By: Rob McCorkle
The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewery, according to The Brewers Association. I am fortunate to reside, as I suspect many Las Crucens do, within 10 miles of ALL of the city’s microbreweries and craft brew taprooms. The most outlying brewery—Picacho Peak Brewing Company – occupies the former site of a winery on the west side of town in The Grapevine Plaza. A surprising number of beer lovers I’ve talked to haven’t been there or even heard about it. Perhaps its obscurity is due to its being the newest craft brewery in Las Cruces, having opened in late 2015, as well as its location. Some stumble upon Picacho Brewing Company at the Grapevine Plaza by spotting the billboard on West Picacho Avenue less than a mile west of the Rio Grande. The sprawling compound, which includes the brewery, a catering business, restaurant and events center, occupies 3 acres set back from Picacho Avenue just past and behind the Fairacres Post Office.
The brewery derives its name from the prominent 4,959-foot landmark resembling a diminutive volcano that rises from the desert floor and is visible from the brewery’s expansive outdoor beer garden/festival site. Xavier and Cindy Mendoza have owned the west Las Cruces property for more than 20 years. Used over the years primarily as an Event Hall for weddings, conferences, graduation parties and the like, the facility in most recent years has housed the Grapevine Vintage Café and Lescombes Winery. General Manager Mike Layton says the 5,000-square-foot ballroom stays booked most weekends with a variety of special events, including vaudeville acts, concerts and comedy shows, and the brewery’s own beer-food pairing dinners.
Nonetheless, I often get a blank stare when I mention Picacho Peak Brewing to fellow Las Cruces craft beer fans. Mike often encounters the same response when he mentions the microbrewery or receives a phone call from local hopheads asking where the brewery is located. “We’ve been in business a year and a half and to this day I still run into people who say, ‘There’s a new brewery?’” The El Paso native observes that some who hear about Picacho Peak Brewery are turned off by its “remote” location, although it’s only a 10- to 15-minute drive from the city center. “If they don’t live on this side of town, they don’t come out this way. It’s crazy. Once they find our facility, they really enjoy it.”
To combat the location issue, the brewery plans to open a secondary taproom in the center of town. An ancillary taproom is just one facet of an ambitious plan not only to raise Picacho Peak’s visibility, but also enhance its offerings. An expansion of the current 8 taps to 10 is in the cards. And, now that the brewery has obtained its distribution license, look for head brewer Jim Fulkerson’s concoctions to flow soon at area golf courses, restaurants and bars. Mike says he’s looking, too, into a canning system that would allow for wider distribution of Picacho Peak’s brews. Also on Mike’s “To Do” list is acquisition of a distiller’s license so he and his crew can make their own bourbon, vodka, gin and other spirits. In addition, PPB will debut its own pit-smoked BBQ on Flag Day. Summer will see an increase in use of Las Cruces’ largest outdoor beer garden for the 2nd annual Summer Fest, live music and other events. There is now a new fire pit area and horseshoe pits and soon Picacho Peak patrons will be able to step up to a new serving window near the stage and relax in a Cigar Lounge to be created from a converted storage building at the back of the outdoor venue.
Picacho Peak offers a rotating roster of 7 varieties of what their Website describes as “fresh, smooth, real craft beer” brewed by Fulkerson, who brought his know-how from a stint at Pagosa Springs Brewing. Las Cruces’ newest and largest (3,000-gallon capacity) brewery was the city’s first to offer beer “on nitro” that is trending at other local craft breweries. The nitro canister is rotated from tap to tap to give each style, whether it be an IPA or Stout, a bit smoother flavor due to the smaller bubbles. The Stout on nitro is Mike’s favorite brew, reminding him of the Guinness he’s enjoyed over the years. The High Noon Hefeweisen (5.8% ABV/27.8 IBU) proves the brewery’s most popular style, especially with members of the local German Club who meet to enjoy cheer from personal steins kept at the bar. There will always be one of Picacho Peak’s IPAs, lighter ales and a Porter or Stout on tap. I have sampled most varieties during several visits this winter and spring. I found the 4.2 % ABV red ale (Rojo Especial) to my liking, but the malt-forward 575 Scottsman (Scotch Ale) is my go-to brew when it’s available.
On one occasion I even ventured into unfamiliar beer-drinking territory by trying a couple of “Mash-Ups” – a first for Las Cruces craft breweries – where 2 and occasionally 3 different styles are mixed in the same glass. A pour of the Rojo and Scottsman, dubbed a “Flaming Scotsman” by Eddie the bartender, proved a palate pleaser. My beer-drinking buddy and neighbor, Joe, opted for a “masher” of the 3 darkest beers from the brewery’s Mash-Up List called the “Tripod.” He pronounced the blend of La Bruja Porter, Smooth n’ Stout and Javelina Black IPA a lip-smacking winner. Pints of all but “specialty beers” go for $4.50. Happy Hour prices save you a dollar a pint from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Mike expects a large order of PPB hats soon, as well as a fresh batch of souvenir t-shirts. Tank tops, pint glasses and cool stickers are offered, as well. Take home a growler of your favorite flavor for $20. Refills are $12 unless it’s a specialty brew that will cost an additional $6.
Picacho Peak has a loyal following from Picacho Hills Country Club and the surrounding Fairacres neighborhoods. Customers of all ages and backgrounds find their way to the taproom to sit at the bar or grab a faux beer barrel table with a view of a large flatscreen. Farmers, New Mexico State University students, bikers, rugby teams and social clubs show up from time to time. Music lovers show up on Friday evenings to enjoy live blues, country, soul and Americana.
“Poutine” stood out on the menu when my wife and I first visited PPB. The best Canadian dish I’ve never heard of proves one of the most ordered items on the pub grub menu of burgers, salads and the like. As GM Mike sums it up, “It’s the perfect bar dish with all the essentials. You’ve got French fries, you got gravy and you’ve got cheese.” The kitchen incorporates PPB beer into several of its offerings, such as the BBQ bacon burger covered with sauce made with the 575 Scottsman and the ever-popular Beer Can Chicken. Also a big hit with many are the fresh-made pretzels served with beer cheese sauce. Meals range from $5.50 to $18, with most running under $10. Lunch is now served Fridays and Saturdays.
The quote at the bottom of the menu perhaps best sums up the Picacho Peak Brewing experience:
“Nothing ever tasted better than a cold beer on a beautiful afternoon with nothing to look forward to than more of the same.”
Location: 3900 W Picacho Ave | Las Cruces, New Mexico, NM 88007
Sunday – Monday: [CLOSED]
Tuesday – Thursday: 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Phone: (575) 680-6394