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.
Here at DPJ, it’s our goal to help you “go where the locals go.” And now ,with social check-in app Foursquare’s new “Best of Phoenix” lists, we can tell you exactly where locals love to be in downtown Phoenix and beyond.
Phoenix is one of 30 cities in the U.S. included in Foursquare’s “Best of” guides. The rankings are based on a 1-10 scoring system that factors in things like check-ins, tips, likes, dislikes, popularity and loyalty.
The lists include restaurants, bars, coffee shops and cool things to do and of course greater downtown(*) is well represented! Here are just a few of the “best of’s” you should check out for yourself:
1. Jobot Coffee*
2. Lux Central*
3. Giant Coffee*
4. Urban Beans*
5. Copper Star Coffee*
6. Fair Trade Cafe*
7. Lola Coffee*
8. Cartel Coffee Lab*
9. Royal Coffee Bar
2. Maizie’s Café & Bistro*
3. Hillstone Restaurant
4. Armadillo Grill
5. The Arrogant Butcher*
6. District American Kitchen & Wine Bar*
7. Seasons 52
8. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
9. The Garage Restaurant & Bar*
10. Beckett’s Table
1. Gallo Blanco Café*
2. Carolina’s Mexican Food*
4. Los Taquitos
5. Dick’s Hideaway*
6. Valle Luna
7. Barrio Café*
8. La Condesa Gourmet Tacos*
9. Los Reyes de la Torta
10. Rito’s Market & Mexican Take Out*
1. The Vig Uptown*
2. Carly’s Bistro*
3. The Lost Leaf*
4. The Duce*
5. The Roosevelt* (now closed)
6. Sandbar Mexican Grill
7. Angels Trumpet Ale House*
8. Half Moon Sports Grill
9. Rips Ales & Cocktails*
10. Brigett’s Last Laugh
1. Postino Winecafe*
3. Duck & Decanter
4. Portland’s Restaurant & Winebar*
5. Sportsman’s Fine Wines & Spirits
6. Cheuvront Restaurant & Winebar*
7. My Wine Cellar
1. Phoenix Zoo
2. Civic Space Park*
3. Echo Canyon Park/Camelback Trailhead
4. Arizona Science Center*
5. Piestewa Peak
6. Steele Indian School Park*
7. North Mountain Park Trail 44
8. Hubbard Family Swim School
10. Shaw Butte Hiking Trails
1. Herberger Theatre Center*
2. The Torch Theatre*
3. Space 55*
4. Conspire Arts Cooperative*
5. Phoenix Theatre*
6. “CYPHERS” The Center for Urban Arts
Local Fave: FEZ
Owners: Tom Jetland, Mark Howard, and Mark Dillon
What Is It?: FEZ delivers on its straightforward “food, drinks, music” mantra. This midtown destination is open seven days a week with happy hour every day, daily drink and food specials, a weekend brunch, a late night menu, First Friday celebrations, and much more. They also offer specials for big parties (seven or more), including those of you on your way to a concert or special event, and a free appetizer for the table. With so much going on, you’ve got to visit their website for the most current specials and activities. No wonder they have received a laundry list of local awards since opening.
A Pleasant Surprise: Sometimes, when a concept is too busy, the basic components of a solid restaurant suffer. At FEZ this is definitely not the case. The restaurant and bar are kept very clean, which spotlights the sleek, urban décor; guests are greeted with a friendly smile followed by great service; and, even with the variety of specials offered, the serving staff take time to make sure everyone understands what they need to know to make a delicious decision.
The Eats: From Iowa, Executive Chef Nathan Arguello has perfected the chic bar food scene. Staple items on their menu are the burgers, fries, flatbreads, and finger food appetizers. But read closely, this isn’t your typical pub fare. The bleu cheese and balsamic burger has all the right elements, including ciabatta bread, a sweet balsamic glaze, fresh and tangy Danish bleu cheese, crunchy red onion with soft spinach, and a house made aioli. What’s better with a burger than some spicy harissa, or garlic and rosemary fries? Another bleu cheese dark horse is the casa azul wedge salad. If you love a good wedge salad, the Fez version is the best downtown has to offer. Basic components of bleu cheese, red onion and tomatoes sing when they are drizzled in the bleu champagne vinaigrette (try not to drink the dressing). Brunch won’t disappoint either. The FEZ Benedict is elevated with French bread, manchego cheese, oven-dried tomatoes, and ham, covered in delicious hollandaise sauce.
The Drinks: Fez has a breathtaking range of spirits available for all tastes, including rocks specialty drinks, specialty martinis, an array of delicious flavored margaritas, and a strong list of wines and beers. One drink that owner Mark Howard is especially proud of is the g-spot. Fresh muddled grapefruit and grapefruit juice accompanies ruby red grapefruit vodka and is balanced with soda water and a splash of sweet pomegranate juice. The g-spot is a refreshing way to enhance your brunch or liven up your late night munchies.
What They Say: “It was my first time in and I noticed right away the cool vibe to the place. Definitely some of the best Benedict I’ve ever had! I will absolutely go back to try a burger next time,” says first-time diner Rebecca Moreno.
Report: This downtown hot spot has got it all. FEZ has a fun atmosphere, good staff, and great food. It’s a wonderful spot in busy central Phoenix for any urbanite to enjoy.
Want to go where the locals go? Read DPJ’s new E&D Beat and visit some favorite Eats & Drinks destinations.
Local Fave: Lux Central
District: Midtown Phoenix
Owner: Jeff Fischer
Identity: “It’s your third space,” says bartender Ben Linsenmeyer of Lux Central. “It’s a place that’s not home or work but that third space you spend the rest of your time. The place you feel comfortable enough to grab your cup of coffee before work and then return to for a late night cocktail with friends.” Ben explains that owner Jeff Fischer had a vision of creating this third space for his guests after attending a business conference about such things. What you won’t get here is a map telling you where to order, pick up, or someone telling you where to sit. “It’s meant to be that way,” Ben says. “People who don’t like our concept usually leave frustrated but then return with their friends, usually the very next day, explaining how it all works with a sense that now they’re ‘the cool ones’.”
Find Your Way: The space offers an urban feel with brick walls and rigid textures complimented by sleek, mid-century furnishings. On every surface sits another unique piece of art or a trinket that is waiting to tell you its story. You’d hardly expect this place to be considered a bar. In fact, the puzzling layout forces you to walk the entire space, discovering different corners that reveal elements of the conceptual bar/restaurant/roastery. Menus seem to be misplaced and employees aren’t outright identifiable. Any newcomer might initially be turned off, but a little exploration will have them delighted with this unconventional watering hole.
Have A Seat: With numerous seating areas, including a few different types of bars to sit at, you get a variety of experiences. Belly up to the low-sitting, polished-stone bar counter and watch your favorite bartender mix up a cocktail from fresh ingredients that are literally at your finger tips. Take your cocktail to one of the many community tables where you can chat with a business CEO and a local artist, finding an unexpected common ground. For the foodies, a comfy seating arrangement of tufted sofas or rough cut wood picnic style bench faces the open stainless steel kitchen.
The Eats: Find everything from organic steel cut oats to vegetarian egg bakes, seasonal pies and cookies, weekend breakfast NY strip steaks, and mac n’ cheese. This is a true local, seasonal menu offering the best in comfort food. The real fun is coming in to see the lunch and dinner offerings that change daily.
The Drinks: You’ll find the cocktail menu carefully handwritten on note cards, taped to a clear divider at the end of the bar. The bartenders are also happy to whip up something special, just for you. With high-end spirits and fresh herbs and produce, these mixologists will find a way to your inner buzz. As for beer and wine, Lux has a menu of over 50 domestic, local, craft, and imported brews, along with beautiful, recognizable wines and some approachable exotics – all fairly priced.
What They Say: “Lux is that place that everyone is leaving, going to, or is already at,” says Lux Central regular Emily Caldwell, owner of Gallery Parallax. She explains that you can arrive by yourself and by the end of your visit have made five new friends. Alternatively, you can find yourself a quiet nook and enjoy a house-roasted coffee or daily inspired cocktail while studying or working.
Report: Lux Central offers a social experiment, with a melting pot of guests and an eccentric, but exceptional service strategy. You’ll never have the same experience twice, but always the same quality in eats and drinks. Cheating on Lux to enjoy other places is expected, but this is the place where you’ll always return: Phoenix’s unique third space.
Want to go where the locals go? Read DPJ’s new E&D Beat and visit some favorite Eats & Drinks destinations.
Local Fave: Carly’s Bistro
District: Evans Churchill Neighborhood
Owners: Carla and John Wade
Arts Interplay: Carly’s is noticeable from a distance because of the large mural painted on the biggest outside wall, which gives a great first impression. Immediately after stepping inside, your eye is taken by the blood red walls hung with intriguing local artwork. Your ears are tickled with daily melodies chosen by the staff. From cool oldies to greats of blues and jazz, or a local band, Carly’s can go from a relaxing hang out to an exciting music venue. The bar surface itself is adorned with sketches and doodles from local artists who proudly donated them to Carly’s display. It’s a raw, interesting way to showcase the local talent.
Have a Seat: There are tufted black benches with small, square tables in seating areas. For the city view, sit street side along the large windows at the high, two tops. An even bigger group would still be as comfortable since all the tables are easily configured into larger ones. This is a true bistro experience, with swiveling, cushy bar stools encouraging social interaction in the busy bar.
The Eats: Try the salty Feta Rosa (roasted red pepper, garlic and feta with warm pita wedges) with a Westmalle Tripel and you’ve got yourself the perfect snack. Have a bigger appetite? Go for the Reuben, stacked with pastrami and sauerkraut on marble rye. Carly’s doesn’t shy away from culinary challenges either. One of their best items is a vegetarian sandwich called “Europa”. Marinated artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes and spinach with roasted red peppers and smoked mozzarella are piled high on toasted focaccia bread. Most everything is under $10, so you’re sure to find something good for you and your wallet.
The Drinks: On the beverage side of things, Carly’s offers everything from local brews to imported craft beers, a decent wine selection, and a Phoenix New Times “Best of Phoenix” Bloody Mary amongst other classic drinks.
What They Say: Resident bartender, Brian Cresson, serves beautifully crafted cocktails with a side of easy conversation. “What used to draw me in is the fact that I am comfortable here. You can stroll into a casual atmosphere at almost any time of day or night and find your buddies having a good beer and some great food,” explains Cresson.
The Report: Come here to find a comfortable atmosphere, an excellent beer selection, simple and delicious cocktails that are almost always on special, great food at affordable prices, and the most artful, comfortable bar experience on Roosevelt. This is a local hangout done right.