Little-known fact about DRAFT Magazine: Our editorial office is located in Phoenix, Arizona⏤monument to man’s arrogance⏤meaning that for the past nine days Arizona Beer Week has been happening all around us. And from the beers we tasted at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival last Saturday and at several smaller events held at bars and breweries across the state, we’ve come to a conclusion: Beer in the Grand Canyon state has finally come into its own. These, however, were our seven favorites.
Wren House Brewing Co.
Every year since 2014, the Arizona Society of Homebrewers (the nation’s biggest homebrew club) hosts and judges a competition among all the breweries pouring at the Strong Beer Festival, awarding medals in seven general categories and naming a sole beer Best in Show. This year, Happy Camp was that beer. It’s easy to see why the hazy imperial IPA won—its intense nose is like a mango-strawberry-grapefruit smoothie, while a sip adds peach pits and tangerine peel to the blend atop soft, sweet breakfast pastries. The dry finish with citrus peel bitterness is slightly higher than we see in most New England IPAs, but the finish is squeaky-clean and the 8.6% ABV is nigh unnoticeable.
Tombstone Brewing Co.
Tombstone’s come crashing onto the AZ scene with resplendent New England-style IPAs, but this traditional Munich dunkel just might be head brewer Weedy Weidenthal’s most impressive effort. That the former brewer at Madison, Alabama’s Blue Pants Brewery is as skilled at crafting classic German lagers as he is at making hoppy ales shouldn’t surprise—he studied at Chicago’s Siebel Institute and the World Brewing Academy, and trained under some of the best brewmasters in Germany. In this lager, bread crust unfurls into warm nuttiness before a smooth, ever-so-slightly-sweet caramel finish, but we especially dig the heft of the body—the beer feels to the tongue like crushed velvet.
Borderlands Brewing Co.
Borderlands struck gold with Landon Swanson, who took over head brewing duties for the Tucson brewpub in March 2016, and Starkiller Base is his greatest achievement yet. The Galaxy- and Citra-hopped double IPA takes New England cloudiness to the extreme but has the same soft bitterness and fruit pulp tang we’ve come to expect in the best examples of the style. Bold grass and pineapple rind flavors totally outweigh how much the beer looks like it belongs in a gravy boat.
Spa Day IPA
McFate Brewing Co.
Around this time last year, McFate was still known simply as Fate; a kerfuffle with a certain brewery in Colorado led to a June rebrand reflecting owner Steve McFate’s last name. But while the brewery’s moniker may have changed, its beers are just as clean and well-constructed as ever. This IPA, for instance, melds cooling cucumber and grassy, melony hops with each invigorating, low-bitterness sip—perfect for pairing with a little lotion and a massage.
Debo’s Tart & Hazy Double IPA
1912 Brewing Co./Uncle Bear’s Brewery
A healthy rivalry between Arizona State University in Tempe and the University of Arizona in Tucson usually keeps denizens of the two cities at odds, so it’s nice to see that beer still has the power to bring people together. Tucson’s 1912 and Phoenix’s Uncle Bear’s basically brewed a sour, New England-style IPA here, and it works—sexy Amarillo, Citra and El Dorado hops provide the requisite wheat grass and mango puree, while peachy yeast esters are the perfect topping for the finish of creamy Greek yogurt.
Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.
Helmed by Tyler Lynch, former brewer at The Perch in Chandler, Arizona, Crooked Tooth has been quietly crushing since its November 2016 opening. Dwarvish—a 9.7% ABV, syrup-thick, nutty toffee bomb of an English strong ale fermented with oak spirals—is one of the young brewery’s most sought-after creations. Its caramel-and-vanilla finish is the stuff Starbucks baristas dream of.
Galactic Porter Patrol
The Shop Beer Co.
Tempe’s The Shop was named best new brewer in Arizona by ratebeer.com in January and locked up a distribution contract shortly afterward. This imperial porter is one of their best, brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans for a flavor like buttercream-topped devil’s food cake with a chocolate-covered raisin finish.