Yesterday Arizona Beer Week kicked off with the 13th Annual Strong Beer Festival. This was our first major beer festival in Arizona, and we were excited to see things up close and personal. We invited my cousin and our friends Jeremy and Petulia, and headed to Steele Indian School Park for the festivities. We arrived an hour early to make sure we saw all of the breweries being represented. There were over 75 breweries from all over the country. A complete list of breweries can be found here, as well as all of the beers they were pouring.
When we arrived, we went through a security checkpoint, grabbed our four-ounce tasting mug, and headed inside. We were handed 16 tasting tickets, but we wouldn’t use them all. Not all beers being served were high ABV beers, but most were. I remember sampling some that were 14% ABV and higher. One of my favorite beers was over 14% and I might have tried that one twice! We ended up bringing several tasting tickets home.
When we walked in, we headed over to Fate Brewing Company to see what they had available. Steve McFate, owner of Fate Brewing, was standing there drinking. We laughed when I told him he wasn’t supposed to be drinking. He said, “I’m not pouring!” That was the start of what would be an enjoyable day of tasting beers from several brewing companies. After chatting with Steve, we headed over to O.H.S.O. Eatery + nanoBrewery. They were featuring some cask beers, and I wanted to see what they had to offer.
The first beer I tried at O.H.S.O. was called Big Bertha. My cousin also tried it, and said, “That tastes like nail polish.” That is what I love about craft beer. Not everyone will like every style or every beer that is available. That’s OK. She had never tried the Sonoran White Chocolate Ale. She did like that one. It was fun walking around from tent to tent with her trying new things. We had a plan in place where we would all order something different and try everything. I bet we ended up sampling 30 different beers.
When we got there, we were handed a four-ounce tasting mug. At first, I didn’t think that was going to be big enough. But it was plenty big. As we went from tent to tent, most would fill the glass. It was enough to get a taste, and share if you wanted to try several things. A lot of the brewing companies only had two or three beers, but some of our favorite stops had several on tap. Like Marble Brewery. We tried their Marble Reserve, and it was one of my highlights from the day. I was chatting with Sheryl about it the second time we went back, and she commented on their tap handles. They had marbles on the taps, and their beers (from their stout to their oaked IPA) were all consistent and had a lot of flavor. Can’t wait to see those beers in Arizona.
The glass, like I said, wasn’t very big, but I am not sure a bigger glass would be unnecessary. Gates opened at 12:00 for VIP guests, and then at 1 for general admission tickets. That was plenty of time to try several beers and make sure you hit all of the breweries that you wanted. Even after the general admission gates opened, it was never insanely busy. They limit tickets to avoid long lines and to avoid running out of beer. I asked Petulia about her experience, and she said, “It was crowded, but not overcrowded. We never spent time in a line, and everyone was served in a timely fashion.” I would have to agree with Petulia. I never felt crowded, even when trying to get rare beers like the barrel-aged 9000 from Bell’s Brewery. (They did NOT have a keg of Black Note. Several reports said they would have one, but we never saw it. The Hungry Monk has one, and will be tapping it sometime in March.)
By the time we hit everywhere we wanted, I was told Cartel (brand new to the state of Arizona) had some coffee available. Not just coffee beer, which they had (and it’s amazing, by the way) but actual toddy coffee. I walked over, grabbed a cup of that, AND some of their coffee beer. It was more of a brown ale, but uses a rare Mexican coffee bean that gave it an almost spicy flavor.
I could go on and on about the beers. Four Peaks had some good ones, too. They were the first and only brewing company that I saw run out of beer. Some of the brewing companies would change kegs every hour to avoid running out. Old World did that. I didn’t try anything from them, but they changed a keg every hour on the hour to keep things interesting.
While we were there, Sheryl was able to grab her Arizona Society of Homebrewers card. It’s an organization that she joined that provides discounts around the Valley, and they have several parties each year featuring beer that is brewed by members. They have over 500 members, and I am seriously considering joining. If nothing else, I get to meet more craft beer lovers in the state of Arizona. Plus, the discount won’t be bad!
When we first walked in, I saw Steve from Fate Brewing Company. Then I saw Dakine, a serious beer drinker/trader and RateBeer enthusiast. He has actually convinced me to try using RateBeer. I am still going to use BeerAdvocate, but will be spending some time on RateBeer thanks to Dakine. I also saw Remy (just met him a few weeks ago at Total Wine & More, but have seen him several times since) and several other people that I know from Total Wine. The craft beer scene in Arizona is big, but not that big. EVERYONE that drinks craft beer in the Valley was at this festival.
When I saw Dakine, we talked about his highlights of the festival. We agreed Four Peaks had some nice beers, and he was hearing the same about Marble. I would be curious to see if he had anything else after we left. We didn’t’ stay until 5, as the hot tub was calling our name. Oh, and I met Steve McShane, host of Growler Radio. Excited to learn more about him and the radio show. I listen to a lot of electronic dance music podcasts, so I might as well add a craft beer radio show to the mix!
Grant Canyon Flavor Bomb
The Grand Canyon Brewing Company was there. I walked over, and didn’t get any samples there, but chatted with them about their new Flavor Bomb concept. They have released three new beers that have a flavor bomb in then. The flavors include the Shaggy Bock, the Coffee Bean Stout, and the Hop Bomber IPA. At the table, he had a display of the flavor bombs, and explained the process and how each beer changes as the bottles sit on the shelf. I have only tried the Shaggy Bock, but was impressed with the flavor.
This flavor bomb concept is supposed to revolutionize the craft beer industry. I am not sure it will revolutionize anything, but it will provide for some interesting beers in the coming months. I would love to see if other brewing companies try to use this technology to increase/enhance their beers. The bomb itself is patent pending, so I am not sure if other breweries could use it… but it’s an interesting shift in craft beer.
Free Stuff EVERYWHERE
One of my favorite parts of a beer festival (and I haven’t been to many) is the free stuff. Every table had coasters, stickers, hats, pens, shirts… it was a free for all when you were getting a sample. I grabbed a stack of stickers and coasters everywhere I went. Thanks to Dakine, I have started trading beer online. It’s fun, and I love finding random beers that I can’t get here in the Valley. One tip he gave me was to toss in some extra beers, coasters, and stickers. So I will use this for future beer trading thanks to his recommendation.
Other free stuff included bottle openers and posters. Sierra Nevada had some… and Bigfoot signed them. Every hour on the hour they had a Bigfoot sighting and signing. It was hilarious to see Bigfoot signing autographs. They even had a Sierra Nevada van that he was staying in. They kept opening and closing the door so people could see him inside. He was fun! A little scary to look at, but fun.
This is our first Arizona Beer Week, and I am excited to see what other festivities this week has in store. They managed to get an official Untappd badge this week to celebrate, so I look forward to unlocking that. Not sure there is a better way to kick off the week than the Strong Beer Festival. Look for more coverage of breweries represented in the coming weeks.
For those that attended the Strong Beer Festival, what were your favorite beers?