Sante Fe is one of the most stunningly unique places in America. It's as if someone took bits of Mexico and Spain and plopped them down firmly in the American West, surrounded by desert and mountains.
Every place name is in Spanish. The street grates say "Don't dump - drains to arroyo." The adobe architecture pleases the eye, as do the imposing Catholic cathedrals and the world-class art. And the food. Oh, God, the food.
Santa Fe has been thoroughly "discovered." Between the small city of 70,000, nearby Taos and environs, everyone from Julia Roberts to Val Kilmer, the late Dennis Hopper and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has chosen to live there at least part-time.
Fortunately, the land of Georgia O'Keefe and Tony Hillerman also offers ample craft beer to explore.
Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the oldest brewery in New Mexico. It is also the New Mexico brewery whose products are easiest to find in Colorado.
To start at a strong point in this week's New Mexico beer series, let's consider the State Pen Porter. It's one of Santa Fe's year-round, flagship offerings, and is readily available in six-packs here and there.
It pours a deep, inky almost-black with an imposing tan head of foam. The foam, no matter how carefully poured, will impress.
At 6.4 percent ABV, State Pen is relatively strong for a porter, a centuries-old English style that is widely brewed in the U.S. (including by Ska, with its comparable Ten Pin Porter).
Let State Pen warm for a few minutes to let the malts express themselves. And boy, do they - a wash of chocolate malt, with a little nuttiness. Some tasters perceive a hint of smoke in State Pen Porter (named for the nearby prison); I don't.
The dominant sweet chocolate taste is followed by a second wave of hop bitterness. This one has Cluster, Cascade and Willamette hops, and they're substantial enough to balance the ample chocolate malt.
It would be difficult to find a better porter. From the pour to the aroma to the taste, State Pen is a pleasure every time.
Santa Fe's website calls State Pen a "trademark beer of the Santa Fe Brewing Company’s master brewer, Ty Levis." Fine work, Mr. Levis. A
(An aside: If you visit Santa Fe, don't bother with the brewery itself. I went two weekends ago. It's out of town along a highway, past strip malls and chain restaurants. Only four beers were on tap. In fact, Trader Joe's had a better selection of Santa Fe beers than the brewery itself. Furthermore, the restaurant was out of chicken when I visited, and that ruled out about half the menu. Just buy their beer in a store).