If You Love Cartel's Coffee, Wait Until You Try The Beer

Categories: First Taste

Heather Hoch
Cartel used to spell productivity for us -- maybe not anymore.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out and let you know our initial impressions. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

In our book, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who love Cartel coffee and liars. Well, maybe not liars, but when we ask naysayers where they prefer to get their joe, they typically name some flouncy cafe that serves, you guessed it -- Cartel coffee. Whenever we need to get a boatload of work done, we grab a hyper-caffeinated, low acidity large iced toddy from Cartel and hunker down at one of the small metal tables, not needing the overly adorable ambiance its competitors supply. We remember the day we saw a public zoning notice outside, getting pumped for the day it would serve home-brewed beer. Well, that day has come.

Cafe/Bar: Cartel Coffee Lab
Location: 225 West University Drive Suite 101, Tempe
Open: Since 2007, though the microbrewery has only been tapped this week
Drink: In-house brewed beer to match the in-house roasted coffee
Price: $3-$5

See Also:
Tempe's Cartel Coffee Lab to Release First Craft Beer & Open Microbrewery -- Plus, "Crazy Hour"
How To: Latte Art with Jen Macias at Cartel Coffee Lab

Heather Hoch
We dub thee Bartel.
Almost a year later, that day has come -- Cartel has expanded into what used to be a tanning salon and Ash Ave. Comics' old location and added a bar and brewing station to accommodate the suds. We shall now refer to that expansion as "Bartel." While the Cartel-brewed beer is currently only at this location, the Scottsdale location does have a beer license, so it should be there soon, too.

Heather Hoch
The new half of the cafe is full of simple booth seating near the bar. It has two taps serving in-house brewed beer exclusively, though we hear word from brewer Matt Johnson that a third and fourth beer will be added to Cartel's repertoire in the near future. (A spicy amber rye and imperial pale ale for the curious beer nerd.)

Johnson was pulled into the mix as a friend of the business who's been home-brewing for the past decade. In that time, he learned a thing or two about IBU (international bitterness units), ABV (alcohol by volume, duh), and other beery things and brought it to Cartel. But enough background -- how's the beer?

Location Info

Cartel Coffee Lab

225 W. University Drive, Tempe, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

110 IBUs is like Imperial IPA territory.  I am suprised the coffee beer was an ale, though, instead of a porter (ale) or a stout (ale)...or maybe as opposed to all of those coffee lagers out there?


Ollllo was spot on with his comments but he failed to mention the 110 IBU's and it is a Pale Ale comment? Someone should look up beer style guidelines, both the writer and the brewer.  110 IBU's would throw it out of the Pale Ale category. Zach Fowle to the rescue please so an honest and knowledgeable review can be done.


It was stupid of us to question whether they'd brew a coffee beer at Cartel -- what we didn't expect was an ale. Coffee notes are common in porters and stouts, so to get an nut brown ale that's strong in coffee flavor was exciting. 

There is a olde tyme notion in that statement that there are ales, porters and stouts. That thinking hasn't existed since Territorial days. Almost all porters and stouts are ales (certain Baltic Porters being the notable exception).  Fate has made their own coffee American pale ale. I've had a coffee IPA which was great. It just requires some balance.


I've only had the Coffee Brown (on tap at Fate Brewing this past weekend), and I expected it to really shine, but I was left pretty disappointed.  Upfront the taste was great, the coffee definitely did shine, but after each swallow it left a strong copper taste in my mouth, as if it were full of pennies.  I thought something might be off with me, but my girlfriend had the same experience, to the point where she didn't want to drink it.  I didn't find it quite that bad, but the very present copper taste was off-putting, and I'm not sure that I'd want to have it again as is.  Hopefully it's something they're able to workout; aside from that aftertaste, it's something I'd like to have more of.

Also, I know this is a "First Taste" article, but when the review is only of the beer, why not have the resident beer guy do the review, so we can get something a little more detailed and thought out?  The additional info he might provide would be helpful, rather than someone just saying they like the beer.

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