In mid-March, we crossed into New Mexico from West Texas and found ourselves in a land more hospitable to beer lovers. While we had some great experiences with Texas breweries, their beer laws were a little confounding.
We spent a warm Sunday touring a National Park and museum, and felt that the best way to spend the afternoon was to a get a cold beer and snack at a micro-brewery. We had heard some great things about Marble Brewery, so we drove a few short blocks for a visit. As we drove up, I could tell that this was my kind of place: The outside patio was packed and a band was playing. The crowd was (mostly) young, ethnically mixed and (mostly) athletic. It was located in a mostly industrial area in a low, single-story building that was inviting on the outside and comfortable on the inside. In short, this is the kind of place that I love.
The good news was that everything we had heard about the beer was right: I sampled an IPA and a saison and both were not just good but great. The bad news was that while the beer was great, the menu that they offered did not offer anything my kids would eat. This is not a reflection of their food, but definitely a reflection on my two picky eaters. So I put the Hydroflask growler on the counter and asked for a sample. The first beer I tried was their IPA and it was love at first sip. I have been suffering through east coast IPA’s for six months and the bitter flavor that comes with them. The Marble IPA is very floral and citrusy and much like the Pacific Northwest IPA’s I have grown so fond of.
Even though my first sample was the IPA, I enjoyed it so much that I requested that the growler be filled with it. Big mistake, but not because the IPA was not good. While the bartender was filling it, I talked him into giving me a sample of the saison and I immediately regretted my hasty decision. The saison was spicy, nutty and rough, just like a French country ale should be. The beer did not have a heavy feel to it and went down great on a warm afternoon. This brew was one of the top 10 I have sampled during this journey and it has a lot of tough competition.
Since we did not stay for food, I thought I might have to be satisfied with a growler of (very good) beer to take back to the campground, but it turns out our evening was not over. We were still hungry, so when we passed another brewery off the freeway, we felt the need to stop. As we drove along a freeway access road occupied by chain restaurants, chain stores, and chain movie theaters, we stopped at Chama River Brewing Company.
The building itself fit into the Gap-like mall stylings of the nearby restaurants (Texas Roadhouse, P.F. Chang’s, etc.). It was new(er) and inviting in a bland sort of way. If Marble looked like everything I love, then this place had the look of breweries I tend to avoid.
If you cannot tell, I was actively turning up my nose at this place and my expectations were low. This comes from too many visits to bland micro-breweries that offer mediocre food and marginal beer (see: Salty Dog). The fact that the interior appeared to be open, stylish and expensive did not help my apprehension.
But after tasting every beer they offered and some great food, I will gladly eat my words. This place was great!
First, I want to comment on the food: the menu was pricey but we ordered off the appetizer menu, and with the kids’ meals, the final bill was very reasonable. We have a caesar salad that was well above average, and the cheese fondue was fantastic. When you factor in the fact that we split a sampler of ten different beers, the bill seems all the more reasonable.
Now for the beer tastings: We ordered a flight, which included ten 4-oz. samples of everything they had on tap, so we were able to get a feel for what the brewery had to offer. Ten beers is too many to comment on so I will make note of the highs and lows. Of the ten we sampled we only disliked two (Chama Red and Broken Spoke Honey Wheat) and we felt that both had flavors that were just too mild. My wife and I both raved about the Jackalope IPA (another PNW-type floral IPA), and I thought the Simcoe Pale Ale was also notable. While this was a pale ale, the brewer places the hop flavor front and center and the taste of this hop strain was very apparent. My wife loved the Barley Legal barley wine, which I thought was slightly too sweet and hot (very apparent alcohol flavor).
Of the remaining five beers, we found them to be above average, but still very drinkable and I would recommend all of them. I was expecting yeasty, malty, bad-homebrew type beers but was pleasantly surprised by everything they had to offer. Even the two beers we did not like were better than many brews we have sampled to date.
We both concluded that this is an operation with a skilled brewer (Jeff Erway) and a skilled chef. Their website notes eight medals in the past eight years from the Great American Brew Festival and seven World Beer Cup awards. This is a professional operation from front desk to brew kettle to back kitchen. If I found myself in Albuquerque, I would gladly eat and drink here again.