The Craft Beer Guide to Tucson, Arizona

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Three Standout Beers You Have to Drink

Borderlands Brewing Co. Citrana Wild Ale

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I’m still a little bit confused why Borderlands purposely refers to this beer as both a “wild ale” and a gose simultaneously, but whatever it is, it’s quite good. A bit stronger than the typical craft beer gose that has come into the vogue in the last few years, it marries lemon and orangey citrus flavors with a thirst-quenching, lip-licking salinity—right in the middle of the salty gose sweet spot. This is a beer that fits its market perfectly—I can’t imagine a better companion to a 100-degree, exceedingly dry day in the desert. There may have been a time when this kind of “light, refreshing” role was exclusively filled by various lagers and blonde ales, but styles like gose have since come along and introduced beer drinkers to craft styles that are in some ways more assertive and flavor-packed while still being accessible and refreshing. It’s just one more choice, and one that can appeal to drinkers who appreciate a mild tartness and the power it has to make flavors pop.

Iron John’s Brewing Co. Pater Peche

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I imagine that just about any sour beer from Iron John’s would work just as well, but I was really blown away by the sophistication of this peach ale, which seemed more like a beer that you’d expect to find from a brewery with far more resources behind it. “Patersbier” or “father’s beer” is itself a Belgian abbey ale term used somewhat interchangeably with “Belgian single/enkle” to denote a lightweight, low-ABV session beer made for daily consumption by the monks. Pater Peche takes one of these beers and sours it, aging it for 10 months in a Sauvignon Blanc wine cask with peaches. The stone fruit presence isn’t overwhelming; nor is the tartness or lactic acidity. It’s just a wonderfully balanced American sour ale, a beer that reflects years of homebrewing practice. Plenty of breweries try and never are able to produce such a well-balanced sour. This one isn’t “good compared to others in Tucson.” It would stand up alongside just about any other peach sour I’ve ever sampled.

Something infused at Pueblo Vida Brewing Co.

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I almost just listed Pueblo Vida’s Northwest IPA here, but if you’re able to get one of the variations of it that has been infused with a unique ingredient, so much the better. The brewery releases a new infusion of some kind each and every Tuesday, which lasts on tap until it’s gone. This week, the Northwest IPA has been infused with tangerines, and I bet the result is absolutely spectacular. Would that I could snag myself a taste.

The Hard Stuff

The beer scene of Tucson has been around for a while, which usually means that a microdistilling scene won’t be far behind. Indeed it turns out there are three distilleries in the area with product on the shelves, although each has a pretty distinct identity.

The Independent Distillery

Seemingly the most “classic distillery” of the three, The Independent uses old-timey iconography and is currently producing gin and vodka, as just about every distillery begins with these days. Naturally, as with just about any other distillery in its mold, they’re intending to get into both whiskey and rum, which are in progress. For now, though, it’s all clear.

Hamilton Distillers

Now here’s an interesting distilling project with a truly Arizonian outlook. Drinking scotch at the campfire led the founders to wonder what kind of flavor mesquite smoked barley might contribute to a single malt, so they went out and did it. They produce three products—a clear, unaged, mesquite-smoked moonshine, a classic single-malt whiskey, and the aged, mesquite-smoked whiskey that inspired the whole lineup. I didn’t get to try this while I was in town, but of all the local spirits, it’s the one I’d be most curious to sample.

Three Wells Distilling Co.

Three Wells also takes inspiration from the desert environment in their products. They produce an 80-proof agave that the law may prohibit them from calling “tequila,” but that’s essentially what it is—available in unaged and aged formats. They also produce a very interesting-sounding spirit called Sonora, a distilled prickly pear concoction that also clocks in at a full strength, 80 proof. It’s also offered in both clear and oak-aged variants, which would presumably make the resulting product an interesting cross between fruit whiskey and aged tequila. Definitely a unique expression of the southwestern landscape.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he wishes Atlanta’s current climate was a bit more Tucsonesque. You can follow him on Twitter.

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