If I’m going to be somewhere for two weeks on a work trip, you can bet your ass that I’m going to get in some good beering. The location this time was Phoenix where I would be taking a 10 day course on Honeywell control system installation and configuration. That was my “real” purpose for being in Phoenix, but my personal purpose of course leaned more towards beer exploration. I had been to Phoenix once before and hit up several breweries, so I had a decent bearing on the city. Two quick things to know about Phoenix in March: the weather is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s the site of the Cactus League where half of MLB plays their spring training games. I would definitely be indulging in both of these factors.
I arrived into Phoenix with my work colleagues on Sunday afternoon, and soon thereafter I suggested we go to a brewery for dinner. McFate’s Tap and Barrel was a recent extension of McFate’s Brewery located in south Scottsdale. Judging from their menu, it looked like they were brewing some interesting beer, and their pizza was also rumored to be quite good. From the first sip of Fatality, I knew I had made a good choice. This IPA was citrusy and smooth. After admiring my coworker’s first beer order, I had to get some of the Hazy American Pale Ale for myself. The cloudy tropical flavors were amazing! In addition to the hops, the rumors about the pizza were true: my Con Carne was delicious. Thin crust, wood fired, and full of flavor, I might have slightly extended my limits by finishing the entire pie, Sometimes you just can’t quit!
My life during the week was pretty uneventful. Wake up early, work out, go to class, and not get out until 5:30 or so. I managed to achieve some variety with the group’s dinner choices. Mostly through my influence, we ate at some pretty good spots. Some of my favorite spots were Reign of Thai (delicious spicy Thai food), Habaneros Mexican Grill (for that Tex Mex craving), OBON Sushi – Bar – Ramen (killer ramen), Glai Baan (excellent Thai food and Asian inspired cocktails), Chino Bandido (unique Mexican Asian fusion), and The Sicilian Butcher (meatballs to die for). I needed that workout every morning to avoid putting on 10 lbs in 10 days. Judging by my pants still fitting at the end of the trip, I believe I was successful in doing so.
In addition to dinner beer, I did some shopping at Total Wine to pick up tasty craft brews for my hotel room. I found some good ones in Arizona’s distribution. Highlights of what I’ll call hotel beers included Phantom Bride IPA from Belching Beaver which was excellently hazy and juicy. Modern Times provided a delicious smooth IPA as well with their fruity City of the Sun. Tickle Fight, a collab between The Shop Beer Co. and Pizza Port, was another juicy IPA with interesting bubble gum flavors. Because I’m a sucker for hazy and juicy, In the Blind from Council was another one of my favorites. A little variety is needed in life, so I really enjoyed Fruitlands from Modern Times with its heaps of passionfruit, guava, and tart gose flavors. Another great thing about Phoenix is that every sunrise and sunset is beautifully dramatic. It makes for a great backdrop upon which to enjoy a tasty beverage.
After the first night at McFate’s, the next brewery I went to was Arizona Wilderness on Thursday night. I had been there on my previous trip to Phoenix, so I knew what awesome things they were doing. One thing I did not know was how busy they got. Our group had to wait ~45 minutes for a table. I was not worried though as I drank a Dirty Hop Water: Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers during the wait. It was nasty in a good way. Once settled at our table, I ordered a flight consisting of Enigma’s In The Name IPA, Sandhill Saison, Blood Orange and Grapefruit Gose, and Brewer’s Blend #2, a delightful peach sour. Beer is not the only thing Arizona Wilderness does with greatness. Their food menu might be bar food inspired, but it is top notch. We started off with an order of the Chicken Drumstick Confit, and HOLY SHIT! I had never had anything quite like it. Chicken. On a drumstick. Cooked in duck fat. It literally fell right off the bone as soon as your teeth touched its perfectly crunchy skin, and the meat was impossibly juicy and tender. This was one of the best chicken experiences of my life, right up there with the roasted chicken I had at Oktoberfest. For my entree, I had the Southwest Chicken Sandwich, a very large and very flavorful endeavor.
Friday night I was on my own, and it was time to let loose a little bit. Wren House Brewing was first on my list of places to try. A small brewery in a cleanly decorated environment, I took a spot at the busy bar and ordered SPELLBOUND. This 8% hazy DIPA packed a serious tropical hop punch and was a great way to get my night started. My next beer, Jomax, was exactly as its name said: the maximum amount of joe that could be put into a pint of beer. To make sure that I wasn’t getting shorted on coffee, the bartender asked if I wanted an extra shot of of cold brew, and I gladly obliged. Tons of roasted coffee flavor in a smooth oatmeal stout proved to be a great combo.
For dinner I walked to the nearby and aforementioned Glai Baan where I had some killer Thai food and a great take on a Manhattan with some Asian inspired twists. I walked yet again to the next brewery, Helton Brewing, where I had their Double Northeast IPA. It was a nice representation of a big NEIPA. I think it’s safe to say that has become my go-to style. After Helton, I decided to end my night at The Wandering Tortoise down the street. In addition to having a nice to-go bottle selection, they also had a nice draft list. I couldn’t resist another NEIPA from Council, so I drank some Fade Into Obscurity. My nightcap was a big bad boy which I could not pass up, Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist. This beer packs so much flavor and complexity into its 12.7%, and it does so rather coherently. This was a great beer to end the night on.
I rented a car for the weekend and was ready for some day tripping. Saturday would involve a 1.5 hour drive north to Prescott. The drive was beautiful as you ascend from 1,000’ to over 1 mile high. My main reason for going to Prescott was to check out Superstition Meadery. I admittedly knew very little about mead other than that it is traditionally made with honey. In addition, I have been to over 300 breweries in my life, but this was my first meadery. The very friendly bartenders suggested I do a 12 mead flight, and I agreed that would be a great introduction. I was led through descriptions of all the meads, and I was blown away by the multitude of varieties. It turns out there are all types of meads, and they were all delicious in their own ways. The flight started off with Blueberry Spaceship Box, a non-mead that also happens to be the Untappd top rated cider in the world. It was quite phenomenal: full of fruity berry flavor, dry, and with virtually no sweetness. I have certainly never had a cider as complex as that. Amongst the meads, there were certainly some very good and interesting flavors. Lagrimas De Oro was whiskey barrel aged and displayed some of those vanilla and boozy elements very well. Juicius Caesar was a dry-hopped mead with nice citrus characteristics. There was a pumpkin mead. There was an incredibly delicious berry mead, Marion. Date Night was packed full of coffee and date goodness. There was also the highest rated mead in the world, Straw Berry White, which was probably the craziest beer-like liquid I’ve ever tasted. Super intense strawberry flavor marries amazingly with a decadent white chocolate silky smooth finish. A full bottle of this sipper costs $85. I did not buy one, but I did buy some other more reasonably priced bottles ranging from $30-40. My first meadery visit was a great one, and I’ll definitely be back there in the future.
For lunch I stopped into Park Plaza Liquor & Deli for pizza and a beer. I was a little mead-ed out, so I opted for a good ol’ fashioned IPA. Modern Times Booming Rollers fit the bill nicely and complemented my very good supreme pizza. I also bought some cans to go as Park Plaza had a very nice selection.
The bartenders at Superstition told me about a brewery located a couple miles down a dirt road in the middle of Prescott National Forest, so I figured that would be cool to check out. Barnstar Brewing Company did not disappoint in location or beer. I drank their R.P. IPA while touring the grounds and admiring the beautiful views. I even got to say hi to some miniature horses. Many of the patrons had arrived at the brewery via ATVs, and I was told that oftentimes people pulled up on horses. I was a little sad not to have witnessed that though.
Next up on the agenda was a drive back to the Phoenix area to catch some spring training baseball. My Rangers were playing the Royals at Surprise Stadium, a very nice ballpark with some great views. I enjoyed a nice ballpark corn dog, and the Texan in me couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink a Shiner.
While I was on the west side of Phoenix, I wanted to stop by 8-Bit Aleworks to see what they were brewing. As you might guess from their name, this was a retro video game themed brewery. I enjoyed their Cyril Figgis Belgian Quad with its boozy fig flavors. They did not have a huge selection of beer, but there were plenty of video and board games to keep the crowd entertained.
Sunday was reserved for a day trip down south to Tombstone. At 3 hours each way, it was on the outer limits of day tripability, but I made it with only one snafu (to be detailed soon). I chose to go to Tombstone because (A) I had heard it was a cool historical town and (B) there was a bad ass brewery there. (A) turned out to be partially true. While there was a lot of cool history behind the town of Tombstone, the modern day town is very touristy and kind of gimmicky. Actors regularly perform reenactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Kinda cool but also cheesy. Fortunately (B) was very much true. Tombstone Brewing Company is making some world class IPAs. I started off with Amarillo Pale Ale which was very flavorful. All Aboard the Hype Train! was an amazing IPA full of tropical flavors. I had read about their new Imperial Stout and had to give it a try for myself. As detailed in the brewer’s blog post, this bad boy was an incredibly smooth 13.5%. A monster stout that was surprisingly drinkable and clean, this could get you into trouble real quick. Sensing that, I got on my way but not before grabbing some growlers to go.
Tucson was on my way back to Phoenix, and there happened to be another brewery making delicious IPAs located there. Pueblo Vida is located in downtown Tucson, and their hoppy beers had been properly hyped. Embers was the first beer I sampled, and oh boy was it a doozy! An intense tropical hop profile delivered via pillowy haze, this was one of the best Pale Ales I’ve ever had. Baseflow and Compression also delivered on the hoppy front. I sampled two dark beers, both of which had copious amounts of coffee which I love. Inertia had the addition of bourbon barrel aging and a 10.5% ABV to give it huge complexity. Naturally I bought some cans to take back with me.
While in downtown, I walked over to Borderlands Brewing to check out what they had going on. In addition to a solid Elegant IPA, there was a lively band contributing to a festive atmosphere. After a beer and some grub, I began the drive back to Phoenix and set in motion the snafu of the day. I was low on gas and had told myself I would fill up in Tucson before hitting the highway. Eager to make it back, I forgot to do this. Perhaps because of my eagerness and/or not being used to my rental car, I paid no attention to the Low Fuel light and steady downward descent of the fuel needle towards and beyond E. As you’ve undoubtedly already guessed, I eventually ran out of gas on the highway. I was very fortunate to have done so about 1 mile away from an exit and gas station, so thankfully my mistake was not compounded. That was the first time I’ve ever run out of gas, and I’ll use it as as lesson to never have it happen again.
During the next week, we went to the Four Peaks Grill & Tap location in Scottsdale. Four Peaks is the largest craft brewer in Phoenix and has multiple locations. They’re not making the most exciting beer in Phoenix, but they are an old player in the craft game. Their Double Knot DIPA was solid, but the Bourbon Barrel Aged Kilt Lifter was a hot whiskey tasting mess. I don’t mind a boozy beer, but I also don’t want it to taste like straight liquor. Their food was pretty good.
On Thursday night, as a last hurrah and celebration of finishing training, my colleague and I went to Old Town Scottsdale, a walkable hub of restaurants, bars, shopping, and entertainment. Dinner was had at Craft 64, a restaurant serving up a nice draft list and some great pizzas. Their own brew, Smoove Hoperator, was a smooth West Coast style IPA that went great with my spicy Aji pizza. I continued riding the IPA train down the street to Goldwater Brewing. Hop Chowda was hazy, flavorful, and great to enjoy in front of their brewing equipment. Hazy Gates was another NEIPA that brought serious tropical juice. After a hefty beer base, we set out in search of some booze and found Rusty Spur Saloon. The relatively small bar was jam packed as the band played hilariously raunchy covers of famous country and classic rock songs. One couldn’t help but crack up at the ridiculous lyrics heard from the lead singer. After some whiskey & gingers and Dos Equis, I was quite tipsy and decided it would be in our best interest to head back to the hotel for the night.
Friday morning had me packing for the flight home. I had acquired a considerable amount of beer over the span of my 2 weeks in Phoenix, and I was struggling to fit everything in my luggage. I ended up chugging a couple beers at 10 AM and even had to leave some behind in the hotel room. I can only hope that they found a good home. With a properly nursed hangover, I had one more goal in mind: a return trip to Arizona Wilderness for lunch. Big Guy Rye was my first beer of choice. Hazy, rye, and a Double IPA, this big guy wonderfully blended together three things I love. My second and final beer was a treat. Denmark in the Desert was a sour porter collab with Mikkeller, and it added further complexity through aging on peaches. I’m a huge sucker for sour stouts and porters, and this collaboration magnificently delivered. It was a great beer upon which to end my trip.
Two weeks in Phoenix had led to some great times. In addition to learning a lot in my training, I gained further appreciation for the craft beer scene in southern Arizona. While I would have liked to do some more outdoor activities, I maximized my time for beering, something which I will never complain about. When you’re drinking and looking at a mountain, that’s pretty much like hiking, right?