Posted by: Scott | November 23, 2009

Beer Pioneer – Phoenix, AZ

At last! My first entry in the Beer Pioneer series. With each new edition, I’ll find and rank beer hotspots in a distant city. Although this time the city is downright contiguous: Phoenix, Arizona … where I currently live. Let’s avoid eye contact with that awkward moment and dive right into the expedition log, which I’ve transcribed from notes taken during my explorations.

Tuesday, November 3rd – Embarkation

At dawn, my goodly wife, Erin, and I will set out with a stout mule and one week’s supply of salted elk. We seek a land where the macrobreweries’ shackles cannot bind our hands.

In the market, I bought a scouting hawk named Google. He reappeared this morn in the “magic window” with news of promising beer settlements. The beast seems to place credence in something called “user reviews”—I know not if I trust this newfangled devilry. But embark we must. Winter bares its teeth behind us.

November 4th through 12th – The West Valley

Per Erin’s request, I’m dropping the half-assed frontiersman act. I hope I can return the coonskin cap.

We’ve braved the liquor stores suggested by Google. Most in the West Valley sold standard fair; few excited me. One proprietor, when asked about craft brews, led me to a freezer and nodded stoically at Blue Moon. I smiled and backed away slowly. (I have no problem with Blue Moon; it just happens to be a Coors product.) Chains like Total Wine, Whole Foods, and AJ’s boast the best selections so far.

But wait! I’ve wandered into one that seems … different. Smells different, anyway. It’s called Magnum’s Cigar, Wine, and Liquor. The exterior mimics an average liquor mart, but inside it reeks of cigars and high society. Bottles housing fine wine and liquor sit regally on shelves, and all along the far right wall you’ll find row after row of beer. Quite a selection, too. The merchandise is a bit overpriced, but if you can handle that and the smoke (and its barely-in-the-West-Valley location), Magnum’s won’t disappoint.

Alas, my search continues. Driving west along Bell Road (where many sub par liquor stores dwell), I see an unexpected sign. It reads What Ale’s Ya. A beer pun!? I stomp the brakes so hard I nearly give my car a Flintstone’s makeover.

Upon entering the store, I don’t notice any bottles—only brewing equipment. It’s a local homebrew store! Modest in size but arranged with purpose, What Ale’s Ya exudes hospitality. The owner, Chuck, approaches promptly but without any obnoxious buy-this-or-you’re-an-idiot salesguy aggression. His manner announces that he knows beer, which he soon confirms by speaking. He showed me the (affordably priced) starter kit, took me back to investigate the barley, and chatted with me about beer for 30 minutes. I’ll definitely be going back to What Ale’s Ya.

November 14th through 22nd – The East Valley

Last night I discovered the BeerFly feature on Beer Advocate. This handy system spits out beer hotspots like a jackpotting slot machine. To be honest, I don’t have the time to visit them all, as I am currently not immortal. But I’ll hit several and report back with favorites.

Whooshing sound!

I’m back. The East Valley was brimming with beer destinations (no fair!), but I returned with two favorites: Papago Brewing Company and Sun Devil Liquors.

Sun Devil Liquors trounced the other stores in the ASU campus area (except Tops Liquors, its sister store, which was almost equally awesome). Inside you’ll discover a dimly lit room that runneth over with bottles. They even have themed areas! My favorite was the “Iron Curtain” section, where they’ve amassed tons of Eastern European imports. I did notice dust on a few bottles, but every beer I bought was fresh. Just keep an eye on those expiration dates.

Oh, the best part! After you enter, fight the urge to bear-hug the bottles on your left and keep walking forward. See that staircase twisting down to the right? At the bottom you’ll find a stylish tasting room with several beers on tap and the rest available for sampling from the bottle. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did wet myself. It was uncomfortable.

Let’s move on to Papago Brewing Company, a little brewpub crammed into a Scottsdale strip mall. It may not sound impressive, but wait till you see their beer menu. Of the 30 beers on tap, I saw craft brews, imports, and several Papago originals. What choice did I have but to sample one of each?

The Papago brew, dubbed Orange Blossom, was a hefeweizen with distinct citrus flavors. Light and refreshing, almost like a witbier—I can understand why it’s popular. Next I chose something more my speed: the Chimay tripel. Huge, spicy malts balanced by subtle hops and earthy yeast … in other words, standard Chimay awesomeness. But the night’s best brew awaited me in The Abyss, an imperial stout from Deschutes brewery. This towering ale smelled of bourbon, coffee beans, and oak; tasted like bitter chocolate and roasted malt; and had the mouthfeel of maple syrup. Yet it was surprisingly drinkable. One word can describe it: balanced.

Papago Brewing Co. respects beer. Each ale arrived in appropriate glassware (the tripel even came in a Chimay chalice!), and the interior design pays homage to great breweries around the world. And I haven’t even mentioned the rear wall lined with beer-stuffed coolers. At Papago, beer lovers can find respite. It’s an oasis for the brew-minded.

One cautionary note: Before you go, you might want to check your tolerance for boozed up college students; it’s just down the street from a state university, after all, and things were getting a little loud by the time I left. But it should be fine for a weekend lunch or midweek dinner.

Conclusion

Because everyone loves lists, I’ve narrowed it down to my top three spots:

  1. Papago Brewing Company
  2. Sun Devil Liquors/Tops Liquors
  3. What Ale’s Ya

For the next Beer Pioneer … I, uh … I actually have no clue which city I’ll explore. It could be LA, Portland, Brussels (quite a jump from Phoenix, I know), or somewhere else entirely. You’ll just have to wait and see. And so will I!

WEDNESDAY: I’m taking Thursday off for obvious reasons, but you can expect a short Thanksgiving beer pairing guide on Wednesday!

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Responses

  1. it is crazy how good deschutes beers are, considering the store down the street insists on selling 6 packs for 6 bucks. it seems like it should be bad, but it never ever is (except this one time when i went to a bar that had a bad keg of their pale ale).

    • Deschutes really is a phenomenal brewery, by and large.

      A while back I had a really awkward discussion with someone from Bend, Oregon; to provide a topic to talk about, I said “oh, you’re from Bend? I love Deschutes!” To which he responded, “I hate their beer more than anything on the planet” or something like that. After that, we just stared at each other for several minutes. Fun! He was quite the conversationalist.

  2. Yum! The beer was great at Papago Brewing Company!

    • Glad you enjoyed it too! 🙂

  3. I had no idea there were so many different beers-for some reason I always feel thirsty after reading your informative & entertaining blog.

    • That’s my plan … to make you want to go out and buy some of those beers! Although it usually just makes me want to.


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