The Great Tucson Beer Festival this past Saturday brought out all types…sure, there were your typical beer snobs present, but I was impressed more by the sheer number of regular folk and more importantly, women. Beer festivals used used to be jam packed of beer nerds and snobs that left their wives or girlfriends at home…if they had one. My wife is in the non-craft beer camp and loves the mass produced macro brew out of Milwaukee and I don’t fault her for that. I enjoy an easy drinking session beer as well, but only if we are playing drinking games or watching my drinking mentor, Zane Lamprey & Pleepleus on Drinking Made Easy.
This year’s festival was one for the ages with all proceeds going to a wonderful charity Sun Sounds of Arizona. Many thanks go out to Mitzi Tharin, the Sun Sounds staff and the many, many volunteers who put on this year’s festival.
Hundreds of beer were available to sample including offerings from 16 breweries statewide ranging from Mudshark Brewery in Lake Havasu City to Old Bisbee Brewing in Bisbee. All of my local favorites were included in this year’s festival and I made sure to steer my group of friends towards these local masterpieces. Four Peaks Brewing had my favorite with their American IPA, Hop Knot. This wonderful beer gets it’s name from weaving seven different hops added at seven different times throughout the brewing process. This hop-head favorite packs a punch at 6.7% ABV yet isn’t too overpowering when it comes to the IBU level only measuring 47. This beer was absolutely loved by each person that had yet to try it and loves their hops. Chandler’s favorite brewery, SanTan Brewery was also represented well with three of their standard beers, Devil’s Ale, Hefeweizen and Hop Shock IPA. They also brought along a specialty brew, their Count Hopula Blood Red IPA; this brew boasts an intense Simcoe Hop bitterness with a 99 on the IBU scale and balanced with six different malts to produce a spooky blood red color and 7.0% ABV – scary good.
I must say that I was impressed with the little guy, Old Bisbee Brewing Company was situated just outside the VIP tent and next to the Bud Light truck (they weren’t serving Bud Light, by the way) and they offered up a light & refreshing Whitbier. This unfiltered brew hit the spot after trying a litany of heavy or hoppy beers. Perfectly balanced with three malts and four hops, the brewers at Old Bisbee also add Coriander seed and bitter Orange peel to give this brew an outstanding flavor and great freshness. Another Tempe favorite, Sleepy Dog Brewery was there in grand fashion, right next to neighboring Tempe brewery, Four Peaks. For the Tucson locals that have yet to try Sleepy Dog, I would say that most were impressed with the Red Rover Irish Ale. A sweet, malty amber ale with a big flavor of noble hops, dark malts and a little bit of chocolate in the finish. This brew was worth a second try for a several in my group.
The beers in and of themselves were worth the price of admission, but no party would be complete without the food. All food in the general admission area as well as the VIP area was included and we chowed down at several tents in order to maintain our ability to continue sampling many more great brews. We visited Brushfire B-B-Q, Wing Stop and Zona 78 for some great grub. Inside the VIP was more great food including a catered steak dinner from Desert Diamond Casino Steakhouse, pasta from Brio Tuscan Grille, gyros from My Big Fat Greek Restaurant and clam chowder from Trident Grill.
When the sun set and night fell on Hi Corbett field, the crowd swelled into the thousands with beer lines growing longer and longer, but I would have to say the longest line for most of the night was Tucson’s newest brewery and recently crowned “Best Beer in Tucson” for their IPA – Dragoon Brewing Co. They had their IPA as well as the Ojo Blanco witbier but for those in the know, the real draw was for their very limited offering of “The Uno.” This Russian Imperial Stout was first brewed and served in their tasting room over the summer and it blew my mind. With a full body and complex flavor profile, this beer has quickly become one of my favorite Arizona beers joining the aforementioned Hop Knot and Devil’s Ale. Coming in at a hefty 10.4 ABV and 92 IBU’s this rich brew has flavors of spice, coffee & toffee. The Uno was so popular that they had a line solely for it’s tapping at 8pm and it was gone within 20 minutes.
For the non-Arizona beers, I was excited to see if any of the larger breweries brought something special with them for the good people of Tucson to try. I looked no further than O’Dell Brewing Co. The Ft. Collins, CO brewery brought a firkin of their original IPA with peach added – this was a nice, flavorful beer but still big and bold with 7.0 % ABV and 60 IBUs. I came back for seconds after about an hour later only to find out that it was long gone. It was then that I had my first winter beer of the season as they were serving their Isolation Ale. Other traditional favorites that we enjoyed were the Deviant Dale’s IPA from Oskar Blues, the Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale from Lagunitas and the Oaktoberfest from Firestone Walker.
As the night went on and the beers were becoming more and more scarce, I ran in to some buddies from local radio station KLPX. Local celebrities “Sherm” the morning show producer and rock beauty Beth Simmons were in attendance with a rowdy group of peeps that I was introduced to and enjoyed getting to know. Beth’s husband seemed enamored with my flashing necklace from the VIP tent so I offered it up to him in the act of new friendship. What a great guy, he just got out of the Army and we talked about our military service. I look forward to talking with them again, perhaps a spot on the Frank Show as the resident beer expert, let’s see what the future holds. All in all, it was a great evening but it ended entirely too soon with last call coming at 9:30 and last pour around 9:40 – by closing time of 10pm, the only people left were the band 80’s and Gentlemen.
I understand that it was a long day with vendors arriving around 2pm, but I wish that they had continued pouring up until 10, we came prepared with our designated driver and wanted to continue for at least another 20 minutes. Perhaps this is something that can looked into for future festivals, but I must say everybody in our group had a great time for a great cause, Sun Sounds of Arizona.