Destination: 27th Annual Great Arizona Beer Festival

In April of 2015 we traveled to Mesa, AZ for the Great Arizona Beer Festival. To ensure we didn’t drink on an empty stomach, we had lunch at Rehab Burger Therapy in Old Town Scottsdale. I paired my burger with Four Peaks Hop Knot, even though I would soon be attending a four hour beer festival.

The festival started at 5pm which is much later than most beer festivals I’ve been to-usually they start at around midday. Food opportunities were advertised to be "A Taste of Chicago," appropriate, since the event was at the Chicago Cubs Spring Training Stadium. The Chicago Cubs concession stand was the only food available, so I am glad I had a good burger a few hours earlier.

Ticket prices were a little steep, at $44, but we had a groupon discount for $39. This was still more than I have ever paid for a beer festival. There were a couple of hundred people ahead of us when we got into line at about a quarter after 5, and 200-300 people already on the field as we entered the stadium.

From the top of the stadium approximately 30 pop up canopies representing both breweries and distributors sat in two rows. We were given a 3 oz plastic beer mug and 24 tickets, 1 ticket per 3 oz of beer. This seemed kind of weird, having such a small glass and so many tickets. I think there was a concern that with a larger glass that people would feel the effects of the beer much faster. But with 24 3 oz tickets that's 72 oz of beer! You can still get pretty impaired on much less than 72 oz. I probably had almost 10 tickets leftover at the end, and I used the dump bucket often.

Besides beers and ales, there were hard ciders and "shandys.” I highly recommend that even if you are not usually a fan of any particular style to at least try anything you've never tried before because you never know when you'll be surprised. Don't be afraid to use the dump bucket. Using the dump bucket when tasting wine or beer, unknown to most beer festival tastings or winery tastings is an expected procedure, not a rude activity. You go to a beer fest or winery to taste and sometimes even 3 oz is too big a taste. A tip we learned the hard way is to save the high ABV and "overly hopped" brews for last. After tasting too many strong IPAs or imperials, even 3 oz samples, turned your tongue numb.

I was disappointed to find that 95% of the booths were manned by volunteers supplied by the distributors, sponsors, and the charity or charities receiving the proceeds. I am more used to the reverse where only 5% were either volunteers or hired by the distributor because that particular brewery was just too far away. It is important to meet and speak to the brewers and employees that make that particular beer. With volunteers if you ask a question-they don't, for the most part, know the answer.

I was very satisfied with the number of breweries that were represented at the brew festival. I tried many beers that I have never tried before. We earned A LOT of badges and points on Untapped that night, and we can all go back to recall every beer we consumed and remember if we liked it or not.

Stay tuned for Destination Pacific Northwest blog coming up soon.

Jim St. Germain

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.