Alpine Beer Co. Comes to Arizona

We have entered the age of beer acquisitions -- craft breweries are now buying other craft breweries. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as businesses purchasing or joining forces with competitors is actually a sign of a healthy marketplace. The problem is in perception: When a craft brewery like Portland's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. is bought by a mega-brewer like Anheuser-Busch/InBev, drinkers write them off as sellouts and bemoan the death of the industry. When a craft brewery buys another craft brewery, however...

If you've driven to San Diego from Phoenix, you've likely passed right by Alpine Beer Co. I won't blame you for missing it; the place is tiny, just a 30-ish seat brewpub next to a small brewery tucked between trees on a mountain road. But the operation's size belies its impact -- Alpine makes some of the best hop-focused beers in the country. The brewery was founded in 1999 by homebrewer and career firefighter Pat McIlhenney and existed for three years as a contract operation, with beers made back down at sea level by AleSmith Brewing Co. in San Diego. The facility in Alpine, which opened its doors in fall 2002, today employs 20 folks and produces around 3,000 barrels of beer every year.

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Dogfish Head Raison D'Extra Returns After 8-year Hiatus

Beer: Raison D'Extra
Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale
ABV: 18 percent

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery -- The Only Thing You Know About Delaware™ -- is perhaps best-known for its incredibly boozy imperial IPA/barleywine, 120 Minute IPA. The strong, celebrated ale is based on the brewery's flagship IPA, 60 Minute, and undergoes the same continuous hopping process. But try the two brews side by side and their resemblance is very slight. One's brightly hopped, crisp, citrusy; one's syrup-thick and sweet as honey.

The relationship between Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre, a regular-release Belgian brown ale, and Raison D'Extra, is very similar. Think of D'Extra as the 120 Minute to D'Etre's 60 -- it's bigger, bolder, boozier and nothing like its little brother.

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Why You Can't Buy the Beers You Want in Arizona

You can't get Pliny the Elder in Phoenix. Let's just begin with that truism, since it'll be far easier to explain why not if you aren't spending this whole article wondering about the local availability of the country's most sought-after beer. Ditto The Alchemist and their double IPA, Heady Topper. And anything from Hill Farmstead, Jester King, Kuhnhenn, Surly, Three Floyds or Cigar City. You won't find any beers from any of these breweries for sale in Arizona. Not legally, anyway.

The reason has to do with the Three-Tier System, part of the law governing the sale and distribution of alcohol in the U.S. The regulation was put in place in 1933 as a portion of the 21st Amendment -- the one that repealed Prohibition.

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Chow Bella's 10 Best Beers of 2014

In revisiting all the beers I drank and reviewed in this space over the past year, I realized something: we live in a golden age of beer. In 2014, the number of breweries operating in the U.S. topped 3,000 -- a threshold that hasn't been reached since the 1870s. Some of those new spots opened right here in the Valley: Dubina Brewing Co. in Glendale; Mother Bunch Brewing in Phoenix; Peoria Artisan Brewery in Litchfield Park; The Beer Research Institute in Mesa. Established breweries from across the country, recognizing the growing market for craft beer in Arizona, added our state to their distribution networks, allowing many drinkers their first taste of Founders Brewing Co., Mike Hess Brewing Co., Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, Elevation Beer Co., Lakefront Brewery and Southampton Publick House, among others. As consumers in Arizona, we're spoiled with choice. There are more world-class beers available here than ever before.

You would think, then, that choosing favorites from this surfeit of really good beer would be difficult -- and it was. But even among the big-league brews I tend to write about, there were standouts. Some were memorable because they exemplified some aspect of this industry I love; some deftly showcased an exciting new brewery; some simply tasted really, really good. These 10 beers epitomize 2014: the best beer year yet.

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Anchor Christmas Ale: It's Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Christmas

Beer: Christmas Ale
Brewery: Anchor Brewing Co.
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.5 percent

There are certain flavors I've grown to associate with the holidays. Egg nog and sugar cookies are the taste of Christmas eve; maple-glazed ham epitomizes Christmas morn. But though many beers have tried to claim a place in this pantheon of wintry flavors, only one has done so. No beer out there tastes more like Christmas itself -- the lights, the trees, the nip of cold, the feeling of the yuletide season -- than Anchor Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale.

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Borg Brugghús Fenrir: An IPA Smoked With Sheep Shit

Beer: Borg Brugghús
Brewery: Fenrir Taðreyktur IPA Nr. 26
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6 percent

This is what you get, beer snobs. This is what happens when you chase down delivery trucks carrying the newest barrel-aged stout, wait in line for hours to sample an IPA made with 42 different hops, or fork over hundreds of dollars for ales made with stuff like Sriracha and beard yeast and bull testicles. This is what you get when regular old water, malt, hops and yeast are no longer good enough.

You get a beer made with sheep shit.

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Neomexicanus: The Most American Hop

Zach Fowle
Beer: Harvest Wild Hop IPA
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.5 percent

Of the four main ingredients used to brew beer, hops get the most fanfare -- and why not? Humulus Lupulus is a beautiful plant, distinctive in shape and grown for a singular, noble purpose: to make beer better.

Also impressive is that hops have been found growing across the globe, without any help from human hands. Today, these wild-grown breeds are known as landrace varieties, They showcase the terroir of their respective regions, exhibiting profoundly different flavor profiles depending on where they were found. Many of the landrace hops have been so widely used that they've come to distinguish beers from that region. We expect English ales to have a floral, woody hop character due to Fuggle, a variety found growing wild in England in 1861. The spicy, peppery Saaz hop is a hallmark of the Czech-style pilsner. German brews wouldn't be the same without the cedar-and-tobacco aroma of Hallertauer Mittelfruh.

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What Gose Round Comes Around

Beer: Here Gose Nothin'
Brewery: Destihl
Style: Gose
ABV: 5 percent

Beer is like clothing, in a way. As tastes change, certain styles fall in and out of favor with the general public; beers that were once incredibly popular in a region may be laughed off by the modern drinker as a relic of the past. But just as big sunglasses, jumpsuits and -- shudder -- mom jeans have been resurrected, so too have several beer styles thought lost to history.

The Gose is currently experiencing such a renaissance. Pronounced GO-zuh, this ancient (read: 1000-year-old) ale is now most closely associated with the city of Leipzig, Germany. But it wasn't always so. The style gets its name from the river Gose, which flows through Goslar, a town located about 100 miles west of Leipzig. It was here in the 11th Century that this historic brew earned its reputation, and it was only here that it could've done so. The well-water in Goslar, you see, is naturally saline, and when used in brewing, each sip of a finished beer seems seasoned with a dash of salt.

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Stone Master of Disguise: The Green Ketchup of Beers

Zach Fowle
Beer: Master of Disguise
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Golden Stout, I Guess?
ABV: 9.7 percent

Remember green ketchup? Heinz, those crazy bastards, launched an emerald-hued version of the condiment -- made, I'm assuming, with ground-up leprechauns and seaweed -- in 2000. It was incomprehensibly popular for about five years, until people realized they were eating green ketchup, and stopped the madness.

I couldn't stop thinking about green ketchup as I sipped Master of Disguise, the newest ale from Stone Brewing Co. It has all the aspects of your standard imperial stout: It's crazy-thick, sliding into the glass with motor-oil consistency. It smells like cocoa nibs, light roast coffee, baked wheat bread, green bananas and wet tree leaves. The flavor is permeated with coffee beans and chocolate, accented by subtler fruity yeast notes of red apple and pear. It the mouth, the brew's viscous and lightly carbonated, and it finishes with a blast of sweet cocoa and a lingering alcohol bite. It's a tasty example of an imperial stout.

Only problem is, it's orange.

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Contents Under Fresher: Lagunitas Born Yesterday

Beer: Born Yesterday
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 7.5 percent

In beer, freshness matters. Brewers go to great lengths to get beer from their fermentors to your mouth in a timely fashion. The reason: science!

Like most foodstuffs, beer is a perishable product. The longer it sits on the shelf, the less it's going to taste as the brewer intended it to when he sent it off for packaging. The reasons for this decrease in quality are numerous, but they're most often caused by the ingredients used to make the beer as well as other compounds that may sneak in during the brewing and packaging process. Oxygen is the most common of these rascals -- it's found to some degree in every packaged beer and can react with a beer's ingredients to create changes in its flavor profile. This process, called oxidation, causes some pretty radical shifts: sweet and catty aromas increase; the flavors of fruity esters and fresh, floral hops decrease; notes of caramel, toffee, paper, wine, whiskey or leather can emerge; hop bitterness drops while the harshness of said bitterness gets a boost. Given enough time, almost any beer will eventually become an astringent, honey-sweet, cardboardy mess.

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