Archive for the ‘Beercation Destinations’ Category

Hello, Wicked Weed.

One nice thing about having children-in-law is that they sometimes end up in nice places, and you have to visit them, of course. Such was the case here. My daughter-in-law is currently studying at Duke University in North Carolina. I never had much of an occasion to visit NC in the past, though I didn’t doubt it was a nice state. We previously visited her in the Durham area, but we figured on our next trip we would go to Asheville, up in the mountains in the western part of the state. Apparently, it’s an East Coast beer mecca (well, you probably already know that), so a pilgrimage was in order.

We started our short trip in an ugly fashion — our 6 a.m. flight to Charlotte on Southwest was cancelled just prior to boarding. After some wrangling with the desk attendant, we managed to get on another flight to the Raleigh-Durham airport. (Charlotte is a shorter drive to Asheville, but you take what you can get.) We ended up getting into Raleigh much later than planned, but at least we were there. Sadly, our luggage was not; it had decided to stay in Albuquerque an extra night. We drove off to Asheville, anyway, hoping the clothes on our backs would hold up for a few extra days.

Given the later arrival and longer driving time, we got in to Asheville after 10 p.m. It was a Wednesday, so we were afraid nothing would be open. Most places seemed to close at 9 or 10. The mighty Google informed us that Foggy Mountain Brewpub was open late, and a call informed us that they even served food until 3 a.m. Perfect! We arrived to find a loud band playing and people Elaine-dancing in our faces as we headed back for a table. There was no table service, so we struggled to get our orders in at the bar. My wife had a cider and White Zombie, which she liked, and our daughter’s boyfriend and I had Jade IPAs. It was quite respectable, but after a day of ugly traveling, it could have been mopped up from the floor and I would have enjoyed it.

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Mellow Mushroom’s impressive beer selection

The next day, we headed downtown. Asheville has many, many breweries, and a decent number are in that area. Given we were returning to Charlotte on Friday, we couldn’t hit them all, sadly. First up was a healthy breakfast at Green Sage Cafe, a very hip place on the main drag. Then on to Mellow Mushroom, which has great pizza and beers, including the Sweet Water Grapefruit IPA my festivities starter. From there, we meandered to Mast General Store, an old-timey store that sells all sorts of touristy merchandise. Quaint.  

Finally, we arrived at Wicked Weed Brewpub. I knew I had heard of it before, and the boyfriend reminded me that it had been purchased by InBev. Ouch. Maybe we should boycott? Nah. We were directed downstairs, which is the location of a nice taproom with a variety of fairly exotic beers. There were many sours, various strength IPAs, and an assortment of other styles. It took three flights between the four of us to try most of them, and they were very good. My wife in particular loved the Gin ‘n’ Juice, which is a potent brew (10% ABV) aged in gin barrels. This is a quality place, and I hope InBev doesn’t change anything.

Ah, delicious (Wicked) Weed flights.

From there, we meandered over to Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria. It’s not a brewery, but it has a nice selection of local beers on tap. I opted for a session IPA, which was fine. We didn’t try the pizza, but they had garlic knots, which were good, but not as good as the ones you used to be able to get at Bosque.

My wife loves Mexican food, so wherever we go, we have to find some. It has to be authentic, so Taco Bell need not apply. Right in the middle of all of this downtown action we found Mamacita’s Taqueria. Spicy, delicious, excellent! And, they even have several quality beers on tap.

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Green Man’s modern design

Ready to try another beer joint, we headed down the hill to Green Man Brewery. This is a rather enormous, modern three-story affair, with a bar on the ground floor and another on the third floor. The original location is also open and just a bit further down the street, though we didn’t check it out. We tried a flight and found the beers to be good, though not quite as interesting as Wicked Weed’s. (It’s at this point writing this that I realize I need to take better notes.)

We wandered back up the hill and stuck our heads into Wicked Weed again. It was about 9 p.m. at this point, and the place was crowded. This is clearly where folks gather after work, unlike Green Man, which was nearly empty.

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One World Brewing, just before closing

We decided to try to find one more place before closing: One World Brewing. It seemed to stay open later than most, so we wandered about trying to orient ourselves on Google Maps and with a case of Wicked Weed Brain. Eventually we found it tucked down an alley and down some stairs. I believe the beers there were decent, though I was tired and not as into the task as I should have been.

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Feeling metal? Get to Burial.

The next day we checked out of the motel and recovered at the nearby mall. We got the word that our luggage finally arrived at our motel, so we dragged our odoriferous selves over to pick it up. We considered taking off for Charlotte, where we would be staying the night before flying out early, but my wife couldn’t resist one last shot at Mamacita’s. It was excellent again, and more importantly, since we were downtown, we decided to hit one last brewery — Burial Beer Co.  It’s not far from Green Man, but we had skipped it the previous day. It was a fortuitous turn of events, because it had the finest beers of all that we had tried. They had two IPAs, a DIPA, and even a triple IPA on tap. They had a sour, a coffee stout, and a michelada straight out of the tap! (The michelada was a pilsner, I believe, mixed with tomato juice, lime juice, and hot sauce.)  

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Burial’s wonderful beers

The IPAs were excellent, on par with the best that New Mexico has to offer. I even mentioned to the bartender that we were from New Mexico, and he said, “Oh, yeah, you guys have Marble and La Cumbre.” Quite a worldly bartender!

After that, we took off for Charlotte. When we arrived, we stopped at a Whole Foods just to compare with New Mexico’s versions of the store. It had a cute little corner bar with four beers on tap. Kind of sad compared to the one in Santa Fe, which has 30 or so. It was again getting late, so we picked one last brewery near our motel to check out, Blue Blaze Brewing. It got good reviews on Google, but nearly every place gets 4-to-5 stars, it seems. It was a nice facility and the bartenders were very friendly, but sadly, the beers were mediocre and bland, as if the equipment needed cleaning. I always hate to write that about a place, but at least I’m writing it from 2,000 miles away and not likely to hurt their business.

We easily could have spent a few more days in Asheville. We only visited the downtown breweries out of convenience, but even those were worth the trip. There are many more around the area. Asheville itself has a cool vibe to it, reminding me of a Colorado mountain town. If you’re considering going, you should. Definitely do not skip Burial Brewing! We’re already thinking about another visit in the spring.

Cheers!

— Reid

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The beers at Helton Brewing were on point once again!

Editor’s note: AmyO submitted this one a while ago, we’ve just had so many other stories with a time element leapfrog it in the queue. We decided it was time, especially as we get toward autumn, when it is no longer as hot as Hades in Scottsdale. — Stoutmeister

Faced with a serendipitous four-day holiday weekend (my employer unexpectedly decided to give us Monday before July 4 off!), my honey and I got in the car and drove to Scottsdale. Yes, we are pretty much nuts. We were complaining about the heat here and then went somewhere 10 degrees hotter. However, the hotel rates at the nice resorts there can’t be beat in the height of summer. A large suite with great air conditioning at a property with two pools, free breakfast buffet, and custom-made eggs or omelets, and a nightly reception with free drinks and snacks didn’t actually sound bad at all. And it wasn’t; it was great. In fact, on a couple of nights, the free beer on tap was an Uncle Bear IPA. It was great and we had two lovely hours to drink it at no cost.

We limited the time we were outdoors at all, even getting in and out of the car, so it wasn’t a very brewery-heavy trip. We did visit a couple of our favorites. We also went to a new taproom from a previously-visited brewery, one new brewery, and one that is fairly new and new to us. I wanted to share a little bit of information on them as well as a few pictures.

The new “play room” at Helton Brewing will be great in less scorching times.

On our last visit, I discovered Helton Brewing Company on Indian School Road and proclaimed it my favorite Phoenix-area brewery. It’s still doing very well, and the place was pretty busy for a Sunday midday when we stopped by for a pint. To our surprise, they added what can be described as a “play room” on the east side of the building. It’s covered, but open-air, so there was no way I was spending any time out there in July. Some folks did venture out there for a while. Oh, those crazy Phoenicians!

No trip to Scottsdale is complete for us without a visit to McFate. (I still have a hard time adding the “Mc” to Fate, because it will always be Fate to me.) As always, we had good beer and good times here. On Mondays, the pizzas are all half-price, too, and their pizza is really good.

The only tough part about visiting McFate Brewing is remembering the Mc on the front end.

Phoenix Ale Brewery recently opened Central Kitchen on North Seventh Street which was good news for us because the actual brewery location was really way too hot to enjoy the last time we visited. The Central Kitchen taproom is a very comfy spot and they have some great daily beer and food combination specials.

As for new places, we stopped by The Shop Beer Company on West First Street in Tempe. It’s an adorable place with a great patio, just maybe not in July, as it was getting full sun while we were there, and thus it was empty. Their beers tended to be on the hoppier side compared to many in this metro area, which was a welcome surprise. The staff was wonderful and knowledgeable. Groupon did offer a fun deal here, but we did not purchase it because we just wanted a couple of pints, and it was a package with flights, pints, and takeaway beer.

The sheer variety at Mother Bunch was impressive.

Also new to us, and fairly new on the whole, was Mother Bunch Brewing. They are in an old brick building, also on North Seventh Street in Phoenix. This brewery had the most styles on tap. The place is pretty funky and some of the beers reflected that. We had one that was pink because it was made from beets and rutabaga. That sounded awful to me because I hate beets, but it was so weird I had to try it, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. I then chose a sampler and all of the more standard beers were pretty good, in particular their milk stout.

I also have to add some information about something really fun that does not directly have to do with beer. But, there is a tie-in, and the news was just literally and figuratively too cool not to share. We had previously been to the Scottsdale Road location of Sip Coffee and Beer because they have some good beers on tap. I found out that they opened a new location not far from Helton on Indian School. (By the way, among a great lineup of beers, they currently have a Marble beer on tap.) And, I had read a special secret about it. It is called Sip Coffee and Beer Garage because it took over an old oil change business. So, it has the garage bay doors and everything. But, what makes it amazing is they re-purposed the underground portion — you know, where the mechanics stand under the cars to work on them.

Secret underground tiki bar? Heck yeah!

Underground spots are great places to beat the heat. It’s only open in the late afternoon and at night. We got there 15 minutes before they opened and waited. I was like a kid on Christmas, all antsy and ready to tear into it. The small underground area has been redecorated with a ship theme and turned into a full on tiki bar. It is completely incredible. I didn’t even really care that the drinks are super expensive — and they are, but they are very well made. There were even portholes on the walls that showed pictures of other ships in them as if we were docked in a harbor somewhere. Then, when we got up to leave, we looked out again and the pictures had changed to “open water.” It’s a must-do for any tiki bar fanatic.

By now, if you made it this far into this story, you must be wondering about the title. I wanted to highlight something I found unusual compared to experiences we have had on our previous trips to the area. It seems to be the beginning of an awakening of sorts. Coming from Albuquerque and visiting places like Portland and San Diego as often as we do, Phoenix never has felt like it was “into beer” as much, especially when you consider number of breweries per capita and general conversations we have had or overheard in bars. This time felt different. Not only are there some more new and interesting breweries opening, but there was also something else.

The Shop is one of many great new beer stops in the Phoenix metro area.

Driving into town, as usual we stopped by our favorite café in Payson for a snack. A nice guy who works there who has waited on us before started up a conversation that along the way landed on beer. We said we were driving in from Albuquerque and he practically begged us to let him know the next time we will be coming through and he will pay us to bring him some good ABQ beer. Most specifically, he wanted La Cumbre.

Then, when we were leaving Helton, we saw someone outside in the parking lot that we thought might be the owner/brewer. So, I asked and he said he was. I told him how much I enjoy his beer and his facility. He was very humble and grateful to hear it. He asked where we were from. When we told him, he said we should bring growlers from Albuquerque next time, and he would do a two-for-one growler exchange with his beer. Oh, you bet! We told him we would likely be back either in the fall or in December. Now, I am looking forward to it more than ever.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Now that is a craft beer presence at a Major League ballpark.

As basically everyone following this site knows, I was on a long road trip last week and the week before, journeying into the stifling humidity of the South. While my primary purpose was to be a good family member and attend my cousin’s wedding, I made sure to stop at plenty of places to and fro to get some beers from a region that I had not previously visited as an adult.

My summed up thoughts? The South is not on par with New Mexico when it comes to craft beer, but if you look hard enough, you can find some hidden gems. Due to time limitations (a lot of driving, basically), and the fact that in many of these cities the breweries are hopelessly scattered about, I usually chose a centralized beer bar to make my primary habitat. That gave me the option of trying beers from multiple breweries.

So here is a travel guide, of sorts, focusing on the beer bars I visited in each city, plus additional stops to hit if you ever find yourself in any of these places. Just, maybe, go in the fall. So damn sticky …

Oklahoma City

Beer Bar: TapWerks

So many taps, no wonder they called it TapWerks.

Located at 121 E. Sheridan Ave. in the heart of Bricktown, the huge entertainment district built around their Triple-A ballpark just east/southeast of the downtown skyscrapers, this is where to go to try just about every Oklahoma breweries’ beers. There are 106 taps on the ground floor, plus another 106 on the second level. They do tell you on the menu which beers are the freshest on tap, and the staff was pretty knowledgeable when it came to the freshness of their hoppy beers. The menu was more than just regular bar food, with the portobello mac-n-cheese standing out. Just make sure to check your travel schedule, as I am quite certain whenever the OKC Dodgers (baseball) or Thunder (NBA) are playing nearby, this joint is packed.

Best Brewery: Vanessa House Beer Co.

The buzz I encountered around OKC was that this is the new up-and-coming brewery. Well, Prairie was always mentioned first, but we get that here in ABQ now thanks to the wonderful folks at Favorite Brands, so I was more focused on finding the best that does not distribute west. The Broken Tile DIPA was my beer of choice at TapWerks. It’s basically a hybrid, with a juicy backbone similar to a New England-style IPA, but with a good, hoppy bite. Look for VHBC beers on tap or in bottles around town, as they do not appear to have a taproom at this time.

Best Bottle Shop: Broadway Wine Merchants

Located just north of downtown at 824 N. Broadway, this is primarily a hip, upscale wine shop located in an area where the city is clearly trying to create an urban chic environment. All that being said, the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and they did have a small but impressive beer selection. The only downside is that most Oklahoma breweries only can in six packs, with few bottles/bombers available. Still, if you are staying near Bricktown (which I recommend), this is the closest and best bottle shop anywhere near it.

(As an aside, I did stop at Diamond Bear Brewing in North Little Rock, but, um, well, it was not worth writing much about.)

Memphis

Beer Bar: Young Avenue Deli

Located at 2119 Young Ave. in the hipster haven known as Midtown, my one friend who lives in the area brought me here. The food menu is actually pretty solid, so I got to wolf down some BBQ smoked turkey, bacon, and cheese filled wraps. This fueled me up to start hitting up the local taps, but I only got through three beers before my friend, who just became a first-time father, showed signs of falling asleep at the bar. Overall, a solid beer selection from throughout Tennessee, the region, and nation, in a nice, hip part of town. The only downside is there are no hotels nearby, so if you stay downtown like I did, or further east along I-40, you may have to rely on Uber/Lyft. Unless you also know someone who lives in Memphis.

Best Brewery: Wiseacre Brewing

The best beer from Wiseacre in Memphis was finally found at the best fried chicken joint in town. Because of course.

Located at 2783 Broad Ave. near midtown, I did not personally visit this brewery, but I did try three of their beers. My friend Adam swears that this is the best local brewery, and he is originally from Colorado, so he knows good beer. The good news is, you can find it all over town, on tap and for sale in canned six packs. But, he recommends you should visit.

Best Bottle Shop: Joe’s Wines & Liquor

Located at 1681 E. Poplar Ave., due east of downtown, I found this place in a most unusual way. Facebook, upon your arrival in a different city, will now show you where your friends have been in that town (this might not be that new of a feature, but it was the first time I saw it). The first friend it suggested was my late friend Justin Shearer, an excellent human being and beer geek of the highest order. From the other side, Justin ended up guiding me to this great beer store. They had a huge selection of national and Tennessee brands. I loaded up on quite a few bottles with a few tips from the great staff. Thanks for still being my beer sherpa, Justin!

Best Eatery: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken

Located at 310 S. Front St. on the south side of downtown, this eatery was recommended to me by none other than La Cumbre’s Jeff Erway. Hey, if someone with his palate says you have to visit a restaurant, you just go. My verdict? Delicious, downright epic. It’s different enough from, say, Nexus, to stand apart. The chicken is perfectly spiced, walking that fine line without getting too hot for this here Anglo-Saxon to handle. The sides were wonderful, and by golly, they had the mythical Gotta Get Up to Get Down coffee milk stout from Wiseacre. Victory was mine!

Birmingham

Best Brewery: Good People Brewing

Who knew Birmingham had such a thriving beer scene?

Even though I was behind schedule, I could not resist stopping at the highest-rated brewery in Alabama’s biggest city. Located at 114 14th South St. (there is an important distinction between the North and South in the numbered street names downtown; they are totally separate streets), right across from the Birmingham Barons minor-league baseball stadium, Good People is a big, expansive brewery with a solid, varied menu. I was challenged to take on their hoppy beers, so I got a flight of their Pale Ale, IPA, Juco Session IPA, and Snake Handler DIPA. Each was pretty solid, though if anything, the DIPA came off as the weakest of the bunch when compared to our local examples of that style. The others could potentially hold up even out here in the Land of Hopchantment. Overall, good beer, good service, spacious taproom, and a ballpark right across the street.

Pensacola

Beer Bar: Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom

OK, I am listing this place for its awesome number of taps (100 plus) and sheer quantity of beer. That is the biggest selling point, because otherwise we had terrible service, and the food took forever (there were reportedly problems with the kitchen equipment). It seems to get good reviews online, so perhaps we just showed up on the wrong day, or had the wrong server. Hopjacks is located at 10 S. Palafox St., which is in the heart of a fairly charming downtown, stifling humidity aside. I went with a pint of the Hop Gun IPA from Funky Buddha. I would tried more, but the slow service killed that opportunity as we had the actual wedding to go to that day.

Best Brewery: Pensacola Bay Brewery

The quality of the beers and the quantity of selections at Pensacola Bay Brewery was impressive.

This charming little brewery is the oldest in town. Located near downtown at 225 E. Zaragoza St., it has a simple, no-frills taproom, though its beers can also be found just about everywhere in town in bottles or on tap. My cousin Jenna and I each got a flight. I took on the dark, she went with malty but lighter. The 5th Anniversary Panhandle Steamer ended up the highlight of her four beers, while I was surprised to learn the seasonal Bilgewater Porter was actually barrel aged, and boozy as heck. Among the regular dark beers, the Blackbeard Stout was quite robust for living in such a hot, steamy environment. It might not knock your socks off, but for a small, beach town brewery, it was more than adequate.

Best Bottle Shop: U.S. Navy liquor store

I was allowed to enter this store with my cousin-in-law, who is in the Air Force, and pick out a sixer of Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City. Seriously, though, I have been inside the Kirtland AFB Class Six store with my father (retired Army), and this thing absolutely dwarfed it. The beer choices were ridiculous. My other cousin-in-law and I were paralyzed with indecision for almost 10 minutes. It was a huge, wonderful store, so if you are active duty or retired military, or know someone who is, make sure to stop here. Plus, of course, no tax!

New Orleans

Beer Bar: The Avenue Pub

Skip the French Quarter, head to The Avenue Pub when in New Orleans.

Located at 1732 St. Charles Ave., just south/southwest of downtown along a major streetcar line, this beer bar was bordering on ridiculous. The food menu was somewhat small, but still tasty as could be, mixing pub favorites with local dishes, both full meals and appetizers. The beer list, though, holy hell it was awesome. There are 60 beers on tap, many of them from breweries throughout Louisiana. The menus even list the days all hop-forward beers were kegged, so you know how fresh your pale ales and IPAs really are. If you somehow cannot find the beer you want on tap, that’s OK, they have eight pages worth of bottled beers to choose from, including many that have been cellared and will be brought upstairs to be chilled before pouring. Seriously, it was ridiculous. Just to save myself the indecision, I stuck to the taps, snagging three beers before the post-wedding hangover/car trip lag caught up to me. The Parish Brewing of Broussard (near Lafayette) was recommended, so I started with the South Coast, a malty red ale. Polling the bartenders, I switched over to Gnarly Barley Brewing (Hammond) for my next two pints. The Brightside IPA could sneak onto taps in New Mexico and pass for a local brew. The Korova Milk Porter was a decadent dessert beer.

Best Bottle Shop: 504 Craft Beer Reserve

Located at 3939 Tulane Ave., just east/northeast of downtown, was this gem of a store. They do not carry six packs of any kind, but you can make your own. They also have growler stations as well. Basically, if you want to bring Louisiana beers home, this is your stop. Just be aware, most days they open at 11 a.m., which may be too late for some.

Houston

Beer Bar: Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall

Down below street level is the best beer selection in downtown Houston.

Located at 1010 Prairie St. in the below-ground level of an office building, this was one of the most unique takes on the old food court concept that I have seen. Basically, there are a series of all-local eateries with small stands, where food is made fresh. At the far back is a wall of beer taps, 60 total, with a couple metalheads slinging pints for the mostly young crowd. It was open until midnight on a weekday, and they didn’t even do last call until almost 11:50, so that was nice. The beers were a little more expensive on average than here in ABQ ($6-$9), but overall it was an enjoyable place. They also made sure to keep track of their older beers, even going so far as selling the last of an old IPA keg for $1. The beertenders told me it was almost six weeks old and the remainder would be dumped soon if people didn’t buy it up. The Bulgarian Miak (Milk Stout) from Sigma Brewing was a bit of a disappointment, lacking much flavor and body, but the Bourbonator (BA doppelbock) from B-52 Brewing made up for it. This is definitely a place I wish to have explored further, but I arrived late since I first went to …

Best Ballpark: Minute Maid Park

Once upon a time, I had gotten to 25 of the 30 active Major League parks, but recent openings had knocked me back to 22. Well, I got to 23 when I walked over to this rather lovely park, with its wonderful retractable roof (so necessary as the temps outside were brutal). Upon entering, I was pointed to the massive St. Arnold Brewing bar in left field. There were nearly a dozen beers on tap, and while I had to pay ballpark prices ($10.75 to $11.75), I figured it still beat going thirsty, because there was no way I was gonna order a cheaper macro just to say a few bucks. I grabbed some ballpark food, settled into my seat just up from third base, and rooted on Albuquerque natives Alex Bregman and Kenny Giles of the Astros. Sadly, they lost in extra innings to the Mariners, and a key player got hurt, so I probably should never go back since I’m apparently a pox on the team, but hey, I still had fun.

Dallas metro area

Beer Bar: L.U.C.K. (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) at Trinity Groves

Located at 3011 Gulden Ln. #112, just west of downtown Dallas, is an excellent beer bar/foodie restaurant. The food is unique, yet thoroughly Texan, with some true delights on the menu, both appetizers and full meals. The beer selection is outstanding from all over the DFW metro area. If you need a bite and a place to sample multiple breweries’ beers, this is one of the best.

Best Brewery: Lakewood Brewing

There was some crazy karaoke off to the left of this delicious beer.

Located at 2302 Executive Dr. in Garland, just north of Dallas, is this industrial park brewery, which is on the rise in the opinion of the locals. Having already downed a French Quarter Temptress, their coffee imperial milk stout, at L.U.C.K., I settled in for another of those as it was too good to pass up again. I would have grabbed a different beer for seconds, but it turned out we had just made it in for last call. Many, many breweries in this part of the country close well before midnight on weekdays, so make sure to check their hours before you go!

Best Bottle Shop: Brad’s beer cellar

I’m only half joking, as Brad’s wife Christie seemed to really hope that I would clear out half of his 100-plus Jester King bottles. My beer-loving friend makes a ton of trips down to Austin, and in fact went back again the weekend after my visit. He gave me quite the variety of Texas beers to bring home, and he said he hopes to visit New Mexico later this year to engage in some serious beer trading. In return, I brought him bottles of La Cumbre’s Persica and Hibiscus Quercus. Beer friends are the best friends, right?

* * * * *

I know there are probably a hundred more places I missed along the way in each of these cities, but I wanted to highlight these as my personal favorites. The beer bars, in particular, are great places to sample a wide variety of local offerings while sparring yourself the cost of transportation all over the place. If I had more time, I am sure there were another dozen places I would have visited.

When in the South, you at least gotta get one sixer of these.

Until the next ridiculous trip calls my name, I will be keeping it local for the rest of 2017.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Saint Arnold is one of the most popular breweries in the Houston for a good reason. Lots of good reasons, in fact.

I can already hear you asking: Why is a New Mexico beer site writing about breweries in Houston?

My answer: Because sometimes people go to other places and want to drink beer there.

This was the situation I found myself in a few weeks back when I booked a trip to visit a friend in the biggest city in Texas. Given that our friendship formed over the consumption of beer, I knew a brewery or two should be part of the weekend. I had never been there before and she’s new to the area, so it was time for an adventure.

My first tactic for finding craft beer was to turn to my base of beer drinking friends. Of all the recommendations, there was one clear choice of places to visit: Saint Arnold Brewing Company. Texas’ oldest craft brewery, founded in 1994, is an easy 15-to-20 minute drive from the airport, so it made sense to make that our first stop once I arrived.

We were a bit dubious as we pulled up, as it is located in a very industrial neighborhood, and upon entering the building you are greeted with office doors and a staircase. Those fears were easily cast aside once we located the beer hall on the second floor. When entering you are greeted with rows of tables and benches, cornhole boards, paintings of Saint Arnold on one wall, and a sea of windows showcasing their impressive brewing capacity opposite that. I loved how friendly the staff was there. It was a busy night at Saint Arnold but every single employee we encountered greeted us with a smile and gave us their full attention when they were serving us.

Welcoming atmosphere aside, the beer was the real star here. I started with the Elissa IPA, which was available on both draft and cask, and, yes, I had both versions. After sampling the 2016 Pumpkinator, Pup Crawl Pale Ale, and Summer Pils, my third and final pint of the night was the Endeavour DIPA. All were delicious, and if we had gotten there earlier, I would have gladly purchased more pints. My friend opted for the Raspberry AF Berliner Weisse for her first, and second, and third … While I’m not much for tart beers, I could see the appeal of this one on a hot, humid summer night.

For the rest of our beer-ventures, I searched using my old stand-by: Google. We were staying in the suburbs and I was curious about what local watering holes could be found. Turns out, there were plenty, but we only had time for three of them.

Talk about fitting in with the area.

First up: Texas Beer Refinery in Dickinson. This 4-year-old brewery sure made a positive impression. From the woman who excitedly told us about the food menu options to the hop-shaped hanging lights, this is a brewery filled with charm. It’s also got some pretty tasty beer. I got a pint of the Covfefe Coffee Pale Ale (turns out they have a sense of humor, too). My friend got the Mexican IPA on nitro. While we were both very happy with our choices, we were also jealous of each other’s beer. She also tried the Gulf Coast Gose and really enjoyed it. I stole a sip and could tell it was well made, but it isn’t one I’d want a full pour of (see above). We would have tried more, but we had other appointments to keep that afternoon, and decided it was best to pace ourselves.

There is a wee bit of scenery down by the Gulf of Mexico.

Second beer stop: Galveston Island Brewing in Galveston. After dipping our toes in the Gulf of Mexico, more beer was necessary. Google said this was the closest one, so off we went. The place was hopping when we arrived. Granted, it was a Saturday night, but the sheer number of people there was impressive (we later found out out we stumbled upon their Third Anniversary party). They had a tented area with a section set aside for live bands, an area with picnic benches and a playground, and a smallish indoor seating area and stools around the bar. There was a lovely view of the setting sun, so sitting outside was an easy choice to make. Due to the crowds, we only had one beer each, but both were nice and easy to drink. I had the DIPA and she had the Hefen-A Hefeweizen. I’d like to come back again when it’s not so crowded, so I can chat with the staff and sample more of the beer.

They do everything big in Texas, include taproom interiors.

Final destination: Saloon Door Brewing in Webster. Unbeknownst to my friend and I, we saved the best for last. Only open for a year, they already have everything I look for in a local watering hole — friendly and informative employees, regulars you can strike up a conversation with, and killer beer. If I lived here, this would be my regular beer-drinking home. One of their distinct features is their beer blend offerings — they mix different beers together creating different (and fun) flavor combinations. My friend got a flight of these, while I opted to try the beers in their original format. This way we could determine if they were trying to hide off flavors in the blends. Long story short, they were not. I had the Brown Ale, Cream Ale, Milk Stout, Pale Ale, Wee Heavy, Double Gunshot Imperial IPA, Summer IPA, River Ace IPA, Tasty AF Peanut Butter, Chocolate Milk Stout, and Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout. Each one was delicious, and I would have been happy with a full pint of any of them. I can’t possibly list all the blends, but some of them are called Snickers, Strawberry Cheese Cake, and Orange Cordial. There is an art to making these beyond the “let’s mix these and see what happens” approach I’ve taken in the past, but it really is art.

All in all, we had a lot of fun exploring the growing craft beer scene in the Houston area. I recommend checking these places if you are in the neighborhood, then play your own game of “Google-Roulette” to see what gems you discover.

Sláinte

— The SheNerd

Self-serve craft beer can be quite graceful

Posted: November 10, 2016 by amyotravel in Beercation Destinations
A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that's intriguing.

A craft beer bar where you can serve yourself? OK, now that’s intriguing.

Have you ever wished you could choose your own size of a beer poured at a taproom? Maybe you don’t want a full pint, but you also don’t want just a sample. I recently visited a new place called Grace in Growlers in Kailua, on the east side of Oahu, that lets you do just that. The place gets the grace part of its name from the fact that they donate their proceeds to local charities. The day we were there was a fundraiser for a baby in need of heart surgery. The growler portion is coming soon as they are still awaiting that license. Sadly, we were not able to stay as long as we wanted to because we found out about the place just before closing time.

Here is how it works: You show your ID, sign in at the door, and start a tab. The staff member places an electronic bracelet on your wrist and explains the process to you. You are shown to a wall with different sizes of glasses. After you choose your glass, you proceed to the beer taps. All the beer taps were local, except for a hilarious Heineken tap that is labeled and pours H2O. Turn the glass over and rinse your glass with a bar top rinser; yes, they have them to make pouring easier.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That's what keeps track of your beer pours.

Behind the ubiquitous Giant Jenga, note those two watch-like devices on the wrists of the customers. That’s what keeps track of your beer pours.

Each tap has an electronic screen. Press the name of the beer on the screen and a description comes up, helping you decide if this beer is right for you. Hold your bracelet to the top of the screen, wait for the green light, and then open the tap and pour. You can pour a very small amount if you are still unsure about the beer, because you are charged by the ounce. When you shut off the tap, the screen displays how many ounces you poured. You are asked to use a new glass each time. When you are ready to leave, you go to the register, return your bracelet, and sign your receipt.

I was proud of myself because I chose small glasses to try several different beers, and the first couple of times I managed to hit exactly 4.0 ounces. But, the last time, I only got 3.9. So much for perfect pours. I suppose it could be that it gets a little more difficult after a few (motor skills and all).

Our group of travelers had a discussion about this concept, and if it could possibly ever work here in New Mexico. I would like to ask our readers that question. Let us know by posting your comments.

Aloha!

— AmyO

Sometimes you just gotta get out of town and try more beers, especially when it's stupidly hot outside.

Sometimes you just gotta get out of town and try more beers, especially when it’s stupidly hot outside.

July was just crazy hot. In Albuquerque, and all over the Southwest. I must have been out of my mind to continue the summer road tripping.

I love Las Vegas. I mean, I really must, because I go there two to three times a year. But, sometimes it’s nice to feel less “Vegas-y” when you are there and get a little break from the madness. There are ways to feel more like a local and it is not hard to do as soon as you venture just a little off of the Strip or Fremont Street.

The beer menu at the new Tenaya Creek location in Las Vegas is worth checking out.

The beer menu at the new Tenaya Creek location in Las Vegas is worth checking out.

A new way to escape while in Vegas is just a short Uber or Lyft ride from downtown; or, about a 15-minute (boring) walk if it’s not too hot. Late last year, arguably the best-known brewery in Vegas, Tenaya Creek, moved into a new spot on Bonanza Road. The contemporary digs are spacious and beautiful. Our beerista was awesome, too. You seriously have to love sitting at a bar and hearing stories from a local bartender about what happens in Vegas that doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

Because there are still not many local breweries in the area, I am thrilled that I can get to another Vegas brewery that moved closer to the action. Their old place was so far out, I never made it over there. Take note, however, that there is no kitchen, so you will need to find food elsewhere.

As far as the beer goes, if it’s on tap I can recommend the Local 702 Pale Ale (5.2% ABV) and the God of Thunder Baltic Porter (9% ABV). You can definitely add Tenaya Creek to your best (beer) bets in Vegas.

Boulder City is worth a stop, if for nothing else than its own brewery.

Boulder City is worth a stop, if for nothing else than its own brewery.

On the road out of town, heading towards Arizona from Vegas, a good place to stop for lunch is Boulder Dam Brewing Company in Boulder City. Without this stop, I never would have known that Boulder City has such a quaint central area! We ate some tasty burgers alongside Hell’s Hole Hefeweisen (4.8% ABV).

Who says books are just for reading? At Historic Brewing in Flagstaff, they have another key role.

Who says books are just for reading? At Historic Brewing in Flagstaff, they have another key role.

One of our favorite small towns with a big beer scene is Flagstaff. That scene just got even better with the addition of Historic Brewing’s new Barrel and Bottle House on San Francisco Street in downtown. The new space has an open concept, but a cozy and functional feel, and is just a great place to hang out and have some beer. I feel like I have been ordering beer sample flights for decades now — well, maybe I have — and I still get a huge kick out of unique presentations of samplers. The ones at Historic, made from carved-out hardback books, are my favorite of the summer (see photo). The “book titles” are funny, too, and it’s a game in its own right to see who gets what book.

The new patio at Durango Brewing makes it an even more inviting place.

The new patio at Durango Brewing makes it an even more inviting place.

Finally, with a similarly small, but happening beer town vibe, you can always count on Durango. At the beginning of July, Durango’s oldest (and reportedly Colorado’s third-oldest) brewery, Durango Brewing Company, reopened after being closed for nearly a year. In my opinion, it is a vast improvement and worth checking out. The beer quality has improved to some degree as well, although super hopheads may not find the most prominent hop profiles up to snuff. The patio space is awesome; and while the location remains the same, the building was completely remodeled. I sampled just about everything they had to get a feel for the “new” brewery. It’s all about taking one for the team, you know.

So goes the summer of ’16. Now it’s time for football, which, of course, just means more beer.

Cheers!

— AmyO

There are plenty of new breweries and old favorites still worth visiting in the Phoenix metro area.

There are plenty of new breweries and old favorites still worth visiting in the Phoenix metro area.

The kids are back in school, and the heat is finally starting to break a little. Just like when you were a kid and had to write an essay at the beginning of the year about the past summer, I recently took time to reflect upon the summer of ‘16.

Since I have some big trips coming up this fall football season, I did surprisingly little (for me) travel over the summer. Unsurprisingly, as revealed by revisiting the photos on my phone, the travel I did do always included stops at some new, relocated, or remodeled breweries. The locations are all popular travel destinations from Albuquerque, and were all fairly brief visits.

The first quick trip was to the Phoenix metro area. My boyfriend and I stayed in the Old Town Scottsdale neighborhood as we usually do, but due to the 115-plus-degree heat at the time, we spent less time walking and more time blasting the air conditioner in the car than usual. That afforded us the opportunity to visit places we probably would not have seen otherwise. We finally made it to some that have been around a long while like SanTan Brewing, and others that are somewhat newer like The Perch and Arizona Wilderness.

SanTan is an anchor tenant in downtown Chandler.

SanTan is an anchor tenant in downtown Chandler.

SanTan is a large place in downtown Chandler and the food looked really good, although we were not hungry at the time. Their beer sampler was large and the most reasonably priced for the size. They are only one of two Arizona breweries to distribute to New Mexico, along with Mother Road from Flagstaff.

Hey, we know that logo in the bottom right!

Hey, we know that logo in the bottom right!

The Perch, also located in Chandler, has a very unique atmosphere, both inside and out. You can visit exotic birds on their patio, and taste their exotic beer styles inside. In my opinion, it’s best to stick to other local beers they have on tap because their own beers were not nearly as good. But, they were very nice and they displayed a big shout out to Marble (see photo!).

The beer at Arizona Wilderness, located in Gilbert, was pretty good, and it is a nice place. However, I don’t think I will likely make the trek back out there. They are pretty proud of their beer, as it was much more expensive than the other places we visited. Additionally, they would not let you taste or even sell you samples of about half their beers (they do have a lot of styles). You had to buy a full pint, and at their prices, that was not an investment I really wanted to make without tasting it first. I stuck with a pint of one of their regular beers. (Editor’s note: I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed this place when I visited in March 2015. I guess they changed their policies since I got to choose my flight from all the beers listed. Personally, I highly recommend the beastly American Presidential Stout and hop-laden DC Mountain DIPA, which is my second favorite hop-forward beer in Arizona behind the IPA at Dragoon in Tucson. — Stoutmeister)

That is a mighty fine patio, Pedal Haus.

That is a mighty fine patio, Pedal Haus.

On the new brewery front, we visited Pedal Haus in Tempe. This brewery is on Mill Avenue in the heart of Sun Devil territory. (Ahem, you mean Scum Devil. — S) Take note, they are currently closed for remodeling, but should reopen soon. It is already a pretty new place, so I don’t know what the story is about the remodel. We were told by beer patrons at another brewery that it was already closed when we were there in early summer, but luckily I called ahead and that was not true at the time. This place is “yuuuuge,” folks, including the patio. The beer was just average, but our appetizer was outstanding. It’s a pretty great alternative to some of the other hard-partying places on Mill.

It's new, it's swanky, but sorry, it is not owned by former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

It’s new, it’s swanky, but sorry, it is not owned by former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

By far the best beer we had in the metro area was from the newest place. Only a few months old when we were there, Helton Brewing centrally located on Indian School in Phoenix, and is knocking it out of the park. It clearly already has a following, too, because the place was fairly crowded at 1:30 in the afternoon. They are keeping the styles limited at first, and concentrating on the quality. I especially liked their Rye Pale Ale. There is a roomy production area in the back, so it seems they plan on producing larger quantities in the future.

Other quick trips this summer included Vegas, Flagstaff, and Durango. The recap on these will be combined as one story, coming soon.

Cheers!

— AmyO

Craft beers are starting to crop up in Baja California.

Craft beers are starting to crop up in Baja California, such as the aptly named Baja Brewing Co.

When you are soaking up the heat and strong sunshine along the ocean, there is really no better accompaniment than a cold, crisp beer. But, at some point my body rebels and screams, “I just can’t drink one more damn Pacifico!” Last October, I wrote a story on a new brewery in Isla Mujeres, a short ferry ride from Cancun. Drinking craft beer (especially on an island) in Mexico made me positively giddy. This month I visited Baja California Sur and happily discovered that the craft beer industry is slowly gaining some ground in this part of Mexico as well.

We were actually able to try at least one craft beer in every town we visited. In Cabo San Lucas, we called on not one, but two breweries, both of which had some darn good beer. The first one, Baja Brewing Company, is owned by ex-pats from Colorado and even has two locations. One is a rooftop bar on top of a condo building, but we were not able to visit this location because they opened later in the day. We did, however, go to the main taproom conveniently located on the harbor. All the beers were decent to very good, and pretty true to style. The Peyote Pale Ale was especially refreshing in the Cabo heat.

Ramuri

Ramuri offers up some unique, artesanal beers.

Next, we ventured a few blocks off the beaten path and out of the main tourist area. We heard from a customer at Baja Brewing that there was another restaurant/brewery where they are making good beer. Cerveceria Ramuri is an artesanal, smaller-batch brewery with some styles that are harder to find south of the border, like saison and strong ale. Both of these beers were highly enjoyable.

In La Paz, we attempted to visit a very small craft brewery, but it was closed on Mondays, which was the only day we were there. The beer gods had our back, though, because as we were strolling along the ocean walkway, I spotted a convenience store with a tub of interesting-looking bottles sitting outside its door. The shopkeeper told us it was a brand-new beer made in La Paz that had only been on the market for two weeks. Unfortunately, my phone’s memory card decided to take a nose dive, so my picture of the bottle did not save, and I don’t remember the name of it. I can tell you that it was a hefeweizen, and it was a nice beer to drink while walking along the beach.

Loreto

Loreto’s beer scene benefits from having a lot of American and Canadian expatriates in the area.

Loreto is a lovely fishing village located about 200 miles north of La Paz. It has a population of less than 20,000, but a sizable amount of Canadian and U.S. ex-pats live there. As this was the least touristy town on our journey, we did not expect to find our favorite craft beer of the trip in Loreto. However, that is exactly what happened. El Zopilote (Vulture) Brewing Company/1697 Mexican Food and Craft Beer currently brews only three types of beer — an IPA, a pale ale, and a stout. The IPA was a too little bitter, as well as hoppy, so it was not our favorite. The pale ale was fantastic. They were out of the El Bandito Black Stout on site, but we were able to try it on draft later in the day at another local hotel. The stout was solid, with both chocolate and coffee notes.

Things are always moving fast at Los Muertos.

Things are always moving fast at Los Muertos Brewing in Puerto Vallarta.

It was not our first visit to Los Muertos Brewing in Puerto Vallarta. This brewery is always a welcome stop, due to their low, low prices, and lunchtime pizza and beer combos. However, they suffer from a carbonation issue, and all the beers are a little thin. Trust me, though, after days of drinking all the Mexican macros, hanging out at Los Muertos is still a delightful experience. It’s also a cool place to people watch, because it is on a busy corner in Old Town, and the walls open up to let in the ocean breezes.

Our last beer stop in Mexico was a beautiful, large beer bar and restaurant on the malecon (esplanade), called Cerveceria Union. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch of totstadas de pulpo (octopus) and molcajete de pollo with a Minerva Pale Ale. (Readers, are you noticing a theme? Perhaps a distinct craving for some pronounced hops?) They have dozens of beers on tap, including a large selection of Mexican craft beers. Cerveceria Union is a definite must do for the beer lover in Puerto Vallarta.

Grab a growler, fill it with a local craft beer, and hit the water.

Grab a growler, fill it with a local craft beer, and hit the water.

Growlers are now readily available at many of the breweries in Mexico. For your next adventure in Baja, I suggest buying a growler or two and hiring a boat with a captain for a few hours so you can drink your craft beer while relaxing on the water and enjoying the incredible scenery.

Cheers!

— AmyO

The magic word!

The magic word!

The Brew Crew recently received word that there is Yet Another New Brewery out there. We take for granted that there will be a new one every week in Albuquerque (and are very happy about it), but this one is about a stone’s throw from being in the middle of nowhere. If you’re going to Ojo Caliente’s famous hot springs and spa, or you’re on your way to Southern Colorado, then you will certainly want to stop at the Taos Trail Inn in Ojo Caliente. It’s probably the last chance for a decent beer before you get to the Colorado border, and if you’ve been steaming away in the spa all day, then you will certainly be craving a beer. The Inn is about a half-hour drive north of Espanola, which is about a half-hour drive north of Santa Fe. For many of you, that means that it would be a great Saturday afternoon excursion.

Living not too far away, we took a Friday night trip up to Ojo Caliente instead. We stopped by Romero’s Fruit Stand, which is about a mile south of the Highway 84/285 split. It’s supposed to have some outstanding chile, so we loaded up. About 15 miles further north, we arrived at the Taos Trail Inn. It’s easy to speed on past such a place, and frankly I’ve probably done it a few times, but if you stop and check it out, you’ll realize how nice it is. It really has that Old West Lodge feel.

Inside, it’s nearly breathtaking. Lots of wood and just oozing with ambiance.

20160219_180338

The stage is filled with live music almost every night.

They have rooms, as you would expect, but they also have a steakhouse and brewery. Inside the front door you’ll find a dining room, with a second dining area containing a bar and stage just beyond. They have live music most nights. On this night, the owners themselves, David and Pamela Post, played jazz and pop songs.

It turns out we started the article with a slight falsehood. The steakhouse has been in existence for three years, and David has been brewing beer even longer than that. I haven’t been up this way in a long time, I realized. I usually have a keen eye for places that have a big “brewery” sign. Well, the secret is finally out.

As we sat down, David informed us that they have an IPA and a stout. Perfect! He did warn me that the IPA was very hoppy, but I tut-tutted him and asked for one anyway. It was good, but I’ve certainly had hoppier beers. As we were speaking at the bar, he also gave me a sample of his stout. He claims it has a secret ingredient, and it did indeed seem to have some subtle flavor that I couldn’t identify. In any case, it was quite good.

The brewing system is relatively small; he gets about 15 gallons per batch. David likes to stick to his staples — pale ale, stout, and IPA. Cecilia had a Stella Artois, which was … fine. His plan is to replace the mainstream options with craft beers; in particular, he mentioned La Cumbre, which is A-OK with me.

20160219_175930

The menu has the type of food you’d expect at a hotel with a Western theme.

I must confess, I’m mostly a vegetarian, so I don’t get too excited about steaks. They promise a veggie-friendly option, and I saw “Spaghetti Western” on the menu. Penne with jalapeno sauce … hmm! I ordered it, but unfortunately received a baked potato with steak on top instead. Ah well, we were in a hurry, so maybe next time. The potato was fine, and Cecilia enjoyed the steak. In general, the food seemed like it would be very good.

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Just to the right of the entrance is the “brew zone,” apparently

If you haven’t traveled to one of the more distant corners of New Mexico, the Taos Trail Inn is yet another reason to get out there.

Cheers!

— Reid

One of the best fests in the Southwest.

One of the best fests in the Southwest.

After returning from my weekend beer sojourn to Phoenix, I struggled to come up with some sort of follow-up post. Some sort of review involving a slew of beers that cannot be acquired in New Mexico seemed pointless, so I almost let the memories of the Arizona Strong Beer Festival fade away. Then it occurred to me, as I described the fest to friends, that there were quite a few lessons about proper festival preparation/execution that I could provide.

Last summer, New Mexico (specifically ABQ) was overwhelmed with festivals. Most of them were, sadly, not up to snuff. We ran a story about festival fatigue and asked for lots of suggestions about how to improve things, and lo and behold we got quite a few. Our neighbors in Arizona have been running the Strong Beer Festival for quite a while now. After talking to the folks behind the booths, I learned that the organizers are still making improvements every year. Here are a few ways that they did a festival right, that hopefully our organizers here, be they the Brewers Guild or other groups, should take notice of and implement for this coming festival season.

1. Getting in quickly and efficiently

It looked long, but it moved plenty fast.

It looked long, but it moved plenty fast.

When I arrived at Indian School Park in Phoenix, walking over from my hotel, I found myself in a sizable line. A very, very sizable line. When the 1 p.m. general admission time rolled around, however, we moved quickly. In less than 15 minutes, I went from about 1,000 feet away from the entrance to getting my wristband, souvenir cup, and drink tickets. The key was the entrance itself, which had not one entry but a half dozen. It was similar to what we saw at the Mountain West Brew Fest, and while I understand it’s not easy to replicate for some indoor sites (looking at you, Isleta Casino), having multiple entry points makes it so much smoother and easier. Props to the volunteers and security, too, all of whom clearly knew what they were doing.

2. Space, glorious space!

Lots of space, lots of tents.

Lots of space, lots of tents, lots of beer.

According to the brewers I talked to, last year’s Strong Beer Festival quickly got overcrowded, so this year they expanded even further into the park. Even with thousands of beer lovers present, there was plenty of room to maneuver. Even for the most popular tents (Dogfish Head, Arizona Wilderness, Fate, Mother Road, Dragoon, etc.), the lines never seemed to stretch more than 20-25 people long. There were so many breweries (around 80) that folks never bunched up too much in one area. To best describe the layout, think of three circles piled up from south to north. Each circle had around 25 breweries lining it. You could effectively complete one circle and then move along to the next. It was spread out, but not too spread out. You never felt like it was a hike from one side to the other, as rectangular-shaped events can often create. The layout was brilliant, though again, it might not be something folks could replicate in New Mexico.

3. Hydration stations

Forgot to snap a pic of the hydration stations, but I did take advantage of the shade at a tent manned by a couple familiar faces.

Forgot to snap a pic of the hydration stations, but I did take advantage of the shade at a tent manned by a couple familiar faces.

The greatest challenge of any outdoor festival is outside the control of the organizers — the weather. This was definitely the hottest SBF, folks told me, with the sun beating down, minimal breeze, and a “game time” temperature of about 85. Throughout the fest were these hydration stations, provided by the biggest local breweries (Four Peaks and SanTan). Other festivals have put out these points to get water to drink (or at least wash out your sample glass), but the nicest thing about these were the fact they included a lot of shade. Shade was a precious, precious thing for all of us (even with the SPF 50, I knew that I could only keep my Irish-Scottish-Polish self out in direct sunlight for so long). There was also this awesome truck trailer that was shooting out these cool jets of air. Lord knows we all stopped by that one a dozen times and stood there for minutes at a time.

4. Beer variety

Huss Brewing brought some truly unique, outside-the-box beers.

Huss Brewing brought some truly unique, outside-the-box beers.

The number one suggestion from last year’s story about festivals was for breweries to do their best to bring some new and interesting creations. This festival, in particular, was really good about breweries providing beers outside their core menus. As the name of the fest might imply, the majority were 8-percent ABV and up. There were some truly unique and awesome beers, including some classics brought out of the cellar (Mother Road had their epic 3rd Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout, for instance). I know, it can be hard for breweries to always bring new stuff, especially if that stuff is expensive to make and they don’t want to give it away for free. Which leads to …

5. Non-summer festivals rock

Dragoon has to crank out their popular IPA all summer, but at this time of year they could bring a much greater variety of beers up from Tucson.

Dragoon has to crank out their popular IPA all summer, but at this time of year they could bring a much greater variety of beers up from Tucson.

The summer is the hardest time of year for breweries. Beer consumption spikes, both for on-premises purchases and package. For the biggest breweries, such as Marble and Santa Fe up here, that means the most popular styles must be brewed as often as possible. Breweries are at their limits when it comes to available fermenter/bright tank space, so to set aside tanks for a unique, specialty offering that you’re gonna give part of away for free just doesn’t make great business sense. The best time of year for beer festivals, then, is not those peak months of production. This festival featured some tremendous variety of styles, in part because we are nearing the end of stout/barleywine/porter season, with the debut of the spring beer season. It made for a wonderful combination of great beer (the darker stuff had aged nicely, the stuff that tastes best fresh was fresh). New Mexico weather is probably too unpredictable for an outdoor fest in February, but it might make more sense for a non-peak season indoor festival around here. It would benefit the breweries and the beer drinkers.

There were other little touches that worked, too, but those were the biggest ones. Oh, and since I’m sure some might be curious, these were the best beers I tried. Most are only available in the breweries in Arizona, but overall, I would recommend those breweries for a visit the next time you’re visiting.

  • The Cuatro, Dragoon Brewing (Tucson), an imperial stout
  • Morning Sex, The Beer Research Institute (Mesa), a coffee stout
  • Dark Side Till I Die, The Beer Research Institute, a barrel-aged imperial stout
  • Pecan Pie Stout, Dark Sky Brewing (Flagstaff)
  • Texas Tea Double Chocolate Imperial Stout, Scottsdale Beer Co.
  • Quadzilla Belgian Strong, Scottsdale Beer Co.
  • Sweet Thang, Freak’N Brew (Peoria), a milk stout
  • Raven Maniac Stout, Prescott Brewing

From non-Arizona breweries, the best of the bunch:

  • Critical Hit, Ninkasi Brewing (Eugene, Ore.), a barleywine
  • Java Cask, Victory Brewing (Downington, Pa.), an imperial coffee stout
  • The Calling, Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City, Mo.), an IPA
  • Baltic Porter, Smuttynose Brewing (Portsmouth, N.H.)

All in all, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this festival for 2017. Put it on your beer bucket list and head on down to Phoenix. Book early if you want VIP tickets, those were sold out almost instantly. And make sure to book a hotel room within walking distance if you don’t have a friend to stay with (and don’t have someone to drive you to and from the fest).

Until the next festival beckons …

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister