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 have a passion for Mexican food. In Arizona that means Sonoran-style featuring tacos, tostadas, burros, enchiladas, chimichangas, fajitas, red and green chile, chile rellenos, and tamales. I love them all and always have a hard time deciding what I want most when we go out for Mexican. One solution is to choose one of the ubiquitous combination plates, but I prefer a single entrée with the usual side dishes.
The menu at El Charro Cafe in Tucson can be daunting at first glance. It is four pages long with what seems like hundreds of dishes. On careful examination, though, it is logically divided into the traditional categories with many variations on each. Once you decide which broad category you’re going to have—taco or enchilada or chile—then you pick which variation on the theme sounds best. It is like composing music for your palate. Are you in the mood for a simple melody or a symphony?
For me the real test of any Mexican restaurant is the chile relleno. If the kitchen can prepare a proper relleno, then everything else they cook will be good, in my humble opinion. El Charro does superior chili rellenos. I have tried all the variations and my favorite so far is the Poblano Bandera Relleno, a fresh whole Poblano chili battered in a golden Cerveza Modelo tempura and finished off with red, white and green sauce.
The dish that made El Charro famous is their carne seca. Dried in the sun on the roof of the restaurant, the marinated lean Angus beef is shredded & flash-grilled with green chile, tomato & onions. You can order a plate with salsa, rice and beans or have it in a taco or enchilada. Ask your server for a sample and you’ll taste why it is so popular.
To accompany your meal, El Charro mixes up several varieties of marguerites and offers a selection of Mexican beers. They have recently introduced their very own craft-brewed amber ale.
El Charro Café has been a fixture in downtown Tucson since 1922 and claims to be the oldest Mexican eatery in the country. The downtown location feels like you have been invited into someone’s home with diners filling several rooms decorated with old El Charro menu covers and Mexican folk art. There are four other location scattered around town so you don’t have to go far to get your El Charro fix.
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.
What’s a road trip without food. I mean when we travel we enjoy discovering new places to eat as well as returning to places we know from previous trips. Take our meals from a couple of days ago in Salt Lake City for example.
Breakfast at Parrish Place, the B&B where we always stay in Salt Lake, arrives in a big wicker basket set outside the door at the time we request. Inside the basket is juice, cereal, yogurt, cups of fresh fruit and delicious muffins. There is also a big thermos of coffee to supply our morning caffeine needs. We can never eat it all but it is nice to have choices. It is also pleasant to eat breakfast in our jammies in our room.
For lunch we headed to Millie’s Burger in the Sugar House district. Millie’s is an unpretentious hamburger stand that serves up burgers and fries and shakes that are reliably good. I especially like the Millie’s secret sauce on my cheeseburger which is also supplied in a cup for dipping fries. We discovered Millie’s on one of our first trips to Salt Lake City a few years ago and always have at least one lunch there while we are in town.
For dinner we debated about going to one of our favorite brewpubs or trying someplace we hadn’t been before. In keeping with the spirit of this road trip, we opted to try someplace new. Several people had told us about a Mexican restaurant that is said to be the best in Salt Lake. Being from Arizona, we think the only good Mexican food has to be served within a couple of hundred miles of the border. Well, what a pleasant surprise the Red Iguana turned out to be.
Our first clue that this was going to be good was the line-up of people waiting to be seated on a Wednesday evening. It turned out to be a twenty minute wait; much better than the two hour wait that one of the guidebooks warned about. The second clue was the chips and salsa that arrived promptly at our table. The chips were crispy and the salsa was thick with a complex flavor and just the right amount of chili. No wimpy, watery stuff served here!
The menu at the Red Iguana is extensive and includes seven different mole sauces. Finding a Mexican restaurant that serves one mole dish is unusual. Having seven mole dishes to choose from is amazing. I had to go for the gusto so I choose the enmoladas served with mole negro. From the menu, here is the description of mole negro: dried chili mulato, negro pasilla, Mexican chocolate, raisins, peanuts, walnuts and bananas. The enmoladas which are like cheese enchiladas arrived smothered in the delicious sauce. I ate every bite.
Barbara opted for the enchiladas poblanas, cream cheese stuffed tortillas top with the Red Iguana’s own enchilada sauce. I had a bite to check out the sauce which was nearly as good as my mole—thick and rich with a hint of sweetness along with a nice chili bite.
The Red Iguana is now definitely on our list of favorites in Salt Lake City. I can’t wait to come back and try another of the mole sauces. I guess that means at least six more dinners to try them all. I know it is going to be tough, but someone has to do it.
I woke up yesterday morning all achy. My head, my stomach, nothing felt good. As we drove along, I realized I was suffering from dehydration. The Southwest, as we all know, is a dry place. I know how to keep adequately hydrated when at home in southern Arizona. I tend to forget how much dryer it is at higher elevations, especially when the weather is cool. Fellow travelers, when in the Southwest, be sure to keep that water bottle handy and keep nipping at it all day long. And of course, if you have children, make sure that they are doing the same. When in the mountains, drink way more water than you think you need.
So on we drove, me feeling not so good (and grumpy, to boot), with lots of stopping and starting and photographing. Lo and behold, we pulled into Salina, and on the corner of Main and State (US Route 89) sat Mom’s Cafe. I suggested (strongly) to Jim that stopping at Mom’s would be a good plan. After all, it was past lunch time. We had eaten at Mom’s before, and as you might imagine, it has lots of typical cafe food. What is very important to note is that the food is way above what you might expect in such an outpost. I noticed that chicken noodle soup was the soup of the day and ordered up a bowl. Believe me, it was some of the best I’ve ever had. The noodles were homemade, and there were lots of dumplings, too. It was heaven. Was it an instant cure for my headache? Alas, no. But it definitely impacted my mood in a good way.
Full disclosure: I ordered up a piece of home made coconut cream pie to top off the main course. It arrived in all its very large sized splendor slathered in whipped cream. A major indulgence, but Jim ate at least half of it, so I have no guilt whatsoever.
It has been at least a year since we’ve been through Congress Junction, an old mining town north of Wickenburg. Congress Junction was once the most important town in the center of a rich silver and gold mining boom. Even President Taft has visited there at the opening of the railroad. Over the years since the mines closed, it had been reduced to a store and a few other apparently abandoned building.
This time, however, we saw that someone was building on the site of the old railroad station, so we stopped to investigate. What we found, or rather who we found, was Mike Yacos. Mike it turns out is a very talented artist and craftsman and the results of his skills are on display in an art gallery, his home and other structures he has or is building.
Mike’s operation is complete from raw materials to finished products. He harvests the pine and mesquite near Prescott and hauls to his sawmill. From there it becomes every thing from sculptures to carved doors and complete buildings. He also showed us a completely restored woody station wagon on which he had replaced the original wood panels with beautiful mesquite. And the gallery also includes Mike’s bronze sculptures and oil paintings of western scenes.
Our second discovery of the day was the T-Bird Café in Peeples Valley. We stopped in Yarnell to say hi to Vicki at the Painted Lizard and she told us about a couple of new restaurants that had opened since our last visit. In fact, the four mile stretch of highway 89 through Yarnell and Peeples Valley now includes six fine eating establishments from the Cornerstone Bakery where you will find the best pastry in Arizona to the classic Ranch House serving hearty breakfasts and lunches.
Vicki described the pizza at the T-Bird Café which is baked in a wood-burning oven and that sounded mighty good to us. We were definitely not disappointed. I’m a bit of a pizza snob and eschew the bland stuff that passes for pizza from the national chains. The pizza that Gary Wallen produces in his hand built Tuscan wood burning oven is superb. With a crispy crust, sauce, cheese and home-made fennel sausage piled on just right, it was delicious. Gary’s wife, Cheryl, was a gracious hostess creating a very welcoming atmosphere.
A historic note: the T-Bird Café occupies a stone building constructed in the 1920’s. It was originally called the 89’er Café and was a truck stop on what was then the main road between Phoenix and Prescott and became US Route 89 in 1926.