Kaktus Brewing Company – Bernalillo & Albuquerque, New Mexico
Most of us have known a wine snob or two. You know the type. They refer to themselves as oenophiles, a fancy way of saying “connoisseur or lover of wines.” They believe themselves to possess refined palates and won’t drink a wine that isn’t as cultured as they are. Even then, they first have to check the color and opacity of the wine. Then they twirl their glass for ten minutes or so before sticking their nose into the glass (like anteaters at an ant hole) and sniffing the wine noisily. They then proudly proclaim the wine has notes of oak, berries or butter. Their next step is to gargle with the wine, sloshing it between their cheeks and gums before finally imbibing of its delicate flavors and proclaiming it worthy.
In recent years, another adult beverage snob has arisen to give oenophiles some competition in the haughtiness department. They’re called “cerevisaphiles,” a term that refers to beer enthusiasts. Cerevisaphiles turn their nose up at Pabst Blue Ribbon and other “pedestrian swill.” As with their oenophile counterparts, the cerevisaphiles pride themselves on their discerning palates. They will drink no beer before or after its time and are careful to note its appearance (color, head density) and aroma before sipping (yes, sipping) it and contemplating its worthiness. Where the snobbiest and most well-heeled of oenophiles pride themselves on wine cellars, cerevisaphiles (like my friend Ruben) take pride in brewing their own.
That, my dear readers, is this gastronome’s feeble attempt to use humor and stereotypes to exploit the misconceptions behind the much maligned, much misunderstood talents and passions of oenophiles and cerevisaphiles. Most oenophiles and cerevisaphiles I know (including some of my best friends) are actually very down-to-earth and uncommonly modest. They’re justifiably proud of their bona fide gifts and abilities to discern and appreciate wine and beer in ways plebeians like me aren’t fully capable of doing. Where I’m mildly jealous is that sometimes their gifts and abilities extend to the culinary realm. With their enhanced taste buds and olfactory senses, they can discern nuances and subtleties in foods better than I can. For all I know, they even have better vocabularies, too.
Dana Koller is one such person. Born into a family which included talented chefs, Dana couldn’t help but develop a passion for quality foods. He parlayed his passions and precocious experiences in the food and beverage industries toward entrepreneurial channels, founding a marketing platform for local restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries throughout central and northern New Mexico. He also launched indulgenm.com, a Web site celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s wines. Although wine is his true passion, Dana’s refined palate also appreciates good beer.
Seeing an untapped opportunity in Bernalillo, Dana partnered with brew master Mike Waddy to launch Kaktus Brewing Company in October, 2013. In the vernacular of the brewing industry, Kaktus is a nano-brewery in that it brews only about 500 total barrels a year. Kaktus, named for the German spelling of the word “cactus,” is also unique in that all beer is brewed on steel, flat-bottomed German-made equipment which allows for lighter style lagers without compromising on the quality of other beers. This Lilliputian brewery uses all natural and organic ingredients in its beer. As you enter Kaktus, you can take a self-guided-tour of the brewery.
You have to get there first and that can be a bit tricky. Kaktus is located on South Hill Road, a lightly trafficked, relatively unknown two-lane west of and which essentially parallels I-25. It’s about half a mile from the Railrunner and lies in what seems to be part industrial complex, part residential area with a couple of trailer parks along the way. A single sign depicting Kokopelli points the way to the brewery. Signage not withstanding, you might still wonder if you entered a kitschy art compound instead of a brewery. Then there’s the brewery itself. There’s none of the pristine veneer or effusive, over-the-top flamboyance of the typical brew pub to lure in patrons.
Instead, Kaktus resembles a somewhat austere converted home to which is attached a canopied patio, ostensibly for use when weather permits it. If you choose not to take the self-guided tour, you’ll step into a brightly illuminated room where you’ll espy Dana Koller manning the brewery taps behind the bar. What will almost immediately catch your eye are the chairs and stools. Carved onto the chairs on one six-person table is the cast of Breaking Bad. The four stools on another table (which will probably be most popular among male patrons) pays tributes to the “dollys:” Salvadore Dali, the Dalai Lama and of course, Dolly Parton. The Dolly Parton stool is a bit uncomfortable because of a couple of a couple of wooden “protuberances” that won’t let you sit up straight.
4 January 2014: Primarily a brewery in which patrons can gather together leisurely and enjoy high quality beer, Kaktus hasn’t neglected the gustatory needs of its guests, offering a small, but inviting menu. As with the beer menu (eight beers on tap), the food menu focuses on quality. The first item on the menu is a homemade all-natural buffalo Frito pie (Fritos corn chips, sour cream, onion, Cheddar cheese). It’s not a conventional Frito pie, at least from a New Mexico standpoint. The “chile” is black bean chipotle chile and it’s seasoned with bay leaf, oregano and coriander stewed with all-natural bison, cumin, sea salt and peppers.
If, like me, you’ve been so inundated with hot dogs obfuscated by everything but the kitchen sink, Kaktus is your hook-up, offering build-your-own hot dogs and brats. Build your own starts with selecting your own dog or brat from an alluring selection: buffalo chile dog; Elk, Cheddar and Jalapeno Brat; All-Natural Beef Dog; Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage; and Wild Boar Game Sausage. Next you select your choice of bun: baguette or pretzel and lastly your favorite toppings: mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, garlic, onions and relish. You even get to specify whether you want your mustard or ketchup spread light, medium or heavy. Green chile and curry ketchup are available for a pittance. All brats and dogs are served with chips and salsa.
To ensure the quality he wants, Dana sources the brats and dogs from Colorado. Great choice! The three we sampled were “restore my faith in brats and dogs” good! They were “can’t wait to sample others” good! The brats are “Wisconsin good” and in the Badger State, brats are almost a religion. Kaktus’s brats are thick and meaty sausages incorporating a blend of old world German spices with the aforementioned contemporary twists. They snap when you bite into the casing, releasing moist, smoky deliciousness. These brats are so thick that even the chewy pretzel bun is challenged to hold it in, especially if you add anything more than mustard.
4 January 2014: After only one visit, the wild boar game sausage has quickly become my very favorite exotic hot dog in the Land of Enchantment. Credit some of that to the hickory smoke flavor impregnating this behemoth between a pretzel bun. The hickory smoke is more than noticeable, but it doesn’t mask the feral, but fabulous flavor of the wild boar which, by the way, isn’t quite as sweet or as fatty as domestic pork. Boar meat is also a bit darker and more coarse, but otherwise shares a similar flavor profile to pork. If you love pork-based hot dogs, you’ll love the wild boar game sausage.
4 January 2014: We admire the monogamous commitment and beauty of ducks so much, it sometimes makes it difficult to fully enjoy the wonderful watery fowl, one of my very favorite proteins. The duck and cilantro game sausage means I’m no closer to giving up my guilt-edged enjoyment of duck. This is an outstanding sausage! It’s not nearly as fatty as some duck entrees tend to be while the cilantro lends the element of an invigorating freshness to the sausage. As with the other hot dogs, this one is long and thick, reminiscent of the “fifteen schnitzengruben” sausages in Blazing Saddles.
3 February 2014: Throughout Chicago, using ketchup on a hot dog is considered a desecration akin to scrawling graffiti on Mike Ditka’s countenance. It just isn’t done! Customers wanting to exercise their freedom to choose ketchup are either refused (Superdawg Drive-In comes to mind) or gruffly handed a bottle and told to apply it themselves. One wonders if Kaktus’s curry sauce would even be given a shot. My Chicago in-laws will probably consider it heresy, but I believe this curry sauce would improve even the sacrosanct Vienna hot dogs. It’s a very nice curry with a good depth of flavor complexity.
Not being a certified cerevisaphiles, I can’t vouch for what beer goes well with what brats or dog. What I can vouch for with much alacrity is that Kaktus Brewing Company has hot dogs which go well with any carnivorous appetite.
Kaktus Brewing Company
471 South Hill Road
Bernalillo, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2014
1st VISIT: 4 January 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Knockwurst, Duck and Cilantro Game Sausage on Pretzel Bun, Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Game Sausage, Curry Dog