date back to before the settlement of Albuquerque. Since founded as Los Poblanos in 1934, it has served as a creamery, a working organic farm and today a lavender farm and boutique hotel. Although just minutes from downtown, Los Poblanos is a quiet and beautiful expanse of historic buildings, lands and gardens. Farm purveyors from around the state deliver to this kitchen, helping the team here provide a superior dining experience.
I found many of those farmers who work with Los Poblanos the next morning at The Railyards Market in the unpolished Barelas neighborhood. A brand new event for the city, every Sunday farmers, bakers, artists, food trucks, live bands and more take over a brick building that once served as a blacksmith shop in this dilapidated train repair railyard. As I browsed among the young artists, the jugglers and the pastry chefs, I heard young and old applauding The Railyards Market. A gray-haired woman in a wheelchair told me, “I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never been here. It’s really beautiful.”
Again, it was lifelong Albuquerque residents rediscovering the beauty, tastes and sounds of the place they call home, chipping away at that old self-esteem issue organically, from within their own community.
Of course that’s not the end of the lure of Albuquerque. Whether hiking in the Sandia mountains, accessed via the Sandia Tram, hot-air ballooning, or kayaking alongside the banks of the Rio Grande River, there are endless ways to see and experience this exciting, emerging city. And with a fat list of areas for visitors to explore, artists to visit, beers to sip and food to eat, The Duke City should be proud of all that it has and will become.
Amiee White Beazley writes about travel for the Aspen Times Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @awbeazley1.