New Mexico craft distilleries expecting industry to take off

Companies now crafting piñon rum, blue corn whiskey

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Sitting inside an old machine shop off of Candelaria Road Wednesday afternoon, a couple from Florida was enjoying a truly New Mexican spirit, piñon rum.

Piñon isn’t the only New Mexican ingredient Left Turn Distilling is using to make its liquor.

“For my whiskey I use blue corn,” said master distiller Brian Langwell. “Some of us will be working on gin eventually that’s with local juniper, local aromatics.”

There was even a green chile-infused vodka available.

Left Turn Distilling is the oldest craft distillery in Albuquerque, which sounds more impressive than it is. It’s only been open since late 2013.

A big part of that is that New Mexico has only been issuing craft distillery licenses since 2011. So far, Langwell says there are only six such small distilleries open in New Mexico, two of them in Albuquerque. That’s compared to 60 craft breweries that are listed as part of the New Mexico Brewers Guild.

There are other reasons by brewers have outpaced distillers in the state. Langwell says the federal licensing process can be lengthy and distillers have to sell their wares through wholesalers if they’re not sold online or at the distillery itself.

However, there’s been a distillery boom in other states, like neighboring Colorado and Langwell says there’s no reason to expect it wouldn’t take off here. Those unique New Mexico ingredients could help the state’s craft liquor stand out.

A big obstacle though, is getting past a negative impression people have of vodka, gin, rum and other distilled spirits.

“People perceive spirits to be evil spirits, they look at spirits as being a different kind of alcohol,” Langwell said. “It’s alcohol like everything else.”

The state distillery industry was dealt a minor blow by Governor Martinez earlier this year when she pocket vetoed a bill that would’ve allowed small wineries and breweries to sell craft liquor from distilleries and vice versa. A similar bill that allowed craft breweries and wineries to sell each other’s products was signed by the Governor and went into effect this year.

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