In the New Mexico high country is your not-so-average brewery

  • By John Kelso Austin American-Statesman
  • Monday, August 18, 2014 4:21pm
  • Life

EAGLE NEST, N.M. — You have to drive two miles down a winding dirt road to find the Comanche Creek Brewing Co., here in the high country of northern New Mexico.

The spot off New Mexico 38 is so remote that Kody Mutz, the owner, posted a wooden sign on the way in that says “Almost There!” in case somebody gets discouraged and decides to turn back.

This may be the smallest and woodsiest brew pub in creation. Mutz brews his craft beers in a tiny log cabin his great-grandfather, Adolph Mutz, used as a blacksmith shop in the 1940s. The land that now is home to the brew pub used to be Adolph Mutz’s cattle ranch.

“He had it so he could fix all his equipment, so he wouldn’t have to haul it all the way to Raton (about 65 miles to the north),” Mutz said.

These days, Mutz has turned the cabin into a brewhouse for his Deadman Pale Ale (named after a nearby creek), Comanche Sour and Homestead Amber Ale.

The beer is great, but the scenery may be even better. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains flank the brewery, and we’re not talking foothills. The Touch-Me-Not IPA gets its name from a 12,048-foot peak visible from the brew pub.

Then there’s great-granddad’s Tweety Bird yellow farm truck, parked up the hill — across from the chicken coop.

“They’re true free-range chickens,” Mutz said.

The covered outdoor “biergarten” is furnished with four large tree stumps repurposed into tables, and seven rough-hewn wooden benches Mutz built “with the help of a friend.” A gas space heater helps in winter, as well as on chilly summer days.

Who needs Wi-Fi when you’ve got bears? The beer garden provides a place to spot wildlife: deer, elk and black bears. “Some have popped up in the trees, or up in the creek,” Mutz said of the bears, who stop to take a peek but have yet to disturb the beer drinkers.

“They like to look at us and see what we’re up to,” Mutz said. “But, no, they don’t bother us.”

Mutz left a real estate job in Denver five years ago to move to the Mutz family land and open the brewery. Does he miss the desk job? “Not particularly,” he said, with a tone of understatement. “The money was good. But you spend 10 hours a day at a computer, typing stuff.”

Mutz began crafting beer eight years ago, but just for fun. His wife, Tasha, a registered nurse, knows beer, too, so she helps with the brewing.

“It was a hobby up there, and we were thinking of opening a brewery,” Mutz said. “We took a few brewing classes and we made the leap.”

Another factor that prompted the move? Mutz’s family roots. The Mutz homestead is in Elizabethtown, these days a ghost town with a population of four and a small museum a couple miles north of the brew pub.

Mutz says that in the 1880s his great-great-grandfather, Herman Mutz, came from Germany to Elizabethtown, a wild gold rush town where Herman Mutz ran a hotel. The hotel had a dance hall upstairs. Back then the town was the Colfax County seat and had 5,000 to 7,000 people, some of them rough and tumble.

Charles Kennedy ran a boarding house about 20 miles from Elizabethtown. But you wouldn’t have wanted to check in. See, Kennedy would knock some of his guests over the head, kill them, then steal their belongings.

So when Kennedy was found burning the bodies, a mob dragged him back to Elizabethtown and hanged him. Legend has it that a notorious gunslinger named Clay Allison cut off Kennedy’s head, carried it in a sack about 30 miles to Cimarron, and stuck it on a pole.

Then there was Long Taylor, an Elizabethtown badman who stood 6-foot-7. In the 1870s Taylor robbed the Cimarron stagecoach with the help of Coal-Oil Johnny. The two made off with $700.

The brew pub doesn’t draw that kind of crowd. On a Saturday afternoon, a group of about 20 Texas Aggies, easily identified in their maroon T-shirts, was packed into the beer garden. No surprise there. Aggies could find col’ beer on the planet Mars.

A friend who was with me commented, just a little too loudly, that the place would look better with Texas Longhorn burnt orange shadings.

“That would be just awful,” said an old Aggie, with a smile.

“We’ve had people from all over the world,” Mutz said. “We’ve had some Czechoslovakians, some Germans, some Chinese guys — from all over really.”

To get there, drive two miles north of Eagle Nest on New Mexico 38, the road to Red River. Take the dirt road to the left and follow the signs. Summer hours: noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Open in the winter, too, to accommodate skiers. Mutz has a snowplow.

“It goes on the tractor over there,” he said. “If the road’s not plowed, we’re not open.”

For more on beers and spirits, visit www.heraldnet.com/hopsandsips.

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