Steamworks Brewing

(Durango, CO)

We loaded up the vehicle with all the belongings we couldn’t manage to sell, give away, or burn and we started off the first leg of our suds soaked cross country trip leaving Glendale, AZ, briefly stopping for brunch and Prescott, AZ and hitting Durango, CO at about 10pm.  I have to preface this article with; it was late, we had the dog with us, and the person who we were staying with (a life long friend of my mom’s) was waiting up for us, so we picked up our food and a 6 pack to go. That being said, though this isn’t a typical article for me, the food and the beer were too good to not write it up.

We ordered a Colorado specialty- a killer cheeseburger, cooked to perfection and topped with diced green chili, we also ordered an amazing chopped salad with big chunks of smoked salmon, couscous, and dried cranberries, among other things, and we paired them with their award winning Steam Engine Lager.

Steam engine is a traditional west coast style lager with light, but still noticeable spice.  She starts a little sweet and finishes dry all while staying smooth and seriously drinkable throughout.

Apologies for the poor picture quality (again- rushed) as well as skipping the X out of 10 rating I usually do:  Hopefully you still enjoy the random Gitmo koozie. The food was great, the lager was good, and I would definitely recommend Steamworks to anyone close enough to get there, but 10 more of their beers could have been the best ever or the worst ever and I don’t feel passing judgement, whether it be positive or negative, wouldn’t be fair.

Helton Brewing

(Phoenix, AZ)

I read about Helton opening over a year ago, have been passing the brewery every Tuesday and Thursday for over a year on the way to our rugby practice pitch, and have been reading a lot of buzz around the certified cicerone and head brewer/owner.  Though interactions with staff have been a bit shy of hospitable I was still excited.

The flight included all available beers on tap- starting with the Pilsner.  I don’t normally like them, but this Pilsner takes the cake in the style. Seriously: it’s rare for me to say “this is the best I’ve ever had”, but this is reminiscent of its lager siblings with much more flavor and body with a little something extra in the finish.

Their Kolsch went down clean and bubbly, but didn’t quite cut the mustard in the flavor department.

The next brew was dry and a little spicy.  Helton’s Rye Pale Ale is a flavorful and unique take on pale pub ale.  I could get behind putting back more than a few of these.

Probably my second favorite beer of the day; Single hop- Comet.  The typical brewer and drinker are not as familiar with single hop varietals as they don’t have as much complexity.  What they do have is a pure glimpse of how that hop is supposed to taste. This one in particular has a citrusy, lemon grass profile.

Though the terms East Coast IPA and West Coast IPA are, thankfully, falling to the wayside there are some “traditional” flavors of the two regions and other than a bit more body than the norm this one doesn’t fit the ‘Northeast’ IPA bill of sale I grew up on in NY.

The next IPA was floral and wasn’t bad, but nothing worth sticking its head out above the rest of the pack.

The Scotch style ale had the typical subtle bitterness without the sweet caramel malts that my taste buds were hoping for.  

The Milk Stout on nitro was almost sour.  Lactose in the milk stout is supposed to add a nice sweetness.  Not sure what happened to this one.

Saved the best for last!  Helton’s Imperial Stout was well worth the wait and the hype.  In my beer journey over the past 10 years it has been increasingly difficult to find non-barrel aged stouts and porters that I truly enjoy.  Many of them, though flavorful, fail the mouthfeel test. This stout not only came through with some big flavors, but a dense creamy body as well.  

Helton doesn’t really have any tweeners in my opinion- loved some and hated some.  Worth noting is that this is the first time I have ever been charged actual money for a sticker (weird) and I absolutely love how they brought the check. Ours was in book by Emerson with an inscription from the Rochester Public Library; what a small world.  All in all I give Helton Brewing Company a 7.4 out of 10.

Mesquite River Brewing

(Scottsdale, AZ)

*2019 edit- Permanently closed

I understand that, many times, space is limited, but I’m really starting to hate the common trend of breweries hidden in strip malls in the Phoenix area.

A little early in the season for most places, but appropriate for AZ as summer quickly approaches- we started off with the Summer Ale. The summer ale was light and refreshing, with a little lemon zest bitterness, but forgot the sweet citrus that’s supposed to come with it.

Second taste- Pale Rider, was creamy and drinkable, but not really hoppy for the style and a bit bland.

Bad Bob was light and floral, but not very “bad” in the flavor department.

To The Wall IPA was odd.  It almost had a dry gin-like quality with fresh pine and berries.  A unique take on IPA, but not my favorite.

Way Off Camber Imperial Amber (or ‘Way of Camber Imperial Ambver’ if you’re taking stock in printed menus) was really interesting for lack of a better word.  It’s not barrel aged, but had unique notes of a sweet liquor (maybe brandy) with a delicate and not overly malty finish.

Bubblin’ Crude had a nice subtle sweetness, not to much coffee, what tasted like chocolate bitters, and was incredibly smooth and creamy.  Nitro? No?! Damn!

The last two were Ole Number Six and it’s next generation sibling.  Ole Number Six was reminiscent of a sweet, peach, tart. Not really all that sour and more like a slightly sour fruit ale, but not bad.

Ole Number 6.1 was a bit more sour than its predecessor, but not very good.  

Killer stout, decent amber, but I didn’t really love the rest of their beers.  Loved the finished, wooden flights, but they didn’t really fit in with the rest of the brewery.  All in all I give Mesquite River Brewing a 6.3 out of 10.

Wanderlust Brewing

(Flagstaff, AZ)

Minutes after a vicious defeat at the hands of the Flagstaff men’s rugby club The Editor and I decided to hit up the only brewery in Flag we hadn’t tried yet, instead of watching a B-side match while we waited for the drink-up.

We loved the inviting garage door, outdoor seating, small bar, and raw wire-spool tables.  We ordered a flight and a $2 pint ($2 fill with the purchase of an $8 snifter glass) and soaked up some much needed sunshine.

The beginning of my wandering started with Chateau Americana. Americana is a really light and drinkable pale ale.  A few of the lighter pub style ales I’ve had recently left the flavor behind in their attempt to stay lighter- this one still maintains a nice flavorful hop balance.

The next discovery was one of the best saisons and beers I’ve had in general in recent months was 928 local.  This beer was intense: flowery with a sweet honey finish. Seriously delicious and so good we went back for more after the flight.

The third brew we stumbled on was the Dunkelweizen.  This dunkel was CRAZY unique. I picked up on some caramel on the front end and finished with light clove and some earthy and tart wood undertones.  I didn’t love it or hate it, but it reminded me of my dad’s backyard, mushroom hooch.

Pan American Stout tasted metallic like copper or sour oats maybe. Not good.

Pan-Am Nitro was the same just smoother.

I was definitely looking forward to something fresh after those stouts. Alpine Start was slightly tart and a little bitter with some citrus zest. Not a bad beer, but really mild compared to the current sour trends.

The last brew on our journey was Vermillion red IPA.  Obviously brewed with sorachi hops as it stayed true to a light herbal flavor: basil or dill. It finished with a powerfully sweet malt.

We loved the setting, loved the name, and pretty happy with everything except the stout.  All in all I give Wanderlust Brewing Company a 8.65 out of 10.

Lucidi Distillery/ Fire Station #1

(Peoria, AZ)

This is a very auspicious article.  First, if you see her, wish The Editor a wonderful birthday and second, this is the first official tasting and review I’ve done of a distillery.

Right off the bat Fire Station No. 1, which was literally an old Peoria fire station, grabs you with its brick facade and reclaimed/ rustic indoor decor.

Starting of with the Forcible Entry Vodka was an easier beginning than I thought it’d be.  I’m not typically a big fan of straight vodka, but this one was smooooove. One of the smoothest I’ve ever tried.

I hate gin.  I tried theirs.  I still hate gin.

“Whiskey drinkers turn into gin drinkers in the summertime”… I’d rather sweat.

I enjoy whiskey, I really enjoy the smooth textures of Canadian whiskey, and I really, really enjoyed Fire Station No. 1 whiskey. This one had every element of grain and malts and remained balanced with just the right amount of slow burn.  I’d love a stout aged in these barrels. So good!

Finishing off with a Virgin Island’s style white rum, Crooked Ladder Rum burned a little more than I’d like- particularly after a whiskey.  Not bad, but not at all what I’m used to or what I expected.

We really loved this place, the friendly staff, and the delicious spirits, but the prices left me with a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  A $9 mixed drink and a $20 tasting is a bit much given the area. All in all I give Lucidi Distilling Company an 8.6 out of 10.

Ashley Lynn Winery

(Waterloo, NY)

This wasn’t your typical tasting as we just popped in to a tiny outlet in the local mall when I was home.  They weren’t full size pours either, but we were able to try one ounce of how ever many we wanted for free and we bought a bottle to bring home- so, I thought Ashley Lynn deserved a write up.

I started off with a fruit wine that I knew would be on the sweet end. Pomegranate Passion wasn’t bad, but I like the fruit wines that bring out more mellow tastes like a blackberry or blueberry.  There were some more on the list, but we were in a hurry so I moved on to the more traditional wines.

Jed’s White definitely tastes like a blend and not a single varietal, but I really liked this one.  This Niagara white is better than the riesling and the chard which is rare for me. Nice job Jed!

Jed’s Red was another really delicious and nicely balanced wine.  Semi-sweet can mean a lot of different things depending on who is telling you that it’s “semi” sweet or dry, but this one nails it.  Balanced between tangy and sweet to dry, warm, and mellow.

Autumn Blush was way to sweet of a rose.  Candy notes that my taste buds associate with an arbor mist white zin.

I’ve come to expect a lot from upstate NY rieslings.  This one wasn’t really up to snuff. It was a bit too citrusy with not enough mellow fruits or floral aromas.

The last one on the tasting was the chardonnay.  Not a bad chard, but very heavily oaked and a little too buttery.  No matter sweet or dry I’ve come to enjoy the cleaner chardonnays out there.  If you like the oaky side of the spectrum- definitely give her a try.

The cabernet sauvignon wasn’t my favorite (“Jed” is doing some good work out there), but I enjoyed this bottle much more than the tasting overall. This cab was warm and dry with a slight tartness in the middle without being overly oaked and/or spiced.

It wasn’t the best wine tasting, but we were a bit rushed and it’s tough to get a full grasp on their wines and operation in a setting like that.  I’d really love to get up to the main winery and give them a try. I give Ashley Lynn Winery a 6.6 out of 10.

Mother Bunch Brewing

(Phoenix, AZ)

Wanting just to try a new place for our bi-weekly food cheat day and that new place ending up being a brewery always makes me happy.  The confusingly named brewery is smack dab in the up and coming, trendy, downtown Phoenix scene. We were seated immediately and helped for the entirety of our stay by an amazing server, we loved the atmosphere, I had THE largest and one of the best tasting burgers I’ve ever had and there beers are top notch.

I have argued with myself dozens of times about whether or not I should ‘drink the rainbow’ and give a true review of the different styles of beers, but this time I gave into my desires and got an all dark flight.  We got our burgers, my flight, The Editor’s IPA, and went to town.

Starting with a few sips of the Old Skool IPA I found a nice balance between malt and cascade hops, but nothing to write home about.  Or maybe now that I’m sitting down to write this article I’m just thinking about how amazing the next four beers were?

Cherry Popper Porter was big on cherry aroma and a little less on the taste buds.  It was also mildly chocolaty and had a nice thick mouth feel for a porter.

Next up was the oatmeal chocolate milk stout.  True to the style and the name- this one was earthy and sweet.  Not a ton of chocolate coming through, but not as bitter as other oatmeal stouts I’ve had and truly tasty.

Immediately following the OCMS I had the nitro.  Very similar, yet somehow a little better. Aside from the typical velvety and creamy mouth feel the nitro allowed a bit more chocolate to make it’s way through.  Well done.

Saving the best for last Mounds Stout is just that:  dark chocolate, coconut, just enough sweet, but not too much, and a perfect thickness for not being a BA stout. Believe the hype- I am so glad we go to give this one a try.

Again, I can’t say enough about this brewery, from start to finish they did everything right.  My readers know I prefer barrel aged beers the most, but short of that fact I’d stack these guys up against many of the more renowned places we’ve been.  All in all I give Mother Bunch Brewing a 9.4 out of 10.