With Arizona Beer Week coming to an end, I thought it would be nice to focus on a collection of beers I have gathered this past year from Sonoran Brewing Company in Scottsdale AZ. This time, I enlisted the help of my good friend and Arizona native Bryan Dunn, known to readers of this column as as “The Hippie.” For those of you who have noticed that I haven’t been reviewing beer on as regular basis as I used to, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.* Needless to say, I have slowed down on my beer drinking because of the carbs. Now, because of that, and due to the fact that the beers I am reviewing here today all came in 22 oz. bombers, I thought a little help was in order. “The Hippie” DID abide, and the session turned out to be one of my favorites in a very long time.
Last February 2012, Arizona celebrated 100 years of statehood, so to commemorate, Sonoran—named the Official Craft Brewer of the Centennial—created the Official Craft Beers with two ales for the occasion, Arizona Centennial Ale and Arizona Centennial Copper Ale. Both by the numbers and our sampling, it was immediately obvious that these beers were made with every beer drinker in mind. Not overly hoppy, bitter, strong, or fruity, they are true session beers with a drinkability and flavor every beer drinker would love.
We started off with the Centennial Ale. This is a filtered American Pale Wheat Ale coming in at 4.7% ABV. Poured from the bottle into a Pilsner glass, we could see how highly carbonated this ale is, the color a light yellow/blonde. The head was creamy, with lots of bubbles and constant lacing throughout the session. The aroma was light with some grain or fruit coming through. At first, the taste was crisp, then the fruits started to come through—grapefruit, apple and a little honey. This was a very tame beer for Sonoron, which is why I say they made this with every beer drinker in mind. (Their beers tend to be Epic, as becomes obvious as we continue this session.) This would be an awesome beer in the summer when the temps reach into the 100+ degree mark and even though it was in the low 50s when we drank it, it was, nonetheless, a very nice ale to start with on this session.
Our next ale was Sonoran’s Arizona Centennial Copper Ale, brewed to pay tribute to Arizona’s copper miners past, present, and future—celebrating Arizona’s rich copper mining history. Upon the first pour, I had to slow it down because the head started rising immediately; another highly carbonated ale. The style is described as an Extra Special Strong Bitter (ESB). The color was copper, just as I expected. The aroma was nice, bready yet floral. The mouth feel was unexpected, I was getting biscuit, and a sweetness that brought the malty flavor forward. The carbonation made the beer dance on the tongue. With no aftertaste and an ABV at 5%, I wish this wasn’t a limited release brew. I would have liked a few more of these in the fridge.
Now that we were done with the Centennial Ales, it was time to move on to a very special selection Sonoran calls their Chef Series, name as such because they enlisted the help of four local chefs to collaborate on the beers. They didn’t stop there—the labels of each brew were designed by local artist Ellison Keomaka. Everything about these beers is local: the brewers,the chefs, ingredients, etc. These were only released locally, sadly not available outside their distribution. Each one has a great story. We’re still waiting on the release of the final beer in the series, which I’ll review when I can get it.
The first in the Chef Series—one we couldn’t wait to crack open—was called 7 Wives Saison, named for the 7 different ingredients used in the brewing. Poured into a Pilsner glass, this Saison had a beautiful deep yellow color and a perfect head. The aroma had so much going on—a ton of fruit and herbs; it was hard to differentiate the citrus from the fennel and coriander. The taste buds were just as perplexed as the nose, a dazzling bunch of different fruits and herbs taking their turn hitting on every bud: orange, fennel, berries, syrup—all were present. Peppercorn lent a feint but interesting bite. At 5.2% ABV, this was another delightful session beer.
I was intrigued by the 7 Wives Saison and couldn’t wait to get to the other two beers, but first, here is the history and info from the 7 Wives label—a story every bit as interesting as the beer:
“Sonoran Brewing Company’s Inaugural Series beers are an integration of all things LOCAL. Local Brewery, Local Chefs, Local Ingredients, Local Artist, Local Charity, Local Legacy and Local Legends. Inspired by our passion for great F & B (Food & Beer) pairings and our desire to support and showcase the LOCAL talent here in Arizona, it was only a matter of time before destiny played in the hand in connecting all those involved. Our First of Four Seasonal Releases, the 7 Wives Saison, is from Jeremy Pacheco, Executive Chef at LON’s at the Hermosa Inn. This brew features fresh whole wheat berries from Chef Jeremy’s Family Farm in Marana, fresh pink peppercorns from Singh Farms in Scottsdale, whole fennel and fennel pollen from LON’s Garden and McClendons Select in Peoria, mesquite syrup from Cotton County Jams in Phoenix, as well as locally produced orange and coriander. Chef Jeremy came up with the name for his brew as a way to pay homage to one time LOCAL Artist, Legend and founder of Casa Hermosa (now the Hermosa Inn), Lon Megargee who was married 7 times. We proudly share a portion of our proceeds with our LOCAL charity of choice, the Waste Not Organization of Arizona www.wastenotaz.org. All art work for the Chef’s Series is by LOCAL artist Ellison Keomaka. Enjoy this unique collaboration and thanks for Drinking Locally!”
The second in our Chef Series session was FFF (FISHIN’, FAMILY, FOOD). This offering blew me away. On the pour, the color was pretty much the same as the 7 Wives, a deep yellow. The aroma was full-on citrus and herbs, a sweet smell that made my mouth water. The taste, though, is what made this beer especially good for me. Grapefruit came through immediately but quickly dissipated as the sweet basil and sugar took over. The best way to describe this herbed spiced beer is to say it was like an Italian dinner in a glass. The basil wasn’t overpowering but ever-present and made for a really unique beer. At 4.2% ABV, this is one of the most satisfying beers I’ve had. I need to find another bottle before they are gone.
Here’s the description of FFF from Sonoran, located on the label: “Grapefruit halves topped with brown sugar with fresh basil in a glass. If you’re Chief Eddie Matney, Owner and Head chef of Eddie’s House and Sonoran Brewmaster Zack Schroeder, then the answer is yes, as that is exactly what they brewed up for our summer seasonal Chief Series beer. Both avid fly fishermen, Chief Eddie and Zack came up with the recipe for this unique refreshing brew while telling stories and sharing their favorite fishing spots. The ‘Triple F’ honors Chief Eddie’s three greatest passions in life; Family, Food, and Fly Fishing. Brewed with grapefruit juice from locally grown grapefruit from Zack’s family tree in Tucson, brown sugar, an abundance of fresh basil, this brew awakens your taste buds and delights your senses with a balanced tartness of grapefruit, the sweetness of brown sugar and refreshing bite of fresh basil. A portion of the tapping party proceeds go to Chief Eddie’s local charity of choice: Scottsdale Charros. Beat the Arizona heat with the most refreshing and tastiest summer brew in town.”
The last of the Chef Series beers we drank was Lee’s Liquid Dinner. For an English Brown Ale, there’s a lot going on in this beer. Just take a look at what’s in it: honey-roasted parsnips, cranberries, orange peel, chestnuts and hazelnuts. This brew reminds me of times just sitting by a fire outside on a cool fall evening, and is an awesome addition to the Chef Series. It poured a hazy brown. The aroma opened up to a sweet, nutty, malty flavor—very bready. The taste was again, incredible. With all those ingredients, the first thing was the tartness of the fruit, quickly turned nutty, but if savored slowly, you get a sweet biscuit on the tongue. I have never had brown ale this complex, let alone this delicious. With an ABV at 5%, this is another good session beer, especially if you want taste.
Here is the description of Lee’s Liquid Dinner from the label. “Lee Hillson: Phoenician Chef, Iron Chef, Beer Chef…yes, BEER CHEF! Chef Hillson and Sonoran Brewmaster Zach Schroeder present ‘Lee’s Liquid Dinner,’ the third release in Sonoran Brewing Company’s Chef Series. Lee’s Liquid Dinner is an English-Style Brown Ale brewed with honey roasted parsnips (Lee’s favorite vegetable), chestnuts, hazelnuts, cranberries, and sweet orange peel. This unique beer features 5% alcohol by volume, and is perfect for the fall and holiday season. Chef Hillson suggests pairing this hearty limited-edition brew with any and all roasts, including his personal favorite of chicken and vegetables. The label was designed by local artist Ellison Keomaka, who was inspired by Chef Hillson’s passion for great food and beverage, along with his love of horror films, combining the three for your viewing pleasure. Proceeds from Lee’s Tapping Party benefited Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Please drink, share and enjoy responsibly.”
Whew! We had a great time sitting down around a fire pit in my backyard enjoying these awesome Sonoran ales. Brian will tell you that even though he loves beer, his palate doesn’t usually pick up on certain ingredients in the beer. But this time, he impressed me with how much he was picking up on with these ales, which proves that Sonoran‘s choices of local chefs who, like their food creations, made beer as distinct as their meals. The ingredients were presented boldly as they wanted you to actually taste them. I can’t tell you how many time I have tried a beer with certain ingredients and thought, “What? I don’t taste that at all.” Not here, and what a refreshing change. Sonoran likes to go big with their beer and I am looking forward to picking up that bottle of the last in the Chef Series called Long Strange Trip. Until then, stay warm everyone!
* Ed.: Before we get comments of fear, loathing, outrage and panic, Dave has shed a lot of weight, adjusted his diet, and is managing things quite well, overall, so is only being “typically” as opposed to “egregiously” reckless in doing this session.