Oof, nothing like getting home at midnight after seven-plus hours of driving, struggling to fall asleep due to copious amounts of caffeine, and then you wake up the next morning and have 20 things to do in little to no time. So as much as I would like to crank out a story on the ABQ Brew Dash or the Duke City Pedaler, I would also like to give those stories a more proper treatment. So instead you all get a quick recap of the breweries I visited in Arizona over the weekend. A total lazy cop-out on my part? You better believe it.
Oak Creek Brewery, Sedona
Rather than stop in Flagstaff, I took Highway 89 south into Oak Creek Canyon and hit the tourist trap, er, lovely town of Sedona. With the help of Google Maps, I finally found Oak Creek’s brewery and grill in the midst of enough gaudiness to make Santa Fe blush. Located on the top floor of an art deco retail/business complex, Oak Creek was packed with lots of hungry/thirsty people. Luckily, traveling solo I was able to snag a spot on the patio bar top in between two couples who figured I was probably sad and lonely or something. Eh, whatever, I’m used to that. I could focus on my sampler tray of beers and a rack of ribs. Viva being single!
So the beers on tap, save for some Mandarin Ale that was off limits due to allergies, were Micro Light, Gold Lager, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Amber Ale, Nut Brown Ale, and Pullman Porter. The Micro Light (hard to miss in the photo, isn’t it?) was a beer that wasn’t really there. No flavor, no body, no idea why they would make such a thing except tourists. I guess. The lager was fine and should suffice for an introductory beer for non-craft beer drinkers. The pale was a surprise, actually packing a little bit of a hop kick. Most Arizona breweries go for drinkability over hopiness, so this was a pretty good outlier. The hefe and amber were average. I had the nut brown before in cans, kinda liked that batch better. The nutty bite wasn’t there as much, nor the overall strength in the body. The porter was similar in the lack of mouthfeel, though the roasted flavor was prominent up front. It just disappeared quickly.
I skipped getting a pint (had to resume driving, plus $5.95 for an average beer was a tad steep). The food was good and the setting was nice, though I would recommend not taking a big group down on a weekend. It was packed. Overall it was worth the one visit, but I doubt I will ever go back.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing, Gilbert
A couple years ago this brewery was all the buzz, snagging some national awards for best new brewery and even best brewery overall. It was still jammed with people on a Saturday afternoon, though by arriving right at the 11 a.m. opening, I was able to snag a good seat at the bar. Located in a strip mall along Arizona Blvd. (Highway 87) and Guadalupe, it’s essentially in a weird stretch where the suburb of Gilbert juts westward in between the suburbs of Mesa to the north and Chandler to the south. Gilbert is normally the southeastern-most suburb, but Wilderness is not the easternmost brewery in the Phoenix metro area.
Anyway, while noshing on some Bavarian pretzel sticks and later a pulled pork sandwich, I got a flight of eight beers, though two I was unable to drink as their wit was made with orange peel and their saison was infused with lime. Ah, well, still had six beers to try: Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse, Refuge IPA (their only regular beer on tap at all times), DC Mountain DIPA, Aravaipa Abbey Dubbel, Rincon Red, American Presidential (Imperial) Stout.
You all know I am not a sour fan, but their Berliner was drinkable for the style. Noted sour fan Phil Lopez has had it in the past and loved it, so you can take his review better than mine. The Refuge rivaled Tucson’s Dragoon Brewing’s IPA as the best of the style in the state. It packed a good hop wallop with a solid mouthfeel behind that. The DIPA was trying to have a malty backbone to balance out a big hop profile, but instead the hops came off a little muted and the malts were more dry than sweet. The Rincon was a middle-of-the-road red, not sweet like an Irish or hoppy like Marble. It was a bit dry, kind of mild, with a flavor that disappears fairly quickly. The Aravaipa was an average dubbel, fairly smooth without too much Belgian yeast flavor. The imperial stout was nicely barrel-aged, with a fair amount of vanilla prominent from the bourbon barrel. It was nearly out when I went, but I could see why. It was good, maybe just a tick below Marble’s Imperial Stout. As per usual, the mouthfeel came up a tad short of the thickness you would normally expect from the style.
Overall, I would not call Wilderness the best brewery in the country, but it is one of the best I’ve had in Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix metro area, it is a brewery you need to visit.
Dubina Brewing, Glendale
Driving back from the Penguins-Coyotes game, I stumbled upon this new brewery near the corner of Bell Rd. and N. 67th St. Another shopping mall location, it has a spacious interior and a nice bar area. There was food on the menu, but it was late and I just wanted a quick flight before calling it a night.
The little bio about the brewery online said the owners wanted to nail the Czech styles as they are of Czech descent. Their Zizkov Kolsch tasted like a hybrid between a German kolsch and a Czech pilsner. It was sweet, smooth, and a good way to start. Next up was Wee Little Pale, which was a wee bit too light in all aspects. There was no mouthfeel and the hops were barely tangible. The bartender working that night was recently allowed to brew a beer in the back, but in an “oops” moment he used the wrong yeast on their regular brown ale. Thus, New Kid on the Block was tapped, a brown ale base with Belgian yeast. The yeast flavor overpowers any nutty notes. It came out like a dark strong that wasn’t very strong. Dubina also had a Sahti, a Scandinavian style made with juniper. The flavor profile was all over the place. There was not much juniper, but a little bit of a piney hint on the edges. A sort of nutty flavor was there. The beer was thick, with a strong mouthfeel. If I had more time I would have gotten a second sample just to figure it out. The final beer was a Barley Wine that check in at a stunning 14.2 percent ABV. This beer was big, super sweet, boozy, and kind of mean. It earned me two badges (Sky’s the Limit, Hopped Up) on Untappd that were my 499th and 500th. I would have loved a pint (or at least a 10-ounce) of this, but I had to drive back to the motel and not be dead.
Dubina is a young brewery, but they are definitely trying to be a little different and fill a creative niche in the metro area. It does not hurt that the west side of Phoenix is pretty much vacant of breweries, so they have a chance to build a loyal fan base.
Fate Brewing, Scottsdale
Located on Shea Blvd. north of downtown, Fate is another place in a nondescript location. Like their brethren in Wilderness and Dubina, Fate has shined despite the mediocre exterior. On the advice of beer lover Tony Calder, I stopped in when they opened Sunday at 11 a.m. and snagged a flight of four house beers and one guest beer (Dragoon IPA, woots!).
The interior features a long bar running north-south, with a pizza oven in the back, the brewery to the side, and some communal tables that reminded me of Marble’s renovated taproom, only smaller and more brightly lit. On tap while I was there were Bamberg Hefeweizen, Shift Pint Session IPA, Droppin’ Beetz Saison, and American Stout. The Bamberg was definitely true to the German style, as in it was not cloudy. Yes, that’s right, hefes in Germany can typically be seen through. The flavor here was solid, not too much wheat or anything. The Shift was a pretty hopped-up session, with a good bite and flavor profile that most sessions lack. The American Stout was a rarity for Arizona, at least in terms of its hefty mouthfeel as a proper stout should have. The roasted, smoky profile was there, with a lot of smoothness and a creamy finish. Stouts aren’t common in Arizona, but Fate hit it out of the park with this one.
Then there’s the Beetz. So yeah, it’s a saison infused with beets, then aged in a Chardonnay barrel. The result was … weird. Not just the Kool-Aid color, but the whole flavor. It was kind of a veggie-peppery-wine sweet weird mishmash on my palate. I really could not figure the darned thing out. Kudos to Fate for trying something different, but next time I’ll stick with the stout or the session.
Fate is worth the visit and it is nice to not be in the parking/driving hell that is downtown Scottsdale (especially on the days the Giants are playing in March).
Lumberyard Brewing, Flagstaff
On my way home I stopped in for a quick meal (the mac’n’cheese was solid) and snagged a pint and a sample. The sample was Dark Sky Vanilla Porter, a barrel-aged, vanilla-infused version of their standard Pumphouse Porter. Basically it was an amped-up Breckenridge Vanilla Porter. If not for the four-hours-plus of driving ahead of me, I might have gotten a 13-ounce goblet. Afterwards I might have needed to brush my teeth from all the sweetness. So with Dark Sky too heavy, I grabbed a regular Pumphouse. It was a little bolder, smokier than I remembered. It was not a sweet porter, but it did have a nice mouthfeel. It’s colder in Flagstaff, so they’re not as afraid of thicker beers as Phoenix and Tucson. Or something like that.
All right, that wraps up my AZ visit. The Penguins beat the Coyotes, the Wildcats beat Ohio State, and overall, no one was able to kill me on the 101/17/10/202/60 or any of the other bonkers freeways out there. Successful trip!
We’ll get back to the hard news Tuesday. Stories this week should include a look at Albuquerque Brewing Company’s grand opening, a recap of our Irish Red Challenge, the aforementioned Duke City Pedaler and ABQ Brew Dash, plus new entries in our NM Women in Beer series.