The intense competitiveness of the craft brewery market is pushing an increasing number of brewers towards spirits. It’s a logical transition, because brewing and distilling begin with fermentation. There is also an economic attraction. The craft spirits market is growing faster than the brewery market, thanks in part to the craft cocktail craze.
In Albuquerque, the flagship of what has been dubbed the brewery movement is La Reforma, a three-year-old operation that brews its own beers and spirits out of a strip mall near I-25 and ‘Alameda NE.
La Reforma offers a slate of beers with Mexican inflections, like a chocolate stout flavored with chili pepper and cinnamon. It also sells its own rum, vodka and agave spirits in craft cocktails or by the bottle.
And if that’s not enough, there’s a Mexican street food menu that pairs well with the drinks.
La Reforma takes its name from a set of laws written in the 1850s in Mexico that helped modernize the country. Additional inspiration came from co-owner Jeff Jinnett’s youth in Mexico City. Jinnett partnered with John Gozigian, former head of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, to launch La Reforma in the summer of 2019 in space that had been vacated by Bosque Brewing Company.
This space extends along a few windows. A small army of kegs, tanks and fermenters stands sentry at a restaurant door.
The dining room combines industrial style design elements like exposed ceilings and corrugated iron siding with murals and paintings reminiscent of Mexican folk art.
The menus, wedged in aluminum beer buckets, have one side devoted to food, the other to drink. The first consists of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and bowls girded with the usual assortment of toppings like carnitas, carne asada and al pastor.
There is a small assortment of entrees and sides under $10. A cup of pozole ($4.95) was excellent, the white hominy and tender chunks of pork, the modest heat of the red chili broth balanced with cilantro. A pile of cabbage and onion and a serving of homemade tortilla chips added some crunch.
The only salad on the menu, Chef Javi’s delicious salad ($11), arrived in a round, shallow aluminum tray. It was good and filling, the substantial bed of greens topped with thin strips of jicama and fried tortillas and a sprinkle of pepitas and cojita. The highlight was the watermelon chunks bursting with juice accompanied by a tangy cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
The tacos ($3.50 to $3.95), served in soft corn tortillas wrapped in paper, offered a compelling bite of creamy guacamole, crunchy cabbage and onions. The carnitas were excellent, chewy and shredded, the pollo asado nicely smoked. Both got a boost from homemade corn tortillas, greasy and spongy and free of the synthetic toughness of stuff sold in supermarkets.
CDMX Quesadillas ($8.50), the star of the menu, are made Mexico City style by wrapping masa dough around cheese and frying it golden brown. The result looks more like empanadas than the crispy tortilla sandwiches you’re used to seeing. The six croissants had a corn chip flavor and a soft texture perfect for soaking up the medium hot red salsa and a refreshing salsa verde.
Drinks are divided into beers, craft cocktails, and a few non-alcoholic selections. I’ve gotten used to seeing craft cocktails priced in the double digits, so it was a pleasant surprise to see nearly every $8.50 La Reforma offering. The only exception was the $10 Reposado Rita, La Reforma’s take on an upscale margarita. It is made with reposado agave alcohol that has aged over three months in oak bourbon barrels. The menu describes it as having a woodsy finish, but from my perspective it also had a woody beginning and middle that overpowered the vanilla and caramel notes.
La Reforma’s beer list reflects the influence of German and Austrian immigrants on Mexico’s brewing history. The Reforma Lager ($5.50), for example, is made with German hops and Bavarian yeast. It was a beautiful glass, golden wheat in color and with a modest frothy head. The bright, crisp and slightly sweet profile made it a great accompaniment to food.
The menu offers three desserts ranging from $5 to $8. There are a few vegetarian options. You need to check with the waiter for gluten free options as they are not listed on the menu.
Our server was knowledgeable and never far from distance.
By combining carefully crafted beers and spirits with solid interpretations of Mexican street food, La Reforma occupies a unique place in the local culinary scene. The owners have created food and drink menus that work magic together.