Sonoran Arizona Centennial Ale

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Beer: Arizona Centennial Ale & Arizona Centennial Copper Ale
Brewery: Sonoran Brewing Co.
Style: American wheat ale, Extra Special Bitter

On Feb. 14, 2012, our beloved state will have been part of the union for 100 years. An entire century! It's a big deal deserving of celebration, and there's no better way to toast the Grand Canyon State's centennial than with a few pints.

So, the Arizona Centennial Commission named Sonoran Brewing Co. the "Official Craft Brewery of the Arizona Centennial" and told them to brew up a special beer for our hundredth anniversary of statehood. Sonoran, ever the overachievers, came back with a pair of beers: Arizona Centennial Ale, a filtered wheat ale, and Arizona Centennial Copper Ale, a brew in the style of English Extra Special Bitters. Collectively known as "The Hundred Year Beers," the pair premiered August 26 and will be available from the tap and in 22-ounce bottles.

If you're going to try both in a session, start with the lighter Arizona Centennial Ale. The brew gleams pale gold and, though filtered, is clouded by a soft, haziness. Wheat lends aromas of both fruit and grain, with apple and subtle hints of cotton candy blending with cereal. The flavor expands upon the nose, showcasing honey-drizzled wheat bread and soft suggestions of apples, banana and pear before a sweeping, dry finish. Needlepoints of carbonation prick the tongue with zest, complementing the clean flavor and crisp finish. American wheats are light and insubstantial by nature, and Arizona Centennial Ale probably won't turn any heads, but it's refreshing. Pop it open when the heat gets in the obscene triple-digit range, and you'll feel like it's only somewhere in the 90s. Brr!

Though copper is right there in the name, Arizona Centennial Copper Ale is really more of a deep gold, but gleams with clarity. The nose is toasty-sweet, like baked biscuits perfumed with a bouquet of floral hops. Approach the first sip with care, as the carbonation feels like an Old West shootout is happening on the tongue -- I can't remember a more piercing, painful level of bubbles. Get past it, however, you're rewarded with the flavor of toasted crackers and biscuits coated with burnt sugar. Floral and earthy hops balance the malty sweetness, though bitterness is negligible. The swallow dries everything out, leaving the biscuits and toasted bread to linger for just a second before you reach for another sip to rehydrate.

Both beers are refreshing and highly drinkable, yet they're also unexciting, and here's where I draw issue. A Centennial only comes around every 100 years -- why not push the envelope? With outrageous immigration laws, a bat-shit sheriff, public support for a state gun and more, Arizona is known for a lack of restraint or common sense in almost everything we do but beer. Here's hoping the brewers in our next century of statehood get with the crazy.

Food pairing suggestions:
Both of these ales work hard to beat summer heat, and as such would be great with barbecue fare. Match Arizona Centennial Ale with pasta salad, allowing the soft, fruity wheat in the beer to interplay with the grain in the noodles. Arizona Centennial Copper Ale requires a more flavorful match, so put it up against another dish that's decidedly Arizona: the Sonoran Dog. The sweet, biscuity notes in the brew act like the dog's bun, bringing the bacon-wrapped frank and its toppings (mustard, mayo, pico de gallo and pinto beans) together. 

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized expert on beer. 

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