Sep 23, 2018

Departing Phoenix

May, 1999

By Bobby Bush

I promise, I really promise. This is the final installment in our tour of Phoenix area brewpubs. Check the last three issues if you’re behind in your reading. Hurry, we’ll wait for you.

Leinenkugel’s Brewing Company is a 130 year old brewing operation in Chippewa Falls, WI. The brewery, still operated by the Leinenkugel family, has been 100% owned by Miller Brewing since the late ‘80s. What’s that have to do with Phoenix, you ask curiously? Everything, a happy beer hound would answer.

On March 21, 1998, Jake, Dick and John Leinenkugel presided over the opening of Ballyard Brewery at the brand, spanking new Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, home of major league baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. The establishment, just outside the stadium’s walls, is a partnership between the Diamondbacks, Leinenkugel’s and former Milwaukee Brewer All-star Robin Yount and his brother Larry.

Over a slow, Monday lunch we spoke to head brewer Chris Swersey, formerly of Mickey Finn’s, Steamboat Springs and Heavenly Daze breweries, about his ten barrel brewing system. From twelve 20 barrel fermenters and ten serving tanks, he has room for lagers and ales. We found Swersey’s Bleacher Blonde thin but crisply hopped. Honey Weiss, a tingly lager, shot bubbles at unsuspecting tongues, departing with lasting sweetness. The clear gold Warning Track Wheat was slightly bitter at all four bases. Add a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen and that’s three wheat beers on tap at once. Obviously, post season ballpark beer drinkers stick to the light side of life. Nonetheless, Swersey hopes to brew 800 barrels by the end of 1998.

Rally Red ran mild and medium, while Get Down Brown, Ballyard’s darkest, had a tart punch which hid what should have been sullen malt flavor. From canoe and baseball bat shaped tap handles, all the beer was served much too cold in frozen glasses. The food, on non-game days, is varied, ranging from salads, chicken and pasta to a dozen or so sandwiches. Most interesting was a Sandlot Sliders appetizers, actually diminutive White Castle-like sirloin cheeseburgers. On game day, buffet service is set up. The brewpub is complete with scoreboard and on-field closed circuit television. With a hand stamp, stadium goers can leave to make a short visit to the Ballyard Brewery for a quick one. The 20,000 square foot facility can seat 500. Heck, why go to the ballpark at all?

I dropped my two traveling companions off at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and, since my flight did not depart until much later, headed south toward Chandler. Open since early 1996, Copper Canyon Brewing & Alehouse makes mostly English ales for the patrons of its lizard-motif brewpub. Perfect in hops- nose, flavor and residual bitterness -Summer Extreme IPA was not overpowering. The golden Arizona Pale Ale, with its low carbonation level, fruity body and slight bitterness, made a good session beer- just what I was looking for. Penta-Yum Porter packed strong roasted malt flavor into its medium body. Its softly bittered flavor departed with a lustfully hoppy aftertaste. All were served at appropriate drinking temperature- a brewpub rarity. I left without sampling Arid Zone Amber and Razzbeery Ale. An Oatmeal Sout was scheduled up soon. From its strip mall location, Copper Canyon is neighborhood brewpubbing in all its glory.

Still by my lonesome with time to kill, on the advice of Leinenkugel brewer Swersey, I found McFarlane Brewing Company. A micro with a tasting room, it was hiding in an aging industrial area near the airport. Though ready to close early on Monday night, I coaxed the chirpy bartendress, Bobbie, into three pints, the last as she stacked chairs on tables. Billed by the Arizona Republic as having the “Best Cheap Beer,” I discovered that McFarlane had recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Regardless of financial standing, their beers were pleasing. Skipping a Bavarian-esque Hefeweizen and Czech-ish Pilsner, the Red was a pungently hopped, malty and medium bodied Marzen. The seasonal Porter boasted chocolate, roasted malt and few hop notes. McFarlane is Arizona’s first microbrewery and largest. It may also be history by now. [It is, McFarlanes closed in late 1999 or early 2000].

That does it: Greater Phoenix in a four section nut shell. Life is short, stop and taste the beer.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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