While New Mexico has long been celebrated for its wide-open skies, dramatic mountains and rich blend of cultures, its many craft breweries have made the state what New Mexico True refers to as the “Frontier of Beer.” Close to one hundred breweries statewide are producing award-winning craft beer.
Along with the rise of New Mexico’s craft beer scene, a tight-knit group of hop farmers has cropped up, passionately producing native hops for local brewmasters. [The hop is the plant; hops refers to the plants’ dried flowers, or cones, used in brewing.] Rich Headley of Beer Creek Brewing Company, on the Turquoise Trail, is helping lead this “Farm to Tap” movement, as he’s coined it. Beer Creek is growing its own hops at Crossed Sabers Hops Company, a four-acre farm in nearby Cerrillos.
“We were hop farmers before we were brewery owners,” says Headley, who’s one of Beer Creek’s partners and deputy director of the nonprofit New Mexico Hop Growers Association. “It’s very unusual to grow these ingredients in New Mexico. What Beer Creek does is also uncommon in the industry. You could go to most states, and they don’t do this.”
Currently, the New Mexico Hop Growers Association has about ten members. “It’s still in the baby stages, but I would like to say, now that I’m heading into my eighth year of this, it’s no longer just an idea. It’s really happening,” says Headley.
Since opening in 2018, Beer Creek has produced twenty-four beers, including seasonal offerings. A handful are made with 100 percent New Mexico ingredients, while others contain 75 percent to 95 percent New Mexico ingredients. Their popular Bootlegger Blonde is one of those pure New Mexico beers made entirely with locally sourced ingredients. The water comes from Beer Creek’s well. The hops are grown at Crossed Sabers Hops Company Farm and La Capilla Hops Farm in La Cienega, while the malted barley comes from Schwebach Farms, just outside of Moriarty.
“The one thing about us using locally grown whole hops is that they haven’t had a length of time in storage — they are very, very fresh and whole, without being ground up and pelletized,” Headley says. “Where most hops are pungent, ours are floral, so our beers have a floral aspect.”
Like fine wine, Beer Creek’s beers reflect a terroir, or sense of place. Headley says both the local water and Schwebach Farms’ barley provide terroir. “There’s not one standard of barley, so each season it can change,” he adds. “It’s a learning process for [farmer] Ryan Schwebach. Everybody’s getting excited about being able to purchase the barley locally.”
Beer Creek utilizes unfiltered water in the brewing process. While water has to be filtered for public consumption, it doesn’t have to be filtered in the brewing process because it’s pasteurized.
Among other popular suds at Beer Creek are Black Wedding, a dark IPA created for the wedding of two friends, and Rowe Mesa Red, which the brewery describes as a red ale that’s “smooth, malt-forward with light roasted malt character and a clean finish.” Whichever beer you choose to enjoy while relaxing in Beer Creek’s rustic interior, reminiscent of a mountain lodge, or on its sprawling patio with endless mountain views, you’ll love the fresh flavors of locally farmed hops. Add in some killer pizza, hearty BBQ, green chile cheesecake and live music, and it’s easy to see why Beer Creek has quickly become a hot spot. The brewery has done so well, Headley says, that the partners are scouting a spot in Santa Fe for their first taproom.
Lynn Cline is the author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico. She has written for The New York Times, Bon Appétít and numerous other publications. She also hosts Cline’s Corner, a weekly radio show on KSFR 101.1 FM.