Albuquerque is, and has long been, a city that loves a good, hard beverage. In old dumps along the bosque or up in the East Mountains, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to unearth long-since empty fifths and pints from the first half of the 1900s, still bearing the old standard warning: “Federal law forbids sale or reuse of this bottle.”
While a few excellent producers of beer, wine and spirits have a long history in Albuquerque, a veritable boom began around a decade ago and has yet to subside. Albuquerque is now widely recognized as a great town for craft libations. CNM even offers a higher-ed brewery program that consistently ranks as one of the best in North America. As more brewmasters, distillers and vintners show off their stuff and compete with one another, the caliber of what is available continues to rise. Skilled operators are brewing, pressing, fermenting and/or distilling some top-tier adult beverages right here in town. So if you are looking to branch out from cheap domestic lagers, big-name liquor brands or wines imported from California, look to our Best of Albuquerque winners–those that secured the most votes from our loyal readers—and then give each their due. Just don’t overdo it and then drive home. En serio.
Best Tap Room: Tractor Brewing Co.
Tractor Brewing Co. taking first prize in our tap room category should come as no surprise. Since opening their flagship location in Nob Hill back in 2014, they have spread to five sites around town. (Well, to be accurate, one is a little ways south in Los Lunas.) Their iconic fire-truck red tractor rests out front and beckons passers-by to come enjoy a pint … or a few! Patrons especially enjoy Tractor for their great locations, shaded patios and ever-evolving range of beers, ciders, hard seltzers … and now even their own “craft-distilled” hard liquor. Tractor advertises that, “Whether you’re looking for light, dark, hoppy, stouty or a fabulous cider, there’s something flowing that will please even the most discriminating palette [sic].” With tempting offerings like their Blood Orange Cider, Cucumber Gose and a Scorpion Haze IPA on tap right now, you better believe I plan to take them up on that challenge.
Best Brewery: La Cumbre
La Cumbre’s wonderously hoppy and hard-hitting Elevated IPA has long been a local hit. In fact, it has caught on in surrounding states and is now a bonafide staple around the Southwest, and their Elevated IPA secured the gold medal for these local legends at the Great American Beer Festival®. But La Cumbre (meaning “the peak” or “pinnacle” in Spanish, paying homage to the crest of the Sandia mountain range) is no one-trick pony. By crafting consistently delicious and full-flavored brews with quality ingredients, they have acquired not only a wealth of awards but also a dedicated patronage. Their Project Dank IPA goes beyond most beer drinkers’ hop thresholds with IBUs (International Bittering Units) that test off the charts and a 7.5% ABV. If hop-bombs are not your cup of tea, do not fret; La Cumbre also excels at more modest brews. For example, the Slice of Hefen (wheat ale), the Malpais Stout and their “Beer” (a simple lager) are all wildly popular as well. Once you are acquainted with these staples, do yourself a favor and get some pours of their ever-rotating and ever-evolving selection of seasonal offerings. I am partial to their “Acclimated APA” as my palate is rarely up for super-hoppy ales these days. La Cumbre’s original brewery and taproom is located at 3313 Girard Blvd. NE; they also have a Westside location at 5600 Coors Blvd. NW.
Best Distillery: Hollow Spirits
Located just north of Downtown (1324 First St. NW), Hollow Spirits opened their doors in 2018 and immediately made quite a high-proof impression with their on-site-distilled vodka, rum and bourbon, as well as their downright decadent eatery. Their loyal fans love the standard liquors but also praise the fiery yet herbaceous Lavender Vodka and the floral Primrose Liqueur. It isn’t only locals who have been won over by this small distillery, as they took the gold at the Denver International Spirits competition with their rum, made from the “finest blackstrap molasses with a twist.” I’m not clear on what constitutes the twist, but I am intrigued. Further demonstrating their commitment to quality and fine ingredients, Hollow Spirits has developed a stunning menu to accentuate their libations. This menu can compete with most fine-dining establishments in town, boasting seared halibut and butter-poached lobster. Even their burger is nothing to scoff at, with its blend of chorizo, short rib and “brisket-roasted green chile”! If shots or sips of hard alcohol are not up your alley, all’s still good. Hollow Spirits proudly provides “a selection of the finest beers New Mexico has to offer, delicious local wines and non-alcoholic drinks,” as well. Good luck not overindulging!
Best Winery: Vara Winery and Distillery
Vara Winery, located at 315 Alameda Blvd. NE, is passionate about its mission: to celebrate “the origin of the American wine experience” by showcasing “the historical connection of Spain and New Mexico.” It may come as a surprise that wine has been produced here in New Mexico for close to 400 years, though it makes total sense if you consider the history of Spanish conquistadors and colonizers in these lands. That said, I was still shocked to learn from Vara’s website that New Mexico’s first recorded vineyard (at an unnamed “pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley”) existed 140 years before the first missions started producing wine in California! Vara’s co-founders, Xavier Xamarripa and Doug Diefenthaler, work with their winemaking team, Bob and Louisa Lindquist, to produce, blend or curate a wide range of wines, spirits and cavas (sparkling wines with a denominacion de origen from the Spanish government) at their tasting room. To pair with your vermut aperitif (whether dulce or seco), garnacha or decadent wine cocktail (or another selection from their well-curated list), you can also now order from an extensive tapas and postres menu. And don’t forget, as they instruct, “If you like the way it tastes, then it is the right pairing.”