Thursday, April 7, 2016

Southwestern Road Trip, Part 2

One of the truly beautiful parts of Arizona is up north, between the mountains of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, as well as to the east of the canyon, along the Colorado River, near Lake Powell and the Utah border. If you're interested in reading about my thoughts of this area and seeing photos, check out The Brown Knowser.

Wherever I went, there seemed to be no end of craft beer. Good craft beer. Whether I walked into a restaurant, sat down at a brew pub, or walked into the craft-beer aisle at a grocery store, I was able to find brews that I've never tried before and, sadly, may never try again.

In the second part of my Southwestern United States road trip, I'd like to share the beer that I had in the town of Page, at the Grand Canyon, and in Flagstaff, near the famous Route 66.

When we drove up to Page, my only thoughts were of touring the Lower Antelope Canyon and watching sunset above Horseshoe Bend. Anything else was icing on the cake. Of course, we had to feed ourselves, so between these two sites, we stopped at a Texas barbecue for dinner, aptly named Big John's Texas Barbecue. The barbecue sampler of various pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and sausage is the way to go if you're undecided, and one platter fills two adults.

Big John's offers some local brew, in bottles, and my wife and I chose well. Here are my notes on both choices.
  • American Pilsner, by Grand Canyon Brewing Company (5% ABV, rated 3): for those of you who have followed my past beer reviews, you know that a Pils is not my favourite style of beer. I did, however, find this Pilsner to be flavourful, with a nice body and a solid finish.
  • Sunset Amber Ale, by Grand Canyon Brewing Company (5% ABV, rated 4): while I sipped my Pilsner, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to try the beer that my wife chose and I ended up taking several mouthfuls over the course of our meal. This ale was a perfect marriage: the blend of hops and malt cut through the grease (the food was phenomenal) and sweetness in the barbecue sauce. Though I was happy with the beer I chose, I was happier that my wife was willing to share.
Grand Canyon Brewing is located in Williams, just west of Flagstaff, along historic Route 66. If I had known this while I was travelling, I would have made a side trip.

Even the Grand Canyon National Park offers craft beer at it's Yavapai Lodge. We stopped at this cafeteria for lunch and I found an interesting selection to go with my pulled pork sandwich.
  • Piehole Vanilla Cherry Porter, by Historic Brewing Company (6% ABV, rated 4): typically, I shy away from any beer that tries to pack in a lot of ingredients. I find that the flavours can compete and get muddied, and you're left with an overwhelmed palate. This porter by a Flagstaff brewery was done just right, with a lovely nose of vanilla and a mouth feel that brought the goodness of a porter that was backed up with a slight cherry flavour. The vanilla returned in the finish. You could taste everything, just not all at once, and this made for a very good ale.
Just as the sun set on the Grand Canyon, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped. As I snapped one of my last photos of the day, a particularly blustery gust snatched my 20-or-so-year-old expedition hat and carried it into the abyss (if you really want to get a sense of how deep the Grand Canyon is, just watch something get smaller and smaller as it falls forever and ever).

I grumbled all the way from the national park to our rented cabin in Flagstaff, remembering how I wore that hat all over Southeast Asia, how it provided me shade as I paddled a canoe through the Rideau Lakes system, from Kingston to Ottawa, how it kept rain off my head in countless situations, and felt that I lost a travel companion.

When we arrived in Flagstaff, we decided to stop at the local Safeway and pick up some groceries because we would be staying at the cabin for a couple of days and were going to take advantage of the kitchen, rather than spend more money in restaurants.

One of the things that I like about American grocery stores is that they not only offer alcohol, but they tend to include a great selection of wonderful craft beer. As I scanned the shelves, my sad eyes fell on a lone bottle that raised my spirits.
  • Cappuccino Stout, by Lagunitas Brewing Company (9% ABV, rated 4):  I have tried a couple of beers by this California brewery—a friend gave me a bottle when she returned from a trip to the U.S. and I enjoyed their IPA when I was in New York City last spring. I not only liked Lagunitas beer: I loved it.
    This stout was perfect for drowning my sorrows while, at the same time, lifting my spirits. The powerful coffee flavours are dark and rich. It was like drinking an espresso with a healthy shot of booze. And the 9% alcohol level is strong without coming across as too boozy.
The next day, while wandering the small, mountainous town of Flagstaff, my wife found a café just a short walk on the other side of the railway tracks that parallel historic Route 66, on Beaver Street. I had had some coffee a short time earlier and I wasn't in the mood for a pastry or other treat, so I sat on a bench outside of Macy's and asked Google to find the closest brewery.

My smartphone showed me one that was across the street from where I was sitting.

Situated in a former grocery store, this spacious brewery has plenty of tables to accommodate a large crowd of craft beer lovers. I sat at the bar and ordered a sampler, and chatted with Jack, a retired bartender from Chicago, about the wonders of the craft-beer explosion. While we talked, I took pictures and made notes on Untappd.

  • Diamond Down Lager, by Beaver Street Brewery (5% ABV, rated 2): This lager was average but I found the finish a little weak. After only a couple of sips, I was ready to move on.
  • Summer Shandy, by Beaver Street (ABV was unavailable, rated 3): this was one of the more interesting brews of the sampler. A cloudy yellow that resembled lemonade, this refreshing beverage smelled of citrus and ginger beer, and tasted like a slightly spiked lemonade. It was flavourful and slightly sweet, and would make an excellent thirst quencher on a hot summer day. On this day, in Flagstaff, it was neither summer nor hot, but I enjoyed this ale all the same.
  • Red Rock Raspberry Ale, by Beaver Street (4.4% ABV, rated 2.5): the nose was filled with ripe, fresh raspberry as I breathed in this brew, and the fruit flavours carried through to the finish. It was good but didn't stand out.
  • Lumberyard Amber, by Beaver Street/Lumberyard Brewing Company (6% ABV, rated 2): I learned, as I searched for this beer on Untappd, that Beaver Street Brewing and Lumberyard Brewing are one and the same brewery, but at separate locations. Both are on the south side of the railway tracks, just around the corner from each other, both in somewhat historic buildings.
    Talk about cornering the market.
    Both breweries share their perspective ales, and I took it that this amber ale was brewed at the sister location. Or was it? When I first tasted the ale, I thought that the bartender may have placed the wrong glass in the spot for the amber. This beer was as dark as the IPA that Jack was enjoying and tasted of strong hops. My server happily poured me another glass, and I noticed that she drew from two taps as she filled my four-ounce vessel. "It's half red, half IPA," she told me as she replaced my old glass.
    Why would you blend beer? More than that, why would you blend it from two different kegs? In doing so, you assume that people at the tap pour the exact same way every time. For me, I tasted more IPA than anything else, and what the brewery was trying to do did not come off as an amber ale. What I tasted was okay, but I felt that the brewery failed on this sample.
    I also didn't trust what they posted as the alcohol content.
  • Railhead Red, by Beaver Street (5.8% ABV, rated 3): this was a very easy-drinking brew. Nice body, good finish.
  • Dingle Irish Stout, by Beaver Street (4.6% ABV, rated 3): a classic, dry Irish stout. Enjoyanle, but I have nothing more to say about it.
  • Flagstaff IPA, by Beaver Street (6.1% ABV, rated 4): I could see why Jack chose this ale. It has lots of grapefruit aromas, nice, bold, citrus hops, a solid body and a refreshing, palate-cleansing finish. I could drink this ale all day long.
  • R&R Oatmeal Stout, by Beaver Street (6.4% ABV, rated 4): this stout was beautifully smokey, with solid flavours and a great finish.
  • Hop Gag Imperial IPA, by Beaver Street (8.8% ABV, rated 3): generally, I feel that the word gag should not be used for any food or drink. Gag is a verb I don't want to associate with anything that I'm going to put in my mouth. And while the heady alcohol content made me take notice, it did not cause any reflux action. I did, however, find that the alcohol and hops seemed a little out of sync, though there was good body and the finish was long. I didn't like it as much as I enjoyed their flagship IPA, but this seasonal was interesting nonetheless.
In my next blog post, I'll share my beer experiences of Tucson.


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