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Everywhere you turned, there was another unique and flavorful strong ale to be sampled.

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Arizona Strong Ale Festival

by Pete Ricks

     The third annual Strong Ale Festival, hosted by the Arizona Brewers Guild, was held at the Scottsdale Stadium in January. This event continues to get bigger and better each time. The beer selection this year was outstanding, as many local Arizona breweries created special high-gravity beers just for the festival. This event, first launched as a small tasting at the Mill Avenue Beer Company in Tempe, continues to burst the seams of every venue to which it is moved. Last year it was held in the lot behind Papago Brewing at maximum capacity. This year's event, expecting around 2,000 people, drew closer to 3,000.

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The Beers

     Joe Bob Grisham was serving his excellent Imperial Almond Stout at the Bandersnatch booth. This is one of my all-time favorite big beers, as it has a creamy consistency and light nuttiness from the almonds. Derek Osborne from BJ's Brewery in Chandler served a very interesting beer called Bitternacht, a specialty beer brewed with over 100 pounds of hops. The wort was boiled for over three days to give the beer a rich, caramel flavor. Very interesting beer, Derek! Another unique beer that I tasted was the barrel-aged Doppel Schwarz Bier from Rio Salado. It was twice as strong as an average Schwarz and had a grainy mouthfeel from the barrels.

     Other beers that really stood out were the Hop Rod Rye and Samichlaus that Little Guy Distributing was serving. Hop Rod, brewed by Bear Republic Brewing in California, has a creamy mouthfeel from the rye malt and is truly a unique, balanced big beer. Samichlaus, from Brewery Castle Eggenberg in Austria, clocks in at 14% abv, which probably made it the strongest beer at this year's event.

     Speaking of unique beers, Four Peaks Brewing from Tempe was serving a beer called Fat Bastard. This dead sexy beer, specially brewed for the event by Four Peaks owner Andy Ingram, was a Belgian-style trippel spiced up with some Arizona-grown Medjool dates.

     Prescott Brewing Company was pouring some of its Raven Maniac Stout, a silver medal winner at the 2002 GABF. This beer didn't last long; I noticed Prescott was one of the first booths to run dry.

     Other Arizona standouts were also in attendance, like Sonora Brewing with its Old Saguaro Barleywine and Festivus, a strong ale hopped with Hallertau hops. Todd Arnold from Alcatraz Brewing in Tempe was serving a very tasty Scottish Ale. Tucson was well represented by Gentle Ben's, which was serving Ben's IPA and MacBlane's Oatmeal Stout. Rock Bottom had a very interesting Belgian-style beer called Cezanne Saison, a farmhouse style ale made with orange-blossom honey and various spices. If a strong wheat beer was what you were after, Papago Brewing was serving 9.6% abv Churchill Wheatwine. Peter McFarlane and Leinenkugel's were represented well with Big Butt Doppelbock. Everywhere you turned, there was another unique and flavorful strong ale to be sampled.

The Crowd

     Strong Ale Festival 2003 drew the biggest crowd to date, and everyone seemed to be satisfied with the selection of quality craft brews. When we heard that this event was going to be held at the Scottsdale Stadium, we envisioned plenty of room out there on the baseball field. Then we found out that the event was going to be constrained to the concourses in front of the stadium, which might have been adequate if this event had just drawn the anticipated 2,000 attendees. As the concourses filled up, the event turned into a bit of a mosh pit. An occasional cheer could be heard after a patron would shatter a sampling glass on the concrete.

     The Arizona Brewers Guild had a grill going with some tasty brats and other treats to go along with all of the great craft beer. The large crowd at Strong Ale 2003 proved that there is great support for quality craft beer in Arizona. I'm already looking forward to Strong Ale 2004, and maybe a bigger venue, too!

Pete Ricks is a fanatical homebrewer of eight years and the creator of www.beerdude.com, a craft-beer collaboration Website designed for fellow craft-beer lovers. He can be reached via e-mail at pete@beerdude.com.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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