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Southwestern Thirst
By Pete Ricks

Spring is a great time to visit the Southwest, as there are many events to enjoy. Spring training baseball games, beer festivals, sub-100-degree weather and more beer festivals. Speaking of beer festivals, we had another great Arizona Strong Ale Festival in January of 2005. Strong Ale 2005 was represented by breweries far and wide this year, with selections from California and Colorado and a special treat from Dogfish Head in Delaware.

World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head made an Arizona debut, and the five-gallon keg blew 12 minutes after being tapped! Not to worry, Little Guy Distributing, which was pouring a number of high-gravity beers that day, also had YuleSmith from AleSmith in San Diego and the 13.5% abv Czar Imperial Stout from Avery Brewing in Colorado. As usual, it was a booth that you wanted to be hanging out at throughout the day!

Four Peaks from Tempe was also pouring some outstanding locally brewed beer. Hopsquatch, an Imperial Red Ale (or sometimes barley wine), is a malty sweet beer with a great hop aroma. This is a must beer to sample if you are into big, malty brews and you want to try the finest that Phoenix has to offer.

Upcoming festivals in Arizona include the Great Arizona Beer Festival on April 2–3 at the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix and the Spring Hop Festival II, which will be held on Friday, April 29, at the Peoria Sports Complex from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Last year’s Spring Hop Festival was a mind-blowing lupulin experience, so check out azbrewguild.com for details on how to get tickets for this year’s event.

Gentle Ben’s new brewer, Steve Onofryton, is brewing some truly outstanding beers.

Some other great Arizona beers of note at Strong Ale were the 6.8% Mocha Java Stout and Ben’s IPA from Gentle Ben’s in Tucson. Gentle Ben’s new brewer, Steve Onofryton, a veteran homebrewer of 10 years from the Tucson area, has been manning the 15-barrel brewhouse since June of 2004 and is brewing some truly outstanding beers. Steve’s beers were so good at Strong Ale that I paid a visit down to Tucson, where I was treated to some mighty fine hospitality and the full line of offerings at the pub.Steve has been experimenting with some new hops, and I have to say the 7% abv IPA is wonderfully balanced, with Columbus hops used for bittering and flavor and Amarillo hops added in the finish. Hard to go wrong with that combination!

Other beers that can be sampled at Gentle Ben’s include the highly drinkable Taylor Jayne’s Raspberry Ale, a lighter ale with a clean, raspberry finish, and Red Cat Amber, a fine 6% abv beer brewed with Perle and Cascade hops.

Of course, the NCAA basketball tournament is always a reason to brew a special beer in Tucson, and this year was no exception. The annual NCAAle was tapped at the end of February and was immediately placed on a one-pint limit after a full court press was put on the serving tank during the first night it was on. Steve not only brewed a double batch of 13 barrels this year, but he cranked up the abv to 9.3%! I’ve sampled the NCAAle a number of times, and I’d have to say this is the best batch yet. Look for NCAAle to be served on special occasions throughout the spring, and perhaps early summer too, in the Old Pueblo. Gentle Ben’s, located two blocks from the University of Arizona campus in the heart of Tucson, is a must visit when in southern Arizona.

If you happened to be in Santa Fe at the Blue Corn Café & Brewery on February 1, 2005, you were treated to some of the best high-gravity beers in the state in one setting at the Big Beer Rodeo III. Diners kicked off the event with an imperial stout brewed by Sierra Blanca Brewing Company from Carrizozo, N.M. Nice way to start out the evening! From there, Welsh rarebit was served with High Desert Brewing Company’s barley wine — a tasty beer that I remember from last year’s event — and then a salad served with a maibock from Eske’s in Taos, N.M.

Of course, you need a killer beer for the main course, and what better brew to serve with sautéed chicken and Italian sausage, sweet bell peppers, fresh rosemary and horseradish mashed potatoes than Chicken Killer Barley Wine from nearby Santa Fe Brewing?

The Santa Fe portion of the event capped off with some dessert and Java Imperial Stout from hosting pub Blue Corn, and then a serving of Ice Pale Ale from Wellhead Brewing Company in Artesia, N.M.

The next evening, the event moved to Milagro Brewing in Bernalillo, N.M., where more great food and brews were served. Some of the entrees and brews served on the second night included Roggenbock from Il Vicino in Albuquerque, and pan-seared diver scallops with citrus avocado mousse, which was paired with the Turtle Mountain Whiplash Wheat.

Next, diners feasted on Chardonnay-braised lamb shank in natural reduction with white leek risotto and roasted root vegetables, which was paired with the Second Street 2002 Barley Wine. Are you getting hungry yet? Good, because we haven’t even told you about the pork and raspberry sausage with red wine sage demi-glace paired with Tractor Brewing’s Inebriator Doppelbock, or the dessert, which was orange lavender flan with citrus honey glaze paired with Chama River’s 2005 Barley Wine.

Another tasty treat served early on in the evening was the grilled Atlantic salmon with bah humbug-fennel jus on a warm fennel and red onion salad, which was served with Milagro’s Bah Humbug Olde Ale. Sadly, this was one of the last events at Milagro, as the brewpub closed the doors shortly thereafter. A possible resurrection is in the works, and we’ll have details on that and other Southwest beer news in the next edition. Until then, drink hoppy beer!

Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co.
865 E. University Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85719

Pete Ricks covers craft beer in the Southwest for the Celebrator Beer News and beerdude.com, where he will pick 256 professional regular season football games with .700 or greater accuracy in 2005.


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