Wren House Brewing Co.
Lauren Cusimano

Stout? In Phoenix? Stouts have a reputation for being weighty beers — not the best desert drinking. But not all stouts are overly sweet, ABV bombs, bitter, or too sharp with oak from slumbering in the barrel. Wren House's Jomax Coffee Stout is a stout that doesn't punish you with alcohol, instead showcasing rare finesse. A coffee flavor built from Ethiopian beans roasted by Press Coffee comes in evenly, pleasantly, about on the same level as the rounded maltiness. The coffee and malt blend seamlessly, neither dominant. This stout has a luscious, creamy mouthfeel, swishing around almost like melted ice cream. Coffee is added as beans during brewing and as cold brew at the end, making the roasty notes mellow and multidimensional, even introducing a touch of stone fruit. Hell yes, stout in Phoenix!

The Phoenix beer scene is so young that breweries with a few years of experience feel like sagacious veterans. Brian Helton of Helton Brewing Company, on the other hand, has brewed beer for a few decades. Sitting at the bar in his taproom on Indian School, you can glimpse him working through a window to the capacious brew room. Helton's range as a brewer is vast. He crafts a luscious, malty Scotch ale that keeps things traditional. One of his signatures is pilsner, an ancient style with modest, restrained flavor. But Helton also loves to brew on the other end: huge, forward-looking beers with explosive flavor. Think rye IPA with whole-leaf hops. Think extra-brut IPA. And think his cult-classic boysenberry sour, with refreshing tartness rounded by the smooth flavor of fruit brought in from Oregon — one of the best fruited sours in town.

Josh and Jason Duren have created a cidery like no other. A communal vibe pervades the spacious tap room, which now spills out to a patio, the place having recently expanded (and added Myke's Pizza). The brothers think way beyond the apple. They pour hazy ciders. They pour blue ciders. They pour cider with black tea, with lemon, with the flavors of oak and vanilla slowly imbued during barrel-aging. Nowhere on the menu do things get as next-level as they do with Purple Heart, a cider with an earthy, mossy sweetness. It's made using butterfly pea flower and ingredients that emulate cascara, the typically discarded coffee cherry. When you sit down at Cider Corps, you sit down to an apple-driven adventure that takes you to new places, most of them brilliant.

This Prescott-based meadery has a Phoenix location in the works and currently distributes to some of the better bars and bottle shops in town (and it's sold at AJ's Fine Foods). Jeff Herbert, head mead master, has brewed hundreds of kinds of honey wine. And these aren't the sugar bombs that most meads are, the kinds of meads that give mead its questionable reputation. Herbert ferments bright, balanced honey wines that are as finessed and drinkable as a slow-sipping saison or your favorite poolside vino. And he uses Arizona honey. Look for short pours from great craft destinations like The Wandering Tortoise, and bask in Herbert's weirder creations. His smooth peanut-butter-and-jelly mead is a 13 percent ABV love song to your taste buds that will forever change how you think about the possibilities of fermentation.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of