Inside the VIP tent of the Great Arizona Beer Festival at Tempe Beach Park, it is difficult to tell if Magician Robert Ray is amusing a crowd of beer drinkers or simply amusing him self with their alcohol-fueled reactions to his tricks. He hands two foam, red balls to a festival-goer finishing her three ounce, plastic mug of beer and asks her to hold them tight. She does so but it doesn't stop three of them from appearing in her hand where there were only two before.
"You son of a bitch!" she says in exasperation.
Such was the attitude at the beer festival; one of disbelief. Disbelief that the rain on Sunday had dwindled lines at beer tasting booths down to nothing. Disbelief that there were so many beers to try. Disbelief that this kind of drunken revelry could be going to support a great cause: the Sun Sound Foundation.
But there's no arguing that three ounce mugs of brew from various breweries were the primary draw to the Great Arizona. What was good?
The Baltic Porter from Alaskan Brewing Company had a delicious oak finish with hints of cherry, vanilla and brown sugar. Firestone Walker's Red Nectar gives a traditional red ale a hoppy, floral kick that may have made it the best of the bunch. Lagunitas' Little Sumpin' Extra has a pineapple taste to it that is a refreshing jolt of hoppy goodness.
As the festival wore on, there were a few brews that asked not to be finished - even in three ounce portions.
W10 from Widmer is a "pitch black" IPA that probably doesn't have enough hops to appeal to most IPA fans. Very middle of the road. Blue Paddle tastes like New Belgium has put a lot of time and effort into cloning Budweiser. Local brewery Sleepy Dog was out and about as well. Their Irish Setter red ale is the best of the bunch, but compared to the other gems available at the festival it came off as lacking.
Still it's hard to knock something so magical as a Sunday afternoon with beer and friends - no matter how many balls you can pull out of thin air.