The 13th Annual Arizona Strong Beer Festival returns to Steele Indian School Park tomorrow, Saturday, February 16. The best beer festival in the Southwest called Central Phoenix home for the last four years. For at least a little while, the Beer Culture center of gravity moves out of the East Valley and we all get a glimpse of what life might be like with a few more breweries in the central city.
Beer is ordinarily the star at the fest, with each local and regional brewery bringing something to showcase the kick-off of Arizona Beer Week (Feb 16- 23). This year, however, the top story is the number of new breweries pouring this year. Eight Arizona breweries will be making their Strong Beer Fest debut. Their struggles and successes provide insight as to the future of beer in Phoenix between 7th Street and 7th Avenue.
Cosmic Beer out of Flagstaff began as a distribution company that contract brewed with the now defunct Mogollon Brewing Company. It has been recently reported that Cosmic lost its bid to buy Mogollon’s brewing equipment. If this is true, Cosmic will have to find another brewery to brew its line of beer. Saturday may be our first chance to find out the answers to both the Earthly and Cosmic concerns.
Flagstaff’s newest brewery, Wanderlust Brewing is headed by Nathan Friedman. More to the point, it is literally a one man operation. Wanderlust represents one of the two nanobreweries pouring at the festival. Nanobreweries have brewhouses that are generally under 3 barrels. By way of comparison, Four Peaks has a 40 barrel system in its 8th Street brewery and a 60 barrel system in its Wilson Street facility. There are some that believe that Phoenix could support dozens of nanobreweries, however most of the nano-operations are not sustainable in the long haul. Friedman compares his brewery to a journey and so it seems likely that he and the brewery may need to evolve as his opportunities open. Alternatively, it seems, Friedman is happy and appreciative about the moment. That’s something that many downtown business owners share. Zen from the High Country.
It was quite a shock to some when Desert Eagle Brewing announced that it would set up shop in downtown Mesa. It’s already considered a major driver in Mesa’s nightlife revitalization plan. Believe it or not, there were two other breweries looking to locate in Mesa. Mesa seems to have plenty of right-sized and right-priced buildings to support smaller production breweries. Something that Phoenix should consider when the wrecking ball cometh.
Tucson’s Dragoon Brewing just missed last year’s festival. Both Tucson and Flagstaff have seen enormous growth in the last two years. I’m really looking forward to tasting the Mesquite Smoked Porter. This ex-homebrewer team has already produced Tucson’s favorite IPA and many of their offerings make it to Phoenix.
Fate Brewing may very well provide a blueprint for a smaller brewpub that could fit right in on Roosevelt Row or on Central. The Scottsdale brewpub is small by design. A woodfire pizza oven keeps everyone fed and all beer brewed is sold on premise. The godfather of this “wee humble brewpub” concept is Tom Hennessy of Colorado Boy Brewing in Ridgway Colorado. Hennessy started two of his own GABF award winning breweries and has mentored a total of three Arizona start-ups. Ideally, an existing restaurant or bar is purchased and then a brewery is shoehorned in. This strategy allows a brewery to start-up with less cost than a traditional brewery. Fate founder, Steve McFate built the restaurant on Shea (off Scottsdale Road) from scratch. His higher end concept has attracted that neighborhood’s crowd and attracts the Valley’s Beer Geek contingent.
Tamara and Steve Morken of Pine’s THAT Brewery also learned brewing operations from Hennessy. The Rim Country brewery distributes kegs here in the Valley, which runs counter to the sell-beer-across-the-bar-only strategy. It will be interesting to see if Mischief Brewing (the third “wee humble”) will follow start-up plan to the letter. Mischief is still in the building phase, but plans on locating in Peoria.
Though not a disciple of the “wee humble” school, OHSO nanoBrewery certainly has some of the elements that a downtown Phoenix brewery would need to thrive. It has a great selection of beers, interesting food and a comfortable indoor-outdoor feel. Even without the brewery, the business has the chops to remain a vital part of its Arcadia neighborhood. OHSO is currently making small batches of beer on what might normally be a large brewery’s pilot system. Generally adhereing to the no-distribution-sell-it-all-on-site mantra, an OHSO-like enterprise could very well work in the 7th Avenue and McDowell neighborhood that borders Willo and Encanto-Palmcroft
North Mountain Brewing may not be able to bring their beer to the dance this time around as they only recently became federally and state licensed. You can be sure that Brewmaster Robert Berkner will be at the festival, so it will be a good time to ask him how his Sunnyslope neighborhood brewery is shaping up. Berkner took great aims to find a neighborhood that he could support. Let’s see if Sunnyslope is ready to give back.
One other new brewery, Freak’N Brewing Company, is not yet licensed but will be represented by a beer that they collaborated on with Sun Up Brewing in the Central Corridor. Double Black IPA contains twice the hops of Sun Up’s Trooper IPA and just enough roasted malt to darken the color. Freak’N Brewery is currenly awaiting approval for its Peoria brewery.
While we are not talking about a large Arizona brewery moving into the stadium district or Gordon Biersch taking residence in CityScape this year, there are a few encouraging signposts on the horizon. Arizona’s thirst for beer is being met ably. The Strong Beer Fest’s freshman class gives a beer fan some hope for a downtown brewery in the future.
Local Fave: Postino Wine Café – Central
District: North Central
Here’s The Deal: While many of us are familiar with Postino’s Monday and Tuesday deal, did you know about the great deals you can get for lunch? Every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. they offer $5 glasses of wine (anything by the glass) and any pitcher of beer for $5! Also, a majority of the menu is under $10 for a nice selection of sandwiches, salads, and combinations, including a half Panini with a side salad, or “soup of the moment” (today’s was chicken and wild rice).
Have a Seat: Like many of the Upward Projects locations and concepts, you can sit at a great bar. This one has a double-sided seating section for guests to sit across from each other and engage in conversation. There is a nice window area for people watching along Central Ave and a beautiful covered patio with heaters and fireplaces that will keep you shaded but warm. Inside is bistro style area, with brick walls and racks of retail wines you can buy and take home.
The Concept: Urban Projects is known for taking historic Phoenix buildings and turning them into new, updated neighborhood hangouts. This Postino’s location was originally home the Manhattan style Katz’s Deli. Urban Projects took over in 2009, keeping as much to the original building design as they could. The rafters and overall layout will be familiar to the old timers while appealing to newer Phoenicians with the swanky, graphic décor, as is evident when you look around at the eclectic mix of people gathered for a busy lunch rush on a Wednesday afternoon.
The Eats: The bruschetta will always be a successful staple but other stars on the menu include the Autostrada Panini served with a side of housemade organic chips. The chips are crunchy and light, which is a great complement to the hefty sandwich on the plate. Your choice of ciabatta or focaccia bread surrounds a pile of sopressatta, Italian ham, capicola, mortadella, provolone, arugula and tomatoes with spicy pepper relish. This sandwich is nicely balanced with acid, pepper, and quality proteins. It has a great zing from the ingredients that don’t leave you feeling heavy after eating one. Another notable is the Italian picnic salad that has fresh, California roasted beets, goat cheese, bacon and walnuts, and adds some delightful texture with an array of crispy root veggies (beets, tarot chips, and sweet potatoes). The herb vinaigrette is slightly sweet but adds depth with a variety of fresh herbs.
The Staff: Eager to serve their guests, the staff seems to be able to handle volume with smiles and good knowledge of the menu. Ben Grissom, server, can educate diners on “Brent’s Pick,” a wine selection by resident wine merchant Brent Karlicek, which is featured on the menu and as wall décor with accompanying bottles of wine. The staff also looks great in their uniform of the day (usually including a witty, Postino-centric t-Shirt) and they have great personalities to match.
Report: Postino’s will always be a go-to place for a good deal and quality food and beverage. Labeled a wine café, it lives up to the name with great wine selection and a food menu that doesn’t feel overwhelming. Come here to be comfortable in your surroundings, listen to some good music, laugh and enjoy your wine while being served by some of Phoenix’s best. The owners should be proud to know that they have some of the best waitstaff you can find in the valley, no matter what location you might visit.
Name: Kiesha Locklear
Occupation: ASU Graduate student in architecture
Her neighborhood: Roosevelt
How often do you bike? I’m from New York and when I moved here, I purposely moved near the light rail, so I’m car-free.
How do you get involved Downtown? I haven’t had a lot of time lately, but I’ve been involved with the Hance Park Conservancy and the Downtown Voices Coalition.
Biking fashion tip? When I bike in a skirt, I attach a binder clip to the hem to weigh it down and keep it from blowing up.
What she’s wearing:
- Shirt from Old Navy
- Vest purchased in Berlin
- Steve Madden shoes
- Glasses by Vue dc
- Men’s Electra Townie (She’s tall)
- Coffee cup holder
- Huge bike basket (Which she sometimes uses to transport her dog Momo)
You’ll never hear traffic noises or see plastic bags in quite the same way after STOMP, says drummer-actor John Sawicki. Since 1997 the native New Yorker has performed in the percussion stage show, which wraps up its stop in Phoenix at the Orpheum Theatre tonight. Nominated for Emmy and Academy awards, STOMP is also familiar from television, and winner of an Olivier Award for Best Choreography as well as a Drama Desk Award.
The cast members engage in a non-stop flow of sound, motion, and comedy using common household and industrial objects as well as their own bodies as instruments. Brooms, trash cans, lighters, poles, and hubcaps fill a two-story set that requires two semi trucks for the tour.
“We have a carpenter and a props guy and drivers,” says Sawicki, “and let’s not forget about the lighting and the sound…our crew is amazing. They do such a great job – all that behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t realize is so important.”
The various sounds generated by the cast are strictly live, following STOMP’s origins as a UK street performance. “There’s no backing track,” Sawicki declares. “The sounds that you’re hearing are the actual items that we’re using – they’re just amplified a bit for the houses that we play.”
STOMP’s various vignettes frequently change. “We have new numbers that come into the show, and that keeps it fresh,” says Sawicki. “The things that we do now [include] shopping carts, and we have a number with inner tubes…another one with paint cans…. So if people saw the show last year, they’ll definitely see newer stuff.”
“The number that we do called ‘Matches,’ we play these matchboxes,” Sawicki describes. “And people might react toward what I do [in] a certain way, which will cause that piece to have a different journey for that evening. It could be something as basic as a smile or not smiling, and that changes the tone.”
“New performers add a freshness,” he continues. “Their personalities and the way they play…change the whole vibe and energy. The placement of the beat can be different. When you’re dealing with rhythms and drumming, playing is their emotion, so it changes every night.”
Each performer plays a role – Sawicki is “Sarge.” “I’m in charge of the audience and the group onstage,” the actor explains. “Then there’s another guy we call ‘Potatohead’ who’s kind of in charge of making sure the music’s going right.”
Another character is ‘Mozzie,’ Sawicki continues. “He’s like my annoying little brother – he’s just like a tag-along guy, so there’s that comedy element. The whole show is based around drummers, dancers, and actors, and if one of us isn’t a dancer or a drummer, we help each other learn how to do that.”
STOMP requires constant practice, he says. “We rehearse every single day, and block out a four- to five-hour rehearsal every week. You have to be extremely focused and you have to be on point.”
The physically taxing routine takes its toll on the cast. “I can equate it to being a professional athlete,” Sawicki elaborates. “There’s definitely wear and tear…people have knee injuries, hip injuries…it’s so hard-core and so punk-rock that there are going to be injuries – that just comes along with the territory. The longer you do it, the more your body shows it.”
“There’s so much that goes on within the performance,” he says, “people sometimes think there’s more than eight of us onstage.” Sawicki chuckles. “They think, ‘Oh, I thought there were 10 or 12 or 16 people.’”
The audience returns to see the show again and again, he continues, “because there’s so much going on that they want to catch all of it. And the whole show is based upon action and reaction.”
STOMP also seems to inspire audiences. “Everything we use onstage is [what] people use in their everyday lives,” says Sawicki, “and they don’t realize that it’s possible to make all this rhythmic beauty. So after they see the show,” he continues, “they’ll hear a car horn honk or their windshield wipers and their turn signal, and all of a sudden that becomes a song.”
“It’s a contagious show because of that,” he concludes. “We take the chaotic rhythms of the world and we organize it into a show.”
All images courtesy of STOMP.
If you go:
- Thu., January 31 at 7:30PM
- Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St.
- Tickets available at the Phoenix Convention Center box office, theaterleague.com, Ticketmaster, or 800-745-3000.
Her neighborhood: North Central
How often do you bike? Mostly just short distances when the weather is nice. We brought my bike down here in my friend’s truck.
Biking attire: I like shoes without laces. I always seem to have trouble with laces.
• Electra Townie
• Bell from Slippery Pig
What she’s wearing:
• Aldo shoes
• Bracelet and earrings from Frances
• The rest is Target