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Circumnavigating Phoenix

May, 1999

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 list.

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: www.calcafe.com/alcatraz.

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 establishment.

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

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