Craft beer is all the rage across America, and it's no different here in the Valley. Breweries are popping up at an amazing rate and though many are still in the middle of their learning curve, the five we are featuring today produce delicious, consistent beer that rivals many larger, more established nationwide breweries. Whether you're a local, a snowbird, or just visiting for the weekend, these are five breweries you need to check out right now.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company
721 North Arizona Avenue, Gilbert
What's in a name? A lot, if you're Arizona Wilderness. Owners Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware create specialty beers with a local feel. Recently, they produced a saison called Connections that featured grain, hops, (and, of course, water) that was all locally sourced to produce an exemplary take on the classic saison style, a fairly complex beer style that they have mastered.
With brewers Chase Saraiva and Nick Pauley recently joining the team, quality control has reached a whole new level and the output is off the charts. Arizona Wilderness currently boasts 21 different options, with only their flagship Refuge IPA being available year round.
In October, the brew team went down to Apple Annie's Orchard in Willcox, Arizona, to pick some apples for a future brewing project. The culmination of that project has come to fruition in the form of Biere De Wassail, a wintery Belgian strong ale made with these apples and old English mulled cider spices. The beer has a substantial base of malty dark fruit, and the tartness of the apples are a perfect counterpoint. As with most Wilderness offerings, this will be a limited offering, so it's just another reason why you should stop in right now and check them out.
Helton Brewing Company
2144 East Indian School Road
Brian Helton has worked in the industry more than 19 years and brewed thousands of batches, including more than 60 different styles of beer. He's a Certified Cicerone and an Ohio native who hails from the Cincinnati area, a city known for its appreciation of great beer. Helton is an unassuming, somewhat quiet guy filled with beer knowledge who is happy and eager to engage all his customers in beer-related conversation.
The bright yellow chairs catch the eye and welcome patrons to this spotless, inviting taproom. Helton typically has a few year-round beers along with some specialties and seasonal offerings. His Scotch Ale is very traditional, with a malt-forward sweetness that lingers pleasantly into the finish. The IPA has a fresh pine and citrus aromatic quality that continues through the flavor into a crisp, refreshing finish. The pilsner, a challenging style to produce, is done with pristine attention to detail, providing a crisp and clean malt. Though you'll have to wait until next fall to try it, Helton's Dark Munich Lager may be the best traditional-styled beer produced in Arizona. Just tapped is the Black IPA, with all the hop flavor and aromatics of a traditional IPA showcased within a dark-colored body resembling a stout or porter without the roasty character that typically accompanies those styles. They also have a milk stout available, giving you your choice of traditional carbon dioxide or nitro for that creamy, softer essence. No matter what beers you choose, do not leave without trying the Belgian waffle, which pairs well with most of the lineup.
McFate (South) Brewing Company
1312 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Steve McFate opened his first brewery in North Scottsdale in 2012, originally called Fate Brewing, with the intent on making finely crafted beers to pair with his delicious wood-fired pizzas. Scottsdale, and the rest of the Valley, took notice, and the popularity of the brewery necessitated opening a second, larger location at the other end of Scottsdale. The new facility, often referred to as"McFate Souths" showcases some of the finest brewpub architecture in Arizona, providing a comfortable environment to enjoy these finely crafted beers. Whether you prefer to sit inside or enjoy a breeze in the open-air bar or patio, the knowledgeable and friendly staff is ready to accommodate your every need.
McFate is also known for producing very clean, repeatable beers. The Irish Red is a style that not many breweries produce, and maybe they should, because this example is outstanding. A Southwestern take on a cream ale, the Hatch Chile Cream Ale provides delicious and clean pepper flavor without any distracting heat. This is a must try on any trip to McFate's. A golden ale, pale ale, and an IPA are typically available and are solid. All the rage, especially this time of year, is the Candy Bar Milk Stout. Creatively infused with honey-roasted peanuts, vanilla beans, cacao nibs, and sea salt, this sweet stout features enough natural chocolate flavor to make you think someone melted your favorite bar of Ghirardelli into your glass. If you love chocolate, or have a friend who says they don't like beer, bring them here for a Candy Bar Milk Stout and you are sure to convert them to the dark side. This beer won a silver medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival when the fledgling McFate (or Fate, at the time) Brewing had been open just five months.
Pedal Haus Brewery
730 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Speaking of fine architecture, Pedal Haus opened in fall 2015 with one of the area's nicest facilities, in the heart of Sun Devil country on Tempe's Mill Avenue. Pedal Haus mastermind Julian Wright has already remodeled the entire facility, improving the size of the brewing system to keep up with demand and even more importantly, he created an entirely different feel to the brewpub that focused on "multiple intimate environments under one roof," according to Wright. The new look is stunning.
Wright's business partner and brewmaster Derek "Doc" Osbourne has been producing quality beers for decades in the Phoenix area. Though they feature some styles you'd expect, such as a quality IPA and an easy drinking lager, Pedal Haus also focuses on some lesser-known styles such as kolsch, an English porter, and this writer's personal favorite, the Biere Blanche Witbier. Blanche features soft white wheat, orange peel, and coriander, and truly rivals any traditionally brewed Belgian example. This beer itself is worth the journey to Pedal Haus, but don't stop there. The English porter provides notes of roast and chocolate on a fairly light body making it very drinkable. The kolsch features subtle grainy malt sweetness with a slight fruity yeast character making it a great thirst-quencher. Want to take it up a notch? Try the barrel aged quad that checks in at 10.6 percent ABV. It provides sweetness from both the huge malt bill and the pleasantly warming alcohol. If you do, take it slow, as it will catch up to you before you know it. No matter what you prefer to drink, the Bavarian Pretzels are a perfect accompaniment to any beer, and they are served with three dipping sauces including beer cheese, honey butter, and spicy mustard.
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North Mountain Brewing Company
522 East Dunlap Avenue
Beer and music is a combination that is hard to beat, and at North Mountain Brewing Company, they have plenty of both. Besides frequent live entertainment, musical references are often weaved into the names of the beers. A perfect case in point is their latest offering, N.I.B. Imperial Stout, a not-so-subtle reference to the classic Black Sabbath song. Equally unsubtle is Grooving with a Pict Scottish ale, a reference to an old school Pink Floyd classic. After all, a great beer should be accompanied by a great name.
North Mountain Brewing provides a comfortable setting whether your intent is to have a meal, a few beers, hang out with a small group, or listen to some music. The full service brewpub has a solid menu, and each of the items we tried were enjoyable and paired well with the beer sampler.
Founded by Arizona native Rob Berkner and his wife, Candy, North Mountain focuses on beer and community — and they do it well. All of the beers we sampled were solid to outstanding, with the "Pict" being one of the standouts. On a chocolate kick? How about enjoying a Chocodelia Porter, which pairs wonderfully with most of the dessert options on the menu.