The booming craft brewing industry made its mark on Tucson last weekend.
Over 50 craft breweries from across the country descended on the sleepy burgh of Tucson for a day of great beer and delectable treats on one of the warmest days of the year. I was invited to the VIP treatment by a great friend of mine in the burgeoning craft brewing scene, Steene Routh.
I met Steene several years ago when I was bartending in college, long before craft beer was a “thing” in Arizona. We had Bandersnatch and Four Peaks in Tempe, Papago in old town and Sonoran Brewing in north Scottsdale. The past five years has seen an explosion of Arizona breweries with seemingly new ones opening on a monthly basis.
Statewide, breweries have flourished in cities like Bisbee and Lake Havasu City joining established breweries such as Oak Creek out of Sedona, Beaver Street out of Flagstaff and Gentle Ben’s in Tucson.
I met up with Routh and her beau, Mike along with another longtime friend and beer lover from Colorado, Laura Mann. We arrived at the Rillito Racetrack around 11:30 am and were the first in line awaiting the gates to open at noon. Much like a quality ride at Disneyland, we went through one line to wait in another and there we stood, mouths agape, waiting with bated breath for the behemoth security guard to allow us entry.
One notable improvement from beer festivals that I have been to in the past is that as VIPs, not only were we allowed an extra hour to partake in the hand-crafted suds, we were given a bar towel with the SpringFest logo. This towel came in extremely handy several times—I will bring it along on all future beer events as I have been known to spill a little here and there.
Being a resident of Tucson for the past 5 1/2 years, I have grown to love the offerings from local establishments and could not wait to visit their tents and introduce my out-of-town friends to them. My favorite of the bunch was the Saison Blue from Dragoon Brewing Company. I was surprised to see the big boss, Bruce Greene at the event along with longtime employee Pat at the taps. The Saison Blue is a great beer for the warm weather. This farmhouse ale is brewed with blue corn and agave nectar then dry-hopped for a floral finish. The 7.5% ABV packs a nice punch and yet it is easily drinkable.
The gentlemen at Borderlands Brewing Company also did not disappoint with their selections and their recent brews are definitely something to write home about. The Hibiscus Saison was another light, refreshing farmhouse ale with a sweet smell from the hibiscus and an herbal finish. The low ABV makes this selection a perfect session beer for the hot summer days in Tucson.
Nano-breweries Ten Fifty-Five Brewing and Sentinel Peak were both on hand and their beers were flowing nicely for those who haven’t yet ventured to their tasting rooms. Ten Fifty-Five made us wait until 2pm to get their Two Sons Citra Double IPA, but it was well worth the wait. The Sugar Skull Chocolate Milk Stout was also a big hit while waiting. Sentinel Peak offered up a beer that was perfect for the warm afternoon—the Summer Swelter Citrus Ale. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this offering, more than once.
Other Tucson breweries Nimbus, Barrio/Gentle Ben’s and Thunder Canyon were present and all seemed to be doing brisk business.
The biggest surprise of the weekend for me was to see a former college buddy, Jon Lane at the event…as an owner of one of the Valley’s most popular up and coming hot-spots. O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery is located in the Arcadia district of Phoenix at 49th St. and Indian School and boasts 13 local craft beers on tap as well as four of their own. They are an environmentally friendly restaurant that is both bicycle and pet-friendly—I shamelessly packed away several of their handmade dog treats but their beer is what kept me coming back. I truly loved their Orange Pail Ale, great stuff.
One of my favorite beers of the day came from College Street Brewhouse and Pub from Lake Havasu City. Their Big Blue Van Blueberry Vanilla Wheat was super refreshing. The unfiltered wheat beer brewed with blueberries and vanilla bean was divine and the addition of fresh blueberries put it over the top. This was a definite favorite among the group.
Other valley favorites such as Four Peaks and SanTan were on hand and I would have been remiss if I missed the spring time favorite Mr. Pineapple from SanTan and my go-to beer—Hop Knot from Four Peaks.
The beer that had the longest wait time was also the beer that put many over the edge. Goose Island treated the festival goers with one of only four kegs in the state of Arizona of their Bourbon County Stout. At 14.5 % ABV, this sipping beer had an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke.
If last weekend was any indication, it is plain to see that the city of Tucson has truly embraced the craft brew industry and is on pace with the metropolitan Phoenix area in hosting great festivals.
A huge thanks to the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild for recognizing Tucson and allowing people to see that the Old Pueblo has a lot more to offer than just Eegee’s and Lucky Wishbone.