In early March, 2019, Janet and I spent a week in Phoenix with three primary objectives – baseball, hikes and breweries.
And while we encountered atypical Arizona weather – we were cold even with multiple layers at one of the night Spring Training games and had to wear rain gear at the other – it was a chance for a few great sunny days and an opportunity to escape the daily NW spring drizzle and clouds.
Spring Training is always a wonderful experience allowing close encounters with the players, inexpensive tickets and a chance to meet great fans from all over the United States.
That said, Phoenix is probably my least favorite major urban center in the US. Admittedly, I’m not a great fan of the desert climate or environment, but the sprawl in the metro area is unappealing (to be extremely restrained). Suffice to say, it always makes me feel blessed to return to the Rose City.
Our last trip to Phoenix was in January 2018 so we did not have Spring Training options, but enjoyed visiting ten breweries and one taphouse. In the first of two posts on this prior adventure, however, I summed it up as follows:
“However, the overall ambiance of this ‘disaster in urban planning’ made us immediately homesick for the concepts we take for granted – like trees, urban growth boundaries, good public transit, intersections which don’t require a ten-minute wait if you hit a red light, trails in Forest Park and, of course, the Oregon Coast.”
Our Beer-chasing ex-perience this year visiting two bars and six breweries or brewpubs was also very positive in most respects – excellent beer, nice people and cordial and helpful staff.
That said, as in 2018, the exteriors of the establishments we visited were largely a reflection of the strip-mall ambiance of this SW desert metropolis. With the exception of one (maybe two to be liberal in interpretation), they were all in shopping mall settings and the entrances were not inviting and for the most part dull and repetitious.
As evidence, compare the entrance of our first brewery above – Helio Basin Brewing – with the exteriors (shown below) of the last two Oregon watering holes reviewed by Thebeerchaser – Bantam Tavern in NW Portland and Beachcrest Brewing – a new venture on the Central Oregon Coast.
Helio Basin did have a good selection of beers – most notably, the award-winning Fayuca Rizing Xtra Pale Ale (we split a pint) and a great burger. The brewery has been a successful fulfillment of the dreams of the young co-founders fifteen years ago.
On a warm Sunday after-noon, we hit our only day game of the three Spring Training contests we attended. We decided to hit the ‘cheap seats” – on the grass terrace in left field at Salt River Fields where we saw the Colorado Rockies beat the LA Dodgers.
The lawn terrace seats are a good experience although it is difficult to really feel (and see) the pulse of the game given the distance from the action.
After the game, we hit the only two bars on the trip which were in the Desert Ridge Mall near our hotel the Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge north of Phoenix.
The Whining Pig was an interesting bar – essentially underground with 125 beers and a slew of wines on tap.
And as a “secret sister” to the Pig, we found – Pigtails – after looking for the entrance for a bit, a speakeasy of sorts – a craft cocktail bar with an amazing selection of hard alcohol and mixologists that know their stuff and the most interesting egress I’ve seen of all the bars visited while Beerchasing – one that would make James Bond proud. It was through a large bookcase on hinges….!
As described in this 3/7/19 Yelp review:
“Dim lights, vibey music, a great cocktail menu, and a backbar that blew me away. ….It is a little hard to find, but I personally enjoy the speakeasy aspect to keep the vodka (and) red bull drinkers of Scottsdale away.”
The bartenders get uniform outstanding reviews on social media and the high ceiling, “living wall” and the ambiance is in stark contrast to most of what you see in Phoenix watering holes.
The next day, we hit the trail driving about twenty-five miles farther north to Pinnacle Peak a little over 3.5 miles of strictly up and then the reverse but some great views. I will have to say from both our past trip and this one, that there are some very good hiking options available in the desert landscape outside the City.
And before our game that night to see the Chicago Cubs play “my” Cincinnati Reds at Sloan Park, we stopped at one of the two best breweries on the trip.
(I say “my Reds” because I lived in Cincy from my fourth birthday – I remember because I got to sit on the lap of the stewardess as we landed because I was the birthday boy…. until we moved to Oregon when I was twelve. That stewardess would now be over ninety if she were still living……)
Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Rocky Bridges, Johnny Temple, Gus Bell, Smokey Burgess and youngster pitcher Joe Nuxhall – who came to the Majors when he was 15 and Manager Birdie Tebbetts, gave us a number of thrilling seasons.
The Reds didn’t disappoint that night and although it was a bit rainy, they prevailed.
But I digress….anyway the interesting story of AWB is related in a 2014 Esquire article entitled “The World’s Best New Brewery is Located in a Strip Mall in Phoenix.”
It conveys the story of how after being founded in 2013, the owners were struggling and about to go down. According to Jonathan Buford, one of three bearded partners, who sold his window washing business to start the venture:
“Foreclosure and all that stuff looming. We were just taking money wherever we could get it, same for Brett and Patrick. We were all in—100 percent. If we’d been delayed another month, I would’ve been bankrupt. My wife and I would have filed bankruptcy, and she would have kicked my ass…..
In 2014 RateBeer.com, the authoritative and exhaustively comprehensi e craft-beer site, named the ten best new breweries in the world (out of 2,600 that opened in 2013) The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. was ranked number 1.”
The award changed the picture and today they are thriving – before the award 17 employees and now 39 with two locations. One of these was our server – a wonderful young man named Stephen.
There was a waiting line that weekend afternoon and the place was bustling and notwithstanding his shift having just ended, he patiently went through the incredibly interesting selection of brews – Buford and his partners go up into the wilderness and write beer recipes and the original idea for the brewery was developed while they were backpacking.
There were so many good options that we ordered a flight of five – from left to right below:
March for Orange, La Ciudad IPA, Suit n Tie IPA, Tranquility Tree Blonde and Aravaipa Abbey Dubbel (“This beer was spontaneously fermented and laid to rest for over 2 years in French oak before being conditioned in bottles for an additional 7 months.”)
They had a good pub menu and we were also impressed with their efforts to be sustainable:
“In our efforts to become a more cognizant and sustainable business, we’ve partnered with Recycled City, whose vision of ‘Farmland for the Future’ is something we passionately support! 100% of the food waste collected by Recycled City goes towards building local-fertile farmland.
So ended our first weekend in Phoenix. Stay tuned for the next post for the remaining breweries and Spring Training game we hit during our week in the desert.