When the hubby and I were invited to a destination wedding in Mexico over New Year’s, it was a tad bitter sweet. Don’t get me wrong; I was insanely excited about being able to travel to warmer weather during a Chicago winter. But for the past few years, my New Year’s Eve has been craft beer focused. In 2009, hubby and I had a blast sampling the many beer and pizza offerings at Piece Pizzeria and Brewery, and last year we celebrated at Revolution Brewing. Mexico is not known for a great craft beer selection so I was preparing to toast 2012 with cheap tequila or a Corona. Luckily, however, the trip began and ended in Phoenix, Arizona which allowed us to sample a bit of the southwest beer scene.
As shady as it sounds, the plan was to fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, spend the night, and then depart for Mexico on a shuttle bus the next morning. The bus had a few stops planned, one of which was a convenience store about an hour and a half from the U.S.-Mexico border. I was hopeful that there might be some decent beer but my hopes were dashed when I saw three ceiling-high refrigerators that held row after row of pale yellow lagers. I think the most exotic beer they had was Bud Light Lime. Yeah. My thoughts exactly.
While I continued to search for some semblance of craft beer in the convenience store, hubby noticed a grocery store across the street and decided to go check it out. May I go on the record right now and say how much I love my husband. He shows up at the shuttle with a shopping cart full of Arizona craft beer. There was a pale ale from Four Peaks Brewery; an IPA from Phoenix Ale Brewery; a red bitter ale from Lumberyard; and a brown ale from Nimbus. He also picked up a cold six pack of Stone IPA to enjoy on the shuttle. All of these, in addition to the Flossmoor Station Pullman Brown, Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf, Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, and homebrew that we brought from Chicago, indicated that this was going to be a great craft beer vacation after all!
Overall, however, I was a bit disappointed with the Arizona brews. I enjoyed the Four Peaks and Lumberyard the best, but the Nimbus brown ale had a weird metallic taste and the Phoenix Ale Brewery IPA was too malty and did not have a lot of prominent hops. While I enjoyed sharing the beers we brought (the CBS went over really well!) I finally just gave in and became a margarita and Corona girl for the majority of the trip.
On the last day of the trip, our shuttle got into Phoenix a little early and we had five hours to kill before our flight back to Chicago. We decided to rent a car and check out the Sun Up Brewing Company during this time. The brewery is right next to a strip mall and, from what I could see of the brewhouse, it is a pretty small operation. When we entered, we were immediately greeted by the server and told we could sit wherever we liked. Our favorite spot is right at the bar so we grabbed a few bar stools and began perusing the beer list. We decided to both get the sampler which included all of the year-round offerings.
The first beer was the Horizon Hefeweizen, a light, refreshing version of the style. It was not as “yeasty” as many hefeweizens; I personally do not care for that big, funky aroma and flavor so I appreciated this lighter version. My hubby, on the other hand, loves big-bodied hefeweizens so he was a little disappointed with this one. Next we tried the Light Rail Cream Ale, which did not have much of an aroma and had the flavor of a light beer or pilsner. This would be a good gateway into craft beer for those that typically go for the macrobrews. This was not my favorite of the Sun Up lineup.
The Stinger Pale Ale had a nice minimal bitterness that was well-balanced against the malt. I could drink one or ten of these in an afternoon. They had an IPA on cask that was hopped with Amarillo that was really nice. I am not a big fan of cask ales but this was delicious. The cask muted the potency of the hops just slightly so the bitter flavor comes through but none of the bitter harshness that can be produced by using high alpha acid hops.
The Amber Ale was pretty light in body with a slight caramel flavor. It was a tad hoppier than some other amber ales with a bitter finish. It was also a little lower in alcohol (4.8% ABV) which allows for a quite sessionable, delicious beer to drink throughout the afternoon. The Trooper IPA had a gorgeous floral hop aroma. It was very tasty with a nice balance of the Simcoe hops and caramel malt. Delicious! And, I must say, a pint of this went exceptionally well with a plate of Sun Up’s light and crispy onion rings!
Sun Up typically has a Vanilla Porter in the lineup but it was just the regular version of the Porter when we were there. It was dark and roasty, a little lighter in body than, say, Revolution’s Eugene or Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald, but quite yummy. Once the taster was finished, I ordered a glass of the current high gravity selection, a 9.8% Barley Wine. While the beer was good, I think it could use a tad more aging as there was a harsh alcohol burn on the finish. A little aging would allow the beer to mellow out a bit and let the malty goodness come through.
Overall, I really liked Sun Up Brewing Company; I know that if the hubby and I lived in Phoenix, this would be our go-to place. The majority of their beers are of the more sessionable variety, with one rotating high gravity beer. I would like to see more high gravity selections, but as I stated previously, it is a pretty small brewing facility so I understand the limited number of brews. I especially loved this brewery’s use of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, two of my favorite varieties. Well done, Sun Up! You get the Girls Like Beer Too seal of approval!
Are there any other Arizona brews I should have checked out while I was out there? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments section!