Summer and beers in New Mexico go together like chips and salsa, breakfast burritos and hot-air balloons, a bowl of chile and a nice fat tortilla. Some enjoy a crisp light lager, some enjoy an IPA filled with hops and a fruity aroma; whatever your taste, there’s a cold beer out there somewhere, made just for you in New Mexico.
Like many a Burqueño, I like to ride my bike in the bosque, summer being no exception. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a great watering hole that beckons near the trails. Located right across from the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden and Aquarium, El Vado Taproom sits like a white adobe oasis within view of the summer foliage of the Rio Grande. The Ghost Train IPA, brewed by Ponderosa Brewing Company, feels like a refreshing reward after a good ride. Clocking in at 6.9 percent, it’s no slouch in the ABV department, and it’s got more than enough hops—Cascade, Columbus, Amarillo, and El Dorado, if you track that sort of thing. While it’s not exactly a crushable beer (Tecate it is not), it hits the spot after a robust ride and a much-needed sit-down underneath the patio misters. You can also lounge inside the taproom, but I prefer the spray of water after a ride, plus you’re right near the food pods.
Up in Santa Fe at The Brakeroom, Santa Fe Brewery’s small taproom near the state capitol, they describe the NMX Standard as “a lighter, drink-it-anytime beer . . . brewed in the Land of Mañana.” The NMX is a quintessential summer beer, light, blond, and, clocking in at a chill 4.5 percent ABV, very crushable. With just 25 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) it rests easily on your palate and in your belly without overwhelming your senses (or your sensibility). Summer kind of prioritizes immediate refreshment, and this is that kind of beer. It’s the right beer for a long visit with friends on one of the roomy benches on the great Brakeroom patio, or perhaps sitting with a date in one of the tiny taproom’s cool, dark corners. In its former life, the Brakeroom was where railroad brakemen used to sleep. When you sit inside, surrounded by the dark wood paneling and stylish blue wallpaper, you feel that vibe.

Gravity Bound Brewing Company, also located near a government building (am I seeing a theme here?) makes a bracingly fresh beer called the Garden Spot. Benny Valdez, who characterizes his position at the Albuquerque brewery as beverage dispenser operator / positive vibe technician, steered me toward this cucumber basil gose when I asked for his summeriest recommendation. “It’s not super heavy, it’s crisp, it’s carbonated. The cucumber brings a nice refreshment. I love cucumber water—it translates super well to beer, and it’s got a nice salty finish.” My beer assistant was skeptical upon first sip, as the Garden Spot has a subtle bitterness, but as we got toward the end of our pints, the verdict was a solid two thumbs up. And since it’s only 4.8 percent ABV, I can safely say our judgment was not cloudy. Gravity Bound’s seasonals can sell out pretty quickly (a sign that they’re good), but Valdez expects the gose to last through August. He also steered us toward Maizey Train, their Mexican lager, a “nice, light, crushable beer with a corn finish.” Either of these beers pairs well with the fantastic murals and natural lighting in Gravity Bound’s cozy taproom.

About a mile north sits the always enjoyable Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. The nationally renowned brewery is currently tapping a lager called the Rancho Light, a “regionally sourced pilsner malt with Saaz hops.” The menu describes the beer as “low ABV (4 percent), high drinkability.” It goes down incredibly smooth. I usually opt for their year-round Scenic West Hazy IPA, a consistently rewarding go-to at this venue, but the Rancho Light has me rethinking my whole situation when I go to Bow & Arrow. I find their beers to be quite flavorful, which is not a complaint, but this beer would be a nice, smooth alternative when you aren’t in the mood for a “beer experience” and just want to cool off in their beautiful space and enjoy the aesthetics of the room, which I would describe as Indigenous meets industrial meets medieval (something about that lighting).

Last but certainly not least is my favorite brewery in Albuquerque, Sidetrack Brewing Company. I love Sidetrack because it has everything: great beer, great atmosphere, a great patio, and great bartenders. If you go, don’t shy away from their seasonals: I recently enjoyed the super-aromatic and hoppy Fifth Dimension IPA. But taproom manager Amanda Turri lists two year-round beers among her go-tos for summer, Basecamp IPA (6.8 percent ABV / 88 IBU) and the cleverly named A Tribe Called Kölsch (4.9 percent ABV / 32 IBU). Basecamp is Turri’s shift beer of choice: “It has the best of both worlds, really great hop flavor with hints of tropical fruit, my favorite beer to drink.” For something lighter, she’d serve up the brewery’s kölsch-style ale, which she describes as “a light, refreshing beer with a crisp finish.” Having sampled both, whether inside at the always friendly bar or in the courtyard, I agree with her on both counts.

So there you have it, your entry point into the world of summer beers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Think of it as a template to add to as you sample the flavors that best get you through the rest of this intense summer heat. Whatever your taste buds favor, be it light and crispy or super hoppy with hints of citrus and/or fruity aromas, there’s surely a summer beer out there waiting for you.

Of note to nondrinkers, Gravity Bound makes their own kombucha, which Benny Valdez says they are always tapping new flavors of. Sidetrack also offers kombucha, by New Mexico Ferments, and if you’re at El Vado, aguas frescas can be procured at Buen Provecho ABQ.

Jason Asenap
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Jason Asenap is a Comanche and Muscogee writer and filmmaker based in Albuquerque. You can find his writing in Variety, Esquire, Alta Journal, Grist, High Country News, Salon, and New Mexico Magazine.