Arizona-Only Beer Fest Gives Grand Canyon State a Little Something to Take Pride In

Something about an Arizona beer festival felt a little trivial Saturday, a day when angry hordes across the country beat up our state's idiotic new immigration law at May Day rallies.

Hell, they were protesting the law in Milwaukee. If Milwaukee could ignore beer for a day, you might wonder, what business do a few hundred folks in Arizona have taking time to sample suds from 19 of our state's 22 microbreweries?

A valid point, but we did it anyway. Politics aside, we found a few reasons to be proud of this state at the second-annual Eight Craft Beer Festival.

Presented by Arizona's PBS station, the second annual installment of the festival was held at Heritage Square, a location some of us have been lobbying hard to see house more big-time events.

It was an intimate affair -- the $65 admission price, double what you'd pay to attend several of the much larger local beer festivals, probably had a lot to do with that -- packed with industry types lining up to test their competitors.

The big twist to this year's fest? It was all Arizona brewers, with no help from the established California and Pacific Northwest breweries that often flesh out the bill at local fests.

The intimacy worked our pretty well: Without even trying to we managed to chat up a half-dozen brewmasters. That was a nice change from, say, The Great Arizona Beer Festival, where we couldn't seem to track down anyone affiliated with any of the brewers, or even minimally knowledgeable about what they were pouring.

Arizona makes some great microbrews. Among them:

Four Peaks Double Knot. This seasonal is a doubled-up version of the Tempe brewer's standby IPA, Hop Knot. Hop Knot has always left us a little cold -- 8th Street is 4P's best hoppy option -- but the seasonal Double Knot was a much, much bolder IPA, reminiscent of Dogfish Head's 90 Minute.

Thunder Canyon's Bees 'N' Berry. OK, so we were a little tipsy by the time we got around to downing a glass of Tucson brewery Thunder Canyon's Bees 'N' Berry... Still, we'll stand behind our assertion that this is one of -- if not the -- best Arizona fruit beers. While so many breweries fail to properly blend the booze and berries, leaving an awful artificial flavor (see: Flagstaff's otherwise stellar Beaver Street Brewery's -- awful, terrible, yucky, gross, ugh -- Bramble Berry) TC melded honey and real blackberries to create a winner.

Speaking of Canyons: Grand Canyon Brewing Company's Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale was probably our favorite pale ale at the fest, bringing out the best in the Cascade Hops the Williams brewery favors.

By the way, we had a few words for Sonoran Brewing's brewmaster, who's been resting on his laurels a little too long. Inebriator blew us away a few years ago, as did the Phoenix brewer's signature white chocolate beer, Cordilla Blanca, which subsequently made it to a number of Valley taps. That was then, though. It's about time they came out with something new and exciting, right? He says they will in due time.

Meanwhile, Tempe's underdog Sleepy Dog Brewing continues to plug away without bringing home the big bone. Sleepy Dog opened pretty recently -- the business is a long-time dream of a home-brewer -- but they're currently trying their hand at nine (nine!) different styles. This time, we tried the latest breed of Scottie, which didn't have much of anything distinctive about it. They've now gone three beer festivals without serving us something we like, but hope springs eternal.

A better model is followed by fellow upstart Old World Brewery in north Phoenix. They only seem to be working on four beers at the moment and they're more polished than the last time we tried them. Their Porter was very impressive -- though it'd be hard for us to drink two of them in a single sitting.

Sadly, the beer was definitely the star of the show, though there were three food stations featuring appetizer-like bites from catering companies. Cheesecake and brownies were the only truly enjoyable offerings. At $65, that's not ideal.

Luckily, this particular venue offered a pretty decent fallback plan. What goes better with Arizona microbrews than this little place?

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar