Thursday, January 24, 2008

Phoenix Wrap-up

Just returning from Phoenix, where the DRAFT offices are, and I already miss the near-perfect weather they're having there this time of year - sunny, cool (not cold), clear and clean. The city's already humming with anticipation for two major events happening next weekend: the Super Bowl and FBR Open - each bringing in hundreds of thousands of people. DRAFT will have a booth and sponsorship at the open, where it sounds like a party out of Happy Gilmore - you know, the sort of party where if you're not careful a golf tournament might pop up. Of course, you know about that other event. What a great time to be in Phoenix, I'm happy for the folks there - this is going to be great for business... bad for traffic.

On arriving Monday it was all work. We're buttoning up our next issue and that requires a lot of team-work. I've not been part of a publication in the past, it is simply amazing the work, re-work and re-work of the re-work goes into each issue, it's mind-boggling. Luckily, we've got one of the coolest and most talented people I know keeping us all in line, overseeing the operation with great passion and a keen eye. I meant to get some audio interviews with the editorial staff, but it became apparent quickly that this wasn't the week for that.

Tuesday was work too, starting early, but winding up early for a night of celebration. You know you have a good team when they play as hard as they work - or work as hard as they play. We started at Yard House, home of the 100+ taps and pretty solid food offerings. How did we start our night of celebration? Utopias, of course.

I've had Utopias once before and remember not being blown away by it. This was different. The beer was absolutely shocking, beautiful really. A beer you'd want to nose more than smell (putting your nose in the glass, but breathing in through your mouth, not your nose) and sip while contemplating the finer things in a good life. It really is an inappropriate drink for a noisy bar - or for a first drink of the night - but with good friends celebrating, it was perfect. Oh, I did find it impressive that Yard House had Utopias available for sale. It wasn't on the menu, but apparently they'd bought five or six bottles for that location.

After Utopias we settled into a hop frenzy, IPAs all around. I find it amazing the number of beers available in Phoenix that aren't available in Sacramento - beers from all over that I've wanted to sample. While the rest of the table went to California for their IPA selection, I headed to Delaware for a 90 Minute trip. I've had Dogfish Head's 90 Minute a few times in the last couple years, it is nothing short of impressive. If there was a single beer I'd love to see on tap on the West Coast (from the East Coast), I think 90 Minute would be it. Perfect on its own, or with a meal, the beer achieves a sort of balance that is only slightly off-balance - sweet up front, but decidedly hoppy throughout.

There would be more beer flowing at Yard House, beers that were all good, but it wasn't long before I got restless and wanted to speak with their manager, get a tour of their keg-room and appease several curiosities I had about turnover. Their keg room is impressive, a super walk-in fridge with well over 100 kegs. I'd asked about spoilage for beers that don't move and he was a bit surprised by the notion - apparently they don't have a keg of anything that last more than three weeks. Sure enough, while I was in there shooting some video and talking it up the keg changer came in twice to replace kegs that had blown. I stopped the guy and asked how many he'd changed that day on his shift. After thinking a second, he guessed it was 8 or 9 kegs in the 3 hours he'd been on - a "light day" for a quiet Tuesday afternoon. I had to ask about the Super Bowl and if the manager thought he was prepared. While saying the staff was ready and the beer orders were in, it was clear they were expecting something 'super' indeed. Great place.

The night continued and we soon moved on to Hazelwoods bar, primarily to play fooseball and shuffleboard. Here, they're pretty serious about the drinking aspect of beer, as each beer is served in a mug that will wear your arm out. I had the Kilt Lifter, made locally and not to be confused with Moylan's version (Tip: don't even mention Moylan's version to the servers down there, apparently they only know of one KL and that ain't it). Playing fooseball was fun, even if my team lost - twice. Hazelwoods is a great local hang-out, I could see why the DRAFT staff was eager to get here. On an otherwise quiet Tuesday night, the place seemed pretty busy. News of Heath Ledger was still trickling in, and images of Tom Brady's foot were on all the sports channels - both stories leading to moans from the locals who longed for something more sporty on their TV.

Being me is tough, I want to see it all sometimes. So, a few hours and a few beers into Hazelwoods I found myself ready (more than ready) to hit up a place I'd been to before and knew I had to return to: Papago's Brewing. Papago's is one of those places you don't want to leave, a haven for beer enthusiasts and refuge for weary workers seeking friendly, albeit pointless, conversations with strangers who, for a couple hours, could just as well be their best friend. The staff here really fosters that sense of belonging, their not only beer-savvy, they also greet each patron warmly, making sure they never go without - and they're fantastic at helping the unprepared choose a beer they're sure to enjoy. In short, Papago is everything you want in a beer bar.

Here I started with the Hitachino Red on tap, the red-rice beer from Japan that I simply can't get enough of. I'd never seen this on tap, and was more than happy to finish my pint in short order - what an easy to enjoy beer. What's more, Papago carried a whole new and expanded lineup of the Japanese beer, I was sad to not be able to enjoy them all. To finish the night I bought a bottle of Hop 15 from Port Brewing to share with colleagues (and a couple sitting at the bar next to us), finishing off with a bottle of the 2008 Bigfoot (again, shared with folks around). This place rocked. I bought a couple bottles of Cantillon to bring home with me and stared for a while at the hundreds of bottles of beer I was just sure needed to be sold in my home market of Sacramento. Incredible.

Clearly this was a night of celebration. Starting with Utopias, ending with Bigfoot, you know the next morning would be rough, but worth it. It was too, worth it. This isn't a sustainable form of consumption, but it was a night I won't forget for some time - and that's all we can ask for when celebrating all that is good in life with people we know and love, or those we just know and work with. It reminded me, once again, that even the best beers in the world taste better with friends, are more enjoyable when shared.

Wednesday was back to the office putting a few more finishing touches on the next issue. In fact, it turned into a late night in the office as we tried to get as much in as possible. A quick dinner and a curb-side drop-off at the airport and that seemed to be my allotted three days in Phoenix. I'll be back soon, hopefully visiting Sonoran Brewing and other new-to-me places. Till then, I've got an east-coast trip to plan and a whole lot of work to do. For the next few weeks I'll be largely unavailable for blogging, but hopefully I can put up newsy bits and smaller updates. We'll see.