Condensation-kissed pint glasses, towering fermentation tanks, the soupy smell of cooked malt in the air — there's nothing like a visit to the place where your favorite beers are made. Thirty-four craft breweries now call Phoenix home, but the ones on this list are doing it better than anyone else. Seek them out, scooch on up to the bar, grab a beer, and drink deep: You're at one of the best breweries in the Valley.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Before Arizona Wilderness came to the Valley, nobody would’ve thought to make a beer smoked with pine cones from the forests of Northern Arizona. Nobody was doing imperial sour peach porter collaborations with Danish gypsy brewers. Nobody was aging beers in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels or throwing whole pecan pies into the brew kettle or churning out sours on the regular. They are now. Arizona Wilderness made Arizona beer interesting. Buddies Brett Dettler, Jonathan Buford, and Patrick Ware — a team with about four feet of facial hair among them — collaborate regularly with renowned out-of-state breweries like Sun King, Stillwater, Jester King, and To Øl, but it’s an acute focus on local products and people that’s truly driven Wilderness’ popularity. Nearly every ingredient in the brewery’s beers is indigenous, from the Sonoran White Wheat used in the yogurt-tart Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse to the smoked jalapeños that give the outstanding American Presidential Stout its mild spiciness. Thanks to the brewery’s purchase and quick habitation of the bagel shop next door (peace, Bruegger’s!), there’s finally space to snag a growler fill, grab a meal, or try the newest draft offering.
Fate Brewing Co.
More than 150 different beers have gone from Fate’s fermenters to the taps since the brewery opened its doors in November 2012. Let that sink in: 150 IPAs, porters, Irish reds, sours, hefeweizens — every style you can think of, in every variation you can think of — in three years. That’s about one new ale or lager every week. It’s a torrid pace for any brewer, and it’s even more impressive considering the quality that brewmaster Adam Schmeichel is able to maintain with every batch. His sweet, peanutty, and aptly named Candy Bar Milk Stout, the sour and citrusy BerLEMONer, and Droppin’ Beetz, a saison made in collaboration with Cartel Brewery (also on this list) dyed Valentine-pink from the addition of earthy beets, have been some of our favorite brews of the past few years. Our only complaint is that Fate’s current location at Scottsdale and Shea is a bit of a drive, but a more convenient location set to open later this summer near Scottsdale and McDowell — called, appropriately, Fate South — will make the next 150 beers much easier to reach.
Four Peaks Brewing Co.
The medals given out during the Great American Beer Festival’s judging competition, held yearly in Denver, are among the most prestigious awards a brewery can earn. For a beer to win a GABF medal, a panel of invited judges has to deem it better than hundreds of others within the same style. It’s not easy; many otherwise successful and beloved breweries have never won a GABF medal. Four Peaks has won 12. Eight of those were given to the same two beers: Hop Knot and Kilt Lifter. Heard of them? Four Peaks’ omnipresence allows us to forget that for nearly 20 years, we’ve had a world-class brewery right down the street. Its success and growth literally have transformed laws, paving the way for the future success of smaller breweries across the state. Craft beer in Arizona would not be where it is without Four Peaks. Tip a glass of Kilt Lifter in its honor.
SanTan Brewing Co.
Fans of cans should love SanTan. The brewery packages most of its year-round and seasonal stuff in 12 ounces of aluminum, and beers available only on draft at the downtown Chandler brewpub can even be put inside Crowlers, large-format cans filled from the tap and sealed right before your eyes. Founder and brewmaster Anthony Canecchia — who, by the way, spent close to eight years as an assistant brewer at Four Peaks before opening SanTan in 2007 — believed so strongly in the can that he had his brewery found and sponsor the AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Fest, a celebration that brings dozens of rarely seen breweries to the Valley and is this newspaper’s favorite annual brewnanza. Highly carbonated, highly refreshing brews like Mr. Pineapple, Devil’s Ale, and SunSpot Gold are necessities for the pool or golf course, but we’re most excited about KiloHop, a limited-release double IPA brewed with Arizona honey and a kilo of Citra hops per barrel.
Huss Brewing Co.
Though technically just two years old, there’s a lot of history behind Huss. Located in the space that once held Rio Salado Brewery in South Tempe, the clean production brewery and taproom are owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Leah Huss, who have a couple decades of beer industry experience between them. Leah, a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, has been a managing partner at Papago Brewing Co. since 2001. Jeff, who’s also the brewmaster, has a degree from the Siebel Institute of Technology (the world’s top brewing school) and was head brewer at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Chandler. Stylistically accurate brews like the citrusy, heavily bittered That’ll Do IPA; Scottsdale Blonde, a Germanstyle Kolsch; and Rise of the Rio schwarzbier are Huss’ calling card, but oddities also regularly appear on one of the taproom’s 20 revolving handles. Our favorite is 21Hour Sizzurp, an imperial stout made so decadent through additions of chocolate and aging in whiskey barrels that it can be burned off only through a session of Downward Drafts, a yoga class held among Huss’ fermentation tanks every Sunday morning.
SunUp Brewing Co.
There’s no better place in the Phoenix area to down a pint of traditional English-style cask ale than at SunUp. This might surprise anyone who’s ever met head brewer Uwe Boer, whose German accent is thick as a chunk of marzipan, but it’s true. Dortmund-born, Boer cut his teeth as brewmaster of the now-defunct Sonora Brewing Co. for a decade before helping found SunUp in 2004. An expansion currently under construction next door to the brewery’s Camelback Road location — with a shiny new 15-barrel brewhouse — will soon bring SunUp beer in bottles or cans to the thirsty masses, but those seeking a quality pint would still do well to visit right away for dry-hopped variations of Boer’s rock-solid Trooper IPA or his revered White Russian Imperial Stout, a silk-smooth, 9.2 percent ABV brew packed with more coffee and vanilla bean flavor than anything Starbucks ever cooked up.
You brew coffee, and you brew beer. It just makes sense to combine the two. Operating next to Cartel Coffee Lab’s flagship location in Tempe, Cartel Brewery makes good use of the hipster hangout’s house-roasted beans in such beers as its smooth, nutty Coffee Brown and the hilariously named Fuktunna Coffee and Donuts, which may be the only beer in the nation that replaces the water necessary in the brewing process with cold-brew coffee. Cartel’s about more than caffeine, however, with beers like F.Y.I.T.M., a double IPA, and the spicy Amber Rye. A tasting room attached to the brewery — only open Thursdays from 5 to 9:30 p.m. — features special versions of these brews, but the regular stuff is always on tap next door, and Cartel makes a much better beverage than coffee to sip while working on your computer in public. Trust us.
Scottsdale Beer Co.
If the brewing equipment visible through Scottsdale Beer Co.’s giant glass wall looks slightly strange to you, it should. The owners custom-designed their brewery with a larger-than-usual mash tun made to handle huge amounts of grain. Its very purpose is to produce highalcohol beers. Since the brewery opened in January, it’s been doing exactly that. But while the pine needle-flavored Black Hole Sun Black IPA (8.1 percent ABV), oak-aged Shea Connection Ryewine (9.4 percent), and Texas Tea Double Chocolate Imperial Stout (10.8 percent) have all fulfilled their high gravity mission, it’s this brewery’s interaction with drinkers that intrigues us most. In June, SBC held its first “Yeast Panel,” for which brewers cooked a base pale ale, divided it into four batches, fermented each one with a different Belgian yeast strain, then allowed customers to score and vote for a favorite. Not only did this give drinkers the chance to learn the diverse flavors and aromas of different yeast, but the winning strain they selected will be used to brew a beer later this year.
Beer Research Institute
The theme of research and experimentation influences more than just the name of this Mesa-based brewpub, which opened in November 2014. Erlenmeyer flasks, like those you’d see in a science lab, form BRI’s light fixtures. The tap handles are small tubes that once held liquid yeast cultures. Taster-size pours are served in glass beakers (and these, if ordered in a flight, are placed inside a completely badass caddy shaped like brass knuckles). The aesthetic, according to owners Greg Sorrels and Matt Tretheway, was inspired by the answer they’d give their wives whenever they called while the guys were out grabbing drinks: “conducting research.” Disingenuous though they may have been, those studies paid off — BRI’s drawn in plenty of beer fans with its mix of Belgian ales, like the fruity Lolli-Blonde, and tweaks on popular American styles, such as the 9 percent ABV, mango-fermented IPA known as Mjango Unchained.
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Peoria Artisan Brewery
Not much will lure us to the West Valley; we fear the avenues. Peoria Artisan, however, is worth the journey. The story’s a familiar one: Homebrewing buddies decide to turn their love of beer into a profession. Together, they purchase a former pizza joint in Litchfield Park and open the West Valley’s first craft brewery on New Year’s Eve 2013. The brewery’s tiny, with brewers cooking ales one barrel — that’s 31 gallons, or just two kegs — at a time. But good things come in small batches, as is proved by PAB’s Haboob Black IPA, a dark ale with notes of toffee balancing resinous citrus, and the decadent Imperial Peanut Butter Porter.