Posted October 31, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Mmmm… Beer and chiles!

What happens when two “mad” scientists, both home brewers, get together? They open a microbrewery, of course.

Mark Cunningham and Robert “Bob” Gossein met several years ago when they worked at the Electron Microscope Laboratory at NMSU. At the time, Cunningham, with degrees in microbiology and biochemistry, was a Senior Research Specialist. Gossein, a physiologist, had recently been hired on also as a researcher. After working jointly on various projects, they got to know one another well enough to identify common interests besides neutrons and electrons. Cunningham and Gossein both enjoyed beer, not just any kind, but home brew, their OWN home brews.

After months of joint recipe development, Cunningham and Gossein decided to form a commercial microbrewery partnership. Originally, their plan was to distribute the brew wholesale. But when a 1940s building, located adjacent to Nellie’s Café at 1201 S. Hadley Ave. was put on the market, they opted to enter the flourishing brewpub business. “The previous owner had started renovating the building for a planned barbecue joint, but when the whole thing fell through, the building was put up for sale,” said Cunningham. Gossein purchased the property, which includes several adjacent apartments. “The price was right. And although it still needed a lot of work, we could easily visualize a brewpub.”

High Desert Brewery Co., which will celebrate its first anniversary in July, has established itself as one of the finest brewpubs in the state. Business is hopping, so to speak, and with good reason. Not only is it a friendly neighborhood [smokeless] bar, but the beer is premium, some of the finest I’ve downed – ales, complex and fruity, and lager, pure and crisp. The distilling process takes place on the premises in an adjacent room that equipped with a large viewing window. Gossein spends the majority of his time in the “laboratory” conducting various top-secret experiments. Their brew has won numerous awards, including several gold and silver medals at last year’s New Mexico State Fair, “where we walked away with the most [medals],” Cunningham said.

The building’s façade sports no flashing florescent sign, only a draped banner emblazoned with High Desert Brewery Co. Inside, a step-up takes beer tippers to the bar where good-natured Donna Almarez serves as bartender and confidante. Gary Freedman, owner of Made in the Shade Co. on Picacho Ave, handcrafted the handsome cedar bar chairs.

A German couple, traveling the Southwest, stopped in one day and was so pleased with the brew that when they got home, they mailed Cunningham 250 coasters that now dangle from the ceiling. “None of them is the same,” he says. Since then, other coasters from around the world have materialized. “There’s only five coasters that are identical and if a customer can point them out, I’ll give them a free beer,” Cunningham promises. Also displayed is foreign currency and old auto license plates, including a 1947 New Mexico plate found during the renovation. “After we hung it on the wall, others started appearing,” said Cunningham, characterizing the interior décor as “evolving.” Soon, local artists will display their works in the adjacent dining area.

Thursday and Saturday nights are reserved for live musical entertainment. One acoustic guitarist, Bugs Salcido also serves as a cook. “I admit “Bugs” is a strange name for a guy that hangs out in a kitchen,” laughed Cunningham.

So, what’s this got to do with chile, you ask? At High Desert’s debut, a stein was served with a bowl of mini pretzels and cheese crackers. But patrons began demanding munchies – nachos, burgers, chicken wings and such. After all, “What’s a good beer without a burger?” Cunningham and Gossein agreed, but packing a commercial kitchen into their allotted 300-ft space required much work. In the meantime, they appeased patrons by promising, “We’ll have something in two weeks.” After many such intervals passed with still no menu, “two weeks” became humorously synonymous with infinity.

But last week, Cunningham and Gossein surprised regulars when they introduced “our first menu,” hot with savory chile dishes: three cheese-Tequila Jalapeno Poppers, jalapeno and onion strips, cayenne-heated spicy chicken wings, chile cheese fries, nachos dashed with jalapenos, green chile stew and a quarter pound chile cheese Angus burger. Cunningham and Gossein are also big on quesadillas, offerings prepared with a variety of flavored tortilla wraps including chipolte chile, garlic, spinach and tomato basil, each packed with distinct stuffing like pepperjack and asadero cheeses, pesto and pine nuts, and tomatillos.

Wisconsin beer-cooked Johnsonville bratwursts slathered with sauerkraut and mustard, and the battered sweet potato fries splashed with Ranch Dressing are as popular as they are guilt-producing. But vegetarians should sample the black bean gardenburger, the veg-head appetizer and the veggie basket. The brewers themselves and their four cooks donated many of the recipes.
All that’s missing from the menu is chile beer. Hint

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog