I had a favorite bartender a while back who, each time I visited, drank more than I did. He was constantly drinking at work. Using tiny sample cups, he'd make his way through the draft lineup about an ounce at a time, swirling and sniffing and tasting each one. One day I finally asked him what he was up to with all the at-work boozing.
"Oh," he said with a smile. "Quality control."
Longtime friends and homebrewing pals Greg Sorrels and Matt Tretheway had a similar joke. Whenever they were out grabbing drinks at a local brewery and their wives would call to ask what they were up to, they'd say they were "conducting research." After their brewing hobby morphed into an actual business, the witty riposte influenced the brewpub's name. The Beer Research Institute was established.
The theme of research and experimentation influences more than just the name of the Mesa-based brewpub, which opened in November of last year. 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-sized pours are served in glass beakers (and these, if ordered in a flight, are placed inside a completely badass caddy shaped like brass knuckles). It's a great look.
But what of the beer? BRI specializes in brews of two broad stylistic families: Belgian-style ales and West Coast IPAs. To get an idea of head brewer Sorrels' approach, I tried two of each.
THE BELGIANS Saison D'Hiver - 6.8 percent ABV The color of candied oranges, this winter seasonal ("hiver" means winter) was originally meant to debut on BRI's taps in December, but the sugars from additions of honey and maple syrup took the yeast longer to digest than brewers thought it would. Despite the extra time in the tanks, the finished product is still very sweet -- especially for the traditionally dry, thirst-quenching saison style. Pie spices like allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon also made their way into the brew, and these become more apparent as the beer warms. A fruity aroma -- sweet pear, lavender -- gives way to an earthy, saccharine flavor with the lingering tang of pear syrup, anise and a bit of white pepper.
Belgian Tickler - 6.1 percent ABV Brewed in collaboration with College Street Brewhouse & Pub out of Havasu, this Belgian brown ale gives off a sweet scent replete with raisins, figs, caramel, maple and just a little Band Aid. The flavor is drier, blending apple and strawberry into a somewhat bitter mixture with a finish of mild cocoa and toasted bread. It's very well-balanced, if not life-changing.
THE IPAS Jed-IPA - 7.4 percent ABV The name has less to do with a galaxy far, far away and more to do with Jed Myers, a close friend of BRI's owners who was lost unexpectedly last year. Myers left behind two daughters, and $1 from every pint of the batch sold is going to a fund created to support them. Translucent, honey-hued and capped with marshmallow-sticky white foam, Jed-IPA is a good-looking brew. Good-smelling one, too -- sweet tangerine, sharp grapefruit peel, mango and fresh cut grass mingle in the nose. The flavor isn't as bright as the aroma, trending toward pithy bitterness with milder mango note to back it up. The alcohol is pronounced; the hops are resinous and almost spicy. A heavy, syrupy IPA.
Street Cred - 6.5 percent ABV A black IPA, Street Cred has the hop character of India Pale Ale balanced with the roasted malt of a porter. Its dark in appearance, brown like dark chocolate and clear at the edges with a frothy head the color of wet sand. The bouquet is decidedly more hop-focused, delivering notes of pine, lemon peel, cocoa and alcohol. The flavor is a smooth blend of orange chocolate slices, pine, dark chocolate and mint, with a dusting of cocoa that is the most prominent flavor in the finish and lingers long after each sip.
Beer Research Institute has a unique and well-applied concept, a fun space and a great story. The mad scientists who work there seem to be doing the right amount of "quality control." You'd do well to head to the East Valley and conduct some "research" of your own.