Stoutmeister here. My last major stop during the Arizona spring break getaway was my old college haunt of Tucson. I attended the University of Arizona from 1996 to 2000, celebrating a national basketball championship and spending far too much time drinking instead of going to class. Remarkably they gave me a degree, and even more remarkably, the local newspaper hired me and kept me employed until the end of 2003, when I left for Southern California. Anyway, here is a review of Tucson’s two new(er) breweries.

Time is on your side at Barrio Brewing.

After trekking south from Phoenix on Friday morning, I wound up in Tucson and went on a nostalgia trip, hanging out with the immortal BJP at Bisonwitches for lunch, followed by a stop with the Sheriff at Epic Cafe for rejuvenation coffee. After this, the Sheriff and I hit the trail and wound up at Barrio Brewing. Owned by the same folks as Gentle Ben’s Brewing just off the UA campus, Barrio is located at the corner of 16th Street and Toole, south-southeast of downtown. It is a fairly good-sized place, though parking can be iffy (like most of Tucson, natch). A total of 11 beers were on tap, with their Mocha Java Stout having just been crossed out. (AARRGGHH!!)

While the Sheriff took on the seasonal NCAAle, a double-strong American ale (10 percent ABV) named for the UA basketball team (which, yes, I realize did not make the tournament this season), I opted for the less potent Scotch Ale (7%) and the Nut Brown (5.6%). The Scotch failed to compare to the small taste I had of the Highlander Scotch Ale at Old World Brewery in Phoenix. This one had a sweet opening taste, but then went largely bland. I was disappointed, but undaunted I went on to the Nut Brown which was singularly … unmemorable. It had minimal flavor, which again was disappointing. I expected more, but then again, to this day I cannot recall a beer at Gentle Ben’s that stuck in my memory.

On Sunday, I stopped by Barrio again, this time for dinner and in search of beer redemption. I had the Red Cat Amber Ale, which proved to be a tastier beer than Friday’s two varieties, surprisingly. Ambers are a very common style but in this case, Barrio did it quite well, offering up a smooth beer with good flavor and a little bite to keep you alive. After that I passed my car keys to a good friend so I could try the Nolan’s Porter, a burly, strong brew with a smoked, dry flavor. Though only 5.6%, it felt stronger, probably due to the flavor. It was worth every percent and every penny. Barrio earned some serious redemption on the second go-around.

Beer lovers hang out in Borderlands' spacious venue while the trains pass just beyond the window.

In between those two stops, I hit up Borderlands Brewing for a quick visit Friday afternoon. It was quick because Borderlands is only open 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays. Though they advertise many more varieties on their Web site, Borderlands only had three beers on tap when I visited with another old friend from the Old Pueblo. He sampled the Wheat and Citrus IPA, the latter of which was verboten for me due to allergies. I had to stick to the Rye Lager, a strange-tasting beer that was not bad for its genre, but was not nearly what I had hoped for. Borderlands is fairly new and still working out the kinks of the operation at the old warehouse along the train tracks. I will have to revisit this location the next time I drop in on Tucson, just to see how things are progressing and to taste the Noche Dulce Moonlight Vanilla Porter that my friend Swede swears by.

I skipped Tucson’s best-known brewery, Nimbus, on this trip, due both to the fact I have had many of their beers and their location is far out of the way. There are also Thunder Canyon Brewery, located in the far northwest part of town — too far to visit, but the good news is they are opening a taproom downtown soon — and Dragoon Brewing, which will soon open off Grant Road on the west side of town.

Interstate 10 was luckily light on traffic when the snow hit in force.

Tucson is slowly playing catch-up to Albuquerque in regards to embracing the craft-brewing movement. In time it may be able to hold its own, but for now my college haunt does not measure up to my hometown.

My Monday trip home was, well, adventurous. There was snow in places that normally never see it, most of it blasting across the road horizontally. (Insert “this is fine Scottish weather we’re having”) After surviving the snowapalooza between Tucson and Benson, between Benson and the Dragoon Mountain pass, between the border and Lordsburg, and finally between Lordsburg and Deming, I finally arrived in the Luna County seat eager to try Mimbres Valley Brewing Company. Despite the fact that their Web site lists the brewery as being open on Mondays, the sign out front said “closed” for all day (the site lists a 2-4:30 p.m. gap where it’s closed, apparently they just punted on the day because no one in Luna County drinks on Mondays, or something). I was disappointed in this, but then I started to notice pretty much every business in town was also closed. It was not as weird as the snowstorm along I-10, but it was close. So unfortunately I will have to wait until MVBC brings their beers up here for ABQ Beer Week May 17-27. At least they had better be up here, that week is going to be all sorts of awesome.

Anyway, that wraps up my half of the Arizona adventure. If E-Rock finds time in between class and rehearsals, he will catch up on the other two Phoenix breweries we visited last week.

Keep an eye out for the second Beer Battle: March of the Reds, coming as soon as we can get all five of us in the same place at the same time.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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