"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mini-Beercation: Phoenix

Epic vacations can be memorable, life-altering experiences but quick, mini-vacations have merit, too.  The mini-vacation is much less stressful, easier on the wallet, and offers a glimpse into another world without having to fully immersing oneself into said world—it’s the appetizer to the weeks-long vacation’s main course.  A taste.  A morsel.  A dollop.  It was just such a soupçon Nicole and I experienced in Phoenix, Arizona between Christmas and New Year’s.

The impetus for our southwesterly, weekend excursion was the wedding of Nicole’s friend, Zac.  I knew I wasn’t going to know anybody there, Nicole knew it, and, to entice my introverted, stranger-averse self to the deserts of central Arizona, she hung the carrot of local breweries in front of my face.

We visited a total of four breweries while in the area (most were in Scottsdale); they were all quick visits and consisted of one beer at each location.  Is that enough to obtain a full understanding, a full appreciation of the Phoenix beer scene?  No, absolutely not.  This was a mini-vacation and we were snacking, not gorging.

First stop: Fate Brewing Company.  “Hey, wait a minute,” Colorado beer geeks might say to themselves, “isn’t Fate in Boulder?”  Indeed, but, because the proprietors of both breweries kick ass and don’t get all pissy about trademarks (*cough* Sixpoint Brewery *cough* Strange Brewing in Massachusetts *cough* 7 Seas Brewing), they both manage to eke out a business without besieging each other with lawyers; they’re chill guys and they’re not looking to undercut anybody.  Two breweries operating under the same name might cause an iota of confusion and frustration but, in the end, tis better to endure minor inconveniences than to burn bridges with fellow brewers. 
Fate is nestled in a strip mall and, while the exterior is wholly uninteresting, the taproom is quite quaint with glass lighting fixtures, wooden accents, and a white-washed ceiling reminiscent of a New England beach house.  Their seven barrel brewing system is on full display behind a large pane of glass.  While there, I enjoyed their hoptacular American Pale Ale and a pile of their scrumptious potato-slice nachos. 

Next up: Papago Brewing Co..  Papago, like Fate, is huddled in a strip mall setting.  Unlike Fate, however, which is in a fairly straightforward, normal-looking mall, Papago’s shopping center is so gaudily southwestern it looks like Kokopelli’s timeshare: stucco walls, desert-worn vigas, and a Mexican restaurant color scheme.  You have to blame the site developer for the flamboyancy, though; Papago is just a tenant. 

The interior of Papago is a mish-mash of styles.  The rough-hewn beams and saloon-style chairs are rustic and frontier, the tap handle decor and big screen TVs scream “sports bar,” the massive bottle collection housed behind refrigerated glass doors makes the place look like a liquor store, and the life-sized statue of a monk greeting guests at the entrance imparts a decidedly Belgian air.  I ordered Elsie’s Irish Coffee Milk Stout which was just about the most decadent and delicious stout you can imagine; it tastes like a cold cup of coffee with a healthy dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream stirred in.      

After Papago, we ducked into Four Peaks Brewing Company or, to be more accurate, we ducked into Four Peaks’ secondary restaurant location which, to the best of my knowledge, does not have an on-site brewing facility but does, of course, serve Four Peaks beer.  Surprise!  It, too, is in a mall.
We asked about their seasonal offerings and were told they had their flagship Kilt Lifter Scottish ale on cask and dry-hopped.  A dry-hopped Scottish ale?  Certainly, traditional ales of Caledonia feature low-to-no hop flavor or aroma but, if you know me, you know I’m ardently against strict adherence to beer traditions.  Traditions kill inspiration and prevent the adventurous brewer from expanding his or her repertoire.  Just because something’s been done a certain way for centuries doesn’t mean it’s the right way; it just means nobody’s had the guts to try anything different.  Please, keep the old styles alive but never, never let ancient ways restrict the progress of the American craft beer revolution.  Anyway, this Scottish ale had a delightfully lemony flavor that you’re definitely not going to find in other Scottish-style beers. 

We called it a night but, since the next day’s wedding was set for late in the afternoon, we still had time the next morning to squeeze in one more brewery: Sun Up Brewing Co.  Sun Up was the only brewery we visited in Phoenix-proper and the only brewery in a stand-alone building.  It was also the most difficult to get to because, just our luck, it’s situated on the Fiesta Bowl Parade route.  With a little fancy maneuvering, we managed to park in a nearby neighborhood and walk to Sun Up all the while taking in the pageantry that marched past. 

A few quick words on the parade: Arizona, like Florida, has the reputation of being the place where old folks go to die.  It’s basically a 113,990 square mile retirement home.  I can’t speak to the exactitude of these assumptions but, when your capital city’s largest one-day spectator event features both scantily-clad all-senior (that being senior citizens not seniors in high school or college) cheerleading brigades and a convoy of past and present Miss Senior beauty pageant winners, well,  you’re not doing much to change people’s minds.  Nicole did thoroughly enjoy the stampede of carts drawn by shaggy, miniature horses, though.

Sun Up
Sun Up’s building—with corrugated tin roof and red brick façade—looks like it might have once been an old prospector’s hut.  It’s cozy and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for “too small”—it’s really very comfortable and intimate.  As the parade rolled past outside, I drank their Trooper IPA on cask with Simcoe hops added.

That was the last brewery we visited on our short jaunt to Arizona.  The wedding was lovely and the reception was raucous but the beer selection was limited to mostly-domestic macrobeers.  That’s the hardest part about being a beer geek—realizing not everybody in the world has the same affinity for beer as yourself.  Most people are able to have a fine time with nothing but Budweiser and Heineken and not think twice about it.  Not me.  If it were my wedding, I’d consider it an utter failure if the guests didn’t have a wide selection of craft beer from which to choose but, hey, that’s my priority for a good party because beer is my passion.  Not to say I didn’t have fun, of course, but good times are made greater when American craft beer’s on tap.  Besides, the beer at the reception helped get me my “Light Weight” badge on Untappd and put me a few steps closer to the “All American” badge.

We can’t tell you much about the breweries of Phoenix but we got a sampling of the Sonoran beer scene.  Experts on Arizona beer we are not but, like parched travelers on the lurching hump of a wandering camel, we espied an oasis amongst the rocks and cactuses; an oasis that—unlike the usual, boring, springs of water—flowed forth from the walls of taprooms.  Good beer in Arizona is no mirage—dive right in.



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