Like with anything innovative, you can run and become that person at the bar demanding nothing more, nothing less than a Bud Light, or you can jump in, mouth-first, learn the lingo, train your palate, and try to get ahead of the always-evolving craft beer scene.
But be warned, the slope is slippery. Traveling dozens of miles for a small batch, rum-barrel-aged, hazelnut, imperial milk stout with cacao nibs priced at $18 per 10-ounce snifter is only the beginning. This addiction can split your marriage, hollow your bank account, and implant you with a beer gut more difficult to shake than student debt.
But it’s worth it.
Here is a list of craft beer taprooms around the Valley to either introduce you to the scene or keep the hounds of obsession at bay.
The Whining PigMultiple Locations
These beer and wine bars have become Valley staples for their seemingly unending craft beer selection and friendly, expert staff. Floor-to-ceiling chalkboards list vast arrays of craft beers from all over the world, which are all color-coded, making it easier for the average bar-goer to sift through. There are now seven locations, spanning from Gilbert to Desert Ridge and downtown Phoenix. The Whining Pig isn’t the only beer bar in town, but with “welcome home” inscribed on the front door for all newcomers and regulars alike, it is renowned as the neighborhood beer place priding itself on treating everybody like family. Custom grilled cheese sandwiches and a generous meat and cheese plate make up the small but thoughtful food menu.
The Tipsy Cactus Taproom & Bottle Shop2722 South Alma School Road, #1, Mesa
This family-owned establishment has 35 draft beers, both of local origin and from breweries across the country. Like a lot of contemporary taprooms, the list is not only expansive — IPAs, ciders, sours, stouts, etc. — it changes frequently. One benchmark most worthy beer spots should try to meet is replacing every beer with something new once a keg has kicked. This is something that The Tipsy Cactus takes special pleasure in accomplishing. Your food options will be from the menu of whatever food truck has been scheduled to set up shop on that particular day.
The Casual PintMultiple Locations
The Casual Pint continues the tradition of offering top tier suds and casual pub fare in Phoenix. Its list borders on unruly for the amount of great craft brews at your fingertips at any of these establishments. Always an impressive number of rare beers for the many passionate collectors around the Valley, The Casual Pint also has a more in-depth food list (though still technically casual bar food) that includes a variety of flatbreads, wings, and even a few sandwiches.
The Attic Ale House4247 East Indian School Road
One of the most unique things about The Attic is that it is a full restaurant, supplying Phoenicians with amazing pub food. But it just so happens to also have one of the best beer lists in the area. This second-story spread also offers one of the greatest patios, one with a transfixing view of Camelback Mountain from its Arcadia balcony. The Attic Ale House has 21 draft lines, all supplying some kind of brew to satisfy even the most snobbish beer head. Also, is it possible to mention Attic Ale House and not mention the award-winning Ivan burger? Evidently not. But for good measure, we will also tip you off about its criminally underrated pizzas. Enjoy.
The Wandering Tortoise2417 East Indian School Road
When you walk into The Wandering Tortoise beer shop and taproom and notice the repurposed barnwood wall, the old-school board games scattered around, and at least three dudes with long, grizzled beards, your first thought might be, "Have I been here before?" But when you plop down at its expansive wooden bar and gaze up at the beer menu, you'll know you've entered a unique and supremely supplied craft beer paradise. The Wandering Tortoise is also an avid supporter of local food trucks, which on any given day, might be parked in front, ready to satisfy that inevitable drunken craving. The to-go beer case is always stocked to the glass with many more great options if you’re trying to impress the next person opening your fridge.
Kings Beer & Wine2811 North Central Avenue
While all of the shops and taprooms on this list share some important qualities in their own unique ways, there are certain standards, which through the some unclear relationship between loyalty, tenure, and good old supply and demand, cannot be met by all. Possibly the most salient of these crucial differences lies in priority for distribution. In layman’s terms, this means that if you are hoping to get a taste of the most rare and sought-after beers hitting the market in real time, and there's only one place you can go to have a puncher’s chance at getting said taste, bet your bottom dollar on Kings. This longstanding Phoenix shop and taproom has such a staggering amount of tap handles that you will (rightfully) question their sanity, but the integrity of Kings Beer & Wine is never in the balance.
Taste of Tops403 West University Drive, Tempe
We have strategically decided to name Kings and Taste of Tops back-to-back. With a surprising number of worthy opponents in the Phoenix beer shop arena, these two are still among of the most renowned and indestructible. Taste of Tops at Top’s Liquor has a more reasonable amount of rotating draft options (30), but the constant quality and high-demand, priority items always at guests’ disposal put nearly every other beer bar in the back seat. The bottle and can variety is also abounding, and the tried-and-true, neighborhood vibe is palpable.
The Sleepy Whale290 South Arizona Avenue, Chandler
The Sleepy Whale opened for daily beer-slinging service in downtown Chandler in early May. Since then, it's been happily received by the community according to part-owner (along with Tony Fatica and Ryan Kemmet) Justin Evans — also of The Wandering Tortoise and Flagstaff's Hops on Birch. The beer bar and bottle shop has 32 taps, and features Arizona beer companies like Wren House, Arizona Wilderness, Pueblo Vida in Tucson, Dark Sky from Flagstaff, and more. There's usually live music inside the taproom, and food from the neighboring food truck, or any of the nearby restaurants, is always welcome inside.
First Draft Book Bar300 West Camelback Road, #1
A cold beer and a captivating book: There has not been a more iconic duo since George and Lenny — only not nearly as tragic. Okay, so there’s actually nothing tragic about beers and books as a combination, or really as separate concepts either, but let’s not get too pedantic, lest we lose sight of what’s important here: beers and books. Fixed within Changing Hands Bookstore, First Draft is a hidden goldmine of canned and bottled craft beer and also has a quiet and welcoming bar to sit and thumb through a good book at. This is absolutely one of the most unique and underrated beer stops in Phoenix.
Sip Coffee and BeerMultiple Locations
Sip Coffee and Beer has two Valley locations both flaunting their own style and panache, but what they have in common is a craft beer list rivaling just about any other in the greater Phoenix area. Sip is another place that offers a quiet and friendly atmosphere in which you could easily sit down, open your laptop with a masterfully frothed cappuccino at hand, and end up closing that laptop three hours later after an amber ale, two different-styled IPAs, and a flight of imperial stouts. If you have never chased a coffee with a coffee stout, you now know where your next "work-from-home" day will take place. Sip’s food menu also offers a broad but well-executed variety of items.
Chupacabra Taproom14 North Robson, Mesa
Yet another point scored for Mesa in the Arizona beer world. Just off the major intersection of Country Club Drive and Main Street, this quaint, 900 square-foot, brick taproom is an ideal place to go either before you head home on the Valley Metro Rail, or after a punk show at Nile Theater — both conveniently located right down the street. Sporting 28 handles, many of which supply locally sourced brew, there’s no dearth of options in the hops department at Chupacabra. Food options are limited only to what you’re willing to bring in on your own, or what is available for delivery. If that’s too much futzing around for you, then schedule your visit for a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, when a food truck will be firing orders for brew fans one and all.