It’s easy to miss the building that houses Duel Brewing, especially at night, because it’s tucked away on a side lane off Rufina Street, and in a nondescript structure that looks like it might contain a business dealing in, say, custom kitchen cabinets. Once inside, though, you realize you’re in a brewery and restaurant with a special vibe. The dominant elements of the main space are a big, ornate bar serving beer (mostly made on-site), wine, and hard ciders; several square top tables; and large paintings on the walls. There’s a long, narrow room off to the side with more tables, which can be lined up to accommodate groups.
Beer taps are central to what Duel is all about, obviously, but so are the paintings. Duel’s owner, Trent Edwards, is a local artist who decided a few years ago to jump into the brewpub scene, specializing in the production of Belgianstyle beer. (That term doesn’t have an easy-to-summarize meaning, but it covers a wide range of styles associated with the traditions of Belgium, which most serious beer heads consider the greatest brewing nation in the world.) Duel’s website describes what Edwards had in mind as “a theater of celebration and communal drinking ... an experience filled with great beer, good friends, beautiful strangers, nice paintings, and of course enough questions to keep things interesting.” That sounds like a recipe for a homey and offbeat spot, and with help from Duel’s brewmaster, Todd Yocham, Edwards has pulled it off.
There are a lot of different beers to try. During a recent visit, Duel was offering 15 of its own creations — including blonde ale, witbier, double pale ale, dark strong ale, pale sour ale, saison, and sour dark ale — along with “guest beers” from other New Mexico breweries like La Cumbre, Bosque, and Marble. If the terminology seems bewildering, just ask. Staff members are unfailingly friendly and eager to share their knowledge. When in doubt, you can try samples of beers that interest you before making a choice. And be aware: Several of these beers are strong, in the range of 10 to 12 percent alcohol by volume. Ordering food is always a good idea.
Duel’s menu is fairly extensive: eight appetizers; ten sandwiches; six “brewhouse plates” featuring treats like cheese, olives, cured meats, rye bread, pickles, and tapenade; four salads; and for dessert, Brussels-style waffles or an ice cream sundae or various ice cream floats.
On a dinner visit, we started with a couple of “guest beers” (La Cumbre’s very hoppy IPA and Bosque’s light, clear lager), a delicious cider from New Mexico Hard Cider, and Duel’s cheese plate — an assortment of three cheeses (Asiago, Payoyo, and goat’s milk), grapes, chopped dill pickles, hearty mustard, strawberry jam, and crostini. I love this style of eating, and I was happy with all the ingredients, especially the cheeses. Another hit was the Rubenesque grilled cheese, a thick sandwich made with marble rye, cheddar and Swiss cheeses, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. It was perfect for a cold late-fall night.
I was less impressed with the “muffoletta” griffo, Duel’s take on that New Orleans staple, the muffaletta — a cold-cut-and-cheese sandwich whose key ingredient is “olive salad,” a mix that typically includes olives, garlic, roasted red peppers, carrots, cauliflower, herbs, and plenty of olive oil. The Duel sandwich didn’t have enough of it, and the whole assembly was on the dry side.
During a second meal, again at dinnertime, I tried one of Duel’s dark beers, the Gyle, touted on the menu as a “bitter hopped dark session ale.” That’s an accurate description, and I liked it — the bitterness and strong taste of hops were right in my comfort zone. The house salad I had was a nice, standard blend of mixed greens, carrots, green olives, blue cheese, roasted red pepper, and a dark, thick dressing that tasted like balsamic vinegar. I tried a different sampler platter — the hot and cold plate — and didn’t like it as much. The main item was a spicy link sausage about the size of a bratwurst. It was alright but somewhat dry, as was the bread — flavorless slices of white baguette. A plate of sardines and tapenade had more zip, but the strong taste of the fish overwhelmed the tapenade.
Those are small complaints, though. Give Duel a try, and you’ll quickly sort out which combinations of beer and snacks work best for you.