Inside a room that feels like being enclosed in a box of glossy computer paper, Jorge Ignacio Torres oversees the most vibrant coffee program in Phoenix. Futuro exists inside Palabra, the multipurpose downtown space that also houses the eatery Pasado, a hair salon, and rotating displays of up-to-the-minute avant-garde art. The coffee, much of it single-origin, pushes new limits creatively, making you reconsider what coffee can be. Innovative blends like a double espresso with milk and marzipan candy, or cold brew with nectarine, honeysuckle, and cream often come in stemless wine glasses when iced, hand-thrown ceramics when hot. Torres' beans and whimsical-yet-rigorous flavor weavings have deep roots in Mexico. Classics like cafe de olla and cajeta latte feel brand new.
With two decades of roasting experience and some of the most sought-after roasting machinery in the world in his shop, Kansas transplant Dave Anderson and his Cave Creek crew roll out the red carpet for coffee beans, bringing them to their full pre-brew flavor. He started canning his nitro cold brew a few years ago. It has a deeply frothy head that could give Guinness a run for its money and such an astonishing array of lightly nutty, malty, fragrant flavors that it almost seems like you aren't drinking coffee — until its buzz zaps you like a thunderbolt. Wake up with one of these, and a big day is pretty much guaranteed.
Pulling up to this sky-blue, cloud-white, wood-paneled coffee trailer with a psychedelic saguaro painted on its door feels like a block party. Whether they're parked in their customary lot in downtown Tolleson or elsewhere, Raul Chavez and Brittany Martinez-Chavez sling their fun latte riffs to big crowds. They use Quetzal Co-Op coffee and mix espresso-based drinks like a Mexican hot chocolate mocha and a churro latte. Drinks are sweet and iced and giant, the best ones a touch or more crazy. The two also brew mean teas, some from Native Seeds/SEARCH, like prickly pear and desert mint. But the coffees deserve their star turn. They're just so unique: Mexican in spirit with Akimel O'odham influences and plenty of whimsy.
The intersection of 16th Street and Highland Avenue is a chaotic one, packed with impatient motorists making their way to or from the State Highway 51 ramp a few blocks away. As of this year, though, you can escape to chill vibes inside Moxie Coffee Co., which opened up shop in May inside one of the ground-level retail spaces beneath a luxury apartment complex called The Art on Highland. The coffee shop, owned by Matt Heltzel, is airy, white, and clean, with high ceilings and lots of natural light. It's also large enough that we've never struggled to find a table to work, despite it always being fairly busy there. There are several long tables for collaborative work/study sessions, square two-seaters, a row of high chairs overlooking 16th Street, and some patio seating out front. Plus, the tables are spread out nicely, meaning you won't be distracted by the next table's conversation (and you'll be less likely to get COVID from them). Order a nitro or a New Orleans-style iced coffee (cold brew with chicory and house-made vanilla, topped with cream), arrange your stuff on the table, and breathe in the freshly roasted tranquility. Time to get to work.
Little Wren has grown up. Once a small, charming, upstart brewery operating out of a cramped bungalow, Wren House has multiplied its production capacity with an off-site facility and has opened a biergarten in Prescott called The Prairie Patio. Even with all this, Wren House hasn't taken even a half-step back in quality or lost a drop of charm. The IPAs leveled up a few years ago. More classic styles like pilsner (Valley Beer) remain first-rate, and Wren still makes what might be the state's best stout in Jomax. So many classic styles are well executed. So many newcomers are still inspired. Cheers to Wren taking flight.
We're going to shoot straight with you here: Tombstone Brewing Company isn't a new Arizona brewery. But it's new to Phoenix. In October 2020, respected head brewer Weedy Weidenthal took over the fermentation tanks at the old Helio Basin Brewing, expanding the production and style capacity of Tombstone and giving this top-tier Arizona brewery a northern outpost. Tombstone is known largely for its dank, juicy, giant IPAs, doubles and triples with pleasant hoppy nuances despite their power. Tombstone's range is total. From trendy pastry sours to old-school barley wines and English bitters, the brew crew cranks out reliably delicious beers. In the case of strong IPAs and special releases, they're often spectacular.
True statement: Everyone goes to Wilderness. The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.'s second location, the downtown Phoenix beer garden, turned out to be more successful than its first (which is saying something). Upon opening in spring 2019, it became instantly Phoenix-famous thanks to its biggest draw — the patio. This outdoor beer garden is massive, covered with a thick sunshade, and bird-friendly. (During the pandemic, the team installed native plants to attract native birds and bugs, embracing the brewery's name.) Inside, you'll find cold pints of Refuge, the "flagship IPA incepted in our founder's garage," the DON'T F#%K IT UP Blonde Ale, the water-conserving, Belgian-style witbier Sonora White, and many more signature brews (as well as cocktails and above-average bar food, heavy on Arizona ingredients).
One of the great things about The Shop is how excellent the patio is for kicking it with a brew or many, the hours draining away like the first-rate IPA and blonde lager. The patio's casual, high-energy atmosphere is made for session drinking: long picnic tables, fun murals, trees wavering in the breeze. It's all illuminated by hard desert sunlight by day and string lights by night. You couldn't ask for a better place to attend church — crush a few cans of Church Music, that is — or sip the latest can in the brewery's Neonic series, a line of fruited sours. Post-COVID, this patio is going to be a blast.
Longtime craft beer maestro Todd Helton uses 88 pounds of Oregon boysenberries for every batch of his Boysenberry Sour. This brew, the best staple at Helton (yes, better than the pilsner), is made for sipping or flat-out crushing under the desert sun. It's bright and crisp with a rounded tartness and the lush, mellow fruit of the berries blushing through. This sour is complex yet cohesive. Somehow, it seems to take on a new personality based on the food you eat while enjoying a bottle or two. Sours are a difficult style, and Helton has cemented his year-round staple as the most memorable version made in Phoenix.
By now, many drinkers have heard the legend of Atsuo Sakurai, a sake brewer who traded Japan for Holbrook and painstakingly crafts Arizona Sake — at first out of his garage, now out of a modest sake brewery. Sakurai's standard sake, his junmai ginjo, is indeed excellent. But one of his rarer bottles, Desert Snow, is even better. Desert Snow is sparkling. In the bottle, this gray-white unfiltered rice brew looks about as cloudy as fresh-squeezed lemonade. All of that extra sediment brings an unreal, milky goodness. The fizz adds liftoff. Sometimes you can find this sake on higher-end menus around town, but you might have to head to Holbrook.