The 25th Anniversary of the Great Arizona Beer Festival took place last Saturday in Tempe, Arizona and it was a scorching good time. A big thanks goes to Mitzi Tharin and Andrea Pasquale of Sun Sounds of Arizona for allowing me to cover the festival once again.
It what seemed to be foreshadowing of the upcoming summer, the high temperature peaked at 83 degrees and many of the festival goers spent the afternoon seeking shade. My buddy and I arrived at Tempe Beach Park just as the V.I.P. gates opened at 1pm and were treated to a 6 oz. tasting glass and 24 drink tickets. The general admission folks received a 3 oz. tasting glass and the same amount of tickets.
Upon arrival, our main goal was to sample as many new beers as possible. Although there were several old favorites available, we were looking to expand our range, for better or for worse.
There were 93 breweries present offering up 230 different beers to try and since Ryan are I are connoisseurs, we were looking for the next new, best beer. Since it was the Great Arizona Beer Fest, another priority for us was to sample as many local Arizona beers as possible.
Oddly enough, none of the breweries from Tucson were in attendance, but several Arizona breweries showcased their hoppy creations. We grabbed an old standby from Left Hand Brewing Co. and headed towards the VIP tent to fill our belly before sampling the gamut.
Local Tempe restaurants offered up delectable treats in a shaded area with couches and plenty of bottled water. There was plenty to enjoy and luckily we arrived early to avoid the long line. We enjoyed a chicken and pasta dish by Cadillac Ranch, a prime rib sandwich by Monti’s La Casa Vieja on their famous Roman Bread for our first course.
Local favorites Four Peaks Brewing and SanTan Brewing were in the VIP section as well as serving the general population. We sampled the Pitchfork Black IPA from Four Peaks and the Sex Panther Double Chocolate Porter from SanTan.
The Four Peaks offering was a 7.0-percent Cascadian Dark Ale with mellow hop undertones and stronger malty flavors which is why the black came before the IPA in the title, I’m assuming. The Sex Panther is one of those seasonals that we have enjoyed several times before but it was nearing its rotational end so we figured we grabbed one before it was gone again until January. The Double Chocolate Porter was just that, chocolately with rich malty flavors. The 6.7-percent A.B.V. packs a punch and will creep up on you.
Representing the northwest portion of the state was two breweries out of Lake Havasu City; College Street Brewhouse and Pub and Mudshark Brewery. An interesting concoction from College Street was their Cucumber Malt Lager. I’m normally not a fan of lagers, but this beer had a strong and inventive flavor. The Hava Blue from Mudshark was quite refreshing, an American wheat beer with blueberries and vanilla. I could have used more vanilla as the blueberries were prominent.
Cartel Coffee Lab has three locations in the Valley and one in Tucson and they offered up a Desert Pale Ale and a Coffee Brown. The Coffee Brown was amazing with strong, deep coffee flavors. I have been to the Tucson location and helped the guys from Dragoon tap a firkin there recently, great food, great coffee and always great beer available.
Hidden off the beaten path, almost in a corner was an empty Gordon Biersch booth (too funny)and Fate Brewing from Scottsdale. They had a brilliant Double IPA and an Irish Red available along with their American Pale Ale. Ryan described the DIPA as a “Hop Punch in the Face.”
Next to Fate was downtown Mesa’s contribution to the craft brew game-Desert Eagle Brewing Company. They offered up the Golden Eagle Wheat and the Dunkle Weizen as well as the best swag of any of the booths. They were handing out the requisite stickers and coasters, but also koozies, pens and lanyards with a compass. I was not ashamed to grab one of each. As the day was warming up, I was looking for a light, refreshing beer and the Wheat beer fit the bill perfectly. A nice, full bodied wheat beer with banana and clove flavors was a great way to lighten up.
Back into the fray with full bellies, we searched out more Arizona craft breweries and found Flagstaff’s offerings. A definite surprise was the Mother Road Brewing Company‘s Lost Highway Black IPA. With an ABV of 8.0-percent and topping the century mark on the IBU scale, this beer balanced the malt with the hops perfectly in a crescendo of pitch-black ecstasy. Lumberyard Brewing Company offers award-winning beers in their IPA and Red Ale, but nothing new or exciting to tempt us.
Another favorite was a little brewery out of Pine, approximately 100 miles northeast of Tempe in the Tonto National Forest. THAT Brewery had a Red IPA and a Strawberry Blonde that we sampled. I had the Red IPA and was impressed by the copper-colored beer with a spicy hop flavor.
Before we left the park grounds, we also hit up two more Arizona booths, the Phoenix Ale Brewery and Prescott Brewing Company. Although we have had the Watermelon Wheat Ale before, it sounded perfect on such a hot day. It was refreshing but maybe too light. Fortunately, the guys at Prescott brought their Achocolypse. Another classic porter with dark and bittersweet chocolate. Not to be left out were Grand Canyon Brewing‘s Seasonal Shaggy Bock and Oak Creek Brewing’s Pale Ale.
The non-Arizona beers that we sampled worth noting were Bada Bing Cherry Porter from Coronado Brewing, the Davy Brown Ale from Figueroa Mountain Brewing, Seduction from Brewery Ommegang and the ever-reliable beers from Dogfish Head and Stone Brewing.
The day was a rousing success due to the large number of Arizona breweries now offering such delightful offerings. This is a great time for the craft brewing industry and with the opening of so many new brew houses, it is now an even better place to live than ever before.