I am a beer tasting FIEND, my friends. Not only did I get to taste six different beers last night, but tonight, I also got to taste six beers – though one of them was a root beer, and I didn’t actually take any notes on it because I was too busy swooning. Nevertheless, I have five wonderful beer reviews for tonight and they are all courtesy of Sonoran Brewing Company‘s brewery ambassador, Layrd Mahler. Way back on October 15th, when I was still just a craft beer whippersnapper, I reviewed Sonoran’s White Chocolate Ale. A few days later, I reviewed the Victorian IPA and posted both links on their Facebook page, only to garner the attention of Mr. Mahler, which prompted him to contact me about coming into the brewery to try some of the beers they only have available on site. Not two weeks into my aspiring craft brew reviews and I already had a brewery asking for me to further my experiences and come visit for a tasting. Have I mentioned any of the reasons why I so adore this community? Let’s add this to the list, because two weeks prior to that, when I anxiously jotted down my first review without knowing where I wanted to go with it or what I was really doing, I was completely unaware of the hospitality and good intentions of the craft beer community, or that there even was one. Ahh, how I do not miss those naive days – I’d much rather be where I am now, totally immersed in the best beers in the world with the best people in the world. /end sappy paragraph
Back to Layrd, he so graciously invited me to try their other beers at the brewery as a way of saying thanks for what I was doing – which to me felt like I was flailing around in a sea of overwhelming (albeit delicious) knowledge without knowing what to grab on to. Being recognized and thanked so genuinely really shocked me to a degree where I was so excited to partake on such an offer that it was unbelievably difficult to wait until tonight to go in and meet Layrd. I mean, I spent half my Costa Rica trip wondering about how it would go over…I’m kidding. Sort of. Basically, there hasn’t been a Sonoran brew that I haven’t enjoyed; they all have wonderfully individual strengths, and regardless of my continued devotion to the brewery since my discovery a month ago, I’d be hard-pressed to find many weaknesses. We all have our favorite breweries, am I right? And nobody wants to be a fair-weather fan, so I urge you to pick a local brewery to support and stick with it through the good and bad, it can only be a rewarding experience and you’ll meet some amazing people through it.
Walking into the brewery, we went through the Pinnacle Peak Patio Steakhouse (PPP Steakhouse for short) and were greeted by three very odd things: the “grave” of one Pinnacle Pete (if you look closely in the photo, you can see his boots sticking out from under the rocks), a really unhappy rattlesnake…in a tank, and a ceiling made of snipped ties and walls of business cards. If you have never been here, you now have more reason than just great beer to go. It’s enough to walk in the place and smile at all of the history and character exploding around you – I believe it was built around 1953 back when there was only a dirt road running through North Scottsdale.
So what was I really doing at this place? Well, once I found Layrd, he sat me and my fiance at the bar and before I could pull my trusty notebook and camera out, he had placed five little tasting glasses in front of me. He was extremely informative and eager to explain what each of the beers were and their backgrounds within the brewery. If you want to have a friendly conversation with some tasty beer tidbits, Layrd is the most approachable guy for the job. Easygoing, attentive, and cheerful, he is as ready to listen as he is to share, and it was an all around delightful experience tasting all of the beer while chatting with him. I am going to try and get some of these in growlers to bring home so I can get better pictures during the day and so I can taste them all again, but I’ll have to find someone who will share them with me. Any takers?
The first beer I tried was their blonde ale, which I will get more information on, but for now, just know that it is only available on the premises and it is delicious. You should know that they are all delicious, but I’m getting to that. It was a very clear pale honey-yellow with a small, thin white head that fell into a sparse collar in the mini-mug (what are these glasses called, anyway?) leaving no lacing. A few lines of sparse big bubbled carbonation meandered through the beer until about halfway through. Early on I smelled something like dry fresh-cut grass accompanied by a very clean lemon zest citrus in honey. There were faint hops that were more fresh and springy than bitter, keeping the aroma rather light, but lively. It wasn’t sweet, but it wasn’t bitter; it was a great combination of both even through the flavor. Holding a light body and mouthfeel without being watery – which seems to be Sonoran’s specialty – the shallow, crisp carbonation helped to roll the faint honey sweetness just under the clean lemon zest and mild grassy hops. It left my mouth in the same state it was before I drank it, rather than suck any wetness from my cheeks and rather than drown my tongue, it came and went without much influence other than being refreshing and simple. A super quaffable early summer brew ready for the Arizona heat, I hope to see this one on the shelves someday in the future so I can enjoy it as the weather starts to warm.
The second beer I tried was the Arizona Wheat. It glowed a cloudy nectarine-yellow with golden highlights and boasted a respectable creamy foam head with excellent retention throughout the whole drink – something I’ve come to revere about Sonoran’s brews. Even in the little 4-oz glass, the head created a beautiful lattice-work lacing in great, thick sheets…oh how I would love to get you into a bigger glass, my little American wheat ale. The nose was very, very faint, which I am wholly blaming on the thick head, because I was getting whiffs of a clean honey oat and light, sweet wheat, so something was definitely hiding there. I should just start bringing my snifter to tastings. Would that make me weird or obsessively dedicated? Rather than snort up any foam trying to smell the brew, I tasted it to see if I could pull any more out with my taste buds. Sure enough, I was presented with a hearty medium body that was filled with a medium, though very fine, carbonation that kept it chewy. Along with these defining characteristics, it was flavored with a bright wheat maltiness and light honey-coated oats, which were followed up by a very well hid empty bitterness that nipped lightly at the roof of my mouth and tongue as it went down. This was ridiculously easy to drink and I’m sure I could go through two or three bottles without batting an eye.
The third beer I tried was actually the beer in the single picture below, but I’ll get to that last. So for now, the third beer I tried is the one on the bottom left of the quad-picture above. Sonoran’s Desert Amber Ale. A murky light amber with copper hues, it carried lots of visibly active carbonation upwards towards its rapidly thinning off-white head, holding the sticky collar afloat and creating spotty lacing. The nose was filled with a moist grapefruit zest of hops and something floral that made me think of orange blossoms, but I’m almost positive I was just combining flowers with the citrus. A light brown sugar and caramel malt punctuated the early bitterness, smoothing the smell out nicely while allowing it to stay sharp. On my tongue, I first noticed that it was dryly bitter with a medium mouthfeel and fine, spicy carbonation. The hops leaned towards grapefruit rind, making it seem more IPA but were quickly flattened by the sweet caramel and crystallized brown sugar malts. Despite the full grainy sweetness throughout, right at the end the hops made their final stand without coming across too strong and left a clean palate ready for a second drink.
That fourth beer on the lower right is none other than the infamous Inebriator Stout, a Russian Imperial much like the North Coast Old Rasputin I tried the other day. Lurking in the little glass with a deep, tar black body (the flash from the camera coupled with the red wood bar make it look brown, but I promise it was as black as the night sky without the stars) and a crazy thick head made of dark nutmeg brown cream, it left behind gorgeous thick sheets of sticky lacing and held a nice retention throughout the drink with little complaint. After reviewing the Old Rasputin, I was slightly less intimidated by the appearance and dove right in with my nose. I gulped down roast coffee, salted toffee, bittersweet bakers chocolate, woody (oak maybe?) smoke, burnt caramel melted over brown sugar, and dark toasted malts. Despite the bold aromas, I didn’t find the smell to be overwhelming in the slightest, but rather smooth and slow like molasses. The mouthfeel was suavely smooth as well, carrying a medium-thick body and closely resembling the nose in flavor. There were lots of dark toasted malts, chalky bittersweet chocolate, roast coffee, toffee and caramelized brown sugar. On top of everything was a fine layer of smoke, and resting just beneath everything was a smooth plum molasses. What little carbonation made it through the depths of this brew did little to interfere with the flavors and the beer had a nice warming effect. Quite a solid stout and very easy to drink if dark beers are your thing.
Last, but certainly not least, is the unnamed mandarin orange American wheat ale which is only available on the premises. Layrd informed me that they actually have a name for it, but they don’t like it and are looking to rename it in the near future so they can start producing it again. I first tasted it in the 4-oz glass, but Layrd was kind enough to provide me with a full pint of it later on – and even tried to produce a head on it when I badgered him about appearances for my photographs. He is such a nice guy! Glowing a hazy golden-honey with copper highlights right from the tap, Layrd managed to form a pretty decent finger-thick head of super creamy white froth that was continually refreshed by the bubbly carbonation. It quickly diminished to clean, patchy foam leaving minimal lacing. I really liked that even though it was described to me as being “mandarin orange infused,” the orange didn’t come across too strong and sickly sweet. It smelled like mandarin juice with drops of honey and caramel-wheat, sugar cane, and vanilla; there was none of the typical citrus sourness or bitterness thanks to it being a wheat beer, and it managed to stay very organic throughout the nose – never even approaching “cleaning agent” or “tang.” My tongue was ready for this one to blast my taste buds with a thick orange, but instead I was met with a lighter mouthfeel that presented a nice, crisp mandarin orange juice flavor: simple and lightly sweetened with vanilla, honey, and a light caramel. It ended on a dryer note, but was still very fresh and bright.
And with that, I want to once again graciously thank Layrd for taking the time to welcome my fiance and I into Sonoran Brewery with open arms and lots of succulent, savory local craft brews…and root beer. He was a wonderful host and carried a constant smile; you can tell he has a passion for what he’s doing and cutting corners isn’t his style. Should I ever have another opportunity to stop by the brewery for a special event, I would be immensely honored to be a part of it. Until then, I will be making it a point to visit as often as I can, if for nothing else then a great beer and a friendly face.
(PS. Does he not look like a more handsome Jason Sudeikis – Floyd on 30 Rock?)