[UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the information we were originally given about the writer of the Phoenix New Times blog post mentioned below incorrectly identified him as a dishwasher. We have since come to find out that he is, in fact, a bartender. This has been corrected below. Sorry for any confusion.]
At the Strong Beer Festival, I remember standing in line to try some barrel-aged beers from the Old World Brewery. They are fairly new, and pretty much stole the show at the Strong Beer Festival. They were pouring a ton of beers, and we had a great time trying beers and walking around hanging out with friends. We didn’t have any plans tonight, so we decided to come to the brewing company and try the beers at the source. It was a long drive, but we finally made it. The location isn’t that impressive, but they are right off the interstate, and there is a ton of parking available.
We parked, walked in, and were greeted by Matt Mercer, the head brewer at Old World. He was actually sitting at the bar when we walked in drinking a pint, but quickly got up and walked over to introduce himself. We talked about beer, their distribution, and he poured us a flight. We started with the standards, per the menu, and then tried a few barrel-aged beers. One of them is aged in red wine barrels, and the other is a tart porter. Their standard beers include:
- Nitro Blonde Ale
- Arizona Honey Wheat
- 4-Leaf Irish Red Ale
- Dark Knight Porter
Now it’s time to taste.
Nitro Blonde Ale – 4.2% ABV – 18 IBU – 1.048 OG
According to the menu, the Nitro Blonde Ale is a, “crisp and dry Blonde Ale with moderate bitterness. Pale European malts and floral hops create a semi-sweet, mellow flavor.”
The flight was served light to dark, so I am starting with the Nitro Blonde Ale. It’s hot outside, so this is a good place to start. It was served a little cold for a nitro, but had a nice mellow aroma that I like. The mouthfeel is really nice, and slides down smooth. Then some somewhat sweet flavors hit, and the finish is long and polished. When you walk in, think about this place as a post office… this used to be a post office, and now is a place that makes good craft beer.
Arizona Honey Wheat – 5.2% – 17 IBU – 1.049 OG
When you throw the word “honey” on a beer, I expect it to be sweet. According to the menu, “An unfiltered American-style wheat beer with an addition of honey from local bees. The honey gives a subtle sweetness and provides a drier finish.”
Local bees? I have been in Arizona for 10 months, and I haven’t seen a bee. Maybe I need to look harder, but their honey is in this beer! The aroma didn’t blow me away, but the flavor is impressive. There is a nice carbonation, and a mellow finish. It’s clean, tastes fresh, and isn’t as sweet as I want, but still enjoyable, especially on a hot summer day.
4-Leaf Irish Red Ale – 5.5% ABV – 19 IBU – 1.058 OG
St. Patrick’s Day was last week, so it makes sense they have an Irish red. Of course, they have had the Irish red on tap. I am getting a lot of malt on the aroma here, so I hope that carries over to the flavor. The menu says, “A malty, sweet, dark ale in the Irish tradition. Some roasted malt and spicy hops balance the caramel sweetness.” I am excited about the caramel sweetness, because you know I like sweet beers.
There isn’t much malt on the palate, but the flavor is nice. It has a really nice flavor, and a nice drying finish. I am guessing that is in the Irish tradition. I wonder what the Irish tradition is… or if anyone here is Irish. Oh well, it’s not green but it has a lovely drying finish.
Dark Knight Porter – 6.8% – 28 IBU – 1.072 OG
I LOVE the name. I wonder if Batman knows about this… According to the menu, “A dark and complex British Robust Porter. Several dark malts combine to create smooth coffee and chocolate flavors and aroma.” I like coffee. I just had a nice cup of coffee on the way over here, so I am hoping there are some coffee flavors here.
There is some coffee on the nose, but not too much. The beer is pitch black, and has a nice tan head on it. The flavor though… holy cow. That is a TON of coffee, and it has a nice malty balance. The aftertaste is drying, but leaves me wanting another drink. I am not sure what coffee they use, but this is a good porter.
Yard Dog Tart Porter – NA ABV
The first four beers were listed on the menu, but these do not have explanations. But when Matt called it ,”tart”, I was excited. This beer is also pitch black, and has an incredible aroma. Tart is an understatement. Then I drink… and wow. It’s not as tart as I expected, and is nicely balanced. They did a good job with the malts here. But the tartness sticks around, and every time I swallow I get some of the same experience as when I took my first sip. That is my favorite… so far!
Barrel-Aged Red Wine Belgian IPA
This is a Belgian IPA that is aged in red wine barrels… and you can definitely smell that. You might think a red wine aged beer would have some red characteristics to it, but it doesn’t. However, in the glass, it looks like any old IPA. Being a Belgian IPA, I don’t expect a lot of hops.
A guy sitting at the bar just said, “It’s an acquired taste.”
Oh. My. God. That IS an acquired taste, and one that I want to become familiar with. The flavor is amazing. The first thing you experience is a hit of hops, but not a lot. It’s the Belgian part of the Belgian IPA. Then the red wine flavors kick in, and the finish, while dry and bitter, is not overwhelming so. Sierra Nevada makes a red wine aged beer… and NOTHING compared to this.
The final beer doesn’t have a name… it’s just the “barrel of the day” beer. It’s a red wine Irish red ale. If the beer is good, you don’t need a name. The aroma is nice, and a little more balanced than the Belgian IPA. Not as much red wine aroma, but more malt. The flavor is also incredible, and is what you expect from a red wine aged beer. I keep thinking of Amuste, a beer they use grape must with.
Oh, and they have root beer! Just when I am ready to order a pint, the bartender goes, “Have you tried our root beer?” Nope! But it smells just like root beer should. It is not carbonated at all, and has an incredible mouthfeel. THAT is what root beer is supposed to taste like. They use only half the sugar in this than a typical root beer, as they use sarsaparilla in the process.
When you walk in, you can sit at the bar or any one of the random tables. They have some high tops, and even some dartboards and pinball. There is also a stage in the corner, and they have live music every now and then. Then, behind all that is the brewery. From stacks of bottles to ladders and casks
Old World Brewery has won several awards for their beers. Hanging on the wall, behind the bar, are two of these awards:
- 4 Weeks of Novembeer 2011 Best IPA /Pale Ale for the Eclipse Black IPA
- 4 Weeks of Novembeer 2011 Best Wheat Beer Prickly Pear Wheat
After drinking all of their beers, I can see why they win awards. The beer is fresh, consistent, and they offer a wide range of flavors. Their rotating taps are also unique.
When you visit, look above the bar. There is a gargoyle keeping tabs on the bar and all of the good craft beers being poured. When I talked to the brewmaster, he said he didn’t want to brew an IPA. That is why he brews several different India pale ales, releasing a seasonal brew every few months. It keeps things interesting. I am fickle about a black IPA, but I am excited to try the Old World Brewery black IPA when it comes out this May.
I asked him about his favorite style. “The porter is the favorite beer that I brew. It is robust complex, roasty, chocolaty and it just smells great.”
“I have a masters in architecture. I did some design work for 5-6 years, and in 200-2008 I started consulting doing basically computer graphics and renderings for construction projects. While I was doing that, I was drinking craft beer. I got more and more serious about it, and we had this 2 person-consulting firm. I had a lot of personal time to do the home brewing thing. I did the research and I got serious around 2004. I did my professional training in 2007 and the rest is history.”
“I don’t have a favorite style. If I had to say, I would say porter because that is my favorite beer to brew. But I am all over the map.”
So what’s next for Old World Brewery? “Expansion and growth is next. We want to brew more, and expand our operation here in the Valley and beyond.” Old World doesn’t have a distributor, at the moment, so that is making it hard for them to expand as fast as they would prefer. But their beers are in some stores here in the Valley, and you can grab a bomber at Safeway for $7.99. Out of all their beers, their barrel-aged beers are the best. You won’t see those in a bottle, so get down to the brewery and taste these at the source.
Negative Reviews From World Of Beer
While we were there, the bartender started talking to us about a negative review the brewery had. Apparently, a bartender at World Of Beer in Tempe visited under false pretense, and had a negative experience. He also happens to write for the Phoenix New Times, and wrote an article about the brewery.
Unless you actually visit the brewery and drink the beers, you are going to have a hard time making a conscious decision on what to expect. Don’t expect white table cloths and great customer service. You aren’t going to get it. But you will get a brewmaster that drinks while he brews, a bartender that used to be in a rock band that has stories for days, and a group of regulars eager to make friends. This is craft beer, not fine dining.
Speaking of regulars, while I was sitting at the bar, I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan LaGois. He was curious what we were doing, and commented on how fast I was typing. Knowing he was a regular, and watching him drink several pints of the Honey Wheat, I wanted to get his comments on the brewery. “With a few more investors, people interested in becoming part of the Old World family, we could do a lot for this place. It’s all about money, and making beer is a priority. We do our best, but we aren’t supposed to be doing more than making beer. This is a beer making factory; making bottled beer and kegs of beers is a priority.”
Old World Brewery is the first brewery we are featuring here on 1001 Bottles, but it won’t be the last. Places like this are what craft beer is all about. While we were standing in the brewery, one of the vats started to leak. Sheryl pointed to it, and Matt said, “Yeah, we are aware of that.” It was a waterfall flowing from this fermenter, but he ignored it and carried on the conversation. He was more interested in talking to the community than fixing the leak. Things like that carry a lot of weight when reviewing a place. That, and the taste of the beer. If you haven’t been to Old World Brewery, go. It’s worth every penny and good until the last drop. You can even grab a good deal through Yelp if you pay them a visit. Tell them 1001 Bottles says “Bottoms up!”