We waited until the hot season to travel to Arizona. Actually, it had been unseasonably hotter the month before — often 115 degrees or higher. So, it was hot, over 105 many of the ten days we were there. But there was beer to be had and I was on a mission.
My wife is from Tucson and her father and a brother and sister still live in the state. Her father was turning 80 and we were there to help him celebrate. The fact that her sister is somewhat of a beer geek too helped and she was a very willing tour guide to this needy beer soul.
When I travel I often will do my homework to learn of the not-to-miss breweries, bottle shops and breweries that don't have distribution to my area.
So here are my Arizona beer notes.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co was our first stop after landing at the Phoenix airport. We needed lunch after the long flight and my wife will accommodate my beer habit if good food is part of the plan. I had already loaded AWB into my GPS so we were ready to go after picking up the rental car.
When we arrived, it was 108 degrees. I've been in this kind of heat before but when you are again exposed it requires some adjustment. Misters were blowing cooling moisture across the entrance. As we entered, I noticed it somewhat busy for a lunch time crowd. During the whole time we were there, the staff was busy but still very engaging with their customers. To best meet the heat, the dining area was dark and shaded which made for an interesting setting.
I looked over the beer and food menus. The food certainly had a southwest focus with some Belgian accents. I'm always interested in trying unique beer which sometime means interesting ingredients. Wet Beaver Wit a saison style made with beets. Interesting ingredients is one thing, but I expect this one won't be on the menu for long. It was bright red (beets) and had a strong beet flavor. I enjoy a well made fruit or vegetable beer but prefer those flavors to be subtle, hanging in the background, supporting the main beer components. With this one, the beet flavor dominated which I found distracting and not pleasant.
I ordered the pulled port sandwich with the beet and apple slaw. I was going along with the beet theme hoping a pairing would improve my beer. The pork was great. As was all the meals our table had that day.
For my second beer I was again looking for character and chose the Oak-N-Ordinary. Described as an English Bitter at 4% ABV. ONO is aged beer on red oak for a week to add a light wood cask character. It worked for me — just enough oakiness to add the vanilla and earthy tones I like.
Other beer menu items that day included a barrel aged sweet potato saison, coffee stout, a collection of IPAs and double IPAs a rye beer and several sours.
Sentinel Peak Brewing in Tucson. They are self-described on their website as, "Tucson’s only Midtown Brewpub, is a 3 BBL nanobrewery which offers a rotating selection of craft beers along with a few house favorites." This is a very family-friendly spot with locals outside with their dog and a growler or inside enjoy the brews and food. Our group sampled the flatbread pizzas, jalapeño poppers and pork nachos.
I tested their 4 x 6 oz flights including the Porter, IPA, Dunkel and Mexican amber. Our guide (see sister above) choose the Hefeweizen of which I was offered to sample.
On Friday we visited the Arizona Beer House. Featuring 35 taps, they offer a wide variety Arizona and regional beers. It's a small place but they have great selections with glass or take home growler options. I had the Huss Brewing Co Rice Pudding Porter from Tempe AZ.
Next we were off to Dragoons Brewing Company. They had an excellent line up. I tested their smoked porter, barleywine, gose and Belgian quad. All were excellent! They don't serve food, but there was a food truck in the parking area and post their service truck schedule on the website. The outside in nondescript being it's in a business district. Inside, Dragoon's is wide and spacious, clean and yet somewhat industrial. They have a good barrel program going and it is certainly highlighted in their beer offerings. Definitely a worthy stop when in Tucson.
1702 The Address Brewery is known for their large pizza slices, by my estimate a full third of a whole pizza, plus 46 beers on draft from local brewers, around the country and their own.
Apparently 1702 is not so well known for their bottle shop just around the corner but really should be. The shop is not large but houses some very good beers including one that has eluded me, the Rodenbach CaracAere Rouge (100 pts on RateBeer). I asked how it was they still had such a beer and the staff said they simply are not well known. They even gave me a 10 percent discount for eating at the restaurant. I also picked up some gorgeous 750mls from AleSmith (San Diego CA), The Lost Abbey (San Marcos CA), Elevation Beer Co (Poncha Springs CO), and Brasserie St James (Reno NV). This bottle shop was a huge find.
At dinner, I tried the 1702 Yellow Brazil barrel aged coffee porter and Night Cat dark wheat ale by Two Brothers. Both excellent choices. Plus, there was enough pizza to take home for another meal.
In between brewery visits I did have the Sonoran Brewing (BeerAdvocate) from Phoenix, White Chocolate Ale, a favorite of Lisa my Tucson tour guide. It was very smooth with definite chocolate notes. We left Tucson to head to Phoenix and parts north Flagstaff, Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
In Flagstaff, another excellent bottle shop find and a-must-stop is McGaughs Flagstaff, A Craft Beer Store & More shop. The name is only a hint of the depth of this place. It is a small shop that carries a lot of great beer. It was recommended by a fellow at Arizona Historic Brewing, a place I wanted to explore but we simply arrived into town too late.
My take-home-beer-quota was nearly full so I had to exercise some restraint — not an easy task in this place. I asked kind lady behind the counter to select 6-8 local beers for me. She quickly went to work, asking if I had any preferences — she certainly did. And before I knew she had pulled seven must tries for me. It was a joy just watching her go to work — she seemed to enjoy the task as much as I did watching. I have to say that if I lived in Flagstaff we would quickly be on a first name basis with the staff. Since getting back home and testing her choices she did more than okay. So far, all have been awesome beers including the Painted Desert Ale and Tower Station IPA by Mother Road Brewing and the Sunnyside Wheat Wine by Wanderlust Brewing all brewed in Flagstaff. The Sunnyside is at 9.3% ABV and 70 IBUs using Cascade, Sorachi Ace and New Zealand Green Bullet hops.
We were directed by the McGaughs staff to have lunch at Lumberyard Brewing but the rain spoiled many plans that day. Instead we headed down to Sedona.
We had hoped to do some hiking in Sedona but rains only got worse and we awed at the red rock towers from our car windows or a quick jot out between rain drops. We faced our circumstances eventually forcing us to take a lunch break at The Oak Creek Brewery. As disappointed as we were, still, we were in Sedona. My regret was why couldn't this much needed rain come one day later.
The Oak Creek Brewery and Grill is simply a classy place. Clean and well lit, with many beery posters and decorations.
They had seven beers on tap, with a flight option they call the Seven Dwarfs. This is a paddle holding each of the seven beers in 5 oz. miniature glass mugs.
Each of the beers were excellent including a lager, hefeweizen, pale ale, IPA, amber, nut brown ale and porter. My favorites were the nut brown and porter. The nut brown was a bit more hefty than I expected and perhaps that was why I enjoyed it so much.
In case you wanted to know, all of the meals were very well received from the mushroom brie burger, spinach salad, ale-enriched French onion soup or fish and chips.
After some trials with an airline computer outage we finally made it back to Maryland. Incredible scenery including Grand Canyon, Sedona, Saguaro National Park, family and friends, towns, breweries and beer — what an incredible trip — with many memories that will no doubt last a lifetime. As many miles we have traveled and experiences gained there were many gaps left to still explore and we are already talking about our return trip.