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Beer and Baseball Bats: Phoenix Ale Homefront IPA

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Beer: Homefront IPA Brewery: Phoenix Ale Brewery Style: American IPA ABV: 6.5 percent

I didn't know Gregory Fretz well. I really only met the man once, during the Beer for Brains Bocce Brew HaHa held in 2012, as he was pouring glasses of Phoenix Ale Watermelon Wheat. He told me in a gravelly baritone how refreshing the beer was and how quickly kegs of it blew on hot days like the one we were experiencing. He was enthusiastic and a pretty good bocce player, his long ponytail bouncing as he hucked the balls cross-court.

See also: - Gregory Fretz of Phoenix Ale Brewery Passes at 44

I was, however, aware of his impact on the beer world. Fretzy, as he was known, began working with breweries in 1994, spending time at both Pyramid and Deschutes before co-founding the Phoenix Ale Brewery in 2010. It was Fretz who masterminded the Phoenix Brewers Invitational Beer Festival held last December. Anyone who enjoys a Phoenix Ale beer at a downtown sports arena has him to thank. Even as he battled throat cancer, he remained an active, hardworking member of the community, and the news of his passing May 18 came to a shock to those within the community who witnessed how much he accomplished in such a short period of time.

Fretsy will be missed, but his legacy lives on in the most recent release from the brewery he helped create. Homefront IPA is the result of a collaboration between brewers across the U.S. and Hops for Heroes, a project begun in 2011 by Chris Ray, a former pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and co-founder of Center of the Universe Brewing Co. in Richmond, Va. The brew, released around Memorial Day each year, raises money for Operation Homefront, a national group that provides emergency financial assistance to military families.

Homefront IPA would be purchase-worthy for its charitable nature alone, but that's only half of what makes this beer unique. The beer brewed with orange peel, hopped with Chinook and Cascade, then rested in fermenters atop unvarnished maple bats from Louisville Slugger. According to Phoenix Ale, there's no difference between them and the ones you'd use to play in a baseball game.

The resultant beer has a subtle but multifaceted wood character that reminds of the ballpark. Above a liquid of waxy gold -- the color of honey sliding off the honey dipper in a Cheerios commercial -- is a small head of white meringue and a beautiful, bright aroma. Grass and grapefruit dance with touches of herbal onions and garlic. The flavor displays perfect balance, with resiny maple wood up front that's soon met with honey and orange pith. Juicy, sweet onion hits mid-palate before a woody, herbal finish.

Easily my favorite brew from Phoenix Ale, Homefront IPA premiered at the brewery's downtown Phoenix tasting room May 24. While the nine brewers who collaborated to create Homefront IPA -- Center of the Universe Brewing Co., Fremont Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, Sly Fox Brewing Co., Perennial Artisan Ales, 21st Amendment Brewery, Left Hand Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Co. and Phoenix Ale -- all used the same bat-based recipe, they each made a small amount. Only 20 barrels (40 kegs' worth) are available in the Valley, so get it while you can at Phoenix Ale and at select spots around town. Buy two, in fact, and help Hops for Heroes beat the $165,000 they raised for our troops last year. It's a cause -- and a beer -- Fretzy would be proud of.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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