Drive down Indian School Road just east of Highway 51, and you'll find Helton Brewing Company, an upstart brewery in central Phoenix that's created and operated by brewmaster Brian Helton. At this new drinking spot, there's a noticeable emphasis on beer education — the walls are adorned with beer and brewing information and the employees are beyond knowledgeable, even bordering on beer geekdom, which we mean in the most complimentary of ways.
Inside the tap room, drinkers can enjoy five different Helton brews, along with a few guest beers. And with one or two tastes, you'll probably notice Helton has done his homework. All five beers we sampled were well-made, ranging from above average to excellent.
Amber Ale: 5.6% ABV, 25 IBU
This beer is very malt-forward with flavors of caramel, toffee, and toasted malt. Ambers can range from complete malt showcases to borderline IPA, and this one definitely falls on the malt side. The hops are subtle and just enough to balance. It's a good introductory beer for those just getting into craft or a fine beer for those who tend to shy away from "hop assault" beers.
Scottish Ale: 7.0% ABV, 30 IBU
Rich malt flavors provided by authentic Golden Promise malt create notes of toasted brown sugar and toffee. It's an initial sugar rush that transitions into a semisweet finish on the back of the palate. Though the somewhat-sweet finish could benefit from a touch of roasted barley, this beer does feature the caramelized notes indicative of a traditional Scottish ale. There are no perceptible hops in either the bitterness or the flavor; this is clearly the malt showcase that Scottish ales are intended to be. At 7 percent ABV, this very well-made Scottish style ale actually borders on the stronger "Scotch Ale" style also known as a "wee heavy."
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IPA: 7.7% ABV, 75 IBU
Helton IPA features three of the "C" hops: Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus, which provide a symphony of hop flavor and the appropriate bitterness for the style. Individually, aromas of orange citrus (Centennial), pine (Chinook), and grapefruit (Columbus) are apparent, yet the three different hops converge to create a new, unified flavor. Medium mouthfeel and medium-high carbonation create a pleasant creamy effect with no lingering astringency despite the high hopping rate. Clear and deep gold — almost light amber in color — with a lasting head, this IPA provides a great hop nose and clean hop flavor. The malt provides a solid backbone and balance, with flavors of Italian bread crust and some lightly toasted caramel notes. It's definitely a hop-forward beer and finishes crisp and clean.
Milk Stout on Nitro: 6.5% ABV, 35 IBU
You'll notice deep molasses-like roastiness along with semisweet chocolate and hints of coffee in this brew. And the nitrogen provides a smooth and silky profile. The roasty notes lead the way, and are much more dominant than the chocolate or coffee notes, both of which appear to be all malt-derived, rather than coming from actual chocolate or coffee additions. This is definitely a great dessert beer.
Pilsner: 4.5% ABV, 12 IBU
Immediately eye-catching, this pilsner pours an inviting, clear yellow with a non-persistent white head. Aromas and flavors of crisp grainy malt sweetness lead, while Sterling hops provide a slight spicy and black pepper note in both the aroma and, to a higher degree, in the flavor. At just 12 IBU, the bitterness is very slight and more like a helles-style lager, although the hop flavor drinks more reminiscent of an authentic pilsner. Helton Pilsner is highly carbonated, which produces a nice effervescence. Overall, it's nice to see local breweries willing to spend the time to make a quality lager, which can take upwards of triple the time an ale takes to produce. In this case, the wait is well worth it.
Helton Brewing Company is located at 2144 East Indian School Road in Phoenix. For more information, check the Helton Brewing Company website.