Courtesy Arizona Wilderness Brewing
Here’s where to find the best beers in Arizona
Late fall and winter bring moderate temperatures to the Valley of the Sun, and this time of year also brings a lot of out-of-town visitors. Inevitably, many Valley residents will have guests from far away paying a visit to Arizona and part of their visit will include going out on the town for some food, some drinks, some fun and trying some of the best beers in Arizona.
For those with beer-drinking friends and family paying them a visit, the Valley is becoming a haven for high-quality, locally brewed beers. Somewhere in the Valley there is a drink that will please every palate, from the uncle who only drinks the mass-produced, corporate beers (not that there is anything wrong with that); to the cousin who is working toward their Cicerone certification and is currently locked into a love affair with hazy IPAs.
Here is just a small sample of what local breweries have to offer that will please and impress your beer-loving visitors.
Beers for the finicky
These beers are for those who say, “I only drink … (insert brand name you can get anywhere here).”
Obviously, if you have a family member who has looked at the variety of tap handles at the bar and continued to choose the same, mass-produced one, they’ll need a gentle introduction to the ever-evolving craft beer world. Gentle in no way means lacking flavor and character, it just means these offerings are smooth, refreshing and easy on taste buds that haven’t sampled more of the wondrous beers that surround us.
Light Lager, Pedal Haus Brewery, Tempe. For those who say they only drink the same light beer from the same corporate brewery, this beer will show them that the small guy can make the same beer — just a lot better. Light Lager was a silver-medal winner in the 2017 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and has bested big boys like Coors Light at other beer competitions the past couple of years. It has everything that those macro light beers have, just more flavor and character. After a Light Lager, your visitor might be brave enough to try Pedal Haus’ gold-medal winning Belgian-style wit (or wheat) beer, Bière Blanche, which was tops in its category at the 2018 GABF. In fact, Pedal Haus is a place to visit if you only visit one brewery with guests.
Koffee Kölsch, Huss Brewing, Tempe. Like the name suggests, Huss Brewing’s Koffee Kölsch has the aroma and subtle flavors of America’s go-to morning drink, but you can do more than just sip this German Kölsch-style beer. The hazelnut coffee flavor comes on strong early, but this beer has a clean, crisp finish. Most coffee beers are heavy stouts or porters, which makes KK stand out and a good choice for someone who likes coffee, but not heavy, boozy beers. Even for craft beer snobs, Huss has delivered a unique brew that is drinkable around the pool during the day or the firepit at night.
Lolli, Beer Research Institute, Mesa. BRI is celebrating its 4-year anniversary this year and throwing a party on Nov. 17, so if you have family in town for the holidays, this is a great time to introduce them to some of BRI’s beers. Lolli packs a little more punch at 8.2% ABV (alcohol by volume), but it doesn’t bring the heavy, earthy flavors to the party. Lolli is a Belgian Blonde Ale that has fruity notes to it, with sweet flavors that make this beer easy to drink, despite the relatively high ABV.
Beers for the connoisseur
While those offerings are good starters, here are a few local beers that are available year-round that will please a more sophisticated beer drinker in town.
Taildragger Clan-Destine, Saddle Mountain Brewing, Goodyear. This is another critically acclaimed local offering. Really impress your out-of-town guests by dropping the knowledge that this Scottish-style ale brewed in the West Valley was a gold-medal winner in the 2017 and 2018 GABF and took home silver from the 2018 World Beer Cup, two of the largest beer competitions in the world. This easy-to-drink amber ale is smooth and malty, with flavors of caramel, sugar and toffee.
Black Mage, 8-Bit Aleworks, Avondale. For someone new to the Valley who likes a beer with some full flavor, but a little less bitterness, Black Mage is a perfect one to try. It is described as having a smooth, roasty aroma and taste that blends well with some licorice and chocolate flavor. It’s not high on ABV at 6.5%, so it’s one that can be drank more than once in an evening.
White Russian Imperial Coffee Stout, Sun Up Brewery, Phoenix. Now you’re getting into some serious beer, as this big-boy (or girl) brew packs a 9.7% ABV and a nice, warm feeling as it cascades down to your belly. This beer is highlighted by coffee, bittersweet chocolate and roasted grain flavors, along with hints of dark fruits like plum, raisin and prunes. White Russian scores an overall rating of 100 on RateBeer.com, so it’s been sampled, enjoyed and raved about by many beer drinkers and is sure to please any guest that loves a full-flavored stout.
Some of the best brews
No beer list should be without some pale ale offerings, and just about every brewery in town has a solid West Coast, East Coast or hazy IPA on tap. Here’s a few to go out of your way for.
Hop Knot, Four Peaks Brewing, Tempe. I know, I know, Four Peaks could technically be called a “corporate brewery,” (Anheuser-Busch InBev bought it in 2015) but it’s the granddaddy of Arizona brewing and is still churning out solid beer, just on a larger scale. In fact, Four Peaks is celebrating its 21st anniversary on Nov. 16 with a huge party at the Phoenix Rising soccer complex in Tempe. One of its mainstay beers is Hop Knot, a well-balanced IPA with a crisp taste and bitterness that doesn’t linger in your mouth. If you see Four Peaks’ Double Knot Double IPA on tap, it’s just a bigger version of Hop Knot, with more hops and a higher ABV, but just as smooth and drinkable.
MoonJuice, SanTan Brewing, Chandler. This used to be only a seasonal offering, but customers clamored for this “Galactic IPA” to be on tap year round and SanTan obliged. This beer is made with a mix of Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin hops, thus the out-of-this-world name.
Mijo, 12 West Brewing, Gilbert. This is a triple IPA that is high in bitterness, but incredibly smooth. The assumption is that the higher the bitterness (IBUs) in a beer, the harder it will be to drink, but Mijo has a balanced taste throughout and leaves no bitter trace in your mouth after each drink, leading you to want the next mouthful ASAP. The reason it’s so smooth is the large amount of malt used to brew it (which is needed to reach that high 10.4% ABV). The sweetness from the big malt bill helps temper the bitterness. While Mijo may not be a year-round offering, it is on tap quite often, so grab some when you can. But don’t worry, if Mijo isn’t available, 12 West will have another beer that you’re guests are sure to enjoy.
Church Music, The Shop Beer Co., Tempe. If a visitor mutters something about enjoying hazy beers, drive them immediately to The Shop Beer Co. for this murky IPA. Without getting deep into the science of brewing, the haze is basically caused by not filtering the beer, which does change the flavor of it. Church Music has a strong grapefruit/mango aroma and flavor with moderate bitterness.
Hop Chowda, Goldwater Brewing Company, Scottsdale. Another solid, hazy New England IPA. This beer will grow on you, with familiar hop flavors of pineapple and orange, and a mouth-watering juiciness from start to finish.
Some of the best breweries
If you’re not looking for any particular styles but just want a variety of great beer, there are some breweries in the Valley that will not let you down, no matter what you order. These breweries deliver the goods on every level, from beer to food to atmosphere, they have it all.
Arizona Wilderness, Gilbert. What sets Wilderness apart is its fixation on locally sourced ingredients, both in what it brews and what it cooks in its kitchen. It has a rapidly growing list of beers, many of which only last a short time due to their popularity. There are some regular rotation offerings like Refuge IPA and Superstition Coffee Stout, and they almost always have a stellar saison or sour on tap. For a real treat, keep an eye out for these limited-release beers and grab one: American Presidential Stout, AZ Dreamsicle, Blood Orange Gose and DC Mountain DIPA.
O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery, Arcadia, Gilbert and Paradise Valley. This ever-expanding brewery continues to churn out quality beer and has ventured into distilled spirits such as vodka, rum and gin, which can be found by looking for the simple # symbol on the bottle. O.H.S.O. has a regular lineup of eight beers, led by Orange Pedal, which is a citrus-flavored pale wheat ale, and O.H.S.O. Hoppy, its flagship IPA.
McFate Brewing, Scottsdale (2 locations). McFate has made a name for itself with special or limited-release beers. It just so happens that fall and winter is the perfect time to head to one of the McFate locations for their most popular seasonal offerings. McFate’s Candy Bar Milk Stout and its bigger, bourbon-barrel-aged version, King Size Candy Bar Milk Stout, are famously delicious, and McFate is well-known for delivering great IPAs and strong ales.
Wren House, Phoenix. Not as big and brash as the other breweries mentioned above (it doesn’t serve food), but Wren House Brewing is a perfect place to sit and drink good beer in a cozy taproom. Wren House is best known for IPAs and stouts, but you’ll find a variety of styles on tap, from lager and doppelbock to rye beer and wheatwine. For a visitor who doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles, Wren House delivers the basics: great beers.
The beers and breweries mentioned above are just a sample of what the Valley has to offer for beer drinkers. In fact, there’s likely a local brewery close to wherever you may live. For a more complete listing of breweries throughout the Valley and all over Arizona, a great resource is the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild website, chooseazbrews.com.