Best Neighborhood Taproom 2022 | Chupacabra Taproom | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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Charles Barth

When you walk in, you can practically hear the Cheers theme song play. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is talking to each other at the 12-seat bar and sipping a glass of wine, an Arizona beer, or a $3 Montucky Cold Snack. Chupacabra is where the Mesa locals go for a great beverage selection; there are 32 rotating beers on tap; a curated selection of cans; wines from Arizona, Argentina, and everywhere in between; and their latest addition, rotating slushies. Chupacabra is a solid hangout every day of the week, but if you're there on the weekend, you may catch a DJ on the roof or a beer pong tournament, just some of the events Chupacabra hosts to make it a neighborhood mainstay, not just a place to get a drink.

SanTan Spirits has been distilling since 2015, and their Sacred Stave Arizona Bourbon makes it clear why they're one of the top distilleries in Arizona. It's not because their Cinnamaple Whiskey tastes amazing on French toast (it does). It's because they've figured out how to distill a bourbon that challenges the notion that Kentucky is best. Their Sacred Stave bourbon is high rye with a 28 percent rye malt aged in white oak barrels and then finished in carefully selected wine barrels. The result is a ridiculously smooth and oaky bourbon, but with a slightly sweet finish because of wine barrels. The flavor profile is similar to bourbons from Angel's Envy, Four Roses, and other heavy hitters that are their best in a rocks glass by the fireside.

If it's made in Arizona, we can't call it tequila, but Wild Hare Distillery is breaking down barriers in the world of agave spirits. Jim Matz and Wendy Tilton, the husband-and-wife team behind the distillery, are experimenting with new flavors and ways to think about agave spirits. Drove El Roble isn't like other spirits — it's something else. It's created with their clear, agave spirit base, but they add fermented cacao to give it some chocolate notes, and it's aged in an American oak barrel that provides the spirit with a rich, almost bourbon-like color and depth of flavor. On sipping, the notes of cacao come through along with some vanilla and oak from the char. It's an ode to the complexity that an agave spirit can have.

Sara Crocker

Walking into Trevor's as an adult is akin to the childhood experience of walking into a candy store. Trevor Phillips, the owner, knew what Total Wine was missing, and he ran with it and created a liquor store that isn't just a stop on the way, but a destination in itself, just south of Old Town Scottsdale. The selection is excellent. There are colorful displays and end caps with liquor we haven't even heard of before. There are recommendations and an entire refrigerated room to peruse cigars. And then it gets better. Past the registers, there's a beer and wine bar with cozy chairs, a daily happy hour, and a constantly rotating selection. There's nothing better than being able to try a beer before you commit to all four cans. The bar also has an expansive patio and a regular food truck schedule.

Lauren Cusimano

Recently, we took a friend who had never tried mead to Superstition Downtown, the local outpost of Superstition Meadery. She was unfamiliar with the beverage, which is fermented honey mixed with water and a host of optional ingredients including various fruits, herbs, and spices. She left a mead fan. Superstition Downtown makes it easy to explore the different types of meads: They offer predetermined or build-your-own tasting flights, one-ounce pours that give you several sips to figure out what you like. We love the Invisible Smile, a fruity mead made with apples and peaches; the Amante, a Belgian dark strong mead with notes of coffee and cinnamon; and Tiki Fruit, a lighter mead made with pineapple, coconut, and vanilla.

Cider Corps

Downtown Mesa is slowly becoming a real hot spot for craft beer aficionados, with breweries sprinkled throughout the Main Street corridor. But Cider Corps offers something a little different. This spot functions very similarly to a brewery. There's a patio with picnic tables, a large, slightly industrial space with lots of taps on the wall, board games to play, and tables for friends to hang out and grab a cold one. But here, the beverage of choice is made from apples. Brothers Josh and Jason Duren opened the cidery in 2017 with a recipe that squeezes all the flavor from the fruits they use, without much sugar. This means the ciders are packed with flavor, but are very different from the cloyingly sweet grocery store alternatives. Over the years, the menu options have expanded way beyond simple apples, to include mango and rosehip; passionfruit, orange, guava, a mix in the tropics known as POG; and black tea, lemon, and peach. The cidery pays homage to Jason Duren's service with the U.S. Marine Corps, something that's reflected in the decor of the cidery and the names of the cider, including Mango Foxtrot, Private Palmer, and a special release series of Cider Bombs. On a hot day, try a single flavor or colorful swirl of frozen and refreshing cider slushies.

Phoenix, as a rule, does things a little differently than the rest of the country. For instance, we don't know how to use roundabouts that well, which is both a point of pride and a concern. But it also means that maybe we're a bit more open-minded when it comes to culinary options. So, while the rest of the U.S. is cool with sucking down plain old lemonade, the Heard Museum's prickly pear lemonade feels less like a cool gimmick and more of a significant declaration of the state's identity. Sure, there are enough folks who think sampling the fruit of a prickly pear cactus might be silly, especially since most of us have some direct experience with the pain cactuses can deliver. But on the other hand, it's really not all that removed from actual lemonade, and that extra bit of tartness and sweetness makes this concoction just novel enough without feeling overly adventurous. Plus, you can tell your friends and families you drink cactus fruit like they drink sweet tea, and that's about as Phoenician as you can get without being made of copper.

Heaps of foods are associated with your average amusement park. But we submit the humble corn dog as a pillar for portability, excellence, and the overall "How American?" quotient. However, if you're truly going to enjoy the wonderland of Phoenix, you need a special dog, and that's where Two Hands Corn Dogs steps in. They specialize in Korean-style street hot dogs, which are often covered in potato cubes as opposed to your standard batter. And if that wasn't intense enough, you can get them dusted with sweet ranch, Hot Cheetos powder, or even crispy rice puffs. (Fret not, unadventurous eaters, there are standard dogs available.) Yes, eating this is an easy way to understand the junk food obsessions of another culture, and what better way to expand your mind than through the power of carbs? At the same time, though, they're really markedly different, and their mere presence expands the concept of the long-beloved corn dog in a way that feels exciting while still respecting the essence of this always-tasty treat. Is that perhaps the best metaphor for our fair city, and how it treats the past as it contemplates the future? We'll let you ponder that over a scrumptious corn dog.

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