According to Steele Wotkyns, one of the founders of the Flagstaff Ale Trail, it is. He has some convincing evidence to back that up. There are now six craft beer brewers in Flagstaff ranging from the well-established Flagstaff Brewing Company to the newest start-up, Cosmic Beer. The breweries are joined by Hops on Birch with 28 beers on tap and McGaughs Smoke & Bottle that stocks over 300 brews to satisfy every beer lover’s taste.
Over Labor Day weekend, Barbara and I ventured to Flagstaff to take in the Coconino County Fair and to experience the Ale Trail. Here’s how it works. For $12 you get a Passport and a free unbreakable Silipint pint glass. When you show your Passport at the breweries, you receive discounts on your purchase. if you were to take advantage of all the discounts, the Passport is around a $20 value plus the free Silipint.
Unfortunately, we were not able to make it to all of the Ale Trail locations, but since there is no expiration date on the Passport, we can take advantage of it when we visit Flagstaff again.
Our first stop was at Mother Road Brewing Co. I had decided to try each breweries pale ale to get a sense of each brewer’s style. Mother Road’s version is called Roadside. According to Urs Riner, the “head yeast whisperer”, he does not brew to a style but creates a beer and then finds the style that fits it best. Roadside is definitely a pale ale as acknowledge by the Gold Medal it won at the 2012 US Open Beer Championship.
As you bring a pint of Roadside up to your mouth, you are hit by a pleasant fruity and floral aroma of hops which is carried through into the taste. The slightly amber ale is smooth in the mouth and finishes with a mild bitterness. The complex aroma and flavor of Roadside is due to the four kinds of hops that are used and at 5% alcohol this is a beer that you can enjoy for an evening with friends.
For dinner we headed around the corner to Beaver Street Brewery. We have always enjoyed the pizza from their wood-fired oven with its thin, crispy crust and wide variety of topping possibilities. To go along with the pizza I ordered a pint of Pinecone Pale Ale and Barbara went for the Raspberry Ale. The Pinecone had a floral aroma with just a hint of pine. The flavor was pleasant with just the right amount of bitterness in the finish. The Raspberry Ale, as the name implies, was very fruity over a smooth malty flavor.
Before leaving Flagstaff, I had to stop into to see the 300+ craft beers at McGaughs. It is hard to believe that this little store could hold so much delight. I was a bit overwhelmed and finally decided to stick with the locals and picked up a bomber each of Cosmic Beer’s Dirty Blond and Full Moon Porter. I opened the Dirty Blond to go along with the smoked chicken I was preparing for Labor Day dinner at home. The first thing that hit me was the smell of fresh toast which was followed by a very earthy flavor. I have to admit that the first taste took me by surprise but by the end of the meal I was wishing for another glass. I am looking forward to preparing another meal to compliment the Full Moon Porter. Steak, anyone?
Barbara and I are looking forward to sampling brews at the other three breweries on the Flagstaff Ale Trail. Both Flagstaff Brewing Company and Lumberyard Brewing Company are located in historic buildings that offer great atmosphere with pub fare as well as a good selection of beers. Mogollon Brewing Company is a production brewery located a little ways out of town but their beers are on tap at The Green Room.
To answer the question, Flagstaff has a very active craft beer brewing community that is producing some outstanding beers. So, yes, let’s go ahead and call it the hub. I’ll drink to that.
As soon as we turned onto Old 8th Street in Tempe, Arizona, it was apparent that we had arrived at someplace special. The street was lined with cars on both sides and it was only 4:30 in the afternoon. I drove past the building, made a quick u-turn and grabbed the last space on the block. We had come to Four Peaks Brewery to take a tour, sample the brews and have a bite to eat.
When I walked inside, the first thing that struck me was the high ceiling and light pouring through clerestories illuminating rows of stainless steel fermentation tanks. Obviously, this placed was geared for the production of many kegs and bottles of beer. The building was started in 1892 as an ice factory but spent most of its life as a processing plant for dairy products. Ice to milk to beer—there is something poetic about that, at least for those of us who love good beer.
Four Peaks Brewery began twelve years ago and has been expanding steadily ever since to become one of the largest craft brewers in Arizona. They currently produce about 5,000 cases a month divided among the regular line-up of eight beers. The front quarter of the building is a restaurant and bar. The rest of the building is devoted to brewing and a malty, yeasty smell permeates the air.
We got to go behind the scenes to watch as one of the brewers transferring the nascent beer from the mash tun into the brew kettle and then adding the bittering hops. I had been through the process in my home brewery but this was on a whole other scale. We also saw a line-up of whiskey barrels that were being used to created a special barrel-aged version of one of Four Peaks ales.
One unique part of Four Peaks brewing process is the way they handle the water. Beers from around the world get their distinctive taste from the local water. In order to recreate the authentic properties of various beers, Four Peaks begins by purifying all of their water by reverse osmosis. The brewer then adds the correct minerals as determined by the water source of the beer they are emulating. For example, KiltLifter is a Scottish-style ale, so the water used in the brew is based on Edinburgh well water.
After the tour we sat down to have dinner and sample the eight beers that are always on tap. Don’t worry; the samples were in small glasses so I wound up drinking about the equivalent of a glass and a half. I tried six of the eight and Barb checked out the other two. Here are the brief tasting notes I took at the time.
Hop Knot Ale: a American pale ale with the hoppy aroma of an IPA. The four different hops are dominated by a piney aroma and taste. The mouthfeel is smooth with just the right amount of bitterness in the finish.
Raj India Pale Ale: this English-style pale ale is orange in color with good balance of malt and hops.
Arizona Peach Ale: to quote Barbara, “Good. Real good. It’s peachy.”
8th Street Ale: an English-style bitter using all English hops. This golden amber ale is the perfect session beer at 4.8% ABV.
Sunbru: a German Kolsch-style beer that is a cross between an ale and a lager. It is bright, crisp and dry making it a great summer thirst quencher.
KiltLifter: the best known and most widely distributed of Four Peaks beer, this Scottish-style ale is dark amber and full of caramel and roasted barley flavors. The malt tends to dominate over the hops with an almost Scotch whiskey note of smoke and earth. There is something mysterious about KiltLifter that keeps me coming back for more.
Oatmeal Stout: as it comes from the tap, it is carbonated with a combination of nitrogen and CO2 which creates a creamy, tight head. It goes down smooth with just the right amount of oatmeal flavor.
Hefe-Weizen: this is Barbara’s favorite beer and Four Peaks’ version is low on bitterness allowing the clove and banana flavor of the Bavarian yeast to come through the malty wheat.
On occasion, Four Peaks will tap one of their barrel-aged beers or some other special brew. You have to be there for a taste so check the Facebook page for announcements. Also, the brewery’s blog has a lot of good information on how and why Four Peaks brews the way they do.
I hear the train before I see it through the window behind the bar at Borderlands Brewing Company. It is a reminder that Tucson’s newest brewery is located in an old warehouse near downtown. The red-brick building was built in the early 1900s originally used by the Toole and Sons Produce Company. The exposed brick walls and roof trusses give the brewery an industrial feeling which is warmed by the original art on the walls and the long wooden bar.
Borderlands is the dream come true of two long-time homebrew buddies, Mike Mallozzi and Myles Stone. Mike is a microbiologist doing research at U of A and Myles is a medical student. Shortly after starting the brewery, they met Blake Collins who is well-know in the Tucson homebrew community and has a wealth of professional beer brewing experience. He acted as an advisor doing the start-up period and is now the brewmaster.
Borderlands Brewing is licensed as a production brewery. Consequently they are open for limited hours to offer the public an opportunity to sample their brews. Currently, you can join the crowds on Wednesday and Friday from 4 to 7 pm and on the second Saturday of the month from 12 to 4 pm. According to Borderlands’ Facebook page, they are planning to add a few more hours. There is always music provided by local bands and there is often a food truck or two parked outside to satisfy your cravings.
While the Borderlands Brewing Company website lists six beers, they are not all available all the time. When I visited, there were three on tap which I was pleased to sample.
First up is Ol’ Loco, Ol’ Frontier Citrus IPA. It pours with a clean white head that leaves behind a lacy pattern on the glass. A rich gold color, it hit my nose with a floral aroma. A bready not too sweet malt flovor is accented by the mild citrus flavor of the hops. It finishes with a mild well-balanced bitterness that left me wanting to keep on sipping. At 7% ABV and an IBU of 56, Ol’ Loco will satisfy all IPA lovers.
I next sampled Noche Dulce, Moonlight Vanilla Porter, which is about as far away from Ol’ Loco as you can get and still be drinking beer. Noche Dulce is black as the ace of spades and pours with a rich tan head. Contrary to popular belief that dark beers are heavy and bitter, Noche Dulce is smooth as silk with a the strong flavor of vanilla. At first, it seems almost too sweet but that impression is quickly offset by a spicy note that I can’t quite identify—cinnamon perhaps. This porter would be perfect for sipping with dessert.
Finally, I sampled Santa Rita, A Refreshing Amber Ale, which completed the spectrum between the IPA and the porter. As the name implies, Santa Rita is amber in color with a fine white head. The aroma reminded me of apples and berries. The taste was different than any beer I had experienced which I learned was due to the generous amount of rye in the malt. The rye contributes a bready, sour-dough, flavor that I could easily get used to. Santa Rita is lower in alcohol at 5.5% and would make an excellent session beer.
Borderlands Brewing Company is supplying their beers in kegs to several local restaurants. The list keeps changing so check the website to see where you can find them around Tucson. Mike and Myles have plans to add additional capacity to there current six barrel fermentors so they can step up production and make their brews more widely available. In the meantime, you can pick up a growler of your favorite Borderlands brew to take home.
For a brewery that has only been open for a few months, Borderlands shows great promise. I’m looking forward to summer when they will be serving up their Prickly Pear Wheat and maybe a surprise or two.
If given a choice at the end of a day on the road, I prefer to visit a local brew pub to sample whatever is on tap and enjoy a meal. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities on US Route 89 for such simple pleasures. By my count, there are at least twenty-eight microbreweries and brew pubs along the way.
My quest for a better beer began at about the same time as my travels on 89. My enjoyment of mass produced American lagers had wained. Then on a trip to Flagstaff we had dinner with friends at Beaver Street Brewery where I had my first pint of R&R Oatmeal Stout. What a revelation that was. I didn’t know that beer could have such flavor and add so much to a meal.
Since then I have made a point of finding the local craft beer brewers during our trips on highway 89. Craft beer brewing in the United States has been on a steady growth curve for the last decade as the graphic from the Brewers Association shows. The blossoming of brewers on 89 is testament to that fact. Each one has there special brews, many of which have been awarded metals at craft beer competitions.
I have compiled a list of microbreweries and brew pubs along US Route 89. Having visited many of them, I can attest to the goodness of their beers. In future blog posts, I will provide details about the individual craft brewers and review my favorite ales and lagers. In the meantime, add any brewers that I have overlooked to the comments and let me know about your favorite brew.
Congratulations are in order for Snake River Brewing in Jackson, Wyoming, which came away from the United States Beer Tasting Campionship with two regional champions and one honorable mention. Snake River is one of our favorite brewpubs on US Route 89. On every visit to Jackson, we have dinner there and sample a couple of their outstanding brews. I am partial to Zonkers Stout, an intense chocolatey black stout that has won numerous awards. Barbara prefers the Hoback Hefeweisen, a wheat beer that is very lightly hopped.
We are looking forward to our next trip to Jackson so we can taste this years winners in the summer USBTC: Snake River Pale Ale, Jackson’s ESB and Indian Paintbrush Pilsner.