Monday, July 30, 2012

Surviving the Family Vacation to New Mexico with a Few Good Beers Along the Way

High Desert's Peach Wheat with Green Chile Fries
Taking my nine year old daughter and eleven year old son with my wife where she grew up in Las Cruces, NM to meet the in-laws last week made me appreciate that family vacations are really more like psychological puzzles.  They require balancing the needs of a diverse set of age related interests while dealing with traditional family roles that have mostly laid dormant for months.  Casual conversation around the dinner table contain subtle subplots that go back decades.  The desire to provide my children with a unique, once in a lifetime cultural learning experience must be balanced with the family bonding experience created by playing the same XBox game with their nephews for the 647th time.  Moments where all nine members of three family generations peacefully coexist within a small house are so magical one can fight the inevitable desire that occurs once an hour to run out the front door screaming from a house teaming with inescapable noise and activity.  But really, family vacations are a lot of rewarding fun, and difficult as they may be at times, they sure beat estrangement.
A short rest on a hike to Dripping Springs just east of Las Cruces
And unlike other beer bloggers, who clearly signal they do not have kids as they post a review of eight pubs and three brewery tours conducted over weekend trip, getting away for an hour to a brewpub is a guilty and rare pleasure.  Perhaps it helped that Las Cruces is hardly known as a brewing Mecca so there was relatively few opportunities to be missed.  Thankfully, my wife Linda and her sister Mary accompanied my eleven year old son Brandon and I to High Desert Brewing for a short getaway on a hot Sunday afternoon with a couple beers and green chile fries.

Feeling mighty thirsty, I went for High Desert's Peach Wheat.  It was very peachy.  Almost too peachy, but if were any less or more peachy, it would not have been perfectly peachy.  Somehow, High Desert avoided making this too sweat with all that peachiness riding effortlessly over the clear, slightly tart wheat beer.  Linda and Mary went for the Hop Harvest IPA, with its slightly sweet biscuit-like malt and savory hop bitterness.  Brandon, of course, had the house root beer.
Sign atop High Desert Brewing.....Duh!
Later that day, I was able to sneak out of the house for a few minutes driving around looking for promising looking liquor stores which might have a decent local beer selection inside.  After driving around my in-laws neighborhood for fifteen minutes with no success, I found this place called Fiesta Foods.  Walking over to their large beer cooler and seeing a few bomber bottle selections from Stone Brewing was a promising sign, and sure enough, there were plenty of six packs from breweries all over New Mexico.

A six-pack of Rio Grande Desert Pilsner from Sierra Blanca Brewing was a fine Pilsner to keep cool by the pool, but seemed to lack the spicy hop bite one usually looks for in a Pilsner.  On a trip to White Sands National Monument we all enjoyed the the Sante Fe Brewing Pale Ale, where the lightly toasted malt harmonized well with the soft, earthy herbal hops notes.   Looking over the brewery website descriptions of Rio Grande Desert Pilsner and Santa Fe Brewing Pale Ale, which brag about their respective beers aggressive hop character, one wonders if the mellow hop character I tasted in these beers might have resulted from the six-packs sitting in the Fiesta Foods cooler a bit too long before I finally purchased them, as time subdues the hop bite of any beer.

The thrill of sliding down the dunes in White Sands
National Monumenton a snow disk
We all enjoyed climbing up and down the sand dunes of White Sands, and sledding down them in snow disks.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the cooling breezes intensified into gusting winds, and we had to cut our evening cook-out of grilled hamburgers short and run for shelter from the sudden sand-storm before glumly driving home in growing darkness.

The next day as we were getting set to catch our flight home, I engaged in a water polo game with my daughter, with us taking shots on goal against each other by heaving an inflatable rubber ball across the pool.  Throwing a hard shot just before the game was supposed to end created a sharp cramping sensation in my upper left arm, and it took just a second of realization in the confusion to understand I had dislocated my left shoulder.  Again.

My wife Linda hustled me into the car and drove me to the hospital.  As I sat in the passenger seat in my wet bathing suit, feeling increasingly nauseated and light headed while losing all feeling in my arm, we drove by a place called the Pecan Grill and Brewery on the way to the hospital.  "If they can't fix my shoulder in time to catch our flight home," my groggy brain thought, "we're all having dinner there."

The good Doctor Butcher took some x-rays, had his nurse stick an IV into my right hand, and gave me some drugs.  Then while I was incapacitated, Doctor Butcher grabbed my left arm while an assistant pulled at my torso, and this tug-of-war action with my body popped the left shoulder back in place.  When I came to, Doctor Butcher advised us to post-pone our flight out that day, which was set to take off in two hours.  So Pecan Grill and Brewery for dinner then!

The Pecan Grill and Brewery is this upscale looking restaurant.  Unlike most brewpubs which display conical fermenters, grain silos, or other brewing paraphernalia, there was nothing to indicate the place brewed any beer beyond the word "Brewery" in its name.  It even took me a couple minutes to find a beer list, located in the bar menu.  Turns out, the beer is actually brewed in Moriarty, NM, which explains the lack of any brewing equipment on the premises.  Moriarty is 260 miles away from Las Cruces so that might not seem like drinking local, but it's all relative in a state like New Mexico, where the next town is often a three hour drive.

Any questions that the Pecan Grill's beer wasn't really "local" were immediately put to rest by my first selection, a glass of Green Chile Ale, which was nothing less than a celebration of green chiles featured so prominently in New Mexican cuisine.  Pecan Grill Brewmaster Rich Weber uses light malt and the barest additions of any hops to keep those ingredients out of the way of the lightly roasted green chiles, which come shining through without threatening to be overpowering.  It's just sharp and clean green chile goodness.  Which is also reflected in the Pecan Grill's menu, which largely infuses the local green chiles into traditional American dinner fare.

My father-in-law, traditionally a light macro lager drinker, couldn't decide what beer to get, so ordered the whole nine-beer tasting flight.  While our dinner orders were taken, I next tried the Pecan Amber, another nod to local ingredients, as this region is a leading pecan growing area.  My initial reaction was not so good, as the sweetness of the pecan extract gave the impression of pecan syrup dumped into a glass of standard Amber Ale.   However, as the brew warmed and the flavors came to balance, the apparently sweetness diminished, and the pecan flavors melded with the roasty underlying amber ale more effortlessly, creating a nice riff on a familiar beer style.

With dinner, both Linda and I tried their Double IPA.  At 5.8% abv, it's really more of a regular IPA.  Stylistic quibbles aside, this one was a lively blend of grapefruit and peppery flavors.  Frankly, I prefer IPA's like this one that go for flavor than simply packing a huge, often muddled, tongue blistering hop attack.  A good example of the style.

And how was Dad doing with his beer sampler?  He pretty much liked all of them and his favorite was the Double IPA, suggesting that my wife's obsession with hops has genetic origins.   And it was quite satiafying turning a macro-lager drinker onto drinking local, yet another small vactory in the craft brewing revolution. 
The beer flight at Pecan Grill and Brewery just before
a small battle in the craft brewing revolution was won.

The next day, I walked gingerly walked around with my arm in a sling as my daughter learned a new XBox game, my son and I took a walk, and Linda and Mary spent some more sisterhood time in the art shops at Messilla's historic plaza before it was time to catch our postponed flight.  After all the family bonding, a dislocated shoulder, and a few good beers, it was time to return to our lives back home.


  1. "But really, family vacations are a lot of rewarding fun, and difficult as they may be at times, they sure beat estrangement."

    Great line - And post. Sorry to hear about your shoulder. Hope the residual effects don't slow you down too much.

  2. Great line, And publish. Sorry to listen to about your neck. Wish the rest of the consequences don't slowly you down too much.