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March 18, 2015 by genelup

     BERNALILLO, NM – The two roosters living on the grounds at Kaktus Brewing Company crow morning, noon and night.  To say they are happy is an understatement.

Mark Mathason, the brewmaster, feeds the roosters and their harems of hens the leftovers of the spent grain he uses to brew beer.  These chickens eagerly wait for their daily (fermented-or–not) crumbs, and they hurriedly peck away. When finished, the roosters crow, a pleasant sound to the visitors RV-ing in the KOA Camp next door.

Dana Kotter and Mathason opened the brewing in 2013 on 1¼ acres on the east end of Bernallillo, a town that boasts being the historical center of New Mexico. It was founded by Don Diego de Vargas in 1695, and soon thereafter a string of haciendas sprang up along the state’s major river, the Rio Grande.

Kotter said he and Mathason are a perfect match to operate their brewery and saloon. Kotter has worked in marketing and his partner has spent more than 30 years in the brewing business.

Kaktus produces eight different beers, from light to dark. A license to serve wine to patrons is in the works. There are several wineries in the area. The brewery also serves dishes such as buffalo Frito pie, bison nachos, a buffalo stew chili dog, a curry dog and a meat sampler providing 16 ounces of beer boiled duck, elk, beef and boar.

The men focus on having a sustainable business: 50 solar panels provide electricity, equipment on the premise captures rainwater and the chickens eat the spent grain used in producing beer.

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Why did you name your brewery “Kaktus?”

“Well, it’s German for cactus,” said Kotter. “All our brewing equipment comes from Germany.”

A tent adjoins the Kaktus saloon. Inside are wooden chairs created by with the backs depicting people including Dolly Parton, Salvador Dali and Dalai Lama. Also on the premises are colorful doors donning along a fence, chairs in a tree and a collection of ladders.

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Bernalillo is about 15 miles north of Albuquerque off Interstate 25. A sign greets visitors:  “The City of Coronado.”

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his army of about 400 soldiers and more than 2,000 Mexican Indians, servants and four Franciscan monks started an expedition from Mexico City to search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. They traveled as far as present-day Kansas. Coronado kept sending his men on side excursions. One expedition ended in the discovery of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.

Coronado’s army camped near Bernalillo during the winter of 1540-41. Wikipedia notes this: “Hernando de Alvado was sent to the east and found several villages around the Rio Grande. Coronado had one commandeered for his winter quarters, Coofor, which is across the river from present-day Bernalillo near Albuquerque. During the winter of 1540–41, his army found themselves in conflicts with the Rio Grande natives, conflicts that led to the brutal Tiguex War. This war resulted in the destruction of the Tiguex pueblos and the death of hundreds of Native Americans.”

In Bernalillo is the Coronado Historic Site, which includes the partially reconstructed ruins of the ancient Pueblo of Kuaua. The area was excavated in the 1930s, but no relics were found from the Coronado expedition. Kuaua, meaning “evergreen” in the Tiwa language, dated from about 1325 and had a population of about 1,200 when the Spanish arrived. A kiva and one of the mural layers are reconstructed and open to visitors. The mural depicts animal and human figures.

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Kuaua was the northernmost of 12 Tiwa villages Coronado discovered. This cluster of Tiwa pueblos was in the province of Tiquex, or Tiguex.

A must stop in Bernalillo is the town’s visitor’s center, which once housed a convent and girl’s school founded by the Catholic Order of the Sisters of Loretto in 1879. The sisters had built several buildings and bought and maintained a 34-acre ranch which is now downtown Bernalillo. The ranch was reported to have 1,000 fruit trees and 8,000 grape vines. It is believed the sisters sold their grapes to The Christian Brothers Catholic order, which produced as much as 10,000 gallons of wine a year.  They gathered their grapes from many vineyards in the area.

Down the road from the old convent is Silva’s Saloon, the oldest saloon in New Mexico. Felix Silva, a distiller, hid his stills in the family orchards during prohibition. He bootlegged his moonshine as far away as Oklahoma. The day after prohibited ended; Felix opened his saloon in Bernalillo. Relics from the past adorn the place.

Bernalillo, a growing town of new businesses including Ihop, has a population of about 8,350.  About 72 percent of the residents are Hispanic. Oddly, Bernalillo is the county seat of Sandoval County, and Albuquerque is the county seat of Bernalillo County. The major event in town held annually on Aug. 9-11 is Las Fiestas de San Lorenzo. The fiesta dates back to the 1600s, and Los Matachines performers march and dance through the town.

From Bernalillo and within a 50-mile radius are many attractions, including three casinos, the Albuquerque zoo, botanical garden (including Japanese garden andold farm), Tingley Beach, aquarium and balloon museum. A tram takes guests up Sandia Peak. Then, of course, Santa Fe with its popular art galleries, museums and restaurants is just a few miles up the road. And nearby Madrid, once a company-owned, coal-mining town, is now a quaint arts community.IMG_5208IMG_5239IMG_52772015-03-13 09.27.422015-03-12 10.11.53IMG_52472015-03-13 10.44.08

(Photos by Gene and Dawn Luptak at Kaktus Brewery Company, Coronado Historical Site and Albuquerque zoo, aquarium and botanical garden.)

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