Right off of Seventh Street, in a lofty brick building that was once a grocery store, Mother Bunch Brewing pours craft beer through 22 taps and serves thoughtful bar food to match. The brewery opened in 2014. It uses a seven-barrel system, smaller than your average craft brewery, but has just as much ambition.
Mother Bunch brews porter with smoked cherries. It brews a pale ale with coffee, two kinds of fruited gose, and helles, pilsner, and other German-style beers that are now in vogue, styles that are a reaction to the huge IPAs of recent years, and a reflection of the growing sophistication of craft drinkers.
We seem to have reached peak beer. To track the whiplash vicissitudes of the craft beer subculture – the dizzy cycle of can releases, tap takeovers, special events, and collaborations – would take a steep commitment, a time sink along the lines of a full-time job.
And that's a good thing. The metro Phoenix beer scene has depth. You don't have to drink to the bottom. You don't have to intimately know every last groovy whipping of the vortex. You only need to know the way to the nearest brewery.
If you're downtown, the nearest brewery might be Mother Bunch.
"We have a pretty broad range, yeah," says Julie Meeker, executive brewer, who co-owns the brewery with her husband, Jimmie McBride. "A lot of traditional stuff, but we try to keep up with the trends as well."
Meeker started brewing in the 1990s, back when she was at ASU. Today, Omar Zamora is the head brewer at Mother Bunch, which, at 4 years old, is more like 25 years old in brewery years. "I still have a hand in the recipe formulation and what we're going to brew next."
The best way to taste what Mother Bunch is up to is to install yourself at a barstool, chat up the bartender, and let yourself be guided in choosing a flight.
That's just what I did during a recent visit. On a tasting board, I chalked numbers that corresponded to beers on the draft list, the most current version posted behind the horseshoe of the bar. And soon – not long before my surprisingly excellent Cuban sandwich arrived – the frosty beers were before me in their tiny glasses, foam settling, surfaces quivering.
A peach saison rapidly unspooled into that pungent wheat zone that saison takes you to, familiar butteriness coming in strong. This was a saison made with 100 pounds of peaches from Schnepf Farms, but the flavor of those peerless summer fruits could have been more assertive.
Mother Bunch uses a quart of Greek yogurt to introduce lactobacillus and "sour" its gose. Again, the fruit isn't huge on this one. You get a low current of ripe pineapple and some related caramel flavors, fainter, the main thrust being the clean, tart, subtly salty flavors of a simple gose.
A pale ale called Desert Adiesto was fresh and dank with a glancing note of coffee. That note was something of a light dose of the bitter quality of coffee, that signature coffee-ground bitterness rhyming with the bitterness you get, in many beers, from hops. Seven pounds of Guatemalan coffee from Infusion Coffee & Tea as well as cold brew poured in at the end created those dim coffee traces.
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My last beer was a monster, a slap shot right at your tonsils. The beer was an imperial stout called Agua Frida. Made with reclaimed water, it had spent 10 months in the belly of a Barbados rum barrel. An alphabet of hardly believable flavors lurked in each sip, the main associations being loam and leaves after rain, freshly sanded wood, Robitussin, bitter chocolate, and fermented fruit. I was happy to get my lips on a glass of this baby, to taste and to know beer's strange outer limits. Not sure I would get it again.
Mother Bunch, like many metro Phoenix breweries, makes beer that hasn't quite caught up with its ambitions, but inspires you with those ambitions, and shows signs of closing the gap. The range of beer and the lighter, more traditional styles on offer speak to maturity. Of the brewery. Of the craft scene. As our large crop of breweries age 4 and under continues to ripen, Phoenix beer will continue to get better.
Mother Bunch Brewing. 825 North Seventh Street, #102; 602-368-3580.
Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.