June is usually the worst month in Albuquerque and other parts of the Southwest. Temperatures hit their peak, while the monsoon rains are still weeks away from providing at least some temporary cooling. At times like this, people tend to flee to the various mountain getaways. From Albuquerque, popular destinations within a day’s drive (or less) include Taos and surrounding communities, as well as places in Southern Colorado like Durango and Pagosa Springs.
About four hours drive to the west, however, is Flagstaff, a lovely little mountain town that sits at 7,000 feet, more than high enough to avoid the stifling temperatures that make the rest of Arizona unbearable in the summer. Flagstaff is also a town with a bustling brewing scene, making it the type of vacation destination that all of us in the Crew can agree upon. Unfortunately, I was the only Crew member with the time off who was able to trek 320 miles on I-40 to give Flagstaff a proper review. Here is what you need to know if you, too, feel like you need to escape the heat but still want some quality craft beer.
I’m listing the places in the order I visited them. Four are within easy walking distance of one another, and there are plenty of hotels in that area. There is also one excellent, hidden beer store for on your way out of town, you can stop there and pick up all the beers that aren’t distributed here in New Mexico.
Historic Brewing, 4366 E. Huntington Dr., Bldg #2
Hours: Weds-Fri 4-9 p.m., Sat-Sun 2-7 p.m.
One of the newer breweries in town, Historic is located in an industrial area near the first exit off I-40 as you come into town traveling from east to west. Just get off at the exit, take a left onto the I-40 business route/Route 66 and head west until you get to Fanning, then take a left there, cross the train tracks, and take another left onto Industrial, which turns into Huntington as it curves to the south. Historic will be visible on the right side.
The beer selection is somewhat limited, but there is quality here. Their Everyday Special pilsner was sweeter and more flavorful than most of its genre. It almost tasted more like a Kolsch-style ale. On the inventive side, they had Funkin’ Go Nuts, a coconut dunkelweizen. It was heavy on the coconut, maybe too much so, but it was fairly unique. The Joy Ryed had a great rye aroma, but lacked flavor. The Piehole Porter, a cherry-vanilla porter, was too sweet for some, but I thought it hit all the right notes. Their popular Deer Lord altbier was out when I visited, which was a shame.
Wanderlust Brewing, 1519 N. Main St., #102
Hours: Thurs-Fri 4-9 p.m.
The smallest brewery in Flagstaff, Wanderlust has very limited hours, but its beer can be found at other locations (distribution is almost a requirement for breweries in Arizona, unlike in NM, where many just brew in-house). It’s a short, easy drive west on Route 66 from Historic. Just be careful not to miss it, Main St. does not have a red light. It’s between the lights for 1st Ave. and Arrowhead, just take a right and you’ll see folks on the patio that extends into the parking lot on the left (west) side of the street in a small little strip mall-type structure. There’s even a small gym next door for people to work up a thirst.
As one would expect, the beer menu was pretty small. The flagship beer is 928 Local, a saison (!) that checks in at 8-percent ABV. It has a good saison flavor without that barnyard funk that turns off many people (myself included) to the style. There was also Chateau Americana, a Belgian pale ale that’s heavy on the Cascade hops, giving it a very potent, citrus-like flavor that was a bit much for me. For dessert, get a pint of Pan American Stout, which was light in mouthfeel but had a good flavor from its coffee and vanilla elements. They usually try to keep one beer available on nitro, but the Chateau Americana’s flavor was almost completed muted when served this way.
Mother Road Brewing, 7 S. Mikes Pike
Hours: Mon-Thurs 3-8 p.m., Fri 3-9 p.m., Sat noon-9 p.m., Sun noon-8 p.m.
My personal favorite among the six breweries in town was Mother Road (though I recommend visiting all six, as each has one or more quality beers on tap). Mikes Pike is located right off 180, the main street that brings you up from the final I-40 exit. You can find it just off to the right side past the light for Butler Ave. (easy to pick out thanks to the seven-story Drury Inn on the southeast corner of the intersection; that’s also where I stayed and a place I highly recommend). Mother Road is just up a couple blocks on the left side of the road before it curves to the right.
Mother Road is working to start distributing its beers in New Mexico (hence their presence at Blues & Brews last month), so they were more than willing to sit down and chat, not to mention provide me with some bonus samples. They are a brewery dedicated to quality and erasing the notion that beers from Arizona are all watered down and lacking flavor. The flagship beers include Twin Arrows Brown Ale, Gold Road Kolsch Style, Roadside American Ale, and the best of the bunch, the malty-yet-still-hoppy Lost Highway Black IPA. Seasonals on tap included Drive Shaft Copper Ale and Wooden Spoke #3. They even gave me two special bombers to bring home and try with the rest of the Crew on one of those rare days that more than two of us can get together at once (don’t worry, Mother Road staff, we’ll contact you with our reviews soon).
Flagstaff Brewing, 16 Historic Route 66
Hours: open seven days a week, usually lunchtime until late
Flag Brew, as it is known locally, is an older brewery located in the heart of downtown, across the street from the train tracks near the intersection of Route 66 and San Francisco (northwest corner). They have a full menu of food and a full bar, so it’s more of a hangout place for everyone, not just craft beer lovers. I went there as my final stop of the night, so I will admit at that point I was pretty worn out and a bit past my limit (I was walking, so no one panic). It was crowded and not well-lit inside, so this is a place I’ll have to revisit during the daylight hours in the future. Luckily a friend from high school is moving to Flagstaff soon, so that gives me a perfectly good excuse to return, right?
I tried the hefeweizen, which was the newest seasonal on tap (or so the busy bartender thought). It was just about average, a tick below The Last Straw hefe over at Bosque. Far superior was the Blackbird Porter. Clearly porters are a specialty in Flagstaff, which shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s a skiing town in the winter. A more traditional porter than the Piehole at Historic, this one was big, thick, and malty, with smoky and coffee elements.
Lumberyard Brewing, 5 S. San Francisco St.
Hours: Sun-Tues 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Weds-Sat 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
The biggest brewery in Flagstaff, Lumberyard is located on San Francisco just south of the train tracks. It has a full restaurant and a nice patio outside. Lumberyard is a full production brewery and you can find many of their beers around town, including in cans and bottles in liquor stores. Technically, Lumberyard and Beaver Street (see below) are owned by the same people, so the beer is almost entirely the same at both locations, with just a different seasonal available here or there.
I grabbed a sampler of six of the nine beers they had on tap. Their flagship beers are the Flagstaff IPA and Lumberyard Red. I found both to be a little lacking in flavor, particularly the IPA. A superior IPA was their session version, the Halfway IPA. It had more of a hop bite than its “bigger” brother. The Knotty Pine Pale Ale and Hefeweizen were average. The best was, no shock here, the Porter. I almost wanted to go back to Flag Brew and pit these two porters head-to-head. Sadly, I was running out of time. I do want to recommend the food at Lumberyard. Get anything with the barbecue sauce, made with their beer, and you will not be disappointed.
Beaver Street Brewery, 11 Beaver St. #1
Hours: Sun-Thurs 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-midnight
Beaver Street is the restaurant/brewery I have stopped at many times over the years when passing through Flagstaff, usually coming to or from Phoenix to the south to visit friends and/or catch some spring training baseball games. The food is quality, of course, while the beers are basically the same as I found at Lumberyard. On this trip I grabbed another porter, as the seasonals weren’t terribly exciting. I was in a rush so I kept my visit to a minimum, seeing as how I had been here many times before. I would certainly recommend Beaver Street for your dining location (take note, Mother Road, Historic, and Wanderlust do not serve food beyond some light bar snacks). Its central location makes it ideal amid all the other downtown breweries.
Majestic Mobil, 2020 S. Milton Road
Now why in the world would I list a gas station? Because it’s a gas station with an amazing beer store inside. Milton is the main road that I-17 becomes as it enters Flagstaff from the south (you also connect onto Milton as you come off the final I-40 exit). Just head a little north and past the Denny’s, you’ll spot this little gem on the right side. Head on in and you might spend 30 minutes alone trying to pick out what you want. There are beers from Arizona breweries, of course, but the real awesome is all the regional and even faraway beers that are present. You can find Dogfish Head (Delaware), Victory (Pennsylvania), Founders and Bell’s (Michigan), plus Firestone Walker and Sculpin (California), even Great Divide and Avery (Colorado). There are so many great beers it can produce sensory overload, all packed into a space about one-tenth of Total Wine.
On behalf of the rest of the Crew, I picked out bombers of Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti (imperial stout) and Firestone Walker Wookey Jack (black rye IPA). I grabbed four-packs of Founders Imperial Stout and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. Then were the six-packs of Victory Pilsner and Bell’s Stout. If that wasn’t enough, they had a mixed 12-pack of Firestone Walker beers, including an old favorite from my days in SoCal, the Double Barrel Ale. There were dozens more beers that I wanted to bring home, but I only had so much money. Once we properly divide these among the Crew (along with the beers Porter Pounder brought back from his trip to Asheville), we’ll give them their proper reviews.
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So if ABQ or elsewhere in New Mexico is too hot, or you’ve been to Taos/Durango/Pagosa one too many times, consider heading west to Flagstaff to take in the cool mountain air and all the great beer it has to offer. Just make sure to stick a box in your trunk to fill with beers you can’t buy in NM.