John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, once stated that “the story of the craft beer revolution is a rich one. It is a great business story and the sum of many wonderful human stories.” As a native Californian coming of drinking age during this revolution, I have had the pleasure of watching this story unfold, particularly so, because I reside near San Diego: a beer destination for sure. With all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds San Diego breweries, a reputation well-earned and deserved, I was convinced that only other beer destinations, such as Portland or Denver, could compare. I could not have been more wrong. For the past couple years, I have toured the emerging beer scene currently developing in Arizona, and what I have found are breweries that not only rival what I have had in my home state, but many that surpass them. From barrel aged beers, to unique twists on familiar styles, to just brilliantly made classics, Arizona is delivering craft beer worthy of attention!
One such brewery, Arizona Wilderness, located in Gilbert, has a no holds barred attitude that regularly delivers fantastic classics, such as Refuge IPA, and some of the best and most distinct barrel aged beers I have had. Coming in at a whopping 15% ABV, Arizona Wilderness blew the top off of whiskey aged ales when they produced Battle Axe, an American Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig single malt scotch barrels. With copious notes of peat and smoke, this was a beer for fans of scotch whisky, and when patrons drove 6 hours from out of state, including the state of California, just to get their hands on it, well…that alone attests to the quality of this Arizona brewery. This beer, along with their amazing sour ale program and other barrel aged beers, makes Arizona Wilderness one of the top barrel aging breweries in Arizona, and perhaps the best in central Arizona.
Pueblo Vida, located in Tucson, is another example of Arizona beer at its finest. This brewery brews not only fantastic classic beers, including their Belgian inspired Hefeweizen, but also unique twists on beers we have all grown to love. One such beer is their Rice Cream, a coconut, jasmine rice, and kaffir lime leaf IPA, an ale with a creamy mouthfeel and a nice hop presence not unlike New England styles. Coming in at 6.8% ABV, this is a unique take on an IPA that promises to be a trend setter. As stated on their web page, Pueblo Vida has “an eye towards sustainability and our local community,” and their efforts at creating fantastic craft beer promises to serve the city of Tucson and the state of Arizona well. Indeed, Pueblo Vida makes one thing clear: Arizona is a place for craft beer innovation.
Owned and operated by Brian Helton, Helton Brewing, located in Phoenix, demonstrates that sometimes all you need is a beer true to style, and they have such a beer in their pilsner. Coming in at 4.5% ABV, this is a sessionable Czech style pilsner with a wonderful golden color and “classic lager finish” that impressed me from the first sip. Clean and refreshing for those hot Arizona days, Helton Brewing’s pilsner, along with their other fantastic ales, including their Northeast IPA, underscores that Brian Helton is a master of his craft and understands well how beer should taste. Although Helton is innovative, the brewery stands out for its clean, well-balanced, and true to style recipes. Like a warm blanket from the dryer, Helton’s beer is both delicious and comforting. In the pantheon of breweries popping up in Arizona, Helton is sure to impress.
“Overall, beer consumption in America is declining, but the craft beer segment is exploding,” noted Hickenlooper, “people seem to be drinking less beer, but drinking more ‘good beer,”’ and without question Arizona is providing patrons with great beer. From Mother Road in Flagstaff, to Beer Research Institute in Mesa, all the way to Button Brew House in Tucson, a beer mecca in its own right, Arizona is without question a burgeoning hotspot of great local flavor and craft beer innovation. Although California, Oregon, Michigan and the like will always stand out as beer havens for craft beer enthusiasts, Arizona’s beer scene is something to take notice of. Like Arizona’s state motto of Ditat Deus, or God Enriches, the Arizona craft beer scene promises not only to grow and innovate, but it assuredly will enrich craft beer enthusiasts for years to come: it did for me.