By Bobby Bush
This is going to be a long trip, covering 12 brewpubs. So, pour yourself a nice, high
alcohol beer, sip slowly and enjoy- the beer and the narrative.
With almost three days to spend in the Phoenix, Arizona area- actually bedding
down in Scottsdale -I had planned this trip well. According to my helpful brewery guide,
available on the internet from a number of sources, there was a brewpub right there in
Terminal 3 of the busy international airport. Since I had a little time to kill waiting for my
traveling companion to arrive on a later flight, I secured the rental car, found the parking
garage and headed inside. I smelled fraud from the start. “Where’s your brewery?” I
asked the innocent bartender as she stood obediently behind the counter of Desert Springs
Brewing Company.” Alas, this was not the nation’s second airport brewery (the first and
only is in Orlando). I tried a Cave Creek Amber, an Arizona micro, and wrote this one off
My partner, it seemed, was weathered in down in Dallas and was trying to
re-route, so I headed toward Scottsdale alone with every intention of checking into the
hotel. Now, those snarling freeways around airports can get awful confusing. Two wrong
turns later and I was so close to Alcatraz Brewing Company in Tempe, that there was
no way I could drive right past.
The first Alcatraz was mysteriously placed in Indianapolis, a long, long way from the famous San Francisco
prison island, but that's also where the company is based. The desert clime of college town Tempe was no more and no less alien.
Situated in an elongated room in the midst of a massive mall, too near a gaudy Rainforest
Cafe, this brewpub, open since February 1998, was doing all right for a Saturday
afternoon. Perching at the bar beneath a 65 foot replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, not
far from a mural painting of waved battered Alcatraz, I conversed with a friendly, elderly
bartender while sampling all seven of their highly drinkable brews.
On the light side and pretty plain, Searchlight Golden Ale and Weiss Guy Wheat
make a perfect starter kit for shopoholics. A bronze Pelican Pale Ale offered a flourish of
bitterness with its medium mouthfeel. Big House Red, although brilliantly gold, made a
wonderfully mild session beer. Sweet but smooth, with hops detected near the root of the
tongue, Birdman Brown was pleasant, as was the seasonal ESB. Lights Out Stout,
however, was the best. Its heavy coffee flavor (this coming from a non-coffee drinker,
mind you) lasted as long as the thick brown head. Roasty with a bitter finale, this Stout
could cause a breakout. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).
Yeah, it’s a chain, but Alcatraz, with similar facilities in Denver and soon in
Detroit and Orange, CA, makes beer drinking entertaining, if not somewhat educational.
It may well be “the best beer behind bars.” Check out their website:
Somehow I found my way, drove right by the airport and continue north to
Scottsdale. Larry, my beer buddy for the weekend, arrived about the same time I did so
we headed out for a late lunch. The Uptown Brewery and Restaurant opened in July
‘98 and was not exactly uptown. It’s on busy Shea Boulevard in resort-happy Scottsdale.
And to make matters even more confusing, this brewpub’s proper title is Uptown Brewery
by Streets of New York.
Now, I’ve never been great at geography, but I knew we were a few miles away
from Brooklyn, so the harried bartender politely explained the situation as he took our
order. It seems the NY biz is the name of the brewpub’s parent corporation. There’s
even another Uptown in downtown Tempe, which we’d visit later. With ten beers on
hand, and a tasty lunch to consume, we set right to work, unfortunately skipping a few.
Central Park Pale Ale supplied a fruity body and tangy hop exit. Somewhere between dry
and cream stout, Skyline Stout bit back with harsh roasted and black patent malt flares,
but actually grew on me after a few sips. A cloudy, gold Praying Monk Abbey Ale, at
8.2% potency, had a spicy, sweet flavor- very nice. A similarly strong barleywine, Diablo
Del Sol, was thick, brash, with tannin flavor biting all the way down, just what’s expected
of a young barleywine. There’ll be more on Uptown when we get to the Tempe
Come along, we're still Tempting Tempe.
There’s beer at the end of the rainbow.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush