It’s hot in the desert, but definitely not dry.
The Phoenix Metro area sprawls across nearly 520 square miles and has more than 20 municipalities; Arizona’s capital is the largest, but because there are no distinct borders, even those from Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe consider themselves all part of the Valley of the Sun. But unless someone’s muling beer across state lines for you, the best way to taste what’s brewing here is at the source. In this cowboy-booted red state where crystal-carrying yogis meditate on vortices, the beer scene (not surprisingly) has a rhythm of its own: Take, for instance, that the state’s most popular local craft is a strong Scotch ale, and most of the best places to drink are in strip malls. You’ll have to drive a bit to get to these beer spots, but the cactus-dotted mountains, palm tree-lined streets and perfect driving conditions (sunny and 70, all winter long) make for an easy, scenic trip.
In the bustling arts and restaurant district of Old Town Scottsdale, Brat Haus’ two tiny “hauses” share a parking-lot-turned-beer-garden packed with picnic tables, Giant Jenga and bocce ball. Down a perfectly crisp brat with apricot chutney and a Krombacher Pils to start, but don’t shy away from the other American/ Belgian/German drafts. 3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; brathausaz.com
The Main Ingredient Ale House & Café
This little converted rambler really does feel like home, but it’s infinitely better because the iPod playlist and seasonally influenced fare is better than anything you could ever make yourself. Tuck into a leather couch, the Sheridan baguette (turkey, salami, cheddar and ESB mustard), and the house Kölsch. 2337 N. 7th St., Phoenix; tmialehouse.com
Ground zero for cutting-edge beer, this Scottsdale strip-mall gem’s glowing fridges house the ABC’s of great beer (Avery, Bruery, Crooked Stave, and more!), while the bar shills local craft genius. Owner Ron Kloth’s own Coconut Joe Stout and Orange Blossom Wheat are worth stopping by for on their own. 7107 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale; papagobrewing.com
As Fate would have it, there’s room for beer in posh Scottsdale. This sleek brewery-eatery’s metal bar is the place to get involved with a thin-crust pizza (we like the Fennel, with mushrooms, sausage and goat cheese); this year’s Snickers-y GABF silver medalist, Candy Bar Milk Stout, is always the best option for dessert. 7337 E. Shea Blvd. #105, Scottsdale; fatebrewing.com
With a slew of GABF medals under his belt from his brewing days at BJ’s, upstarts Jeff Huss and his wife Leah struck out on their own last fall. Tucked in an industrial park, the splashy orange-and-gray tasting room serves Jeff’s back-to-basics beer, like a flawless, citrusy IPA; catch the winter porter, spiced with vanilla beans, cinnamon and nutmeg now. 1520 W. Mineral Rd. #102, Tempe; hussbrewing.com
Four Peaks Brewing
On the busy patio at Four Peaks, you’ll probably bump arms with grad students, grandparents and beer geeks. For 17 years, owner Andy Ingram’s accidental flagship, a wee heavy named Kilt Lifter, has been an AZ beer icon, not to mention four-time GABF medalist (Hop Knot IPA is another medaling favorite). Find cans and bottles around the state, and if you’ve got an extra 15 at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4, stop by the Four Peaks airport pub. 2401 S. Wilson St., Tempe; fourpeaks.com
Angels Trumpet Alehouse
This buzzy, wood-dressed bar is a downtown Phoenix hub for the young, cool and craft-hungry. Thirty-one taps run the hits (Firestone Velvet Merkin to Telegraph Sour Cherry Kriek). This time of year, the air’s as crisp as a Kölsch, so it’s best to hang on the big patio, and pup’s welcome, too. 810 N. 2nd St., Phoenix; angelstrumpetalehouse.com
San Tan Brewing
Anthony Canecchia’s San Diego-inspired indoor/ outdoor brewery with roll-up garage doors sits on Chandler’s quaint town square. He was among the first to use Nelson Sauvin hops in Hop Shock IPA; a brand new production facility means they’ll be churning out even more of their core lineup, and look for a barrel-aged project later this year. 8 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler; santanbrewing.com
AZ Wilderness Brewing
AZ Wilderness launched last year as the first brewery in Gilbert, and though it’s on a busy corner, the notched wood ceilings and rusted steel tables still evoke an urban wilderness. What’s really wild is that, aside from the IPA, you’ll rarely see the same selection twice, from a rare Belgian enkel to Berliner weisse. Keep an eye out for the brewery’s first lambic from the koelschip this year. 721 N. Arizona Ave., Gilbert; azwbeer.com
Pig and Pickle
This cool gastropub is a breath of fresh air in the ’burbs. Dive into heaping, shareable plates late into the night while sampling the small but ever- interesting beer selection even later. Never, ever skip the golf-ball sized tater tots; these crispy bad boys come in pairs, and the flavor changes daily (we love the pumpkin porter). 2922 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale; pigandpickle.com
OHSO Eatery + Nanobrewery
At this upbeat spot, here-and-gone house brews sit next to 30 craft taps that lean local. Kick back on the patio with your pup, or get to work: Sign up to brew (and name!) your own beer to go on tap. 4900 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix; ohsobrewery.com
Taste of Tops
While ASU kids chug cheap beer down the street, this fully loaded bottle shop has a dark and cozy bar next door with 20-plus smartly curated taps to explore there or take to go; order in Thai or pizza from neighboring eateries. 403 W. University Dr., Tempe; topsliquors.com
Believe it or not, North Scottsdale’s luxe Four Seasons desert retreat is the only place to score beer-can chicken and craft from Arizona brewers like Oak Creek, Nimbus and Mother Road (who also brews the house Proof Pilsner)—good thing it’s a short stumble back to your casita. 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale; proofcanteen.com
PLUS: The Valley is home to one of the nation’s largest homebrewing clubs—ASH (the Arizona Society of Homebrewers) boasted a whopping 524 members at the end of 2013. The crew celebrates local flavor at Spring Fest on March 29; the family-friendly outdoor brouhaha draws pro and amateur brewers alike, showing off their skills with more than 70 kegs of homebrew, plus barbecue, live music and a bouncy house for the kids. You have to join to attend, but it’s worth it: All year long, ASH hosts educational events like single-hop beer tastings, style exploration classes and off-flavor courses.