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Bottled Beers of NM
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The Bottled Beers of New Mexico

This review of New Mexicoís bottled beers was conducted with three to six people sampling the various beers along with appropriate food. All the individuals have a good knowledge of beer, wine and food, although none work in any of the fore mentioned industries in any way. The beers that were served were numbered, so the people had no way of knowing which beer they were drinking. They only knew they were drinking two, three or four New Mexico beers of the same style during a dinner.

The beers are awarded Steins according to their ranking in the tasting. One stein being you donít even want to try the beer, with five steins being an acceptable beer, but lacking the character and distinction of the style weíre sampling and rating. Ten steins indicates itís a beer brewed to perfection, true to the style with outstanding character.

The first style of beer that was rated was Bock, with samples from Rio Grande Brewing in Albuquerque and Sierra Blanca out of Carrizozo, NM. Both beers were identical in color, a dark copper color. The only way I found in distinguishing the beers from each other by appearance was that the Rio Grande Bock had a little more head of foam that sat in the glass, whereas the Bock from Sierra Blanca tended to disappear a little more rapidly. The nose was similar in both beers, but the taste was a little creamier and smoother in finish in the Rio Grande Bock. This was a close one, as Rio Grande Bock came in with 10 steins and Sierra Blanca came in with 9.5 steins. Both beers were considered great, and true to the style by all the tasters, as evidenced by the close scores.

Iím not going to explain what we had with each meal accompanying the beers we were sampling, since this isnít a food review, but I thought Iíd explain what we had in one or two cases to give you a feel of what we were having that went well with the beers. In this case, we had some great Knockwurst (boiled) and Bratwurst (grilled) from Usingerís in Milwaukee, WI, 800-558-9998. It was accompanied with Buschís Bavarian Brand Sauerkraut which has Caraway Seed in it which adds a distinctive flavor and Reedís German Potato Salad, both of which are available locally in any of the stores. Of course we had a nice selection of good mustards and ketchup as well. It was simple, fast and delicious and a typical German meal with the appropriate beer.

There were three wheat beers which were compared together, Cabazon, Santa Fe and Sierra Blanca. Cabazon is the only one of the three wheat beers that is filtered, which gives it a lighter golden color. The filtering also seemed to remove some of the character of the beer; that is the flavor, bouquet, and slight cloudiness which seems to contain much of the character of the style. Although a nice beer, it just didnít compare to the two other wheat beers and came in with 6 steins. The Santa Fe and Sierra Blanca Wheat Beers both were a little darker golden color and had a slight cloudiness typical of the style. Both beers had a nice bouquet, although slightly different from each other and had a light full round smooth taste that was refreshing. Both beers rated 9 steins. Although these beers were served without a slice of lemon in the glass, they are usually served with the slice of lemon in the glass which makes for a very refreshing and thirst quenching drink on hot summer days.

The two Lager beers that were compared were as different as night and day, but were both done very nicely. The Sierra Blanca Lager is what is called an adjunct beer, that is, a micro-brewery beer designed to compete directly with Budweiser or Coors type of beers. Therefore, it has a clear light pale color, light nose and a delicate taste, but the taste in the Sierra Blanca Larger is more complex and interesting than in any mass produced beer. Itís an ideal beer to drink with food where you donít want the beer overpowering the taste of the food. It rated 8.5 steins. The Rio Grande Larger was a much darker, medium copper colored lager. It had a strong bouquet and a rich well rounded robust flavor. It also kept a head of foam nicely. It rated 9 steins. It was a close score again between the two producers.

Again, there were only two beers to compare in the Pilsner category, one submitted by Rio Grande and one by Sierra Blanca. Both beers were similar in color with the Rio Grande being a shade darker and it also had a slight cloudiness in it that is unusual for that style of beer. Both beers had a light nose with a little more fragrance coming from the Sierra Blanca. The Rio Grande seemed a little sharper in taste, where as the Sierra Blanca had a rounder, smoother taste. Everyone liked the lightness of both the beers. Both beers had a nice finish, but the Sierra Blanca won out with a score of 9.5 steins were as the Rio Grande ended up with 8 steins.

The Nut Brown Aleís were a delight to everyone. Sierra Blanca stole the show with a score of 10 steins because of itís richer fuller taste, having a nice finish and being very true to the style. It also had a slight red tinge to itís color compared to the Santa Fe entry. The Santa Fe ale was also very good but came in with a score of 9 steins. Some people thought it was a little over carbonated.

There was only one entry for the Green Chili beer which was from Rio Grande. It was a shame there was no other beer to compare it to. As it was, each of the other four tasters had also sampled other Green Chili beers in New Mexico and other states such as Colorado, Arizona and Utah, both in bottles and on tap. We decided to rate this beer compared to our memories of the other beers we had tasted and to the beer we were tasting. I might not seem like a fair comparison, but we didnít have much choice in the matter. The Green Chili beer from Rio Grande scored 10 steins because of itís strong green chili bouquet, green chili flavor and smoothness without it being to harsh. We had a discussion after the tasting regarding this beer and the others we all had tasted in the past, and came to the conclusion there is no finer beer in this style either on tap or in bottles.

The Pale Ales from Sierra Blanca, Cabezon and Santa Fe Brewing were all fine beers. The Sierra Blanca and Cabezon were identical in color, but different in taste and nose, with the Sierra Blanca being favored. The Santa Fe beer had a slight cloudiness to it and a different nose. Sierra Blanca and Santa Fe Pale Ales had the richer fuller taste with the hops and malt coming through nicely. They both rated 9 steins and the Cabezon beer scored 8 steins.

There were two dark beers of different styles, one a Stout from Cabezon and a Porter from Sierra Blanca. After much discussion we decided to compare them together. The Stout from Cabezon was a robust, rich, smooth, and well rounded beer that was so dark no light passed through it. It had a rich nose and held a nice head of foam. It scored 10 steins with out question. The Porter was equally nice but lighter in taste and in color. It had a nice nose, but not as rich as the Stout. It had a great flavor, but not as full as in the Stout. It rated 9 steins.

There was one final beer we rated, which was again in a class by itself, an Amber Ale. In color it was very close to the pale ales, just a shade darker, but a little stronger nose. It was a complex beer with a lot going on in the flavor area. It was a little stronger in taste than the pale ales, and it rated 9 steins.

What is interesting to note, that in all the bottled beers we tasted, not one fell below a six in rating which says a lot for New Mexicoís brewers. They are doing a great job. Having personally tasted many micro-brewery beers both bottled and on tap in many different locals in the western half of the U.S., I know you donít often find a place were all the beers would rate so high. Coming soon will be a review on great food and great beer, the micro-brew pubs in the area.

Author:
Jerry Sinkovec
photojournalistjerry@juno.com