I live in Reno but will be on a trip for work next month. I'll be in Phoenix and Tucson AZ for 3-4 days and I'm wondering if there are any good microbreweries and/or brew pubs any of my HBT friends could point out to me.
Four Peaks in Phoenix is good they distribute Kiltlifter and 8th street Ale. They have the largest distribution of all Arizona breweries. I've never been there, but I've heard it has a good atmosphere and the seasonals are great. There are other places, but I've never had their beers since they don't distribute and I haven't heard good reviews.
My favorite in Tucson is Barrio Brewery. Reasonably priced and very laid back in a warehouse district so it has some fun architecture. Some of the beers need a little work, but most are good and a few are great. They also do a 'Rail Pint' special where when the train is passing by the pints are $3. There's also Nimbus, but I've never really cared for their beers. I think Thunder Canyon is very cookie cutter. Nothing wrong with the place really, it's just not my cup of tea.
There's also 1702 which is just a pizza place/bar. But it has 50 taps plus bottles and they try to create a wide assortment of choices.
I actually liked Thunder Canyon a lot...they had a *great* IPA when I was there (to be fair, was a couple years back). I also thought Gentle Ben's (near the University) was pretty cool...a little more like a college bar (I hesitate to call it dive-y, but it's borderline...) Regardless, they had pretty good food and great beer.
Barrio must be new since I was there...Nimbus was OK (didn't care that much for them either), but not nearly as good (for me) as Thunder Canyon and Gentle Ben's...
Agree with the assessment of Nimbus, although they make an oatmeal stout that is close to perfect, the rest of their offering are "meh".
Barrio Brewing is a spin-off of Gentle Ben's so you'll get the same beers offered at both locations. I have yet to be disappointed by one of their beers. The former brewmaster at GB's opened a LHBS on Speedway, Brewer's Connection. He is a wealth of knowledge
Four Peaks: I love Four Peaks. Four Peaks is in Tempe, and is AZ's biggest brewery, and IMO the best. Kiltlifter is their flagship brew. It's one of the better Scottish Exports i've ever had, and has really caught some traction in bars and grocery stores all over the state in the last couple years. They also make a fantastic English best bitter (8th street ale), and one of, if not the, best IPA i've ever had (Hop Knot). It's extremely floral and citrusy without being too bitter (about 47IBU). I absolutely love that beer. All their beers are well balanced, and consistently great. The brew pub is a cool atmosphere, built into an old 19th century brick warehouse. And the food is really, really good. (The carne adovado will knock your socks off. Actually pretty much the entire menu is killer, including the specials.) If you only have time for one, go to four peaks.
San Tan Brewery: San Tan is down in Chandler, and pretty new(opened in 2007 I think). They have a pretty cool little brew pub in the historic distric of Chandler. They make a good Pale ale (Devil's Ale), a good IPA (HopShock), and have a great seasonal winter warmer on tap right now. Food is pretty good, but I still favor Four Peaks kitchen. Good beer though, definitely worth the stop if you have the time. They also have some awesome tulip glasses that are mouthblown, and made for them by the glass shop down the street. They're pretty sweet.
Nimbus Brewery: If you're going to hit a brewery in Tucson, Nimbus is a must. Great beer. I've only been once a couple years ago, so I don't remember too many details, but I remember both their blonde, and their stout being fantastic.
Papago Brewery in Scottsdale is pretty good. They have lots of regonal micro-brews on tap other than their own beers.
Sun-up Brewery: I hate to admit, but I've never made it up there, although i've been meaning too.
If you ask me, Four Peaks and Nimbus would be the two must visits. San Tan, if you can find the time.
The nice thing about hitting 4 peaks is that you'll have a great meal to go with your beer. Personally I think a lot of their beers taste gravely similar, but the one's they've fine tuned (kilt lifter, 8th street, and hop knot specifically) are distinct and great. They also do a pumpkin porter that goes on sale in October and sells out before Halloween.
Nimbus - My favorites are the Red and the Oatmeal Stout. As twd000 said, the stout is pretty much perfection. Nimbus has 2 locations now, the original, where they brew the beer, and their newer "hipster" location, which is really more of a restaurant with a really good beer selection. I prefer the original.
Barrio - My favorites are their IPA, and the Copperhead Pale Ale, which I think is a seasonal. I don't really go to Barrio or Gentle Ben's (same beers) often, but only because I live about 3 minutes from Nimbus.
Thunder Canyon - I've only been there twice, the first time I was very impressed with their beer, the second... not so much. It was about a year and a half between visits, so I'm not sure if my taste changed or their beer changed. Haven't been in a couple years now.
There are also 2 BJ's "Brewhaus" locations in town, neither of which brew in house. All the BJ's beers in Tucson are trucked down from Phoenix.
Nimbus is good. I've never been to Gentle Ben's or Barrio but I have heard good things. I don't care for the "house" beers at BJ's but the one on Oracle has a pretty decent bottled beer selection, including some nice Belgians.
I will go to bat for Thunder Canyon... They have the biggest selection of the 3 breweries in town and most are quite good. If I were to recommend a place in town that would be the one purely on a beer quality/selection basis. The atmosphere is pretty generic though, you will feel like you are in a replica of a Rock Bottom or BJs.
Barrio and Gentle Ben's (GB's beer is brewed at Barrio now) are good but I think they are pretty unremarkable beer-wise. I work at the University so I go to Ben's fairly often with coworkers and everything is enjoyable, but you won't go home thinking about how you can recreate one of their brews. Their reuben and spinach artichoke dip are amazing IMO... Barrio has the best atmosphere in town and the rail pints gimmick is cool.
Nimbus has 2 locations - the newer location on Tanque Verde has good food but is definitely more restaurant first and much less of a beer shrine. The older location is more fun and casual. Their beer is good but a lot of locals complain that it is inconsistent. In the handful of times that I have gone there I have enjoyed the beer and had a great time.
We also have the 2 BJ's locations. But meh, whatever...
I'll chime in for Thunder Canyon as well, just get the right beers. They usually have a cask (if it's the IPA, you must get it!). They currently have their barrel-aged IRS on tap as well as their Imperial IPA, both of which are excellent. They do dabble in fruit beers, which are interesting but definitely not for everyone. Their Oatmeal Stout is really the only thing I find disappointing for the style. Good food too.
Nimbus isn't really worth the trip, IMO. Buy a mixed 6pack and get a bottle of Old Monkeyshines from Plaza Liquors and you'll be getting a better deal and supporting a better business.
Barrio/Gentle Ben's beers are occasionally great, but mostly just good. I'd also second the recommendation of 1702, as they often have Thunder Canyon, San Tan, and I think SunUp or some of the Phoenix area brews on tap.
Man I moved from Tucson in 2004 but I used to love Thunder Canyon. I would wake up on Saturdays and ride my bike from the dorms on base out to TCB for a few beers and lunch.
They used to have this pizza they made with their Hurricane hot wing sauce instead of pizza sauce. I actually have been trying to replicate that these last couple of months at home.
I vote for TCB and the Hurricane pizza if they still make it.
I've been going to nimbus since '98 or '99. All I can say now is that it's not worth the trip because of inconsistency. Definitely hit or miss there.
Thunder canyon is cool. Although i did get into it with a waitress once because she poured 10oz of beer into my 20oz mug. Apparently the beer was too strong for a full mug, i'd be cool with it if she told me. Good food, good beer.
A must in my opinion is Barrio Brewery. Good beers! I've been impressed the last few times i've been there.
Alright HBT friends. I just got back from AZ yesterday and because of all of your recommendations I had a great beer adventure to help break up the "business trip".
We started in Phoenix and went to Four Peaks for dinner. I ordered their beer sampler to get a taste of everything. All of their beers were solid but honestly nothing really stood out to me other than their Baltic Porter (seasonal). By no means were their beers bad, but just average. I had a burger and a friend had the salmon BTL and both meals were awesome. Plus the music they were playing was right up my alley. It must of been someone's IPod because The Gaslight Anthem and Band of Horses isn't something a radio station would be playing.
The next night we were in Tucson and started at Nimbus Brewery. I liked the atmosphere a lot here. The big issue I had was they were out of 4 beers so they weren't selling samplers and they were out of growlers as well. But I ordered an Old Monkeyshine and I thought it was a great beer. Something I would love to have here back in Reno. I also tried their Imperial Porter and at 11% was very well balanced and smooth. My traveling partner doesn't like beer much and since Nimbus didn't have any spirits we finished dinner and moved onto The Barrio Brewing Company.
At The Barrio I had their NCAALE which was a 10%+ English Bitter. It's was very very good and I always had a half pull of their Double Red Ale which weighed in at 11.5%. This one was decent but did have a decent amount of alcohol burn. I also had a pint of their 7.4% IPA which I thought was great. That IPA ranked up there with some of the best I have had.
I like The Barrio so much that I went back again the next night for dinner. I had the Ruben and a pint of their Dunkle. The Dunkle was solid but nothing to write home about, so I went again with their IPA.
And last but not least was Plaza Liquors. What a great bottle shop. They had probably 400 single craft beer bottles and a make your own 6 pack deal which got you 10% off your pack. So I made it home to Reno with 2 bottles of Bells 2 Hearted, a few from Great Divide, 1 Old Monkeyshine and a Left Hand Fade to Black.
I want to say a big THANK YOU to all of you and HBT. Without you guys I would have ended up at Applebee's drinking Sam Adams (If I was lucky).
Glad you had a good experience. I think Arizona has a lot of room to improve it's craft brew, but we're off to a good start. I'm actually researching a little on craft breweries that were operating here in Tucson before prohibition to see what their experiences and problem solving were.
I'm very happy you went to Plaza. From liftoff to touchdown it is about 30 seconds from my house and it is a great store. Some friends moved here recently and while we were at lunch they got excited about this liquor store they had just heard about. Naturally I was excited that Plaza would have some new clients. But no, they just heard about BevMo and I had to 'correct' their viewpoint.
Hope you can come back and try a few others.
I forgot to add. My homebrew shop is just down the street from Plaza! Add in the several vietnamese restaurants and you can see why I live there.
I have tried Sunup, Four Peaks, Papago, Rock Bottom and San Tan Brewery.
Sunup wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. It was a bit of a drive for me seeing as it's in north Phoenix and I'm in Chandler and that's why I'll probably never go there again. The food was better than average and the beer was good, but not great. Service was kind of "meh".
I REALLY like four peaks. In fact, I never drink to get drunk, but the most recent wedding I went to had an open bar and had Kiltlifter on tap. That's a great beer and after a few too many drinks I ended up making a mess in my wife's car. She wasn't happy about it, but I got the car detailed and all was well. It's been a while since I've had any food from Four Peaks, but I remember it being pretty damn good. I was just telling the wife tonight how we need to go on a date to Four Peaks so I can try the food again. Thumbs up to this brewery.
Tonight the wife and I went to Papago Brewing. Great beer, great food, but the service was kind of slow. They only had two servers tonight though, so I can forgive that. In fact, me and the misses are definitely going to go back. I had a coconut coffee milk stout there that was pretty fricking good and their american black ale was pretty awesome as well. I also had a chicken thai wrap that I would have ate more of if I didn't fill myself up with the two beers.
Rock Bottom was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a while ago that I went so I don't remember one of the beers I got, but I remember thoroughly enjoying both of them. The first one was the Roadrunner Brown Ale which was phenominal. So phenominal in fact that I bought a Roadrunner Brown tumbler to add to my collection. I remember thoroughly enjoying the next beer I got as well, but I don't remember which style it was. The wife and I got some food there as well and I remember enjoying the food, but it was happy hour and they weren't going to let us take our uneaten food home. That's definitely a weird policy, but the waitress let us take the food anyway. It was a good experience and I'll definitely go back.
San Tan Brewing Company still has yet to really win me over. They have great fries there and the rest of the food I've had was good, but not outstanding. The beer seems to be hit or miss for me though. I tried their amber ale and I thought it was a little too thin/watery. Moving on from that I had a seasonal by the name of Sex Panther. That one was good, but there was a flavor I was picking up in the aftertaste that I wasn't fond of. I wasn't able to pick up on exactly what the flavor was, but it wasn't enough to ruin the beer. It was still good and at 9% it packs a decent punch. This was a few months ago. I went back on Saturday to try another beer hoping it would impress me more than the first two and I'm glad I went back. I got an IPA that was very tasty and was a very good, but not overpowering (as far as bitterness goes) example of an IPA. I'll be going back to try more styles they have available.
Sleepy dog is on my list of places to check out as is Old World although I've had two of their bottled beers from the grocery store and wasn't too impressed. I would also like to try BJ's Restaurant and Brewery as well as Copper Canyon Brewing and Alehouse.
Ya, I think where Four Peaks stands out above the other brewpubs in town is the food. I've yet to have anything on the menu that was less than 'great', with most things being 'outstanding'.
Papago loses me with the service. It's been ok at time, and a flat-out joke other times.
San-Tan I'm up and down with. I like their beers, and the food is good, but even though it's closer, when I think about going to a brewpub, Four Peaks usually wins my business.
Sleepy Dog is actually a pretty cool place. Good beer line up, I liked about 5 out of 7 of their beers. They have lots of to-go menus for food from nearby places, and have board games to place. It's a fun little joint if you're with a few friends.