Posts Tagged ‘Dragoon Brewing’

The haze craze is alive and well in nearby Tucson, but is it here to stay, or just another passing phase among craft beer drinkers?

An interesting article about craft beer trends was shared to the New Mexico Lets Talk Craft Beer page on Facebook this morning. It asked if a brewery could be considered a sellout if it goes all-in too heavily on hazy IPAs, putting profit ahead of variety and quality.

Well, leaving out the fact that the entire article is purely regional to the New York City/New England area (save for one quick mention of Monkish Brewing in Torrance, California), it does raise the point of whether or not it is a good thing for breweries to follow the current popular trends. I recall years ago at a Marble Septemberfest (yes, a while ago) when someone told me that saisons/farmhouse ales would supplant IPAs as the most popular beer styles. Then we all heard how sour ales were the future, and would likewise replace IPAs. Now, in essence, we have (hazy) IPAs replacing (clear) IPAs as the new great standard of craft beer.

Are hazy IPAs truly ascendant over their clearer brethren? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. New Mexico craft drinkers are a different breed than those on the East Coast. We have long been a much more hop-forward-loving bunch, and by sales figures alone, we are still an IPA-centric bunch. Other than Marble, where Double White is number one, the other major breweries in New Mexico all still feature IPA as their top selling brand.

Then again, down in Tucson, hazy IPAs are all the rage. Some of that can be attributed to the younger population centered around the University of Arizona, which is larger than UNM and armed with wealthier students more willing to spend on craft. Crooked Tooth Brewing only featured hazy IPAs and pale ales, as did Pueblo Vida Brewing (both had non-IPAs, too, it should be noted). Dragoon Brewing, the largest in Tucson by barrel production, still features a classic West Coast-style IPA that remains its top seller, even in the face of the cloudy competition. Conversations with the customers and staffs at the various breweries showed a clear divide, with a mostly younger, trendier crowd favoring the haze. There were few people who seemed to like both styles.

In that regard, then, one could argue that the hazy IPA trend is not an IPA trend at all. Rather, it is another style, with distinct differences in flavor as well as appearance. The Brewers Association has now created hazy categories for pale ales, IPAs, and double IPAs. It will be interesting to see if the National IPA Challenge creates a separate bracket for haze next year, as those were mixed in with the regular ones this year.

All of this really just comes down to personal preference. It is fun (sometimes) to debate the merits and qualities of various craft beer styles. It is all subjective in the end, and that goes for the hazy IPAs as well as just about every other style that has come across our palates. The Crew has lots of varied opinions about the haze craze, ranging from mild annoyance to downright dislike. We are not trendy types, favoring music that has largely disappeared from the mainstream. As beer writers, though, we are obligated to try everything and give it a fair shot. Sometimes we do like the hazy IPAs, when done well, just like any other beer. Other times we would rather just stick to the originals.

Today (Friday), La Cumbre is releasing Make IPA Clear Again, a collaboration made with the excellent Comrade Brewing of Denver. This comes after La Cumbre released a popular series of hazy, single-hop, double-dry-hopped DIPAs. Whether this all sparks some renewed local debate about the haze-vs.-clear, or people just take it all in stride, we are intrigued to know what do all of you think. Take the poll below and leave a comment as to why you feel the way you do.

See you all at La Cumbre.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Stoutmeister went back to Arizona for a little post-state high school basketball tournament vacation. He earned it.

The possibility of a third-round NCAA Tournament game between New Mexico and Arizona does not excite some of us. OK, probably just me, since that pits my hometown team versus my alma mater, meaning I have to choose between my two favorite squads. Plenty have asked which one will I root for, but at this point it is hard to say. I want the Lobos to reach the Sweet 16 finally, while the Cats have just been frustrating me pretty much since they started Pac-12 play. So I could say go UNM, but damn it, I went to Arizona, and the night the Cats won the national title (I was but a mere freshman in 1997) was still one of the craziest in my life. Ugh, dilemmas.

Dragoon Brewing in Tucson is a simple taproom, no frills, just beer and places to sit and drink it.

Dragoon Brewing in Tucson is a simple taproom, no frills, just beer and places to sit and drink it.

At the very least, dilemmas in terms of beer are easier to sort out. I have been spending the weekend back in Tucson, Albuquerque’s sister city to the southwest, checking out breweries, spending time with old friends (though in such a short visit, I missed more people than I actually saw), and watching a whole lot of basketball. And hockey. My friend Will rivals Brandon and I in terms of hockey fanaticism.

Before I head up to Phoenix today (Monday), I figured I should share some of my beer experiences here, considering we have all pretty much been on vacation and there has been no new content on this site since E-Rock put up The Week Ahead in Beer seven days ago.

I only hit two breweries this time around in Tucson. It was retro night on Friday, my arrival day, with trips to Frog & Firkin to watch the game, followed by mellowing out at Danny’s Baboquivari Lounge, a classic Tucson dive bar. At least Danny’s had Mudshark (Lake Havasu City) Brewing’s Scorpion Amber on tap. Anytime you get to try a new beer is nice; avoiding having to actually go to Lake Havasu is even nicer. The Scorpion was a bit of a bitter amber, nothing like say, the Rio Chama at Chama River. It was far from undrinkable, it was just different than what I’ve come to expect from most ambers.

Anyway, Saturday was beer day, so I set off in the afternoon to visit one of Tucson’s newest establishments, Dragoon Brewing. It is a small place, not terribly easy to find, but it is definitely worth checking out. Dragoon is located off W. Grant Road (one of Tucson’s major east-west arteries). If you take Grant west of I-10, go past Dragoon Road itself (there’s no light, just one of those flashing crosswalk signals) and cross over an arroyo bridge, take the first left immediately after that. Drive straight ahead (south) past the first warehouse building and then take a left (east) behind the second building. Dragoon is located in the first part of the warehouse directly on your left. It might not look like much, but once inside you find yourself in an immaculate little brewpub.

All of Dragoon's brews in a row (L to R): Stronghold Session Ale, Collaboration Saison, St. Pat's Stout, Scout Porter, Biere del Bac, IPA, and Ryelander.

All of Dragoon’s brews in a row (L to R): Stronghold Session Ale, Collaboration Saison, St. Pat’s Stout, Scout Porter, Biere del Bac, IPA, and Ryelander.

Dragoon is a small operation, so they tend to run through a lot of specialty/seasonal beers while only keeping a few regulars on tap. Upon my visit, there were an impressive selection of seven brews on tap: Stronghold Session Ale, E. River Collaboration Saison, St. Pat’s Stout, Scout Porter, Biere del Bac, Dragoon IPA, and Ryelander. For just $7, I purchased a sampler of all seven. These are not tiny little samples, either, but rather enough beer (roughly three ounces, by my guess) to help you properly experience each style.

The Stronghold was a baseline beer, offering up a decent mix of mild hops and malts. It is colored like a brown ale, but lighter in texture/mouthfeel than, say, Il Vicino’s Slowdown Brown. Despite its darker complexion, this is a good starter beer, much like golden ales/pilsners/kolsches tend to be at most breweries. The Saison was what one would expect, extremely sweet at the outset, but it mellows after a few sips. It’s not my personal favorite among beer genres, but I guess I’m either getting more used to it, or Dragoon was just good at creating a sweet-but-not-too-sweet Saison that anyone can handle.

The St. Pat’s Stout was an obvious seasonal. That’s a shame, because it was the best of the bunch and should be on tap at all times. It is a dry stout, with mild hints of the roasted malts, but not too smoky. It manages to be both a stout that is strong in flavor, yet light in mouthfeel. It does not have the thickness you would experience in many stouts. I did not mind this at all, though some hardcore stout drinkers might find it a tad light. But hey, that’s Arizona, where just about all the beer is geared to be enjoyed even when it the temperature hits thermonuclear outside.

The crowd began arriving in numbers at Dragoon as the day went on. Being Arizona, everyone was wearing shorts.

The crowd began arriving in numbers at Dragoon as the day went on. Being Arizona, everyone was wearing shorts.

Now if it’s smoked flavor you’re looking for, grab the Scout Porter before it runs out. This is a roasted little beast, also light in texture, but boy oh boy does that charred element grab you at the front of the palate. It is essentially the opposite of the Saison, but much like its opposite it mellows as you drink it. The Biere del Bac, a powerful (9.3 percent ABV) Belgian quad, also offers up an almost totally different profile. This beer has the thickest mouthfeel; it is sweet, but not at the level of the Saison. In many ways I would label this one dangerous, since you could drink it for a while and not realize the alcohol content. One pint only, please.

For the hopheads out there, Arizona is seen as a step below New Mexico in what it usually offers up. Dragoon is seeking to change that perception, unleashing a hyper-hopped IPA and the beastly Ryelander. The IPA has a strong hop profile with a smooth, clean finish. It definitely owes its origins/inspiration to one of the bigger Southern California microbreweries, like Stone or Green Flash. The Ryelander is another ABV monster (9.2), with a strong rye backbone that tackles the back of your palate and wrestles it to the ground. The rye is by far the dominant flavor, but it never comes across as overwhelming, at least not for a seasoned beer drinker. For rookies and college kids, stick to the lighter fare.

Overall, I would rate Dragoon as one of the best breweries in Arizona. It may not be on the level of La Cumbre or Marble, but if this is the direction Arizona beers are headed in, it won’t be long before they start to catch up.

* * *

Located on the north side of downtown in a nondescript warehouse, Borderlands is worth a visit.

Located on the north side of downtown in a nondescript warehouse, Borderlands is worth a visit.

Though I was somewhat short on time, I had to make a return trip this year to Borderlands Brewing. Located in construction-saturated downtown Tucson, specifically near the corner of Toole Ave. and Sixth Ave., this warehouse-based brewery has expanded its production and increased its taproom hours since I visited a year ago. Back then, there were only one or two beers on tap at a time, so when I saw they were now open more than two days a week and they had multiple beers available, a return trip seemed in order.

Borderlands is another brewery that may not look like much from the outside, but on the inside it is a charming location. The newer, bigger fermenting tanks are obvious on the way in, as is the new beer menu hanging above the live bar. With two of my college friends in tow, but time running somewhat short, I only got to indulge in one beer, the Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter. People hyped this one to me last year as Borderlands’ best, but sadly it was not on tap at the brewery in 2012. What a difference a year makes, as this time around it was available.

The elusive Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter was finally mine!

The elusive Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter was finally mine!

The Noche Dulce is a powerful beer, full of strong vanilla flavors with a roasted porter backbone. It is not overwhelmingly sweet; this is not a “dessert beer” like some might assume. It weighs in at 7.1-percent ABV, so it is not for the faint of heart, either. It has a hefty texture as one might expect from a strong porter, something out of the norm for most of the lighter fare in Arizona. The Noche Dulce may not be a big seller when it’s the temperature of Mercury outside, but in the fall-winter-spring months (AKA the best time to visit Arizona), it is perfect. Kudos to Borderlands on this beer, and to their expanded production and brewery hours.

* * *

Well, I am headed up to Phoenix today, first to be a fan and check off the last spring training stadium on my list (Phoenix Municipal for A’s-Mariners), then to do some actual non-beer-review work on Tuesday at Camelback Ranch, when I get to meet the future Albuquerque Isotopes at Dodgers camp. In between those visits, I hope to stop by the brand-new North Mountain Brewing in Phoenix (it’s the first brewery close to the house of a friend I’m staying with). Before I return to ABQ on Wednesday, I might revisit SanTan Brewing in Chandler, or perhaps seek out another of the newcomers to the Maricopa County scene, like Fate Brewing in Scottsdale or Desert Eagle Brewing in Mesa. Ah, vacations. They’re even better with beer and baseball.

Cheers!

— 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.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister