Arizonians, This Sounds Like Fun!

Arizona has fine selection of craft beers

Flagstaff Ale Trail shows off burgeoning brew scene

Dehydration is always a danger when exploring Arizona trails, so it’s important to stop often to drink. Once you’ve had enough water, you will be ready to tackle the Flagstaff Ale Trail.

Old Bisbee Brewing Co.

The trail is a self-guided craft-beer walking tour of downtown, with seven stops along its route. It was created in 2011 to promote local businesses and showcase Flagstaff’s burgeoning craft-beer scene. Microbreweries are springing up across Arizona, making excellent destinations for thirsty travelers.

“Beer tasting is becoming enormously popular for both serious connoisseurs and casual lovers of good brews,” said Geoff Barnard of the Flagstaff Ale Trail. “We’ve come up with a way to organize people’s experience.”

Arizona has carved out an identity as a wine destination in the past decade as more vineyards and tasting rooms have opened in the Verde Valley and the Elgin-Sonoita area.

The same thing is happening for beer lovers.

As microbreweries open in more towns, patrons acquire a taste for small-batch brews that tend to be fuller, richer and stronger than mass-produced beer.

Thomas Smith, co-owner of Hops on Birch, a craft-beer bar and nightclub in Flagstaff, believes that customers want to try new things and are willing to pay a little extra for artisanal beers.

“There is more of a boutique approach to craft beer. It’s become cool to buy local, to support the local brewery,” Smith said. “And Arizona beers taste so good they’re matching up with anybody. The quality is definitely there. Flagstaff could become the next Fort Collins (Colo.) of craft beers.”

Hops on Birch has 28 rotating tap handles, with more than half dispensing Arizona beers at any given time.

“We take the best of the best and make it available,” Smith said. “People are eager to learn more about craft beers. They’re asking for different brews in different types of glasses. They can appreciate the craftsmanship. For example, Mother Road has been open less than a year, but they’re really setting a standard for how craft beer tastes.”

Home brewers go big

Mother Road Brewing Co., the newest Flag microbrewery, is in an old commercial laundry on the original alignment of Route 66 through town.

Michael Marquess, owner and chief beer officer, began home brewing as a way to relieve stress from an unsatisfying job and developed a genuine passion for it.

“One of the things we really focus on is balancing our beers,” Marquess said. “Our Lost Highway Black IPA is a strong brew with 8 percent alcohol. This style tends to be very hoppy, but we worked hard to balance it. The roast flavor of the Black Patent malt is a nice complement to the late-addition hops.”

Mother Road also makes Roadside American Ale and Twin Arrows Brown Ale. The Gold Road Kolsch-Style Ale serves as a gateway brew, a clean, crisp beer with subtle fruit notes — accessible enough for novices but with enough body and complexity to appeal to craft-beer drinkers.

“I’m a home brewer still,” Marquess said. “I just have more equipment now.”

Jeff Dicus is another Flagstaff home brewer who moved into the big leagues when he and his wife, Susanne, launched Cosmic Distributing and Cosmic Beer.

Instead of trying to raise a large amount of venture capital, Cosmic contracts space and equipment at the well-established Mogollon Brewing Co., a convenient and efficient system.

“I’m a true craftsman,” Dicus said. “I spend way too much time experimenting with grain and hop profiles. The mineral-rich water in Flagstaff is perfect for my style of beer making. I want full-bodied beers, but ones that are easily drinkable. We have three flagship brews, Dirty Blonde, Irish Red and Full Moon Porter, and rotate seasonals.”

Cosmic’s current seasonal is Pecan Nut Brown, a rich, complex and smoky English-style beer with 50 pounds of Camp Verde pecans roasted in the mash for each batch.

Neither Cosmic nor Mogollon has a pub, so Hops on Birch serves as the tap room for both.

Gluten-free beer

Although Old Bisbee Brewing Co. is rooted in a history that stretches back to the 1880s, it’s also an innovator. It occupies the same space as Bisbee’s original brewery and even produces a beer — Copper City Ale, with a rich, malty character — from an original recipe.

Yet the brewery also employs a completely enclosed, caskless refrigerated system. The first time air touches the beer is when it flows out of the tap. And just last month it launched its first gluten-free beer.

“We developed a proprietary technique to remove gluten at the end of the beer-making process. And it doesn’t change the recipe,” co-owner Victor Winquist said. “It’s been certified by an independent lab that it far exceeds the FDA guidelines as gluten-free.”

Mountain Lime Lager is Old Bisbee’s first gluten-free beer, and others may be converted as well.

“We’re a small brewery,” Winquist said. “But we’re always thinking.”

Beer, not a bar

Having time to think and experiment has been a luxury for fast-growing Grand Canyon Brewing Co. in Williams. In 2011, the brewery closed its pub to make more production room.

“Growth has been so big we focused on our flagship beers,” said Andrew Carricato, director of brewery operations. “But now that our production is up and running smoothly, now that we have enough tank space, we have time to play a little more. We can expand our product line and come out with more seasonal beers.”

Among Grand Canyon’s flagship beers is the popular Sunset Amber Ale, hoppy but with a strong caramel-malt backbone.

Another favorite is White Water Wheat, a refreshing American-style wheat beer. Whatever new brews Grand Canyon concocts, they will no doubt be defined by drinkability. Carricato leans toward easy-drinking beers that are slightly malt-oriented.

“Beer is for drinking, not talking about. If you spend more time talking about a beer than drinking it, something’s wrong,” Carricato said.(

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