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Finding Beer along the Turquoise Trail

Reading Time: 5 minutes read

“Every beer you brew is an idea you get to take on to the next thing.” – Matt Oler

Road trip time!
Santa Fe, NM is old. Really old, as U.S. cities go. Founded in 1607, it’s a relatively small, almost entirely picturesque city of adobe buildings — some old and some new — historic sites, and chili wreaths. I suppose, to get the full tourist experience, complete with crowds and higher prices, I’d need to visit in the summer. The week before Christmas, things were pretty quiet, just the way I like them.

View in the mountains above Santa Fe.Audie the cattle dog and Ben in the Jeep. Oh, did I mention that the elevation is 7,199’ above sea level? Had I known that before road tripping in from Dallas, I might have worried about altitude sickness. As it was, we took two days to get there, acclimating along the way, and suffered nothing worse than a light headache on the second day in the city. That couldn’t have had anything to do with the high-test Santa Fe Brewing Company beers I tried. Definitely not. 

Above Santa Fe, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains tower for several thousand more feet (the range includes several peaks above 13,000 feet in New Mexico, and others above 14,000 feet in Colorado). 

Adobe and Local beer

Audie (dog) looking out courtyard window.
Photo by Ben Wilson

Santa Fe is also, of course, home to aforementioned Santa Fe Brewing Company. They have a taproom about half a mile from the incredibly charming Inn at Vanessie. Audie made himself quite at home on the outdoor patio at The Brakeroom. There is, I suppose, one downside to taking a road trip with a dog in the winter, even if it is a mild Southwest winter. Restaurants have a strange tendency not to allow dogs inside (the barbarians), and it can get a little chilly, being relegated to patios in 40 and 50 degree weather.

So, that’s Santa Fe. Charming, picturesque, not crowded the week before Christmas. Winning. To get to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, it’s an easy and scenic drive down I-25, 64 miles from city center to city center. You’ll pass Black Mesa on the way. Fortunately, I didn’t see any Combine on this trip (video game joke). Just road signs for various pueblos, which seem to make up a large portion of the the territory between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Or, you can be a little more adventurous, and travel the Turquoise Trail between the two cities.

Saint Francis statue made from a tree stump.
Photo by Benjamin Wilson

This is what we did on the way back. The Turquoise Trail is a 50 or so mile stretch of Highway 14, dotted with little southwest towns containing artsy southwest businesses. I did not stop for any turquoise jewelry, but I may just have to on the next trip. We did briefly check out Cerrillos, where we saw Stump Saint Francis.

Discovery time
Not too far up the road from there, we spotted a sign for Beer Creek Brewing Co. Thank you, St. Francis. Finding a new (to me) local brewery while on a relaxing afternoon drive? Total win. I’ll go ahead and say I loved this place, and kind of wish I were there right now. I’ll just have to settle for drinking a Sierra Nevada Sidecar IPA while writing this, instead (Sidecar is no slouch). The sign for Iron Horses parking was a huge clue that I’d probably like these folks (they have Purple Heart, and Expectant Mothers parking, and a hitching post, too). The giant back patio, with its own outdoor bar, was another good clue about this joint.

Rich Headley at his outdoor bar.
Rich Headley at the Beer Creek Brewing Co. outdoor bar

Rich Headley, one of the four co-founders, was hanging out, doing brewery owner stuff. He, and subsequently Jami Nordby (pizza master and head brewer) and Matt Oler took quite a bit of time out of their afternoon/evening to pour us beers, make us pizza (legit, West-Coast style – delicious), and shoot the breeze with us. I think we met Heather Maxwell, the head baker, and definitely some of the guys’ families, too. Beside Rich, Jami and Matt, there are two other co-owners, whom we didn’t meet that day. Kelly McGuire, and Ryan McArdle.

At the time, Beer Creek had been open for only a couple or three months, and they had one of their own beers on tap (they proudly serve other local brews and vintages, too).

BCBC sign on the building
Photo by Ben Wilson

Beer Creek Pale Ale
Man, this little gem was absolutely perfect for enjoying on the back porch on a late Sunday afternoon. It’s probably perfect at other times, too. I’d love it in a can, or a bottle, probably on my own porch. But there’s just something about enjoying a craft beer in its native environment. That’s the best way to get to know a beer. Brewed with Mosaic, Chinook, Columbus, and Cascade, and the only one that Rich and crew didn’t grow was the mosaic. That one was in the boil; the rest were dry-hopped.
Oh, yes. They grow their own hops. Four acres of them. Crossed Sabres Hop Co. supplies to Beer Creek, naturally, and also to some other Santa Fe breweries.

Beer Creek menu and a pint of Pale Ale.
Photo by Ben Wilson

Crossed Sabres
The first two acres of hop bines came from Great Lakes Hops, located in Michigan. The Crossed Sabres/Beer Creek crew drove from New Mexico to Michigan, so they could load up the pickup truck and pick the GLH guy’s brain about properly setting up their hop farm.

Dried chilis hanging under the porch at Beer Creek Brewing Company
Photo by Ben Wilson

Over the three or so years this blog has been active, we’ve covered lots of breweries. Some are pretty big, some are quite small. The best of them understand that beer is an agricultural product. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As the term “craft” implies, beer is inextricably tied to the agricultural realities of hops and grain, and also to the communities where it’s brewed. The Beer Creek folks get this. As Matt Oler put it, “Farm to tap” is the concept here. They’re after creating a “locally-grown product that we can serve people…locally grown products matter to a tremendous amount of people.”

Tin brewery signs on outside wall of Beer Creek Brewing CompanyBeing farmers as well as brewers (and with quite a bit of other business experience under their collective belts), these folks are very interested in the economic health of their state; not just their own bank accounts. As they explained, many of “…the mom and pop farms are drying up in New Mexico, but small hop farms could revitalize that.” Thanks to the innovation of hop harvesters, a small plot of land can turn a profit from growing hops. Matt Oler is a wet-hop fan, and expressed excitement that local hop farms could make more wet-hopping possible. At the time of my visit, the  Crossed Sabres hops were rack air-dried. I absolutely plan to visit New Mexico again, and hope to find a wet-hopped Beer Creek brew on tap when next I visit (guess I’d better plan that for the right season, eh?).

For a more in-depth piece on how Beer Creek got started, including the adventure behind their 65 year-old pizza oven, Dark Side Brew Crew did a write-up around the time the brewery was opening for business.

This post was updated on 2-18-2019 to reflect the fact that the stump statue outside the church in Cerrillos is actually of Saint Francis, not of Jesus, as I previously thought.

Beer Creek Brewing Company: A story about beer


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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

One Comment

  1. Michael Lancaster Michael Lancaster February 18, 2019

    Tastefully written! One correction from a local “Stump Jesus” is Saint Francis.

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