XII West Brewing of Gilbert is no ordinary brewery.
For starters, it's located in the Barnone building in Agritopia, a communal space that feels like a flea market or an old-fashioned arcade mall. Absent are the typical brewing tanks you expect to find at a brewery because at XII West, the beer is brewed offsite in the brewmaster's oversize garage.
There is no food produced at XII West, although there is a pizza company literally right behind them in the space about ten steps away.
After parking behind the building in the communal parking lot that serves all the Agritopia area businesses, you enter through the back of a rounded metal building that looks like an airplane hangar (or fallout shelter). Pass the other businesses, and eventually you'll make your way to the brewery and pizza shop.
Founded by Brian McCormick and Noel Garcia, who is also the brewmaster, this no-frills space is not about the atmosphere, it's all about the beer.
Communal is a key word here. There are no private seating areas at XII West, just long block tables that not only encourage interaction with strangers, but pretty much dictate it. The walls are black and adorned with beer related posters, with logoed glassware displayed prominently on the back wall.
XII West offers a dozen beers to choose from (get it?), ranging across the styles from malty to hoppy to experimental. The results of our visit were mixed, but there were definitely some winners and enough good reasons to encourage a visit to this interesting new brewery.
Interestingly, on our visit the flights were served in the exact order that they appear on the board — which has no flow, rhyme, or reason. Typically flights will be served light to dark, weak to heavy or malty to hoppy, but this is not the case at XII West. Here is what we found:
Nelly Fonzarelly Pale Ale (5.5% ABV) led it off with light, fruity aromas, a pleasant and smooth transition between the artfully crafted malt base, and well-restrained use of fresh hops. The Nelson Sauvin hops provided the perfect amount of bitterness and clean flavor without being overdone as many pale ales are today. Nelly Fonzarelly was an outstanding start to our sampling day.
Midnight Run Coffee Stout (5.3% ABV) followed, and delivered tasty bitter coffee notes that counteracted some dark rum and chocolate roast flavors very nicely. The bitterness was well placed, and helped the beer finish dry. The coffee was locally sourced from Spirit Mountain Coffee in Mesa. This beer is a must for any coffee lover.
It's Okay Berliner Weiss (5.8% ABV) couldn't have been more aptly named. There's nothing technically wrong with the beer, but nothing stands out, either. Despite being brewed with more than 200 pounds of tangelos from the farm at Agritopia, It's Okay entirely lacked aroma. The lactic sourness provided a pleasant palate-cleansing sensation and refreshing quality, but there simply wasn't much flavor. The beer is advertised as being 5.8% ABV, which seemed very surprising and, if it was that high, would be significantly higher than a traditional Berliner Weiss.
Sunday Morning Saison (5.9% ABV) was our first disappointment, in that there were none of the signature black pepper notes that define a saison. Pear and apricot fruitiness seemed overdone and out of place, and even some grape character emerged as it warmed. A slightly harsh finish sealed the deal.
Inside Job Sour Pale Ale (4.8% ABV) is a collaboration with the interesting and progressive BRI (Brewer's Research Institute) of Mesa. This beer was a train wreck. The hop-forward aroma that tried to emerge was pleasant and inviting. but the sour funkiness just got in the way. This was much more pronounced in the taste profile. The interaction between the hoppiness and the sourness simply did not work. By far, this was our least favorite beer of the day.
Completing the front six was Frontside IPA (7.5% ABV) the first of two IPAs we would taste. Pine, citrus, and tropical fruit notes abound and lead into the flavor. Despite the fact that it's an IPA and should be hop-forward, the hops are so front and center that they distract, with a resiny harshness that would benefit from some balancing malt. It's not a bad beer by any means, but it needs some dialing in.
By contrast, Wheat Didn't Start The Fire (7.8%) is listed as an Imperial Wheat but is clearly a wheat-based IPA. This one hit on all cylinders. The aromatics were inviting, and blended perfectly into the flavor profile. The malt was present, yet supporting to the hops. Some pleasant sugary sweetness and fruitiness from the hops was very enjoyable. The bitterness led to a crisp, refreshing finish. The beer did not drink like a 7.8% ABV, so take it easy with this winner if you're having more than one.
Shwifty Bavarian Wheat (4.3% ABV) lacked the traditional banana and clove character typically found in this style, which left it flat and somewhat lifeless. A Band-Aid like phenolic was a distraction.
Strangely, Grapefruit Shwifty (4.6% ABV) was the same base beer with the addition of grapefruit (200 pounds of Agritopia-grown white grapefruit to be exact), and this addition gave the beer some depth and character and made it interesting, even though the grapefruit flavor was subtle, at best. This was definitely the better of the two Bavarian wheat offerings.
Suh Dude Brown Ale (5.0% ABV) brought forth nutty and toasted pumpernickel bread qualities, though the lingering sweetness was a distraction. An increase in hops would improve this beer.
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Fox on a Shelf Copper Ale (6.0% ABV) was really a deeper, richer amber ale. This beer delivered caramel malt flavors, along with some toastiness and light brown sugar notes and a pleasant bitter bite for balance. Aromatically it was reminiscent of a Newcastle Brown, but hopped to a higher degree. We enjoyed this one quite a bit.
Our final beer of the afternoon was Fresh Prince of Bel Ale (5.2% ABV), a Belgian ale, presumably in the style of a Belgian blonde. The beer was watery and nondescript, lacking a lot of the Belgian character that makes these types of beers special. The flavors and aromas did improve after it warmed, but not to the levels one would expect.
As you may notice from the photos, the samplers were all served in beaker style glasses which, though they look cool and are conversation starting, are not conducive to bringing out the aromatics in the beer. This made the overall presentation of the beers suffer.
XII West is just getting started, but if the Nelly Fonzarelly, Midnight Run Coffee Stout, and Wheat Didn't Start the Fire are any indication, they will be a player once they dial in some of the other works in progress. XII West is open seven days a week. Check out their website for more information about the brewery and their beers.