I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, half of it’s been for work, the other half for family. A couple weeks ago I went to Arizona for a family trip and I was able to stop at a couple breweries on the way home. I didn’t make the journey in order to try new beer so I don’t have a lot of great information about the breweries, the beers, the brewers, etc. I was simply passing through quickly and I took some photos and a couple notes.
I found myself in Scottsdale, Arizona, which for me was actually kind of an exciting place. We drove past hills and mountains covered in cacti that were 20+ feet tall, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art was a great art venue, there were all sorts of plants and animals that I haven’t seen before, quail running around everywhere. But, on the bad side, mostly everything was in a strip mall, a very Southern California flavor, and I read here that Scottsdale has the highest concentration of pollution in the air, above Los Angeles and Bakersfield. Yikes!
|Inside Papago is a cozy pub atmosphere, thirty taps, and a fridge full of bottles|
Anyway, I was able to stop at a little place called Papago Brewing. There’s not too many beer places in the city, and people had recommended that I actually go to Four Peaks Brewing, but after seeing Papago’s ranking on Rate Beer I decided to go there. Besides, later that night I happened to drive by Four Peaks and it looked like the kind of chain Sports Bar/Restaurant that I try to avoid. Papago contracts their brewing out of two breweries, one in Phoenix and Oak Creek Brewing in Sedona. They had 30 beers on tap, many that I haven’t seen in Colorado Springs, such as Bear Republic’s Imperial Belgian Rye IPA, Green Flash le Freak, and a Ballast Point Imperial IPA. I ordered a number of Papago Samplers. They switch their beers out with every keg, so they don’t even have their own normal line up although they do have a couple beers that are on more regularly than others. I like this model for a brewery.
|Samples at Papago Brewing|
This brewery was really fantastic, the beers were experimental and a lot of fun to drink. The most style bound beers were the tasty Belgian Strong Ale with notes of orange and banana, and the El Robusto which was a Porter with light roast and a thin body. They also had a Coconut Coffee Stout that was delicious, a Vanilla Mandarin Wheat which was refreshing but a little too Fruit Loopy to me, an Irish Coffee Milk Stout and a fantastic Barleywine, super cloudy appearance, aged in rye whiskey barrels, strong on citrus hops, with a bitter and dry finish. I really enjoyed these beers because there was a range of the normal to the not-so-normal. Some of the beers were crisp and clear in appearance, others were cloudy and thick, some were restrained, others were playful. I enjoy a brewery that plays around like this.
|Beaver Street Brewery|
A few days later I found myself at Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff, Arizona. The town was really cute and we were staying at a really great, cheap little hostel about two blocks away. I ordered a pint of the Cascadian Dark Ale because, hell, I’m from Cascadia and I like to see how these CDA’s compare to the homeland CDA’s. Also, I find it really interesting when a brewery that isn’t in the Pacific NW comes to call their beer a CDA and not a Black IPA.
The beer was actually really great, and very comparable to many of the beers in the style I used to drink in Oregon. There was a strong earthy pine hop aroma and bittering hops that stuck around even when the beer warmed up. Many of the Colorado beers in this style that I’ve had often leave the bittering hops at a minimum so when the beer warms up it just taste like a porter or stout with minimal roast. My only complaint is that on the Beaver Street menu it says, “The style was forged along the Pacific Coast in the Cascade Mountain Range and tempered in the summer heat of San Diego County.” Whoa! Attributing a Cascadian Dark Ale to San Diego is a major no-no, it’s a similar oxymoron to calling a beer a Black IPA. My wife drank the Lumberyard Raspberry Ale, which was also really a fantastic beer that had raspberry in the nose and finish.
As we headed home we stopped in Durango, CO, at Steamworks Brewing. Exciting place for sure, with peanuts on the floor, jam-packed with people watching March Madness. One look at the beer menu and I knew we had stopped in the right place.
I ordered a sample tray, full of beers ranging from standardized styles to experimental, much like what was happening at Papago. I ordered the Kölsch as well as a Boysenberry infused Kölsch on cask! Yeah, seriously, they had that. The regular Kölsch was a better beer with a toasted bread taste, low hops and refreshing crispness, while the berries in the berry version didn’t feel integrated enough into the beer. I had a Molé Stout, which I could only drink an ounce of. It was tasty but that’s all I needed. It was loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg, coffee, and molasses flavors. It was The Thickest Beer I’ve Ever Drank, it was like syrup, it was insanely thick. 1 oz. I also had the Rock Hop Pale, the One Wit Wonder, and a Dubbel. This place was a lot of fun.
Finally I was able to visit Ska Brewing. You can see on the left side of the picture the new fermentation tanks that are outfitted in such a way as to keep the beer’s temperature at the right level even when it’s snowing hard. Those new tanks are giving Ska the opportunity to up their production by 70%. Last year ska hit 15,000 barrels and this year they are shooting for about 22,000 barrels.
Unfortunately Ska didn’t have anything available that I haven”t already had. I was hoping to get some of their Local Series, or maybe the Black IPA, but those were all long gone. And for some reason the Mexican Logger wasn’t available. But really, all their beers are really fantastic anyway. The bartender, Kaiya, recognized that I was from out of town and I told her I stopped in Durango especially for Ska. She then took me into the brewery and showed me the canning line.
|Ska Brewing’s two canning lines, side by side|
They just added a new bottling line, each line pushing out 75 cases per hour when things are running smoothly, so 150 cases an hour. These guys were bottling the True Blond Ale. Kaiya grabbed one off the line for me, it was the best Ska Blonde I’ve ever had.
|The best Ska True Blonde Ale I’ve ever had|