I had the great opportunity to attend the Inaugural Tucson Beer Cup last evening on the plaza of the Hotel Congress. I arrived just after 7pm and was expecting a large crowd since I heard that the block of 300 advance tickets had sold out last week, I was correct. There were two separate lines going East and West along the Toole Avenue entrance with Entertainment Director, David Slutes directing the masses to their correct line. The admission table was abuzz with myriad hotel employees including Hotel Manager, Dara Oseran & General Manger, Todd Hanley pitching in to help. It was a little hectic, but the staff handled it well and I didn’t mind much because I knew what was waiting for me – beer, lots of delicious, hand-crafted, local beer.
I must admit that I was not going into this blind, I have been to each of the breweries before tonight and have tried a multitude of their beer and have created opinions based on those prior visits. I vowed to have an open mind and palate and to give all the beers the same chance to impress or depress as the case may be. The plaza was packed with hundreds of hop heads looking to enjoy the nice evening or as nice as Arizona in September can get. I grabbed my first two beers and went to look for a place to open up my journal and start taking notes. I spotted a high top table along the fence with a flood light hanging from a tree and I asked the occupants of the table if I could join them to which they happily obliged. When they saw me break out my journal, they joked that maybe I was taking this competition a bit too seriously. I explained that I was taking notes for this very article. Our table was in close proximity to the Thunder Canyon Brewerytable and the lovely ladies drawing beers were as cute as a button so I had to take their picture.
The beers that I sampled from Thunder Canyon were unfortunately not as lovely as the girls pouring them. The Deep Canyon Amber was a light, bland beer that was for lack of a better word – boring. The Orange U Glad offering was a little bit better, but not much. I like fruit beer if they have a deep, mellow flavor that excites the taste buds. This beer was very overpowering with strong orange flavor, but not good orange, think Tang orange. The carbonation of the beer was akin to drinking a mimosa and I usually save those for Sunday mornings if I am feeling fancy.
The next beers on the docket were from another established brewery just about a mile down the road from the hotel, Barrio Brewing Co. Things were bound to pick up and I knew that whatever beer they were bringing would please the palate. The Barrio IPA is a great IPA with floral undertones. It was a little lighter in flavor and even a slight sweetness to it. The star of the Barrio booth was their Nolan’s Porter. Named after the brewer’s first son,this dark, malty full bodied beer has a bit of hop flavoring but it’s true flavor comes from the malts and I gave it 3.5 stars out of five.
Craft Beer aficionados know all about 1702-The Address for having one of the largest selection of craft beers in Southern Arizona, but a select few have tasted their very own brew, the Rainy Day IPA. This pale, hazy beer with a thick head has the great undertones that one would expect from an IPA- hops, hops and more hops. I hear they are working on a double IPA and for that I am truly excited. Anyhow, back to this one – the light flavors of citrus and a touch of honey make this beer more refreshing than your typical punch-you-in-the-face IPA. This beer received 3.5 out of 5 stars as well.
Right down the street from the hotel is Borderlands Brewing Co.A recent addition to the local brewing landscape, Borderlands opened up in 2011 and of course, I was there for their grand opening. Needless to say, it was beyond hectic and with no tables and a hot evening to boot, our experience was less than stellar. I was ready to give them another shot and see if the bad atmosphere hindered my taste buds and the beer was misjudged. The first one I sampled was their Prickly Pear Wheat, sounds good but I could taste neither the prickly pear nor the wheat. It had flavors, but none that I would want in a beer. Their flagship beer, the Noche Dulce Moonlight Vanilla Porter was considerably better with sweet undertones of caramel and vanilla. Although the beer is a dark brown, almost black in color, it was surprisingly light and smooth, almost to a fault. This was a definite crowd favorite and won the Best Specialty/Seasonal Brew and will be offered this holiday season at Maynard’s Market and possibly in the Tap Room of the Hotel as well.
Moving along to another well established brewery in Tucson, Nimbus Brewing Company. Nimbus is the only brewery that has more than one location, with two bistros, one in Tucson and one in Scottsdale. Their beer is synonymous with Tucson and their Dirty Guerra is absolutely delicious. An extremely light, refreshing session beer that can be enjoyed again and again and again. Moving on to their heavier offering in the Old Monkeyshine. A traditional English Strong Ale, Old Monkeyshine uses seven varieties of various malts and brown sugar for sweetness. This beer packs a punch though, at 8.2% ABV, it was the strongest beer in the competition and among the best I tasted. An extra special bonus brewery was in attendance last night as well but was not in the competition due to it’s location in Bisbee, not Tucson. Dave’s Electric Brew showed up and offered up his flagship Electric Brew. This American Adjunct Lager has great flavors and heartiness that you would expect from a lager. Nothing incredible or amazing about this beer, just smooth, mellow flavors that go down easily in the Arizona heat.
I have been singing the praises of Dragoon Brewing Company since they opened earlier this year and I couldn’t wait for others to try what I have grown to love. Along with their IPA, they also brought their Ojo Blanco witbier. A light beer brewed with coriander, lime and cumin for complexity and like most witbiers, it is unfiltered and arrives with a cloudy appearance and flavors of banana and clove. This light, refreshing beer pleases on all notes and unlike their other offerings, this beer is relatively low in the ABV category, topping out at 5.6% which makes it a great session beer for those afternoons on the patio. Dragoon was founded by Bruce Greene and his son Eric. Eric studied at the American Brewers Guild in Vermont and interned in Boston at the Harpoon Brewery. After returning to Tucson, Eric and Bruce met Tristan White through the Tucson Homebrew Club and the beginnings of the brewery began to take shape. When they opened their doors to the beer drinking populace of Tucson, they had the Stronghold Session Ale and their IPA, no fancy name, just a great beer. The honor of Best Beer in Tucson is bestowed upon this true West Coast IPA with a strong, floral beer with a slightly fruity aroma. Brewed with simple malts and Northwest hops, this beer is one that will bite you back…and you’ll like it.