The first time I landed in Phoenix for work, I had one beer place in mind. I'd asked around and there was pretty much only one answer. Papago Brewing.
Papago is a great tap and caps spot, especially if you're coming from the East Coast. Arizona gets Colorado and Michigan beer, but the big draw for many might be that it also gets California beer. You can pony up for an Eclips 50/50 stout, or a Cascade sour, or find your favorite San Diego IPAs. (I found Alpine Nelson there, for instance.)
The Orange Blossom Wheat is Papago's best actual beer, and it's decent enough to find canned in the Southwest. There's vanilla in there, though, so you if you don't like creamsicles or orange juliuses, then you may want to pass.
If you pass, you'll find many excellent beers on the taps and in the fridges. But that first time, I didn't find many Arizona beers that really knocked my socks off.
The next time I visited, of course I went to Four Peaks. Maybe you've had their Kilt Lifter. It's good, it's an easy-drinking caramel brown with a little bit of grass or floral hops to make it more interesting. I can't say that any other beer really registered with me. It's a nice place, always full of life, bustling, and the food didn't make me not want to come back.
But you know beer. If it it doesn't register as something you need to have again, you don't really make sure that you end up there again. And I've never been back to Four Peaks since.
I tried some Two Brothers recenlty. I didn't love their red rye, thought their Sidekick session was decent. I'm excited to try the single-hops and the fresh-hops I brought back in the fridge. But their largely empty Scottsdale brewery didn't impress me with food or beer, and they only had their own beer in stock.
OHSO started to turn the tide and show me that there are great beers being brewed in Phoenix. They had a really nice orange pale ale, and a choco baltic porter that was full of mouthfeel. I recommended it heartily and made it part of a Quick Arizona Spring Training Beer Guide.
I've been going to Arizona regularly since 2008 0r so, about when my mother moved there from New Mexico. Apparently, in 2012, Fate Brewing opened in Phoenix. I went for the first time this year, so it was new to me.
It was legit.
My favorite house brew was their Shift Pint Session, a Nelson, Amarallo and Columbus IPA with 3.6% ABV and 40 IBU. It was crisp, clean, grassy, and fruity, which describes my current favorite regular beers. If it was in cans and at your nearest beer store, I'd be recommending it to you.
I also really enjoyed their Candy Bar Milk Stout, which added peanuts to vanilla bean, cocoa, and sea salt. Totally a candy bar, like a PayDay or something, but covered in chocolate. It won a silver medal at the 2013 GABF and I understand why.
The food was salty but enjoyable. Tater tots with cheese inside, faux-caccia focaccia pizza thing, smoked meats, we all enjoyed our food. I didn't love our server, who talked way too much, but others at the table did, and she was very gracious later when beers got mixed up. I was drinking an IPA when I'd ordered the Eric's Ale New Belgium Sour, and when the dust settled, we had a few free beers in front of us and I was drinking my sour.
Oh right, that's another great thing about Fate -- the guest taps. The one complaint I have sometimes is that I don't want to drink *only* the beers made that brewery. Fate handled that with aplomb -- great guest taps with great home beers made the decisions tough.
There's one place left on my must-visit: Arizona Wilderness. With a great sour program, they've been on everyone's lips recently. I'm lucky enough to be headed to Phoenix again in the spring, and I'll make sure to visit the Wilderness.
And, given how many breweries were on my list when I started visiting this city seven years ago, that's impressive. There are now four or five that I'd visit anytime I go to Phoenix. So cheers, Phoenix, for getting better all the time.