When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Grand Avenue Brewing Company
Location: 1205 West Pierce Street
Open: About two months
Eats: Upscale bar snacks and craft beer
Price: $11 to $20 per person
Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 3 to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday
Located off Grand and Seventh avenues, the 3,100-square-foot Grand Avenue Brewing Company has been open since May 2019 and resides in Phoenix’s lower Grand Avenue Arts District — an area growing in many different directions through art, business, and restaurants. Just as Grand Avenue sits diagonally in an otherwise orthogonal city, the brewery represents a unique angle in an otherwise industrial area. These areas may be overlooked by the public eye, but not by owner and head brewer John Coll. He saw something different.
From a career of practicing law, his real passion for brewing developed by buying out an industrial space. It was there he mastered and produced quality ales as a side project. But after nine years, John decided to take his homebrew concept and expand it into a taproom adjacent to his brew space.
Inspired by traditional Belgian brasseries, John was set to bring the European influence of hospitality, craft, and community to Phoenix — one beer style at a time.
Once you walk into the brewery from the small entrance with a quaint patio, plenty of tables and bar stools await new patrons. The bar is dimly lit to resemble your own home, as people populate this space, particularly after the workday, to enjoy one of the featured beers.
In order to create his Belgian brasserie, Coll started with an eight- to nine-barrel system and has been producing quality ales that range from summer refreshers to winter warmers ever since.
In the selections at Grand Avenue, there is something for everyone, from craft beer novices to veteran scouts of breweries in the Phoenix area. But it’s also believed that, at Grand Avenue, the beer will pick you.
“We believe in using high-quality ingredients and letting them shine through,” Coll says. “Too many people throw in a lot of ingredients and it muddies up the flavors, so we prefer to use very little ingredients, but to use very good ingredients.”
As the hot Phoenix summer ensues, the Gran Framb, a tart ale brewed with 110 pounds of fresh raspberries and very few hops, can be the go-to sipper for a poolside day. An enormous burst of raspberry and a slight tart twinge makes the jaw tighten, but the mind feels revived in the heat, especially at just 3.5 percent ABV. What makes this all-around enjoyable is how no aftertaste of bitterness lingers after sipping — just lush notes of berries and malt.
Making our way from lighter ales like the Gran Framb to more hoppy ales, we find a unique and carefully crafted ale in the El Dorado IPA. While most breweries experiment with multiple hop varietals to create something new, sometimes resulting in overwhelming IPAs, Grand Avenue will focus on a single hop — and create a series until a new hop is introduced into the brew.
Coll does this to showcase to patrons the distinctive characteristics of the El Dorado IPA, which includes tropical fruit and pears. Once you’ve gained a palate for this specific IPA, then you can move on to the next featured hop to be dissected.
Going down the scale to the bolder choices, Coll introduces the heavy hitters of his roster. Some people may be afraid of heavier, darker beers, but Coll has adventurous takes on classics.
The appropriately titled Black Pond is a Baltic porter, showcases notes of black licorice, molasses, and the use of a lager yeast. It resembles a cola-colored darkness and weighs in at 10.3 percent ABV. This beer is perfect for pairing with smoked meats or for just sipping alone.
The Grand Ave Stout, Black Pond’s dark-beer sibling, is a bold but not too bitter version of this Irish staple. Smoky and dry textures play with your palate but deliver a smooth aftertaste as a result of Coll aging the beer two to six months before tapping it.
But the brewery doesn’t stop with just beer.
Along with sipping new ale variations, Grand Avenue covers its customer’s appetites with an in-house smoker and baked goods. Choices of smoked baked potatoes, pulled pork, and bratwurst or Sicilian sausages are available.
But if you are looking for just a lighter bite, no way you’re going wrong with the brewery’s freshly baked pretzels. Soft, warm, and with generous grains of salt on top, beer is not complete without this essential snack. Sourced from a local commercial bakery, the pretzels are served with the sides of a smoky beer cheese sauce and ground yellow mustard.
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Like any craft brewery, having attractive and quality food with unique exciting brews is the key to having customers return to become regulars. Patrons are already frequenting the brewery with their personal beer growlers for home enjoyment — and the brewery offers portable beer containers to purchase as well.
“At the moment, we are currently building a track record of making good beer,” Coll says. “First, we want to have eight beers on tap, then build up to 16. Then, we want to work on carryout and bottled beer.”
Although Grand Avenue Brewing Company is in an unconventional area of town, Coll has mastered his craft and paired it with a unique vibe. This industrial space has a welcoming vibe, friendly service novices will appreciate, high-quality food, and, most importantly, beer to talk about and talk over with friends.
As for future of expansion, give it time for Coll to continue crafting his vision.