One of the great benefits of moving across the country is I get to discover a whole new region of breweries. I knew that Phoenix had some great breweries but I was thrilled to find a vibrant craft beer scene in Tucson also. Tucson breweries number right around 20 with several additional craft beer bars. In my first six weeks here, I have explored 6 of the breweries.
Let’s go learn things about Tucson Breweries…
My initial reaction to downtown Tucson is that it is a work in progress. Tucson is definitely a different experience from Phoenix. Where Phoenix is a sprawling metropolis filled with chain dining and shopping, Tucson has retained an authentic and hometown feel along with its growth. The hipster scene of the University of Arizona’s campus and remnants of the “Old Pueblo” blend to offer a totally unique setting.
Downtown-Thunder Canyon Brewstillery
Thunder Canyon Brewstillery has been a mainstay watering hole for Tucsonians since 1997. The brewery on Broadway is a cavernous space with plenty of table seating, a spacious bar and the working brewery. Thunder Canyon offered a wide selection of craft beer for all tastes. To the delight of my taste buds they had a nice selection of sours and a yummy hazy NE IPA. I even got a sneak peak at the still. They are currently producing rum. Unfortunately, Thunder Canyon has just recently stopped their food service.
A few blocks south of downtown is Barrio Brewing. This brewery has been around even longer than Thunder Canyon. They started as Gentle Ben’s in 1991 and have grown to be the third largest brewery in Arizona. I loved the setting for this brewery. It had a gritty industrial feel that lived up to its Barrio title. There was plenty of rustic seating inside, outside and at the bar. The place was hopping even at 2 in the afternoon. I really wanted to like this place. It is hugely popular with locals. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening for me on this day. The food was average, the beer was uninspired and the servers were bored with their jobs. In spite of my opinions, Barrio Blonde is one of the most popular beers in the region.
University district-Crooked Tooth Brewing Co
Let’s be honest, my husband the dentist picked this one for its name. What dentist isn’t drawn to a Crooked Tooth?? This offbeat hipster hangout is one of my favorites.
I loved the repurposed, artsy, experimental vibe of Crooked Tooth. They offered lots of small batch adventures. As an experimental cook myself, I can embrace the idea of adding and mixing. The reality is that sometimes it is genius and sometimes it is funky. The spirit of the place is “come along for the ride”. If you are a technical purist, this may not be your place of choice. But I loved it. The servers and fellow patrons all shared in the backyard brewing atmosphere. There is no food here but on weekend nights they often have food trucks stop by and Anello artisan pizza is next door.
Midtown-Sentinel Peak Brewing
Sentinel Peak was started by three local firefighters. Together they have created a fun space with creative beer selections and wonderful food. Their flagship beers stay close to traditional with 1811 Desert Blonde, Icebreak IPA, Dewpoint Dunkel and Salida del sol Amber. Seasonal and specialty beers consistently augment the tap list and highlight the brewer’s creativity.
It is always a struggle for start up breweries to find the best balance of beer and food service. Many facilities choose to focus on their beer and leave the food to nearby carry-out and food trucks. Sometimes a brewery will choose to concentrate on food with the results of an uninspiring tap list. In the case of Sentinel Peak Brewing, they have discovered the perfect balance. The beer selection if deep and interesting and the food is amazing.
I will officially move 1912 Brewing to the top of my favorites list. 1912 is located on an industrial backroad typical for start-up breweries. They have also chosen to focus on tasty and funky beer. There are plenty of sours available and the beers with additives are well blended and yummy. Traditional and quality IPA, Kolsch and Amber keep the less experimental beer-lover satisfied also. The ambiance of 1912 is like a comfortable rec room with staff that love sharing their beer and beer stories.
Northwest-Catalina Brewing Co
Tucson is a year round bicycling haven. The Loop Trail circles 54 miles around Tucson. Canada de Oro Wash River Trail and Santa Cruz River Trail add another 30 miles of paved and designated biking trails along the I-10 corridor. Clustered within a few miles of these trails are several breweries. Catalina Brewing Company is just 2.5 miles from The Loop and 1.5 miles from CDO Wash Trail and identify themselves as The Bicycling Brewery.
I loved the bicycling atmosphere and look forward to putting together a biking brew tour ASAP. That being said, I did not love the beer here. The traditional flagship beers were unremarkable. The specialty beers were mediocre beer with a heavy hand of additive flavors. While the server was friendly he was relatively ignorant of beer nuances.
The Bucket List
As I mentioned above, I look forward to visiting the other breweries close to the biking trails. Button Brewing and Dragoon Brewery are each a quick detour off of the trail near Catalina brewing.
There are still several downtown breweries to visit, they include Ten55 Brewery and Sausage Haus, Iron John’s Brewing, Pueblo Vida Brewing and Borderlands Brewing. Stay tuned for more Tucson breweries.