Beer: Long Strange Trip Brewery: Sonoran Brewing Co. Style: Oatmeal Stout ABV: 7.2 percent
The journey began with 7 Wives Saison, a brew featuring pink peppercorns, mesquite syrup, orange, coriander, fennel, and fennel pollen. Our travels then took us to the river for some FFF, where grapefruit, brown sugar, and a grove's worth of basil challenged our taste buds. Following this path, we found Lee's Liquid Dinner, a meal-in-a-glass accented by honey-roasted parsnips, cranberries, orange peel, chestnuts, and hazelnuts. A long, strange trip indeed.
But now it's over. We've come to the fourth and final course of Sonoran's daring Chef Series, a group of brews crafted in collaboration with local chefs. Long Strange Trip pays homage both to the other beers from the series and to the voyage of Sonoran Brewing Co. itself -- which, actually, just took a surprising turn.
Sonoran, which launched in 1996, had until now been brewing its beers on a teensy system at Pinnacle Peak Patio in North Scottsdale. Unable to keep up with demand (a good problem to have), Sonoran announced a partnership in early May with Phoenix Ale Brewery that will have Sonoran brewing its beers on Phoenix Ale's system in downtown Phoenix. The move will enable Sonoran to up its annual output and begin packaging a variety of beers in 12-ounce bottles, rather than the 22-ounce bombers the brewery had been using until now. Sonoran owner and brewmaster Zach Schroeder also will join the Phoenix Ale brewing staff, cooking up beers for both companies.
But that's another long, strange trip entirely. The one we're interested in -- the beer -- was brewed in partnership with Chef James Porter, owner and head chef at Scottsdale's Petite Maison, and is an oatmeal stout brewed with apricots, as well as pecans and dates grown in Sphinx Ranch. Once the brew was made, it was then aged for two months on a bed of Scotch-soaked oak chips.
The result: a brew black as coal, liquefied. Effervescent, too -- a full three fingers of foam spring from the dark depths, capping the liquid with bubbles that have the look of boiling sugar.
Pecans are big in the aroma, sweet and nutty. Toasted oats, light roast coffee, milk chocolate, and toast mix as well. A hint of smoke -- perhaps from the Scotch -- swirls in the back of the smooth, roasty, savory nose.
The apricots described on the label appear in the flavor in a big way -- Long Strange Trip is very close to being a sour stout. Tangy fruit washes over all parts of the tongue and grips it with puckered fingers between sips. In contrast, the malts here seem just a touch on the burnt, acrid side -- I wish they were just a little bit sweeter. As the lush, medium-light-bodied brew moves, notes of dark chocolate notes and toasted pecans balance earthy bitterness and alcohol.
The trip through these beers was like one you take with your parents when you're young: You whine and have to stop for multiple potty breaks along the way, but when it's all over, you look back on the journey with fondness. Cheers, Sonoran. Stay true to your collaborative, experimental spirit in your new digs.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.