Thursday, March 26, 2009

There's Something Brewing in Phoenix and it isn't Sun Tea!

This reporter and his fearless sidekick S and sometime sidekick Z dropped into the Valley of the Sun last weekend to visit the University of Advancing Technology, a college that Z may be attending in the fall. Coincidentally, we doubled-down on this visit which gave ample opportunity to explore the city and its environs in our quest for the Master Race of Beer. Or at least a few descendants.

Mill Avenue in Tempe is a pleasant restaurant/shop/nightclub area located along the north boundary of Arizona State University (ASU). (For those taking the METRO light rail system, the Mill Avenue/3rd St. station will get you here.) Our first pause to refresh is at the chain brewpub Gordon Biersch on 5th St. perpendicular to Mill Avenue. You may be asking yourself who or what is Gordon Biersch? Well, Gordon Biersch isn't a single person but the first and last names of their two founders Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch. It's hard not to wonder if Dean's last name is made up, but no, that's his real last name.

Advancing through the front doors, a stairway leads to a landing half-way up that splits the possible beer outcomes into bar and dining room wins. To the left, the dining room and to the right, the bar. We decide to grab lunch so opt for the dining room.

Frankly nothing on the regular beer menu yanks my chain enough to choose it, but on a separate menu I spot a seasonal Dunkelweizen which arrives in the correct 0.5l weizen glass. The color, aroma, and head are spot-on. The flavor is OK but lacks the banana/clove/malt punch I am expecting and last experienced in One Guy Brewing's Dunkel Weizen. However, this style does allow for many unique interpretations and since it is a hot day of 90 degrees (but it's a DRY heat!), it did go down mighty well with a BLTA (Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Avocado) sandwich and garlic fries (excellent). The beer menu also proffers a Reinheitsgebot-friendly Marzen, Hefeweizen, Czech Pilsner, and a Export Lager which S orders, and I try, and declare just dandy.

After a trip out to the edge of the desert to tour the eclectic Mystery Castle, a thirst anew reaches a crescendo and we set a course for the heart of the Sun, the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewing Co. We are in-between lunch and dinner so this is just a quick stop to sample one or two of their beers. This place is a high-ceilinged brewpub with a cool layout. The dining room is an ell around the bar which is along the side wall to the back right on entry.
Behind the back bar is a wall with windows offering a clear-headed view of the 16 bbl Serving Wessels. Neatly, stenciled on the serving tanks, are the proper conversions to gallons (496) and pints (3968). That's a lot of beer. The tanks also employ a handy gauge that shows at a quick glance, just how long the drinkers have until despair sets in. I choose the Desert Trail Pale Ale which is just right and reminds me of a better version of my own A.P.A (Amarillo Gold). I am astounded by how easy it goes down, and I noticed that I have a five-ring lacing thirst--that explains it! S selects the Dream Catcher Light Lager which I have a sip of. This is perfect for this sort of beer and a nice intro to craft brewed beer. S isn't really a newbie anymore, but still stays to the easier drinking brews (although she will try a sip of what I'm drinking).

The next day we have some time in the afternoon and set out on the METRO light rail system to see if we can find the Four Peaks Brewery. We get off at the Mill Avenue station and walk down Mill Avenue looking for East 8th Street, but where 8th should have been, there lies University Drive and 9th St. beyond that. We meet a ASU prof sauntering along, who sort-of knew we are in the right area but thought that we have to go maybe 13 blocks south to find East 8th St. We started, then backtracked to the METRO thinking the better of a walk to perhaps nowhere. It was then we discover a map which shows 8th St. picking up beyond ASU's southern boundary. We get back on the METRO eastbound at the Mill Avenue/3rd St. station and proceed to the University Drive/Rural station where we disembark and spot East 8th St. just behind the station to the south. A 10 minute walk transports us to a brick Mission Style building housing the Four Peaks Brewery.

Alfresco dining, front doors open, curtains a-flutter, ceiling fan a-twirling. Inside we are greeted by a cavernous structure (formerly a creamery) with a G shaped bar in front of us and the brewery behind that. The building is an iron-trussed behemoth, perhaps 50 feet wide and 150 feet long. Behind the back bar to the right is a wall devoted to displaying their gold medals achieved at various festivals, of which there are many of great significance including World Beer Cup Gold, Silver and Bronze. Oh. This is a real brewery and their beers are available in bottles at other locations.

We grab two of the very few available stools at 4:30, and check out the beer menu. My focus is drawn to the Hop Knot IPA® like a vulture to road kill but wanting not to be tied to just one style, ponder the mystery of broadening my beer horizons, and lean towards the Kilt Lifter® Scottish-style Ale coming in at a sweet 6.0% ABV instead.

I haven't written here before if memory serves me correctly (and it probably does not), of my surprise liking of Scottish Ales. Let's see, I have tasted a Bullfrog Brewery Scottish at Elmer Sudds back in the winter, which I thought was swell. More recently, I sampled the Belhaven Scottish Ale which was a beer of the month selection. In both cases, with this style, I have found another beer with a profile which heartily agrees with my taste. The Kilt Lifter is no different, and I savor its lift to my sails as I allow this fine malt feast to grace my senses. I believe that this ale is lower in ABV than either of the previous two trys.

I follow this up with the house beer, the 8th St. Ale® from a cask. This pours at just the right temperature--an unfiltered wholly excellent special bitter. Just a little hop flavor with robust caramel malt to balance it out. This quickly leads to the final beer of the day here, just as Happy Hour commences. A Sunbru Kölsch it shall be! Very light, very drinkable, and true to form. I could drink many of these and enjoy every minute of them.

Four Peaks Brewery is a very cool place to grab a great beer (or two). There is a good vibe and they play great music (at least they were when we were in). There was a constant stream of servers to the bar to pick up and serve beer to tables in the restaurant. You will not go wrong visiting. I highly recommend it.

Sonora Brewhouse is located to the northeast of downtown and this is a mighty fine place where I am able to catch a quick beer on Saturday afternoon. This brewpub has a semi-circular bar in one corner of the room which is well-inhabited by what appears to be many knowledgeable beer drinkers discussing brewing, brewpubs breweries and the like. A nice well-rounded selection of their beers are available on tap--theres seems to be one for every taste, even including a Cream Ale! How often do you see that! I am in a hurry so I point to the Trooper I.P.A. and ask for one, please. This turns out to be a well-made I.P.A. with just the right amount of juice to make me want another. The Sonora Brewhouse also serves food but I didn't have any this time. Make sure you go around the back to see the mural.

Four Peaks Brewery, Sonora Brewing Company, Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch.

These local places/beers were not located (but we tried!) Old World Brewery and Papago Brewing. While not a place per se, I saw an ad for Odell Brewing Company's 5 Barrel Pale Ale which was intriguing, implying five hop additions at five stages of the brewing process. My quest to find this beer, however, was unfulfilled and will have to wait until the next visit. (Upon return home I learned that some bars on Mill Avenue carry this beer on draft.)

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