Brew Review

Strong Beer Festival 2011: Rain-Soaked Impressions

In case you missed it (or you're just awakening from a beer-induced coma and need a reminder) AZ Beer Week is in full effect. If, like Benjamin Franklin, you believe beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, get ready to worship at your choice of hundreds of beer-related events.

AZ Beer Week kicked off with the Strong Beer Festival on Saturday. "Brewed for Battle" writers Zach Fowle and Jonathan McNamara exemplified Phoenix New Times' love for craft brew on Saturday by consuming staggering amounts of beer so that they might share their thoughts and impressions (muddled though they quickly became) with you.

Zach Fowle:

I won't lie to you. For the first half of the Arizona Strong Beer Fest, I was miserable. I'm a man who likes to enjoy his beer slowly, jotting the occasional tasting review on my phone while I ponder the drink's mysteries. The deluge that fell upon the Strong Beer Fest on Saturday made that impossible for a few reasons: it's not smart to use a smart phone in the rain; it's hard to push the buttons to make words when you can't feel your damn fingers; and it's hard to judge how a beer tastes when, if left uncovered, the glass fills up with rain water.

However, I was able to at least partially embrace the smorgasbord of tasty brews available to me. My favorites of the day:

Breckenridge TWENTY - A version of the brewery's extra special bitter that was aged for five months in Stranahan's whiskey barrels. It smelled like bread pudding and tasted like whiskey-soaked caramel cubes.

Four Peaks Winter Wobbler 2008 - I was let down by Four Peaks' much-lauded Sirius Black, but this imperial stout from 2008 made up for it. Licorice, vinous oak and dark chocolate flavors danced in smooth, silky harmony.

Four Peaks Hopsquatch 2007 - Age has done wonders for this beer, which has developed incredible complexity and a smoothness that makes you go, "Daaaaaaaammmmnn."

Port Mongo - One of the better double IPAs I've had this year. Dank, weed-like flavors are noticeable at first, but after the swallow things get tropical: mango, pineapple and juicyfruit all make appearances.

Sonoran 200 - Sonoran played coy until 2:30, when they started giving limited pours of their beastly barrel-aged 200. Beer geeks swarmed the tent to get a teensy pour of this 19 percent ABV beer brewed with agave nectar that was incredibly sweet and more like a liqueur than a beer.

Papago Hop Tamale - The award for most unique beer of the day had to go to Papago for this IPA infused with Pasilla, Guarillo, Mexican Red and Habanero chilies. It was spicy enough to warm me against the freezing rain.

The weather sucked, but booze has a magical property that makes you forget all the badness, and I slowly gave up cursing my decision to wear a sweater instead of my weatherproof jacket to enjoy the sights around me. People, crammed close together under tents to escape the rain, began singing and cheering with one another. The people waiting in line for beer or the bathroom were sharing their umbrellas with complete strangers. Everyone was dancing to music, sharing pretzel necklaces and shooting the shit with brewers, pourers, and anyone else who would come near.

In a way, the rain brought us all a little closer on Saturday. Though that may just be the way the beer made me remember it.

Jonathan McNamara:

It took an obsessive love for all things beer bordering on madness to display the mental fortitude necessary to combat the rain-soaked experience that was Strong Beer festival 2011. Lesser men would weep openly when, upon receiving their 4 oz. pours, rain instantly began diluting their beer. For the brew, for the experience, for my two roommates who desperately needed me to keep it together so that they might make it home, I held fast.

And I'm glad I did. Last year's Strong Beer at Margaret T. Hance Park may have had better weather, but the rain aside, it is undeniable how improved the 2011 version was. Gone was the single concession stand handing out over-priced hot dogs. This year food options were plentiful and varied and included heaps of Asian noodles, BBQ, and Chik-Fil-A sandwiches.

This year there seemed to be a great deal more booths than previous Strong Beer Fests. All of the local breweries like Sun Up, Four Peaks, Papago were represented along with dozens of other craft breweries from around the state and elsewhere. I sampled many of them:

Sonoran 200 - I too tried the Sonoran 200 and can tell you that while it posesses very few qualities indicative of beer, it is one of the tastiest things I've ever put in my mouth. Imagine someone liquified the most delicious caramel in the world. That is what this drink is. My roommate, long-relieved of his sobriety, handed me a thimble-full of this sweet stuff and shouted "You. Drink this." I'm very glad I did.

Papago Hop Tamle - I was huddling underneath a tent cursing myself for wearing a cotton hoodie on the one day it decided to rain when my other roommate handed this to me. His shit-eating grin was in full effect. "Try this, it's an I.P.A." he said, knowing full well how much I love the hops. All I can say is, Hop Tamle is way better than Cave Creek Chili Beer; and that's not saying much.

Sun UP XXX IPA - One of the better brews I had all day was consumed during a bit of pre-gaming at Sun Up Brewery on Camelback. XXX IPA has the kind of alcohol content that will knock you down and leave you flat. It primed the liver though and got me ready for a day full of drinking in the pouring rain.

Read a review of Captain Squeegee's performance at Strong Beer on Up on the Sun.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle