La Cumbre Brewing’s Taproom

Barkeep by | Nov 2016 | Issue #118

Jeff Erway admits he was “pretty foolhardy” when he set out to give New Mexico “truly uncompromised” beer in 2010. But he also liked the idea of being his own boss, of making a “good enough living to support my growing family without a budget-minded boss looming over my shoulders.” The result was Albuquerque’s La Cumbre Brewing Co. and its flagship Elevated IPA.

“It’s not that there weren’t any good [IPAs], but at that point, I felt like everyone was playing it kinda safe locally,” says La Cumbre’s founder and master brewer. “I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. The brewery needed to make a profit, and I saw an opening and a demand for a world-class IPA.”

Elevated would win a gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011, by which time La Cumbre had become a popular gathering spot for local beer lovers. (The IPA has been their No. 1 seller since the start, now accounting for 50 percent of total production.) And serving it (alongside other beers) at the taproom is what made La Cumbre viable. “For the first few years, the taproom accounted for over 75 percent of our revenue,” Erway says.

For 52-year-old photographer Karim Fattah, the taproom established itself as “a usual visit on our weekend pub crawls, where friends from other parts of town would gather.” He fondly recalls sipping 4th Anniversary, a rum barrel-aged Barleywine, at La Cumbre’s 2014 anniversary celebration, and the impromptu dance party that broke out after.

Taproom manager Jenn Bullock says regulars like Fattah are the lifeblood of La Cumbre. “Our clientele can be quite a mix,” she reports. “We have many regulars that have been coming here since the beginning. We know their names, what they drink, and have often met several members of their family.”

Rustic, warm colors and wood furniture put off a cozy, homey vibe that pairs well with year-round comfort beers like A Slice of Hefen, Beer lager, Pyramid Rock Amber, and, of course, Elevated IPA. Special releases like Siberian Silk Baltic Porter and Stone’s Arrogant Bastard (La Cumbre was one of several “adoptive” locations that brewed up a batch for charity) keep things interesting, as do live bands every Saturday. Fattah raves about the staff—how they point beer neophytes in the right direction, how they pick out great tunes, and how he’s consistently impressed by the taproom experience.

He also counts the food trucks that park alongside the taproom patio as some of his favorite food moments in recent years, from BBQ to French-inspired sandwiches, street tacos and hamburgers to Southern soul food. There’s yoga on Sunday, “Lego night” on Tuesdays, and brewery tours on Saturdays. Maybe that foolhardy owner was right after all.

“Our intention was to simply support the community that supports us,” Erway says of all the extracurricular activities and food options. “Maybe La Cumbre didn’t put Albuquerque and New Mexico brewing on the map, but we made that little dot a big, bright star.”