There’s some good news for Phoenix-area folks (and visitors to the area) who love craft brew: Sleepy Dog Brewing and Dave’s Electric Brewpub will open soon in Tempe. This bodes well for a metro area ranking low nationwide on craft brewers per capita. We’ve still got a long way to go, but Sleepy Dog and Dave’s Electric are welcome additions.
In recognition of their opening, let’s take a look at other craft brewers in the area. I’ve not included chains such as BJ’s, Gordon Biersch or Rock Bottom here because I want to emphasize local above all else. I’ve ranked them, and included some reasoning for their rankings. Enjoy!
1. Sun Up Brewing – This is a terrific craft brew pub in uptown Phoenix. Yes, it’s incredibly friendly, both in terms of its knowledgeable staff and regular customers. Yes, it has quality food. Yes, you can carry on a conversation. Yes, its brews are all great examples of each genre represented. But one of the big factors in its favor is that you can walk in there at anytime and get a real ale, also known as a cask ale. Unlike brews carbonated with CO2, real ales have silky textures and wonderful floral hop characters. They’re also unpasteurized. Sun Up also offers outstanding seasonal and high-strength selections. If I could ask them to do anything differently, I’d want some envelope-pushing brews a la Dogfish Head, and some better desserts. But overall, it’s a notch about the rest. Aside from the cask ales, its standout is The Trooper IPA.
2. Four Peaks – An Arizona original! It is much less mellow than it used to be, but the food is excellent. There’s also a nice selection of ales. If you get there on Thursday or early Friday, you might get a taste of their cask ale. Otherwise, you’ll miss it. Once the cask blows, it’s gone until next week, unlike Sun Up. The original warehouse location has a great atmosphere, but parking is a total hassle during the busy times. The Scottsdale location is a bit easier that way. If I had to pick a standout, it would be between Hop Not and the oatmeal stout. I should say that I never liked any beer before until back in about 1997, when I tried the oatmeal stout.
3. Papago Brewing – There’s an extensive menu here, along with a very nice array of bottled beers. And you can take those bottled selections home or drink them on-site. You’ll also find nearly 30 taps offering some of Papago’s own concoctions (which are made by Sun Up according to Papago’s recipes, I believe- if you know better, feel free to speak up) and some unusual selections from around the world. On the down side, Papago can get really loud with a large space, concrete floors and a blaring jukebox. Service is also inconsistent, with some really great staff members and others who are pretty indifferent. Sometimes they have a cask brew, sometimes they don’t. If they’re offering their Elsie’s Stout when you visit, give it a try.
4. Pinnacle Peak Brewing – It’s way out in the sticks and a bit hard to find. It also has a narrow selection. And to me, only one is worth the drive, and it’s only served in the winter. That’s the Gunslinger Stout, a monstrous imperial-style beast. Unfortunately, it’s served in a pint glass at far too cold a temperature. An imperial stout needs to be served slightly chilled in a snifter, or you’re going to miss a lot of the complex flavor. I’m not big on the country-western vibe, either.
5. Old World Brewery – It’s a brewery. No, it’s a music venue. No, it’s both. Kind of. There’s barely any seating. It’s buried in an industrial park. And frankly, the beer is lackluster. Each selection I tried had a sour tang, as if it were coming out of a line that hadn’t been cleaned recently. The brewmaster is considerably too self-satisfied and needs to focus less on how many barrels he intends to brew and distribute, and do more to execute his recipes well. Here’s another funny: The bar staff was pouring its craft crew into the infamous red plastic cups like you’d see at a frat house. That should never happen anywhere brewing is taken seriously.
I didn’t rank Sonoran Brewing Company (not to be mistaken for Sonora, which was Sun Up’s name until a few months ago) because I haven’t had any of their products for quite awhile.
If you’re planning to visit Arizona and travel throughout the state, be sure to check out:
Beaver Street Brewery (Flagstaff) – terrific food and decent brews.
Prescott Brewing Company (Prescott) – Both the beers and the food are equally awesome.
Thunder Canyon Brewing (Tucson) – Owned by the same folks as Prescott Brewing, so count on them to be just as awesome.