Remember that period of time right before the martini and cigar craze took hold, when all anyone talked about was handcrafted, micro-brewed beers? The terms boutique bourbon or wine hadn’t even been uttered as we guzzled locally produced artisan beers such as Kilt Lifter from Four Peaks Brewing Co. and creamy blond hefeweizen from Uptown Brewery.
Interest in these beers may have slowed as our palates have turned toward wines and spirits, but they still have a cultlike following among connoisseurs. And, no, these are not the guys producing novelty beers with flaming hot serrano chili peppers inside. Many are serious, awardwinning brews that hold their own against hotbed counterparts from Colorado, California and the
So as we plan backyard barbecues and usher in spring training, it’s time to re-embrace fine maltedbarley- and hops-based drinks and familiarize ourselves with some of the top Arizona brands. Some restaurants such as Rock Bottom and Streets of New York produce their own beers, but they must be purchased on site. We chose Arizona producers where the beer is bottled and sold at retailers like Tops Liquors in Tempe and AJ’s Fine Foods, among others. So now you can take their products on the go, wherever the season may take you.
FOUR PEAKS BREWING CO., TEMPE
Many local producers have come and gone, but this local producer continues to make great beers and command a loyal following. The two beers that receive the most attention are the award-winning Kilt Lifter and 8th Street Ale, named after its Tempe location east of the Arizona State University campus south of University Drive. Kilt Lifter is noted for its smooth full-bodied Scottish style that contains a hint of peatiness. It’s also about 6 percent alcohol by volume — versus about 4 percent for mainstream beers such as Budweiser, Miller or Coors — so tread lightly. The 8th Street Ale is slightly bitter with sweet malt notes. Four Peaks also produces a hefeweizen, stout, a pilsner-style lighter beer and a couple of India pale ales that are strong and bitter — which microbrew lovers will tell you is a good thing.
NIMBUS BREWING CO., TUCSON
This is my favorite producer after Four Peaks. Its blond ale Dirty Guera is just 3.5 percent by volume and may be the best warm-weather sipper in the state. A touch of wild honey from Bisbee is added for enhanced body and flavor. Make a tray of enchiladas and serve this. The company’s brown ale is also a winner, brewed in the medium-bodied American style instead of heavier styles from the United Kingdom. The beer is mild, malty and dry. Nimbus also makes a pale ale, red ale, stout and some seasonal beers.
OAK CREEK BREWING CO., SEDONA
After you’ve spent a long weekend in red rock country, you can fondly recall your experience by popping the bottle on one of the company’s five varieties — gold lager, amber ale, nut brown ale, hefeweizen and pale ale. The pale ale won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival last year, and the beer shows good bitterness (again, this is a good thing) and is crisp and clean. The company boasts more than 700 retailers that carry its products statewide.
GORDON BIERSCH, TEMPE
While G.B. is a venerable regional brand based in Northern California, its varieties are also made locally on Mill Avenue in Tempe and distributed in bottles. I like the full flavor of its light and pilsner varieties, which are golden in color but lighter in style. If I’m going to consume the calories and carbs of beer, I’ll do it this way. Gordon Biersch also produces a blond bock (mediumbodied), Marzen (lager), hefeweizen and seasonal beers.