Brew-haha

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Alex Heard

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.

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