Still and Hills

Brews and views!

By Dena Miller

‘Taos Lightning’ is an Old West spirit brand with as colorful a back story as one would expect from this neck of the woods. Originally distilled by Simeon Turley of Arroyo Hondo in the 1820s, it was a concoction of raw wheat grain alcohol, river water and other “proprietary” ingredients like chewing tobacco (!).

Medley, at 100 NM-150 in El Prado, offers a Sazerac containing Taos Lightning, Pernod Absinthe, sugar water, orange bitters, orange slices and mint leaves. Photo: Morgan Timms

The potent whiskey was abundantly popular with trappers, traders and Native Americans, and sold throughout the Southwest until 1847, when Turley and cohorts were killed in the Taos Pueblo Revolt.

Today KGB Spirits has resurrected the historic brand at its Alcalde, N.M., distillery, Los Luceros Distilarias. Los Luceros is one of many craft distilleries springing up across New Mexico to carry forward its “spirited” history (albeit minus the chewing tobacco). Here in Taos, we’re fortunate to have two of them right in our backyard.

Craft distilleries

Rolling Still Distillery prides itself on its small-batch, premium craft vodkas which they “distill from 100 percent organic ‘maize’ with artisanal 9,200-foot elevation Taos Mountain water, and crafted with locally grown or foraged ingredients” celebrating the flavors and culture of New Mexico.

Ruby Ristra — Red Chile-infused vodka, muddled raspberry and mint, lime juice and a splash of ginger beer. Morgan Timms/Taos News

Their Classic vodka is on the menu along with infusions of lavender, red or green chile, pecan, or ponderosa/juniper. Rolling Still also features the spirits of other New Mexican neighbors – Algodones, Wheeler’s, Tumbleroot, Colkegan, Dire Wolf and, of course, Taos Lightning.

The Lounge (110 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Suite D) is Rolling Still Distillery’s boutique “tasting room” that keeps you in the heart of the town’s action. Its historic outdoor patio is the place to people-watch as you sip one of their luscious liquors.

Say, a “Lavender Honey Drop” (lavender vodka, butterfly pea blossom honey and lemon); an “Easy Rider” (green chile vodka, lemon sour, grapefruit, orange bitters, hibiscus cordial); or “High Tea Gypsy” (classic vodka, “tea.o.graphy” ginger spice tea, ginger liqueur, lemon and a special elevation-support herbal tincture).

Lavender Lemonade — Rolling Still Lavender-Infused Vodka with house-made citrus, fresh lemon juice and Topo Chico sparkling. Morgan Timms/Taos News

Whatever your selection, Rolling Still assures you that, with every sip, they’ve also “infused the Spirit of Taos.”

Red River Brewing Company and Distillery (217 West Main Street, Red River), a local, family-run business owned by Michael and Sharon Calhoun, has been in operation since 2018. Nestled between the Sangre de Cristo mountains at 8,700 feet and the Carson National Forest, RRBC yields the old mining town a wealth of craft spirits.

Courtesy Red River Brewing Company and Distillery

The distillery’s own Silver King vodka, Purkapile rum, Jacks & Sixes spiced rum, Mallette Bros. gin, and Cabresto Cañon agave spirit are on the rousing menu.

Get your head out of the mountains and into the Caribbean with your first sip of a “Painkiller” (Jacks & Sixes rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, orange juice and a dash of nutmeg); or time travel to the 1970s with a tequila, orange juice and grenadine  “Cabresto Sunrise.” “Cranbarely Walk”?  Must be that heady mix of Mallette Bros. gin, cranberry juice, lime and agave.

RRBC is also a proud innovator in the state’s thriving craft brewing movement. Fueled by the increasing segment of beer drinkers looking for diversity in beer styles and rich distinctiveness in taste profiles, small breweries such as RRBC deliver with superior quality from artisanal ingredients.

Courtesy Red River Brewing Company and Distillery

IPAs, red and blonde ales, witbiers, pilsners, porters and stouts are on tap, along with its “Contagion Fruity Sour,” a kettle-soured ale with a rotating selection of fruits in the brew. (There’s also a house root beer for the kids, or for anyone craving a root beer float.)

Further along the Enchanted Circle, you’ll come across two more craft breweries: the namesake Enchanted Circle Brewing Company in Angel Fire, and Comanche Creek Brewing Company in Eagle Nest.

“We work hard to share the excitement of creating delicious and drinkable craft brews,” said Enchanted Circle Brewing Company (20 Sage Lane, Angel Fire). “Tucked in a valley in Northern New Mexico at high altitude, we seek out the best ingredients to make the best possible recipes to satisfy the most discerning craft brew drinker.”

Courtesy Commanche Creek Brewing Company

Comanche Creek Brewing Company (5 Comanche Creek Road, Eagle Nest) said that, due to their small batch size, they are flexible in the types of beers they produce at any given time, allowing for a continual rotation of beers throughout the year on their 10 taps. They also produce specialty seasonal brews, adding to the variety they offer.

Whether you’re a connoisseur of fine spirits or a fan of craft brews, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for, born and bred in Taos.