|Assets Grille &
Brewing Company -- first brewpub in Albuquerque
By Richard Vang
Southwest Brewing News. (Austin, TX) 1994, 2:2
Presented by the Upstate Chunk & Paradigm Company
"It's a restaurant!"
"It's a brewery!"
"It's a restaurant!"
"It's a brewery!"
No, this isn't a commercial. These are the answers to the questions I ask myself every time I visit the Assets Grille & Brewing Company. What questions you say? Well, whenever I plop my twisted, schizophrenic little brain on one of their barstools, I look around and try to determine why so many people (including myself) keep coming back to this fine establishment.
"Is it the quality, hand-crafted beers?" Yes, yes; most definitely yes. "Is it the excellent cuisine?" Absolutely. The truth is, you'd probably get equal amounts of patrons who subscribe to both answers.
The Assets Grille & Brewing Company is for beer lovers. Since opening in May of 1992 as Albuquerque's first brewpub, the microbrewery has seen a steadily increasing body of devoted fans. The bar's interior is pleasing to the eye, the wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable, but the barstools are bolted to the floor, so don't try and move them or you'll wrench your back. (Trust me.)
Brewmaster Mark Matheson has been with Assets since its inception. His interest in brewing began about 15 years ago, when he was a sophomore in high school. He started making wine at home then, but later on at UC-Davis, he turned a little more serious. He earned a degree in Fermentation Science from the university, which allowed him to land positions in both California, where he taught wine-making classes, and New Mexico, where he produced wine for Anderson Valley. Mark credits Phil Moeller of Rubicon Brewing in Sacramento with being the major influence on his beer brewing career.
As Brewmaster of Assets, Mark oversaw the installation of a seven-barrel brewhouse from Pub Systems, and it is regarded as the first turnkey system in the Land of Enchantment. The shining copper kettles can be viewed through the glass windows surrounding the brewhouse, truly a pleasure as you sip on one of its' several styles of beer. Five can be found on tap at any time.
For starters, Mark serves up The Fruit that Ales You, a fruit ale which varies with the seasonal nectars. Raspberry ale is most current, with black cherry having been brewed previously, and an orange/mango blend coming soon. The medium bitterness of the Kaktus Kölsch, with its' slight hoppy aroma, provides an excellent introduction for the beer novice. Mark's English style bitter, Roadrunner Ale, has an excellent dry finish and deep golden color. A good example of the APA style is the Albuquerque Pale Ale, but the biggest seller by far has been the Duke City Amber. Also available are the S.S. Rio Grande Copper Ale (the beer "dedicated to the great steam ships that sailed the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Taos"), the Sandia Stout, Pablo's Porter, and most recently, an oatmeal stout. During the holiday season, Mark put out the very beautiful Ol' Avalanche Barley Wine, which proved to be my brother Chris' favorite during his visit to the Southwest. Coming soon will be Red Eye Rye for St. Patrick's Day, an altbier in April, a Modelo-style ale for Cinco de Mayo, and an American weizen for the summer. Mark has also admitted passionate thoughts about a smoked porter.
The beers are available in 2 oz. samplers, as well as 10 and 14 oz. servings. (My brother and I erroneously thought those were the sampler sizes!) Owner Doug Smith has plans to provide Assets' beer on the top of Sandia Peak, at his other restaurant, High Finance. Because of the altitude (10,000 ft.), brewing up there is not practical, so he has decided to ship the beer up the mountain to the restaurant. However, due to the strange New Mexico beverage laws, Doug can't sell Assets' beers to another retailer, but he can sell to another brewer, so application for a brewing license is underway. Strange but true.
Luckily for you lowland gorillas, Assets' beer can be taken off premises. Available are one gallon take-homes, as well as five and fifteen gallon party kegs. No bottling plans are in the works, so one way or another, you have to be in Albuquerque.
Beer accounts for about 90% of the bar sales, but this is not due to the lack of alternative choices. A rotating wine list provides excellent selections for the bacchanalians of the Duke City. Also available for refined palates is one incredible offering of single-malt scotches, liqueurs, and apéritifs, including grappa; but the spotlight has to fall on the interesting line of marinated vodkas. The flavors vary, running the gamut from apples and pears to homegrown New Mexican green chiles. (Hemingway is never around when you need him.)
Although the microbrewery is a great success, the grille could probably stand on its own as purveyor of fine cuisine. Doug Smith, Russ Zeigler and Don Goodenough had owned the already existing bar and restaurant under its' previous name, Liquid Assets (1977). After a brief hiatus as supers they took the establishment over again, remodeled it, and reopened in 1992 as Assets Grille & Brewing Company.
The restaurant prides itself on its handmade foods. In addition to the hand-crafted beers, Assets features housemade desserts and breads baked daily in the bakery. The wide range of food includes gourmet pizza baked in a wood-fired brick oven, daily pasta, steak, seafood and poultry specials, sandwiches, salads, soups, and great appetizers. I can recommend the pork sandwich or nachos for starters, after that it's up to you.
Along with the regular fare, Chef Dennis Apodaca offers "Monthly Foods of the World," an ethnic cuisine night which features delicacies from around the world, including Tuscan, Caribbean, and Thai menus. The Oktoberfest season also presented a ten-piece German band.
In addition to the elegant and comfortable dining areas, a relaxing patio is also available during the summer months. All services are available, including lines for the beers, but go early as the patio has become a local favorite.
Although Assets is selling all the beer they can produce (1100-1200 barrels/year), no plans for expansion are in the works. However, a location for a second brewpub and restaurant is currently being pursued. Doug will only speculate that it will be in New Mexico.
In addition to the microbreweries and restaurants, Assets management has burst upon the brewing equipment scene, with the formation of the Liquid Assets Brewing Systems. The company is based in Albuquerque, but manufactures out of Santa Rosa, CA. (Check out the last issue of SWBN, p.6 for details.)
So, back to my original question: with everything that's going on at Assets Grille & Brewing Company, do I enjoy the place because it's a great brewpub, or because it's an excellent restaurant?
The answer is simple: it's both. And much more.
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