Laced with thirst-quenching meanderings as a side note rather than the catalyst for my venture, I recently took a short family foray into Arizona.
Beer in the backseat, I paid visits to Flagstaff’s Lumberyard Brewing Company as well as Tucson’s Barrio Brewing Company, Dragoon Brewing Company and Thunder Canyon Brewing Company. In addition, I hit up Plaza Liquors & Fine Wines for a few local selections to keep me busy around the house and to share with my rascally old brother-in-law upon my return. If you’re interested in what I think, here’s what I thought:
This was an afternoon stop for a snack and a few samples. Having been on the road for something like 18 hours and scheduled for the passenger’s seat for the duration of our trek, I was pleased for this Northern Arizona oasis. I sampled the Diamond Down Lager, Knotty Pine Pale Ale, Lumberyard Red, Lumberyard IPA, Porter and the Belgian Pale. All were good, but I especially liked the pale ale, IPA and porter. The pale, IPA and red have all won GABF and World Beer Cup accolades (deservedly as hell, I’d wager), and set in such a sweet spot as Flagstaff, why the hell hasn’t Lumberyard garnered a bigger beerosphere buzz? We just shared appetizers and I focused on the fried mac & cheese balls, which were decent. Bustling, clean and with friendly service, this is a nice place that deserves some recognition.
I had high hopes, but came away with mixed emotions here. I tasted the Dragoon IPA, Stronghold Session Ale, Fumacabra (mesquite smoked bock), Biere Del Bac (Belgian-style Quad), Ohaygrrl! (gose) and the Barrel-Aged Scout Porter. I was disappointed to learn that they were out of the regular Scout Porter (which is mesquite-smoked), but the barrel-aged version was a worthy consolation prize—I loved it. I also thought the session ale (4.8%) was good, and recognize the quality craftsmanship in the IPA. However, I didn’t like the IPA, and here’s my gripe: there’s this elaborate chalkboard with tons of great information about the 11 beers on tap, but under the description for the IPA they offered a general “gotta have my hops!” I wished they’d listed the hops used in the beer, because I hate Summit hops and would have passed on bothering to size up the brewery’s talent so I could save my ounces for something I’d more truly enjoy. (Sorry, I just don’t get you Summit people.)
The Fumacabra was interesting though a little overly smoky for my taste. The beers that gave me the most trouble were the quad and the gose. They both tossed a big sulfur nose (especially the gose). This was very distracting, again, especially for the gose. Both beers would have been incredible were it not for this sulfur wall—the taste was wonderful (especially the gose), but the aroma was off-putting.
With the chalkboard, big windows into the brewhouse and little else, the taproom can be described as Spartan Industrial. Like me, however, there was a ready crowd in the parking lot at opening time, so there are clearly some good things happening here. One more thing: a warning for the under-21s, gluten-frees and designated drivers–your only choice is water here.
Like Dragoon, I’d heard good things about Barrio, and their online menu made me prioritize a mealtime visit here. I tasted a few beers (Barrio Rojo [Scottish ale], Copperhead Pale Ale and Barrio IPA) before ordering what I knew I’d order: the Mocha Java Stout (on nitro). Though I’d planned on something south of the border foodwise, I wound up with my kneejerk choice of a Reuben.
Everything was fine, and I could really only complain that it was obvious that our server didn’t know the beers or the menu very well and had no clue when it came to our unfortunately necessary gluten-free quiz. Further, I don’t know why breweries or taprooms bother serving nitro pours if they refuse to poor them correctly. That was the case here, I am sorry to say. I know I sound bitchy about a place that brewed some pretty good beers, but I couldn’t help but notice the missionary position, circa 1997 lineup (which was repeated in every grocery store beer aisle I visited in Arizona): blonde, amber, pale ale, IPA, raspberry ale and hefeweizen (plus the Mocha Java Stout, the red-named Scottish and a white IPA).
Of all my brewery visits, this is the only one I’d hit previously (probably back in 1998, when it was but a pup). Though they offered many of the usual 1998 suspects, they had multiple IPA offerings and more on the way, plus at least a pair of stouts. Because I was eating with a large swath of family, I didn’t really take notes or do much beyond ordering a stout. I tasted a lager of some kind, a lager of doppelbock kind, one Summitless IPA (which was quite good) and the stout. My pulled pork sandwich was fairly dry, but the beer was good (and so was the company, which was really the point of that trip).
As I said, I picked up a few beers from down that way, and off the top of my head, here’s what I’ve tried (so far) and what I thought: Borderlands Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter (good), Marble Pilsner (decent—needed more hops) and IPA (really good), The Phoenix Ale Brewery’s Camelback IPA (good), Mother Road’s Kolsch (really good). For sentimental reasons, I had two Pacificos at a party, one in the bottle (good) and the other in a glass (I struggled through it), as well as two Negra Modelos (my go-to Mexican choice, I am not ashamed to say) and a homebrewed stout from Cousin Bill.
It was a great trip with a few beery bright spots and I’d encourage you to look into some of the same beers I mentioned so perhaps we can compare notes down the road…