Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: Fruity Beer Done Right

Beer: Grapefruit Sculpin
Brewery: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Style: IPA
ABV: 7 percent

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to beers brewed with fruit: Hooray! and How Dare You? Given the number of examples on shelves crafted to be sickeningly sweet or brewed with more artificial additives than you'll find at Ladies' Night in Scottsdale, the partisanship is understandable. But when the right fruit is chosen -- one that enhances the base beer rather than overpowering it -- beer made with produce can produce some very happy drinkers.

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What's With All The Pumpkin Beer Already?

These are pumpkins. Seem a little out of place, don't they? Know why that is?

Because it's f-ing August.

The term "seasonal creep" has long been used to describe the way Christmas ornaments seem to start tinkling onto store shelves before the Fourth of July fireworks even get cold, but it can just as easily be applied to beer. Spring ales in January; summer brews in March -- overzealous brewers are releasing "seasonals" so far out of season as to render the term meaningless.

No other beer style exemplifies this trend as clearly as pumpkin ales, which have already started appearing on shelves throughout the Valley even though it'll be months until you see an actual pumpkin. Why the premature release?

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Green Flash Ristretto: the Coffee Lover's Beer

Beer: Ristretto Cosmic Black Lager
Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co.
Style: Schwarzbier
ABV: 8.2 percent

This column is normally directed at beer aficionados, but coffee connoisseurs may also want to pay close attention -- this week's brew is packed with enough espresso flavor that it earned the name Ristretto.

For the un-caffeinated, ristretto is a short shot of espresso with roughly half the amount of water, but the same coffee content as a standard shot. It is to espresso as espresso is to coffee: bolder, fuller, more intense. A pour for coffee purists.

Ristretto gets its coffee flavor from several varieties of roasted malts and a dose of concentrated, cold pressed espresso. Green Flash Brewing Co. developed the brew as part of its new Genius Lab program, which enables employees -- not just brewers -- to work with Brewmaster Chuck Silva to develop new, experimental beers that are introduced at the brewery's San Diego taproom. Once these innovative releases hit the taps, they're often never seen again. Luckily for us, some extra Ristretto made it to Phoenix.

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Stone RuinTen and the Coming Invasion of Germany

Beer: RuinTen IPA
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 10.8 percent

When I was in college, I spent seven weeks studying German language and culture in the city of Regensburg, located in southern Bavaria. The experience, as those who've studied abroad are required to call such things, was incredible. For 49 days I took in all that Germany had to offer, not the least of which was a probably unhealthy amount of locally brewed beer.

Now, the beers of Deutschland are renowned for their quality -- and I can attest that each pint I had was balanced, flavorful and clean. But German beer can also be painfully homogenous. The selection in most areas I visited consisted of four beers: a light lager, a dark lager, a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen. It seemed that the while the Reinheitsgebot (the 15-century Bavarian food purity law that states beer can only be made with water, malt, hops and yeast) had influenced the quality and consistency of German breweries, it had also limited their creativity.

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12 Things You Didn't Know About Mother Road Brewing Co.

Zach Fowle
Beer: Open Road
Brewery: Mother Road Brewing Co.
Style: English Summer Ale
ABV: 5.8 percent

Critiquing a beer's appearance, aroma and flavor can tell you much about that particular brew, but little else. No, to truly know a beer, one must travel to the place it was brewed, see the people who made it and learn their stories. How convenient, then, that I was recently invited -- along with several other Valley beer aficionados -- to travel up to Flagstaff on a balmy 85-degree afternoon and tour Mother Road Brewing Co. This job does have its perks.

While poking my head around the brewery, I learned some things about Mother Road you won't find on a beer label. Here, 12 little-known facts about one of Arizona's own.

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Wals Ipe & Sao Francisco: What Makes Brazil Winners Still

Zach Fowle
Something for Braziliians to celebrate.
Beers: Belo Ipe & Belo Sao Francisco
Brewery: Cervejaria Wals
Style: Quadrupel & Dubbel
ABV: 11 percent & 7.5 percent

I'd like to kick this week's review off with a few contrasting images of Brazilians. The first is brought to you by the 7-1 blitzkrieg the German national squad delivered to team Brazil during last week's World Cup semifinals. Behold:

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Papago Oude Zuipers: A Belgium-Brewed Local

Zach Fowle
Beer: Oude Zuipers
Brewery: Papago Brewing Co.
Style: Tripel
ABV: 11 percent

"Daar zun meer oude zuipers dan oude dokters."

Translation: There are more old drunks than old doctors. It's an old Flemish phrase you're likely to find hanging on a sign or printed on a stained glass window in bars and breweries throughout Flanders, Belgium. Travel to the city of Ertvelde, in East Flanders, and you'll find another iteration of Oude Zuipers -- one that has an Arizona connection.

Ron Kloth, owner of Papago Brewing Co. in south Scottsdale, is a frequent traveler to this part of Belgium, and in fact once led tours of the country's breweries for beer-interested tourists. These expeditions always included a stop at Brouwerij Van Steenberge, where well-known ales like Piraat, Augustijn Blonde and Gulden Draak are made. Through these visits, Kloth and Van Steenberge's owner Jef Versele built a friendship -- and, as we know, friendship is best sustained through mutual inebriation. So there the two were, drinking awesome Belgian beers in Gent, when Kloth proposed an idea.

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Xingu Black Beer: Change Your Mind About Dark Beer

Beer: Xingu Black Beer
Brewery: Cervejaria Sul Brasileira
Style: Schwarzbier
ABV: 4.7 percent

I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the line casual beer drinkers got the wrong idea about dark beer. Every day, all across the land, you'll find drinkers turning down black-colored brews because they think these beverages are too heavy or boozy. Misconception abounds.

That's why the presence of soccer on my TV machine this month, though not completely appreciated, is nonetheless appropriate, for I too have a GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL -- changing minds about dark beer. That the beer to do it comes from Brazil -- host of the 2014 World Cup -- is all the more fitting.

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Dragoon Sarcosuchus Does Not Suck

Beer: Sarcosuchus
Brewery: Dragoon Brewing Co.
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 10.5 percent

Hanging on a wall in Dragoon Brewing Co.'s Tucson tap room is a small chalkboard, and on this chalkboard employees have drawn a pair of animals: a hippopotamus and a crocodile. These creatures were drawn out of boredom, but rather they serve a very important purpose: helping the denizens of the tap room determine which one would win a fight to the death.

This animal death match debate has occurred many times before, but never has the debate been so heated. Some staff members are positive the croc's superior jaw strength would lead him to victory; others bring up the fact that hippos regularly kill crocs in the wild. Internet search engines are booted up. Stats are compared. Voices are raised. Tears are shed. Eventually, the deliberative staff comes to one conclusion: The crocodile would win, but only if it was Sarcosuchus -- a reptile the size of a school bus that lived during the Cretaceous period and regularly ate dinosaurs for lunch.

Around the same time this conclusion is reached, Dragoon's new, as-yet-unnamed batch of imperial IPA finishes fermenting. The name they have to give it is obvious upon first sip: Sarcosuchus.

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On Lagunitas IPA and Destination Drinking

Beer: IPA
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.2 percent

When you work around craft beer, the most common question people ask is, "So, what's your favorite beer?" I'm never able to answer -- I freeze up like I've been stumped at the spelling bee and usually mumble something unintelligible about imperial stouts. To me, it's an impossible question. There are more than 2,700 breweries operating in the U.S. alone, many cranking out dozens of different brands. How can I pick just one?

My buddy Patrick has a better answer. His favorite beer of all time, he says, was the New Belgium Fat Tire he pulled from the still-moving bottling line during a tour of NB's packaging facility. He recalls in detail the moisture-beaded bottle; the cap, placed just seconds before, jumping off the glass lip with a combo pop-hiss; the flavors of the liquid clean and pure as diamonds. I was next to him that day and can testify that no Fat Tire since has tasted as sweet and crisp. It was sublime.

Point being: Where you drink a beer matters. Freshness and atmosphere can impact flavor, or your perception of it, as much as any other outside force. Freshness and atmosphere, however, are controllable.

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