Turtle Mountain

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Forced to reside somewhere within two narrow corridors zoned for "commercial" use in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Turtle Mountain Brewing Company does an excellent job of making the most of their "strip mall" location. Rather than being just another victim of mindless zoning officials who create suburban sprawl and disintegrated life-styles, Turtle Mountain has already become an integrated part of this desert community that occupies the mesa across the Rio Grande from Albuquerque. The tan stucco building features a covered outdoor patio that catches the afternoon sun. Inside, the one open room features a dozen low and tall tables spread across a light colored, patterned floor. 12 feet overhead, skylights illuminate the green-beamed ceiling along with the beer posters and antique serving trays populating the walls. Track lighting further brightens the beige walls. To the left, interior windows allow a view of the well-lit 10 barrel (bbl) NSI brewhouse and its three copper-banded, shiny stainless steel uni-tank fermenters. Eight 10-bbl serving tanks stand back out of sight, cooled by a roof-mounted 10-ton glycol chiller. The 11-tap bar begins in front of the brewhouse wall then turns to face the wall of logo'd Mug Club drinking vessels before finishing face-to-face with the pizza prep table and the wood-fired oven. A chalkboard lists the beers "Now on Tap." The overall atmosphere is open and airy. A sign announces a prohibition on cigars but cigarettes are tolerated at the bar.

The Red Eye Rye is medium-bodied with a deep copper color, and a nice dry malty flavor. The Imperial Stout offers a big body along with a full mouthfeel and very rich chocolaty notes where the roasted character blends well. With a light head to begin with, the ending brings on a smooth finish with a subtle alcohol punch. The ESB is hazy amber with a lasting white head. With a smooth, medium body, its hoppy aroma precedes a well-blended malt/hop flavor balance where the hops finally dominate the finish. The Cream Ale is a clear straw color with a very light body and crisp but light hoppy flavor. The Wheeler Wheat is light amber with a creamy mouthfeel, even wheat/hop flavor balance and slightly dry finish. Very easy-drinking. The Pedernal Pale Ale starts with a light hop aroma followed by a pronounced hoppy flavor. Medium-bodied, it finishes cleanly and crisply. The medium-bodied San Antonio Stout offers a creamy head with a seriously roasted flavor that finishes cleanly. Other regulars include the Gallinas Golden, Abiquiu Amber and the Baldy Brown. Pints run $2.75, with a Sampler Tray $4, and 22 ounce "grande" pints $3.25. Glasses are $1 cheaper during "happy hour" from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 p.m. 'til close all week. Growlers are very popular with this bedroom community crowd as are the house sodas that include Canjilon Creme Soda and the Rio Grande Root Beer. A current bottled guest beer is the Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing in San Diego, California.

The wood-fired oven proves a great source of calzones and light crust pizzas, all under $7. Salads of top quality ingredients run about $5 with Grinders (submarine-style sandwiches) $6 to $7. To finish, try "La Velarde", a thin crust desert pizza of caramelized apples with vanilla ice cream à la mode. Celebrating their first-year anniversary in March, 2000, owner Nico Ortiz and head brewer Mark Matheson have shown that it is possible to bring a winning combination of beer, food and ambiance to the land of Coors and Bud, and establish an appreciative and loyal clientele in the process. Ask about the giant four-foot stainless steel "funnel" in the middle of the dining room. One word of caution for visitors, the City of Rio Rancho welcome drivers with signs that read "Rio Rancho strictly enforces DWI and speeding laws." This threat is put into abusive practice as reported by restaurant employees being falsely stopped by Rio Rancho's finest for "suspicion of DWI" after working their closing shift. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom to drink.

For some press coverage of Turtle Mountain and the house "Porter", check out the July 2000 issue of All About Beer magazine. Fall seasonals included the Heather Scotch. A deep, dark amber color, this medium-bodied brew offered a rich malty sweetness accompanied by a very mellow but complementary heather flavor that faded into a dry finish. The Oatmeal Stout begins with a big mouthfeel where the chocolate and roasted flavors create a synergy that results in a balance slightly ion the dry side.

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - February, September, October 2000

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Watch Turtle Mug Club Get a Handle on Things


Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
3755 Southern Blvd.
Rio Rancho, NM 87124
505-994-9497 505-994-9503 fax

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