Posts Tagged ‘Barrio Brewing’

Oh, Tucson, you keep it weird, you wild and crazy city.

Tucson has always been a second home to me, so after going more than three years between visits, I was pulled back to the Old Pueblo for a short-but-fun visit. Being a craft beer writer, I ended up spending most of my time bouncing between breweries and beer bars. Tucson has come a long way since my last visit, and while it is not Albuquerque good yet, it is definitely progressing in the right direction. Maybe a bit too hazy of a direction, but hey, forward momentum is forward momentum.

During my last visit in 2014, there were only seven breweries — Barrio, Borderlands, Dragoon, Nimbus, Sentinel Peak, Ten Fifty-Five, Thunder Canyon — but that number has now tripled. The good news is that many of the new breweries are even better than some of the older ones, and hopefully that will push the older ones to move forward or die. Nimbus, the oldest brewery in town, sadly is almost dead, killed off by an ownership squabble (per sources in the community).

Pueblo Vida is the hip new downtown brewery.

Going in chronological order of visits, my first stop was a quick walk from my hotel downtown to Pueblo Vida Brewing on Broadway. One of the newer places, it has already built a major reputation as a true beer geek brewery. There was not a clear IPA or pale ale in sight, just a lot of haze. I snagged a pint of Embers Pale Ale, which was fairly mild in terms of the hops, with a good mouthfeel for the style. Hazy juice bombs are not usually my cup of tea, but they are selling like hotcakes in Arizona. It does not hurt that Pueblo Vida has some of the sweetest can designs anywhere, and when they released a new canned IPA during my visit, four-packs were flying out the door (it should be noted that the four-pack tallboy cans are the dominant type in the marketplace down there, so maybe they all owe La Cumbre a tip of the cap).

Inertia is an aromatic beast with the flavor to match.

Pueblo Vida, which had a cool, relaxed vibe even with the afternoon sun beating down the south-facing front windows, does not just exist in the haze. There were also a couple of darker beers on tap, possible remnants of the semi-cool winter that just finished. Hyperspace was the only PV beer that I had previously tried at a bottle share. It is a coffee-heavy imperial stout, just big, bold, thick, and mean as hell. No one dropped any cream into this. The new darkness (for me, anyway) was Inertia, a 10.5-percent ABV behemoth. PV took a dark ale and brewed it with oats and lactose, then put it in whiskey barrels, before blending it with coffee and finally letting it sit on cascara (coffee cherries). I believed that my reaction sent to the rest of the Brew Crew read something along the lines of “I just want to exist in this aroma forever.” The blend of so many complex flavors was pretty damn good, too.

After catching an American Hockey League game between the Tucson Roadrunners (Coyotes affiliate) and San Jose Barricuda (Sharks affiliate), I caught up with some friends at Tap & Bottle. This beer bar is combined with a beer shop, essentially making it like a mini-Sister bar meets a mini-Jubilation. It came highly recommended by Tony Calder of Marble Brewery, and rightfully so as the beer list was impressive. I snagged three Arizona brews, while everyone else at the table went with the out-of-town offerings.

One can get lost inside Tap & Bottle. In a good way.

First up was XOXO Coffee Stout from the aforementioned Ten Fifty-Five. It functions as a lighter, sweeter little brother (4.7% ABV) to Hyperspace. From there, I had to snag a Flagstaff beer, namely Astro Cookie. This imperial milk stout was kinda ridiculous, as it is made with waffle cones and Oreo cookies. If my dentist yells at me next month, so be it. The finale was a special cask of Dragoon Stronghold Session Ale infused with a ridiculous amount of coffee. I have no idea how I fell asleep that night.

Amid the 91-degree temperatures of Day Two, I started my day with a lunchtime pour of Dragoon IPA at Frog ‘n Firkin, a favorite old college haunt (one of the few that remain; gentrification has pulverized much of the downtown and university area I used to know). It remains a classic West Coast IPA, tasting like the brewers got a wee bit of inspiration from La Cumbre’s Elevated once upon a time. Dragoon was one of the main holdouts against the haze, and bless them for sticking to what has now made them the largest brewery in town.

Um, Dillinger, you gotta work on these beers.

After wolfing down a Henhouse and fries (the nostalgia was thick on the food side), I drove up Oracle to Dillinger Brewing. Brew Crew Bullpen member Kristin, a fellow UA alumnus, was not a fan when she visited last year. Still, I had to see if things had improved. Alas, they had not, so the less said about that, the better. I tried two IPAs, an oatmeal stout, and a brown porter. The latter was the worst beer I had in Tucson, just bitter as hell and riddled with a strange, chemical flavor, while none of the rest stood out in any way.

Luckily, a number of folks out in cyberspace recommended that I hightail it up to Button Brew House on the far northwest side of town. Located near where Ina Road is supposed to intersect with Interstate 10, all I had to do was avoid the massive construction chaos in the area, as currently Ina and I-10 do not intersects. After a long slog through the crowded roads (Tucson may now have worse traffic than ABQ, which is staggering in and of itself), I made it to Button, which just opened in September. However, it did not taste like a six-month-old brewery.

We have a winner for best beer flight board. It can be found at Button Brew House.

My six-beer flight consisted of Volstead Pilsner, Sunshine Pale Ale, #InaIsOpen (Red IPA), Button IPA, All Souls Stout, and Throwin’ Stones (Scotch Wee Heavy). The Stones was my favorite, with just that right mix of smoky/peaty up front and sweet on the back end, without either being too overpowering. The pilsner, brewed in the pre-Prohibition style, was refreshing as can be. The three hop-forward beers were all good, though none on the level of what we get up here in New Mexico. The two IPAs were more middle-of-the-road by our standards, but they were also clean, with no discernible flaws.

The sign may be partially burned out, but the beer and food inside was still solid at Thunder Canyon.

The long drive back downtown (no freeway access sucks) was followed by a dinner brew at Thunder Canyon. Back when the brewery opened, it was located up in the Foothills Mall, not far from Button. Years ago, TC moved downtown to Broadway, right near where Pueblo Vida now sits across the road. More recently, all of the TC brewing operations were relocated to the larger downtown space, with a distillery also being installed. It is the first brewstillery in Southern Arizona. I stuck with the beer, however, grabbing a Rillito Red to go with a pub burger. Described as a Scottish ale, it simply tasted like a sweet, malty, yet light red ale. TC seems to be sticking with the more sessionable flavors, and with a large mix of more casual craft fans in attendance, it definitely seems to be working.

Dragoon makes the most of its malt-forward beers.

Leaving the car behind, I hopped in a Lyft and headed out to Dragoon Brewing, located off Grant Road, just west of I-10. The brewery has been re-worked since my last visit, now occupying a much larger share of the industrial building it has always inhabited. The taproom now is at least three times the size of the one I first visited years ago. There were nine beers (usually 10) on tap, but the one that stood out to me was Comb the Desert. To confirm that it was a Spaceballs reference, all I had to do was look to the beer description on the giant chalkboard menu: “WE AIN’T FOUND SHIT!” I gotta say, Mel Brooks would have approved of this malty, chewy little schwarzbier. It hit all the right notes and did not cause me to fall off my barstool.

The friendly staff, upon finding out the purpose of my visit, then presented me with 5-ounce pours of their last two anniversary beers, The Cuatro and The Cinco, a pair of decadent imperial stouts. The Cuatro has long stood on its own, a swirl of dark chocolate roast with coffee hints. This batch of The Cinco was barrel aged, leaving it creamy and boozy, the kind of BA imperial that any stout lover would, well, love. Unfortunately, 10 p.m. came around too fast, and the brewery shut down for the night.

A double dose of anniversary imperial stouts.

One area where Tucson clearly still has a ways to catch up to ABQ is in terms of its brewery hours. Outside of the brewpubs, most places did not open until between 2 and 4 p.m., while then closing anywhere from 9 to 11 p.m. The crowds were good at most places, but not on the level of what we see here. Be mindful if planning a trip to Tucson that you will have a shorter window in which to drink if you intend to visit multiple breweries.

Now, I did find one brewery open until 11, and it was within walking distance of my hotel, so I hopped in a Lyft and arrived at Crooked Tooth. Located on Sixth Street, it is just around the corner from both Tap & Bottle, and the main Tucson bar district on Fourth Avenue (for reference, all numbered avenues run north-south, while all numbered streets run east-west, which is basically the opposite of ABQ). I gotta say, Crooked Tooth may have even out beer-geeked Pueblo Vida. The entire beer menu was either hazy IPAs/pale ales, or sours. There had also just been an Office trivia night, so it was clearly a peak Millennial hangout. Well, this old guy figured when in Rome, order the biggest beer on the menu and watch the Romans flee in terror. Obscured by Dankness (8.3% ABV), a hazy DIPA, was the choice, and it pretty much lived up to its name. It was big, dank, and yet bright and chewy.

Harbottle may be new, but it already has some of the best beers in town.

My final day of drinking in Tucson proved to be a long one. After chowing down at the Bisbee Breakfast Club on Broadway (you can probably guess where the original restaurant is from), I followed the Dragoon staff’s advice and visited Harbottle, another new brewery. Located on the far southeast side of town at Ajo Way and Palo Verde, Harbottle is an upscale strip mall brewery. It reminded me of a young Bosque, sans food, with a cool staff who all seemed to know Antal Maurer really well. I started with a pint of Easy Going, a delicious kolsch that perfectly fits the desert, just sweet and smooth. In retrospect, I should have asked if they had crowlers. The staff then gave me a short pour of Nigel Tufnel, their English bitter on nitro, which was a nice, light, bready beer that would easily find a fit in a brewery like Sidetrack or Second Street. Finally, the brewer brought me a sample of a new English old ale that was set to go on tap after I departed. Dear lord, it was one big, boozy beast, the kind that makes you want to throw on some melodic death metal and tell the tales of battles of yore.

1912 is another good addition to the Tucson scene.

After lunch at Bisonwitches on Fourth Avenue, I made it up to 1912 Brewing, which I had intended to visit the night before as it sits not far from Dragoon. Unfortunately, it closed an hour before Dragoon did, so be mindful if you ever put it on your beer list. The good news is that it should be on your beer list. Following the recommendation of the Harbottle staff, I snagged a pint of the Mescalero Stout. This is an old-school stout, just thick and roasty, with some dark chocolate/mocha/toffee hints, but there is little sweetness. After that, I wanted a nap.

Instead, I went to an Arizona baseball game at Hi Corbett, which used to be where the Colorado Rockies had spring training, and before them, the Cleveland Indians, as immortalized in the movie Major League. Luckily, the Wildcats did not need hats for bats, and they won 5-4 over Washington State. I skipped the more expensive craft beer prices to give my liver a timeout, but hey, they had local craft on tap, so kudos to the old alma mater.

Ermanos was another outstanding craft beer bar.

With another Tony Calder recommendation on my mind, I organized a mini-reunion of Daily Wildcat alumni at Ermanos, a craft beer bar located smack dab in the middle of college bars and trendy shops on Fourth Avenue. They had GoldenEye on the TV and a full menu of excellent beers from the state and region. I grabbed another 1912 offering, Irish Sobriety, a red ale with whiskey blended into it. I barely tasted any whiskey, just a solid Irish red, though not quite on the level of that Mescalero Stout, much less an ABQ Irish red like the one at Canteen. After enjoying a few non-AZ beers (I was sticking with malty offerings, and the only other malty beer on tap there was the kolsch from Harbottle), we headed into the chaos of downtown proper a few blocks over for last call. My buddy Ty, a former journalist who seems to have managed every bar in Tucson at some point (or at least knows someone on the staff of every bar), guided us to Elliot’s on Congress. Once the bartender changed the keg, I capped my trip with a Rojo from Barrio Brewing, a lighter red ale that fits that brewery’s sessionable brewpub motif.

It’s still number one, but other breweries are catching up. Competition is a good thing.

If I had to rank the breweries I visited on this trip, they would go in this order:

  1. Dragoon
  2. Pueblo Vida
  3. Harbottle
  4. Button Brew House
  5. Crooked Tooth
  6. Thunder Canyon
  7. Dillinger

Let me just say that the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 is much shorter than the gap from No. 6 to No. 7. Hey, no city’s brew scene is perfect. Hopefully the other breweries can find their footing and start to catch up, or else they will be left behind. The end of Nimbus, once the largest brewery in town, should be all the warning the rest need.

A proper beercation is always followed by bringing home some quality souvenirs.

I also have to commend Tap & Bottle and Ermanos as two excellent craft beer bars, with the bottle/can selection at the former among the best around. I brought quite a few AZ brews back to share with the Crew. Perhaps at some point I can wrangle enough people together for a tasting and let you all know what they think.

The next time you are looking for a beercation destination that is within driving distance of ABQ, I can say that Tucson should be high on your list. It is also still a fair amount cheaper than Denver and Phoenix, if you are looking for something different, with plenty of variety. Or, if you just want to indulge in the haze, the juice bombs are everywhere.

Now it is back to enjoying all the beers our ABQ scene has to offer. Hopefully you all did not drink up all the Helles Lager at La Cumbre or Cake Bandit at Bow & Arrow while I was gone.


— Stoutmeister

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.


— Stoutmeister

As some may have read in our Beer Weekend post, E-Rock and I (Stoutmeister), have set off on a road trip of epic epicness to our neighboring state of Arizona. While E-Rock, brilliant in music and math but slow in typing, works on a review of Flagstaff’s landmark Beaver Street Brewery (it was his first visit, my 10th or so), here is a recap of what we’ve done so far and plan to do as we sample beers from around the state.

The humble exterior belies the delicious beers that are inside Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff.

Day One — E-Rock will have the Beaver Street recap up soon. After stopping there for lunch and beers, we continued south to the monolithic Phoenix metropolitan area, which is spread out all over the desert and now holds twice as many people as all of New Mexico (Wikipedia may not always tell the truth, but the census figures it cites do not lie … much). After dinner and a short time to unwind from the drive, we set out from our crash pad in Chandler to nearby Tempe, which has the greatest concentration of breweries largely due to the fact it has the greatest concentration of college students in Maricopa County. Since we had already been to Four Peaks, the area’s largest microbrewery, and Sleeping Dog is strangely closed Sunday through Tuesday, we stopped in at Dave’s Electric Brew Pub. The bartender was starting to close up, but he decided two more thirsty customers could not hurt. I snagged a couple pints of the Old Frog Grog, an oatmeal stout, while E-Rock sampled every variety of pale ale and IPA they had. We’ll have a more formal review up soon, but we would like to thank the DEBP staff for letting us in.

Arizona State students were strangely MIA when we went to Dave's Electric Brew Pub just off campus.

Day Two — Our plan is to trek as far west as one can in the metro area, to scenic Goodyear, to watch the Indians play host to the Diamondbacks. We are not fans of either team, though my college friend Shelley Duncan plays for Cleveland, but I have a personal goal to see as many ballparks as possible and Goodyear’s is still on my list to check off. After some daytime baseball we’re going to check out O.H.S.O. Eatery + nanoBrewery. They only have two of their own beers, but they also have dozens of other Arizona and national microbrewery varieties on tap, which makes this a good place to try out beers from places in the state we won’t get to visit.

Day Three — I will be getting up bright and early to say hello to the past, current and future Albuquerque Isotopes as they continue Spring Training at Los Angeles Dodgers camp out in Glendale. The media gets access from 8 to 9 a.m. and then after the game. Look for full reports at my other online writing endeavor. While E-Rock gets to hang around Camelback Ranch as a fan and then wait for me to finish up, our next brewery target is SunUp Brewing. We are both looking forward to the Vanilla Porter.

Day Four — E-Rock is flying home to rehearse (did I mention he’s a darned good, and busy, musician?), leaving me to fly solo for the day and attend a Cubs game in Mesa. After meeting up with an old friend who I’ve known since third grade, or almost 26 years, we will check out the Diamondbacks/Rockies facility, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, for a night game. This will be the only brewery-free day of the trip, but I will endeavor to find anything local at the two ballparks (or at least refrain from anything in the Bud/Coors/Miller families).

Day Five — My final baseball stop takes me to the other side of downtown Phoenix, where the Brewers train in Maryvale. After that I hope to join up with some old college friends to watch basketball and enjoy the beers at SanTan Brewing, which E-Rock visited in his last trip down here and graciously reviewed for us.

Day Six — It will be time to trek back down to visit my old haunt, Tucson, where I lived for seven years while allegedly going to the University of Arizona and been given a degree in journalism just so I would go away. The immediate goal is to stop by Borderlands Brewing, which is only open a few times a week and Friday happy hour just happens to be one of those times. It is one of two breweries that have opened since I left Tucson in 2003. The other is Barrio Brewing, and if I have time (they are not that far apart) I will stop there as well.

Day Seven — St. Patrick’s Day. Shenanigans will occur. What exactly, I cannot predict.

We left behind snow and wind and our friend Boost for 80-degree days in Arizona.

Day Eight — Day of Recovery. Other than my fantasy baseball keeper league draft (if you’re shocked that I’m that big of a sports nerd that I pay $100 a year to do this, you have not been paying attention) over the internet, my main plan will be to regain the parts of my soul I lost to the previous night’s shenanigans.

Day Nine — The Tucson-to-ABQ drive is one I have done so many times I don’t even need road signs anymore. I could probably do it with my eyes closed, but the highway patrol usually does not like that. The only difference this time will be in where I stop for lunch in Deming, NM. Instead of a fast food joint off I-10, I will hit up Mimbres Valley Brewing. Look for a full review next week!

That is all for now from the Valley of the Sun. I am off to pick up the two important things I forgot — a hat and sunscreen. It’s in the 80s all week and I’m Scottish-Irish-Polish, so I have no choice.


— Stoutmeister