Summer beers have typically become lighter, more refreshing styles,” says Arizona craft beer distributor and certified cicerone Chuck Noll. Educate your beer-loving mind with this handy overview.
Terms to Know
session - A low-alcohol beer; typically no higher than 5 percent ABV. Purportedly coined by World War I British factory workers whose beer-drinking was limited to daily four-hour “session” periods.
cask-conditioned - Beer poured while still fermenting on yeast. Typically less cold and carbonated than “on tap” beer, but fresher-tasting.
isoamyl acetate - Byproduct of certain yeast strains. Accounts for distinctive banana aromas in hefeweizen.
bubblegum - An ester (aroma) characteristic of many wheat beers.
lager - Product of a bottom-fermenting yeast. A popular summer beer style.
American Pale Ale: Light amber color, light-to-medium body, with high quantities of strong American hops relative to other warm-weather beers. Think: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Stone Pale Ale
Pale Lager: Light in color and body, this golden, top-fermented beer gets a dry and crisp taste from noble hops. Think: Longboard Island Lager
Blonde Ale: A straw- or gold-toned ale with fruit esters and malt sweetness. Similar to a Kölsch. Think: Somersault from New Belgium Brewing
Witbier: Belgian-style wheat beer with hazy golden-yellow color, medium body, scant hop taste but rich with spicy flavors like coriander and bitter orange. Also known as a white ale. Think: Blue Moon Belgian White
Kölsch: German ale with a bright straw-yellow color, light body, low bitterness and subdued malts with hints of fruitiness. Less hoppy than a lager. Think: Alaskan Summer Ale or Four Peaks SunBru
Hefeweizen: The granddaddy of wheat beers. Unfiltered with cloudy gold color, full body, and yeasty aroma with banana and clove overtones. Think: Weihenstephaner Hefe or Pyramid Hefe
Saison: Originally brewed to slake thirsty Belgian farmhands. Crisp and slender on the tongue, effervescent with fruity and spicy flavors. Think: Goose Island Sofie
Fruit Beer: Not technically a beer “style”; refers generally to brews with heavy fruit adjuncts like cherry or watermelon. Think: Pyramid Apricot
Hop to It
“Hops are used for bittering, flavor and aroma,” local cicerone Ben VanderMeer says, explaining the purpose of the green buds thrown into the brewing process. Since hops in the southern hemisphere are harvested during our spring, many summer craft beers in the U.S. use hops from growing hotbeds like New Zealand and Australia. Here’s a quick primer on some popular hops for summer.
Amarillo: Grown in Washington state by Virgil Gamache Farms, this hop variety lends an aroma of orange blossom and tangy citrus flavor.
Citra: A special aroma hop variety developed by the Hop Breeding Company in Washington state. Imparts citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
green bullet: A bittering hop from New Zealand with a spicy kick.
Motueka: A variety hop from New Zealand with light lemon and lime flavors.
Simcoe: Used extensively in craft and home brews, this hop infuses beer with tastes including passion fruit and pine.
Calypso (2011): Imparts an earthy-piney aroma with flavors of apple and pear. Developed by Hermitage Brewing Company in San Jose, Calif.
Mosaic (2012): Hybrid of Simcoe and Nugget hops from the Hop Breeding Company. Imparts tropical aromas.
Summer (2014): New Australian hop proffers apricot and watermelon flavors, intensified by dry hopping (added after the beer ferments).
Do the Can-Can.“Spending a lot of time in Arizona in the summer means spending a lot of time in the pool, so I think that cans are a great format for summer beers – they’re pool-friendly, prevent spilling more than the old red beer cup, and are recyclable.” – Ben VanderMeer, certified cicerone and East Valley sales representative for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
OUR FAVORITE FIVE - PM-curated Arizona summer brews
LOCAL SUMMER BEER PICKS - Easy-to-find bottles and cans
TAP THAT - PM-ranked Valley taphouses
Q & A with Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
OH, PAIR - We tapped a local cicerone, or beer-pairing expert, for answers.
OUR FAVORITE FIVE
Don’t wait until fall. Don’t wait until you finish reading this article. Try these PM-curated Arizona summer brews today.
|Citrana Sour Ale
Pure, straw-colored heaven. Fermented with a Belgian wild yeast strain, this slightly tart gulper is layered with citrusy aromatics and boasts a crisp, uncomplicated mouthfeel. Think of it as a kinder, less pucker-inducing version of a typical Belgian sour beer. “Between you and me, I’m not a big fan of [intense sour beers],” Borderlands brewer Myles Stone says. Also coming this summer from the rising Tucson-based brewery: a horchata-flavored cream ale.
Where to find it: The Little Woody/4228 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-0339
Cartel Coffee Lab
You know the proverbial actor who “wants to direct”? Tempe-based Cartel Coffee Lab is kind of like that with beer. Thankfully, when it comes to working both sides of the taps, Cartel is a real Clint Eastwood. And this grapefruit-zested Witbier – brewed with wheat in addition to traditional barley malts – will surely make your day with thirst-smiting coriander high notes and a wallop of fresh-tasting citrus.
Where to find it: Cartel Coffee Lab/225 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-225-3899,
|Scottsdale Blonde Alle
We love the name. We love the beer, too – a slender, smooth Kölsch, incrementally less bitter than a standard German lager but with just enough hoppy oomph. Owner/brewer Jeff Huss will also release a bourbon-barrel-aged peach ale this summer called Southern Hussy. Ah do declay-ah!
Where to find it: Huss Brewing/1520 W. Mineral Rd., Tempe, 480-264-7611, hussbrewing.com
Originally brewed as a midday treat for Belgian farmhands, saisons have summer refreshment embedded in their DNA. Fate Brewing does their version as a pilsner-golden table beer (read: low alcohol) with esters of orange and ginger. Fate’s small-batch philosophy makes availability kind of a crapshoot; try the Single Hop Sour as a backup.
Where to find it: Fate Brewing/7337 E. Shea Blvd., Ste. 105, Scottsdale, 480-994-1275, fatebrewing.com
|Lil Gye Rye
Bewitchingly malty and refreshing, this low-alcohol (3.7% ABV) rye ale is ideally engineered for hot-weather volume consumption. Brewmaster Patrick Ware uses New Zealand-sourced Nelson Sauvin hops to impart subtle citrus notes to the session offering, which will make repeat appearances on Arizona Wilderness’ rotating taps throughout the summer. The bad news: No growler fills.
Where to find it: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co./721 N. Arizona Ave. Ste. 103, Gilbert, 480-284-9863, azwbeer.com
LOCAL SUMMER BEER PICKS
See what the Arizona beer buzz is all about with these easy-to-find bottles and cans.
SanTan Mr. Pineapple Wheat
|Sleepy Dog Cherry Hefeweizen
Nuanced fruit flavors emerge in this murky wheat beer; we liked the hints of tea and subtle carbonation.
Available Feb.-Sept. 4.8% ABV
“Yum.” — Niki
|Sleepy Dog Monje Azul
This malty and metallic Belgian-style ale packs perky notes on the finish. Available in summer. 5% ABV.
“Pleasantly confusing and complex.” — Niki
|Bad Water Saison
A heady "farmhouse ale"-style beer with a floral nose (hints of chamomile), a touch of coriander spice and a bit of yeasty chaff. Available year-round. 6% ABV.
“Tastes like a classic summer beer.” — Craig
|Barrio Tucson Blonde
A great "starter beer" that's rich and woodsy, with a hint of vanilla. Available year-round. 4.53% ABV.
“You could play beach volleyball while drinking this. It's an athletic beer.” — Brian
|Grand Canyon American Pilsner
A spirited, smooth, effervescent pilsner with hints of apple. Available in summer. 5% ABV
“More texture than flavor.” — Brian
“It would probably pair well with food. It's like a super Coors... an MGD on steroids.” — Craig
|College Street Big Blue Van
This American-style wheat beer exudes a super blueberry aroma and subdued candy flavor. Available year-round. 5.4% ABV
“It smells like blueberry muffins or cereal.” — Leah
“Good change-of-pace beer.” — Craig
|Four Peaks Peach Ale
Presents a peach skin aroma and a refreshing, malty taste. Available year-round. 4.2% ABV
“That's almost like peach nectar. That's intense.” — Craig
“It's peachy keen.” — Leah
|Lumberyard Knotty Pine
This piney, skillfully-hopped brew took the silver medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup; lovely hints of caramel.
Available Feb.-Sept. 5.4% ABV
“Yeah, baby.” — Brian
“Too knotty for me.” — Leah
|Oak Creek Hefeweizen
A gold medal winner at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, this cloudy, classic Hefe boasts big-time banana flavor. Available year-round. 4.5% ABV
“Banana bomb.” — Craig
|Old World Brewery Arizona Honey Wheat
This slightly sour beer has a hint of marshmallow and a wild yeast vibe. Available year-round. 5.2% ABV
“Much less buttery and far more carbonated
than previous versions.” — Niki
|Mother Road Gold Road
A Kölsch-style ale with light, slightly tart citrus hints. Available year-round. 4.3% ABV
“Funky nose right out of the gate.” — Craig
“It's a crowd-pleaser. Especially when you've been pounding porters with your grandmother all day.” — Brian
Aromatic and smooth, this Hefe packs much less banana flavor than Oak Creek's. Available year-round. 5% ABV
“Austere.” — Craig
|Mudshark Full Moon Belgian White Ale
A swarthy, viscous Witbier with meady, honeyed tones and a predominantly orange palate.
Available year-round. 8.5% ABV
“This beer has star tattoos on its shoulders.” — Brian
|Grand Canyon White Water Wheat
A silver medal winner at the 2012 AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival, this simple brew has a lighter profile than most wheats. Available year-round 4.9% ABV
“The more I drink it, the more I like drinking it.” — Leah
Variety is the spice of life... and, for that matter, the measure of any good beer bar. Find your favorite summer seasonals, along with a kaleidoscope of exciting newcomers, at these PM-ranked Valley taphouses.
#1 Angels Trumpet Ale House Owner Matt Englehorn manages his 28 taps like an eclectic DJ – a domestic here, some Norwegian imperial stout there, capped off by a cuvée. And there’s always a smattering of esoteric Arizona brews, easily sampled via their flight program. 810 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-252-2630, angelstrumpetalehouse.com
#2 Papago Brewing Part grab-and-bag beer store, part tap room, Papago remains one of the Valley’s top destinations for craft beer experimentation – the rare “brewery” that seems to put as much creativity into its tap program as it does its own brews. 7107 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, 480-425-7439, papagobrewing.com
#3 Taste of Tops. One of the Valley’s most enthusiastic champions of Arizona brewing, this near-campus craft beer hotspot hosts frequent tap takeovers and other events designed to venerate local beersmiths. And the Tops tap jockeys know their stuff – from Arizona IPAs to tricky Belgian sours. 403 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-967-2520, topsliquors.com
#4 World of Beer. Yeah, it’s a chain, but confronted with 50-plus well-programmed taps and hundreds of bottled beauties, we tend to lose our aversion to Walmart-style retail overkill. The selection is so vast that you can randomly order a flight of esoterics – say, Scandinavian ales with 8 percent ABV or more – and the barkeep will probably deliver. Two locations. 2224 E. Williams Field Rd., Gilbert, 480-814-1385; 526 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-638-2337, wobusa.com
#5 Brat HaÜs The Old Town sausage joint isn’t just a great place to score a haute wiener – co-owner Dave Andrea has also engineered a beer-lover’s dream, with 28 creatively curated and cataloged taps, along with dozens of bottled exotics. Example: hard-to-find Hitachino Nest Anbai, a plum Gose sour beer from Japan’s top craft brewery. 3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-4006, brathausaz.com
#6 Ground Control. The West Valley’s top tap room boasts 24 intriguingly-curated handles that dispense both blue-chip domestic crafts, like Firestone Walker’s inimitable Union Jack IPA, and internationals like Belgium’s St. Bernardus. You’ll also find a dependable stock of Arizona seasonal brews like Prescott Brewing’s Lodgepole Light cream ale. 4860 N. Litchfield Rd., Litchfield Park, 623-535-9066, groundxcontrol.com
#7 Yucca Tap Room Rodney Hu’s rehabilitated dive bar thrives in its second life as a craft beer mecca, with a 29-handle-strong tap program that rarely features the same beer twice. Recent Arizona selections: Huss Brewing’s Rice Pudding Porter and Grand Canyon’s Raspberry Wheat Ale. 29 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480-967-4777, yuccatap.com
#8 Lost Leaf. This Downtown hipster hang compensates for its limited tap system with a massive menu of bottled beers, including the Valley’s biggest selection of gluten-free brews. 914 N. Fifth St., Phoenix, 602-258-0014, thelostleaf.org
#9 TapHouse Kitchen. Central Scottsdale is known more for its fine dining than beer bars, but TapHouse is the obvious exception, with creative AZ-centric tasting flights and seasonally-sensitive tap offerings like Grand Canyon’s thirst-beating American Pils. 6137 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste. 108, Scottsdale, 480-656-0012, taphousekitchen.com
#10 O.H.S.O. The Arcadia hotspot’s new in-house nanobrewery has not degraded its tap program, which always features a heroic selection of Arizona brews, like AZ Trail Ale from THAT Brewery in Pine, and Tucson’s much-lauded Dragoon IPA. And the patio: sublime. 4900 E. Indian School Rd., 602-955-0358, ohsobrewery.com
Honorable Mention: The Whining Pig. Better known as a wine-bar, this trendy uptown micro-drinkery also services suds-lovers, with tasty crafts like the Colette Farmhouse Ale from Great Divide. 1612 E. Bethany Home Rd., Phoenix, 602-633-2134
Q & A with Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
A year ago, things looked a lot different for the bearded blokes behind Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. in Gilbert. Founder Jonathan Buford (pictured, middle) had sunk considerable funds – including his entire personal savings, $43,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and his wife’s 401(k) – into his quest to start a brewery. His partners, brewmaster Patrick Ware (left) and business manager Brett Dettler (right), were also heavily invested. On the verge of bankruptcy and foreclosure, after fits and starts and rescheduled openings, they went live in September 2013. Acclaim wasn’t far behind. In January, craft beer connoisseur site RateBeer.com named them the best new brewery in the world out of roughly 2,600 that opened in 2013. Business boomed, with Pizzeria Bianco-esque wait times and cold calls from famed brewers in Denmark, craft beer nerds in Brazil and Japan, local and national media, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan, who was intrigued by their use of indigenous ingredients in their brewing process, particularly Arizona’s prized (and nearly extinct) white Sonoran wheat berries. Fresh off a profile in Esquire, which also heralded them as the “world's best new brewery,” the whiskery wilderness men sat down with us to share some beer – smooth Signal Mountain Stout for them, beet-infused Wet Beaver Wit for us – and stories about their wild ride.
So how did you fellas meet?
Jonathan Buford: It was a dark bar, a cold night in January. I locked eyes with him [Ware]. He locked eyes with me. [laughs] We didn’t have cell phones so it was years later that we finally met again [at a beer event]. He worked at SanTan Brewing Company. I owned a window cleaning business and Brett and I had started the paperwork route, you know, business plan, licensing, all that stuff. Brett and I originally met at his restaurant in Cave Creek, called Trophy Steakhouse at the time. We just kind of said, “You want to start a brewery. So do I. Let’s talk about this.”
Patrick Ware: At that point I had already sold my soul to craft beer. I adopted a minimalist lifestyle, sold my car, just accepted the fact that I’m a brewer. This is what I love to do, so I’m going to build my life around that. Part of the lure of leaving SanTan, which was a fast-growing brewery with a lot of opportunity, was the fact that Jon’s and my ideals of what a craft brewery is really aligned... all these disciplines: art, science, mechanical aptitude, agriculture. We want to be a part of the community. We want to use local ingredients. We want to go outside the box.
How did Jonathan get you to come on board?
PW: We went backpacking and explored what Arizona really is like [the Arizona wilderness inspired the brewery’s name, décor and ingredient-sourcing]. We did camping trips [growing up], but when you grow up in suburbia you don’t necessarily get that all the time. This was something he was really passionate about. You get out there and it’s this serene, beautiful thing, but it’s also a challenge. There’s a danger aspect to it that kind of thrills me.
JB: The danger aspect did come to fruition…I had put this band together and we weren’t doing so hot [before the opening]... And [now] we’re about five times over what we thought we’d be in the business plan. There’s some redemption there.
The RateBeer award really put you on the map, didn't it?
JB: The thing I will say about that RateBeer thing is, there’s been four awards now [they’re the fourth recipient of the honor]. A brewpub had never won it, and there’s a dynamic with the three of us; you see how we’re willing to talk. The other breweries weren’t. Joe, the owner of RateBeer, said “You guys are the most unique of them all because you embraced it. You were willing to talk.”
PW: Mostly you. [laughs]
JB: This is the guy [Ware] who touches every batch of beer, the guy who is mechanically driven, has a creative soul and a very analytical mind. He has all those combined. You can’t really get in Pat’s way. Why? He’s making the best beer in the world right now.
PW: We have this unique brewery. It’s small enough that we can embrace all these local collaborations.
PW: We had Superstition Meadery come in yesterday, and a beekeeper.
JB: We’re going to literally go pull honey out of this beehive, put it in a box, come here and centrifuge it in the back and make a braggot [a primeval form of mead] – 20 percent of the fermentables come from honey.
PW: Almost no brewery can do that because they’re committed to a distributor, a brand and specific beers, whereas we’re rotating all the time.
JB: You can see what people wanted by our success so far. It’s not really about us. It’s just [that] we wanted to do something that was wanted, that was needed, that was desired. We’re the ones for that job. I’m calling farmers up, and it’s amazing that [Agritopia farmer] Erich Schultz has never been called by a brewer. Now 80 percent of our beers have had local products go through them, whether it’s grains or fruit... This is a Gilbert thing. This is an Arizona thing. We’re not doing this for awards. We’re doing this to feed the local community.
What are you most excited about for the future?
PW: Biodiesel. We’re starting a biodiesel project today. We’re using the grease from our kitchen. We want to convert it to biodiesel [to use as] a keg delivery [system].
What about your famous Picacho Pecan Pie Brown Ale? Are you excited about that, too?
PW: Oh, absolutely. We were talking about that just now, how someone told me, “Whatever you do, don't let Jonathan put whole pecan pies in the mash tun.” But we did it, and it turned out to be one of the best beermaking moves we've done. It sounds ridiculous, putting a pie in the mash, but there's science to it. And people do love it.
What summer brew pairs well with Thai food? Or jalapeño cheeseburgers? Or cheesecake? We tapped a local cicerone, or beer-pairing expert, for answers.
The Principles of Pairing
“When pairing beers with food, there are three key concepts to focus on,” Valley cicerone Ben VanderMeer says. “One, match strength for strength. Two, find harmonies. Three, consider contrast elements.” Based on those three keys, here are some general suggestions for pairings from VanderMeer.
Pair Thai green curry, spiced to “Thai hot,” with a strong Belgian golden ale or Belgian Tripel. The alcohol intensity of these high-ABV beers will match the food’s heat intensity. “The high carbonation of this type of Belgian ale will also help to lift the very prominent, aggressive curry flavors off one’s palate,” VanderMeer says.
Pair chocolate stout with chocolate cake, vanilla porter with vanilla ice cream, citrus chicken with Witbier (which traditionally uses orange peel), or brown ale and crusty brown bread.
“As mentioned previously in the case of Thai curry, carbonation lifts and balances fat and ‘umami’ flavors, as well as balancing sweetness present in other dishes, like desserts. Sweetness balances acidity,” VanderMeer explains. He recommends pairing a raspberry framboise-style wild ale with cheesecake, or for “emphasis,” a spicy vindaloo or chile-laden tacos with a hopped-up IPA. “Hop bitterness emphasizes spicy heat,” he says.
Local Beer-and-Food Love Connections:
Ceviche from Deseo + Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse from Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Deseo at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale has long been lauded for its citrus-drenched ceviche offerings, from the lobster escabeche with avocado to the yellowfin tuna swimming in lemon-infused coconut water. Order some to go, but first, “Go grab a growler of Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse from Arizona Wilderness and have some fun with this tart yet balanced, and very unique, AZ creation,” VanderMeer says. “Add mango, and harmonize the sweetness of the beer with the sweetness of the fruit.”
Fruit sorbet from Gelato Spot +SanTan Mr. Pineapple Wheat or Four Peaks Peach Ale:
This combination is simple, sweet, and as VanderMeer sums up, “Very refreshing!”
Cowboy Ciao’s Stetson Salad + Four Peaks SunBru Kölsch:
Cowboy Ciao’s signature chopped salad features smoked salmon and black currants, which pair well with light pilsners, lagers and Four Peaks’ Kölsch. “The lighter, less aggressive flavors of the salad will marry well with the balance of these light, clean beers,” VanderMeer says.